Home Destinations Exploring Alberta’s Cowboy Trail

Exploring Alberta’s Cowboy Trail

by Karen Ung

The scenic Cowboy Trail (Highway 22) parallels the Rockies and winds through the foothills from Mayerthorpe to Lundbreck.

exploring the cowboy trail alberta

With sweeping mountain and foothills vistas, the Cowboy Trail is one of Alberta’s greatest drives. While you could drive the whole trail in a day (6 hours to be precise), I highly recommend taking at least a few days to experience the sights and attractions along the way. Here are some of our favorite stops on this iconic Alberta road trip from Rocky Mountain House to Lundbreck.

1. Crimson Lake Provincial Park

Crimson Lake is a fantastic beach, paddling, and biking destination. The full service campground has showers, concession, camp store, and power and water sites; and the park has canoe rentals, walking and biking trails, and excellent interpretive programs the whole family will enjoy. Read about our experience here: Fun Times at Crimson Lake Provincial Park.

2. Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site

Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site is where Alberta’s fur trading history comes to life. Learn to make a fire with flint and steel, visit the Metis Village and speak to interpreters dressed in traditional clothes, watch a puppet show about the great explorer David Thompson, play in the play fort, or stay in a trapper’s tent. For more information, read this story: Discover Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site.

3. Caroline Wheels of Time Museum

Caroline Wheels of Time Museum is a fun stop on the Cowboy Trail with six historic buildings to explore. Free tours are available on weekends where you can go in the jail cell, sit in the fire truck, visit the old school, and more. Please donate to keep this cool little museum open. Check out our photos at Caroline Wheels of Time Museum. If you like fishing, nearby Phyllis Lake and Beaver Lake are popular spots for catching trout.

4. Sundre

Sundre, just 90 minutes northwest of Calgary, has a neat Pioneer Village, good eats and riverside camping, and serves as the gateway to the “West Country” (45 minutes from Sundre) where you can see wild horses, and go trail riding or whitewater rafting. Discover more in our photo essay: Summer Fun in Sundre, Alberta.

5. Cochrane

Cochrane is close enough for a half day trip, but you could easily spend a day here. We usually go to Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park and bike down to the river, or hike the Tiger Lily Loop and geocache. Check out Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park – So Close to Calgary, So Much to Do! for more information. For apres hiking/biking treats, head in to town (10 minute drive) for MacKay’s Ice Cream. On Saturdays, hit up the Farmer’s Market at Cochrane Ranche Park for local produce, baking, and more.

6. Bragg Creek

Bragg Creek is Calgary’s playground, only 45 minutes from the city. Enjoy a huge, well maintained network of mountain biking trails at West Bragg Creek, dine in the hamlet (you can’t go wrong with The Italian Farmhouse or ice cream from Frontier Candy & Ice Cream), or do a hike off Highway 66. Sunrise Hill and Powder Puff is a good one for families with younger children. Read up on this fun hike here: Sunrise Hill and Powder Puff, Kananaskis. After, stop by Forget-me-not Pond or Elbow Falls (short but pretty stops)!

7. Black Diamond

Tasty treats at Marv’s Classic Soda Shop, Black Diamond

Black Diamond, named for its coal mining history, is home to The Westwood (unique menu with locally sourced ingredients), Chuckwagon Cafe (all day breakfast in the red barn), and Marv’s Classic Soda Shop (50’s diner). Eau Claire Distillery can also be found in Black Diamond; take a tour or sign up for a mixology class! On our most recent trip, we enjoyed ice cream floats at Marv’s while listening to 50’s tunes on the jukebox.

8. Longview

Longview Jerky Shop

Longview is at the crossroads of the Cowboy Trail and Highway 541, the gateway to south Kananaskis. For the best steak ever, book a table at the renowned Longview Steakhouse. No time for a sit down meal? Pick up mouthwatering jerky at Longview Jerky Shop. They have beef, bison, elk, pork, turkey and chicken jerky in a variety of flavors.

9. Bar U Ranch National Historic Site

Wagon ride at Bar U Ranch National Historic Site

Bar U Ranch National Historic Site is Canada’s only historic site dedicated to ranching history. Learn what put Bar U Ranch on the map, how large scale roundups were done in the late 1800s, and how cowboys lived back then. Kids can complete an activity book to earn a prize and will love visiting the animals and riding the wagon in to the village. For more information, visit Parks Canada | Bar U Ranch National Historic Site.

10. Chain Lakes Provincial Park

Chain Lakes Provincial Park | Image Credit: Suzi Smart Photography

Chain Lakes Provincial Park offers rustic camping along the Cowboy Trail with fantastic fishing (stocked lake) and mountain views. There’s a big playground for the kids; concession serving fries, burgers, and ice cream; power sites and unserviced sites. Although you have to share a communal fire pit, you may just pick up some fishing tips! For more information, please visit Alberta Parks | Chain Lakes Provincial Park.

11. Lundbreck Falls

Lundbreck Falls

Lundbreck Falls Provincial Recreation Area, on the bank of the Crowsnest River, is perfectly situated for exploring the Crowsnest Pass (16 minutes from Frank Slide Interpretive Centre). Camp among the cottonwoods, walk the short trail to the falls, or fish from shore (excellent trout fishing). For more information, please read our stories: Camping at Lundbreck Falls, Alberta, Why You Should Visit Frank Slide Interpretive Centre, and The Best Hikes of the Crowsnest Pass.

Cowboy Trail Driving Route

Here is a map showing the driving route from Crimson Lake Provincial Park to Lundbreck Falls Provincial Park.

Cowboy Trail Map from Crimson Lake to Lundbreck Falls

Know Before You Go

Admission to National Historic Sites (Rocky Mountain House NHS and Bar U Ranch NHW) is free with your Discovery Pass.

Check your fuel level before leaving Longview as there aren’t any gas stations between Longview and Lundbreck.

Cowboy Trail Road Trip on CBC Radio

I recently spoke about a day trip down the Cowboy Trail (Calgary to Chain Lakes Provincial Park) on CBC Radio’s Calgary Eyeopener Show. Listen to the podcast here.

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