Betty Jo Currie of Currie & Co. is a member of the TAC Advisory Board who can be found checking out the newest restaurants in Paris and heading to Botswana on safari. When we asked her to design an itinerary to Canada for AFAR Journeys, she eagerly volunteered to create one for Alberta, and specifically its capital, Edmonton, and Jasper National Park. Her trip combines opportunities to explore both emerging neighborhoods where artisans and designers are pursuing their crafts and adventures on the soaring peaks of the Rockies. Already an experienced heli-hiker, she was eager to try the new sport of canyoning as soon as it began to be offered in Jasper last year. Here’s her itinerary for a five-day getaway to Alberta with stops at its culinary highlights and alpine peaks.
Alberta's capital, Edmonton, is closer than you may realize with nonstop flights from 12 different gateway cities in the United States. The city has the distinction of being the most northerly city with over a million residents on the continent but don’t let its location mislead you. Edmonton is no frontier outpost. Instead it’s a sophisticated city with exciting culinary and cultural scenes. After checking into the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald, spend your day checking out some of Edmonton’s neighborhoods, like Old Strathcona, where stately buildings from the beginning of the 20th century now house designer boutiques and new restaurants. Drop into the three-year-old Poppy Barley with its shoes that have already become must-haves (if you won’t be visiting Edmonton, you can also order a custom pair through their website); Oliver Apt for whimsical handcrafted furniture; and Workhall Studio, a workspace where local designers create clothing, jewelry and other accessories. If Chef Brad Smoliak is serving one of his popular outdoor dinners at Elk Island National Park, a half-hour from Edmonton, Betty Jo will get you a ticket. Otherwise she can recommend some of her favorite restaurants—farm-to-table at RGE RD, Italian at Bar Bricco, Canadian small plates at North 53. Accommodations: Matrix Hotel
After breakfast, get ready to west to Jasper. If you’ve got kids in tow, or are interested in a history lesson on this part of Canada, consider a stop at Fort Edmonton Park before you leave the city. Canada’s largest living history museum is staffed by costumed guides and has buildings from the 19th to 20th centuries, including a reconstruction of Fort Edmonton. From there, continue west to Jasper National Park, a four-hour drive on the Yellowhead Highway, during which you’ll climb the slopes of the Rockies. Halfway between Edson and Hinton, stop for panoramic views at Obed Summit, the highest point of the highway. Continue on to the town of Jasper, where you’ll stay at the new Crimson Jasper which opened at the end of 2014. The hotel has brought a little cutting-edge style to the area, though if you’d rather keep it classic than cool, Betty Jo will reserve a room at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, which first opened in 1922. Whichever hotel you stay at, dine tonight at C200, at the Crimson, which has quickly become one of the area’s most popular and liveliest restaurants.
Today, you’ll explore Jasper National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (along with six other Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks). At 4,200 square miles, it is the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies and roughly three times the size of Yosemite. Canyoning is a new addition to the adventures that await at Jasper, and Betty Jo will arrange for a guided introduction to the sport which involves going deep into the park’s canyons with ropes. You’ll scramble over rock faces and descend past rushing waterfalls. Of course you can also explore the park in more conventional ways—on more than 600 miles of marked trails that pass glacial lakes underneath soaring peaks. At the end of the day, relax at the Miette Hot Springs, where the water emerges from the earth at a temperature of 129 degrees. Dine, and drink, tonight at the Jasper Brew Pub, where the craft beers include pale ales, stouts, and seasonal specials and the menu consists of twists on bar food favorites like duck confit sliders.
On your second day in Jasper, you’ll literally soar above the park. Heli-hiking here will take you to soaring snow-capped peaks, and en route you’ll pass above the stunning peaks and above glacial valleys and lakes. Among the sites you can see on this expedition are the Columbia Icefields, the largest in the Canadian Rockies, or the nearby Athabasca Glacier, which moves several inches each day. Another option to soar above the area is the Jasper Skytram, which takes passengers to a height of 7,472 feet and has views into neighboring British Columbia. Mark the end of your time in Jasper with a farewell dinner at Moose’s Nook Northern Grill at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. The menu emphasizes regional dishes, including wild game prepared with herbs grown in the restaurant’s kitchen garden.
While this is the end of your time in Jasper, it doesn’t have to be the end of your time exploring Alberta. Immediately to the south of Jasper is Banff National Park, the home of Lake Louise, and a three and a half hour drive will take you to Calgary, Canada’s third largest city and the site of the world-famous Stampede each July.