The second-biggest country in the world has a seemingly endless supply of unspoilt landscapes and extraordinary wildlife. Our writer Scott Balaam flew to Canada to explore some of the best parts of this famously beautiful corner of North America…
As I made my way up Whistler’s Mountain in the Skytram just a few hours after white-water rafting it occurred to me that Canada makes an excellent alternative to New Zealand. The land down under has long been a mecca for travelling adrenalin seekers but Alberta in Canada gives it some serious competition.
Our adventure started by flying to Edmonton, Alberta’s second-largest city where we were met by a local tour guide to travel overland to Calgary via Jasper and Banff – two beautiful National Parks with UNESCO World Heritage status. On the surface, it seems like a demure government town but Edmonton has become to be known as the ‘Festival City’ in recent years due to the high number of festivals held there.
Our base in the city was Metterra Hotel, an atheistically appealing luxury boutique hotel perfectly positioned on central Whyte Avenue which showcased some very cool art. The city is very proud of its West Edmonton Mall (the largest mall in North America) and the endearing historic Fort Edmonton Park where costumed actors play characters based on real-life individuals who lived in the area circa 1885, 1905 and 1920. My personal highlight though was Elk Island National Park. This is a very important place where the dedicated staff worked very hard to conserve bison. There was once between 30-60 million bison in the country but this has now diminished to only around 250,000.
Jasper National Park
Next up was Jasper National Park and at an incredible 11,000 square kilometres it’s the largest National Park in the Canadian Rockies. It’s also where the adrenalin seekers dream starts.
The adrenalin kicked in with our first activity – white water rafting down the glacier created Sunwapta River with Jasper Rafting Adventures. Hitting the rapids with the feeling of the freezing cold water splashing against our faces was a truly spectacular experience and one that I would recommend to anyone!
Next it was time for the Skytram located at Whistler’s Mountain. Once up the top of the mountain the views of the beautiful wilderness below make it an essential park attraction. If you’re looking for more of an adventure, then follow the 1km hike to the summit – you could catch a glimpse of mountain goats, pikas and other interesting wildlife along the way, just make sure you watch out for the bears!
There are also plenty of other activities to do in the Jasper National Park including taking a Harley Davidson tour, mountain biking, trekking, renting a boat or even horse riding. I would personally recommend the phenomenal Icefield Parkway (a scenic highway located between Jasper and Banff) which features more than 100 ancient glaciers, waterfalls cascading from towering rock spires and emerald green lakes.
Banff National Park
Our final stop was Banff National Park but first there were a couple of special places to stop at. The three places that really stood out for me were awe-inspiring Athabasca Falls, Sunwapta Falls and Tangle Creek. Banff National Park is smaller than Jasper National park at 6,600 square kilometres but is home to some gorgeous lakes including the very special Peyto Lake and the bustling Lake Louise (where visitors can go canoeing). When winter falls, the park turns into a snowy paradise for skiers and snowboarders.
The Banff Gondola, which goes to the shoulder of Sulphur Mountain was a very special journey which allows you to enjoy wonderful views of Banff from 7,486 feet above sea level. The park is surprisingly a great place to socialize – our group enjoyed hearty meal a Balkan, hit the main strip for drinks and then ended the night with a crisp bourbon on the terrace of Park Distillery on Banff Avenue.
Filled with an endless supply of impossibly beautiful wilderness scenery and activities which make the most of the outdoors, this part of Canada makes for a very special trip – I think I’ll always remember how peaceful but insignificant I felt sitting at the top of Whistler’s Mountain. For UK visitors especially, Canada makes a great to alternative for New Zealand – you’ll find all the same activities and beautiful views but it only takes about half the time to get there!
We flew with KLM to Edmonton via Amsterdam and then out of Calgary but you can do it either way. Whilst you can fly in and out of the same airport having the flexibility of arriving and departing at different airports allows you to see a lot more and you avoid having to go back on yourself.
The journey to and from was very comfortable and you have different options of classes – Business, Economy and Economy Comfort. Whilst ‘Business’ is for those with deep pockets (or if your company is paying) but for those who cannot afford that option but still want a little more space then ‘Economy Comfort’ is a financially viable option. A major selling point of this route is that you can fly out of 17 UK based airports to and from Amsterdam, meaning that you can travel from your local airport rather than having to travel to London or Manchester.