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Only In Alberta: Planning The Perfect Winter Wonderland Trip

01/20/2015 02:00 EST | Updated 01/27/2015 04:59 EST
Paul Zizka via Getty Images

Alberta is a prime example of northern beauty, from the stunning Rocky Mountains to the mysterious Badlands. And within its borders, adventures await representing the true spirit of Canada. And only in Alberta can you experience every classic winter activity, all in one place — and with the proper amount of planning (and a willingness to not try to rush an entire province into a single weekend), you can see a lot of what it has to offer. But what would that itinerary look like? How do you choose how to spend the perfect vacation in Alberta?

Well if you’re a sports fan, you’ll want to jump in on a game of hockey. And not just any game of hockey; the world’s largest game of pond hockey, played each February in the northwest of Alberta, near the banks of Peace River Valley. Up to 40 teams comprised of four players take to the ice in an epic battle of the blades for 30 minutes. Whether you participate or just watch, there’s nothing that says “wintertime fun” more than hockey played outdoors.

If hockey isn’t your ice sport of choice, why not try your hand at ice fishing? The abundance of frozen lakes in Alberta has made it a prime ice fishing spot. It’s a sport that marries cold-weather challenges with delicious results: whitefish from Gull Lake, walleye from Calling Lake, and even 20-pound pikes out of Sylvan Lake. It’s also about enjoying the natural surroundings and bonding with like-minded adventurers. There’s a touch of competition to see who snags the biggest catch, but if you’re not feeling up to a sporting challenge, you can forego the fishing and take a guided tour of the area instead.

If you’d rather exercise your mind, there are plenty of opportunities for you to enjoy a vibrant part of Canadian history (and Aboriginal spirituality) at Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo Jump. In 1981, it was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Five hundred years before the Great Pyramids in Egypt were built, this site was used to hunt bison by driving them over the edge of a cliff. Today, a visitor centre helps guests learn more about the ecology of the prehistoric plains, the hut’s spiritual significance, and the history of Blackfoot people. It’s a fascinating journey to the past.

If you’ve tired of typical vacation hotel accommodations, why not spend the night in the middle of the Great Outdoors? Even in the winter, Alberta has a bustling camping industry, and there’s nothing quite like pitching a tent in the middle of a snowy field. (Or you can check out the hybrid tent-cabin oTENTiks and enjoy the best of both worlds!) There are 20 parks to set up camp, from Beauvais Lake Provincial Park, outside of Lethbridge in the south to Vermilion Provincial Park, near the Saskatchewan border. Imagine the stillness of night sky where you can hear the wind rustle through the pine trees. There’s magic in the air, making you feel like you’re a part of the nature surrounding you. Listen to the campfire crackle as you breathe in the clean, crisp air. But don’t tuck in for bed just yet. It’s time to star gaze!

If you want to see the brightest stars in Canada, come to Jasper National Park. In 2011, it became the world’s largest accessible Dark Sky Preserve, covering 11,228 square kilometres. In the absence of light pollution, the skies come alive with constellations, shooting stars, and if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the colourful wonder of the northern lights. It’s a perfect setting for taking a stroll or spotting wildlife in the quiet of the night. The best places to see the stars are Pyramid Lake, Maligne Lake, and Athabasca Glacier. Bring a tripod and a digital SLR camera with a wide-angle lens to capture the beauty.

Alberta is a province that is chock full of ways to spend a vacation, whether you’re travelling solo or have the whole family in tow. But what we’ve sketched out here is just a suggestion; your perfect vacation could take a different shape. Don’t take our word for it — check out what Alberta has to offer, and start planning your very own Perfect Trip.

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