Alberta Family Fun:
Packing the most in to our family vacation
This summer my husband’s nephew was getting married in Edmonton. Our boys were thrilled to be asked to be the ring bearers!
So, we decided to make a family vacation out of the trip and see as much as we could in Alberta within the 10 days we were there.
These are our trip highlights and tips for visiting each place.
We actually did not spend much time exploring Edmonton, as we spent most of our time with family. But, we did hit a few key places.
This was a definite shopping highlight, and a great tip from a friend. The store contains, as you can imagine, all the Lego you can dream of.
There are the typical kits, but also stations where you can build your own Lego figurines.
Our favourite was the Lego wall. For $20 you get a big cup and can fill it with as many random pieces as you can fit in. The sales associates even took the time to teach us how to fill it properly to get the most bang for our buck!
We probably got about 300 pieces and had such fun filling it to fill every nook and cranny!
As one of the largest malls in the world, this is a shopping and entertainment paradise.
Before we went we had decided to take in just one of the parks – the water park.
Here is the basic information that you need to know.
1. Check the rules and regulations before you go. Know the height restrictions on the rides to avoid disappointment.
2. Get there early. Try to arrive when the park first opens, as it gets very busy as the day progresses with longer and longer lines to wait in for the slides. We arrived when it first opened and didn’t have to wait at all.
3. Get a locker. They cost $8 for the day and you get a wrist band to scan to open and close it as many times as you want. It’s expensive, but worth it.
4. Don’t rent a tube. They cost about $5 per tube and you can use them on certain rides, but they are just another thing to look after and there are rides for tubes that you can just use those ones provided.
5. Study the map. Learn the names of the slides you want to go on. When you get there, there is a massive staircase with tons of possibilities. They are all well-labeled, but you need to remember the name of the slide, or stand there following each slide to the top so you know where to go. I found this a bit overwhelming!
6. Ask an attendant. Any attendant that we asked for directions knew exactly how to get to each water slide and which coloured staircase to follow. They were all amazing.
7. Get a drink. One of the coolest parts of the waterpark was that there are all you can drink Coke products from juice to pop and iced tea. All day. All free. Wowee!
8. People will get hurt. There are hundreds of people at the park. People are bound to get hurt. In the wave pool a teenaged boy clunked heads with me and gave me a near concussion that still hurts 2 weeks later!
Daniel and Thomas went together in the Hurricane Ride (aka hamster wheel). You run inside, trying to stand up, but you end up falling over and bouncing all over the place.
Although more than 1 person is allowed at a time it is quite dangerous. Thomas came out with a huge grin on his face but a bloody nose from banging against Daniel.
9. Only one to ride in the Hurricane Ride!
Have fun! Next time, I think we will brave the amusement park, Galaxy Land!
One of my main goals for the trip was to see a wild bison. To do so, we headed to Elk Island National Park north of Edmonton.
This beautiful oasis is home to herds of free roaming plains bison, wood bison, moose, deer, and elk. Also boasting over 250 species of birds, the park is a bird watcher’s paradise. Be it for wildlife viewing, hiking, cross-country skiing, picnicking or overnight camping, there is something for everyone at Elk Island National Park.
Bison are particularly active in the late-July to early August rutting period.
When you arrive at the park, stop first at the visitor information centre at the main gate. Pick up a hiking map and an Xplorer Kit for kids.
We did not do this, but wish we had stopped here first.
There are many trails that vary in length, but with children, we picked a few of the shorter ones.
There are three trails under 4 km in length: Amisk Wuche, Lakeview and Beaver Pond. The Living Waters Boardwalk is a 300 m floating sidewalk off the shore of Astotin Lake.
This time we explored the Living Boardwalk. This is a floating boardwalk and takes about 15 minutes to walk. It is totally worth it!
Living Waters Boardwalk 300 m
This 150 m floating boardwalk starts from the Astotin Interpretive Centre makes its way onto a lakeside marsh. This short trail is ideal for families with small children. It offers a close look at pond life and great views of Astotin Lake and its islands.
We hiked the Amisk Wuche trail. Amisk Wuche Trail 2.5 km (1 – 1.5 hours)
Amisk Wuche is the Cree Indian name for Beaver Hills. The diversity of this trail is ideal for keeping children interested. The trail winds through aspen, birch and spruce stands. A series of floating boardwalks takes the trail across small kettle lakes and beaver ponds.
This was a really interesting walk with lots of different scenery. We even saw lots of bear poop… but no bears!
Our final hike was the Beaver Pond Trail 3.5 km (1 – 2 hours)
Trappers had completely eliminated beaver from the park area by the mid 1800s. Park staff successfully re-introduced them in the park in the 1940s. This trail is characterized by evidence of beaver activity near the trailhead. Lodges that are overgrown with vegetation are abandoned. The open aspen forest and sedge meadows along this trail are ideal for birdwatching in summer and observing large mammals grazing in winter.
This trail was a nice walk, but there was nothing to see. The forest growth was so high that you couldn’t see any water and certainly no beaver lodges! I would give this trail a miss for something more interesting!
We drove the Bison Loop road a few times to look in the paddock for a bison. We saw lots of spots where they had stopped for a scratch, but no bison.
When we left the park and were driving back down the highway, off in a distance we saw a herd of bison at a watering hole.
Although they were at a distance, I still saw them! A great way to end the day!
By far, the trip to Drumheller was the highlight of our trip to Alberta.
Drumheller is a town within the Red Deer River valley in the badlands of east-central Alberta. It is located 110 kilometres northeast of Calgary.
Rolling fields suddenly give way to steep, dry coulees ridged with the strata of hundreds of years of erosion by time, wind and water.
The scenery here is like nothing I had ever seen before.
Each hoodoo is a sandstone pillar resting on a thick base of shale that is capped by a large stone. Hoodoos are very fragile and can erode completely if their capstone is dislodged (in other words, no climbing allowed).
The protected Hoodoos site is a guaranteed spot to see Hoodoos but smaller versions of these sandstone giants can be found all over the Badlands.
You can even play “spot the Hoodoo” as your driving along Highway 10 South (also known as Hoodoo Trail for that very reason).
The Hoodoos site is located 16 km east of Drumheller on Hoodoo Trail (Highway 10).
Pull off at the official site to climb on the hoodoos. It also offers a great view of the badlands! And, it’s free!
This area is known for its mining, so there are a lot of mining museums to visit as well as attractions related to the mining industry.
The Star Mine Suspension Bridge is a 117 metre long pedestrian suspension bridge which crosses the Red Deer River in Rosedale, just outside of Drumheller,
Walk across the bridge for free! It is a fun, fast and free activity to do while in the badlands.
We did not stop here, but many people asked us if we did. In fact, we didn’t know about it, so now, I’m telling you about it, so you can stop!
This church is renowned for seating 10,000 people – 6 at a time.
Drumheller is known as the dinosaur part of Alberta and have really worked this into the town’s identity.
On every street corner there are large fibreglass dinosaurs. Each one has its own personality. Thomas was obsessed with these and needed to stop to get a picture with almost every one we saw!
This was a great addition to the town!
This was a great way to spend an evening.
There is an indoor and outdoor pool, hot tub, steam room, shallow and deep areas in both pools, with an indoor swinging rope and diving board.
There is a separate waterslide that is 150 foot long that runs inside and outside of the building.
If you are looking to cool down in the summer, in front of the Aquaplex is a fountain and splash pad where kids can play for free.
There are plenty of benches for the parents!
The World’s Largest Dinosaur is open year-round and visitors can climb the giant T-rex and admire the badlands from inside her gaping jaws.
This dinosaur is located in front of the visitor information centre and the aquaplex in Drumheller.
The admission is $3.00 per person, $10.00 per family and children 5 and under are free. Plus GST.
There are 106 steps to climb to reach the top of the dinosaur and my legs hurt the next day! It’s a quick visit, so might seem expensive for the journey. However, your ticket is valid for 2 hours, so you can go up and down as many times as you want (who would want to?).
Besides, how often can you say that you climbed inside a giant T-Rex?
The highlight of any trip to Drumheller is the Royal Tyrell Museum.
Again, through Air Miles I got free tickets to the museum.
The Royal Tyrrell Museum features ten signature galleries devoted to paleontology, with 40 dinosaur skeletons with more than 110,000 fossil specimens.
And it is worth every penny to visit, and you need to spend at least an entire day here!
Upon the advice of friends we signed up for one of the museum’s programs.
We chose the Dig Experience that was good for kids and adults.
Using the tools and techniques of paleontology, you will uncover fossil replicas in our simulated dig site, unearth their unique stories, and hold real fossils. Experience the thrill of excavation on this 90-minute realistic dinosaur dig.
We had to guides who walked us out into the Badlands where we were taught the basics of how to conduct and archaeological dig. We were given the tools, and then able to uncover bones. At the end of the session, the guides walked us through what we were seeing.
We determined what dinosaurs we were looking at, and based on the position of the fossils, how they died.
At first, we weren’t sure that we would like a simulated dig. But, knowing how easy it would be for someone untrained to damage a fossil, we quickly understood!
The fossils were fibreglass casts buried in plaster paris.
We quickly forgot that this was a simulated dig, and thoroughly enjoyed the thrill of discovery.
The Royal Tyrell Museum itself is organized so well. There are numbered signs from the ceiling to help direct you in order so that you don’t miss anything. These are really to be used for people who are getting an audio tour of the museum, but they work for everyone, too.
At each display there are 3 levels of information. Near the floor there are panels and buttons for toddlers to manipulate. At waist level there are games for older children to play, while at the top there are information panels for adults to read. Everything is extremely well thought out!
As you progress through the museum, you begin at the beginning of time and progress through the various time periods, seeing how the animal and plant life changes.
There is even a whole herbarium devoted to the plants alive at the time of the dinosaurs.
There are also several live animals that are closely related to prehistoric animals.
It is a non-stop engaging learning experience for everyone.
When asked what the best part of our trip was, everyone immediately said Drumheller and the Royal Tyrell Museum!
There are so many more places we could have explored at the Badlands in the Drumheller region, but we ran out of time. It’s definitely worth spending a few days in this area!
As this was the first time for the boys to see actual mountains, we wanted to take in as much as we could for our whirlwind tour of the Rockies.
We did most of the Banff – Jasper National Parks in one day, making a long, but doable day. Both nights we stayed outside the park, as it was a lot cheaper.
We stayed in the Quality Inn in Canmore, and then the Econo Lodge in Hinton at the other end.
Banff was nuts. It was crazy. It was so full of people that it was near impossible to find a parking spot! However, we did take some time to explore some of the shops in town!
Once again, I got adult tickets for the gondola through Air Miles!
We were lucky that there was not a long lineup at the gondola, and we boarded within 5 minutes.
The gondola was an 8 minute ride to the top of the mountain with incredible views.
Once at the top, we took the 1km stair climb to the Cosmic Ray Station. The views from here were incredible, and it was worth the 20 minute walk… even if your legs do hurt the next day!
My youngest son is obsessed with hot tubs, so we knew we had to take him to the hot springs. He kept asking all day when we would get to go!
These natural hot springs were 39C when we were there. There are lots of places to relax in the shade, or out of the water. There were also lots of small children there.
This made for a relaxing afternoon!
This hike was on my MUST DO list. The pictures of the catwalks along the canyon walls looked amazing!
Before going we got a great piece of advice. Go early. If you don’t, you will never get a parking space. We got there around 9:30am before most people arrived, so we were able to park, and hike the trail without reams of people.
We also hiked beyond the first falls to the upper falls. There were even fewer people up here, and it was so beautiful, and worth the walk. Round trip, this was about 5km.
As this is one of the most famous places in the Rockies, we thought we should take the kids to see it. The last time I was there, the lake was frozen, yet crystal clear!
This time, again, there were so many people around that we nearly gave up trying to find a place to park. However, we found a spot at the last minute.
We quickly parked and dashed in, walked halfway around the Lakeshore trail to take some pictures.
It was far too crowded so we retreated.
Along the route there are several lookout points with information signs, to stop to see the glaciers.
We stopped at both the Crowfoot and the Bow Glaciers.
We then stopped at the Columbia Icefields. We did not go to the interpretive centre, nor did we take a ride on the glacier bus, but we did pull in across the street to the Athabasca Glacier.
As you drive along the roadway to the parking lot, and as you hike the 1km to the toe of the glacier, you can see signs of where the toe of the glacier was each year. It is very depressing to see how much it has retreated in the past 100 years!
We hiked up the hill to the toe of the glacier.
There are many barriers warning visitors not to cross as beyond the barriers it is very dangerous and people have died.
We didn’t spend much time exploring Jasper as it was evening by the time we got there, and we were all tired.
However, we did discover Jasper the Bear.
Both David and I remembered a big wooden bear instead of this bear. Apparently, he has been moved indoors to a museum to be protected. This bear is the new town mascot.
Driving through the Rockies we saw incredible views, beautiful crystal-blue lakes, and tall mountains and glaciers.
We also saw elk, deer, bunnies, coyotes and a ton of ground squirrels!
Hinton was a great stopping point, about an hour beyond Jasper. From here, we could still see the mountains, and it was a lot cheaper and less touristy!
We found an incredible 3km trail through the marshlands called the Beaver Boardwalk.
We spent the whole morning exploring the various paths that wandered through the marsh and the woods. And, there were hardly any people here!
We had a fantastic time in Alberta.
I am not sure that I would go again in the middle of tourist season, as it was so crowded! But, we are so glad that the boys got to experience something totally different than Nova Scotia by the ocean!
We were surprised at the tall mountains, the views that go on forever, the huge roads and highways, and scenery like we’ve never seen before (like the badlands).
When asked what our highlights were we all said… Drumheller and the dinosaur museum!
The boys also ranked West Edmonton Mall waterpark up there, too!
Alberta is such a vast place that it is hard to do it justice in only 10 days, but we gave it the ol’ college try, and loved every minute of it!
Alberta… we’ll be back!