Nestled comfortably between the grand Rocky Mountains to the west and the open prairies that lay out to the east of Alberta, Cowboy Trail meanders through the centre of our beautiful province of Alberta. From Mayerthorpe in the northwest section of the province, it stretches south along Highway 22 to Pincher Creek before it makes a quick southeast jog on Highway 6 to Waterton National Park and on to Highway 5 and ending in Cardston at the far southern end of the province.
Travel Alberta named the 700 km of highway to reflect the heritage of Alberta, where cattle ranching is still a way life and the cowboy hat is the standard corporate head gear.
There are plenty of opportunities to revisit our cowboy history along the route and visitors are always welcome at some of the most popular historic sites that include working ranches, great heritage sites, restaurants and plenty of experience that will create memories for a lifetime.
Take an imaginary trip through history at the Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, and visit a time more than 200 years ago when fur trader and explorer David Thompson first surveyed the area. Imagine what he experienced as he traveled the fifty-five thousand miles west from Hudson’s Bay and created the first map that covered one million, nine hundred thousand square miles of northwest Canada. The historic site tells his story and the stories of other explorers, settlers and aboriginal peoples of the area.
When the first traders reached Alberta, they met many different First Nations, each of which had developed its own way of life and distinctive culture that reflected the different regions of the province and the specific natural and physical characteristics of their home territories.
Plains groups, such as the Blackfoot, Peigan, and Blood First Nations relied heavily on buffalo as a source of food, clothing and shelter. Learn the history of the Blackfoot people, including their skills of using “jump” sites or cliffs to hunt these great beasts at the Head-Smashed-In buffalo Jump near Fort Macleod. For a genuine experience into this time, teepee camping is available in the summer.
The North-West Mounted Police was created by the Canadian government in 1873 and their purpose was to bring order to the west and in July 1874, 275 Mounties began their trek towards Alberta from the east to set up a new headquarters at Fort MacLeod.
The Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village, in Pincher Creek, is a showcase of Alberta’s frontier including the NWMP horse barn and other sites of this time. The horse-drawn vehicle collection at the Remington Carriage Museum in Cardston is a display of more than 250 carriages, wagons and sleighs. Chosen as the best indoor attraction in Canada by Attractions Canada in a nationwide competition a visit to the museum reminds us of a time when the carriage business was the largest industry in North America.
Cattle ranchers were among the most successful early settlers to the area. The arid climate of the foothills were well suited to open-range ranching. Black American cowboy John Ware brought the first cattle into the province in 1876. The Bar U Ranch just south of Calgary was once one of the foremost ranching operations in Canada and served as a training ground for many cattlemen including Ware. The National Historic Site is now an active history for visitors to the area. From fur trading posts and ranches, to historic oilfields to lines of wind turbines collecting energy from the wind, the landscape along this route tells the story of Alberta’s history better than any story ever could.