Landlocked Albertans don’t have a great deal of choice when it comes to a vacation on the beach, unless they head over the mountains to Invermere, in British Columbia , or jump aboard an airplane. One of the exceptions is Sylvan Lake, 22 kilometers (14 miles) west of Red Deer , which has been a popular summer resort since the beginning of the 20th century. It has more than five kilometers (three miles) of sandy beaches, clean warm water, a large marina, and plenty of recreation facilities.
Kids will love Wild Rapids (Lakeshore Dr., 403/887-3636) and its 11 water slides, heated pool, and sailboard and paddleboat rentals. The beachy stretch of lake is lined with surf-clothing shops, water-sport rentals, casual cafés, kid-friendly accommodations, and even a lighthouse. In the vicinity, Gull, Pigeon, and Miquelon Lakes have pleasant beaches and warm water for swimming.
Straddling the Red Deer River is 11-kilometer-long (seven-mile-long) Waskasoo Park. The park has a 75-kilometer (47-mile) trail system, which is good for walking or biking in summer and cross-country skiing in winter. If you’ve stopped at the highway-side information center, it’s possible to drive through the one-way gate to adjacent Heritage Ranch (403/347-4977), where trail rides are $35 per hour.
Continuing downstream, Kerry Wood Nature Centre (6300 45th Ave., 403/346-2010, daily 10 a.m.–5 p.m.) has various exhibits and videos on the natural history of the river valley and provides access to a paved walking trail through the adjacent 118-hectare (292-acre) Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary. Protected since 1924, this parkland of spruce and poplar interspersed with marshes is home to 128 recorded species of birds and 25 species of mammals.
Children will love Discovery Canyon Park (403/343-8311, daily 9 a.m.–8 p.m. in summer), which is all about discovering fun rather than learning. The highlight is a natural stream that has been modified into a waterslide, complete with rapids and a big pool at one end. Admission is free and tube rental is $3. To get there, follow 30th Ave, four kilometers (2.5 miles) north of 67th Street.