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 .