Coliseum Mountain in David Thompson Country (photo: Bob Spirko)

Things to Do in David Thompson Country

By Sandra Sperounes

Named for one of Canada’s most famous explorers, David Thompson Country, northwest of Banff, is a relaxed—and decidedly less crowded—summer and winter haven for hikers, campers and photographers. The region’s nearly two million hectares are dotted with waterfalls, lakes, mountains and small towns.

Climb: Alberta’s original Coliseum isn’t in Edmonton. It’s a mountain north of Nordegg—and the site of the province’s first fire lookout. You’ll need about six hours to make it to the peak for stunning views of the prairies to the east and the Rockies to the south. Eagle Drive, Nordegg

RideLive like a pioneer and explore the Rockies on horseback with the guides from McKenzie’s Trails West. Strap on your saddlebags for a multi-day pack ride across 200 kilometres of breathtaking terrain, or escape for just a few hours. Highway 11, Cline River

Explore: Tour the Brazeau Collieries Historic Mine Site to learn about the coal industry in Alberta. Established in 1910, the mine produced more than 10 million tons of coal before closing in 1955. Open mid-May to mid-Sept. Nordegg Heritage Centre, 4002 Stuart St.

What to see—and where to eat—in Beaumont, Alberta

Learn: See the remnants of fur trade forts at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site. Find out more about David Thompson, camp in a tipi or trapper’s tent, eat Indigenous foods, or canoe the North Saskatchewan River. Open May to Sept. Range Road 74A, Rocky Mountain House

david thompson country pursuit adventures danielle fortin
Danielle Fortin

Every winter, visitors from around the world flock to see Abraham Lake’s frozen bubbles. Full of methane and trapped in the ice, they’re a one-of-a-kind display. Even Hollywood is spellbound: The lake was featured in the recent Disney film, Togo. Danielle Fortin and her husband JP run Pursuit Adventures, which offers trips to the lake among other local hot spots. Here, she shares her effervescence for the region.

What do you like most about Abraham Lake?
It’s magical. You can walk on the ice for hours and feel lost in the landscape. With the clarity of the ice, plus the snow and mountains, it’s a great way to connect with nature.

When are the bubbles visible?
From December to March. But January is the best time to visit. It can be windy, but that keeps the ice polished and largely free of snow.

How has all the attention affected your company?
It’s been quite humbling! It has also helped us clarify who we are. The ice bubbles have been featured in The New York Times and National Geographic—coverage that helped take our winter tours to the next level. We’ve been on Japanese TV shows and Vogue Japan just did a piece on us.

Learn more about Abraham Lake and it’s world-famous frozen bubbles

What are some other top local destinations?
I’d recommend two Alberta Parks campgrounds: Thompson Creek and Two O’Clock Creek, which are about 15 minutes from one another by car. They’re both remote but offer totally different experiences. Thompson has towering trees and the North Saskatchewan River, while Two O’Clock is flat and dry.

david thomson country siffleur falls bridge
The suspension bridge to Siffleur Falls (photo: Kerri Kendall)

Popular in warmer weather, these destinations are also worthy of winter exploration

• For a short trek, head to Cline River Canyon. The three-kilometre round-trip jaunt has lodgepole pines, a frozen creek, gorgeous icefalls, and views of Minster Mountain and Abraham Lake. Pinto Lake Recreation Trail Staging Area, Highway 11

• In the mood for something longer? Try the eight-kilometre hike to Siffleur Falls. To get there, you’ll stroll beside two rivers, over a suspension bridge and along the top of a gorge. Kootenay Plains Ecological Reserve

• Reach new heights with Rockies Heli Canada. Enjoy a helicopter tour of six glaciers, a one-hour snowshoe excursion and a guided visit to Abraham Lake. Winter clothing and snowshoes are provided. Highway 11