Driving Highway 22 or the Cowboy Trail in Alberta has been on my travel list for a while now. I’m always trying to scout out new local adventures to be had. We started our journey in Rocky Mountain House, although you can begin (or end) all the way north in Mayerthorpe. The town of Mayerthorpe proudly declares themselves as the “Trails End”, as most people are likely to start the trail from the south. Personally, The trail gets more scenic if you go from finish to start, so if you’d like to end at the best part, drive south.
In Rocky Mountain House, there’s plenty to do. It’s the entrance to the Canadian Rockies, and you can pass through to head west to the Icefields Parkway. In town, you’ll find history on the original fort and trading post. There’s a small museum you can check out to learn even more.
As you head south, you’ll start to see the prominent “cowboy” heritage coming out. There’s lots of ranches and old farming communities along the way. Caroline is the next town we encountered. There’s not much to it, but it’s interesting to see the old buildings as highway 22 takes you through the tiny town. While the fields of golden canola and rolling hills might be begging you to stop and take enough pictures to fill up your memory card, I promise the best is still yet to come.
Next up is Sundre, a more thriving community along the Cowboy Trail. It’s a key central location for many to the back country camping areas nearby. In fact, Sundre’s highway is the second busiest in all of Alberta for travel trailers. As you continue south, the foothills of Alberta become more and more exaggerated. Mountains start to appear in the distance.
When we hit the really large hills, we knew Cochrane was just a short while away. Cochrane might be my favourite city in my home province. With a beautiful view of the mountains in the background (they’re only a half hour away) and a historic downtown, it’s hard not to love the place. The stores downtown all point to a country past, many still decorated in a saloon style with a western storefront. You really can’t miss the cowboy stores if you stroll along the main street. On First Street, not only will you have fun shopping in all the cute stores, but they have a few excellent restaurants including the new Fence & Post.
After lunch, stopping at MacKay’s Ice Cream is a must. My favourite part is checking out the wall with pins from travellers that have come from all across the world to have a taste of their delicious creamy ice cream.
If shopping or dining isn’t your thing, you can check out a number of trails in and around the area, like those in Big Hill Springs Provincial Park. The Historic Cochrane Ranche Site has great views to offer along the Cowboy Trail. Leaving Cochrane, highway 22 will cross the Trans-Canada and wind its way into the mountains.
In the thick of the evergreen forest lies Bragg Creek. A rustic tourist hamlet, it has streets hidden in the trees with log cabins lining either side. The stores in the towns main square offer many rustic and country style goods and souvenirs.
If you’d like to escape the country town and duck into the mountains, continue past Bragg Creek and turn right onto highway 66 instead of 22. There you’ll find Kanaskis Country, and Elbow Falls. Unfortunately, the falls were nearly destroyed in the great flood that ripped through Bragg Creek, but they’re still pretty incredible. There’s nothing like a mountain-fed river to clear your mind and set your soul at peace. Dip your toes and feel the icy coolness refresh your body too, if you dare. I really enjoyed Elbow Falls because it allows you to enjoy a waterfall without having to hike when you don’t have much time.
A full day of traveling calls for a delicious dinner, and I have just the place. Back in Bragg Creek, there’s a lovely place called the Italian Farmhouse. It’s just across the street from the strip mall. They serve delightful Italian fare in a rustic setting. I enjoyed every bite of our three course meal!
A walk outside to get some fresh air settles any over stuffed stomach before getting a good night’s sleep to begin the second half of a road trip.