Where to Embrace Nature in Alberta July 21, 2018 · 9 min. readWhile the thoughts and opinions are my own, this article was brought to you by a third party. Also, this article may contain affiliate links.
After a long, dark, frigid winter, Canadians love the few months of summer we get every year. Once the snow melts and the mud dries, we are out hiking, picnicking, swimming, canoeing, kayaking, climbing and exploring this wonderful country of ours.
Of all the provinces to explore, Alberta ranks at the top of many adventurers' list. From hoodoos to waterfalls, mountains to valleys, deserts to tundra and everything in-between, Alberta offers any outdoorsman the perfect place to embrace nature.
If you're heading to Alberta to explore the great outdoors, you'll want to stop by Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. I have stopped in Cypress Hills several times over the past few years and I find it more and more beautiful every time I visit. Cypress Hills is a geological miracle, sitting right across the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan, and not too far from the border into Montana. Having been saved by the roving ice sheets that once tore through the area, Cypress Hills towers over the nearby landscape. It offers a wide variety of places to hike, bike, stand up paddle board, canoe, kayak and camp.
If you visit Cypress Hills, be sure to take the short drive up from Elkwater Lake to Head of the Mountain. Here you can see the northern hills of Montana, over 100 kilometres away. I made this trip a few years ago and was amazed by how far I could see!
A few hours away from Cypress Hills is Lethbridge. This bustling city was formed around a nearby river and lake, which provides a wide variety of aquatic sports and games. If you prefer to stay dry, however, Lethbridge also has plenty of hiking and biking paths available.
Like Cypress Hills, the terrain around Lethbridge is ridged and hilly, providing plenty of places to take in the nature. Lethbridge is also home to the Lethbridge Viaduct, a towering bridge that crosses the city from above. This bridge is perfect for a photoshoot, a hike or to sightsee while in the area. At over a century old, this bridge is an iconic representation of the ingenuity and determination of early Western settlers.
For nature enthusiasts. Crowsnest Pass is another sought after destination. Along this stretch of highway are communities sprinkled through the mountainous landscape. Decades ago, travelling to all of them in a single day would be daunting, but today it's a common occurrence. Thanks to e-cycles that can be picked up throughout the area, visitors can jump on a bike and travel the 23-kilometres of pathways that connect the communities.
While this area of the province has much to offer, two of the biggest highlights are the Bellevue Mine Tour – which takes you 300 metres deep into the old Bellevue mine – and the famous Frank Slide. Frank Slide is known throughout Western Canada as being the site as one of the largest natural disasters in Canadian history. In 1903 the nearby Turtle Mountain collapsed, and with it came 90 million tones of limestone down onto the community of Frank below. Today the town is an ocean of rocks and stone, a ghost of what once stood there.
Just south of the Crowsnest Pass is Alberta's newly designated provincial park, Castle Provincial Park. This park opened in 2017 with the purpose of being one of the most accessible parks in all of Canada. Often, provincial parks can be difficult to explore. Here in "flat Saskatchewan", for example, it isn't uncommon to find ropes and foot holds to help people climb up and down sharp drops in our parks. In Alberta that's even more extreme, and Castle Provincial Park strives to solve that problem. Throughout this park are a myriad of paths, roads and inclines all made as accessible as possible.
The park even has the first-of-its-kind "Icon Explore" e-trikes, which allow people with disabilities to explore the nature with their friends. It would also be handy for people like me, who can't ride a bike, to go biking with my family and friends.
The final place to explore nature this summer in southern Alberta is Waterton Lakes National Park. By itself, this park is stunning, being home to the iconic Prince of Wales Hotel. The mountains surrounding the hamlet of Waterton are easy to climb and offer several waterfalls to explore.
Having been to Waterton several times, I can talk all about the beauty of the region, but that isn't why the park made my list. Last year, the same year Castle Provincial Park was opening, Waterton was under siege by a roaring forest fire. It tore through the landscape, torching trees, jumping rivers and decimating communities. Thankfully, the hamlet of Waterton was saved. Today the park is regrowing, with young saplings appearing beneath the charred remains, and new plants emerging from the ashes. The determination of nature to always regrow and return is inspiring, and something we should all strive towards.
Long before I started my blog, many, many years ago, I visited Innsbruck, Austria. I was on a Contiki trip through Europe and visited a plethora of locations such as Rome, Paris, Amsterdam, Venice, Lucerne and Innsbruck, just to name a few. It was an incredible experience and one that I think was a transformative moment in my life.
Off the record (or, on the record now, I guess), of all the places I visited, the only one I didn't like was Innsbruck. I couldn't get into it. We visited it in late March, so the weather wasn't the best. The trees didn't have any leaves on them, the grass was brown, and everything had a post-winter grey look to it. After visiting Munich and spending the night in St. Goar, my mind wasn't thinking about Innsbruck at all. Instead, I was more excited to go to Venice the next day, and the Vatican the day after that. My time in Innsbruck was uneventful, and all I wanted was to get back on the road.
That was in 2011, and now it's 2018. Has my opinion on Innsbruck changed? I would say yes. I'm more mature now and if I went back, I would better appreciate what I was seeing. As I've gotten older, I've been less impressed by the massive buildings and more enthralled by the history that created them.
Just over a year ago I wrote an article about the glockenspiel that once stood in downtown Regina. I had fond memories of the glockenspiel as a child and was sad when they took it down to renovate the park. I was even more sad when they didn't put it back up, and I was angry when I discovered it was sitting in a junkyard (sorry, outdoor "storage facility") for the past ten years. That article got a lot of attention, from both the public, the city and the press. Today, efforts are being made to restore the bell back to its original location.
I'm telling you this because preserving heritage – may it be a 25-year-old bell, or a fourth century building – is important. Without heritage, we lose who we are. Often, the desire to move society forward steps over the heritage and causes it to get lost. As impressive as tall glass buildings might be, nothing is better than a smoky red brick structure.
Saskatchewan is beginning to realize how important this is – and thankfully it's happening now and not in a few decades after everything is gone. But, our neighbours have been on the heritage preservation band train for several years now, especially in Alberta.
I don't often take blog requests, but a friend approached me recently and asked about Venice. He's traveling to Italy for a wedding this summer and is stopping in Venice for few days. He asked me if I knew what he could do in the Floating City, so I racked up a list of ten things for him to see.
Feel free to leave a comment and let me know if I missed anything, what your favorite thing to see in Venice was, or if you plan to go visit Venice after reading this!