Follow the Crowsnest Highway
The Crowsnest Highway (#3) is the most southerly of three major roadways that link the Prairies to the Pacific. Referred to often as simply “The Crow”, it runs through the heart of the Crown of the Continent, just north of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.
It is a quick and direct route across southern Alberta, but slows considerably as you pass into British Columbia. The eastern access point to the Crow is off of The Trans-Canada Highway (#1), at Medicine Hat, Alberta. The western terminus is located at Hope, BC. Because both ends of Hwy #3 intersect with Hwy #1, consider following The Crow as an alternative to driving the Trans-Canada Highway.
Medicine Hat (The Hat) is a railroad town, one of several important links, along with Moose Jaw (The Jaw) and Winnipeg (The Peg) as the Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR) opened the West in the 1880s. The Hat now has a population of more than 60,000 and it is often referred to as Canada’s sunniest city.
Two hours west of Medicine Hat is Lethbridge, the 4th largest city in Alberta with a population of 85,000. If Medicine Hat is Canada`s sunniest city, Lethbridge may the windiest due to its proximity to the Rockies. Lethbridge is also very close to the Canada/USA border. As a result, American visitors often arrive in Lethbridge from Great Falls, Montana via Hwy #4 and #15 through the Coutts border crossing. The history of Lethbridge is steeped in aboriginal Culture. If this appeals, visit Fort Whoop-Up.
Continuing westward along The Crow is Fort Macleod. Established in 1874, Fort Macleod is one of the oldest communities in Alberta and home of the Museum of the NorthWest Mounted Police. The very popular Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is located 30 minutes northwest of Fort Macleod. Open daily, year-round, the staff, displays and exhibits in the interpretive centre provide an understanding of the buffalo hunting culture of the Plains People.
Back on The Crowsnest Highway and heading west once again, we are now approaching the Crowsnest Pass. This pass is located on the Continental Divide, where water now starts to run west to the Pacific. The Divide also marks the border between Alberta and British Columbia, but there is no official border crossing in Canada as you move from province to province – just a sign announcing your arrival.
Just before we arrive at the Crowsnest Pass, we will be able to head south to the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, or north to follow the Cowboy Trail (Hwy #22) along the eastern slopes of the Rockies. We can visit the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre or explore the Bellevue Coal Mine.
It is ideal for those park visitors who wish to delight in the magnificent scenery and discover the slower pace of the often quaint and always charming small towns and historic cities that enrich this travel corridor. Some of these towns, such as Sparwood and Fernie formed at the turn of the century after coal was discovered. Salmo, Castlegar and Trail share mining history.
The Crow Route follows most of the original 1898 Crowsnest and Kettle Valley route of the Canadian Pacific Railway, as well as some of the 1860’s Dewdney Trail. Incorporated in 1932, The Crow takes its name from the Crowsnest Pass.
Cranbrook, the largest city in south eastern BC, was the divisional head quarters for the Crowsnest Railway route and still is a railway city. Trains Deluxe – the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel here vividly shows Canadian railway heritage.
To the west of Cranbrook are the fruit orchards of Creston, the water recreation sports of Christina Lake, and the mountain biking of Rossland. To the north of Creston, on Hwy 3A is Kootenay Lake which boasts the world’s longest free ferry ride! In this area there are also several connections north to historic Nelson and the Silvery Slocan with its mining heritage sites and hot springs that link up with Highway #1 at Revelstoke.
Cranbrook is an important hub from which travellers can drive north from The Crow along Highway 93/95 to four of Canada’s National Parks. This route runs along the Rocky Mountain Trench through Kimberley, Fort Steele, Fairmont, Windermere, Invermere and Radium Hot Springs.
From Radium Hot Springs we can head east into Kootenay National Park, or we can continue northward through the Columbia Wetlands to the Trans-Canada Highway at Golden.