The sun is shining and the air is heady with the smells and sounds of summer – fresh-mown grass, honey bees buzzing among the wild flowers, and twittering birds darting through the dappled shade of this forested city park. We’ve just grabbed a sandwich from a food truck and retreated to a quiet corner on Calgary’s Prince’s Island for an impromptu picnic lunch. The office towers bristle beyond the tall trees, but for a moment, we can listen to the rippling river and smell the spruce.
A picnic can be a planned outing, a reward at the end of a strenuous hike, or a quick bite shared on a park bench. But wherever you are in Alberta this summer, there’s a secret garden, a lakeside trail or a sunny mountaintop to spread out the blanket, recline and dine.
The Boxed Lunch
So what works for a picnic? It all depends where I’m going, but there are some standards when it comes to packing our favourite picnic foods – they must be portable, easy to eat (ideally without plates or utensils), and tasty served cold. Whether it’s a sandwich and a bowl of fresh berries, a combination of cured meat and sausages, with fresh local bread and cheese, or a vegetarian samosa with sweet chutney, I can usually find something that works for noshing al fresco at my favourite local butcher shops, bakeries, delis and markets.
Keep the picnic blanket and a portable cooler in the car and you can always grab a bag of ice and load up on picnic goodies at a farmer’s market or take-out shop, then head for the hills.
The Big Rock
For a prairie picnic, nothing beats a hike out to Big Rock – a.k.a. the Okotoks Erratic – an Ice Age relic cleaved from a mountain and carried here on a massive glacier more than 10,000 years ago. Just south of Calgary, it’s my favourite place to catch the prairie breeze and dramatic mountain views.
En route, you’ll find treats for your picnic basket at the Saturday Millarville Farmers’ Market – think chewy Longview beef jerky and pepperoni, fresh organic cherries from Blush Lane, and Alberta Whisky Cake. Or stop in at the Black Diamond Bakery for their famous Dead Fly Pie (puff pastry and currant Eccles turnovers).
Rocky Mountain High
There are so many sweet spots to stop in the Rockies for a picnic. I’m partial to Elbow Falls in Kananaskis Country or the pretty little Grassi Lakes near Canmore, both hidden gems where you can easily haul a picnic lunch.
My go-to stop for picnic provisions in Canmore is Valbella gourmet foods – smoky chimney sticks and landjaeger sausages are a must for mountain trails, along with local breads, pickles and their own wild boar pate, quiche and sausage rolls.
Around Red Deer
Spread your blanket on an island in Red Deer’s Heritage Ranch park or head to the sandy beach at Sylvan Lake for a picnic by the water.
Cruising the back roads of central Alberta, I pick up aged gouda cheese at Sylvan Star and pickled asparagus at Edgar Farms. Then I hit the farm store at Brown Eggs and Lamb near Lacombe for local bison smokies, greenhouse tomatoes and cucumbers, Pearson’s Saskatoon rhubarb pies and even blankets, created at the local woollen mill, for our al fresco dining pleasure.
In Edmonton, the greenbelt along the dramatic North Saskatchewan River Valley is a picnicker’s paradise. William Hawrelak is a popular park, or seek out a less travelled green space like Victoria Park to while away a summer afternoon.
With its rich ethnic mix and proximity to u-pick berry and vegetable farms, Edmonton has more than its fair share of delis and farm markets for gathering goodies. Make sure to pack up some Ukrainian sausage (Mundare’s is a local fave), stop at the Greek Omonia deli for hummus, thick pita breads and olives, or get a picnic basket packed to go at Jasper House Bakery in Fort Edmonton Park.
From a romantic dinner in a city park to a snack pulled from your pack on a wild Rocky Mountain trail, Alberta is the place to picnic.