Get Out of Here – Pick a spot. Pick a weekend. Pick a friend or two, and go!
First published in the Edmonton Journal’s ed section.
It’s only Tuesday but already you’re fantasying about Friday afternoon. You see yourself cutting out of work early, hopping in your car with friends and taking a few days to explore some random, unique destination. But there are a few obstacles that are keeping this daydream from becoming real: you have to be back for work on Monday and you have limited funds.
And you don’t know where to go.
That’s where ed comes in. Here are four Alberta destinations suitable for weekend getaways, reasonably priced and – most importantly – aren’t the same-old-same old (i.e. Jasper and Banff). So quit fantasizing and get on the phone – you’ve got a road trip to plan!
Low on cash? Head to Grand Cache
No, we didn’t throw a dart at a map of Alberta to come up with this destination. (Although… that would be an interesting way to plan your vacation.) Grande Cache is an ideal spot if you want a weekend away in the mountains but can’t afford the $200 price tag of your typical Jasper or Banff hotel.
If offers whitewater rafting, trail riding, hiking, fishing, elk, bear – all the usual mountain stuff. It’s also home to the Great Canadian Death Race. If you think you’re in shape, sign up for this race, which covers 125 kilometres, travels over three mountain peaks and sees a 5,100-metre elevation gain. Or you can just watch it; last year’s race saw hundreds more spectators. This year’s race runs July 29 to August 1.
Located on Highway 40 North, Grand Cache is a bit of a drive at almost 4 and a half hours, but the pretty scenery and low prices make those hours well worth it.
Go online: www.visitgrandchache.com, www.canadiandeathrace.com
“Random chance seems to have operated in our favour” – Dr. Spock
Looking for a destination that’s unique, quirky, maybe even surreal? Then let us point you toward Vulcan, about a four-hour drive south of Edmonton on Highway 23. Vulcan was named by the Canadian Pacific Railroad for the Greek god of fire, and for decades it was a quiet farming community.
Then the Star Trek fans started coming.
Seeing a golden opportunity, the people of Vulcan enthusiastically embraced the Trekkies and the town is now home to several Star Trek murals and a model starship. It also hosts several Star Trek-themed events each year. Since getting serious about Star trek tourism 15 years ago, the town has sold more than 30,000 pairs of Vulcan ears. Now that’s a souvenir you’re going to show people.
A must-see is the town’s tourism information centre, designed to look like a hovering spaceship. You can then tell your friends that you’ve been to possibly the only tourism information centre on the planet that has Klingon dictionary.
Go online: www.town.vulcan.ab.ca
The town that never was
If you’ve ever been to a ghost town and were disappointed that all you saw were foundation outlines and a rusty vault, then here’s the place for you – Em-te Town.
A privately built ghost town, it offers all the fun with none of those annoying ravages of time that reduce buildings to rubble. For $7 you can spend the day wandering around the townsite, pretending you are the first person in decades to come across its remarkably well-preserved remains. And for an extra $15 you can even spend a night in one of the town’s teepees (the ghost town also offers a campground, a motel and a licensed saloon).
This “authentic western tourist attraction” is roughly halfway between Drayton Valley and Rocky Mountain House, just outside Alder Flats. It can be reached in about an hour and a half, which is how long I spend trying to find its website.
As fun as the Drum, but a whole lot closer
Located in Sundance Provincial Park, between Hinton and Edson, the Hinton hoodos (large chunks of limestone that have been eroded by the wind into strange shapes) make for a relaxing weekend of hiking and outdoor exploration. The drive there is another story. To reach the hoodoos you need to take the Emerson Creek Road, a gravel logging road. We strongly recommend that you only take a truck or SUV, preferably one that already has a crack in the windshield.
Head up Highway 16 to Hinton (a three-hour drive). Stop at the visitor information centre (it’s right on the highway) and tell the nice people there your plans. They will give you a map of how to find the hoodoos as well as a map of the trail system. Trust us, you want these maps.
You can stay in Hinton or Edson, or save yourself some cash and camp at the nearby Emerson Lakes. The location is much prettier than any hotel room and only costs $5 a night.
Go online: If you search “Sundance Province Park” you’ll get the website URL, which is almost as long as this explanation!