When I travel, I aim for the unordinary—an absolute removal from my everyday routine. I also seek locations that compete with the outermost reaches of my imagination. It is vital to see, touch, taste, hear, and inhale never encountered moments. New experiences enhance your perspective and shape humanity.
Exploring the epic beauty of Alberta, Canada has long been on my list. That might have something to do with my love of romcoms. After watching the flick Last Holiday where Queen Latifah’s character empties her bank account to live out her last days in luxury in the Czech Republic, I immediately went searching for the next accessible option. I landed on Alberta and its postcard-perfect expansive frozen lakes, cool blue ice falls, snow-dunked mountain peaks, and grand castle hotels and lodges (the Fairmont hotels) which dot Canada rail routes from Quebec to British Columbia.
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So when Travel Alberta invited a group of other journalists and me to explore the province including Banff National Park, Calgary, Edmonton, Jasper, Kananaskis, and Lake Louise, I dropped everything and hightailed it over to Trudeau territory. Alberta definitely gives you the full experience where nature implores you (and almost requires you) to step out of your comfort zone and live life to the fullest. Like a frothy lager, Alberta stimulates all of your senses in ways you can’t conjure unless you have the chance to drink it in.
The scenery that makes up the Canadian Rockies is often described as “surreal” because you pretty much can’t believe your eyes. You will see frozen tundras, glaciers, and mountains upon mountains impressively adorned with unyielding frozen waterfalls. Highlights of the must-see portion of our trek included strapping cleats onto our boots and immersing ourselves in a more than 3-hour ice walk through Jasper National Park’s Maligne Canyon where you not only explore frozen waterfalls but venture through caves, grottos, and other almost beyond belief ice formations led by Sundog Tours.
You can also see the Northern Lights from Jasper. Unfortunately, an otherworldly light show wasn’t in the forecast, but Jasper still dazzled. Our Maligne guide Wes was quick to point out that one of the most beautiful aspects of canyon walks is how reflective they are of the ever-changing nature of the universe—it will never be the same on any given day based on the forecast, time, or season. During the winter it’s all about ice. When late spring and summer hit, torrents of water rip through the canyon’s maze of limestone walls at jaw-dropping depths.
You’ll see similar canyon views, turquoise ice baths and formations at Athabasca Falls just off Icefields Parkway—a highway which was specifically constructed so tourists could explore Canada’s ancient glaciers which connect to Lake Louise south of Jasper. Along the road trip, it’s also beyond endearing to see hoarfrost gently collect on trees giving the foliage a magical vibe. As you move further south from Jasper to Banff, the pines, spruce, and Douglas firs begin to look as though they are decked out for a nature disco with plunks of fresh, white powder nesting on their limbs. We also encountered herds of bighorn sheep and elk turning us into roadside, Canadian safari paparazzi.
Further into our journey, we snowshoed across Elk Island National Park’s frozen lake and up Mount Victoria at Lake Louise. A word about snowshoeing: it’s hard, especially if you are climbing the first ascent of 1,897 feet on top of heaps of fresh powder. You need endurance. I almost turned around after 5 minutes of climbing. Then I thought about something I read at the Fairmont Lake Louise hotel. “It’s easy to live life on autopilot. Practice mindfulness by maintaining in-the-moment awareness of your thoughts, feelings and your environment.” Then it goes into some useful tips about mindful hiking, suggesting you check in with yourself at 15, 20, and 30-minute intervals to assess what you feel, smell, hear, see and taste. After checking in I realized I could taste the air, smell the snow interacting with the trees, feel it falling on my face, hear almost nothing (you often feel like you have the outdoors to yourself in Alberta), and I felt invigorated. Putting meditation to use on a mountain in blistering cold temps while trudging atop snow isn’t something I thought I’d ever find myself doing, but it worked.
I’ve never snowshoed or ice climbed before, so the experience of having dagger-style crampons strapped to my boots as I hacked into ice and climbed up a 40-foot wall in Banff National Park’s Johnston Canyon connected me to nature in ways I never thought possible. And, I did the climb twice (halfway). Our Yamnuska Adventures guides, Carl Johnston and Cherring Sherpa, deserve a feature of their own (yes, we climbed with a Mount Everest Sherpa—and Carl moves up ice with the ease of a principal ballet dancer). They curated a memorable, beautiful, fun, and safe experience—and also turned us into climbers within minutes. That’s no small feat for a beginner whose usual interaction with ice is avoiding it.
One of the biggest aspects of travel is the food. Alberta hits a lot of marks. Chef Eric Beaupré’s five-course dinner at Delta Hotels Kananaskis Lodge was a standout. The way he composes a plate allows you to taste the environment. You can’t leave Alberta without consuming bison (if you are a carnivore). His Spring Bank Ranch Bison Tartare with clipped chives, pickle, whole grain stone mustard, and cured egg yolk paired with Pinot Noir will forever compose flavors that remind me of the Canadian Rockies.
First Nation drummer, singer, and storyteller Matricia Brown was another great teacher we met along the way. As she entertained and educated us under the stars surrounded by the coziness of the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, she shared a great line to define the journey: “Focus on being a human BEING instead of a human DOING.” A journey through Alberta will certainly allow you to do that.
Photo Credit: iStock