Wow, just wow did Alberta, Canada blow me away this January!
As an American, I’ll be the first to admit that I am totally one of those people who never appreciated my own backyard until I left. When I was I kid I dreamed of Peruvian jungles and sipping coffee by the Eiffel Tower. North America was only on my radar as a place to leave.
In fact I’ve never really been anywhere in North America. Time for that to change.
Now that I have been overseas for most of my adulthood, I’ve come to really appreciate everything there is to be found right back where I’m from. And only when I moved to New Zealand a few years ago and my love for nature was rekindled did I start to look to my longtime neighbor to the great white north – Canada.
Bow Valley Parkway
So many of my friends in New Zealand have traveled to Canada and shared their amazing stories with me. It was easy to get inspired. And when I spent the winter hanging out with my Canadian buddies Hecktic Travels in Wanaka, did I really start to imagine visiting Alberta and finally getting to rest my eyes on the Rocky Mountains.
Spoiler alert – it blew all my expectations out of the water!
While I can’t wait to dive in and start sharing all the amazing stories and memorable moments from my 10 days road tripping around Alberta, I thought I’d start off with a little inspirational feature about my favorite 20 photos from the trip that convinced me that I loved this mighty epic area of Canada!
P.S. if you’re curious about my camera gear that I used on this trip, be sure to check out my post about it here.
The tasty Calgary food scene
As a general rule, I’ve found that the colder the country the less exciting the food scene generally is. Is it just me?
Anyways, I was surprised and elated to discover that Calgary has an awesome growing foodie scene. What an introduction!
And not just Calgary, I ate really well my entire time in Alberta. But what was most standout for me was my very first day in Alberta I spent the whole morning hanging out at the Simmons Building, eating my way through the best of the best. Don’t worry, I have so much more to share about this soon, but my brunch at Charbar was one of my favorite meals in a long time.
The mindblowingly awesome road trips
In hindsight, while I was in Alberta for 10 days, I didn’t cover very much ground, which was perfectly fine by me. I like to take things slow and really get to know the places I visit, what about you?
I had a really nice SUV rental (4 wheel drive) which is essential on a winter road trip in Alberta. All the roads are covered in ice and snow and it was great not having to worry about chains or not being able to go where I wanted to go.
My favorite drive was on the Bow Valley Parkway between Banff and Lake Louise. Seriously, don’t miss this one, it’s epic! And there is usually wildlife about too!
Bow Valley Parkway
Road 724 out of Canmore
The frozen lakes that made me a bit nervous
It’s been a long time since I’ve experienced a “real” winter and one of my favorite surprises was seeing all of the frozen lakes. How magical!
At first I was a bit skeptical to walk out on them but considering the highs when I was in Alberta hovered around a balmy -15 celsius and the lakes were covered in footprints, snowshoe prints, and ski tracks, I thought my chances of staying above water were fairly good.
It had been a long time (since I went to college in New England) since I played around in so much snow and was in such a winter wonderland of frozen lakes. Man, it was beautiful!
The fairy tale frozen waterfalls
Again, I don’t think I had ever really seen that many frozen waterfalls before I went to Alberta, and definitely none as beautiful as the walk along Johnston Canyon near Banff.
I woke up bright and early super excited to finally see Johnston Canyon. It was the coldest day I’ve experienced in my whole life around -27 celsius, but it was so still and pure I loved every minute of it.
Even when my hair froze.
I joined the first tour of the day with Discover Banff Tours out to the canyon, and the snow was still sparkling and was so dry it squeaked under my feet. I couldn’t believe it. It was definitely the most fairytale moment of my trip!
Mush mush dogsledding time!
I was so excited to try dogsledding in Canada. I had been once before in Wanaka, but I was dying to try it out in a place where it was really renowned.
After leaving Calgary, I drove straight to Canmore and hopped on a dogsled adventure for the afternoon with Snowy Owl Tours.
And it was all kinds of magical, guys. Between zooming through the frosted trees and getting my first real glimpse of the Rocky Mountains to playing around with the pups, I was in heaven. HEAVEN!!
This was the Alberta I had been dreaming about!
Quite a few of you guys have been asking me about my red jacket – I wore the Musher jacket by Parajumpers (which is on sale now btw) during my trip to Canada and holy crap did it keep me alive. You need a really solid jacket to visit Canada in January, and this one was amazing. I’ll be writing more about them soon as I am collaborating with PJ this year on some fun frosty projects.
Working on my snowboarding at Sunshine and Lake Louise
Ok, I’m not going to lie. One of the main reasons I wanted to go to Canada was to have my first real snow trip. Because I just properly learned to snowboard in New Zealand this past winter, (I’m using the word “proper” veeeerrrry loosely here guys haha) I was dying to hit the slopes at some of the big resorts in North America, and the Big 3 around Banff was at the top of my list.
I caught the gondola up to Sunshine Village at sunset after arriving in Banff and was blown away by the sheer size! I stayed at the resort for the night and woke up to a layer of fresh snow before hitting the slopes. I loved the mellow wide runs and getting to glide through the trees for the first time. It was amazing!
After that I spent two days at Lake Louise getting better and enjoying the amazing views (and food)!
Basically I decided I need to move to Banff to do a proper snow season, what do you guys think?
Admiring the starry skies
Just like New Zealand, Alberta has some beautiful dark skies. Besides the chance of seeing the Northern Lights, visiting in winter means you have much longer nights and you don’t have to stay up quite so late to stargaze, which obviously I am a big fan of.
My favorite memory of watching the stars was just outside Canmore. I drove up there at night and had the place to myself, watching the stars twinkle over the warmly lit town surrounded by the Rockies.
It was a beautiful moment I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.
Hanging out in the cozy cabins
I was so excited to stay at the Buffalo Mountain Lodge in Banff because it looked like just what I imagined – rustic, cozy wooden cabins complete with clawfoot tubs and your own fire.
I never wanted to leave this place it was heaven!
It was tucked away just outside town with the most beautiful views of the mountains, and it was snowing when I arrived. Seriously couldn’t have been more idyllic!
Pretending to be good at snowshoeing
Sometimes I really have to wonder what it must be like to be naturally athletic. Seriously, what is it like??
As much as I struggle with all sorts of sports and outdoor activities, I still love them and throw myself into them wholeheartedly. And in the case of snowshoeing, throwing myself through the snow, usually on my face. Walking is hard guys.
I LOVED snowshoeing! While in Canmore I flew up by helicopter to the nearby Kananaskis Country (where they filmed parts of the Revenant btw) with White Mountain Adventures for some heli-snowshoeing. Yes, it was super epic. The perfect alternative for winter backcountry adventures for people who aren’t serious skiers, it was the most perfect way to experience the pure wilderness of the Rockies.
Pigging out on poutine
*Here’s an amazing article about how awesome Poutine is.
I chowed down on some amazing poutine at the Eddie Burger Bar in Banff, along with a great burger. Oink oink!
Walking around the frosted forests
If I had to chose one thing that I absolutely loved above all else in Alberta, weirdly enough it would probably be the forests.
One thing we don’t have enough of in Wanaka is old forest, and I really really miss getting to explore the woods in my free time.
And Alberta has no shortage of massive old forests just waiting to be explored. And the best part of going in winter besides seeing the trees heaving with snow? All the grizzlies are sleeping.
Somewhere on the Bow Valley Parkway
On the shores of Lake Louise
Learning about the hot pools and the history of Banff (because I’m a history nerd guys)
One of the first spots I checked out in Banff town was the Cave and Basin, a historical site with thermal hot springs.
In the mid-1800s the springs and cave were “discovered” by explorers and railway workers and it was turned into a reserve which eventually became the birthplace of Canada’s national parks in 1885.
You can’t swim in them today but you can dethaw and warm up at the nearby Banff Upper Hot Springs.
Finally getting to visit Lake Louise
I know Lake Louise is iconic but I can’t help it, it was a place I was dreaming of visiting on this trip. And I was super excited to see it in winter, instead of from the stock standard Instagram photo of it from the blue lake from a canoe.
There wasn’t a hint of blue when I was there, it was covered with a layer of ice and snow and the trees were frosted in the distance.
I had a great view of the lake and glacier from my room at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and was up every morning before sunrise to inch my way along the lake admiring the amazing scenery.
Alberta, you rock.
Have you guys been to Alberta? Do you enjoy traveling in winter? Any spots here you dream of visiting too? Share!
Disclaimers: Many thanks to Travel Alberta for hosting me in Canada. Aaaand some of the links in this post are affiliate links (I gotta pay the bills). But like always I’m keeping it real – all opinions are my own, like you could expect less from me.