Three Adventures You Can Have in Alberta, Without the Crowds

All the beauty, all the adventure, none of the tourists

Mar 14, 2016
Outside
Outside Magazine
Three Adventures You Can Have in Alberta, Without the Crowds

   Photo: Chris Brinlee Jr.

IndefinitelyWild

IndefinitelyWild is a lifestyle column telling the story of adventure travel in the outdoors, the vehicles and gear that get us there, and the people we meet along the way. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

If you’ve opened up Instagram lately, you’ve seen dozens of photos featuring tiny people engulfed by gigantic alpine landscapes. A lot of those were shot in Alberta, probably at Moraine Lake. There, jagged peaks tower over its turquoise waters, enticing hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. 

While the beauty of the Canadian Rockies is undeniable, what those awe-inspiring shots don’t show are the bustling parking lots, crowded turnouts, and packed lodges all full of people waiting in line to take the exact same photos as everyone else. Wouldn't you rather adventure out into some of the gnarliest nature North America has to offer? Late last year, that’s just what we did. And now we’re going to show you how to do the same.

Go Heli-Hiking

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Alpine Helicopters flew our party over the Three Sisters in Canmore, Alberta—en route to Marvel Pass for a backcountry camping trip. Click to enlarge.   Photo: Chris Brinlee Jr.

How long does it take? 3-4 hours. 

How much does it cost? $500 CDN. 

What the hell is heli-hiking? It combines a scenic flight with an epic hike through the mountains, cutting out the long slogs on overcrowded trails to take you directly to the good stuff. 

Alpine Helicopters runs trips from their base in Canmore (about a 30-minute drive southeast of Banff). One of their helicopters will fly you up to a hard-to-reach location, you hike around, and they they pick you up again. 

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The stoke is high for Jimmy Chin as he prepares to capture aerial photos of Banff National Park. Click to enlarge.   Photo: Chris Brinlee Jr.

We went heli-hiking with legendary adventure photographer, and fellow Outside contributor, Jimmy Chin, and it was awesome! The flight up was incredible, providing us with a bird’s eye view of alpine lakes and forests, while letting us get up close and personal with the jagged peaks and massive glaciers. While hiking, we had the mountains all to ourselves; it felt like total wilderness, even though it was all just a few minutes away by air. 

If heli-hiking sounds expensive, that’s because it is. Guided trips start at about $500 CDN per-person; that can increase depending on time and distance. But, if you’ve ever dreamed of flying through a beautiful landscape, this is how you do that. One U.S. Dollar is equivalent to $1.40 CDN right now, making this adventure more affordable than ever. 

Climb a Mountain

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Gilberto Gil descends Mount Athabasca after an unsuccessful late-season summit attempt via the AA Col. Despite having clear conditions during our 4am approach, the weather quickly changed and visibility began to worsen along the route, instigating our early return. Click to enlarge.   Photo: Chris Brinlee Jr.

How long does it take? 9-12 hours. 

How much does it cost? $375 (or free if you go without a guide).

Take a drive up the Icefields Parkway and you’ll see some of the most epic landscapes imaginable. Jagged peaks jut towards the sky. Raging waterfalls crash down into rivers below. Glaciers creep out from the icefield to the road, where visitors can get a better look from the Skywalk. What’s more exciting than looking at mountains? Climbing them. 

The Columbia Icefield is home to some of the best alpine climbing in North America. Classic done-in-a-day climbs like the AA Col on Mount Athabasca and the Skyladder on Mount Andromeda begin just a stone’s throw from the parkway’s main visitor center. These peaks provide a plethora of awesome challenges for any alpinist; climbing them is a great way to experience the Canadian Rockies in all their glory, with nary a tourist in sight. 

Don’t have a climbing partner, or don’t feel comfortable tackling them on your own? Yamnuska Mountain Guides runs trips up Athabasca, and a handful of other peaks in the area. Expect to pay about $375 CDN perperson to jump on a group climb. If climbing is too intense, try backpacking the skyline trail

Go Canyoneering

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Gilberto Gil descends a fall in Two Valley Canyon. Click to enlarge.   Photo: Chris Brinlee Jr.

How long does it take? 4-5 hours. 

How much does it cost? $170 CDN.

Canyoneering combines hiking, climbing, rappelling, sliding, and swimming to descend rugged (and oftentimes remote) canyons. Commercial trips are a brand new option in Jasper. 

The adventure takes place at Two Valley Canyon, a short 20-minute drive from downtown. Upon arriving at the canyon’s exit, you’ll don a wetsuit, splash jacket, hood, harness, boots, and gloves before hiking into the woods, following the rim of the canyon up to its entrance. 

After reaching the canyon’s mouth, you’ll spend the next three hours descending back down, using a series of slides and rappels. It’s cold, wet, and incredible; making this the highlight of our trip. And the best part? There wasn’t another person around. Book it through Maligne Adventures

While many of Alberta’s most obvious attractions are teeming with people, there’s plenty of adventure to go around, and it doesn’t take much to get off the beaten path. Have any tips of your own? Tell us about them in comments.

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