When we speak of “north” the word creates visions of wilderness and adventure, small towns and farmland, out of the way places that are seldom visited. This is true in so many aspects, and the winter months in Northern Alberta bring out a snowy wonderland that offers up a multitude of outdoor activities.
If you are new to the winter scene or an old hand, there is plenty to keep you busy this season – snowshoeing, cross country skiing, snowmobiling, downhill skiing, skating, snowboarding, tubing, ice fishing – the list goes on and on. In this slice of heaven there are hidden ski hills, thousands of kilometres of groomed powdery trails to explore on both skis, snowshoes and snowmobiles. Great places to stay, good food and new friends to discover along the way. Not to mention the stunning scenery, quiet backwoods, fresh winter snow and a high chance to see Northern lights at night.
Hit the Slopes at Tawatinaw Valley Ski Club
A hidden gem on the prairies, this lovely ski hill is only an hour north of Edmonton and offers guests a multitude of opportunities to get outside and get moving. Downhill skiing and snowboarding on green, blue and black diamond runs, along with a terrain park, means that every level of skier or boarder can have fun on the slopes.
If it’s your first time out, take advantage of the qualified, friendly Instructors. There are gorgeous, groomed cross-country ski trails of varying lengths to be accessed, along with beautiful snowshoe trails. Tubing is a great option too, especially on weekend evenings!
The quaint Chalet provides a place to warm up, with some great food and, of course, is fully licenced. This season the Hill is asking for guests to book their visit online from their website. If you are wanting to stay in the area, Tawatinaw Valley is only a half hour from the town of Westlock or the town of Athabasca, both which offer various hotels and restaurants to enjoy.
Address: 61411 Range Rd 241, Tawatinaw
Explore the Outdoors in Grande Cache
If you haven’t been to Grande Cache, you haven’t really experienced the Canadian wilderness. Located next to Jasper National Park,there are phenomenal activities and gorgeous scenery that will make you want to return again and again.
This is such a fantastic area for outdoor activities, it makes sense that the winter months will also provide opportunities to enjoy the snow and ice.
Try some ice fishing (don’t forget your license), snowshoeing, cross country skiing, winter hiking, or snowmobiling. Ice climbing is also a popular winter activity here with two different routes and areas to explore. Stay in town and experience the great restaurants and friendly locals.
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Get Outside at Nitehawk Recreation Area
If you didn’t know that Grande Prairie has a ski hill, you wouldn’t be alone. Most of the hills on this list are only known to locals, which means that they are a great discovery for those wanting to travel to ski but not have the crowds that are in the mountains.
Don’t worry though, this recreation area is well worth a visit. Not only do they boast of having fantastic ski and snowboard slopes, there is tubing (and special glow tubing in the dark winter evenings), luging, Nordic skiing and much more fun to be had here.
Lessons available for skiing and snowboarding.
There are two Chalets to enjoy food and beverage in and soak up the ambiance. Located only 15 minutes south of Grande Prairie, there are plenty of hotels and accommodation to choose from for your stay in the area.
Address: 6356 Township Rd 702, Grande Prairie County No. 1
Enjoy Some Ice Fishing on Calling Lake
Well known for its large to average-sized walleye, if you like ice fishing you will be happy to know that this is also a catch and keep walleye fishery. Get your line out and try your hand at catching some of the famous walleye, or perhaps some Northern Pike, Burbot, or Perch.
Keep an eye out for where other people are setting up and get a good topographical map of the depths of the lake to scope out your best fishing spot. If you are new to fishing, remember that you require a valid license, and to have the best success, do some research on the best fishing equipment to use.
Calling Lake is a gorgeous place to spend some time this winter, with amazing sunrises and sunsets, clear night skies, and sparkling snow everywhere you look.
Only 60 kilometers away from Athabasca, there are other fun winter activities available in the region if you want to stay for awhile. Athabasca is the most convenient place to overnight in the area.
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Snowmobile in the Golden Triangle
The fabulous Golden Triangle is 350 kilometers of groomed trails through forests, over rolling hills and out to open expanses of deep powder.
The varied terrain takes you from Whitecourt to Swan Hills and Fox Creek, through gorgeous areas that will wow you with both the scenery and the riding, as this zone has some of the deepest and thickest powder outside of the Rockies. The entire route will take veteran riders about nine hours.
There are plenty of warm up shelters along the route so you can take a break. Don’t forget to purchase a trail pass before you head out. The absolute best way to get to know and enjoy snowmobiling in the province is to connect with one of the sledding clubs.
Check out the Alberta Snowmobile Association website for links to clubs, snowmobile rentals, dealers, trail information and snow reports.
Hang out at the Vista Ridge Ski Area
Time to head up to the Fort McMurray area for some fun winter activities. If you haven’t spent any time in this area of the province, this winter might be the perfect time to do some exploration up here.
Vista Ridge Ski Area is home to 60 skiable acres, and features two quad chairlifts, along with a beginner area serviced by 3 conveyor lifts, a terrain park for those who are more adventurous, and a 4-lane Tube Park with a conveyor lift.
There are two warming huts at the base area and a covered community ice rink if you prefer to strap on some skates instead of skis. Lessons are available for those who are hitting the slopes for the first time.
Only 15 kilometers east of the city, this is a great place to spend time with family or friends this winter season. Fort Mac has lots of amenities available for visitors, so you will have plenty of choices of accommodations and restaurants.
Do Some Snowshoeing or X-Country at the Little Smoky Ski Area
Strap on your snowshoes or cross-country skis and head out to the Muskeg Creek Ski Trail in Athabasca.
The trail is about 10 kilometers long, so be prepared to spend a hefty amount of time enjoying the winter wonderland here.
This scenic route takes you deep into the boreal forest and allows you to lose yourself in the quietness of the wilderness. You will probably spend 4 to 5 hours on the trail in total.
The elevation gain is only 264 meters, so this trail is labeled as moderate. You probably don’t want to try this one if you are a first-time snowshoer!
A lovely adventure outside of the city, this loop trail is located only an hour-and-a-half drive north from Edmonton, or you can choose to spend a night or two in Athabasca itself.
Address: 5502 48 Ave, Athabasca
Drop in a Line on Lesser Slave Lake
This lake has a number of hot spots to catch both Walleye and Burbot. Stop off in Slave Lake and ask at one of the outdoor stores exactly where to set up if you haven’t been here before – they can give you the locations of all the best places!
You probably will want an ice fishing tent here because the lake is somewhat notorious for the 100-kilometer winds that can blow down its length. This is one of the few lakes that you can catch and keep Walleye (at the moment). Make sure you check to see that this regulation is still in place, and get your fishing license at the same time.
While your goal may be a Walleye, you will probably hook some burbot, so be prepared for a fight! A regular jig and twister tail work just fine on an ice fishing rod and reel combo for either Walleye or Burbot. Stay in Slave Lake for a couple of nights and try out your fishing luck!
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Snowmobile in Grande Prairie
Grande Prairie is home to the largest snowmobile club in the province, with about 500 riders! The Swan City Snowmobile Club has been going strong since 1973 and is responsible for grooming the trails in this area.
About 20 minutes outside the city itself, you will find Big Mountain Creek Provincial Recreation Area, a staging area for 150 kilometers of groomed forest trails, with two warm-up cabins for you to utilize. You can winter camp, if you want to, but there are other accommodation choices around if you prefer a comfy bed and warm room after being outside all day.
If you want to stay in the area, check out the snowmobile friendly Stanford Hotel, which has rooms with kitchens, family rooms with bunk beds and suites with in-room Jacuzzis, as well as a big supply of towels for wiping down your sleds – all you have to do is ask.
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Strap on Some Skis at the Manning Ski Club
Not to be mistaken for Manning Ski Resort in BC, this Manning Ski Club is located about 73 kilometers north-west of Peace River, in the pretty valley of the Notikewan River, just off the Mackenzie Highway.
This is a very popular spot for locals, but a bit off the beaten track for others in the province. It’s an excellent opportunity to get out onto a hill without crowds. Spend some time skiing or snowboarding, or take advantage of their ski jumps and racing areas.
There are only five runs here, but still something for every level of skier or snowboarder. This hill is run by a not-for-profit whose main mission is to provide affordable winter sports opportunities for everyone.
They run only with volunteer workers and are open on the weekends. The quaint town of Manning has a variety of accommodations for those who want to venture to the region for the entire weekend.
Snowmobile in the Whitecourt Area
You can’t go wrong with jumping on a machine on the snowy trails around Whitecourt, especially because this is the official Snowmobile Capital of Alberta.
There are over 480 kilometres of maintained trails in the Whitecourt area to enjoy and explore. Incredibly, Whitecourt even has a bylaw that lets riders sled straight through town and out to the trails, which means no trailers needed – you can just hop on and ride right from your accommodations.
If you are looking for some off the beaten track trails, ask the The Trailblazers Club, because the local group knows the ins and outs of every track and trail in the zone.
When they’re not out grooming the trails, they ride every Sunday, so you may just be able to hang out with them there. The passionate riders here love to share stories and advice.
Check out the O’Brien Shoreline Trail
Just south of Grande Prairie you will come across the lovely little O’Brien Provincial Park.
Open for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter months, you can wind your way along the beautiful Shoreline Trail. This is a fairly easy loop trail that is 4.2 kilometers long and great for all levels of skiers and snowshoers. The pretty trail loops like a figure out through the trees and along the shoreline for amazing views and up close and personal with the forest.
Sparkling snow will be glistening in the sunshine, birds will be chirping and you will find some peace and quiet in this sometimes hectic world.
Hang Out on Misery Mountain
With a name like this you wouldn’t expect to be having fun here, but Misery Mountain offers up a variety of slopes to shred over the winter months on both skis and snowboards! With two T-bars and a long chairlift (a kilometer from end to end) you know that you will be accessing some great sliding areas.
Misery Mountain Ski Area offers the most vertical descent in northern Alberta, with 26 runs, snowshoe trails, and a terrain park. Located a couple of hours north of Grande Prairie in Peace River, this is a great off the beaten track place to spend some time on the slopes. There are lessons and rentals available, along with great food in the warm Chalet.
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Situated right in town, you will be in easy access to accommodations and other restaurants.
Address: 10408 89 St, Peace River
Jump on a Snowmobile in Athabasca
Athabasca is home to Alberta’s longest river and is an extremely outdoor oriented town. There are extensive snowmobile trail networks and multiple accessible staging areas that make this zone of the province’s top sledding zones.
You can ride 300 kilometres of groomed trails west of Baptiste Lake, with amazing terrain and scenery of lush boreal forests, beautiful river valleys and rolling hills.
Along the way you will find cabins and warm-up areas equipped with picnic tables, fire pits and firewood to enjoy. You can purchase a day pass if you are not a member of the Athabasca River Runners Snowmobile Club.
Try Your Hand at Ice Fishing on Cold Lake
If you haven’t been here ice fishing before, don’t worry, there are plenty of locals who are friendly and willing to help you out by pointing out the good spots to fish. You will catch lake trout here, the average being 5 to 10 pounds, but there is always a chance in the deeper areas to catch one that is 12 to 20 pounds! In a lake this size – 20 kilometers between shores – anything is possible.
There are many ways to catch trout here, but the most tried and true is the reliable jig and minnow. Of all the jigs on the market, none is more coveted than the “Cold Lake Special”, described as a one-ounce tube jig with a stinger hook attached. Named because of its immense popularity and fish catching ability on the lake that bears its name, you might want to pick one or two before you head out.
There are many access points into the lake including Cold Lake Provincial Park. Rent an ice fishing hut to stay comfortable and stay nearby in town so you can spend several days enjoying the lake.
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Have Fun at Kinosoo Ridge Snow Resort
Since you are already in the Cold Lake area, you might as well stay another day or two and experience the outdoor activities available at Kinosoo Ridge.
With 60 acres of skiable area, 5 lifts, 13 trails, a vertical drop of 470 feet and a longest run of 5,450 feet, you are bound to enjoy every moment of getting active in the white stuff this winter. Children’s programs, lessons and rentals are all available through the season, so there is something for all age groups and abilities.
Tubing is another fun activity here, and for the more advanced skiers and snowboarders, there is the challenging terrain park. You can stay in Cold Lake, just 20 minutes away, or in Bonnyville, which is a 40-minute drive.
Get Your Ride On in Bonnyville
This beautiful land of lakes is considered a hidden gem for many snowmobile enthusiasts. An almost endless trail system meanders through the boreal forest and along a number of lakes.
There are three main trail systems that keep snowmobilers coming back to the area throughout the winter months. With a prime position along the Iron Horse Trail, it’s no wonder snowmobilers flock to this area.
Take the opportunity to soak up the wilderness scenery as you make your way through the pretty boreal forests, on trails that seem to go on forever. You are certain to find adventure and excitement if you choose to ride here.
Wolves, lynx, moose, elk and deer are regular sights, and the experience of riding in fresh dry powder. Stay up late to catch a glimpse of the phenomenal northern lights that can be seen from here.
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Explore Some X-Country in Fort McMurray
Try out the Deer Trail to Bear Trail is a lovely, secluded piece of heaven in a lovely forest setting. This is not a hard ski; it is just an incredible lovely area to get out and do some gliding.
The 4.8-kilometer loop in Fort McMurray which is a great for a short time out in the beautiful wintery months. Of course, if you want something a bit more challenging you can check out the Birchwood Trail system that in total covers 20 kilometers of groomed trails.
The trails were the site of the 2004 Artic Winter Games. Gregoire Lake Provincial Park, located just south of town also has 10 km of ungroomed trails. There are plenty of places to get you out and enjoying the area.
Hit the Slopes at Fairview Ski Area
Located just 15 kilometers south of the town of Fairview, and just over an hour north of Grande Prairie, this lovely ski area offers up 20,000 feet of groomed runs on 100% natural snow base.
With gorgeous views of the Hines Creek coulee, you will want to ski or snowboard here all day. A perfect family playground for the winter, there are 4 lifts (beginner to expert) and a diverse terrain park to experience.
The comfortable Chalet offers views of the hill along with some yummy food choices, and there are equipment rentals and lessons available for guests. Stay in the area and enjoy all the other activities that are available as well.
Take Your Skis to Cold Lake Provincial Park
With 10 kilometers of groomed trails to explore on your cross-country skis this winter, Cold Lake Provincial Park may be a great place to add to your list of things to do in the region.
The varied terrain offers opportunities for both beginners and intermediate skiers to get out and enjoy the trails here. Of course, if you are not a skier and prefer to strap on some snowshoes, you can explore off the beaten track here, just remember to not track on the groomed trails.
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Have Some Fun at Long Lake Ski Area
Located in Long Lake Provincial Park, this is just south of Boyle, and about an hour and a half northeast of Edmonton.
There are 12 runs that all levels of skier and snowboarder will enjoy. There are two T-bars and one rope tow to get you to all the runs, and rentals for those who don’t have their own equipment. T
here are beautiful views of the lake from the slopes which are nestled into the forest. Covering 30 acres, you can keep yourself busy all day here.
The short lift lines, great food in the Chalet, and friendly staff make this a perfect place to spend a winter day. There are a variety of accommodations available around the Lake if you want to stay in the area.
Spend a Day at Eastlink Park
Conveniently located right in the town of Whitecourt, this ski hill is yet another hidden gem in northern Alberta. Family oriented and priced just right to get your kids out on the slopes, there are some perfect runs for beginners, and an easy conveyer lift which makes the ski and snowboard areas accessible to everyone.
For the more advanced there is a great terrain park to enjoy. With lessons and rentals available that means that you don’t need to be experienced or even have your own equipment to experience rushing down the hill.
Of course, their tubing park is tons of fun as well, so pull on some winter clothes and head out to spend the day swooping down the hill, in whatever fashion you choose!
Address: 100 Roszko Ln, Whitecourt
Discover Figure 8 Lake Provincial Recreation Area
If you haven’t heard of this little slice of paradise, it is definitely time to pack a lunch and go out for the whole day. This Provincial Recreation Area is a heavenly winter destination with an abundance of snowshoe trails and ice fishing which makes the lake the perfect location for an authentic northern Alberta experience.
Located two hours northeast of Grande Prairie and 40 kilometers away from Peace River, it’s no surprise that the lake and provincial recreation area is a bit off the beaten path. Sometimes the best places are the ones that are not well known though!
Stay in Peace River and enjoy the surrounding area.
Visit Lac Cardinal Recreation Area
Home to the Alberta Pond Hockey Championships, you can enjoy a rousing good time watching the hockey games on the lake.
Of course, there are other activities to do in the area as well, so bring along your snowshoes and hit up some trails in between pond hockey games.
Located right next to Queen Elizabeth Provincial Park, where there are another 4.5 kilometers of ungroomed trails to enjoy through the pretty boreal forest. Make sure you stay late so you can experience the amazing Northern Lights.
Ski Cummings Lake Trail and Sand Hills
If you are looking for some fantastic groomed trails to explore, try out the 20 kilometers of track that is available between the two sites of Cummings Lake and Sand Hills.
These public trails are maintained by the Dunvegan Nordic Ski and Cycle Club and have some of the best northern Alberta ambiance that you could ask for.
The wilderness of the area gives you the impression that you are far away from everything. This is a place where you can easily lose track of time as you glide along the beautiful trails.
This entire zone is a phenomenal place to spend some outdoor time this winter, with plenty of places to visit to turn your time into a long vacation.
Stay in Fairview for the ultimate peace and quiet.