Keith Robinson is used to seeing bear, deer, coyote and other Canadian creatures almost daily. At night, away from urban light pollution, his view is a full-spectrum of crystal-clear stars.
“Stargazing is something that’s always been available in Waterton, along with boat tours, nature and hiking, but it’s new and unique as a guided option for tourists,” explains Robinson, whose grandparents came to the townsite in the 1950s and began offering tours of Waterton Lake via boat.
Robinson grew up on the banks of the lake in Waterton National Park. The park is about 250 kilometres south of Calgary and sits at the edge of the Rocky Mountains along Alberta’s south-ern border.
Robinson and his three brothers still make Waterton their home and continue to work in the tourism industry, guiding tours for the family cruise business and also running their new venture, Dark Sky Guides, offering small, personalized tours of Waterton that focus on the constellations. Hiking at night, as well as guided tours that allow visitors to experience the splendour of star-gazing through a telescope are their speciality.
This type of off-the-beaten-path tourism, aptly nicknamed Frontier Tourism, is a growing industry in Alberta. Frontier tourism is primarily about seeking out unique experiences that combine everything from remote outdoor practices to that which incorporate social, cultural and educational meaning. Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, lakes, rivers, and prairies, combine with historic monuments to provide a plethora of eco-tourism options – such as fishing, hunting, canoeing and the list goes on.
“We know that Drumheller is a largely untapped and important opportunity in terms of emerging destinations to invest in,” says Bruce Tannas, director of business development and investment attraction for tourism with Alberta Culture and Tourism. “Sylvan Lake has just undergone a major overhaul that will lead to multiple new places for travellers to stay, shore side.”
The Slave Lake region – approximately 250 kilometres north of Edmonton – is another outdoor oasis. The region spans over 10,000 square kilometres and is home to Lesser Slave Lake, which is the province’s largest lake that’s accessible by vehicle. In the summer, popular activities include paddle boarding, boating, kayaking, canoeing, swimming, water skiing. In the winter, the region offers the ideal landscape for snowshoeing, cross country skiing, ice fishing and snowmobiling.
Tannas says one of the newer tourism options in southern Alberta is ranching culture. Bradley and Christina Bustard turned their historic family ranch into a lodge that can accommodate up to 16 people to tap into this ranching culture tourism market. The lodge, Thanksgiving Ranch, is located near Pincher Creek, a town of approximately 3,500 people just 50 kilometres north of Waterton National Park.
“They may rarely get to experience the sounds of silence or an animal in nature. The lodge is a place to try to recover some awareness and start a reconnection with nature,” says Bradley, adding that visitors are often struck by everything from learning about where our food comes from to experiencing a full night sky of stars without the interference of light pollution.
The Mackenzie Region in the northwest corner of Alberta is a largely remote and untouched area that also has large swaths of nature that are free of light pollution.
“We really are Alberta’s last frontier,” says Lisa Wardley, a director on the Mackenzie Frontier Tourism Board. “Most of our traditional tourists have been those in motorhomes passing through on their way up north. However, this area is full of smaller and remote campgrounds as well as places to fish and hike.”
There are also hunting options and it is possible to portage right into the Northwest Territories up the Peace River – a 1,923-kilometre river that originates in British Columbia, runs through the Town of Peace River in northwestern Alberta and winds across northern Alberta before crossing into the Northwest Territories.
“Often these kind of thrill seekers are not the kind of tourists that stop in at the visitors’ bureau, so we don’t hear about their adventures till later, but it’s exciting to know that people are experiencing our region in many amazing ways,” says Wardley.
Southern Alberta Receives Sustainable Tourism Recognition
Alberta’s Castle Region and Alberta SouthWest received a major international nod, and recognition as a top sustainable tourism destination.
The Castle Region is home to Castle Provincial Park and Castle Wildland Provincial Park. The two parks in southwestern Alberta were established in 2017 and make up more than 105,000 hectares of protected natural spaces. Tourism was envisioned as a focal point of Castle Region and the area is living up to that vision.
The growing tourist destination was named among the first 60 locations, and one of only three in Canada, selected as finalists for the 2018 Sustainable Destinations Top 100. Green Destinations is a global sustainability competition that was launched in 2016 and it’s a global recognition high- lighting Alberta’s commitment to take sustainability seriously and demonstrate ongoing efforts to make it a top priority in our travel and tourism industry.