Dreaming of wide-open spaces? Head to Alberta, where the roads seem to stretch into infinity and the blue sky is endless. (If you saw the movie Brokeback Mountain, you'll understand what I mean—the film was set in Wyoming but shot in Alberta.)
Many visitors arrive first in Calgary, where oil and gas revenues have created Canada's biggest boomtown. Troll the trendy shops and restaurants of Stephen Avenue and 17th Avenue, take in an NHL Calgary Flames or CFL Calgary Stampeders game, or check out the latest exhibits at the Glenbow Museum. If you visit in early July, bring your Stetson, because that's when the Calgary Stampede has the whole city following the exploits of rodeo riders and ropers.
A 90-minute drive west of Calgary lies Banff, the jewel of the Canadian Rockies. One of North America's most diverse and challenging ski areas, Banff and the nearby town of Lake Louise are also great bases for hikers, mountain bikers, campers, photographers and anyone else who loves the outdoors.
Further north is Jasper, another great outdoors town nestled in a national park. From there, it's four hours east to Edmonton, the provincial capital. Like Calgary, Edmonton is a great sports town—check out the Oilers and the Eskimos. It's also home to the West Edmonton Mall, one of the world's largest shopping centres, with more than 800 stores, 110 restaurants and a water park, all under one roof.
If more rural pleasures are more your style, you can look for fossils at Dinosaur Provincial Park in southeastern Alberta, or be a cowboy for a week on one of the province's many dude ranches. In northern Alberta, head to Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada's largest national park, to see herds of free-ranging bison and perhaps even glimpse an endangered whooping crane.