Canadian Staycation: Soaking Up Small Town Nostalgia and Restorative Waters in the Prairies
The scenic drive along the Cowboy Trail in Alberta (above) is just one of the many perks of travelling the Canadian Prairies. Photo: Rebecca Bollwitt
Canada’s mountains are spectacular, but the prairies and rolling hills of Western Canada are equally beautiful. Here’s a look at a couple of fine road trips you can try in both Saskatchewan and in Alberta’s backcountry.
Regina Beach is a huggable small town on a hill that drops down to a pretty lake with a wide stretch of sand and a playground for kids.
Check out the historic Bluebird Café for a burger or fish and chips, or simply to enjoy the nostalgia.
A bit further north is Little Manitou Lake, a mineral-laden body of water where just about anyone — or anything — can float. They say there are only two other lakes like it in the world, one in the Czech Republic and the other being the Dead Sea.
In the town of Manitou Beach, Danceland is a marvellous old dance hall of North America that attracted thousands of dance and music fans in the ’20s and ’30s. It’s a beautiful, romantic building with many stories to tell. Manitou Beach also is home to many talented artists.
The Manitou Springs Resort and Mineral Spa has indoor pools with warm mineral water from the lake, so you can enjoy a swim and a float no matter the weather outside.
Saskatchewan folks like to joke that their province is so flat “you can see your dog run away for three days.” In fact, visitors will find beautiful rolling hills and the lovely, wide Qu’Appelle Valley; a gorgeous ribbon that runs through the heart of the southern part of the province. Lumsden is a small village not far from Regina that features a wonderful shop called Jane Dough’s Bakehouse and Coffee Company. And the town of Fort Qu’Appelle is home to several historic buildings, including an 1897 outpost of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
The countryside south of Calgary features deep green rolling hills in late spring and early summer, and small ranches and farms with red painted barns nestled into perfect valleys. The official name is Provincial Highway 22, but the tourism folks call it the Cowboy Trail, which is far more romantic.
The town of Turner Valley is home to Eau Claire Distillery, one of Alberta’s first craft distilleries. The vodka is super smooth. Next door is the legendary Chuckwagon Café, an old school dining spot that’s famous for their Alberta beef burgers.
South of Turner Valley you’ll pass a monument to a former oil town called Little Chicago (and later named “Royalties”), which was a happening place in the ’30s and ’40s.
Further south, the highway dips and drops and slithers and snakes its way through wide valleys under that famous Alberta sky. There’s a delightful drop in the road south of Longview.
Check out Bar U Ranch, said to be the only National Historic Site in Canada that commemorates the history and importance of ranching in our great country. There are spiffy historic buildings and tons of history to absorb, as well as friendly workers happy to offer a warm “howdy” and help explain the site’s history.
If you’re there in late spring or early summer, you may find striking purple wildflowers and yellow, daisy-like blossoms in the fields around you, with the powerful Rocky Mountains rising in the distance.
Further south, and not on the Cowboy Trail, is Waterton Lakes National Park, which has scenery to rival Banff but seldom attracts big crowds.