photo: Steven Libralon/Unsplash

10 Reasons to Spend a Weekend in Fort McMurray

By Chelsea McKenzie

Fort McMurray has a lot more going for it than oil. This small city of about 66,000 residents takes northern living and outdoor adventure to the next level. From fishing and water sports in the summer, hitting the impressive powder in the winter and eating delicious food whenever, here are 10 reasons to spend a weekend in Fort McMurray no matter the season.

Whether you’re a kid or just a kid at heart, you can channel your inner Tarzan at the Vista Ridge Aerial Adventure Park. This wild treetop adventure playground lets you zipline through the forest and overcome obstacles for a day you won’t soon forget. Open from early June through late September.

You haven’t experienced a sandwich until you’ve tried one made with the famous sunshine bread at Mitchell’s Café (hint: saffron gives it its vibrant colour). Keep in mind, Mitchell’s is a favourite spot for locals and visitors alike, so the lineups can be long at peak hours.

Being nestled in the wilderness of Alberta has plenty of perks, and great fishing is one of them. Any number of operators can help you snag a perfect pike, perch, walleye or trout in a no-crowds, no-stress setting. You just might get hooked on the sport.

Tune up your road trip playlist

Yes, you read that correctly. There may be thousands of kilometres between Fort McMurray and Jamaica, but you wouldn’t know it when you walk in the doors of Chez Max. Choose between traditional Jamaican fare like curried goat, oxtails and jerk chicken, or enjoy the ackee and salt fish pizza—a delicious twist on an Italian classic.

The Athabasca Dunes Ecological Reserve features impressive 12-metre-high sand dunes and 60-metre-high kames—among the largest in the world. If you’re looking for an afternoon of thrilling ATV adventure, check out the Richardson River Sand Dunes Access Trail, which is well marked during summer months.

The Heritage Shipyard, a part of the Fort McMurray Heritage Society, showcases the area’s history as a transportation hub, connecting the railways with northern communities and the arctic via the Athabasca River. Take in the sights of barges, tugboats and train cars, and reminisce about their glory days of service in Alberta.

The Northern Lights dance across the sky without impediment from bright city lights on the 65th parallel. With a little luck, you can check them out as part of a tour, or just find a great spot on a clear night. Best bet? Visit between October and March.

Fort McMurray is a vibrant place with lots to do, but we can’t forget that this is a city founded on lucrative oil. Learn about the process of extracting bitumen from the Athabasca oilsands and much more at the Oil Sands Discovery Centre.

September 9, join the fight against hunger at Fort McMurray’s Empty Bowls festival. Purchase a handcrafted bowl for $20 ($10 for kids) and fill it up with food from local restaurants and eateries. In addition to sampling delicious creations, visitors will groove to live music performances and admire fine crafts on sale throughout the festival grounds at Jubilee Plaza. Every bowl purchase goes to support the Wood Buffalo Food Bank. AMA is a proud sponsor of the third annual Empty Bowls and of local food banks across Alberta.

AMA members can receive 10% off regular admission to the Oil Sand Discovery Centre. After building up an appetite on a busy weekend of outdoor adventure, AMA members are also entitled to 15% off any purchase of $5 or more at Extreme Pita, and 10% off dining at Montana’s BBQ & Bar.