The humble town of Okotoks has a population of around 29,000. It’s a suburb located to the south of Calgary, and if there was ever any doubt, it’s no longer a town in the middle of nowhere.
Its convenience, in fact, can’t be denied. From the very edge of south Calgary to the very edge of north Okotoks is only about six minutes on the highway. Yes, I timed it. My mom makes the commute almost daily.
The suburb is just as flat and open as Calgary if not more so, and slightly higher in elevation besides. If you’re used to mountains, you will not notice the hills unless you let yourself acclimate to the environment for a while.
Head westward on the 549, though, and you will soon be met with vast rolling hills leading into the Rockies. From Okotoks, you can get a good view of the mountains to the west as well as to the south towards Waterton.
Characteristic of southern Alberta, Okotoks can be very windy. But Waterton and surrounding area (Fort Macleod, Lethbridge, etc.) are far more prone to gusts of wind.
Like Calgary, Okotoks is sunny most of the time. Even when it’s cloudy, the clouds seem to pass over relatively quickly. That said, we are basically talking about mountain elevation, so snowstorms, hail, heavy fog, and more, are all par for the course. Winters in Okotoks can be very cold indeed, but summers can be very pleasant, and even hot.
I am most familiar with the southwestern end of Okotoks, but my favorite part is the northeastern end, as there is far more vegetation overall.
Food wise, Okotoks used to be reliable only for the occasional decent Italian, Indian, Japanese, pub, or pizza place. Today, there are far more options for bubble tea, Korean, Indian fusion, donairs, and more. When I discovered that, it made me feel like the town had come a long way.
Of course, you can still find all your standards – McDonald’s, A&W, KFC, Wendy’s, Tim Horton’s, Dairy Queen, Boston Pizza, and so on. The occasional hot dog or slice of pizza at Costco is not a total loss, either.
If you’re going to eat at a pub, though, The George Traditional House is the place to be, with a good mix of standard pub fair, fusion, and Indian dishes.
In terms of nightlife, Okotoks either doesn’t have one, or is mostly limited to small, tame gatherings at Boston Pizza or The George. Most places shut down early, especially on a weekday. Better head into Calgary if you’re looking for more of a heartbeat, but even there, your options will be limited.
No matter how you cut it, you will only be able to find certain creature comforts and conveniences in Calgary. That said, more is being added to Okotoks all the time.
Speaking of Calgary, though, the drive into the city from Okotoks is remarkable. I mean, it is flat and wide open – uncomfortably so – but the panoramic view of the city from the top of the hill on highway 2 is noteworthy, and it’s a thing of marvel at night, too.
While it may be another 10 to 20 years off, I don’t think it’s beyond the realm of possibility that the Calgary city limits will extend to swallow up Okotoks, especially if both cities continue growing at the rate they have been.
I always saw it in the movies and thought to myself, “that can’t possibly be practical.”
My concept of hotels, motels, and inns in general has been that they’re just as expensive, if not more expensive, than Airbnbs. Which is a little ironic, because one of the selling propositions of Airbnbs used to be that they were cheaper than hotels. Check the prices now. At least in Canada, they’re practically the same if not pricier at times.
In my search for a temporary home, I stumbled across an extended stay rate at a motel in Penticton, BC, which I found to be just as reasonable – if not more reasonable – than renting an apartment. And, as of yesterday, this is where I now reside. Not for the long term, I don’t think, but at least for the next 30 to 70 days or so (at which point I might be looking for a similar arrangement in another city).
Motel living is not bad. It’s not perfect. There’s no workspace to speak of, they could have done a much better job of sound treating, and it’s obscenely bright in the morning (fortunately, I managed to hang a blackout curtain in front of the window by the bed without using any tools or nails). But I know you could do a lot worse. After all, the room has a couch, bed, fridge, stove, microwave, sink, bathroom, heating, and even an air conditioner. The fact that I’m not forced to eat out every day is a major plus.
At least temporarily, I’m also closer to a couple of friends I might not otherwise have the chance to visit.
Penticton isn’t much bigger than Okotoks, AB, but it appears to have some decent food options, and all the basic amenities one could ask for.
Although I don’t have much of a choice right now, I intend to keep embracing the spirit of adventure as I seek out a more permanent place to call home.
One of my favorite places in Alberta is Canmore. I can’t quite put my finger on all the reasons, but the combination of food, relaxed atmosphere, mountains and rivers, and walking paths all play a part. It also has a bit of a retreat vibe to it that I like.
A few years ago, I’d heard about Waterton, AB and was told that it was a bit like Canmore. Well, that was news to me, and ever since then, I’ve been curious and have wanted to experience it for myself.
On this crazy nomadic journey, beginning June of 2022, I have now been in Alberta for almost four months, and though I’m ready to head back into BC, I decided to pay Waterton, AB a visit before returning. After all, Waterton is a little out of the way, and I have no idea when / whether I’ll ever be back this way.
One thing they don’t tell you about the journey south of Calgary (and I’m glad nobody told me / reminded me) is just how much prairie driving is involved. I’m okay with highway driving for the most part, but of the wide-open, middle of nowhere ilk hasn’t been my cup of tea in the last few years. Despite all that, yesterday, I endured it for the better part of three to four hours.
Pincher Creek, AB lies just 40 minutes north of Waterton and is a logical stop on the way, and yet it is the complete epitome of the middle of nowhere, almost as if it’s on top of a mesa, and the edges of the horizon drop off into nothingness. Yeah, I’m not going back there. 🤣
Continuing south on highway 6, you gradually transition from a mesa to hills, and the upward climb seems to know few limits. Yet, it’s not until you’re well within Waterton Park that you feel as though you’ve transitioned out of the prairies and into a very different world. “You haven’t hit the mountains until you’ve really hit the mountains,” as I’ve been sharing with friends, and that seems to be an experience others share.
When I finally got there, I realized I’d booked a motel 10 minutes outside of Waterton in Mountain View. More prairie driving – great. But at that point, I simply didn’t care. I’d already endured a lot. Finding my motel was my priority, and I was arriving late afternoon / early evening, so I didn’t end up spending much time in Waterton yesterday.
Today, however, I got to pay a proper visit. And I can easily see the appeal. Yes, Waterton is currently off season, and that means most amenities were closed or unavailable. But I still got a sense of what the place is all about.
It was unfortunately very windy and cold, so I did not spend much time walking around. I slowly drove down every street, finding the tourist attractions as well as the nooks and crannies only residents would pay any heed to. I encountered many deer in the park, most of which were gathered by the picnic area.
Most importantly, perhaps, I should acknowledge and celebrate the fact that I made this trek, despite it being not the most comfortable for me. It also affirmed for me that it’s time to find a more permanent home, which is what I’ll be doing as I settle back into BC.
As for tomorrow, within 10 minutes, I should be well outside of the prairie driving that I find a little jarring, and within 30 to 60 minutes, more comfortably situated in the mountains.