Alberta is sprinkled with hundreds of lakes, rivers and streams. Watch exhilarating events or jump in and get wet this summer. Take a crack at my list of favourites from around the province.
Jet Boat Races
I clamped my hands over my ears, trying to dampen the roar of jet boats revving to race from Riverboat Park. Here at Whitecourt’s annual August jet boat races (and World races every four years), the excitement on the packed shoreline is palpable. Suddenly, they’re away! Our necks crane to get the best view of the professional international racers. It’s fast, wet and wild!
You’ll have a blast in Lethbridge at the province’s largest dragon boat festival. To the pounding encouragement of the drum, 70 crews paddle hard as they compete in this 2,000-year-old Chinese sport, while you jump, clap and egg them on. Join in the festive atmosphere of weekend dragon boat festivals in Edmonton, Leduc, Banff, Calgary and Lake Newell.
Toasty warm in wetsuit and booties, I’m bobbing in Ghost Lake, near Calgary, as I cling to my stand-up paddleboard. “It’s an easy sport to learn,” assures our instructor from Undercurrents. I shinny my body, belly down, onto the board, which is like a big, stable surfboard. I kneel and then, grasping a single long paddle, slowly stand. After a few wobbles, I spread my feet and find my balance. Digging in with the paddle, away I go!
Undercurrents runs stand-up paddleboarding lessons Sundays at Ghost Lake. Graduates get a Paddle Canada certification.
Surf’s up! “It’s the most unique thing you can do in Alberta,” enthuses instructor Jeff Brooks of Rocky Mountain River Surfing. I’m standing in the Kananaskis River just upstream from the Green Tongue, a small, safe beginner wave. “Ready?” he asks. Nodding, I jump in on my stomach and get to my knees. Many determined attempts later, jubilantly I stand – for a few glorious seconds!
I descended into the glacial waters of Banff National Park’s Lake Minnewanka. Because this is a high altitude, cold water dive, I’m accompanied by a certified dive instructor. The highlight we soon see stretching below us is the best preserved submerged historic village in Canada. Minnewanka Landing, established in 1888, was intentionally flooded by a dam in 1941. Today it is yours to explore.
Keep Calm and Paddle On
Places to paddle in Alberta? Way too many to mention here – in fact I think there must be entire books written on the subject. If you’re up for an immersive experience, try the province’s only backcountry canoe circuit: the Jackson-Kinnaird loop in Lakeland Provincial Park near the town of Lac La Biche – 220 km (140 mi) northeast of Edmonton – can be turned into a multi-day, multi-lake adventure, complete with campsites and transfer carts along the way. For a family friendly trip, head to William A. Switzer Provincial Park near Hinton, rent a couple of canoes and paddle any or all of a chain of five small lakes. The Jarvis Lake paddle is great for beginners and children: 4 km (2.4 mi) in length, complete with interpretive signage along the way.