Completing a road trip during the spring season on the Canadian Prairies or even the Canadian Rockies doesn’t have to be difficult. Firstly, bring a change of clothing for every season, weather patterns can change at any given time and sometimes within minutes. Secondly, if you do the research you will be able to find numerous tourist attractions that appreciate “shoulder travellers”. At heart, I’m a road-tripper and over the Easter long weekend, my son and I were able to turn a three day road trip of Southern Alberta into a historical adventure.
Day One: Calgary to Lethbridge, Alberta via Waterton National Park – approximately 400 kilometers
Capitalizing on Alberta’s beauty, we decided to head south along Highway 22, also known as The Cowboy Trail. This beautiful trail traverses from the prairie land to the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. Spotted with farms and ranches this route has become a favourite for day-trippers, in addition to people traveling to and from British Columbia via the Crowsnest Pass. On numerous occasions, I have always made a point to stop and marvel at the beauty of the Crowsnest Pass; however, this time I decided to make a sharp left at Highway 3 to continue our journey. Considering the Pass is only a two hour drive from Calgary, I felt that I could stop and marvel this area at another time.
After I turned left, it wasn’t long before we came across the Lundbreck Falls turnoff. Considered to be the tiny twin of Niagara Falls, little Lundbreck did not disappoint. A few areas were still covered in ice, but that didn’t stop a hopeful fisherman determined to catch evening’s dinner. This area was made famous when a full T-Rex skeleton was found along the banks of the Old Man River by school children. Known as Black Beauty, the skeleton now has a permanent home at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta. After exploring the banks of the river we decided it was time to continue our journey.
For a short distance, we ventured back out into the vast prairie landscape where wind turbines dotted the rolling hills. Once in Pincher Creek, we turned south onto Highway 6 to drive parallel along the Rockies. The awe-inspiring Rockies became larger and larger until we briefly entered Waterton Lakes National Park, also known as the Waterton Glacier International Peace Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Joining together with the United States in 1932, this park became the world’s first International Peace Park to honour peace and goodwill between two nations. After a brief dip into the park, the road soon took us back into the open prairie scenery and we said good-bye to the mountains.
Approximately 50 kilometers east along Highway 5, we drove into the town of Cardston. This quaint little town came into existence in 1887 when Mormon pioneers traveled to this region during one of the last western migrations in covered wagons. During my visit I discovered five interesting facts about this amazing little town:
v Fay Wray, the actress who stared in the famous 1933 movie “King-Kong” was born in Cardston.
v George Woolf who rode the Thoroughbred “Seabiscuit” in the 1938 race of the century was also born in this little town.
v The town is home to the award-winning famous “Remington Carriage Museum” the world’s largest collection of horse-drawn vehicles with over 250 carriages on display.
v The museum houses the stagecoach that was used in the movie Shanghai Noon and the Crossfire Trail, feel free to climb aboard, the stagecoach is open for photograph opportunities.
v The Mormon Temple perched on top of a hill was built in 1923 and was the first to be built outside of the United States.
After a quick lunch, we decided it was time to head into Lethbridge, which was only an 80 kilometer drive from the historic Cardston.
Like many of us, I had never stopped and enjoyed Lethbridge before, I always used it has a go-through town on my way to the United States border crossing. However, this time I wanted to use Lethbridge as our home base as we explored the area over the next two days.
“Sik-okotoks”, the Place of Black Rocks, due to the abundance of coal was home to the Blackfoot Confederacy for over ten thousand years until the 1860’s when the European infiltration slowly took over the land. When the American Army outlawed the flow of alcohol with the Native people of Montana, the bootleggers looked further north for other opportunities. Mixing alcohol with river water, in addition to lye and chewing tobacco, made it irresistible to people who came in contact with this new product. As in the United States, this elixir soon caused grief along the border. In 1874, our first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald sent the newly formed North West Mounted Police to establish order in the new west. Arriving at Fort Whoop-Up that same year, civility was soon restored and the whiskey trade began to diminish.
After checking into our hotel, we made our way down to Fort Whoop-Up. Usually open on the weekend during the winter months, it was unfortunately closed due to a small mud-slide and flooding that took place last year. However, it is currently under renovations and will hopefully open for the summer season, since “the Fort interprets the notorious whiskey trade through twelve period rooms, firearm displays, exhibit galleries and voices from the past.”
From there our path traversed over to the Helen Schuler Nature Centre, it too is open year-round, except for this year. The older building was demolished to make way for a newer and more modern building. This area offers a delightful urban escape located only minutes from the downtown core. Strolling along the various networks of paths will take you through wetlands and coulees under a canopy of cottonwood trees. Also, located within walking distance is an old abandoned coal mining shaft, the self-guided tour provides a great insight to the early days of this economic pillar.
Our day soon came to an end, after a delightful dip in the pool it was time to rest our weary eyes.