Cowboy Trail in the Canadian Rockies

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Written by Madison Valois posted on Monday, August 3rd, 2009

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Strap on your cowboy boots and head out to Kananaskis Country in the Canadian Rockies.

Strap on your cowboy boots and head out to Kananaskis Country in the Canadian Rockies.

Mayerthorpe, Alberta This is a trail that really gives you the feeling of a real Canadian Rockies cowboy vacation.

The trail goes from Mayerthorpe, just northwest of Edmonton and then south to Pincher Creek on Highway 21. From here you take Highway 6 to the south and then go east on Highway 5. You’ll end up in Cardson, a great little town just above Montana.  I recommend that you take two or three days to travel so you can really get down to the nitty gritty, enjoying Canadian Rockies cowboy activities along the way, plus all the great western history.  It’s a blast.  There are cattle roping contests, rodeos and fairs in addition to all the wildlife that’s right up close as you travel through the region.

Starting in Mayerthorpe, drive south to Rocky Mountain House, which is a national historic site.  Here you will see a great reenactment of how the fur trade got started in the early days, as well as a glimpse of what it was like to travel at the time.  A friend of mine took a canoe trip down the North Saskatchewan River, ending up at Rocky Mountain House, which is a great alternative to driving if you’re in the mood.  The area is dense with trees and teepees among them, giving you a good sense of what it must have been like 200 years ago.

Hop back onto Highway 22 going south until you hit Sundre, a great spot for wilderness hiking or taking a horse out into the Rocky Mountain Forest Reserve.  There is also a very interesting pioneer museum here, which deserves a visit.

In early July, it’s a good idea to take a trip to Calgary when you can get a big dose of Wild West ways at “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth,” a ten-day jamboree that will have you kicking up your heels and yelling ‘howdy’ in your newly acquired cowboy duds.

Waterton Lakes is an easy detour on the Cowboy Trail.

Waterton Lakes is an easy detour on the Cowboy Trail.

Once you’ve recuperated, head west to Bragg Creek, a great little bohemian town that gives you a completely different side of western life.  I had a great time here buying local arts and crafts.  It’s a lovely spot for a hike, a horseback ride or a quiet picnic.  You can also take a side trip from here into Kananaskis Country, which is right nearby.

Once you’re back on the Cowboy Trail, take a stop in Millarville where there’s a great farmers market on Saturdays during the summer months.  Then move on to Diamond Valley, Turner Valley, Black Diamond and Longview.  These towns are quintessential western stopovers and perfect for a Canadian Rockies vacation.  In Turner Valley be sure to take the gas plant tour, where you will learn how this area once boasted one of the most vital oil and gas fields in the British Empire.

Don’t miss the Bar U Ranch just south of Longview.  I spent some really wonderful hours here, wandering around looking at the unique architecture and the interesting exhibits.  There are also several archaeological digs, which can be extremely diverting.  From here you can go into Kananaskis Country via Highway 541 or stay on the Cowboy Trail to Pincher Creek where you’ll find the famous Kootenai Brown’s Pioneer Village.  Take Highway 3 over to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump right at the edge of Fort Macleod.  This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is well worth the visit.

If you don’t go over to Fort Macleod, take Highway 6 to Waterton Lakes National Park.  Stay the night in one of the charming bed & breakfasts, or book a night in a lodge or hotel to enjoy the amazing view and deliciously fresh air.

The last leg of the Cowboy Trail will take you east on Highway 5 to Cardston.  This is the home of the Remington-Alberta Carriage Centre where you’ll see the largest collection of wagons, buggies and carriages in North America.

If your car was a horse, you’d be a full-fledged cowboy by now.  So hop back into your seat and retrace your steps for a delightful replay of the sights and sounds along this historic true west trail.

Interested in doing some real horseback riding? Check out the Three Bars Ranch.

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