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Grande Prairie

What's to be found in Grande Prairie, a dusty natural-gas exploration hub 460km (265 miles) northwest of Edmonton, might be best summed up by one of its residents, encountered while on vacation in Calgary: "Nuthin'. I'm serious. Nuthin'."

With that enticement, it's tempting to cross this one off the list. But for those looking to embrace all the province has to offer, Grande Prairie, the heart of Peace River Country, may yet have some draw. For one thing, while Fort McMurray grabs all the headlines for its frontier sheen and gold-rush, boomtown mentality, Grande Prairie enjoys a similar kind of growth. With about 50,000 people i oozes wealth, due to the seemingly endless supply of natural gas in the ground. But this is also a hub of forestry, with several of the major Canadian lumber companies extracting timber from the boreal forests to the south.

Grande Prairie's name says much: To the north, east, and west lie huge expanses of flatland, the vast, high boreal plains. For early settlers, the land's relative lack of growth was a huge advantage for agriculture, and much of the region is still in heavy agronomical use. To the south lies thick boreal forest, plied for the lumber trade. It's also notable for being the largest city along the Hwy. 43/Richardson Hwy. between Edmonton and Fairbanks, Alaska.

And while the area will likely never win any awards for scenery in this amazingly picturesque province, the high plains and foothills around Grande Prairie are popular places for cross-country skiing in the winter, and hiking in the summer; about an hour and a half south, Grande Cache, set closer to the mountains, is the beginning of the alpine range; a little south and west of there, Kakwa Wildland Park, straddling the Alberta-British Columbia border, is a popular place among locals for alpine hiking.

In Grande Prairie, you'll find the same generic corporate hotels as in Fort McMurray, geared toward the comings and goings of the oil industry. They're all clustered together in the downtown area. The Grande Prairie Inn (tel. 800/661-6529 or 780/532-522; www.gpinn.com) is a relatively stylish, freshly renovated hotel with large, comfortable rooms and a very good restaurant; doubles start at C$189. A less expensive option is the Super 8 (tel. 877/912-7666; www.super8grandeprairie.com), where doubles start at C$139.

If the dining room at the Grande Prairie Inn is a little too fancy, there's always the Alberta staple Earl's (9825 100th St.; tel. 780/538-3275), where you can rely on finding casual, well-prepared, pan-cosmopolitan food between C$12 and C$20.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.