What do dinosaurs, craft beer, snowshoes, bison, and an ice castle have in common? You can find them all in Alberta this winter! From the unearthed fossils at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, to dinning at 7,218 feet at the top of the Banff Gondola, there’s something for everyone this season in Alberta.
10 Ways to Explore Alberta This Winter
Canada’s largest mixed-use sports and entertainment district opened in Edmonton this fall, centered around Roger’s Place, home of the Edmonton Oilers — and within close proximity of some of the best Mexican food I’ve had in Canada at Rostizado. Spread over 25-acres, the ICE District transforms the downtown core with new retail shops, restaurants, a movie theatre complex and casino.
Rocky Mountain High
Banff Gondola and the upper terminal building recently received a $26-million renovation recently, and I was able to check out part of it when I was a part of a workshop there in November. Seemingly sitting on top of the world — at 7,218 feet (2,200 m) above sea level — its Sky Bistro is one of the highest elevated restaurants in Canada. There’s also a multi-sensory experience scored by Canadian composer Darren Fung in the Above Banff Theatre. The Above Banff Interpretive Centre tells the story of Canada’s first and oldest national park, the history of the region’s First Nations, distinct ecosystem and hot springs.
Farm to fork isn’t a trend in Alberta, it’s a way of life, and I had an excellent sampling during my drive down the Cowboy Trail earlier this year. Deep fried avocado, bison burgers, hopped mead and parlour gin.
This winter, forage for wild edibles and healing plants in the rugged Kananaskis Country with Full Circle Adventures and break out the baking pans at Edmonton’s Duchess Bake Shop. The famed Parisian-style patisserie has recently expanded with a new teaching school, provisions shop and French-Scandinavian influenced brunch spot Cafe Linnea.
Calgary’s East Village
Contender for the trendiest neighbourhood in Calgary, the East Village has a history of music. It has Studio Bell, Canada’s newest cultural landmark and home of the National Music Centre, along with a revitalized St. Patrick’s Island, a 31-acre urban oasis with a picnic grove, natural playground and fishing cove.
The historic Simmons Building has been restored, and now houses Charbar (contender for enRoute magazine’s best new Canadian restaurant), a hyperlocal bakery, Sidewalk Citizen, plus I highly recommend local coffee roaster Phil & Sebastian.
From Grain to Glass
Alberta’s craft beer scene continues to evolve with new micro-breweries opening on a frequent basis. Frothy trails are found in rural areas, in addition to our major cities. Edmonton’s Polar Park Brewing Company, is a conservation-focused micro-brewery, will open in 2017 and you can find local craft breweries in Jasper, Banff, Calgary and Fort McMurray. Calgary Brewery Tours now offers four distinct tours.
Supernatural Star Gazing
Home to two of the world’s two largest dark sky preserves, Wood Buffalo and Jasper National Parks, Alberta offers prime viewing of the northern lights. Canada’s first ‘dark sky’ community is Bon Accord, Alberta. This small town 40km north of Edmonton is only the 11th town in the world to receive this distinction. Enjoy starlit snowshoe jaunts and full-moon fondue tours with Kananaskis Outfitters, and explore icy Johnston Canyon by moonlight.
Heat Up Winter
Edmonton’s Hawrelak Park transforms into a winter wonderland when a Narnia-like castle is created using only water and ice. One of only four of its kind in the world, visitors to the acre-sized Ice Castle can wind their way through an ice maze and spelunk through tunnels.
Visit during the Silver Skate Festival and you can also take in icy art, plus towering fire sculptures. You can also dash through the snow on a romantic sleigh ride at Heritage Ranch, sooth sore muscles at Banff Upper Hot Springs, and toast your winter adventures at the outdoor ice bar at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
Of course will all that snow in those hills, you can enjoy Alberta’s ski resorts including Banff National Park’s Big 3 resorts: Mt. Norway, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise Ski Resort sport 8,000 acres of skiing accessible with one tri-area ticket.
Walk on the Wild Side
An abundance of wildlife (587 species of mammals, birds and fish) in Alberta’s extensive parks and natural areas makes the province a prime spot for wildlife viewing. Spot elk, deer, moose and bears in the Rocky Mountains or take a wildlife tour in Jasper National Park, where mountain goats are often spotted by photographers. Open year round, Yamnuska Wolf Dog Sanctuary is a not-for-profit rescue centre that allows visitors to feed and interact with the wolf dogs during guided tours.
A herd of 12-15 bison are being reintroduced to Banff National Park early in 2017. As a keystone species, their re-establishment will have an immediate positive impact on the park, but there are other places in Alberta to see bison right now. Roam with herds of bison along the Bison Paddock Loop Road in Waterton Lakes National Park and at Elk Island National Park.
Dig into the Prehistoric Past
More than 40 species of dinosaurs once roamed Alberta. Very few places on earth showcase the remains of so many species and complete dinosaur skeletons. A hub for palaeontology, Alberta boats two world-leading facilities: the Royal Tyrrell Museum and the recently opened Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum, both strategically situated near some of the most important dinosaur fossil locations in the world.
Travellers can participate in Jurassic adventures in Dinosaur Provincial Park and the Canadian Badlands. Unique experiences include guided excavations (with real palaeontologists), fossil safaris, hiking over bone beds and assembling an exact replica of a dinosaur skeleton.