Planning Your Time
You could zip through Edmonton’s highlights in a single day, but that somewhat defeats the purpose of a break from an otherwise outdoorsy destination. Instead, plan to spend at least one night in Edmonton, spoiling yourself at an upscale accommodation (the Union Bank Inn if a central location is important, The Varscona for a boutique splurge, or the Fantasyland Hotel if you have kids) and dining at one of the city’s many fine restaurants.
Regardless of your interests, West Edmonton Mall is the one attraction you won’t want to miss. Even if shopping malls are not your idea of a vacation, the sheer excess of it all is an unforgettable eye-opener. In order of importance, plan on also visiting the Royal Alberta Museum, Fort Edmonton Park, and Muttart Conservatory.
The vast region north of Edmonton is a destination that can be included on an itinerary that continues north to the Northwest Territories or as a stand-alone vacation with the focus on outdoor activities such as canoeing, fishing, camping, or bird-watching. Specific highlights are often separated by a full day’s drive. The exception to this is Elk Island National Park, close enough to Edmonton to make it part of a trip to that city.
On a three-day loop from the capital, you could include this park, plus cultural highlights such as Métis Crossing and any one of a dozen provincial parks (with great canoeing and abundant wildlife, William A. Switzer Provincial Park is a personal favorite).
Fort McMurray is the center of world attention for its oil sands, and although it’s a long drive (or a short flight), a visit could be compared to spending time in a boomtown of a century ago, like Dawson City. But don’t trek north without reservations for accommodation and a Syncrude or Suncor plant tour.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition