We gather in St. Paul – 200 km (124 mi) northeast of Edmonton on Hwy 29 – to meet our tour guide buddy, Jeff. My husband and I, along with a few friends from past Alberta snowmobile vacations, are excited to be riding a section of the Iron Horse Trail. “We can ride to Heinsburg, make some cocoa at the old railway station and be back at St. Paul in time for supper,” says Jeff.
Alberta’s Iron Horse Trail in the east central part of the province is 300 km (186 mi) of multi-use pathways. It’s part of the Trans Canadian Snowmobile Trail, the first coast-to-coast recreational trail in North America. The groomed trails are ideal for winter outings, as they wind through communities chock full of amenities including gas, lodging and restaurants.
Discover Railroad History
We travel through a scenic valley to our first rest stop at Edouardville, an old railway siding that’s been outfitted with fire pits, an outhouse and interpretive signage. “A lot of the rest stops are old railway sidings,” says Jeff. “The Iron Horse Trail officially opened in 2003, but locals were using the abandoned rail lines as trails long before that.”
When we get to Elk Point, we find the main street is right near the staging area. We stop for lunch and then do some window shopping. I make a mental note of an antiques shop I’ve got to come back to.
“The Eco-Centre is a replica of the CN train station built here in 1927,” says Jeff, as we head back to our sleds. “Only now it’s state of the art.” He points out the solar panel and energy efficient windows of this impressive visitor information centre. We took time to check out the “green project” displays on the second floor before getting underway again.
Hudson’s Bay Company Explorer
We stopped at the Peter Fidler statue and had our pictures taken beneath the 18th century explorer’s looming wooden likeness. “If you can prove that you’re his heir, you might strike it rich,” Jeff recounted. “Fidler’s inheritance has never been claimed.” He laughed at our surprise. “Of course, you’d have to find that stashed money first.”
“No more stops until Heinsburg,” Jeff announces when we get to the Middle Creek rest area. He’s not exaggerating, we learn, as we fly along this section that was once part of the historic Carlton Trail. Entranced by the wilderness feel of the place, I cut the engine and let the others ride away. As the silence grows, I think of First Nations, explorers and early pioneer families who travelled this trail in centuries past. I imagine the silence of moccasins on wood and rawhide snowshoes, the swish of sleigh runners and the tinkle of harness bells.
The sound of returning snowmobiles brings me back to the moment. I start my sled and speed off to catch up, inspired by the scenery and history and the special beauty of this place in winter.