January 20, 2021
While we’re all feeling a little cabin fever, why not get out and explore our backyard? A road trip in the safety and comfort of your car can be a great way to break up all that pandemic monotony. Make a stop at your local Calgary Co-op store and pick up some road trip snacks, then fuel up and grab any driving essentials (make sure the windshield washer fluid is topped up) before heading out to explore.
The celestial landscape has always been one of the world’s craziest wonders and many areas of the world have excellent spots that provide an escape from city lights and allow visitors to enjoy the night sky. Here in Alberta, we have the best of many of these sights; you can find both dark sky preserves and, if the timing is right, perhaps even see the northern lights!
Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve
Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve, which was officially declared a protected area by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada in 2006, is located 30 minutes outside Edmonton, and encompasses 300 square kilometers spanning Elk Island National Park and the Cooking Lake-Provincial Recreation Area.
The Preserve is located far from artificial light so visitors can build a fire and enjoy the stars and moon, and you’ll probably see rookie astronomers and students being trained by professionals with scopes and other technologies. The sky seems to “ripple” with shades of green, pink, and yellow at various times and is certainly an unforgettable sight.
Cypress Hills Dark Sky Preserve
Formally deemed a Dark Sky Preserve in 2004, the Cypress Hills Dark Sky Preserve is another one you shouldn’t miss on your road trip. Located in Elkwater southwest of Medicine Hat, this Preserve is the largest one in the entire country, spanning 396 square kilometers. What makes this Preserve so unique is the higher elevation and the remoteness of the region that has allowed less light pollution and made the sky appear even clearer.
Visitors have spotted the Northern Lights even this far south and on a more average day you can expect to see other planets such as Saturn and Jupiter, along with the moon. Be sure to stop at Jimmy’s Kitchen along Highway 21 for some of their excellent fried chicken on your way!
Lakeland Provincial Park
Located close to Lac La Biche, the newest Dark Skies area is at Lakeland Provincial Park, and your road trip should most definitely include a stop here. This is another spot where if the aurora borealis are active you might be able to use those northern lights as your selfie backdrop.
Aside from the amazing skies there’s also the wildlife and the park is great to visit during the winter despite the cold weather due to local ski packages that oftentimes include night skis coupled with a dark skies outing. The park also has a picturesque lake that you can bring your canoe to and spend time on the water fishing and enjoying the great outdoors in the warmer weather.
Jasper Dark Sky Preserve
The best view of the Northern Lights might be at the Jasper Dark Sky Preserve where it’s possible to sit and lose count of all of the stars. The Jasper Dark Sky Preserve was designated a protected dark sky preserve in 2011 and it holds some of the most entertaining and educational presentations throughout the year. The dark skies are not all the park has to offer; check out planetarium shows and the occasional science experiment. Visitors say they always seem to get the best photos of the lit-up sky at this Preserve compared to others, so photographers better come prepared for some good stuff!
Wood Buffalo Dark Sky Preserve
A longer drive, but a worthy road trip where you can spend a few days, Wood Buffalo Dark Sky Preserve is part of Wood Buffalo National Park, which is Canada’s largest national park. Many dark sky fanatics say this is the best and brightest in the region and it is also a great place to see wildlife and nocturnal animals like owls.
Dark skies are an amazing phenomenon and provide visitors with ways to escape a big city and gain a much more open, clear-sky feel. With so many dark sky areas around us, why not do something different and plan a weekend road trip to view the heavens? It goes without saying that if you’re road tripping into Alberta’s parks and natural areas to always check weather conditions and dress for the temperatures. And don’t forget to hit Co-op for food and fuel for the trip!
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