Alongside the national-park glaciers, lakes and mountains of Jasper and Banff, Alberta is so proud of the great Canadian adventure that it’s even invited it in to its cities. Here’s how to make the most of it all.
You don’t even have to leave Alberta’s capital before you’re treated to a dose of the great outdoors. The North Saskatchewan River runs right through Edmonton’s centre, forming a spectacularly verdant valley in among the city’s urbanity. It’s all protected by no fewer than 14 parks, with each offering its own unique delights. Everyone has their favourite, whether it’s the Chinese garden at Louise McKinney, the pebble beach at Terwillegar, picnicking on the expansive lawns of Rundle or enjoying shady aspen woods of Dawson and Laurier. Take it on the 150 km of cycling, jogging and walking trails, or with a spin on a pedalo. And, come winter, those same waters host that favourite Canadian pastime – ice-skating. However, with summer comes festival season, with everything from dragon boat races to folk music programmes represented.
Bison standing in Elk Island National Park
But it’s also a launchpad for a range of wilder exploration. Case in point, you’ll find Elk Island National Park just 40 minutes from the city centre. Here, everything from coyote and deer to moose and, yes, elk, roam free across plains, through forests and around great shimmering lakes. After the Serengeti, it contains the highest concentration of wild hoofed animals in the world. Elk Island also played an important part in the conservation of the American bison and is home to herds of both wood and plains bison.
It’s best appreciated on picturesque hikes that, come the winter, freeze into snowshoeing and cross-country skiing trails. For something more relaxed, hit the waters – after a picnic on the sandy beaches, of course. Here, canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards make for a perfectly serene way to explore, bringing you out onto glassy, tree-framed lakes. What’s more, it’s a dark sky preserve, remote enough to avoid Edmonton’s light pollution. Resultantly, you’ll be treated to stunning stargazing opportunities round the campfire, along with the winter’s famous Northern Lights. Watch as the night’s inky black is replaced with great sweeps of green.
As the host of the 1988 Winter Olympics, Calgary’s sporting legacy lives on in the Canada Olympic Park. Today, the centre follows in the ski-tracks of over-ambitious Brit, Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards, and is open to all, regardless of ability. This means you can enjoy the high-adrenaline excitement of the 62 mph bobsleighs, downhill skiing and ice skating rinks. You can even slide down the slopes on a giant inflatable tube. But, the fun isn’t just confined to the colder months, with the park host to plenty of summer excitement. Borrow a mountain bike for some downhill exhilaration, take some time out with a round of golf, mini or professional-standard, or zoom down North America’s fastest zipline at speeds of up to 87 mph. There’s even summer bobsleighing.
Riders in the Calgary Stampede
However, for the ultimate in outdoors excitement, time your visit to coincide with the Calgary Stampede. Each July, the city is given over to what is the world’s most popular rodeo event, featuring everything from chuck wagon racing and bareback horse riding to colourful parades and performances from such musical legends as Stevie Wonder. It’s all served up with lashings of barbecue favourites, a true carnival atmosphere and even an Indian Village – a celebration of First Nations’ culture complete with teepee-raising contests and traditional dances. In all, the Calgary Stampede certainly deserves its moniker, ‘The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth’. However, you don’t have to visit over summer to get a taste of the festive cheer, with the city host to a stunning array of craft breweries open year round.