Story and Photos by Rumble Alberta Influencers Rheannon Green and Tannis Baker
When you look at Northern Alberta, one thing is for sure – it is massive. A far cry from the metropolitan areas surrounding Calgary and Edmonton, where the next town is only a few minutes outside the city limits, Northern Alberta neighboring communities can sometimes take upwards of one hour to reach. As we prepared to head out from Calgary to our starting point in Edson, we knew two things to be true: the days would be long, and we always had better have a full tank of gas (just in case).
As we made our way into Edson, it was clear that the town is heavily focused on drive-through traffic and overnight visitors. Like many of Alberta’s small towns along major highways, there seemed to be an abundance of chain restaurants, gas stations, and hotels aimed at getting you on your way again quickly.
After a long day of driving, we headed straight to our first stop, the Lakeview Inn & Suites – Edson Airport West. We had been driving through the rain most of the day, and there were no signs of it letting up, so hitting the hotel to get cleaned up and get situated was the top priority. The hotel is quaint and is a favorite of industrial and oil patch workers, given the lineup of large trucks outside. Inside, the lobby is lovely, and the staff is very friendly and keen to share information about the town. After checking in and dropping our bags in the room, we set out to find some dinner at a recommended stop unique to Edson, the Lil’ Igloo.
Lil’ Igloo is a tiny drive-through restaurant that serves up staples like hearty burgers and poutine, but what they’re known around town for is their ice cream. We went with their dipped soft serve and
are still dreaming about the toasted coconut and the jolly rancher weeks later. There is only a tiny patio, though, so be prepared to eat your treats in the great outdoors or take them back to your hotel with you as we did.
The following day, we prepared to explore more of the route that would pass through many towns throughout the northwest. Typically, the hotel provides a continental breakfast. Still, with covid restrictions in place, they opted to suspend this service, so we grabbed a quick coffee and headed off to our first stop of the day, Rocky Mountain Big Horn Distillery.
Rocky Mountain Big Horn Distillery is a small, family-run craft distillery located about 10 minutes north of Edson in Yellowhead County. Beautiful, branded gates frame the entrance, so it is impossible to miss the entrance. The driveway up to the taproom and distillery is mostly dirt, so if it is a rainy day like we had, it could be challenging for those riding in on two wheels. Their lineup of spirits and liqueurs uses locally sourced ingredients, including grains from a nearby farm and herbs grown right on their own patio. As new as they are, they have already acquired several awards for their lineup, including Best in Class at the 2020 Alberta Beverage Awards for their Alpine Cream and their Cornshine. Their flagship Big Horn Vodka took home bronze at the 2019 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Book ahead for a tour of the distillery, and then kick back in the gorgeous taproom with a cocktail or do a tasting to find your new favorite!
The drive to Hinton took just under an hour, and by then, we needed to re-caffeinate. We headed to The Old Grind, a local favorite with not only great coffee (roasted in Jasper by Rocky Mountain Roasters) but a fantastic selection of sandwiches, soups, sweets, and more. You can tell it is a great spot to eat, as it had a revolving door of customers coming in for almost everything on the menu. The favorite of our visit was a French tortière, which uses owner Carl Widenmaier’s family recipe. A quick browse of the local art selection (including pieces by some of the staff), and we were on our way again.
Hitting the road towards Grande Cache, we saw almost nothing but green, green, green. Almost the entire drive has you surrounded by deep forests and sprawling hills in every shade of green, from emerald to olive and everything in between. It was a beautiful drive until we managed to find snow. That’s right – snow! In June.
Our drive into Grande Cache revealed an important note: Mondays are not a great day to visit small-town spots. Unlike in cities like Calgary, where we are used to everything being open seven days a week, small towns tend to have many restaurants and shops closed on Sundays and Mondays. While we could not try it ourselves, Yum Yum’s Café is a local ice cream shop worth mentioning. Their ice cream treats are every child’s (or inner child’s) wildest dreams, from ice cream nachos to mini donut milkshakes to ice cream flights. They even have an adorable patio space so you can enjoy some fresh mountain air while you eat.
After leaving Grande Cache, we headed towards our final destination for the day, Grande Prairie. Again, the two-hour drive was stunning landscapes full of trees, waterways, and even a small mountain climb. There is not much in the way of cell service or stops, so be sure to have a full tank before you leave. We arrived in Grande Prairie in time to grab some delicious barbecue takeout from Red Rock Urban BBQ before heading over to our hotel. The portions were huge, the meat was cooked to perfection, and we could not have asked for a better way to end the day. If you are not sure what to get, go for the “Oink, Cackle & Moo,” it includes their pulled pork, quarter dixie chicken, and sliced brisket plus two sides and cornbread. It is definitely enough to feed at least two people, if not more.
While in Grande Prairie, we could not pass up visiting Fourteen 14 Food Co., a fantastic lunch and brunch spot that serves up simple, fast, and delicious sandwiches and more. They are huge proponents of local, working with nearby farms and producers whenever possible. The “Uncle Joey” is one of their most popular sandwiches, like a Cubano and made to perfection. Paired with the “Loaded Fries,” it was more than enough to share between two people, though it was so good you would not want to. Wash it down with a Grain Bin craft brew, or a Grizzly Paw soda, or with a coffee from local roasters at Mink Hollow Coffee. Be sure to check out their washrooms before you leave – they have some fantastic artwork all over the walls!
Leaving Grande Prairie, we were once again back to rural Alberta. Small towns, open roads, and lots of farmland. The view shifted from greens to golden yellows as we made our way past farms and fields to arrive in High Prairie. Shady Orchard & Winery is outside this tiny town, a small family-owned and operated fruit winery. Their retail store is magnificent, with vintage décor and a stunning display for their wines. It leads into their “Taproom,” a private space that can be booked for tastings and events, complete with a small menu of delicious bites go alongside their selection of fruit wines. The wines are range from the more common varietals like the Strawberry Rhubarb and the Cherry to the more unique like the Chokecherry and the Lemon (which has a touch of pea flower to give it a stunning purple color). You won’t want to miss the Pear, which may be one of the best fruit wines we have had to date. William and Kristie are exceptional hosts and will have you feeling right at home (beware of Dobson, however, he tends to get shaky when visitors are near!). Only 20 minutes from the east end of Lesser Slave Lake, Shady Orchard & Winery also makes a great rainy day excursion!
As we neared the town of Slave Lake and the end of the route, there was just one last spot to hit – the Slave Lake Grill (or SL Grill). When locals say they order from there up to five times per week, you know it must be good. The Slave Lake Grill is owned and operated by a lovely couple, Aeja and Woojin Park. They know almost all their customers by name (and by voice, for those who phone in orders). The menu is simple, with about a dozen numbered items, and everything is cooked fresh to order. It makes the perfect quick lunch or dinner and should be enjoyed by a view of the lake.
Food Tourism Strategies Inc. is a Calgary-based consulting and event company that produces Alberta on the Plate, a platform that highlights and celebrates Alberta food and drink, as well as hosts a province wide dine around festival every August during Alberta Local Food Week. The 2021 Dine Around takes place August 6-15, 2021 and features over 60 restaurants in over 20 cities and towns throughout the province.
Learn More: AlbertaOnThePlate.com | FoodTourismStrategies.com
Follow on Instagram & Facebook: @abontheplate | @foodtourismstrategies