From the freshly fallen snow-covered surroundings to the cozy cabin culture, Alberta certainly feels like the wild frontier, even in its cities. As we road tripped Alberta mapping our way from Edmonton to Banff, I got a ‘best of’ and hidden gems introduction to this vast Canadian area.
ROADTRIPPING ALBERTA – MAPPING OUR WAY FROM EDMONTON TO BANFF
I was in Alberta to film the Adventure Elevate conference for Adventure Travel Trade Association. This trip was hosted by Travel Alberta, Banff/Lake Louise Tourism, Jasper Tourism, Edmonton Tourism, and ATTA.
Edmonton is the capital of Alberta and the second largest city in the region. This lively city is known for a constant slew of festivals and performing art shows. Yet even though Edmonton functions as an urban breeding ground for artists and innovators, it still embraces its natural surroundings. Edmonton’s open spaces in the forms of wide parks and a running river incorporates the city into the wild nature of Alberta.
OILERS ON THE ICE
Onto an Oilers Game! I lived in San Jose, California and used to frequent hockey games, so I loved being able to experience this event.
VISITING ELK ISLAND
Among many Aspen trees, you’ll find Elk Island – a large hub for buffalo conservation. At one time we had 30 million bison in North America and that population dropped to a low of 200. Around the turn of the 1900s, a herd was sold to the government of Canada. The bison were brought from Montana to Elk Island and the conservation efforts began here. We also snowshoed one of the nearby trails, sipped hot chocolate and ate maple cookies overlooking the view of the lake. This hike is pretty, flat, and while you work up a sweat if you’re going fast, still relaxing.
YEG ICE CASTLE
When your enter the YEG Ice Castles, it’s like you’ve walked straight into Frozen: the real life movie. Not only do the formations they have created look beautiful, but they also have ice slides, which I obviously went down a handful of times. Fun for all ages!
I had no expectations in mind for Edmonton and was truly surprised by the innovative, delicious farm to table food scene. In my experiences at different restaurants, I got to witness a different way of food consumption. Just like the city itself, Edmonton’s restaurants feature an allegiance to balancing nature (through high quality ingredients) with creativity (through new and exciting recipes).
KITCHEN BY BRAD
When we arrived, we set out for dinner at Kitchen By Brad. Brad was born and raised in Edmonton and fell into food product development. He has even cooked for the Queen for the provinces 100th birthday and ran the food facilities in Alberta at the Olympics. In 2012, they opened their doors at Kitchen. They are a relationship-based restaurant, meaning they have personal relationships with all of the growers they get food from. Brad caters his menu to his clients wants.
They offer anything from cooking classes and demos, to kitchen parties and formal dining. For starters, we tasted a farm-fresh bacon tower, locally-made cheeses including gouda, alpine cheese, and butter cheese, cranberry fig mustarda relish, and a torta with whipped goat cheese, parsley pesto, roasted tomatoes, and chimichurri sauce.
We sat down for a family-style dinner of roasted root vegetable salad, curid icelandic char, house made farmers cheese, roasted chicken brined in whey with garlic and herbs, and my personal favorite – Ukrainian Rib Eye.
SITUATION BREWING COMPANY
We toured the microbrewery, Situation Brewing Company, and tasted flights of beer over lunch. Their Untamed Situation – Bison and wild boar burger – is a must not miss menu item. This is the perfect place to learn more about brewing beer, thanks to their unpretentious attitude and their focus on fun and flavor. Situation is at the forefront of the new and expanding brewing scene in Edmonton and function as a must visit to really soak up the culture of the city.
RGE RD may be just the place for meat lovers. Even the food theme is in the decor, with meat hooks hanging above the tables as light fixtures. They do all of their butchering on site in the back room, which you can actually walk through. In fact, you can actually purchase some of their meat on certain days of the month. Yet, that doesn’t mean they skimp on the veggies, which are always fresh due to their relationship with local farms. RGE RD claims they serve real canadian cuisine inspired by the wild nature of the vast country. I can claim they do it well.
BREAKFAST WITH A VIEW
To really take in the sights of the city, head to La Ronde on the top floor of the Chateau Lacombe, the hotel where we stayed – centrally located and a great place to stay if you’re wanting to walk everywhere. The restaurant is a beautiful space that rotates slowly as you dine. This way, you can stare out the wall to wall windows and see the city with a 360 degree view. Go and enjoy some delicious breakfast to see all of Edmonton in the light of day.
I always seem to gravitate toward small towns, and Jasper with a population of 5000 people was no different. Jasper is the perfect little touch of community in the vast wilderness of Alberta. You can find solitude while exploring the mountains and beautiful lakes, then grab a drink with a view and end the day with a group of friends out on the patio in the fresh air or keep warm and cozy inside.
ICE CANYON EXPLORING
We strapped on crampons and walked through Maligne Canyon. On this walk lead by our amazing guide, Dave from Sundog Tours, we got to explore ice caves, frozen waterfalls, and some fossils. The name Maligne comes from the french word that roughly means to something evil in spirit. The canyon was given this name in reference to its “haunting atmosphere”.
Marmot Basin Ski Resort is one of the only ski resorts in a National Park. This uncrowded resort was the most incredible place to learn how to ski. I tried skiing many moons ago and had what they call a yard sale where everything goes everywhere. It scared me away so I switched to snowboarding after that. I picked it up in no time thanks to my instructor Phillip and made it to the top of the mountain taking a green run down by the end of our half day ski.
FAIRMONT STAY + THE DARK SKY PRESERVE EXPERIENCE
Because of its low light pollution, Jasper was designated the world’s largest Dark Sky Preserve with 11,000-square-kilometers. 700 acres of the dark sky preserve are on the Jasper Fairmont Property. By changing over to dark sky lights, lights that only point downward, it has actually changed migration patterns benefitting the wellbeing of wildlife. We partook in the Planetarium Experience, stargazing and learning more about night photography from their resident photographer, Matt. They also have the largest telescopes in the Rockies where you can see up to 600 stars to the human eye. The dark sky experience was completely unique to anything I have done before.
AT THE FAIRMONT HOTEL
People flock here in the summer for the turquoise waters and famed Instagram photos kayaking on the lake, but let me tell you – it’s just as beautiful in the winter up in these parts.
The Fairmont Lake Louise has so much to offer and the most picturesque 360 views of nature. I loved their Wellness Snowshoe. We walked off into the woods in a small group and went off the track as the morning light shone through the trees. Listening to the sounds and just taking in the scenery, this is one place you’ll find some peace and quiet. Our guide Phillip, who made his own snowshoes, said that he prefers winter because people are so active here.
One evening, we walked across the frozen lake and enjoyed a bottle of wine.
I also loved their mulled wine at the ice bar. Inside, you can get a delicious breakfast at the restaurant on the first floor with views overlooking the iceskating on the lake – they have mouthwatering lobster mac and cheese.
Make sure you try Alpine Social for dinner just downstairs – the food was so good we had to go back a second time. The design and details inside this restaurant are adorable, including a photo booth and a life-size scrabble board to have fun with while you’re waiting for your food.
LAKE LOUISE SKI DAY
I tried Skiing for a second time at Lake Louise. This day was quite fun! I even accidentally went down part of a blue run and didn’t fall, though my legs were completely exhausted by the time I made it to the bottom.
We went with our local tour operator from Yamnuska Mountain Adventures to an area outside of Banff called “the Junkyards” to try our hand at ice climbing. It’s actually much easier than it looks. You use much more lower body strength to get up to the top, and you will feel so accomplished when you make it!
SUNSHINE VILLAGE SKI RESORT SNOWSHOEING
Our local guide who took us out snowshoeing at Sunshine Village was super fun and knowledgeable. This snowshoe adventure was very different than our one at Lake Louise. We were out in the open looking at the vast views for miles in the distance. My favorite part of the snowshoe adventure was that there were a few snow slides we went down.
TASTES + ENTERTAINMENT
After the ATTA conference, we ended our night at Mount View BBQ which I have to say was one of the most unique venues I’ve ever been to. Inside, you’ll find a round space with an exposed roof, and outside they offer activities like fat tire biking. If you’re just wanting to laze around, there are campfire pits too. Perfect wedding venue, work retreat, or any sort of corporate event.
There is so much to do, see and explore here. I hope to be back to Alberta again soon.
Thank you to our incredible local hosts – Samantha, Amy, Meredith, Lindsay, Kristyn, and Ryan. You really showed us how the Canadians do it here in Alberta.