One of my favourite things about living in Calgary is that when you get an itch to go on a road trip, you can quite literally go in any direction, for any amount of time and see some really amazing things. From the rocky mountains, to the vast prairies and the stunning bad lands, there’s something for everyone, no matter the budget.
This summer, I’ve partnered with Travel Alberta to share some of my favourite idea for road trips. I’ve always loved this kind of travel because for the most part all you need is a full tank of gas and a sense of adventure. Turn left here, turn right there and who knows where you’ll end up and what you’ll discover!
Staying Close To Home
Thanks to the Calgary Stampede, a lot of people are familiar with Calgary’s western heritage, but the Cowboy Trail drive is an incredibly easy and satisfying road trip that will give you just a taste of how rich that western heritage really is.
Cowboy Trail is a fantastic day trip that runs south west from Calgary on Hwy 22. You’ll start in Cochrane, and then make your way south, cushioned between the rocky mountains and the prairies. If you’ve been looking for where some of your favourite Instagrammers are getting those epic road to mountain photos, this is it.
So what will you see a long the way? Well, start in Cochrane and treat yourself to some ice cream at Mackays and explore the well-maintained downtown. While the town has grown with many new houses, the town’s downtown is beautiful and pristine with lots of local shops.
Make your way to the Bragg Creek area, which you’ll get close to the Rockys, but will likely be distracted by the antique shops, cafes and galleries. It’s a small community, but packs a punch with lots to do and see.
Then you get to likely my favourite part of the road trip, Turner Valley and Black Diamond. It’s important to note that that that is not something I would have said a few years ago. And while the area is rightfully-known for institutions like Marv’s Classic Soda Shop and the Chuckwagon Cafe, it’s the new businesses that make this drive extra-worthy of your car’s mileage.
Over the past couple of years, young entrepreneurs have been taking advantage of the area cheaper rent, yet proximately to south Calgary to open new businesses like the Eau Claire Distillery, which offers tastings and tours; and Westwood, which offers an ever-changing menu based on the availability of local foods.
Not that you’re full and amazed at how cool Turner Valley is, keep heading south towards Bar U Ranch and then Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump. Both are truly astonishing historic sites that highlight Alberta’s unique history in two very different ways. Bar U Ranch used to be much bigger, but what remains is a pristine ranch from the 1920s. It’s original owners are two of the founders of The Calgary Stampede and it offers up a true ranch experience. Make sure you go with a fully charged camera, it’s picture perfect.
Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump is fascinating for a number of reasons. The way it tells the First Nations history of the area is unlike anything you’ve seen. The building is quite literally carved into the cliff. And it was that cliff that the first nations people used for thousands of years to drive buffalo over by the millions. It’s an amazing experience that will give you lots to talk about on your way back to Calgary.
For the animal lover
I can’t get enough of the Yamnuska Wolf Dog Sanctuary. I think I must have talked about it at least twenty times on this blog and I could easily do it another twenty. The Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary is located just outside of Cochrane and is quite the experience if you or someone in your family is fascinated by animals. While wolf dogs are technically dogs, many of the “dogs” here are 90% wolf, giving you an opportunity to learn so much about the majestic animals. The sanctuary exists because the wolf dogs are so difficult to raise, so these amazing animals often end up here. As a visitor, you get to go into the pens and feed them. It’s also a very interesting experience that allows you to learn a lot about wolves themselves. This is a very fulfilling trip. I definitely recommend it.
Longer by Worthy
If you’re hoping to go on a bigger road trip this summer and see something that maybe you’ve never seen before, I definitely think you should head north!
The Deh Cho Trail (Map JPEG) is a loop of Northern Alberta from Edmonton as north as High Level, so it’s a long trip, but you’ll definitely enjoy some amazing camping and some new-to-you attractions.
But on your way up, take a quick pit stop and spend a night at the Prairie Creek Inn. I’ve talked about it before, but it’s a fantastic five star B&B that’s really not a B&B. Peaceful log cabin-inspired room and even a few log cabins, plus really delicious food.
Once you’re rested and full, continue towards Grande Prairie North and check out the Dunvegan Bridge which crosses Peace River. It’s like the Golden Gate Bridge, but a bit smaller, but just as beautiful. It sort of comes out of no where and offers up a fantastic view of the valley before.
In Grande Prairie, check out the brand new Phillip J Currie Dinosaur Museum. Currie is actually the inspiration for Alan Grant, the main character in Jurassic Park. The new museum just opened last summer and it looks like it could be right out of Jurassic Park. It’s high tech and beautiful. A lot of people don’t know that the Grande Prairie-area was home to some dozens of types of dinosaur and the city is actually surround by dinosaur bone beds. The museum even offers a helicopter tours of the bone beds, or you can camp right near them. Another great place to stay are the Peace River Cabins, which offers cabins, camping and even those “glamping” tents, which I love because it really is the best of both worlds.
Lots of people know Sylvan Lake, the beach town which feels like a California city right in the middle of the prairies, but not a lot of people know that right in the same proximity is an area called the Scandinavian Trail, which features stops like Markerville, which was settled by Icelanders in the 1800s. It’s a tiny town, but it packs a beautiful punch. When I’m driving up to Edmonton, I often detour into this town just to enjoy the peace and, of course, the ice cream in the newly refurbished Creamery Museum.
Along the Scandinavian Trail, you’ll also find the historic home of the Icelandic poet Stephan G Stephansson,
an authentic Viking Ship. Make sure you enjoy authentic Danish cuisine at the living history Saga Café.
So those are some of my favourite road trips for Calgarians. What are some of yours?