When most people think of provincial or state parks, they think of camping and hiking, of vehicles loaded down with boats and bikes, and of families heading out for a summer weekend away at their favourite lake.
Travel north to Alberta, Canada, and discover that the fun doesn’t end when the snow starts falling. The five parks featured in this story excel at providing opportunities for year-round adventure from snowshoeing to fat biking, ice skating, skiing, and other winter activities guaranteed to make you feel like a child again (or at least a child at heart.)
5 Alberta Provincial Parks to Explore this Winter
One. Cypress Hills Provincial Park, Southern Alberta
Cypress Hills Provincial Park is located on the Alberta side of Cypress Hills Inter-Provincial Park (a park that shares a border with the province of Saskatchewan.) Accommodations are available in nearby Medicine Hat or in the Town of Elkwater at the Elkwater Lake Lodge and Resort. For the adventurous, there are also five backcountry huts that offer cozy and affordable lodging with easy access on either skis or snowshoes. We hiked into the Tom Trott Hut in February and it was a very easy 3-mile distance on snow covered roads.
The main winter activities in Cypress Hills Provincial Park include snowshoeing and cross-country skiing on 40+ miles of park trails along with downhill skiing at the nearby Hidden Valley Ski Resort. For my family, the highlight of our visit was ice skating in the Old Baldy Campground on a loop that the park converts into a mile-long skating track. We also loved the luge track that the park builds for the kids. Sleds and helmets are provided in a warming hut beside the track, so you can just show up and play.
Other winter activities include ice fishing, kick sledding (with rentals available in the park,) fat biking (permitted on most park trails,) and winter camping. And, if you think that kick sledding sounds cool, this is the only provincial park in Alberta with rentals available inside the park.
Finally, make sure you stop in at the Camp Cookhouse for lunch or dinner while there. I cannot say enough about the chili cheese fries!
Two. Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country in Southern Alberta
Peter Lougheed Provincial Park is an ideal destination for a day trip from the nearby City of Calgary. The drive takes approximately an hour and a half, and is very scenic as you travel down Highway 40 past Kananaskis Village, a great spot to stop on your drive home for Starbucks Coffee in the resort as you warm up beside the big fireplace. (And if you’re looking to spend the night near the park, accommodations can be found here in the Delta Kananaskis Lodge.)
Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are the two main winter activities in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park with plenty of trailheads to choose from. There are over 52 miles of groomed ski trails, and hikers will have no shortage of great destinations to choose from as well. There is a visitor information centre located in the heart of the park where you can get maps and ask about the best trails for your group’s abilities and interests.
In the Kananaskis Lakes area of the park, our favourite winter hike follows a popular summer trail to Rawson Lake in just under 5 miles return. And while it’s not an official snowshoe trail, it is well traveled year-round, and usually packed down. The trail also poses no avalanche risk until you reach the lake. (So, don’t go exploring beyond the lake unless you’re prepared.)
Moving further into the Spray Lakes Valley, our favourite winter hike is the Chester Lake Trail off Hwy 742 (the Smith Dorrien Trail.) The hike is just over 4 miles round trip and is beautiful as you cross marshmallow-white meadows before the lake on an official snowshoe trail that is usually well packed down.
Visitors can also explore nearby Spray Valley Provincial Park, further down the Smith Dorrien Trail. Hike up to Rummel Lake in a return outing of 5.7 miles and then head across the road to Mount Engadine Lodge for afternoon tea. You can also spend the night in this amazing wilderness setting with all meals included.
For the truly adventurous, spend a night or two in the yurt at Mount Engadine Lodge for a winter camping experience. And meals can be added on to your stay if you’d like to spend more time in the heated main lodge.
Three. Crimson Lake Provincial Park, Central Alberta
Crimson Lake Provincial Park is located approximately an hour west of the City of Red Deer in Central Alberta. We’ve camped here in the summer and the thing that most impressed me about the park was the number of trails that visitors could explore by bike or on foot. Return in winter, and these same trails are maintained for multi-use including walking, snowshoeing, fat-biking and cross-country skiing.
The multi-use 6.2-mile Amerada Loop circles Crimson Lake, passing by wetlands and a beaver pond. Groomed ski trails wind their way through the campground loops, and there is a packed 4-mile-long trail for walking, snowshoeing, or fat biking connecting Crimson Lake with nearby Twin Lake.
Ice fishing and Ice Skating are other popular activities available in the park when the lake is well frozen, and new this winter – bring the kids down on a Saturday for “Snowy Saturdays,” with free family activities including snow fort building, geocaching, tubing, snow games, and outdoor skill demonstrations. There is also a lakeside skateway and skating rink.
Accommodations can be found in the nearby Town of Rocky Mountain House
Four. Miquelon Lake Provincial Park, Central Alberta
Moving north through Alberta, Miquelon Lake Provincial Park is located an hour SE of the province’s capital city of Edmonton. Year-round camping is available in this park, a rare feature in a provincial park, or visitors can explore as a day trip from Edmonton.
Winter recreation is plentiful in this park including snowshoeing or cross-country skiing along the Miquelon Lake shoreline or through the 20 km of backcountry trails. Skijoring with harnessed dogs is also permitted on several of the loops, with dogs permitted on all trails (something that is not terribly common on ski trails up here.)
Ice Skating is another popular activity in the park on a cleared path along the Miquelon lake shoreline.
If traveling in this area, make sure you also plan to spend some time in Edmonton, Alberta’s best “winter city.” Highlights include the Ice on Whyte Festival, the Silver Skate Festival, the Ice Castles in Hawrelak Park, and the Iceways for skating through Victoria and Rundle Parks.
Five. William A. Switzer Provincial Park, Northern Alberta
William A, Switzer Provincial Park is best visited as a day trip from the Town of Hinton, on the border of the Northern Canadian Rockies (three hours west of Edmonton.) From Hinton you can also plan a visit to the mountain town of Jasper in Jasper National Park, one hour south.
For the adventurous, there is also year-round camping available at the Jarvis Lake and Gregg Lake Campgrounds.
Once situated in Hinton (or camping right in the park,) there is no shortage of winter activities to enjoy. The Hinton Nordic Centre has over 21 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails with snowshoeing permitted on some trails as well. The Nordic Centre is located inside the provincial park, making it an ideal destination while in the area.
Snowshoers will want to head up the Athabasca Lookout Trail, one of the most beautiful viewpoints in the region on a 0.6-mile access trail (with an additional 5 miles, one way, available to hike beyond the viewpoint)
Other ski and snowshoe trails can be found throughout the park in the Jarvis Lake or Gregg Lake Campground areas, or near the Kelley’s Bathtub Day Use area.
Other popular winter activities in the park include ice fishing and skating when lakes are well frozen, fat biking on several trails, and luge. The Hinton Luge Association‘s facility has a 0.6-mile groomed track, located below the Athabasca Lookout Tower near the Nordic Centre.
The province of Alberta is a winter wonderland for all outdoor enthusiasts, and the only question remaining is which park you’ll visit first. My own personal list grows by the year ensuring I never run out of exciting places to visit year-round.