Calgary has a lot to recommend it to travellers, but it isn’t really a great driving city. In fact, personally, I feel that driving through downtown Calgary during rush hour is similar to attempting to solve a Rubik’s cube while being yelled at in four different languages at a Nascar rally. However, there are some great drives to be had nearby. While driving through the prairies has its charms, for me it’s the mountains that will always be the better choice for eye candy. Now, before you read on, keep in mind that these roads can be dangerous in the winter if you, or your car, are unprepared.
Bow Valley Parkway
This is a lovely stretch of road that begins at the Sunshine Turnoff near Banff, and continues all the way up to Lake Louise. While the speed limit is low (50 Km) it can be a very pleasant drive. The road is surrounded by dense forest, some of which is currently recovering from an extensive forest fire. This makes for a very relaxing drive, but is a little lacking in the “sweeping vistas” department. However, if you're more into spotting wildlife, well, as the above picture suggests there are a ton of Bighorn Sheep in the area.
The Smith Dorrien is essentially a large gravel road with a speed limit of 80 Kms an hour. The road runs through the Spray Valley and can be approached through Kananaskis Country, or through Canmore. There are some tremendous mountain views to be seen up here, as well as a pretty good chance of seeing a Moose. They love it up there near Mt Engadine Lodge. Which reminds me, they have a pretty good restaurant there too...
In my opinion this is the nicest drive in Alberta. And, yes, I have driven all over most of Alberta so don’t even start. While it can be a bit frustrating if you get stuck behind a slow-mover, the views of the mountains are absolutely grand. The high point of the drive, both in Altitude and in interest, are the Columbia Icefields. That’s not to say that the rest of it isn’t nice, though. Although, a word of warning. This road is true to its name in that it gets very icy, very fast in the winter. If you’re heading out here anytime from mid-fall to late spring, make sure your vehicle is ready to get a grill fun of winter.