Cowboy Country Information
Roam through the landscape of a Hollywood western. Literally. Films such as Legends of the Fall and Brokeback Mountain were made around here. Explore interesting small towns and rolling panoramic hills. The highway billed as the Cowboy Trail (Highway 22) runs along the fringe of the eastern slopes of the Rockies for 700 km (435 mi), into Central Alberta. However, many visitors focus on the portion southwest of Calgary that runs towards the US border and Waterton Lakes National Park via Highways 6. This area has its roots in cattle ranching, but serves equally nowadays as a retreat for city-dwellers and increasing numbers of out-of-province visitors.Getting Around
Though small, organized tours are available through tour companies providing western-themed experiences, the most popular way of getting around is by car or motorhome on the paved highway. Self-drive car or guided van tours are also a good option. Most visitors carve the trip into a 2-4 day loop, starting from Calgary or Banff and going south down towards Waterton. At this point you can either turn up to Ft. Macleod and Lethbridge and return to Calgary or head straight back the way you came.Things to Do
Experience a legendary way of life in a beautiful setting; drop in on a ranch rodeo or attend a Cowboy Poetry festival. Visit a UNESCO Heritage site exploring the ancient relationship between the Blackfoot people and the bison or just cycle along the wide shouldered highway and enjoy the picturesque scenery. City slickers will find a few unique shops and galleries (both western and mainstream) and even the occasional cappuccino along the way.
The area still has working ranches, so catching a bit of this province’s famed frontier spirit through a western or First Nations themed experience is easy to do.
Book a ranch stay, cross the Great Divide on a guided horseback trip (Alberta is the horse capital of Canada). Go to a First Nations pow-wow. Or, indulge in one of the growing number of exclusive retreat experiences that don’t involve getting your boots dirty. Commune with nature on an artist’s getaway, enjoy true hospitality and hearty meals over an open campfire and fall sleep under the stars to the tune of a coyote’s howl or the songs of Ian Tyson (the local country star who penned "Four Strong Winds.")Explore the Region
Black Diamond and Turner Valley – the original boom-towns when it came to oil and coal in the days of the British Empire – are booming again, in a small but creative way. Pull over and spend a little time browsing a handful of galleries and thrift shops where you might pick up an antique or hand crafted item. On a weekend, check out a couple of venues with blues and vintage Canadian rock music. Stop to have a real burger in a classic 1950’s café, cowboy Eggs Benedict with strips of sirloin or locally renowned cinnamon buns.
Longview – Another tiny hamlet where, if you head in to the country-style saloon or beef jerky shop, you are likely to run into cowboys just in from working the herd. Known for the sheer beauty of undulating grasslands that stretch towards the Rockies on the West and the Porcupine Hills to the east.
Close by, visit the Bar U Ranch, the place that impressed both outlaws (the real Sundance Kid) and royalty alike. This living ranch is a national historic site commemorating a piece of western history. His Royal Highness the Edward Prince of Wales was so taken with the area that he bought the ranch next door around 1920.
Crowsnest Pass and Pincher Creek – In the mountains to the south, the Crowsnest Pass offers outdoors enthusiasts everything from fishing to snowmobiling. Along the way small towns offer down-home eateries and coffeeshops, unique stores and resort-style or motel accommodation. An interesting stop is the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre where you’ll learn about the massive avalanche in 1903 that buried most of a town.
Waterton Lakes National Park and Area – Here, where open prairie meets towering mountains in stunning contrast, you’ll find a fraction of Banff and Jasper’s tourist crowd and nature takes precedence. The ambitious can take a ride across the lake and hike up to impressive views on the Crypt Lake Trail. Those seeking less exertion can relax on a 2-hour boat cruise to Upper Waterton. The Prince of Wales Hotel, a historic landmark, is worth a look. On the way up to Fort Macleod and Lethbridge, the town of Cardston is the site of the award-winning Remington Carriage Museum.
Lethbridge and Area – This small city has several museums and galleries highlighting local natural and human history. Consider a stop in nearby Fort Macleod to see the Fort Museum of the North West Mounted Police where the story of Canada's famous Mounted Police force is brought to life through hands-on programs and interactive exhibits.
Do include a detour to Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump, a world-class interpretive centre and a UNESCO site that both educates and awes with its topography and history.Restaurants, Shopping and Accommodation
Restaurants – Portions are healthy-sized, home-cooked and often involve triple-A steaks, served with old-fashioned hospitality and some friendly conversation on the side.
Shopping – From trading posts to art galleries, you’ll find mostly cowboy-style shopping in this neck of the woods.
Accommodation – Cowboy Country offers accommodation from camping under the stars to luxurious guest-lodges and everything in between.
Return to the Alberta Regional Overview page.
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Photo credits: Ian Tyson photo courtesy of Dean Jarvey, Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump courtesy of Dustin Parr.
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"The greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time" - Bill Bryson