As an adopted Albertan, I thought I knew the landscape well. I was married in the shadows of the Canadian Rockies, and I’ve swam in chilly northern lakes with my angler husband, Keith. I’ve taken my girls Kate, 8, Jacqueline, 5, and Nicole, 4, camping in the windy south and in the dry and unforgiving badlands to the east. But when Keith decided we should drive part of the historic Cowboy Trail and take the kids for a weekend of horseback riding, fishing and rafting, I discovered a hidden gem – Alberta’s Aspen parkland ecoregion. We explored the region by horse, raft, foot and minivan to the excited soundtrack of “Mommy, look!” and “Daddy, what is that?” from our girls. Turns out they weren’t quite as city mouse as we’d feared.
A version of this article appeared in our September 2013 issue with the headline, "The cowboy trail", p. 30.
The Red Deer River Ranch, on the northern end of the trail, is an ideal home base for families. This working cattle farm features beautifully appointed family-friendly cabins, a nearby river for early-morning fishing, a hot tub under the stars and close proximity to several local horseback riding and rafting companies. It’s also a great place to try and spot the wild horses that frequent the nearby hills. And for exceptional hiking and biking trails, head due south!Photo: Sarah Deveau
Handmade sheepskin slippers and moccasins from PaSu sheep farm are a must-buy.Photo: iStockphoto
Take a horse-drawn buggy ride across the Prairie grasslands (complete with a BBQ “Buggy Brunch”) with the Ya Ha Tinda Ranch.Photo: iStockphoto
Explore the foothills on horseback, guided by long-time rancher Merle Fox of Sunset Guiding and Outfitting. Kids four and up are welcome.Photo: iStockphoto
Kids as young as six can ride the Upper Red Deer River rapids on a Mukwah rafting tour.Photo: Ryan Thompson
Looking for another great travel destination for your family?
Try the Rockie Mountains. >