One Fine Weekend in Alberta, Canada


DIABLOMAGAZINE: December, 2022

Icy-blue glaciers that gleam in the light; soaring pines framing turquoise rivers and lakes; and friendly folks who embrace winter sports like ice climbing, skiing, and snowshoeing. Welcome to Alberta, Canada, a long weekend destination that will give you goose bumps for all the right reasons.

Alberta is known for its five national parks—the most famous being Banff (Canada’s first national park) and Jasper (the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies)—and the 77 square miles of Columbia Icefield that Banff and Jasper share. The proximity of the ice field makes for the perfect driving tour of Alberta, with overnights in Edmonton, Jasper, Banff, and Calgary.


Ice Dreams

Fly into Edmonton, and you’ll witness the independent spirit that makes this capital city so fun. The residents don’t just like winter; they embrace it with oddities like deep freezer races and indoor surfing.

The North Saskatchewan River runs through Edmonton, with a vast network of trails lacing the river valley, while ski hills and ice rinks dot the neighborhoods. Downtown even has its own Ice District, a 25-acre sports and entertainment complex considered the largest in Canada. The Edmonton Oilers hockey arena, Rogers Place, is across from the city’s newest luxury hotel, the JW Marriott Edmonton Ice District, with its 13,000-square-foot health club. A popular neighborhood eatery is Biera, a beer-centric restaurant that features menu items like fried Alberta ginger chicken and beer-fermented pickles.

After touring the city (consider taking a Yeg Scoot e-scooter) and seeing Edmonton’s colorful collection of murals and Canada’s first Neon Sign Museum, hop on the highway for the four-hour drive west to Jasper National Park. The remote park is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a designated dark-sky preserve.

Stay at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge and you’ll experience a classic Canadian lodge setting. The century-old resort, with its cozy cabins, glacial lakes, and award-winning golf course, is set against a landscape of snow-dusted pines and cragged peaks. All-inclusive activities include skating and snowshoeing; there are also options for downhill and cross-country skiing, tobogganing, and even guided ice climbs and ice walks.

The late Queen Elizabeth II stayed here, as has a long list of celebrities, including Bing Crosby. A historic photo shows Crosby, golf club in hand, posing with a cooperative black bear. And you can still see the occasional bear on the property today, along with elk, deer, and other high-country critters. The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge even has two ambassador dogs that guests can “borrow” for walks. The hotel is known as much for its pet-friendly accommodations as for its elegance, offering a Signature Cabin Experience that includes butler service.


Picture-Perfect

Driving south to Banff will have you snapping pictures at every turn. The main attraction is the Columbia Icefield, which you can view from several pullouts on the highway, or by purchasing a ticket for the bus-size Ice Explorer or the glass-bottomed Columbia Icefield Skywalk. The Athabasca and North Saskatchewan rivers both originate in the ice field, which gets up to 280 inches of snowfall a year.

As impressive as the ice field is, another stop is even more photo-worthy. Peyto Lake in Banff National Park has been noted by Forbes magazine as the most beautiful natural wonder in the world. The deep turquoise color (much like nearby Lake Louise) is the result of fine grains of rock that flow into the water from a glacier. It’s an easy and spectacular hike from the parking lot to the lake overlook.

For park sightseeing, one of the best tours is by e-bike through Johnston Canyon with White Mountain Adventures. Ride on a closed section of highway through a landscape of poplar and pine and along the panoramic Bow Valley Parkway.

The 180-mile drive puts you in the alpine town of Banff early enough to enjoy the shopping on Banff Avenue (more walkable when it’s closed to vehicles during the summer and some months in the spring and fall) and a stroll along the Bow River.

The castle overlooking the town is the famed Fairmont Banff Springs, a grand hotel styled after a Scottish baronial manse that’s been hosting guests for more than 130 years. The Canadian Pacific Railway opened this luxury property in 1888 as one of the country’s first grand railway hotels.

In winter, the Fairmont Banff Springs resembles a snow globe, complete with a skating rink on the property. Folks sip hot toddies as they sit by the flickering firepits. A cozy new venue reminiscent of an igloo, the 360° Dome gives diners an expansive view of the castle and the Canadian Rockies. The Fairmont Banff Springs is also home to the award-winning Willow Stream Spa with hot and cold mineral bathing pools and creative spa treatments.

Banff has several good restaurants, including the intimate 1888 Chop House at the Fairmont Banff Springs and Brazen inside the historic Mount Royal Hotel.


Stampede Stop

The final destination on this Alberta tour is famous for its annual rodeo, the Calgary Stampede. A river city like Edmonton, Calgary (pronounced Cal-gree) has grown from a cow town to a city of skyscrapers, thanks to Canada’s oil industry. An unconventional way to see the city is in a vintage motorcycle sidecar with Rocky Mountain Sidecar Adventures. Sheepskins keep you warm as you rumble around town and up the scenic roads that overlook the Bow River and the Scotiabank Saddledome, home base for the Calgary Flames hockey team. The area is also the site of the Calgary Stampede, one of Canada’s largest festivals, which attracts over a million visitors a year.

An overnight stay at Calgary’s newest boutique hotel, the Dorian, puts you within walking distance of one of the city’s best restaurants, Major Tom. The building is 40 stories high and has a mid-century vibe, so you can enjoy Alberta-raised prime rib and filet mignon as you take in the city lights. Who knows—you may even catch a glimpse of Canada’s most famous light show, the aurora borealis. It would be a fitting end to a road trip with eye candy at every turn.

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