Over 19 days, Brendan Van Son and I drove 5600 km and hiked nearly 300 km each across Alberta. We encountered Grizzly Bears, moose, and a few smaller critters. We walked beneath hoodoos and towering pine trees, climbed mountains, and wandered to the edge of thundering waterfalls. But the journey wasn’t just a personal attempt to discover more of our home province, but rather to carry the Google Trekker in Alberta and collect 360 degree images for Google Map’s street trail view.
Our Google Trekker in Alberta Itinerary
Working in Partnership with Travel Alberta, we decided to skip the world-renown Rocky Mountain parks in favour of discovering the province’s lesser-known destinations.
If you’ve visited Jasper or Banff National Park in the past few years, you’ll understand that their landscapes are unrivaled; however, the summer months are so busy that it’s almost reached complete saturation. Hotels and campgrounds have been booked solid all summer. I’ll always maintain that the spring and fall are the ultimate times to visit these two parks, as the crowds are sparse but the majority of hikes are still viable. I’ll also tell you a big secret – the best weather occurs in May, September and October.
Rather than explore the parks, we mapped out an ambitious route around the province, visiting seven destinations. Brendan and I were completely blown away with what we found, too, because Alberta is a truly diverse province with an incredible collection of wilderness areas and provincial parks. In just three weeks, we discovered just how incredibly diverse Alberta truly is while visiting an incredible range of destinations within the province:
Stop 1: Medicine Hat
After a half-day orientation with the Google Trekker in Medicine Hat, we set out to explore both Writing-on-Stone and Cypress Hills Provincial Parks, along with Red Rock Coulee.
Highlight: The Archelogy Preserve in Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park is an incredible 2-hour experience. It’s closed to the general public; however, daily interpretive tours give visitors a chance to explore the province’s aboriginal history in an incredible natural setting along the Milk River.
Stop 2: Drumheller
We moved onto Drumheller, trekking the interpretive trails in Midlands Provincial park, Horsetheif Canyon, the Hoodoos, and every hiking trail in Dinosaur Provincial Park.
Highlight: Dinosaur Provincial Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the majority of the area is closed to the general public in order to insure its preservation. It’s little trouble, as the public portion of the park is spectacular and easily explored along 5 hiking trails.
Stop 3: Crowsnest Pass
After relatively easy days in the prairies, things grew harder in the mountains. I hike Deadman’s Pass, Brendan struggled up Wedge Mountain and then we set out to hike the entire community trail from Blairmore to Frank.
Highlight: The Rocky Mountains. Imagine hiking in Banff or Jasper without encountering a single person? That’s what Crowsnest Pass looks like.
Stop 4: Canmore
If Crowsnest was difficult, Canmore was ridiculous. Brendan hiked the Grassi Lakes and Prairie View, while I tackled the 18-km Buller Pass to Galatea and Rawson Lake hikes.
Highlight: I’ve spent the past 5 years hiking the Canadian Rockies and I can’t name a more scenic hike than the 18-km route over Buller Pass to Galatea.
Stop 5: Hinton, Grand Cache, Grande Prairie and Slave Lake
Bad weather slowed us down in Alberta’s Northwest; however, we still trekked the Beaver Boardwalk, Sulfur Gates, Pipestone Creek Bone Bed, Grande Prairie’s community trail and a few hikes in Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park.
Highlight: Hitting the white sand beaches along Slave Lake. Although we encountered poor weather, it was easy to imagine spending hot summer days on these stunning northern beaches.
Stop 6: Elk Island National Park
Our one day in Elk Island National Park was likely our biggest day. We hiked just under 40km on three trails: Hayburger, Tawayik Lake, and Amisk Wuche.
Highlight: Elk Island National Park is home to the largest population of Ungulates in North America, so the highlight was spotting elk, moose, and buffalo along each hike.
Stop 7: David Thompson Wilderness
More rain and wild weather put a damper on the end of our trip, but we still mapped Alberta’s three most stunning waterfall hikes: Ram Falls, Crescent Falls, and Siffleur Falls.
Highlights: It’s hard to pick between the three waterfall hikes, but staring at Ram Falls is truly special. It’s wild to think that Peter Thompson kayaked the falls, recording the first descent.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of a Google Trekker
The Good: The Google Trekker is an incredible piece of technology. It has 15 cameras that capture 360 degree images that are stitched together to create virtual tours of the world’s most stunning off-road locations. It holds a 512 gb SSD that can save just over 40 km of trail and it’s powered by two massive lithium-ion batteries. It’s a pretty neat piece of engineering and it’s, unsurprisingly, controlled through a google phone and Bluetooth connection.
The Bad: The Google Trekker is a painfully heavy backpack! Although it is likely not what Google wants to hear, there is no denying that it’s overbuilt and a touch heavy for long mountain hikes. It tips the scales at 48 pounds (21.7 kg). Considering we also had to carry snacks, water, and bear spray, our pack was well above 50 pounds (22.7 kg). That’s heavier than the kit I’d haul on a multi-day trip.
The Ugly: It’s also build on a really outdated backpack frame. When Sir Edmund Hillary summited Everest in 1953, he was likely carrying a more comfortable pack. This thing was a flat, rigid back without a thought for lumbar support.
Google Trekking Alberta in the news:
It turns out that having the Google Trekker in Alberta was rather newsworthy. While in Edmonton, Brendan and I were invited to speak about our experience with the Google Trekker on the GlobalTV morning show. Although I would repeat the appearance in Calgary, our airtime in Edmonton truly discussed what this Travel Alberta project was all about:
Our Google Trekker Content
Although our last hike took place on Sept 7, the content we captured with the Google Trekker in Alberta won’t be online for a few months. From what we’re told, it’ll be live in December or January. I’ll make sure to update everyone once it’s live!