How We Loved “Local” in the Beautiful River Town of Athabasca

Jolene Kisilevich 2022 Roadtrip Adventures, Athabasca County, Drink, Eat & Shop, Fall Adventures, Highway 2, Highway 55, Local Food, Northeast of Edmonton, Summer Adventures

… Travel with Kevin and Jolene on a Go Northeast Alberta Roadtrip Adventure!

The first time you arrive, it’s a little unexpected and a pleasant surprise as you drive toward downtown on Highway 55. The beautiful sweeping view of the Athabasca River and the downtown Athabasca scene makes us feel like we are far away or somewhere special, as if we are back in Idaho where the beautiful river towns are a sight to behold. You won’t see many towns like this in Alberta. The scenery and beauty of this unique river town will captivate you right here in Northeast Alberta, just under 2 hours from Edmonton.

Spend some time by the Riverfront Park where there are  an abundance of activities including picnic areas, a spray park, playgrounds, fitness equipment. Or, grab an ice cream off a food truck or a local eatery and walk the trails. You can see the large stage where the River Rats Music Festival takes place and expect to see some wedding parties taking beautiful pictures.

From Riverfront Park, look up and you can see the Centennial Park that overlooks the town. Take Highway 813 north of Highway 55 and turn onto River Avenue. Follow it up to the scenic overlook at Centennial Park. Enjoy a great view of the Athabasca River and the downtown area, plus there is a kid’s playground and trails to explore.

Athabasca is one of the most charming communities, whether you drive or walk around town, you can’t miss the stunning flowers everywhere! Even the gas stations are a sight to see, with beautifully decorated entrances.  Jolene was in awe and couldn’t help but snap some photos of the lovely flowers!

Shop till you drop…

On Saturdays, the Outdoor Farmers’ Market at Riverfront Park is the envy of many outdoor markets around the region. We met some of our favorite fans of the Go East of Edmonton magazine while we shopped and explored the local vendors. While it has some of the usual vendors, we were struck by the many unique offerings also. We got a treat from The Lucky Mutt, loved the Bear art from E. Jess. Art,a local artist, and the stunning flowers from Common Cheer Farm, plus the unique Island Lake Crystals was a pleasant surprise. We loaded up on the local wine, endless cookies, pies, and the Raspberry Pompushke was to die for. Next time we will bring 2 large coolers, it was such a tasty trip to the market.

Aptly named, A Little Bit of Everything has a lot of various local goods. From socks to steaks, and candy to coffee, it’s a wonderful selection of locally made and grown products. Artisan jewelry, adult to kids clothing, locally made crafts, preserves, and a freezer to buy some jerky or a steak to go. A unique selection of items all around the store with something for all ages. Easily found, it’s right next to the caboose railroad car on Highway 55, and it was a great choice to be the Town’s Sticker Station in the recent Go East Roadtrip Adventure Game.

Much more than a flower shop, Glas Floral Studio is an amazing collection of unique quality items and giftware that is ever changing. Founder Jessie Congdon was a great host telling us how many items have a different or unique story behind them. While some items are Canadian, others may come from Denmark or other far away destinations. She looks for items not found on Amazon and changes the store frequently and every season. Jessie is one of many women running local businesses in the region who are in collaboration not competition with a belief of women empowering women. This beautiful shop is a must stop on your next shopping trip conveniently located facing Riverfront Park along Hwy 55.

Jolene loves Bears, so it was a must stop to go to Bear in Mind Vintage. Situated in a 1912 House on the hill along 49 street, this old house adds a distinct character to the shop full of local gifts, vintage, home décor and of course bears. The shop’s success is due to the perseverance of owner Lori Lockyer, who explained how she endured lengthy road construction and the pandemic, yet is still here supporting local by offering a unique shopping experience. Fortunately, she has many friends in retail who helped her along the way. Many items are sourced from Canadian warehouses, but it’s the local connections that make this place special. 69 small local artisans have their works on display, keeping this shop unique and local in every way. Trust me when I say you won’t go home empty handed.

Walking into Bubels was both nostalgic and trendy at the same time. You’ll know there is something different about this store. While the signage outside was modest just like its owner, Gerry Bubel, inside it was a wonderful variety of fashions, toys, NHL licensed merchandise, Music, Cd’s, movies and more. You don’t see this kind of variety in a store anymore. We marveled at toys and sports collectibles we have never seen before, plus an on trend mix of fashions. It’s a throwback to the fact that it was once a Robinson’s store. Do you remember Robinson’s? All the small towns had one years ago. Gerry told us how his dad bought the store in 1958, when he was 10 years old. His dad taught him how to do the books and his mom taught him how to do the buying. Back in the day it also had a coffee shop with 10 stools offering sodas, ice cream, pies, and more. For 40 years, every Saturday his mom baked 6 pies to sell at the store. There is a lot of history at this store, over 60 years’ worth, and it’s the variety that has been the key to the store’s survival all these years. Needless to say, tourists make up a lot of his customers and we were no different leaving with a great variety of unique and trendy items ourselves. Gerry thanked us for coming in and said we made his day! If you love to shop, Jolene cautions you to allow yourself lots of time to browse through this grand department store, conveniently located downtown along Highway 2 and 50th Street.

Any Sport Any Time, that’s the motto for Cheap Seats Sporting Goods. Named after the Alabama song, the store is in its 28th year of business. Do you remember growing up and going to your local sporting goods store? That store you loved where we all got our first bike, fishing rod and baseball glove? Cheap Seats is that store here in Athabasca. It’s also powered by women in business. Owner Marie Goller told us how her and her partner Anita Veenstra started and over the years, grew their business right on 50th street. You will be impressed by the fishing and hunting section, along with the hockey, baseball, and bikes including the new fat tire and electric bike sections. Such a cool shop to experience. But don’t let the name Cheap Seats fool you, Marie was so generous that just for coming in to talk to her, she gave us each some wonderful merch. Jolene loved the hoodie, it being the most comfortable hoodie she has ever worn. It’s a total thumbs up experience, you won’t beat the quality and the service you’ll get from Marie and the team at Cheap Seats. If you love the outdoors and sports…this is the place the whole family needs to drop into.

On the move is Elladora Boutique. Unfortunately, it was closed during our visit as it moves into a new storefront on mainstreet. But the locals said it is another must stop shop (re-opening soon) featuring products made locally in Athabasca, Alberta, or within Canada.

A few other local businesses worth mentioning…you can drop into the Van Hout Bakery, the Lolly Pop Thrift Shop and an old favourite, Kens Convenience on 51st Street. There seems to be no end to the shopping options as you explore Athabasca, as there is still a bookstore, flea markets and more.

Eat like a local…

The local shop owners were an abundance of knowledge, naturally we followed through on their advice for the best places to eat around town.

49th Street Grill is well known as the classic dining restaurant for a night out.

We ate on the patio at Neighbours Pub, where the burgers are full of flavour and the flowers make a beautiful backdrop to your dining experience.

While we ran out of time to eat everywhere, we were told the Burger Bar surprisingly has an amazing breakfast. It reminds me of the old-style drive-up diner from the 50’s so it’s no surprise their milkshakes are a must to try.

With a wonderful décor and a dining ambiance you can’t go wrong with the Sunday Brunch or Breakfast at Johnny’s Eatery. It was 30 degrees, so the A/C was just right for us for a perfectly pleasant meal. I can’t wait to go back and sample some of the local Alberta craft beer and entrées for an evening dining experience here.

We had wanted to go to Paddymelon Gifts, Espresso and Eatery for a while now and it was everything we heard and more. Donna, Heather, and Lorinda were a lot of fun to chat with as we learned about this local success story. Lorinda is the “soup wizard” where they use local ingredients made from scratch on their sensational Soup Day on Wednesdays. Every Friday, there is a special item not regularly on the menu, that sells out fast. The locals know and place special orders all the time for their amazing cookies, cupcakes, desserts and treat boxes. Did we mention great coffee and espresso? Plus, Italian sodas, iced drinks and more. All are sure to quench your thirst. The Eatery was so good, we came back 2 days in a row for it and had a tremendously tasty grilled quesadilla lunch. You might not like the big city coffee places after a steady pour of Paddymelon for a few days. Oh yes, it’s a gift shop too with unique and Canadian made items. This might be the most unique eat, drink and shopping experience in Athabasca. You gotta go here, it’s located right along 49 street, just south of Hwy 55.

Adventures that may surprise you…

Did you know that Athabasca has the #1 rated Disc golf course in Alberta?

Not only is Rocky Lanes Fairways and Recreation a top notch 18-hole disc golf course, but it has a 9-hole par 3 golf course, a soccer golf course, and the new Fling golf also. What’s Fling golf? … well just like it sounds, you fling a golf ball. Learn more at their Facebook page.

Experience an Athabasca River Jet boat tour with Grand Rapids Wilderness Adventures.

The Muskeg Creek trail system has a whopping 17.5 km of wilderness trails in and around town. Bring the bikes and hiking boots.

With some of the best lakeside campgrounds in Alberta, you can find great beaches, boating and fishing right here in Athabasca County.

If you have never been here before…

Prepare for a great getaway that certainly exceeded our expectations. While you can go here on a budget, we certainly blew ours as we brought home a boatload of local and unique gifts and souvenirs from the local shops and eateries. We are certainly looking forward to going here again for another locally inspired adventure.

Athabasca is located less than 2 hours North of Edmonton on Highway 2 or 1 hour west of Lac La Biche on Highway 55. Learn more about the Athabasca Region here.

Follow us at @goeastofedmonton and #goeastofedmonton and watch for more great trip ideas and Travels with Kevin and Jolene on Go East Roadtrip Adventures…