A Classic Cowboy Country Road Trip
Sipping coffee, Ian Tyson crooning on the radio, we round a gentle bend in the road and our jaws drop. Yet another pastoral scene of rolling foothills, horses grazing in the foreground, and soaring, saw-tooth mountains in the distance. A tiny homestead clutches the top of a grassy hill and a tidy red barn anchors the scene. I pull over, put the flashers on, and grab my camera. Presto! Another idyllic Alberta scene is recorded.
Our aim was true. This beautiful section of Hwy 22, also known as “The Cowboy Trail,” near Rocky Mountain House was a show-stopper. But, then again, our entire western Alberta road trip – a classic circle tour that incorporated super-scenic sections of the Icefields Parkway, the Yellowhead Highway, the David Thompson Highway, and, yes, The Cowboy Trail – was unforgettable on many levels.
Besides visiting a number of awesome attractions – such as the classic fur-trading outpost at the Rocky Mountain House
National Historic Site and a charming heritage ghost town called Em-Te Town – the breathtaking scenery along these roadways is what really stole the show for us. But this wasn’t really a surprise. After all, these are regarded as four of the most spectacular highways in North America! And incorporating all of them into one epic, multi-day trip made this a road trip for the ages. (See part of our route on pg 28)
Given the fact I’ve got a passion for landscape photography, there were numerous times when we (my wife and three boys rounded out my posse) had to pull over to record the beauty. In fact, during the 750 km journey, dozens of stops were made and nearly one thousand photos were taken. True, I’ve taken many photography-focused road trips before but, in terms of quantity, this one set a new record!
From snow-dipped mountain biting into baby-blue skies to golden, grass-capped Alberta foothills peppered with pine, the variety and the quality of the scenes were spectacular from start to finish. The Columbia Icefields? Check! Glacier Skywalk? Check! Spirit Island? Check! And those were just a few of the highlights on the Icefields Parkway alone. Indeed, from a “postcard” perspective, there might not be a better circle route to travel in North America.
But this drive is definitely much more than just the ultimate photo safari. Numerous attractions and activities are found along the way. Hiking, camping, rafting, museums, dude ranches, festivals, rodeos, pow-wows, historic sites, saloons, farmers markets, artisan galleries, and so much more, make this trip a rich, variety-filled experience… especially if you
allow enough time to explore at least some of the possibilities.
How much time do you need? Well, it really depends on what you want to see and do. For some people, the ideal itinerary would be a jam-packed, two-day affair. (If so, an overnight in Jasper, exploring the townsite and perhaps soaking in the nearby Miette Hot Springs, would be a nice option!) For other roadtrippers, crafting a four or five day getaway and travelling
at a medium pace would be the ideal scenario. At that pace, you may want to incorporat a half-day hike or two, and perhaps some exploration at sites such as the Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, where Canada’s amazing fur-trading past is celebrated, would be easy to do. Incidentally, the RMH National Historic Site is home to a Visitor Centre, museum, ancient fort ruins, tipi camping, and much more. And, without a doubt, it should be high on your list.
Even if you take a week, or two, to complete your journey, many of the “secrets” lurking around the many twists and turns in the road will remain undiscovered. Like any adventure you embark on, do your homework! There are, literally, hundreds of sights and stops along the way. The options are endless! While the internet offers a vast amount of information, websites such as experiencethecowboytrails.com, parkscanada.ca, travelalberta.com, and icefieldsparkway.com, would be four good places to start your planning.
For my little caravan, our planning included the key stops with a special emphasis on the amazing David Thompson Highway. This under-the-radar corridor swoops alongside rushing rivers, pristine mountain lakes, and serves up scintillating views around every bend. A few of the highlights of this leg of the journey include photogenic Abraham Lake, the beautiful Kootenay Plains, the historic town of Nordegg, and Siffluer Falls, which is a great family-friendly half-day hike.
Unquestionably, the David Thompson Highway was a highlight. The photos came fast and furious! But our “custom” three-night roadtrip – we camped in Rocky Mountain House, Jasper, and Saskatchewan Crossing – will be remembered for the many discoveries we made along the way. Places such as Em-Te Town (a unique, western-themed heritage town with many buildings and sites to explore), the Beaver Boardwalk and the awesome biking trails in Hinton, canoeing on Jasper’s Pyramid Lake, and eating bannock and maple taffy in a tipi at the Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site are a few that come to mind. The only downside to the trip? Editing 1000 photos.
Photos and Story by: Andrew Penner