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Road Trip: Calgary to Cranbrook on the Crowsnest Highway

A view of the Kootenays near Cranbook. Photo by That Angela

By Waheeda Harris

Modern day explorers still lust to explore the unknown – and for those wanting to point their car towards unchartered territories, the Crowsnest Highway from Alberta to British Columbia provides eye-catching views of the Rocky Mountains, historic places of interest and small town hospitality.

Modes of Transport

Highway 22 from Calgary is the way to get to the Crowsnest Highway via Turner Valley, which originates in Medicine Hat, Alberta. Although easily done by with four wheels, this old train route can be used by cyclists who will appreciate the wide highway shoulders through the mountains. Approximate driving time from Calgary to Cranbrook is four hours, 46 min and a distance of 379 km one way.

Roadside Attractions

It’s been 100 years since this rock slide happened, but the Frank Slide is still the main attraction of wee Frank, Alberta, located east of the Crowsnest Pass. When 82 million tonnes of limestone moved almost two kilometres in less than two minutes, the immense fields of rock are worth a stop to walk through the pathways (free admission).  For those wanting an up close and personal experience of the Rocky Mountains, Fernie, British Columbia offers several trails for hiking and mountain biking.  Adrenaline junkies will appreciate the wild ride of the Al Matador trail, (free access) which ascends 1200m in elevation as you navigate the single track. Make sure to point your camera lens at the Three Sisters, aka Mt. Trinity, a popular mountain of three peaks.

An hour west of Fernie, stop in historic Fort Steele, a former gold mining town that will transport you back to the 19th century. A ride on the steam train locomotive or a wagon ride will be a welcome late afternoon distraction from the road.  Once you reach Cranbrook, spend time at the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel, featuring antique rail cars, train memorabilia and the restored Royal Alexandra Hall from the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Royal Alexandra Hotel, which had been located in Winnipeg.

Eats

Start your roadtrip with a hearty breakfast at the The Chuckwagon Café on Highway 22, part of the Cowboy Trail and less than an hour from Calgary in the rolling hills of Turner Valley. Located in a barn, the café serves up traditional eggs and pancakes that will make you feel like you can take on a day on the range.  In Cranbrook, take advantage of the weekly Farmer’s Market held every Saturday morning for locally grown and made edibles and for a fine dining experience, make a reservation at Heidi’s, a favourite of the area. Their secret? The owners trained at the International Institute for Tourism and Management in Austria.

Sleep

If you’re lured to stay in the heart of the Rockies in Fernie, the Mt. Fernie Timberlodge ($385-449 per night) accommodates up to 10 travellers in an Alpine-style chalet. Weary from all that outdoor activity – guests can amble up a spiral staircase leading to the chalet’s treehouse with a hot tub with views of Mt. Fernie and Mt. Proctor.  For the final rest stop in Cranbrook, forget the highway motel strip and kick it up a notch with a stay at the luxe Prestige Rocky Mountain Resort. Ask for the John Huber Express ($599.95 per night), choosing from the Naughton or Newcastle staterooms, with décor and amenities inspired by luxury railway travel of the past.

Read

The perfect accompaniment for the Crowsnest Highway, which lies along a former Canadian train route, would be the classic writing of mystery maven Agatha Christie. Three novels feature a train theme, and can be easily found in paperback or audio book: Miss Marple in 4-50 From Paddington, and Hercule Poirot in The Mystery of the Blue Train and Murder on the Orient Express.

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