Road Trip Alberta: Edmonton & the North-Eastern Lakes
Our Gay Couple Summer Road Trip Canada – Edmonton & the North-Eastern lakes of Alberta. After visiting Calgary and the Rocky Mountains including the Icefields Parkway, and Jasper, it was time for us to see more of the beautiful West Canadian province, Alberta. Therefore, we put the Edmonton Gay Pride, on our gay travel bucket list for 2018! But Alberta’s capital city at the North Saskatchewan River was just the beginning of our two weeks gaycation in Canada. We left Edmonton behind to go east and drove from there a good portion of the Northern Woods and Water Route in a north-western direction.
After visiting as many giant roadside attractions of Alberta as possible, we arrived in another kind of unique Canadian nature. Starting with Cold Lake at the border to the Saskatchewan province, we tried to hike, to swim and to see as much of this natural paradise as possible. Next stop on our road trip was Lac La Biche where we learned a lot about Canada’s First Nations while staying overnight in a tipi tent. Last but not least we arrived at Lesser Slave Lake, Alberta’s biggest lake reachable by car. Join us on our summer road trip Edmonton Northern Alberta and see gay-friendly Edmonton and the north-eastern lakes of Alberta through a couple of men‘s eyes!
Edmonton: Gateway to Northern Alberta
Edmonton… where exactly is Edmonton again? We have heard this question quite a few times when we were talking about our trip to Canada this June. Yet, Alberta’s capital city with its almost 1 million inhabitants is the sixth biggest city of Canada. Just an 8-hour flight away with a direct flight from Amsterdam with KLM Airlines, this city of Edmontonians is the perfect destination and base to explore the Rocky Mountains and the rest of Alberta. Our summer trip was all about Edmonton, the Edmonton Pride Festival, and the three lakes in the North-Eastern part of this Canadian province. We collected all the information for a great city trip to Edmonton like visiting the Art Gallery of Alberta, the West Edmonton Mall, the Gay Edmonton Pride Festival, and taking a canoe tour on the North Saskatchewan River. On our road trip going east of Edmonton, we visited the Elk Island National Park, took crazy photos of the gigantic roadside attractions, and explored Alberta’s North-Eastern lakes: Cold Lake, Lac La Biche, and Slave Lake.
Two Great Gay-friendly Accommodations in Edmonton:
Metterra Hotel on Whyte, Old Strathcona
An accommodation situated on the best location for the annual Gay Edmonton Pride Festival. Located right on 82 Avenue NW, also known as Whyte Avenue, guest of the hotel have a wonderful view over the colorful gay pride parade and over Old Strathcona. The gay-friendly Metterra Hotel offers complimentary breakfast, WiFi, and afternoon wine tastings. Book You Stay Here >
Matrix Hotel, Downtown Edmonton
After our road trip around Alberta’s lakes, we stayed our last nights in Edmonton in a central downtown accommodation. Surrounded by skyscrapers, restaurants, and cafés on Jasper Avenue, the hotel is a great base to explore the heart of Edmonton. Complimentary breakfast and WiFi are part of your stay on the “warmer side of modern“. Book Your Stay Here >
Our favorite Edmonton activities
The weather during our stay had something of everything. The first days in Edmonton have been sunny and summerly warm. Perfect conditions for a hiking tour through the River Valley or a canoeing adventure with Haskin Canoe on the North Saskatchewan River and, of course, for the annual Edmonton Pride Festival. Unfortunately for us, the weather switched to rain wind after the festival. But Edmonton offers plenty of opportunities to use the grey and wet days at its best. For example by spending an afternoon at the Muttart Observatory, a slightly older but innovative botanical garden with buildings that look like glass pyramids rising from the River Valley or at the newest art exhibitions at the Art Gallery of Alberta including gorgeous and intense native Canadian artworks. Dark weather is of course also the best time to go shopping. We had a hilarious but fantastic time at the West Edmonton Mall which was for over 23 years the biggest mall in the world. Additional to over 800 shops, the mall offers a water park, hotels, a cinema, an aquarium, an ice hockey field and, of course, an amusement park with indoor rollercoasters called Galaxyland. Guess what we did next to shopping…
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Our 5 Best Restaurants in Edmonton
The food scene in Edmonton is fantastic. We had the chance to try international, local, and fusion cuisine all over the city and collected our favorite 5 restaurants for your gay travels to Alberta’s capital city. Let us begin with the restaurants that are the closest to our first accommodation, the Metterra Hotel in Old Strathcona. The cute, hip, and stylish little food place called “Restaurant & Bar Pip” is located just around the Calgary Trail corner 82 Ave NW offering International Fusion and a variety of (even German) beers. Our tip: order the chips and Gnocchi (Check reviews here >). Just a view blocks further away, you will find the Restaurant and Bar “El Cortez” with a delicious Mexican Kitchen and Tequila Bar on the first floor. Additional to yummy vegetarian dishes after the pride parade, we enjoyed the hilarious Drag Show “Hail Mary and Have Mercy”. Our tip: the vegetarian spicy cucumber sticks and tequila (Check reviews here >). On the other side of the North Saskatchewan River in Downtown Edmonton, we have three places we especially can recommend for your travels. The Restaurant Rostizado located right on the opposite of the Neon Museum is a stylish place with an outdoor terrace and the best Margaritas you can imagine. The menu offers great Mexican Fusion with a Canadian touch and a variety of vegetarian options (Check reviews here >). The next restaurant on our list is the Restaurant Uccellino on Jasper Avenue. The ambiance of the Italien restaurant is chic and modern while offering a diverse Italian Cuisine with huge portions (Check review here >). Last but not least is the District Cafe just around the corner from the Matrix Hotel. Their sandwiches are everything but make sure to come early as it is a busy place during lunch rush hours (Check reviews here >)!
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Going East of Edmonton by Car
The time had come to pack our bags, rainbow flags, and groceries and to start our road trip to the lakes of Alberta under the motto of “Go East of Edmonton”. Before we will show you our highlights of our 12-days trip, we would like to give you some tips and info about renting and driving a car in Canada. First of all, make sure to bring your drivers license. An international license is not obligatory for German and Dutch drivers, but please do not forget to double-check with your national automobile association. At the car rental in Canada, you will need a credit card and your passport. Make sure to ask which fuel your car needs (regular or diesel). Canadian roads are wide and normally in good shape. As they say, Canadian drivers only know two seasons: winter and construction work. 😉 Canada has strict speed limits signalized in kph (kilometers per hour) with substantial fines, especially in the construction work zones. And always be aware of the wildlife! We regularly faced dangerous situations with deer, beaver, and bisons crossing our way. But this circumstance made driving in Canada an even more exciting adventure! Oh, and do not miss to switch on the local radio stations with non-stop country music.
Wildlife Watching at Elk Island National Park
Bears, Beavers, Bisons, Moose & Elks – theses North American species are considered to be the most typical animals of Canada. Although Beavers and Bisons nearly got extinct by hunting and slaughter in the 19th century. Thanks to various national parks and protected areas in the USA and Canada, the North American Bison population is growing slowly but steadily. One of the cornerstones of Canada’s bison conservation story is Elk Island National Park located approximately 35 kilometers east of Edmonton and definitely worth a trip. The national park is home to 450 plains bison. Lucky us, we were able to see a huge herd of bison including young little calves during our short stop on our way east. What an experience getting so close to these beautiful and powerful animals. Do not miss to check out Astotin Lake in the north of the park and take a walk over the boardwalk. We spotted various birds and seriously enjoyed the view over the islands. Click here for reviews of Elk Island National Park >
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“Giants of the Prairies” – 8 Gigantic Roadside Attractions of Alberta
Driving through flat land and the prairies of northern Alberta does not seem to be fun at first sight. But thanks to the tip from our beloved friend Kris, we planned an exciting route to Cold Lake by visiting six of the funniest sights and roadside attractions you can imagine (and definitely would not have expected to find in Canada!).
Our starting point was Vegreville, home of a giant Ukrainian-styled easter egg called Pysanka, actually the second biggest in the world of its kind. After a short drive back to Mundare, where we actually came from, we found the world’s largest Kubasa, an originally Polish garlic sausage. The following small town on our list was Andrew featuring the World’s Largest Mallard Duck. Next stop: the town of Saint Paul (or St. Paul) where the world’s first UFO landing pad was build in 1967 as part of the Canadian centennial celebration. Now the UFO center connected to the pad is the local tourist information point. But there was more to see! It was getting later and later during our tour to Cold Lake but we still were awake enough when we reached Glendon to see the Giant Perogy, a filled dumpling originally from Eastern Europe.
After finally arriving in Cold Lake, the next day we went to see the Military Jets Memorial in front of CFB Cold Lake Military Base. If you can’t get enough of these huge objects, you should know that there are even more massive sculptures across Alberta like the World’s largest dinosaur in Drumheller or the replica of the starship Enterprise in the town of Vulcan. Make sure to put them all on your list!
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Alberta’s North-Eastern Lakes:
#1 Exploring Cold Lake, Alberta
The Waterfront Harbour Bed&Breakfast possibly has the most gorgeous view over Cold Lake and it’s Provincial Park. After enjoying a great homemade breakfast on the patio, the lake is just a view steps away for paddleboarding or any other watersport activities. The Cold Lake Provincial Park has some great hikes with amazing views over the surrounding nature. Just be aware of possible bear encounters (not only the cute ones who give great hugs). We definitely would suggest taking a stroll down the Iron Horse Trail with its huge wooden bridge over Beaver Creek or take in some sun on the sandy Kinosoo Beach. The city of Cold Lake is mostly known for its annual Maple Flag Airshow, organized by the CFB Cold Lake Military Base which means you might have to cover your ears for a jet fighter or two while they are practicing their loop-the-loops.
#2 First Nations at Lac La Biche
We spend two exciting nights on Long Island near the Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park sleeping in a tipi while we learned a lot about Canada’s history at the Canadian Native Friendship Center Lac La Biche. Both of the two tipi’s at the Lac La Biche Comfort Camping have their private full-service cook-house and bathrooms which makes the experience feeling pretty luxurious (when you have good weather). An extra plus is that with your tipi stay-over you are contributing to the Canadian Native Friendship Center which is a very good thing! The highlight of our stay was our afternoon with Elder Walter Quinn who taught us about the native Canadians, herbs, tea, and a bear he was chasing the last couple of days. And don’t forget to hike up to the Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park for a beautiful sunset over the lake and its islands.
#3 Slave Lake, Alberta’s 3rd Biggest
Lesser Slave Lake is Alberta’s biggest lake that is reachable by car. It is famous for water sports, nearby hiking trails, and the hundreds of bird species that live in the dense forest surrounding it. The highlights of our three-nights stay were our hike up to Martin Mountain, the visit of the Boreal Centre For Bird Conservation, and our boat tour over Slave Lake around Dog Island. Slave Lake is a very popular camping destination but relatively unknown to international tourists. We do need to point out that the city itself doesn’t have access nor boardwalk to the lake and that most of the lake houses are privately owned so when you don’t know anyone with a lakehouse or boat or when you didn’t drive up yourself with an RV, your changes to enjoy the lake get pretty limited. Still the beaches nearby are a great place to enjoy the view, stroll along, or even take a swim.
Our Road Trip Edmonton Northern Alberta, Canada
Edmonton was an unexpected and wonderful city trip. And so was the experience of the three big lakes north-east of Edmonton. The Rocky Mountains between Calgary and Jasper are beautiful with stunning views and unique opportunities to make once in a lifetime memories. But Alberta has so much more to offer and we are happy that we were able to see the lakes, meet great people, learn more about First Nations and about the struggles of the people living isolated in Canada‘s nature. We hope we could inspire you to visit Edmonton and take instead of as left turn towards the Rockies a right turn into Northern Alberta. #exploreedmonton
Karl & Daan
Please note: This trip was made possible in partnership with Tourism Edmonton. Anyhow, our opinions are 100% authentic and our own, as usual.