Grande Prairie's newest attraction: the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum (photo: Sean Trostem/Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum)

The Weekender: Grande Prairie

By AMA Staff

Though geography made Grande Prairie a hub for the oil, gas and forestry industries, there’s much more to the northwestern Alberta city than its natural resources. Long ranked by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business as one of the country’s most entrepreneurial cities, Grande Prairie and its surrounding area boast a great variety of shops, restaurants and cultural attractions—not to mention parks and other natural spaces—for discerning visitors to explore.

A great way to begin a visit to Grande Prairie is by venturing (slightly) outside of it—to the nearby town of Wembley and the new Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum. Opened last fall, the uniquely angular structure boasts a sizeable collection of dinosaur and marine fossils that shed light on the past while also detailing how geology and palaeontology have helped to shape the region’s modern-day economy. For an even more memorable experience, patrons can book a helicopter tour of the nearby Pipestone Creek bonebed, one of the densest dinosaur fossil sites in the world.

Another feast for the eyes is offered by the Art Gallery of Grande Prairie. One of the province’s largest public art institutions, the gallery largely focuses on displaying works by contemporary Western Canadian artists. Visit this summer and you’ll see intricately filigreed metal works by Cal Lane, engines and machines parts made intriguingly decorative by Clint Neufeld, plus much more.

Just as Grande Prairie’s present reputation is based on vibrant entrepreneurship, its past is similarly marked by the pioneer spirit. The Grande Prairie Museum and Heritage Village makes this clear by telling the stories of the region’s early-1900s homesteaders—as well as its original Aboriginal settlers.

You’ll find the museum nestled within the larger Muskoseepi Park, an idyllic greenspace for all manner of recreational activities. Kids can burn off steam at the playground (which features a climbing wall) or take it easy on the mini-golf course or at the stocked fishing pond, while more than 18 kilometres of trails are great for a family hike.

For further family fun: from August 12 to 14, Muskoseepi Park hosts the inaugural Bear Creek Folk Festival, with headliners including Corb Lund, Bahamas, Bruce Cockburn, and a supergroup comprising Neko Case, k.d. Lang and Laura Veirs.

And Saskatoon Island Provincial Park offers additional outdoorsy opportunities, with six kilometres of hiking and biking trails (more than four kilometres of which are wheelchair-accessible). It’s also a federal migratory bird sanctuary, where rare trumpeter swans can be seen.

Casually chic Escape Bistro and Wine Bar offers just what its name advertises: a sophisticated yet easygoing culinary refuge, where guests can indulge in varied Mediterranean and North American dishes for a reasonable price. Leave room for dessert—in summer the menu includes a cheesecake highlighting the local haskap berry—a tartly sweet cross between a blueberry and a grape.

Looking for more local flavour? Visit the tasting room at GP Brewing Co. to sample their Harvest Hefeweizen and Blowout Stout, then hit the retail store and grab a six-pack to take home.

And of course there’s something to be said for the familiar comforts of Swiss Chalet. The tried-and-true dining room still serves up family favourites such as pork back ribs, rotisserie beef on a bun and, naturally, its classic quarter-chicken dinner.

Downtown Grande Prairie is home to many of the name-brand retailers you trust, as well as a number of independent boutiques for more specialized tastes. Footwear fetishists are well served by Sole Addiction, a large and lofty shop for everything from pumps by big-name designers to handmade boots by Bed Stu to chunky wedge sandals by Fly London. If your remodeling plans encompass more than a new pair of shoes, Pure Home Design can help—with contemporary Canadian-made furniture and accessories for every room in your house.

On the outskirts of downtown, the Best Western Grande Prairie Hotel & Suites boasts easy (driving) access to local attractions including the Bear Creek Golf Club, Crystal Lake, Art Gallery of Grande Prairie and Prairie Mall. A courtesy shuttle to the Grande Prairie Airport is available daily.

If you want to be in the heart of the city, the Pomeroy Hotel is a chic and modern option—with a number of amenities catering to business travellers. Women travelling solo (or with other women) can take advantage of the hotel’s well-appointed women-only floor, featuring upgraded in-room amenities and access to a ladies-only lounge and fitness centre.

And consider the Podollan Rez-idence if you’re planning to stay in Grande Prairie for more than just a weekend. The all-suite inn boasts full-size kitchens in all its rooms to make your extended stay as comfortable as possible.

Grande Prairie is about a four-hour drive along Highway 43 northwest of Edmonton. Consider upgrading to a Plus or higher membership, which allows for extended towing distances, free passport photos, free fuel and delivery, and enhanced trip collision reimbursement. And don’t forget you can pay for your membership monthly for as little as $9 a month.

Stay for less: AMA members can save 10% or more at Best Western properties across the country, including the Best Western Grande Prairie Hotel & Suites. This summer, guests who stay two separate nights earn a third night free.

Dino dealSave 10% on regular admission to the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum.

Meal deal: Get two quarter chicken dinners for $15.99 at Swiss Chalet.

Book a two-night stay (or longer) at any Best Western hotel with AMA Travel and you’ll be entered to win a $500 Best Western gift card that can be put toward your next stay! Contest runs from June 1 to July 31, 2016.