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What to Do In Alberta, Canada

What to Do In Alberta, Canada

Ice skating on Lake Minnewanka
Photograph by Paul Zizka

Outdoor adventures, great food, and queer nightlife awaits in the province home to Edmonton, Jasper, Banff, and Calgary.

With its magnificent, glacier-carved landscapes and love for cold-weather sports, the western Canadian province of Alberta, is a perfect destination this time of year. But it’s also great for summer adventures as well.

Indeed, the region has all of the best of the American West, including awe-inspiring national parks, vibrant Indigenous communities, world-class rodeos, craft beer, bison and elk, wide prairies, and even its own Rocky Mountains. Yet the area can also seem light-years ahead of much of the American Inter-Mountain West in its embrace of diversity, wellness, and sustainability



Jacob Anderson-Minshall

Start your tour of Alberta in Edmonton, which lies along the North Saskatchewan River near the center of the province. In the province’s capital, every neighborhood has its own ice skating and hockey rink and community center (there are also four ski hills in this metropolis). Here you can catch the northern lights from dark sky preserves or take a riverboat cruise through North America’s largest stretch of urban parkland. A city that loves festivals, Edmonton throws one a week, from the world’s biggest Fringe Theatre Festival to an international Indigenous film fest, and SkirtsAfire, a women-centric arts festival.

A great way to explore the city is by bike or e-scooter. Take the YEG Scoot Mural Tour to enjoy both the region’s vibrant public art and a taste of the 100 miles of multi-use trails in the Edmonton River Valley.

JW Marriott Edmonton IDE District

Courtesy JW Marriott

Stay at JW Marriott Edmonton ICE District for the gym alone. Archetype, the breathtaking 13,000-square-foot health club was home to the Edmonton Oilers hockey team during the lockdown. The hotel is also perfectly located in Canada’s largest mixed-use entertainment district, and is connected via an indoor walkway to Roger’s Place (arena and event space) and easy walking distance to Edmonton’s Arts District.

Eat at the brewery Biera. The meats are hand-carved and breads baked, just steps away at Acme Meat Market and Little Duchess Bake Shop.

Edmonton Neon Sign Museum

Jacob Anderson-Minshall

Check out Canada’s first Neon Sign Museum, an outdoor monument to those who once had their names in lights. Then pop over to nearby gay bar, Evolution Wonderlounge. EVO has a dance floor and pool table, but the real draw are the costume parties, onesie nights, and Edmonton’s drag scene, where RuPaul’s Drag Race stars make regular appearances.

From Edmonton, head farther into the mountains, along one of the most beautiful roads in the world, leading to the twin jewels of the Canadian National Park system: Jasper and Banff.


Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge

Courtesy Accor SA

Deep in the Canadian Rockies, the Jasper Park Lodge was built in 1915. Its log cabins have hosted royalty (both Queen Elizabeth and her father King George VI), celebrities, and influencers — and once famously tossed out Marylyn Monroe.

A luxury destination since 1922, the 700-acre in-holding offers truly unrivaled access to the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is the Jasper National Park.

Indigenous knowledge keeper Theresa Westhaver

Jacob Anderson-Minshall

If given the opportunity, enjoy a fireside talk by Indigenous knowledge keeper Theresa Westhaver to learn more about the tribes that frequented the region. Afterward take a stroll along the lake and you may hear haunting elk bugles and loon songs.

During the summer there’s hiking and water sports on Lac Beauvert, in the winter world-class skiing and other winter sports.

The little town of Jasper is very queer-inclusive. Come for the LGBTQ+ ski week and stop at the local “unabashedly eclectic and queer” coffee shop, Coco’s Café.

The next stage of this stunning drive will take you past towering mountains as iconic as Yosemite’s Half Dome, more glaciers than in Glacier National Park, powerful waterfalls, and have-to-see-it-to-believe-it turquoise lakes as you leave Jasper for Banff National Park.


Banff Springs Hotel

Courtesy Fairmont Resort Hotels

If you have the opportunity, stay at the world-famous Banff Springs Hotel. Known as the “Castle in the Rockies,” it’s been providing legendary hospitality for more than 130 years. In the early days, it catered to the world’s wealthiest travelers, serving as just one stop on a 4-year tour of the world.

Take the Banff historical tour and learn how the grand hotel’s founding is literally the history of Canada, a country united by a trans-continental railroad, that ran through this amazing wilderness. The scenery (and nearby mineral baths) so impressed railroad baron Cornelius Van Horn that he not only built an iconic Scottish castle hotel here but also successfully lobbied for it to become the country’s first national park. (All the capitalist’s efforts — even on behalf of Canada — further enriched him personally.)

The Banff castle and Jasper lodge are both Fairmont properties, (part of LGBTQ-embracing Accor Group), offering high-end luxury accommodations. The real pampering begins at Willow Stream Spa Experience. The hotel’s 40,000-square-foot, award-winning day spa features 27 private treatment rooms and provides access to an exclusive pool, outdoor hot pools (with their own waterfalls), steam rooms, and eucalyptus-scented saunas.

\u200bLower Johnston Canyon Falls

Lower Johnston Canyon Falls by Jacob Anderson-Minshall

Save the regenerative spa treatment until after exploring the region’s natural beauty. In warmer weather take the White Mountain Adventures’ four-hour e-bike tour that throws in a hike up Johnston Canyon to the spectacular waterfalls. In the winter take the Johnston Canyon Icewalk or actually climb the frozen waterfalls! Either way, look for the Cathedral of Ice at the upper falls, a 100+-foot semicircle with walls of vertical ice columns.

Johnston Canyon Ice climbing

Kjell Linder/Getty Images

Afterwards stop at Three Bear Brewery for small batch brews made with glacier water.


silhouette of high-rise building during daytimePhoto by Kyler Nixon on Unsplash

It’s hard to leave behind the tranquil beauty of the Canadian Rockies, but the wide-open prairies of Alberta beckon.

Lesbian crooners, Tegan and Sara are from our final destination — Calgary

Learn more about another Alberta lesbian, Edmonton’s k.d. lang, at Calgary’s National Music Centre in Studio Bell, a multi-purpose performance hall, recording facility, broadcast studio, live music venue, and museum.

The Dorian Marriott Autograph Collection

Jacob Anderson-Minshall

Stay at The Dorian, one of Calgary’s newest hotels. Almost inherently queer, it references Oscar Wilde’s gothic masterpiece, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and many rooms feature portraits of Wilde or copies of the book. Maybe avoid the moral of the story until after exploring the hedonistic debauchery of Calgary’s bathhouses, bars, and party boys. Fittingly, the Dorian is actually two hotels in one. The upper levels offer modern luxury with British whimsy as part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection; the lower levels are Courtyard by Marriott, catering to less-monied urban adventurers and business professionals.

Rocky Mountain Sidecar Adventures

Jacob Anderson-Minhsall

A unique way to see the Calgary is with Rocky Mountain Sidecar Adventures in a vintage-style sidecar motorcycle. You’ll learn about the Stampede, explore neighborhoods, see public art, and cross the Bow and Elbow Rivers.

Eat at Mash, the pizza joint from owners of a brewery who, after partnering with local farmers to feed bison, cattle, and chicken, still had leftover grain they upcycle into flavorful pizza dough. The Dill Pickle & Bacon pizza is sweeter than you’d imagine.

The Alberta Gay and Lesbian Film Festival is held in Calgary every summer, and the queer cowboys at the Alberta Rockies Gay Rodeo Association sponsor annual dances. Other nights go to the Calgary gay bars Texas Lounge, Twisted Element Nightclub, Goliath’s Bathhouse; or the pop-up Hot Mess parties.

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Jacob Anderson-Minshall