NAIT grad and author guides readers toward discovering local treasures
Like many people, the pandemic forced me to cancel travel plans. It would have been my first trip to Scotland, where my daughter was attending university.
The day I was to leave, she flew home. Instead of touring the highlands, I found myself part of a two-car shuttle to the Calgary International Airport.
The QEII felt eerie without the usual traffic. A supermoon hung low in the sky, keeping me company as I passed points-of-interest I’d described in my travel guide, Day Trips from Edmonton. The road trip was a reminder that COVID-19 need not rule out exploring.
Within a two-hour drive from the city’s downtown, you can find serene waterways and landscapes. You can seek out wildlife, immerse yourself in history, or explore unique places that defy categorization, including a number of “world’s largest” sites.
Day trips check all the pandemic boxes. You can avoid air travel, border crossings and “touched-by-others” hotel surfaces. It’s easy to find activities that are physical-distancing-friendly and plan an itinerary to match your mood, interests and stamina. While some sites have restrictions in place due to the pandemic, all are open at the time of this writing.
So, pack a picnic and choose or modify one of the trips shared here. You’ll find full descriptions and more itineraries along with maps, directions and other travel choices in my book.
Trip 1: Head north! Grain elevators, Alberta's oldest building, history and horseshoes
Round Trip: 68 kilometres
You can find a number of treasures just beyond Edmonton’s northwest outskirts. Begin your day of exploring at the St. Albert Grain Elevator Park and Train Station, at the corner of Mission Avenue and Meadowview Drive in St. Albert. There’s the Rotary Train Station, which is a 1920s replica, and two restored Provincial Historic Resources: a 1906 Alberta Grain Company Elevator and 1929 Alberta Wheat Pool Elevator.
Your next stop is Mission Hill, on St. Vital Avenue. Enjoy the view of the Sturgeon River Valley, then take the self-guided walking tour. Count the historic sites and be sure to get a good look at Father Lacombe Chapel. Built in 1861, it is the oldest building in Alberta! You will also find the Little White School, which opened in 1948.
Onward now to Cardiff Park, east of Morinville. This 65-hectare greenspace offers picnic sites with firepits and barbecues, a five-kilometre trail system and playgrounds. Look for historic coal mine sites or enjoy the opportunity to fish for perch and rainbow trout, or play horseshoes, before looping back home.
Trip 2: Head east! Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Villlage, world's largest kubasa, sheepwatching
Round trip: 306 km
Day trippers looking for one-of-a-kind experiences should head east. For a single-stop trip, drift back in time at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village for the day. This open-air museum illuminates the Ukrainian pioneers’ experience from 1892 to 1930.
For a multi-site trip, plan a photo-collecting tour of unique sites and landmarks. Your first stop is in Fort Saskatchewan to watch the city’s living lawnmowers in action. At set times, a shepherd and sheepdogs lead the 50-strong flock between their pasture and the Fort Heritage Precinct.
Next, head to Mundare to check out the murals and pose with the 12.8-metre kubasa, the first of several massive landscape markers.
Continue east to Vegreville to the Elks/Kinsmen Park for a look at the world’s largest Ukrainian Easter Egg (9.3 metres high). Enjoy a picnic and the park with its trout pond and fountain, then continue on Highway 16A. Less than a kilometre east, pull into the Our Lady of the Highway shrine, sculpted from Italian white marble.
Your last stop is in Andrew, home to the world’s largest mallard duck. When the selfies are done, head to the watchable wildlife sites at Whitford Lake, northwest of Andrew, and discover what inspired the town’s one-tonne statue.
Trip 3: Head south, then east! Reynolds Alberta Museum, Indigenous ribstones, birdwatching
Round trip: 366 km
Many of us zip back and forth between Edmonton and Calgary never knowing what lies beyond the QEII. It’s time to find out what you’ve been missing!
Start your journey with a visit to the Reynolds Alberta Museum, just two kilometres west of Wetaskiwin. The museum, which contains artifacts dating back to the 1880s, focuses on transportation, agriculture and industry. Next door, Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame explores aviation and honors than 150 inducted members.
Finish your morning with a picnic on the grounds, then continue to the Viking Ribstones Historic Site, a pleasant country drive from Wetaskiwin. A glacial erratic, the ribstones are petroglyphs that Indigenous people carved into quartzite boulders more than 1,000 years ago. From here, drive about 18 kilometres to Viking, where you can check out its Scandinavian themed Viking Troll Park.
Swing back toward Edmonton, via Tofield, with a stop at the Beaverhill Bird Observatory on the south end of Beaverhill Lake. Enjoy some independent birdwatching or take advantage of the opportunity to watch bird banding in action. If the weather doesn’t fully cooperate, head into Tofield to the Beaverhill Lake Nature Centre and Tofield Museum. During the pandemic, tours are by telephone appointment (780-662-3269).
Trip 4: Head west, then north! World's largest sundial, picnics, playgrounds and walking paths
Round trip: 404 km
Type “Sangudo” into your GPS and make your way to the world’s largest sundial. From here you might visit the nearby Paddle River Dam for fishing or swimming, or continue to Rochfort Bridge, Western Canada’s longest wooden trestle bridge.
Continue to Mayerthorpe, which is the starting point of the Cowboy Trail, a corridor linking the old west, right down to Cardston. In Mayerthorpe, pay your respects at Fallen Four Memorial Park, which commemorates four RCMP officers, as well as all peace offers in Canada, who lost their lives in the line of duty. You will find picnic sites, a playground and walking paths.
Your next stop, Whitecourt, is just a half-hour drive northwest. This area offers countless choices for enjoying the outdoors. You might walk the town’s more than 50 kilometres of trails, picnic in Rotary Park, or explore the Athabasca, McLeod, Sakwatemau (Eagle) rivers and Beaver Creek, or the lakes at Carson-Pegasus Provincial Park.
Other area attractions include the Forest Interpretive Centre and Heritage Park, which includes a museum and 26 interpretive sites at the unique Eric S. Huestis Demonstration Forest, a great place for a nature walk and to learn about the forestry industry. Save Hard Luck Canyon for your grand finale. You’ll find a bridge for viewing the waterfall, as well as picnic spots and trails.
Trip 5: Unique places - Restored antique trucks, farm life, corn maze and oil and gas history
Round trip: 430 km
Interested in a day trip but facing questionable weather? One option is to head southwest to Pas-Ka-Poo Park in Rimbey. The park’s collection of 10 historic buildings includes the Smithson International Truck Museum – home to the world's largest collection of restored International half-ton trucks.
If the sun peaks out, head to Sunnybrook Farm Museum. It’s the site of the oldest farm in Red Deer – settled in 1899. You might feed chickens, check out restored farming equipment, and explore the history of country life in central Alberta.
Alternatively, you might visit Ellis Bird Farm, which focuses on conserving central Alberta nesting bird species. As well as hummingbird, butterfly and water gardens, you will find the world’s largest collection of outdoor bluebird houses and seasonal events for children and adults.
Your next stop, open rain or shine, is the Lacombe Corn Maze. Bring sturdy shoes to explore the six-hectare maze, and check out the more than 40 attractions, from duck races to gemstone mining.
Then, it's off to the Canadian Energy Museum in Devon, where oil was discovered in 1947. You can stand on a 1940s drilling rig and explore indoor and outdoor interpretive displays that reveal processes from discovery to recovery, as well as examine alternate sources of energy.