Alberta Road Trip Guide: 7 Things You Need To Know

Western Canada By

As part of our #motherofallroadtrips we were excited to include a 2-week road trip around Alberta, Canada. We’d heard of Alberta’s reputation for pristine natural beauty, but that didn’t adequately prepare us for this… 

We soon discovered our lack of preparation for a few important factors. So before you take that jaw-dropping, gorgeous road trip around Alberta, make sure you read our essential road trip guide.

1. Time Zone Change

Between British Columbia to Alberta there is a 1-hour time zone difference. We did not realise this before we started. And instead of arriving at our hotel at 8pm, it was abruptly 9pm, with the kids eating dinner at 10pm. Whoops!

2. National Park Pass

As we drove into Jasper at 8pm we were stopped at the entry gate and asked if we had a park pass. No, we didn’t.

If you are driving straight through to say, Edmonton and not making any stops, then you will not need a pass. However if you plan on stopping at a scenic lookout to snap a picture or grab a bite to eat in town or stay overnight – you will. 

You do not need a separate pass for each park. The pass you buy in Jasper is the same pass you can use in Banff, so consider your schedule. The pass will allow you to visit Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay, Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, Waterton Lakes and Elk Island national parks. So if you plan on staying in any of those areas for more than 7 days, buy the annual pass for the same price. This pass is valid in over 100 Canadian national parks for a period of 12 months.

If you are not purchasing an annual pass, your day pass will be valid until 4pm the next day, regardless of what time you purchased it. Passes are checked regularly at gates and by rangers so please make sure you display it clearly on your front windshield.

If you decide to stay longer you can take your current pass to a Parks Canada office and upgrade it to the annual park pass (within 30 days of original receipt date).

Per day park pass:

Adult: CA$9.80

Child (6 – 16): CA$4.90

Family (of up to 7 people in one car): CA$19.60

Annual Discovery Park pass:

Adult: CA$67.70

Child: CA$33.30

Family: CA$136.40

You can buy at the gates (using cash or credit card) or buy one online in advance.

3. Watch Fuel

Alberta is a huge province and as such the Icefields Parkway alone is over 230 kilometres (143 miles) long with no gas stations. There are small signs just after the last gas station informing you of this, in case you forget.

So make sure you have a full tank before heading out for the day exploring.

No gas stations out here

4. Fuel Is Cheaper

On the topic of fuel, wait to top up until you reach Alberta, because they don’t have provincial tax on gasoline and diesel. While in Kelowna, BC we purchased fuel for CA$1.22 per litre. In Edmonton, AB it was as low as CA$0.93 per litre! Saving over 23%!

5. Go Off-Peak

Over 100,000 vehicles, per month, drive along the Icefields Parkway during summer so avoid the crowds and go off-peak.

Not only will you face less traffic and cheaper resort prices, but also the scenery is insanely gorgeous. We visited during mid-to-late October, greeted by a whimsical smattering of clean white snow on the ground. And the mountains looked like chocolate sauce on vanilla ice cream, but reversed. Yum!

6. Winter Tyres

If you are taking a road trip during off-peak seasons then watch out for the winter tyre rules. A helpful Facebook follower alerted this to us, and we were reminded by several highway signs. 

Winter tyres or all-season tires are compulsory from 1st October to 31st March. Thankfully a little “M+S” symbol on the tyre side wall confirmed we were already equipped with all-season tyres. But we carried around winter chains in the back of the car, just in case we met sub-zero temperatures.

Don’t get caught without them. 

Thank goodness we had all-season tyres to avoid elk on the road…
…and this grizzly bear too

7. Watch Out For Closures

Finally if you are going off-peak watch out for road closures. Quite a number of smaller roads are barred off from October. And not just the oh-let’s-drive-this-road-anyway kind of closure (which is, of course, what we had planned to do). No, these roads are blocked with heavy concrete barriers and no wiggle room around the sides.

Oh, how I wanted to visit Lake Moraine. But we didn’t feel like a 12 km hike in the snow to get there once we realised the only access road was completely blocked off.

Relevant signs will have a red “close” label stuck across them if they have been shut to avoid wasting your time, or you can check it out online

The Bottom Line

We hope these 7 tips help with your preparation for your ultimate Alberta road trip. But the most important tip of all is to warm up your jaw muscles because you’re going to find yourself picking it off the ground quite regularly.

I am completely certain that your road trip will leave you inspired, mesmerised, dumbfounded, and filled with long breathless sighs... the good kind, that is. 

Reader Comments...

"I respond to every comment by direct private email. I look forward to your feedback" -

Good tips. I missed Lake Morraine the first time I went (in the summer) because it closes by 9 .m. when the parking lot is already full. It's impossible to describe the summer crowds - which makes parking at all popular lakes, glaciers, and waterfalls very difficult. Your tip is spot on.

BTW, I totally LOVE the discovery pass. We've used it this year in museums and historic sites across Canada - all free admissions with the pass. (And I went to at least 10 national parks this year.)

Marlana Hope Nov 11th, 2015

We are actually heading to Vancouver in May of next year, but really want to drive from Jasper to Toronto. Sounds amazing. I know there are also several rail companies that do this trip too. Don't think you would see as much on a train, but it sounds fun too. One day. Thanks for the all great info I will remember it for our future trip. :)

Samantha Nov 11th, 2015

Good article, but winter Tires are not mandatory by law in Alberta. You must have seen those signs while in B.C. the previous province.

Meegan Nov 22nd, 2016

Great tips! I would add that those roads which are closed in the winter are great for bike rides in the spring time just before they open to the public again. Also, the discovery pass is free in 2017 as it's Canada's 150th birthday so it's a great year to come and visit!

Christina Jul 17th, 2017

I lived in Calgary for many years and you definitely want to travel the forestry trunk road once it's open starting at the Crowd Nest pass up through Kananaskis Country to The Trans Canada Hey with stops at the Upper and Lower Kananaskis lakes.
Another great scenic trip is to drive up the mountain from Canmore to Spray Lakes.
Just follow the signs for the Nordic Center where the 88 Olympics were held and keep going right on past it.
A great part of the Forestry Trunk Rd is Seasonal and a dirt road and the pavement does end climbing up from Canmore but well worth it.
You definitely want to be sure you have a reliable vehicle climbing the mountain up from Canmore and be sure to stop when you get to the top to take in the awesome view of Canmore and the mountain range from above.
These are off the beaten path places most tourists aren't aware of just the locals like me
Also be aware that the Forestry Trunk Rd does continue North. It may not be quite as beautiful but is beautiful none the less.
Hope this helps you all

Floren Sep 27th, 2018

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