Have you ever wondered what it’s like to visit northern Alberta?
I grew up in the great white north. Softly falling snow for eight months of the year, northern lights leaping in streaks across the sky and endless fields peppered with copper hay bales was my norm.
My friend and fellow travel blogger April Vera-Lynn interviewed me about travel tips for my hometown, Grande Prairie, Canada. Whether you’re planning a trip or just want to know more about this unique area north of Edmonton, check out my best suggestions for visitors below.
Note: this Q&A was previously posted on aprilveralynntravels.com
April: Tell me a bit about what growing up in Grande Prairie was like.
Alison: Growing up in Grande Prairie was a clash of contrasts for me. My parents were both born in inner-city Toronto, so I wasn’t raised driving ATVs or listening to country music like many of my peers (though I did start doing both when I was a teenager). GP is a heavy industry town, specifically known for the oilfield, and it’s not the type of place tourists typically visit ‘for fun.’ Farming and forestry are the other big industries, and you can expect to see hay bales and lifted pickup trucks when you drive on the outskirts of town. For the most part, it’s very rural and feels quite small town, despite having a population around 70,000.
April: What time (or times) of year do you think is best to visit Grande Prairie?
Alison: If you want to see the northern lights, visit between December and March (ideally in January or February). However, if you don’t want to completely freeze your butt off, I would suggest visiting in late July or August. The yellow canola fields contrast against the wide, brilliant blue sky and brown dirt roads. Bring a vehicle and visit the small towns around including Valhalla, Sexsmith and Beaverlodge (to see the world’s biggest beaver!).
April: If you were to visit GP and didn’t have family or friends to stay with, where would you most want to stay? Would you book a hotel or choose to go camping?
Alison: I would rent a home on Airbnb or find a local B&B.
April: I know you love hiking and the outdoors. What are some of your favourite trails or outdoor activities to take part in there?
Alison: Grande Cache is a nearby drive (read: two hours) that offers incredible mountains and difficult hikes, plus the Canadian Death Race. In the winter, head to Powder King Mountain Resort for some of the freshest, fluffiest snow you’ll ever ski or snowboard on.
April: Are there any kind of fun events or festivals that happen in GP?
Alison: Bear Creek Folk Festival is a fantastic summer event in Grande Prairie. Artists such as k.d. lang, City and Colour and Corb Lund have graced the stage on Borstad Hill in Muskoseepi Park.
April: Growing up seeing the northern lights must have been just a normal part of life. But for those who haven’t seen them before, do you have a favourite viewing spot or can you view them from anywhere?
Alison: It’s more of a drive-down-a-back-road kind of thing! As long as you’re far enough away from the city lights, you should have a great view.
April: Do you have a favourite cafe or restaurant in GP?
Alison: I love Card’s Board Game Cafe in downtown! They serve up daily homemade soup and have a plethora of games to choose from (games are on pause right now due to Covid).
April: Do you have any other tips for visiting your hometown?
Alison: Have an open mind. Many people have negative ideas of GP but have never visited. Look past the city into the wilderness that surrounds this unique place. You’ll find its true beauty out there.
Have you visited GP? What did you think?