Parks and Protected Areas
Alberta has five national parks, 70 provincial parks, 32 wildland parks, 16 ecological reserves, four wilderness areas, 158 natural areas, 257 provincial recreation areas, and one forest reserve. Combined, they encompass all of the province’s most spectacular natural features, are home to many of Alberta’s mammals, provide safe nesting areas for millions of birds, and protect areas that would otherwise be given over to agriculture or other resource-based industry.
Created in 1885, Banff National Park was the first member of Canada’s grand national park system. As well as being home to the jewel of the Canadian national parks system, Alberta holds four other equally unique parks. Waterton Lakes, to the south of Banff, and Jasper, to the north, are similarly beautiful mountain parks. The others are Elk Island National Park, where mammal densities are similar to those on the Serengeti Plain, and Wood Buffalo National Park, the second-largest national park in the world, which is accessible by road only through the Northwest Territories.
Parks Canada manages Canada’s national park system, which consists of 41 parks spread across every province and territory, combining to represent all of the country’s natural landscapes. Each of Alberta’s five national parks has a year-round information center, or check out the Parks Canada website (www.pc.gc.ca).
Provincial parks, numbering 70 throughout Alberta, protect areas of natural, historical, and cultural importance while providing ample recreational opportunities. All of the parks offer day-use facilities, and many more have campgrounds and summer interpretive programs. Those not to miss are Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, along the Bow River on Calgary’s western outskirts; Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park, so named for the abundant native rock art; Dinosaur Provincial Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with one of the world’s highest concentrations of dinosaur bones; and Cypress Hills Provincial Park, a forested oasis that rises from the prairies. Provincial parks are managed by the Department of Tourism, Parks and Recreation (www.albertaparks.ca).
Other Parks and Protected Areas
Alberta’s Provincial Parks Act of 1930 has evolved into the Recreation and Protected Areas Network, which incorporates all of the following designations:
Wilderness areas and wildland parks are just that — totally wild and total wilderness. These remote locations have no road access, making them perfect for wilderness trips for those with backcountry experience.
Also offering a high level of protection are ecological reserves. These are generally remote tracts of land, and, although open to the public, they have been established under the Ecological Reserves Program primarily for scientific research.
Pockets of land that represent the diversity of Alberta’s natural habitats are protected in natural areas. Certain forms of recreation are permitted, but natural areas are generally left in their natural state, with no facilities.
Finally, dotted throughout the province are provincial recreation areas, typically roadside stops in scenic locations or staging areas beside rivers, but always very accessible. Picnic facilities are provided, and some offer basic camping facilities.
All of these areas are managed by the Department of Sustainable Resource Development (www.srd.gov.ab.ca).
The Department of Sustainable Resource Development also manages forested lands and associated waterways. Most of these lands are scattered throughout the foothills and northern Alberta. Basic recreational facilities such as day-use areas and rustic campgrounds are provided free of charge. The Forestry Trunk Road, extending 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) between the Crowsnest Pass and Grande Prairie, traverses much of the province’s forest-service land.
National Park Passes
Passes are required for entry into four of Alberta’s five national parks (the exception is Wood Buffalo). The cost of a National Parks Day Pass is adult $7.90–9.80, senior $6.90–8.30, and child $3.90–4.90, depending on the park. There is a maximum per-vehicle entry fee of double the adult (or senior for vehicles carrying only seniors) rate. Passes are interchangeable between parks and are valid until 4 p.m. the day following purchase.
An annual National Parks of Canada Pass, good for entry into all Canadian national parks for one year from the date of purchase, is adult $53, senior $45, child $27, to a maximum of $107 per vehicle. The annual Discovery Package includes entry into all parks as well as Parks Canada–managed National Historic Sites for adult $85, senior $73, child $42, to a maximum of $166 per vehicle.
Passes can be purchased at park gates, at all park information centers, and at campground fee stations. For more information, check the Parks Canada website (www.pc.gc.ca).
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition