If you’re game to swap shoes for boots and your Facebook feed for face time, there’s no better spot than Alberta for legit cowboy thrills. This is where you can meet honest-to-goodness cowboys and cowgirls, who ride bareback and live on the open range. What’s more, they’ll extend that famous western hospitality right to you. Here are four ways to kick off your cowboy crusade.
Drive less than 15 minutes from Drumheller, where the prairie suddenly gives way to an insanely pretty spot of deeply creviced canyons and sandstone craters, and you’ll arrive at Horsethief Canyon. It looks like a little slice of the Old West, which is fitting because a little over a century ago, outlaws would bring stolen horses up from the U.S. and rebrand them for resale in the canyon. Yep, this was a ruthless spot back then, but nowadays there’s no shame romping through this canyon filled with hiking trials to explore along the ancient riverbed, where you just might uncover a few dinosaur fossils. They once roamed these parts, too!
This massive working ranch in the Canadian Badlands is just the spot to bring your wild-west fantasies to life. Dotted along the 36,000-acre property are 750 black angus cattle, 40 bulls, 20 horses and one adorable Shetland pony.
Urban cowboys are invited to saddle up and canter along old wagon trails, where you’re sure to come across signs of indigenous activity from the past, including hundreds of sites where tipis once stood and rare spiritual medicine wheels. If you’re the outgoing sort, hop in the truck with ranch owner Carol Hern to meet the neighbours. She’ll trot you through a few choice prairie towns for a first-hand glimpse of what country life is really like.
You’ll get hungry, and home-cooked country dinners are served up family-style. Afterwards, rest your head inside a century-old pioneer cabin. It’s the real deal with whisky hidden in the wall panels and everything (you have to find it for yourself, though).
Millions of buffalo once roamed Alberta’s plains, and Blackfoot First Nation culture developed around the animals’ life cycle. At this eco-friendly museum, you can suss out tanned buffalo hides enshrined with warrior stories or learn how to read historical clues from stone circles on the ground. For a taste of how Alberta’s indigenous people once lived, bed down in the traditional tipis that are set up a short walk from the facility. You can bring your own sleeping gear or rent some, but for authenticity sake, do yourself a favour and accept the offer of a buffalo rug.
The illegal whisky trade was so fierce in southern Alberta during the late 1800s that mounted police travelled across the country to quash it, stopping to establish an outpost at Fort Macleod. These days, people visit the fort to watch the famous North West Mounted Police musical ride, a choreographed horseback performance that keeps alive a tradition established by the Mounties way back when.
Before the Redcoats get going with their trusted steeds, you can snag a spot backstage and help groom their horses. With Groom a Horse, visitors get first hand tips on horse care and grooming, plus the opportunity to act like a big shot and inspect the regiment, before watching the show from VIP seats. Not bad for a day out of the saddle, wouldn’t you say?