Central Alberta is a true hidden gem. It’s no wonder, really. It’s easy to be overlooked when you’re sandwiched between Alberta’s two biggest cities and bordered by mountainous national parks and the Canadian Badlands. But travelling to the heart of Alberta is a one-of-a-kind experience, defined by countryside charm, picturesque landscapes and memorable kindness from the people you meet along the way. To truly experience central Alberta, you’ll want to venture outside and try these activities.
Travel one hour northwest of Calgary to reach Sundre, a quaint town that boasts easy access to plentiful outdoor activities. At the eastern edge of town, the Sundre Golf Club is known for its well-maintained and beautifully landscaped course.
Golfers of all skill levels will enjoy this “tough but fair” 18-hole course, says Scott Shouldice, the club’s head pro. The course features rolling greens, water hazards and towering trees. Afterwards, head to the Sundre Golf Club Clubhouse to enjoy food and drinks on the impressive patio that overlooks the 18th green.
The Red Deer River runs through Sundre, providing ample opportunities for kayaking and fishing. Looking for something more adventurous? Mukwah Rafting Tours, located one hour and 20 minutes southwest of Sundre, offers whitewater rafting trips that range in length from 2.5 hours to multiple days.
Once you’re outfitted with a wetsuit, fleece, booties, helmet, and mittens, an experienced guide will usher you down the Upper Red Deer River. You’ll travel through exhilarating rapids — with storied names like Chainsaw Accident and Fluffy Bunny — and there’s even a stop for optional cliff jumping. Throughout the journey, you’ll see firsthand how massive flooding in 2013 indelibly altered the river.
Post-rafting, stay overnight in Mukwah’s cabins or camp sites and relax in the sauna. Mukwah’s picturesque base camp is located near the confluence of the Panther and Red Deer Rivers, a remote spot featuring stunning mountain vistas.
When Bruce Gartside moved to the central Alberta village of Donalda eight years ago, he noticed people were drawn to the area’s incredible views. Donalda overlooks the Meeting Creek Coulee — the most northerly point of the Canadian Badlands — but there was no established way to go explore the special scenery below.
So Gartside and other locals stepped in, creating a hiking trail to connect the village’s main street with the valley. Thanks to their generous volunteer efforts, you can now travel on an established trail (maintained by Gartside using the village’s mower) leading to 120 acres of land. The Instagram-worthy landscape is a distinctive mix of badlands and greenery. Pick up a trail map in the town’s office or museum.
Pigeon Lake, central Alberta’s biggest lake, is a popular area for swimming, fishing, boating, and birding. Another way to enjoy the water is atop a stand-up paddleboard; there’s nothing quite like a self-powered journey to fully experience the vastness of this lake.
A solid base to explore this area is Pigeon Lake Provincial Park, where you’ll find a day-use area (with a station where you can borrow a life jacket) and a large campground. If water is not your thing, try the park’s 12-kilometres of hiking trails. Dotted with wild roses, the scenic trail follows the lake’s shoreline.
Pigeon Lake Provincial Park is also home to eight yurts: round, tent-like structures for comfort camping. With amenities including a fridge, kitchen table and chairs, gas barbecue, and a private deck, you might find it hard to tent again after staying in one of these. Avoid disappointment by reserving online.