Spring is a hard season on the prairies. You never know if you’re going to get sun or snow, but there are still many ways to get out for a long day and enjoy spectacular scenery and food along the way – because even if the weather isn’t awesome, the food will be.
Here are some of my favourite ways to spend a weekend driving around Southern Alberta along with some of my favourite places to eat – oh, and since the weather is always unpredictable, some safety reminders to keep things steady on the road.
Wherever you go this spring, stay safe. Your driving record is one of the biggest factors in determining your auto insurance rates. As such, a track record of violation- and accident-free driving is the best recipe for a deliciously affordable premium.
1. PETER LOUGHEED PROVINCIAL PARK
Welcome to the first day of spring! In the Rocky Mountains, winter lingers and that’s just fine. We spent the weekend with this view at the @MountEngadine Lodge. The melt will start soon, but there is enough snow (where it belongs, in the mountains) to explore some wonderful snowshoe trails, cross country paths, and hiking trails.
Distance Round Trip from Calgary: 280 km
WHAT TO SEE: Winter lasts longer in the mountains, and if you’re looking for some late season snow for cross country skiing, snowshoeing, or just to stare at, a visit to K Country is a must. There are great trails and hikes all around the Mount Shark area or perhaps a wander around Upper Kananaskis Lake.
WHAT TO EAT: Mount Engadine Lodge is the perfect place to après. Each afternoon they host ‘an afternoon tea’ featuring trays of charcuterie, gorgeous house baked goods, as well as craft beer, wine, or – sure – tea.
— Mount Engadine Lodge (@mountengadine) April 25, 2017
WHAT TO KNOW: Keeping your winter tires on well into late spring is smart. They should be left on until temps are consistently above 7 C. If you’re heading into the mountains there will be spring snow. A warm spring sun during the day will melt it and a freeze/thaw cycle will lead to slick spots – so keep the snowies on.
2. HEAD SMASHED IN BUFFALO JUMP
Distance Round Trip from Calgary: 370 km
WHAT TO SEE: Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump is a World Heritage Site and a fantastic place for elementary school kids to get up close with the First Nations’ history they are studying in school. This is where the buffalo roamed and were keenly hunted by the native peoples. It’s a great museum with a fantastic view of the Crowsnest Pass.
WHAT TO EAT: On the way down, or on the way back, you have to stop at Roy’s Place in Claresholm. The cinnamon buns here are the size of a small child’s face and are worth the quick stop for more than a snack. The entire menu is Alberta diner awesome, but the cinnamon buns stand out. Get one for now and one for later. Trust me.
WHAT TO KNOW: After a frosty winter, spring is a great time to replace your wiper blades. They need replacing usually once a year and now is the time to get those worn-out blades swapped for something that keep your windshield clean on a long dusty drive.
3. ALL THE THINGS IN DRUMHELLER
Distance Round Trip from Calgary: 302 km
WHAT TO SEE: The list of things to do in the Drumheller Valley feels endless. Of course the Royal Tyrrell Museum and but there are also hoodoos, and ferries, and geocaches, and dinosaurs everywhere.
WHAT TO EAT: The Last Chance Saloon is the kind of place that Guy Fieri dreams of. The town of Wayne boasts a population of just 27 people, down from the 2,500 peak of the coal boom days. The Rosedeer Hotel is home to the saloon that serves up a mean steak amidst kitschy souvenirs of the valley’s history.
WHAT TO KNOW: When the snow starts to turn to rain, and the weather starts to warm up a bit, the roads will be extra slippery. Oil and other leaked fluids mix with the rainwater and make the highways slick. This is a day trip, slow down and take your time. With only 27 people in Wayne, there’s not much of a rush hour.
4. ICEFIELDS PARKWAY
Distance Round Trip from Calgary: 900 km
WHAT TO SEE: This is a long daytrip. I’ve gone up and back in the past, but it’s a very long day. This is better launched from Banff or Lake Louise or Jasper, but the Icefields Parkway is, simply, the most scenic drive in Canada. Peyto Lake, the Columbia Icefield and Glacier Skywalk (above) are just some of the places you’ll stop to take pictures.
WHAT TO EAT: There is a lot of scenery and not many places to get fuel or food along the Icefields Parkway. About halfway between Lake Louise and Jasper is The Crossing. This is where you fuel up – and fill up. You can go old school in The Crossing Cafe (below), fancier in the Mount Wilson Restaurant, or in between at the Parkway Pub. In the summer you’re dodging tour bus crowds here, in the spring, it’s quieter.
WHAT TO KNOW: Pay attention to the speed limits here. There are no fences keeping animals off the road and they’re all starting to get more adventurous as the seasons change. Spring is when the little ones come out, not as well versed in the ways of the road, so keep an eye out.
Your driving record is one of the biggest factors in determining your auto insurance rates. As such, a track record of violation- and accident-free driving is the best recipe for a deliciously affordable premium.
5. SKIING AT SUNSHINE
Distance Round Trip from Calgary: 280 km
WHAT TO SEE: They ski at Sunshine right until the May long weekend. The picture above is from a family trip we took to the hill one year on the first weekend of May. This is the heart of the Rockies, way up at the top, and the skiing here is phenomenal long into the season where you’re more thinking about bbqs.
WHAT TO EAT: After some epic spring skiing at Sunshine, make a pit stop in Banff on the way back home to have dinner at the Bear St Tavern. They promise ridiculously good pizza, and they deliver. That’s a Wheeler Hut pizza below with wild forest mushrooms, pine nuts, mozzarella, truffle oil, pesto, and pizza sauce. Oh yes.
WHAT TO KNOW: If you’re still skiing in May, you need to keep your eyes on the road for changing road conditions. A long winter has caved potholes in your path, and you want to make sure you’re missing them.
This post is sponsored by Esurance