If a few staycations are part of your summer plans, here are a few day (or weekend) trips worth taking - and where to eat when you get there.
The drive up Highway 93 (the Icefields Parkway) to Jasper is among the most beautiful in the world - it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site - winding past 100 visible glaciers and the new Glacier Skywalk, a cliff-edge walkway that leads to a platform where glass is all that separates you from a 918-foot drop. When you get to Jasper, the iconic Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, fairmont.com/jasper, is perfect for a family getaway - there’s an outdoor pool and hot tub, two game rooms, it’s an easy, flat walk around the lake, you can rent a canoe or paddleboat by the hour to paddle through the clear green water of Lac Beauvert and they light a fire to roast s’mores by the lake every Friday and Saturday evening. Order casual food and cocktails (they have a great kids’ menu, and kids five and under eat for free when ordering off the children’s menu or when eating from any buffet) in the Emerald Lounge, beside a crackling fire or on the patio overlooking the pool and lake. Or try the new Orso Trattoria, a phenomenal new Italian restaurant featuring house-cured antipasti, great Italian wines and the only Peroni on Tap in Jasper.
Banff is expected to be busy this summer. But even if you’re not staying overnight, it’s still worth the drive for a hike, a visit to the candy store, and now you can pop in for pizza and bowling at High Rollers, highrollersbanff.com, before heading back to town. With six bowling lanes, 2 bocce courts, enormous New York-style pizza and 50 craft beers on tap, it’s a great family stop. They have nightly specials too. On Sundays, 18-inch pizzas are only $15 (kids will love the one topped with mac & cheese and hot dogs) and half-price bowling after 6pm.
The Cowboy Trail
I love road trips, but I particularly love heading southwest of the city, along the Cowboy Trail, to Priddis and Millarville, Black Diamond and Turner Valley. It’s an easy, gorgeous drive and on Saturdays, you can stop in at the Millville Farmers’ Market. You can also stop at Bar U Ranch, pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/ab/baru/index.aspx, a preserved working ranch and the only National Historic Site to commemorate the history of ranching in Canada. In Turner Valley, the burgers at the Chuckwagon Café, chuckwagoncafe.ca, are worth going for alone. Owner Terry raises his own cattle; the beef is dry aged 24 days, and is sublime! They’re also known for their flat iron steak eggs Benedict and diner-style pies, baked by a local lady.
Next door is the new Eau Claire Distillery, eauclairedistillery.ca, where you can pop in for a tour and taste, and pick up bottles of their award-winning Parlour Gin, Vodka or Spring Equinox, made by distilling local prickly pears. (It’s divine!) A few minutes away, there is also pie to be had at the old-school Black Diamond Bakery, blackdiamondbakery.ca. Or enjoy some shakes at Marv’s Classic Soda Shop, marvsclassics.ca.
If a drive to Drumheller is part of your summer plans, include a stop at Bernie & the Boys Bistro, bernieandtheboys.com, made famous on You Gotta Eat Here. It’s a fun and colorful diner serving up oversized classics like burgers, milkshakes and poutine. And they’re known for their four-pound mammoth burger, made for sharing! A fun 15-minute drive from downtown Drumheller is the Last Chance Saloon, visitlastchancesaloon.com, in the hamlet of Wayne (population: 27); a colorful spot overflowing with a century of knick-knacks and curiosities, photos and antiques. It’s a saloon but there’s a kids’ menu, shuffleboard and homemade pie. In the summer, it also turns into a live music venue with Alberta bands playing every Saturday night - even more reason to hop in the car and take a drive.
This is one of my 10-year-old son’s (and his cousin’s) favorite destinations. They’re always asking when we can go back. The Medicine Hat Lodge, medhatlodge.com, has an enormous waterslide and free breakfast, making it perfect for kids. You can also beat the heat with a visit to Tino’s Drive-In (hilariously thin burgers, but people apparently go for the chili fries) and Swirls Ice Cream, swirlsicecream.ca, and Skinny’s Smokehouse, skinnyssmokehouse.ca, serves up hickory smoked pulled pork, ribs, chicken and some of the best brisket I’ve had - with cold Cokes in glass bottles, rolls of paper towels for sticky fingers and Mad magazines on the tabletops. The 1912 Medalta Pottery Factory, a national historic site in the clay district, pc.gc.ca/eng/docs/r/ab/sites/medalta.aspx, is a very cool and educational stop. Local clays, natural gas and a railway meant Medicine Hat was a major player in the clay products (including bowls, pots and fine china) industry in Canada during the early 20th century.
Happy Alberta Travels!
Julie is a best-selling cookbook author, food writer, cooking instructor, and the food and nutrition columnist on the Calgary Eyeopener on CBC Radio. For more information and to subscribe to Julie’s ‘Free Lunch,’ delicious deliveries right to your inbox, visit dinnerwithjulie.com.
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