Family road trips are not just for summer. Some of Southern Alberta’s best destinations lie within easy driving distance of Calgary and you can do lots of them in a weekend. But where to go? We’re so glad you asked!
High Times in the Rocky Mountains
This area, which you can enter within an hour’s drive of Calgary, surely needs no introduction. Whether you head to Kananaskis Country, Banff/Lake Louise or Jasper, Alberta’s Rocky Mountain region offers spectacular scenery and winter fun for the whole family.
Why Your Family Should Visit: Think of a winter sport or activity. You can do that here. Simple, right? From skiing/snowboarding to horse-drawn sleigh rides, outdoor skating to snow tubing, snowshoeing to hot spring soaking, dog-sledding to hiking an icy canyon and lots more, winter in the Rockies is for playing. Add to all those outdoor activities some of the best mountain scenery in the world, several vibrant towns with interesting shops and excellent restaurants and a number of winter festivals featuring family oriented events, and there’s no question that you should visit this winter.
You Could Stay At: Family accommodations abound throughout Alberta’s Rocky Mountain region. In Banff, the Douglas Fir Resort & Chalets is immensely popular with families for its wide variety of accommodations, Western Canada’s largest hotel indoor playground, indoor waterpark with 2 large waterslides and a wading pool, plus an indoor swimming pool and outdoor hot tub.
Who doesn’t love dinosaurs?? They are a fascinating part of our history and – lucky for us Albertans – Drumheller is a hotbed of dinosaur activity. In fact, Drumheller is known as the “Dinosaur Capital of the World”!
Why Your Family Should Visit: The phenomenal Royal Tyrrell Museum is the big draw here. You could easily spend more than 1 day here, especially if your kids insist on racing from [spectacular] exhibit to [lifelike] exhibit, leaving you with little time to absorb all the information provided (been there, done that). Go back a second time and you might get to learn a bit more! The kids won’t mind, it’s like a candy store for dino-lovers. Plus, they’ve got special activities planned for the Family Day long weekend, and admission is free on Monday February 15, 2016. While in Drumheller, make sure you climb the World’s Largest Dinosaur, start the day with breakfast at Whifs Flapjack House and pick up a prehistoric souvenir from The Fossil Shop.
You Could Stay At: The Canalta Jurassic Drumheller features comfortable, modern rooms, a complimentary continental breakfast and warm buttered popcorn for those family snack attacks. They also offer a Royal Tyrrell Museum package, which includes your room and museum admission for 2 adults and up to 6 kids, for one all-in price.
This is one part of Alberta that many Calgarians have yet to visit, and that’s really too bad. Straddling both Alberta and Saskatchewan, the area has a fascinating geological and human history. For example, the Cypress Hills were never covered by the glaciers that overlaid the surrounding regions and Fort Walsh was the most important, largest and most heavily armed fort the North West Mounted Police garrisoned during their early years in the West! Currently, it’a a mecca for outdoor recreation, year-round.
Why Your Family Should Visit: To spend time outside! Winter activities in the Cypress Hills include cross-country and downhill skiing, snowshoeing, fat biking, ice fishing, kick-sledding and skating (1.5 km skating track!!). Worried about getting too cold? The Elkwater Learning Centre functions as a warm-up centre in the winter. You can use the washrooms and eat your lunch in comfort.
You Could Stay At: Elkwater Lake Lodge & Resort features a wide range of room types in their lodge, condos and cabins. They have an on-site restaurant and an indoor saltwater pool and hot tub. You can also go winter camping at the Elkwater campground, if you’re so inclined. Wherever you stay, you’ll probably be inclined to book a summer visit too!
One of Alberta’s five Unesco World Heritage Sites (and only seventeen in all of Canada), Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo Jump is one of the world’s oldest, largest and best preserved buffalo jumps. The site played an integral role of the lives of the area’s native people for nearly 6,000 years.
Why Your Family Should Visit: The visitor centre features interactive displays, artifacts and videos that will allow your whole family to learn so much about Alberta’s history, pre-European-settlement. Fascinating fact: the bone and tool beds that lie beneath the jump’s sandstone cliffs are nearly eleven metres thick! Please note that the on-site cafe is not open in the winter, so you may want to pack a lunch.
You Could Stay At: At less than 2 hours driving time from Calgary, this makes for a pretty easy day trip. If you want to turn it into an overnighter, try the Heritage Inn in Pincher Creek (32 km away; has an indoor pool) or the Quality Inn & Suites in Lethbridge (~80 km away; has an indoor pool with waterslide).
The family day long weekend is also an Alberta Free Family Fishing Weekend, so if your road trip will take you near one of Alberta’s many lakes or rivers, be sure to pack your fishing rod!
For more information on any of these great Alberta destinations – and lots more great places that your family could (and should!) visit – be sure take an [online] trip to Travel Alberta!