I doubt the town of Hinton, Alberta is the first place that comes to mind when you think of where to go on a winter weekend. But as I discovered over a couple of days, it’s got a lot more to offer than being the gateway to Jasper National Park.
Hinton is close to a fantastic number of cross-country and snowshoe trails, both in town near the Beaver Boardwalk and outside of town in William A. Switzer Provincial Park. Fat tire biking is gaining in popularity, probably on the back of their wildly popular mountain bike park. Ice fishing and snowmobiling round out what’s available outdoors in winter. February is a particularly good time to visit as the Winter Magic Festival takes place from February 12 – 26th, 2017.
Here’s what a weekend of winter magic can look like in Hinton.
The Hinton Nordic Centre in nearby William A. Switzer Provincial Park has approximately 35 kilometres of groomed trails along with one snowshoe trail that takes you to the cozy warming cabin pictured below. There are trail maps at most of the major intersections so you can get your bearings. My only suggestion would be to pay attention to which trails are “one-way” so you don’t have to backtrack. Dog lovers can bring their four-legged friends and ski the K-9 loop. There’s also a five kilometre telemark loop. You’ll need $10 per person in cash to pay for usage of the trails.
William A. Switzer Provincial Park
If you continue north on Highway 40 past the Hinton Nordic Centre you’ll reach the William A. Switzer Provincial Park Visitor Centre. Speak to the person on duty and get a map and up to date information on trail conditions for both snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. There’s plenty of both, around the Visitor Centre and a little to the north at some of the campgrounds. Snowshoes are available at the Visitor Centre.
John and I skied the Jarvis Lake trails. Most are either flat or rolling – with no epic hills to worry about. There is the option to hook up with the Joachim Valley Trail and make it into a bigger day.
In front of the Visitor Centre, go skating on a cleared patch of ice on Kelley’s Bathtub. There are shovels around if you’re feeling inclined to remove more snow. Access to all trails in the park outside of the Hinton Nordic Centre is free.
Athabasca Lookout Trail
Our next stop after skiing was a hike up the Athabasca Lookout Trail accessed off the road to the Hinton Nordic Centre. We were told by Cindy Ouellet, the Business & Information Supervisor for Alberta Northern Rockies that “you must take the time to do the hike up to the Athabasca Lookout.” Our Maxwell Lake B&B host – Derek who was standing nearby concurred.
So despite being chilled from skiing we followed their advice and we were both happy we did. The views are exceptional at the top. It took us less than 20 minutes to get up and about 10 minutes to get back down to the parking lot.
The Winter Magic Festival in Hinton
Our final stop for the weekend was the 4 PM opening of the Winter Magic Festival in Hinton. In its 30th year, the two week festival aims “to break up the monotony of the cold weather and bring together residents and visitors alike to revel in the winter wonderland.” You can download the full schedule here.
Hinton’s winter festival opened at the skating oval adjacent to the Beaver Boardwalk – another must-visit area in town. The oval, the brainchild of Hans van Klaveren and volunteer extraordinaire, is fantastic. Over the years he has learned what to do to get the perfect ice surface – and that means many a cold night outside at 10 PM. The biggest trick he tells me – “only use metal shovels.”
Mother Nature did not entirely cooperate with the opening of the winter festival. In a stiff wind, the lanterns decorated by school kids that lined the oval had a hard time remaining upright. Hopefully as day turned to night the wind abated.
Hinton’s winter festival is on until February 26th. In total there are 15 events – with a mix of cultural and outdoor events. This coming weekend features a popular ice fishing fun day on Gregg Lake between 10 AM and 4 PM. Fishing equipment is available as are hotdogs and hot chocolate.
The Bonhomme Carnival is another not to be missed event on Sunday, February 19th at the Hinton Nordic Centre between noon and 4 PM. Entrance is free. There will be cross-country skiing, kicksledding and some traditional French Canadian cuisine including pure maple syrup on a stick.
Hinton has proved itself to be a great winter destination. With its proximity to Jasper National Park and three provincial parks, it beckons me in summer as well.
Thank you to Travel Alberta for making this post possible.