Alberta was born along Highway 22. The highway, affectionately called The Cowboy Trail, traces the province’s history in farming and industry. From raising cattle to raising oil rigs, this is where the culture of Alberta has its roots, and it makes for a wonderful daytrip of history lessons, small towns, western hospitality, fabulous meals, and towering scenery.
I recommend grabbing a load of the house-made Bragg Creek Bread, it is a multigrain rye bread.
Around the corner is the Cinnamon Spoon, it’s a popular refueling stop for cyclists who like to do big loops from the city out on the Cowboy Trail.
The Community Hall in Priddis is the oldest in Alberta and is still active with jazzercize and preschool activities. There’s an old post office in town where the old school used to be, it’s more than 100 years old. Modern Priddis is more of a bedroom community for Calgary. Big houses on large estate lots dot the foothills of the area and the Priddis Greens Golf Club is the main attraction. In 2016 it is home to the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open.
If you need snacks, look for the Priddis General Store, or Priddis View and Brew to top up your morning coffee. If you plan on staying a while, the Azuridge Estate Hotel, a posh 13 room property on 13 acres complete with butler.
Millarville is also home to the Millarville Races on Canada Day. Running for more than a century, these races feature everything from side saddle and bareback races, to parimutuel betting on thoroughbreds.
Bring a blanket to toss in the infield and make a day of it in this great celebration of cowboy culture in the foothills.
By now it should be lunch time or brunch time and pulling in to the Chuckwagon Cafe has to be on your list.
My kids went for french toast, on the advice of Julie Van Rosendaal, I had a House Burger that truly defines “pasture to plate.” The Alberta beef patty (from the ranch the restaurant owner Terry Myhre owns himself) is mixed with a grainy dijon which kicks it up before its even piled high with bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mushrooms. It is worthy of the much bragging the signs around the place show from their appearance on You Gotta Eat Here.
If the line is long (and it might be) and you’re a spirit lover, check out the Eau Claire Distillery next door. They have gin, vodka, and other clear spirits on offer as well as some interesting blends. Rhubarb Crisp anyone?
It should also be noted that Turner Valley‘s outdoor pool and library is a hotbed for Pokemon activity. As Pokemon Go gripped the imagination of players in the summer of 2016, we wandered kitty corner from the Chuckwagon Cafe to collect some pocket monsters and supplies in Turner Valley.
SHEEP RIVER PROVINCIAL PARK
You’ll need to work off that big lunch and stretch your legs after the half day of driving, so take 30 minutes and head west into Kananaskis Country and Sheep River Provincial Park.
Here you’ll find many campgrounds, as well as hiking trails. This being the Cowboy Trail, watch which hiking trail you pick, some of them are equestrian routes.
Down the road is Sheep River Falls, a popular day use picnic area. A great hike is across the road up to Indian Oils.
Now that we’ve got our exercise in, it’s time to get back on the road and get some more eats in our belly. Black Diamond is a sister town to Turner Valley, just a few kilometres down the road. The short 3 kilomtre link between them is known as “the Friendship Trail.” The big stop in Black Diamond is Marv’s Classic Soda Shop, an old school classic diner if there ever was one. From classic candy around the cash, to 50s tunes blaring from the jukebox, to the big thick hand scooped milkshakes, try and find some room for a treat from Marv’s.
Then take a wander of this artsy community to tour the galleries and see if you can find the World’s Largest Black Diamond, a tribute to the town’s coal mining history.
The end of the Cowboy Trail takes us to Longview, the home of legendary cowboy crooner, Ian Tyson. We’re pulling in here to grab some world famous Longview Jerky and a couple of big steaks right from the ranch.
It’s been a long day drive to get down this far and if you’ve hit every stop along the way, it’s likely you’re hungry. The Longview Steakhouse is long praised as home to the best steak in the province and I hope you made a reservation. The dining room is small and often booked months in advance. If you’re tired after a long day, make it even better by booking a room here. Just a bit south of Longview is Bar U Ranch National Historic Site. This is where the Cowboy Trail is truly celebrated. You’ve seen the Cowboy Trail, now learn what cowboys and ranching contributed to the development of Canada. The ranch was established in 1882 and exists today as a means of presenting a living history of Canada’s ranching industry.
Artists, princes and outlaws have all called the Bar U Ranch home at various times in its colourful history. Famed western artist Charley Russell, H.R.H. Edward Prince of Wales, and Harry Longabaugh (better known as the Sundance Kid) were among the famous and infamous characters who graced the ranch’s vast expanse at various times.
Modern cowboy culture is celebrated here. The town is home to the CBC show Heartland, and many of the greatest riders from the Calgary Stampede‘s chuckwagon circuit call this area home (including the Glass family and the Sutherlands just up the road in Okotoks) Check out the mural in the historic downtown to see their faces and names. The mural is part of a great walking tour you can take in the town. If you still have time, some stops along the way home include the Big Rock in Okotoks, Nanton Bomber Command Museum, Hitchin Post in High River, or The Saskatoon Farm. You can also use this leg of the Cowboy Trail to start a longer journey by turning west in Longview to go over the Highwood Pass, or by heading further south to Crowsnest Pass or Waterton Lakes. Here are some more pictures of my day trip from Calgary along the Cowboy Trail.