After our first month on the road in Canada came to an end, we suffered a few setbacks with truck repairs and Swifty breakdowns causing us more anxiety than we would like. However, after 2 weeks of truck repairs and unsuccessful Swifty repairs, we were headed east out of Calgary towards the Alberta Badlands to kick off our next month on the road with sunny skies, renewed optimism, and a revived skip in our step.
Welcome to our fifth monthly update on our overlanding adventure where we share the Alberta Badlands, the best things to see in Saskatchewan, as well as Jasper and the Icefields Parkway.
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Drumheller and the Alberta Badlands
Drumheller is proudly known as the dinosaur capital of the world! Located in the Alberta Badlands along the Red Deer River Valley, which is often called Dinosaur Valley, there are a number of interesting rock formations and viewpoints to see as the river cuts its way through the prairies.
Quite fittingly, the dinosaur capital of the world has the World’s Largest Dinosaur, a 86 foot (26.2 m) high Tyrannosaurus Rex. The town is quite small but has everything needed for a great weekend getaway and really embraces the dinosaur theme with dinosaur statues scattered throughout the town.
One of the main draws is the world-famous Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, which has a very large collection of over 800 fossils on permanent display. The impressive display though, is only a mere 0.5% of the museum’s total fossil collection. If you love dinosaurs, this is the place to go!
As you drive out in either direction of Drumheller along the valley, you will be rewarded with beautiful views of the meandering Red Deer River and typical ‘badlands’ eroded rock formations. There is a small section of hoodoos here, which had us reminiscing of our time spent in the Utah Badlands.
Taking the southern route out of town leads to the small town of Dorothy. This was once a classic pioneer town with three grain elevators, a post office, general store, and a school. Today, there are still a handful of residents that call Dorothy home. The main draw today is the sole grain elevator left standing, as well as the towns two churches.
After snapping some great photos in the late afternoon sun in Dorothy, we headed further East, venturing into the unknown. We were treated to what would be one of many beautiful prairie sunsets.
The sunrises and sunsets on the prairies are some of the best around as you can see the full, unobstructed sky light up with color.
Dinosaur Provincial Park
Dinosaur Provincial Park is further south along the Red Deer River Valley from Drumheller, and takes just under two hours of driving to reach. We camped nearby and entered the park in the morning. Dinosaur Provincial Park is one of the richest fossil areas in the world, with 58 dinosaur species having been discovered here amongst the more than 500 specimens that have been found.
The entrance to the park is high above the river valley, and offers great views of the badlands and main section of the park.
Once in the park, there are a number of hiking trails to explore the unique geography of the badlands. Even more amazing is they have partially excavated dinosaur fossils that you can view. The fossils are still in the exact location where they were found, and have been partially exposed and covered by a building to preserve the fossil as well as educate everyone that stops by.
There Are Actually Things to See in Saskatchewan!
When we told people that after the Canadian Rockies we were planning to head to Saskatchewan, they thought we were a bit nuts and exclaimed how flat it is, how boring it is, and that there are no good things to see in Saskatchewan. However, we were excited to go there as it would be a new province for both of us, and we always enjoyed our long U.S. road trips through Kansas, Nebraska, and other “flyover states.” Surely, we could find a few interesting things to see in the whole province of Saskatchewan.
We were once again racing against the setting sun towards our first destination in Saskatchewan, the Great Sand Hills. These sand hills are desert-like sand dunes that cover a massive 734 square miles (1,900 sq km). How are these not more well-known? Probably because they are mostly covered in various grasses, so the area of open wind-swept sand dunes is relatively small, but it was definitely worth visiting.
We always love finding sand dunes and driving through sand, and these sand dunes certainly met all our expectations! For those already interested in planning a trip to Saskatchewan, the province also is home to the largest sand dunes in Canada. Slightly larger at 743 sq miles (1,925 sq km), the Athabasca Sand Dunes are fully exposed, with huge dunes up to 100 feet (30 m) high. They also happen to be the most northerly active sand dunes in the world. Getting there is the biggest challenge though, as the sand dunes can only be accessed by private or chartered float plane tours. It is definitely one of the best things to see in Saskatchewan, and high on our future trips list.
After spending a night near the Great Sand Hills, we headed back for sunrise. It was cold, but a spectacular sight.
Driving through the small towns of the Canadian Prairies you never know what you will come across, and this town was no exception, with a bit of a strange name. Kyle, Saskatchewan is completed with Kyle Airport, Kyle Composite School, and the famous Kyle Museum – that’s my kind of town!
We almost didn’t even stop at the next destination, but boy are we glad that we did. We decided to make a quick detour on our route to the ghost town of Bents, Saskatchewan. Bents was founded in 1930 and at the time was a bustling little town with a train station, general store and post office, and two grain elevators. The area was abandoned in the 1970’s, and has remained deserted for the last 50 years. One grain elevator remains, as does the general store and post office, and a number of other houses and outbuildings in various states of repair.
Walking through Bents, exploring the old houses and imagining what the town would have been like in 1930 felt like we were in an old movie. It was incredibly interesting and spooky at the same time. We even managed to peak into one of the houses and found some interesting vintage memorabilia.
Bents is located on private property, and the old buildings are fragile. Please respect the land and area here if you do visit as one of the best things to see in Saskatchewan. In fact, Saskatchewan has lots of abandoned buildings and ghost towns, as well as beautiful old churches. Stringing together a bunch of these would make for an interesting road trip.
Paris of the Prairies, Saskatoon
Saskatoon is the largest city in the province of Saskatchewan, and the butt of many Canadian jokes; however, it is a charming city in its own right and has a few unique sights that you might not expect in the middle of the Canadian Prairies. The jewel of Saskatoon is undoubtedly the Delta Bessborough Hotel. The Bessborough is considered one of Canada’s Grand Railway Hotels, alongside the likes of the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, Fairmont Chateau Frontenac, and many others.
This hotel, in combination with the eight bridges that span the South Saskatchewan River in the city have earned Saskatoon the nickname of “Paris of the Prairies.”
If you do end up visiting Saskatoon, we had one of the most delicious meals of our trip at the Golden Pagoda restaurant, featuring Burmese Asian cuisine. Be sure to try the owner’s traditional Burmese recommendations!
Overall, our time in Saskatchewan was one of the highlights of our trip. Everyone was incredibly friendly, and the sights were devoid of tourists (mostly because this was November in Saskatchewan, not exactly a top tourist destination). However, we do plan to be back and explore more of the best things to see in Saskatchewan.
Heading Back West as Winter Sets In
We were fortunate to have had about a week of sunshine to begin November, however a severe cold snap was coming our way, and we needed to start heading back towards home, as we had now ventured almost 1,000 miles (1,600 km) from home.
We had a few more detours planned on our way back west towards Edmonton. We first stopped at an area called the Crooked Trees. Located in the middle of nowhere Saskatchewan, this small area of trees has a genetic mutation that causes all of the trees to grow in a crooked manner, and nobody knows why this originally happened! Definitely a unique place in Saskatchewan.
We drove a number of backroads as we pressed further east, getting the truck and Swifty very dirty as we entered Elk Island National Park. The park has a rich history of wildlife management and conservation. It is the home to about 300 wood bison, and has also exported some of its wood bison to areas in Montana, Russia, and elsewhere around North America in the ongoing conservation effort to revive the once-thriving bison population of the North American plains.
We caught a few bison grazing near the roadside, but could only catch a glimpse of the main herd of hundreds of wood bison far off in the distance.
We made it to Edmonton, Alberta just in time for a huge snowfall and extremely cold temperatures. We stayed put in a hotel for a few days, exploring the nearby West Edmonton Mall, the largest shopping mall in North America, and the largest mall in the world from 1981 to 2004. It’s big. The mall has the world’s largest indoor amusement park, the world’s largest indoor lake, and the world’s largest parking lot, to name just a few records. If you can’t get your Christmas shopping done here, you’re probably not doing it right.
The Icefields Parkway – Finally
We attempted to drive the Icefields Parkway back in January 2020 but a snow storm caused the parkway to be closed for days. Our second attempt last month when visiting Banff and Canmore and ended with our truck breaking down. After our first and second failed attempt at driving the Icefields Parkway, we were hoping for some “third time’s the charm” luck as we set off on a snowy morning before sunrise. As we also wanted to check out Abraham Lake, we drove the long way around to begin the Icefields Parkway from the south.
Abraham Lake is famous for its ice bubbles during winter, however it was too early in the year yet for the lake to be frozen. It is a beautiful area anytime of the year that you visit. We were treated to a small herd of bighorn sheep lounging by the roadside munching on some of the remaining exposed grass.
Only an hour from Abraham Lake, we made it to the Icefields Parkway and were finally headed north. We were blown away by the incredible views along this road. Every turn that you go around brings a new view of a beautiful mountain, river, or glacier.
The Columbia Icefield is the largest ice field in the Rocky Mountains, and is incredible to see. It is a bit harder to differentiate the glacier from the snow during winter but it’s still impressive.
Further along the Icefields Parkway we made stops at the beautiful Sunwapta Falls and Athabasca Falls.
We drove into Jasper just after sunset, and were thrilled to have finally completed the Icefields Parkway! It is easily one of our favorite drives in the world, and likely the best in Canada. If you can plan a trip to see Banff and Jasper National Parks as well as the Icefields Parkway, you won’t be disappointed!
Jasper in Winter Round Two
During our first visit to Jasper in winter early in 2020, we arrived in the middle of a snowstorm and never even knew there were mountains surrounding Jasper at all! This time though we had lots of time to explore Jasper as well as more of the surrounding area.
One of the famous lakes around Jasper is Pyramid Lake. It is less than a 10-minute drive from the town, and is famous for the large Pyramid Mountain that dominates the skyline behind the lake. We managed to catch the lake in its frozen state just before it was covered in snow, for a unique and beautiful sight.
Also on Pyramid Lake is the beautiful little Pyramid Island with a footbridge connecting to the mainland.
A little bit further away from Jasper is Maligne Lake. The 30 mile (48 km) drive to the lake is through more beautiful forests, and is one of the best places to spot moose in Jasper National Park. The moose are so prevalent here that Parks Canada has to put up signs reminding people to not let the moose lick your car in winter! The moose go crazy for the delicious salty brine that is put on roads in winter and end up all over everyone’s car.
We were really hoping to spot a few moose here as it was the main animal of the Canadian Rockies that we had not yet seen. We were lucky to spot two young moose in the trees as we drove along the road. Maligne Lake is at the end of the road, and great to visit most times of the year, but the day that we visited it was cloudy and snowy (and 10F / -12C), so we didn’t stay long.
The Long Road Home
From Jasper, we had a few more very indirect stops to make before heading home. We drove a lot and visited some long-time friends and family that live all over British Columbia. We first headed north up to Fort St. John to spend a few days, before driving south towards Kelowna for a few more days of rest and relaxation.
On our final day on the road we stopped in the mountains to snap a few more photos before arriving back at home, happy for a warm house, large comfortable bed, and temperatures above freezing.
The Stats – Month Five
Miles driven: 3,012
Nights in Swifty: 9
Canadian Provinces crossed: Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia
Number of Moose Spotted: 5
Times we crashed the drone: 2
Number of Gas Tank Fill-ups: 16
Number of Wal-Mart Parking Lots Slept In: 3
Days Below 0C / 32F: 18
Favorite Meal: Burmese dinner at The Golden Pagoda, Saskatoon
Favorite Campsite: Steveville Bridge Campground, Alberta
Our fifth month on the road (actually only 3 weeks) wraps up the nearly two months we spend overlanding in Canada. We had hoped the weather would be a bit warmer, but certain things are just out of our control. The time flew by, and we were happy to have the chance to explore more of this beautiful, big country. We’re not sure what is next in store for our travels and Swifty. We are looking forward to 2021 and putting 2020 firmly in the rearview mirror. Check in on Instagram for our next adventures!
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