Residents of the Pacific Northwest generally look south and east when planning summer trips, forgetting that a vast expanse of adventure-filled land lies just a couple of hours north in Canada’s British Columbia and Alberta provinces. Though Canada and the continental United States are about the same size, our neighbor to the north has roughly 1/10th of our population, meaning there is plenty of space for summertime visitors. Point that compass north, and discover western Canada.
Story and photos by Julie Arnan.
Winter sports enthusiasts know Whistler’s well-deserved reputation as an exceptional ski and snowboard resort, with miles of powdery terrain, modern lifts, spectacular views, and a robust après ski scene. All of those attributes are available during summer months (minus the powder) at a fraction of the crowds and price. Plus, Whistler’s mellow summertime vibe provides real vacation relaxation.
Where to Stay
Plan your trip around a Four Seasons Whistler Beer BQ Thursday. Onsite restaurant SIDECUT partners with various B.C. craft breweries throughout the summer, weaving beer into classic recipes and offering guests interesting pours each week from June to August. Rotating local musicians make it a lively atmosphere. But the food! SIDECUT chefs pull out all the stops — no protein left unturned, it seems. An imposing black custom-built smoker puffs out the most delicious smells, massive grills sizzle as meat and chicken caramelize, cast-iron skillets loaded with fresh mussels simmer away, and a table laden with every barbecue side dish known to mankind guarantees multiple return trips (in the name of research, right?). When Beer BQ is not in session, grab a happy hour cocktail at the Courtyard Camper — a cute little trailer on the patio. In the evenings, s’mores and nightcaps are served fireside. The Four Seasons patio is basically heaven for taste buds. The rest of the senses are covered by afternoons lounging in a cabana by the heated pool, the eucalyptus steam room, ultra-comfy guest rooms (those beds!), and gorgeous art throughout the property — I couldn’t stop running my hand along the marble bear in the lobby every time I passed it.
Other great lodging options include the Fairmont Chateau Whistler — a classic beauty with an amazing outdoor pool, and Nita Lake Lodge — located on Nita Lake, a family-owned hotel with beautiful rooms; a great spa; rooftop hot tubs; and free use of recreational equipment like canoes, kayaks, and bicycles.
What to Do
Besides eating, drinking, and lounging by the pool? Get active. Take a SUP board out on Nita Lake (free use of equipment for guests at Nita Lake Lodge), jump on a bike, and hit the trails at Whistler Mountain Bike Park with more than 8,000 acres of terrain and 200 marked runs, or take the gondola up to the top and hike back down. For a high-speed thrill minus the effort of downhill mountain biking, take a Ziptrek Ecotours glide down The Sasquatch — North America’s longest zipline at more than 2 kilometers (about 7,000 feet). The 1.5-hour excursion can be customized to include the Peak 2 Peak gondola (connecting Whistler and Blackcomb mountains) and other packages.
Where to Eat and Drink
For non-Beer BQ meals and beverages, the village has you covered. I loved my breakfast of smoked salmon toast at Fifi’s Bistro (Blackcomb Village) so much that I stopped by later in the afternoon for a snack of curried mussels and truffle fries. In Whistler Village, chef-owned Alta Bistro’s farm-to-table menu features “the freshest flavours from just up the road” — elk tartare, B.C. oysters, heirloom tomato salads, locally foraged mushrooms, and a thoughtful wine list. Head to the Dubh Linn Gate Irish Pub for a pint of Guinness and, very likely, some great live music. Or enjoy the evening air on the elevated patio at Garibaldi Lift Co. Bar & Grill with an ahi poke bowl and a cocktail.
THE OKANAGAN – B.C. Wine Country
This may come as news to some of you, but Canada grows wine grapes, and winemakers are starting to produce some good juice. Wine country lies east of Vancouver in the Okanagan Valley, stretching more than 150 miles from Kelowna in the north to Osoyoos in the south on the Washington border. Eighty percent of B.C.’s vineyards lie in this region, closing in on 200 wineries with nearly 9,000 acres planted. Steep hillsides and rolling slopes lined with vineyards surround the shores of Okanagan Lake — a long narrow body of water similar to Lake Chelan but even longer and oriented more vertically from north to south. Vineyards continue down to Osoyoos Lake, which is bisected by the international border, with roughly a third of the lake residing in Washington. A few miles to the west is Similkameen Valley — a separately recognized wine-growing region characterized by sharp rocky peaks and a lush valley planted with grapes.
Where to Stay
Watermark Beach Resort, located on Osoyoos Lake, boasts beachfront views, a kid-friendly pool with a waterslide, recreational lake toys for rent, and fully-equipped condo-style rooms with full kitchens and laundry equipment. Watermark is also home to Devour! Osoyoos, The Food Film Fest, an annual event slated for October 4-6 — ticket holders enjoy dishes inspired by independent short food films as well as a barbecue reception, chowder “smackdown,” beverage tastings, and wine-focused seminars.
Wineries and Dineries
For an excellent guided wine tour, consider hiring Okanagan Wine Country Tours. Otherwise, make sure to visit Liquidity Wines in Okanagan Falls. The tasting room and onsite bistro have beautiful views — an infinity water feature banks the patio seating area overlooking hillside and valley vineyards. Winery President Ian MacDonald’s prodigious art collection brightens the interior and adds whimsy to the landscaping. Finish the Okanagan Falls tour with some sparkles — Noble Ridge Winery and Blue Mountain Cellars are just a couple of miles from Liquidity, and producing great brut sparkling wines.
Make time for a side trip through the gorgeous Similkameen Valley. The Legend of the Seven Stones — glacial erratics (boulders) used as physical and spiritual landmarks by the native Okanagan and Similkameen peoples — inspired the name of Seven Stones Winery. But owner and winemaker George Hanson was most inspired by his late wife, Vivienne, whose portrait hangs at the entrance of the wine cave. Hanson hangs on to his wines a bit longer than usual to give them time to mature into elegance. Another great stop is Corcelettes Estate Winery — take your tasting outdoors on the deck for stunning views of the vineyards and rocky peaks.
THE ABC’S OF WELLNESS – Alberta, Banff, and Calgary
The Canadian Rockies hold court over the province of Alberta. Clean air and sunshine line the road west out of Calgary, a Midwest-looking city set in a landscape remarkably like Denver. But just a short drive west, mountain upon mountain layer into a snowcapped collage of exceptional beauty. The region near Banff is rife with ways to promote renewal and turn over a new wellness leaf. If nothing else, take a ride up the Banff Gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain — in every direction, breathtaking mountain peak majesty.
What to Do
Wellness is a point of view. If heart-pumping cardio endorphins sounds like the perfect way to kick off a week of wellness, stop for a class at CrushCamp in Calgary. Fifty minutes of pure HIIT calorie shredding courtesy of the SkillMill — a nonmotorized treadmill used to train Olympic athletes — along with weight-resistance training and a huge dose of positivity. Don’t forget to take a CrushedIt #shoefie when you leave the locker room.
Perhaps downward dog with a side of pigeon checks that wellness box a bit better. WildHeart yoga studio in Canmore is a great “space to find movement.” Owned and operated by Emily Brooks and Aly Sudermann, WildHeart offers yoga and barre classes along with a genuine personal connection in possibly the most scenic little town in the North American Rockies.
Wellness can also mean spa bliss and relaxation. Take a day at Kananaskis Nordic Spa, located at the Pomeroy Kananaski Mountain Lodge. Soak in a hot pool followed by a bracing cold waterfall plunge, then rest in a heated hammock while watching the tall, slender pines sway in the gentle breeze. The hot-cold-rest cycle helps clear the body of toxins by opening the pores, rinsing the toxins, closing the pores, getting the heart to pump and warm the interior of the body, and releasing endorphins – essential to mind and body restoration.
How about a week of total wellness with every box checked? Evolve Retreat Co. offers comprehensive wellness retreats, partnering with various accommodations like Azuridge Estate Hotel and a team of experts that includes fitness instructor Tommy Europe; a handful of yoga instructors, including Sarah Harvie, who takes guests through a yoga nidra experience (“sleep” yoga with a live cello serenade by Erin Beach — exceptionally restorative); adventure guides (hikes, water sports, equestrian options), nutrition specialists, and retreat chef Chris Murphy. Founded on the four pillars of mindset, movement, nutrition, and sleep, Evolve retreats provide the support you need to make real, positive changes in life.
Where to Eat and Drink
In Calgary, make time for a meal at Ten Foot Henry, where produce is king — fresh, pickled, spiced, roasted, delicious. Yes; there are meat and fish on the menu, but those vegetables! Also, save room for the bucatini cacio e pepe pasta, and definitely order the butterscotch pudding (even if you’re not a “dessert” person and/or too full to read the word “dessert”).
There are views, and then there are views. Nothing can top the sights from atop Sulphur Mountain’s Sky Bistro. Enjoy a leisurely lunch of farm-to-table Canadian cuisine featuring Alberta beef, fish, and produce. In downtown Banff, The Bison Restaurant (pronounced “BI-zen” in Canadian) shimmers thanks to a copper-plated open kitchen. Don’t leave without an order of the squash fritti — fried delicata squash rings served with honey, ricotta, mint, and toasted walnuts. A signature dish, the bison carpaccio with pickles, shallots, and truffle puree should top your order.
Where to Stay
Calgary: Le Germain Hotel
Priddis (between Calgary and Banff): Azuridge Estate Hotel
Kananaskis: Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge