A 3 hour drive from Calgary (the last 40 minutes of it or so through the most glorious mountain scenery) takes you into Waterton Lakes National Park where I wanted to go for a hike around the lake...a local company called Trail of the Great Bear guided me and they were fabulous – it only took about 2 hours and was easy walking (although the company caters to all standards of hiking, as does the terrain) and was one of the highlights of my entire trip. Saw no bears as it was a bit late for them (October so most of them were already hibernating), but I saw evidence of them (poop, scratch marks on rocks, ripped berry bushes) and that was exciting enough!
The first thing you notice when you land at Calgary airport is how flat everything is... and then you look west and see the Rocky Mountains, and that certainly changes your view! They are simply breathtaking, those mountains, and huge huge huge...but so much has been written about them that I wanted to see what else there was, so turning away from the mountains and heading east and INLAND towards the beginnings of the Great Plains was my plan and it certainly was an eye-opening experience.
Driving further inland, you are seriously in "cowboys and Indians" country and there are lots of places worth a visit. Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is somewhere that has always intrigued me – because of the strange name, the remote location, and as usual, because nobody I know has ever been there! And it was excellent. A fabulous interpretive centre, excellent guides who are all local Blackfoot tribes people, and a very interesting cultural experience, although not for the faint of heart as the movie does have fairly graphic computer generated vision of the buffalo kills which happened there.
Apart from the cultural side of things, this part of Alberta is also dinosaur country where Albertosaurus was discovered and got its’ name. Dinosaur Provincial Park is an excellent way of finding out about the area, with walking tours, bus tours, and lots of places where you can see for yourself the dinosaur fossils which have been excavated over the years... Located about a two hour drive southeast of Drumheller, this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the amazing Badlands scenery and the fossil discoveries which date back up to 75 million years. It is well worth the drive, I think because you do not get to see fossils “in situ” very often!
Southern Alberta was somewhere quite different and certainly it is not for everyone but I found the prairie landscape to be absolutely fascinating, not to mention the mountains!
The distances are large between specific things to see so you need to have a bit of time on your hands, but for people who are a bit adventurous, willing to learn about some very different cultures and prepared to sit at the wheel for 3 or 4 hours a day in order to see some totally amazing things, this is definitely the place for them...