A guide to Alberta’s 5 incredible UNESCO World Heritage Sites

posted April 6, 2018


unesco sites in alberta

Have you dreamed of visiting the Canadian Rocky Mountains? Would you love to feast your eyes on Canada’s fabled glacial lakes and glittering rivers? Then the chances are you’ll find your dream come true in Alberta. This province in Western Canada has some of the most iconic landscapes in the world, from endless golden prairies to snowy mountain peaks.

As well as protected National Parks brimming with wildlife, Alberta is home to five UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation works with countries around the world to identify and protect Earth’s most special places. These unique and diverse places could be cultural, historical or natural, and range from the Pyramids of Egypt to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Read on to find out the fascinating sites that you could see in Alberta. Fancy visiting yourself? Check out our holidays in Alberta.

Dinosaur Provincial Park

Inscribed in 1979

Badlands in Alberta, Canada

The Albertan Badlands stretch over miles of other-worldy landscape. Hot and dry with painted rock strata and wind-sculpted rocks, the starkly beautiful landscape is the perfect dramatic backdrop for Dinosaur Provincial Park. Dig in the dusty desert here and you could unearth a real dinosaur bone.

The site in the heart of the province contains some of the most important discoveries ever made from the ‘Age of Reptiles’. More than 35 species of dinosaur have been discovered in the area, with more than 150 intact skeletons unearthed. With specimens dating back an impressive 75 million years, there’s a lot of history to sink your teeth into.

Royal Tyrell High

The park itself has opportunities to sleep out in the Badlands under the stars – both camping and glamping – as well as tours and trails you can follow. A guided excavation in a bonebed lets you have a go at digging your own fossil. Meanwhile, hiking trails give you fantastic views among the rocks and hoodoos travelling under your own steam. The Visitor’s Centre has plenty of information about the things you can see and do in the park.

If you develop a fascination with fossils, head to the world-renowned Royal Tyrrell Museum a couple of hours away. The museum boasts dozens of exhibits which all centre around fossils. Dinosaur Hall has one of the largest collections of dinosaur skeletons in the world.

Getting there

Fly into Calgary and the park is just 2 hours and 20 minutes’ drive away.

 

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

Inscribed in 1981

head smashed in buffalo jump

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump nestles into the base of a precipice where the foothills of the Rocky Mountains meet the Great Plains. It dates back nearly 6,000 years and is one of the best-preserved buffalo jumps anywhere. For thousands of years, the aboriginal Plains People used their expert knowledge of the local topography and buffalo behaviour to hunt here. They would chase and corral the bison to force them over the cliff. The bison would meet a quick end and the Plains People would carve up the carcasses in the camp below. Vast quantities of bison skeletons can still be found at the base of the cliff.

head smashed in buffalo jump

The interpretative centre offers a spell-binding insight into the culture and way of life of the Plains People. From the kilometre-wide butchering camp to the system of 500 stone cairns which herded the bison towards the cliff, the remnants of this huge settlement are still visible.

Getting there

Fly into Calgary and the UNESCO site is less than 2 hours’ drive away.

 

Wood Buffalo National Park

Inscribed in 1983

wood buffalo national park

Wood Buffalo National Park lies at the border of Northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories. It covers 4.5 million hectares which is an area the size of Estonia, making it Canada’s largest national park and one of the biggest in the world. The huge tracts of boreal forest and undisturbed meadows are home to the one of the last remaining free-roaming wood bison herds in the world.

The rare wood bison is a larger subspecies of the American bison which was hunted almost to extinction in the early 1900s. The recovery of this heard is a conservation success story, which makes seeing these majestic animals in the wild even more special.

wood buffalo national park

The entire ecosystem is important thanks to its preservation – it is the only place in North America where the predator-prey relationship between wolves has remained intact. As well as the wood bison, the park is home to endangered whooping cranes, black bears, moose, foxes and the world’s largest beaver dam.

Getting there

The very isolation and remoteness which have helped to protect the park’s unique flora and fauna does make it more difficult to get to. It’s a 14-hour, multi-day drive from Calgary if you fancy an epic road trip. The MacKenzie Highway links Northern Alberta to the park’s headquarters at Fort Smith. You can take also take an internal flight from Edmonton to Fort Smith before driving into the park.

 

Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks

Inscribed in 1984

Banff National Park

The seven parks of the Canadian Rocky Mountains form a striking contiguous landscape which stretches from Alberta into British Columbia. Not only are the parks rich in natural beauty, they also boast historically and scientifically important regions. The Burgess Shale is one of the most significant fossil areas in the world, with 540-million-year-old marine fossils in the raised seabed.

The Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO site is made up of four national parks and three provincial parks. The four national parks are world-famous behemoths which pack dozens of attractions into their 23,600 square kilometres. Banff and Jasper National Parks are in Alberta, while Yoho and Kootenay National Parks are in BC. The provincial parks of Mount Robson, Mount Assiniboine and Hamber are all in BC.

rocky mountains bighorn sheep

There is so much to do in the Albertan section of the parks. The stunning blue Lake Louise is here, as well as the skiing and outdoor activity town of Banff. The impressive Icefields Parkway which links Lake Louise to Jasper sits in Alberta, and has numerous attractions including the Athabasca Glacier along its length.

Getting there

It couldn’t be easier to explore this UNESCO site. Fly direct from the UK into Calgary and then hire a car. You’ll hit Banff within 90 minutes. From there you’ll be able to drive to all the most impressive sights, like Takkakaw Falls, the Columbia Icefields and Bow Lake. Keep an eye out for the black bears, bighorn sheep and elk the park is famous for.

 

Waterton Glacier International Peace Park

Inscribed in 1995

Waterton Lake, Alberta

This lesser-known park is unique as it crosses the border between Canada and the US. Waterton Lakes National Park in southern Alberta joins onto Montana’s Glacier National Park to form the world’s first International Peace Park. The park’s stunning prairie, forest and alpine scenery straddles the two countries in wilderness region like no other.

The park is special as it boasts a huge diversity of flora and fauna in a small area. The scenery is dominated by high mountains and deep canyons, glacial formations and rich forests. There are rivers which feed three oceans – an uncommon feat to achieve! The meadows of wildflowers are a favourite hang out for grizzlies, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, coyotes and elk (there’s a herd which migrates across the border annually!)

waterton park

The Waterton-Glacier Peace Park Loop has been designated one of the Top Ten Scenic Drives in the Northern Rockies. It’s a fantastic way to travel the park, and ranges from 315 to 400 miles depending on your route. The Glacier Park Red Bus Tours are another fun way to explore with a knowledgeable driver as a guide.

Getting there

It’s around a 2 hour and 40 minute drive from Calgary to Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta. Just be aware that some roads in the park are closed following a wildlife in 2017. The Parks Canada website has all the information you need on which viewpoints and roads are open.

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