Alberta has a spectacular range of provincial parks and protected areas that safeguard natural spaces and provide a perfect place for people to access and connect with nature. As of 2019, there are 473 unique provincially-managed parks in Alberta designated under 8 different types of park designations established under provincial law, with each having specific management priorities and protective criteria associated with it.
What are Protected Areas?
According to the leading authority on protected areas, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a protected area is, “…a clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.”  This means that a protected area is a physical place that has an overall goal to provide long-term conservation of nature.
Parks are a type of protected area which are designed to provide a range of different protections and recreational opportunities for an area of land, depending on what kind of park it is.
Some parks focus on education, others recreational activities, and some are solely for protecting nature. However, not all parks are protected areas. For example, if a particular park’s overall goal was to provide extensive recreational experiences, even if it were at the expense of environmental protections, it could still be designated as a park, but would not be considered a protected area.
There are many different types of protected areas and parks in Alberta. Banff, Jasper, Elk Island, Waterton and Wood Buffalo, for example, are all National Parks run by the federal department of Parks Canada on behalf of the federal government. These parks were established early on in Alberta’s history, and comprise a little more than half of the total park area of the province. They are mainly situated along the Rocky Mountains, and are among the most visited parks in Canada, with Banff National Park seeing upwards of 4 million visitors in 2018-2019.
Alberta Provincial Parks & Public Lands Legislation
Alberta Parks System & PLUZs
There are eight designations, along with Public Land Use Zones (which are not a type of park or protected area, but are often confused for one), in the Alberta Parks system. Each designation exists under different legislation. These designations have varying descriptions, purposes, and generally permitted uses (whether industrial & commercial). Please note that this is a broad explanation and overview of the park designations, when in reality, EACH individual park can have its own permitted uses and regulations.
We Can't Wait
You can make a difference. Take action in the fight against biodiversity loss and climate change by using your voice to help protect land and ocean in Canada. We can’t wait is a national CPAWS campaign inviting all to join the movement to protect at least 30% of land and ocean in Canada by 2030.