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Central Alberta: Fun in Our Big Backyard

July 30th, 2014

As the end of the school year approached, my husband, daughter (age 12), son (age 10) and I were invited to explore the communities of Red Deer and Sylvan lake. Living just outside of Edmonton, a weekend stay in the area wasn't anything we had done, aside from visits during hockey tournaments when there was never time to explore. This was the perfect opportunity for that exploration that we had been missing out on!

We drove down to Red Deer on a Friday afternoon at the end of June. Traffic was as traffic usually is on Highway 2, but once we drove in to Red Deer, that hustle and bustle quickly disappeared. We pulled up at Red Deer Lodge and got ready to celebrate the end of the school year!

Conveniently located in downtown Red Deer, the Lodge provided a home away from home...but better. With the indoor tropical courtyard, it was a serious challenge pulling the kids away from the swimming pool that was just steps from our room's door. And the family suite, complete with bunk beds, was a complete and total hit! Another reason the Lodge is a great place to stay when in Red Deer its location in the heart of Downtown. You can walk to the Red Deer Market on Saturday mornings (it's HUGE!) Rotary Park, Red Deer Recreation Centre, Red Deer Museum + Art Gallery, Blue Grass Sod Farm Spray Park, plus a ton of shopping and dining options.

The next stop on our trip was to Heritage Ranch. This is a spectacular location perfect for horseback riding along the scenic Red Deer River, kayaking, a romantic date night, or hiking and walking along the gorgeous paths. We even saw a gorgeous wedding being celebrated there! Don't forget to bring your appetite when you're exploring Heritage Ranch; with Westlake Grill nestled above the Red Deer River, and a menu that will leave you drooling, you won't leave dissatisfied!

Remember when I mentioned that the Red Deer Market is right by the Red Deer Lodge? Well after a wonderful night's sleep and a delicious breakfast, we were blown away by this HUGE market that boasts over 250 vendors and up to 14,000 visitors a day! Celebrating its 44th year, this spectacular gathering of local producers, growers, craftsman, vendors and musicians is thanks to the dedication of Dennis Moffatt who has dedicated every Saturday morning to operating the Market. Located east, across the street from the Red Deer Lodge, the vibrant atmosphere is perfect for all ages!

Next up on our itinerary was a drive out to the beautiful lakeside community of Sylvan Lake. While we've been out there a number of times visiting family in the past, this was going to be a great day to explore all that Sylvan Lake has to offer...and there's a lot of it! Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other ideas.

Rain or shine, we did get a good glimpse into the potential for one of Alberta's hot, sunny days! With paddle boarding, paddle boating, picnics on the beach, and the super-cool Fly Boarding opportunities thanks to Alberta Flyboard, the opportunities for family fun are endless at Sylvan Lake! Because of the rain, we had the chance to poke through a number of the great businesses in town...complete with a stop for ice cream at Big Moo's. Because, quite frankly, there's no wrong ice cream eating weather!

The blustery weather also gave us the opportunity to visit a few other great Central Alberta attractions. Between riding the waves in the epic pool at Collicutt Centre, taking part in wheel chair races at the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame & Museum, and being transported through time at the War Brides exhibit at Red Deer Museum + Art Gallery,  the rain didn't get us down at all!

That evening we were treated to a delicious dinner at Boulevard Restaurant + Lounge, indulging in the creations of Chef Emmanuel David. (He's cooked for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II...I really don't have to say any more!). The food was spectacular...a true treat! If I may, allow me to recommend the Deep Sea Scallops and Shrimp linguini and the Waskasoo Bacon-Mac & Cheese! You'll find this not-to-be-missed restaurant inside the Holiday Inn on Petrolia Drive.

On our final day of adventure in Central Alberta, we braved the continuing rain and headed out to Discovery Wildlife Park. We've had friends sing the praises of the Park for a long time, but this was our first experience...and it certainly won't be our last. Our hosts, Doug and Debbi, gave us the warmest welcome when we arrived. Doug took us around the Park, where it was obvious that his passion and love for the animals is what keeps him doing what he does.

The Bear Presentation was one of the highlights of our visit. Three of the bears showed some of their many talents, and we absolutely fell in love! These Hollywood stars lived up to their reputation, and it's not uncommon to hear the kids still talking and giggling about the great things they saw!

Another highlight of our visit to Discovery Wildlife Park was when we met Nissa and Lupè, the very popular wolf pups! While one is extremely shy, and the other outgoing, they were just the sweetest things ever! Add this to my son's chance to feed a bear, and we have memories to last a lifetime!

At Edmonton's Child, Red Deer's Child and Fort McMurray's Child magazines, we're always talking about how Alberta truly is our big backyard. To actually get out an explore it was an absolute pleasure...one I encourage you all to do with your families! A quick and beautiful drive lands you right in the heart of our province, where the communities have so much to offer: fun for the whole family, warmth, and hospitality that can't be missed. When there's so much to see and do, why bother traveling great distances? It's time to explore our big backyard!

- Kerri Leland (Editor-in-Chief, Gryphon Publishing)

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