Mount Galwey in Waterton Lakes National Park (photo: Steven Tuchiwsky/Travel Alberta)

Moving Mountains: Five of Alberta’s Most Scenic Geological Experiences

By Carly Peters

Dr. Dale Leckie, award-winning geologist, author and AMA member, merges history, science and art in his latest, best-selling book, The Scenic Geology of Alberta: A Roadside Touring and Hiking Guide. From dinosaurs to diamonds to ancient piles of volcanic ash, there’s so much to explore across this province—which has literally been shaped by catastrophic natural events (even if they took millions of years to occur!). Leckie offers up just a few of his must-see sites to start. 

MILK RIVER CANYON
Isolated in the middle of ranch land, Leckie calls this one of the most beautiful places in Alberta. The off-the-beaten-path hike is well worth the effort to visit the 150-metre-deep, three-kilometre-wide canyon’s vertical sandstone cliffs, huge cottonwood trees, and meandering river that lays deep in the gully. 

PEACE RIVER LOWLANDS
Visit in fall months when the leaves are changing on the gently rolling plains that are cut by deeply entrenched valleys. Here, the Smokey River merges with the Peace River, whose western banks are constantly failing and slumping. The Sagitawa Lookout is just one place to get the perfect panoramic view of the ever-eroding area.

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WATERTON LAKES NATIONAL PARK
Thanks to algae deposits left by ancient seas, the sediments that make up the dramatic cliffs of Waterton date back more than 1.5 billion years. The park itself is situated on an enormous 7-km-thick slab of rock, which was once buried deep beneath the earth’s surface. It’s been moving at 6 cm a year for 23 million years to form this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

THE MUD BUTTES AND NEUTRAL HILLS
According to Leckie, the origin stories of these east-central geo hot spots compound their visual appeal. Science says the buttes are the result of glacier thrusts, pushing bedrock upward to create swirling layers. The Indigenous account, however, has the creator lifting up the land in the Neutral Hills to create a ridge of peace between quarrelling Cree and Blackfoot nations.

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SULPHUR GATES RECREATION AREA
This is a tale of two rivers: the mighty Smokey River, which flows and cuts across the foothill’s ridges, and the Sulphur River, a small tributary that gets trapped between the vertical beds in the narrow canyon. Together, they create a unique visual contrast of pathways.

HOW TO SAVE
Dr. Dale Leckie’s The Scenic Geology of Alberta: A Roadside Touring and Hiking Guide is available through Indigo. Members earn up to 5% in reward dollars on online Indigo purchases—including books, giftware, electronics and more—made through the AMA Rewards eStore.

Gas up and go: Earn 5% cash back on Esso and Mobil reloadable cards purchased at AMA centres.

Save $10 on annual family Parks Canada Discovery passes.