How many ways can you reach Edmonton from Calgary? While you ponder whether all roads north from Calgary lead to Alberta’s capital, we are here to suggest a scenic road trip to Edmonton from Calgary (or vice versa) through roads east of Highway 2 that will take you through parts of the Boomtown Trail.
The drive north from Calgary to Edmonton on the Queen Elizabeth Highway (Highway 2) can be quite tedious. Along with the tons of semis, traffic is usually heavy along this stretch of road and the scenery is pretty plain, to say the least. If you like a scenic drive near the Canadian Rockies, you can take Cowboy Trail/Highway 22 adding 2 extra hours to your trip. But, if you have the time to do some exploring, take the opportunity to experience all the wonderful places that are located along the secondary highways east of Highway 2.
If you drive this backroads route without stopping, it would take you approximately 8.5 hours, with a total of around 700 kilometres. If you decide to stop at all of these sites, you will want to spend the night somewhere (or even two nights if you really get crazy) or you can even split this into multiple day trips.
**Kindly do not travel during Alberta COVID-19 restrictions. Plan now, travel later. **
On the Road: Leaving Calgary, you will want to head north on Highway 2 to Airdrie, where you will take the eastbound exit to Drumheller. Being such a major destination, signage is good, so this part of the trip may not require much navigation. Enjoy the changing landscape as you head towards the Badlands, and keep your eyes peeled for wildlife and birdlife along the way.
If you are visiting Alberta for the first time, consider this Alberta Road Trip Itinerary.
The very first place that we suggest you make a stop is the gorgeous Horseshoe Canyon. This is the busier of the two canyons in the area, simply because of being located alongside the highway, but still worth a visit, as the stunning scenery is unlike anywhere else. Take a short hike or simply gawk at the beauty from one of the viewpoints.
On the Road: A short 15 minutes down the highway you will come to the town of Drumheller, a perfect place to stop for a bathroom break, coffee, snacks or a picture by the giant dinosaur located in the middle of town! (Directions)
The famous destination can be your second stop if you choose, but there are so many things to do here you can easily spend a full day. If you are not familiar with the area, then you might not be aware that Drumheller is the dinosaur capital of the world! There is a world-class museum – Royal Tyrrell Museum – which is home to one of the largest collections of dinosaur bones and fossils in the world, along with several historical sites, such as the Atlas Coal Mine. The outdoor opportunities also abound – there is plenty of hiking trails in the area which can be enjoyed.
On the Road: From Drumheller, you can head northwest along the Dinosaur Trail to visit another stunning natural area, just 16 kilometres outside of town. (Directions)
This is the second of the major canyon areas in the region. Less visited, Horsethief Canyon is named for the outlaws who used to hide stolen horses and livestock here more than 100 years ago. There is a nice viewpoint that will allow you to take some phenomenal pictures of this unique area.
On the Road: Departing this scenic lookout, you will now start to zigzag along the backroads and secondary highways to hit some interesting spots as you continue to make your way north to the capital city of the province. The next stop is about 40 kilometers and only a half hour down the road. (Directions)
This spectacular ghost town is a natural next stop along the route. This is a prime example of the ghost towns that can be found throughout the province. A once thriving town, some of the “preserved” buildings are in a state of disrepair, but still picture-worthy. The whole town is private property, so while you can take some pictures from the streets, please don’t go wandering around the buildings by yourselves. Instead, search out a local and get a guided tour, as they can take you in to see the historical artifacts that are inside these wonderful buildings. Use their Facebook page to connect with someone about a private tour with a volunteer (tips are appreciated!).
On the Road: Once you have had your fill of the history of this little prairie town, head out to the small town of Trochu which is the next stop along this itinerary. (Directions)
Trochu Museum: There are interesting displays featuring the history of the area from the French settlers of the 1900s up to the demolition of one of the grain elevators. Take a look at the printing presses and linotype machine used to print the local paper. (315 Arena Ave)
Downtown Murals: Even if you don’t want to visit the museum, stop and take a walking tour of the downtown murals!
Trochu Arboretum and Gardens: Time some time to explore the hundreds of varieties of trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals found in the garden here. Wander down red shale walkways and enjoy the beauty of Mother Nature as you soak in the birdlife and garden life. At the right time of year, you can even taste apples, cherries, saskatoons and raspberries fresh from the trees and bushes. (622 N Road)
You may want to consider spending the night in the area, which means that you will appreciate the next potential stop. Otherwise, continue on with the itinerary below.
St Anne Ranch Country Inn: This is actually a Provincial Historic Site and staying the night here means that you will also be able to explore the extensive grounds and artifacts. There are seven museums filled with interesting historical aspects and articles, along with an interpretive center. Take note that during high season they require two nights minimum stay. (Directions)
On the Road: From Trochu, there is a short 25-minute drive to the incredible provincial park which is your next stop. (Directions)
Dry Island Buffalo Jump
A perfect gem of a stop, this is a great place for anyone who is an avid birdwatcher. Along with phenomenal views of the Red Deer River and valley, including the interesting badlands topography, there are more than 150 species of birds here! You can stretch your legs by taking a short hike on one of the informal trails, or if you are travelling with a canoe or kayak, pop it in the water for a paddle!
On the Road: Continuing on your somewhat northward journey, you may have heard of the next town as the area is famous for its country music festival, however, the town itself is chock full of history and well worth spending some time exploring.
Big Valley Railroad Station and Museum: This historic site was built in 1912 and was the original CNR station. Now it hosts a plethora of interesting artifacts and photos featuring the village and railway history. You will find an authentic wooden caboose on the grounds and other fun railroad items. The grounds are often used as a rest stop and picnic area. Please note the museum is only open from July 1st to August 31st.
St. Edmund’s Church: This iconic blue church didn’t start out being this unusual colour, but due to circumstances over the years it has become one of the outstanding features of the town. The history is interesting and the building unique, perfect for a quick photo stop (245 Main Street)! As well, if you happen to hit it on the hour, you will be able to hear the bells ringing.
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Oil Well Pumper Display: Another great place to take a memorable pic and learn something about the history of the oil in the area, make sure to stop here. Donated by Gulf Canada, is an example of the machinery used for oil production in the area since the boom when discoveries were made just north of the Village in the 1950s. (53 Main Street)
Roundhouse: If you are a train enthusiast (or travelling with a Thomas Train fan) and want another cool spot to learn more about the history of the railway in this region, this site is a must see. The remains of the railway locomotive shops and servicing area have been reclaimed through the efforts of local volunteer organizations and features interpretive signage describing the important role of this facility. (148 Railway Ave S)
Jimmy Jock Boardwalk: Named for a Chinese entrepreneur who opened a restaurant here years ago, this fun frontier style boardwalk offers you the chance to roam the unique shops and businesses here. You can still see the buildings where the local undertaker set up shop, along with the house of ill-repute. There is a fudge factory, a Boardwalk Bistro, an Ice cream shop and other stores with a variety of goods. (40 Main Street East)
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Big Valley Jailhouse: Check out this tiny jail that was in use in town from 1914 to 1940. Another great photo op! (21 Main Street East)
On the Road: When you have had your fill of the fun history in Big Valley, you will take a straight shot north to the town of Stettler. It’s only about 20 minutes up the highway. (Directions)
If you are looking for a quaint place to stay overnight, this town might be a good choice. As well, the main street is a great place to stop and shop, or take a moment to grab something sweet from Blokes Bakery or a crafted coffee from the Coffee Tree. There are historical sites here as well, including the P&H grain elevator, which is a landmark of the town and one of the last restored living museums of its kind in Western Canada. A must-do at this place is travelling back in time with Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions on a steam train that includes a full-course country dinner.
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On the Road: Central Alberta has beautiful scenery no matter which way you go, so continuing the 25 minutes from Stettler to your next destination is no hardship. The historic aspects of the province show in every site and this town is no exception. (Directions)
With a pretty lake at the end of the main street, this lovely little town is a great pit stop for some beach time or to camp in one of the convenient campgrounds. There is a beautiful nature trail that winds 6.5 kilometres along the lakeshore, with plenty of birdlife and wildlife to see along the way. Haunted Lakes Golf Course offers up some picturesque holes to play on and a lovely campground.
On the Road: Another half-hour drive takes you to the shores of Buffalo Lake, where a lovely sandy beach awaits you! (Directions)
Rochon Sands Provincial Park
If you want some quiet time hanging out on the sand, or perhaps a jump into the lake to cool off, this is a perfect destination. You can also canoe, sail, windsurf, boat and fish here, not to mention that there is plenty of bird watching to do and lots of wildlife around. You can also stop in at the little town and enjoy a snack or an ice cream before continuing on! Also, don’t forget to take a selfie with the giant pike.
On the Road: It might seem a little counterproductive to be heading east instead of north, but this is the direction that this journey is taking you. Believe us, it is worth the extra driving. (Directions)
Big Knife Provincial Park
This incredible off-the-beaten-path provincial park offers visitors some incredible scenery and fantastic hiking opportunities. Located in the Battle River Valley, this is Blackfoot Nation territory, and while the park is only just over 2 square kilometres in size, there is such diverse landscape here that if you are an outdoor lover then this is a must do. There are two hiking trails in this park – the Highland Trail (6 kilometres return) and the River Flats Trail (4.5 kilometres return). You can also paddle on the lake if you have your own watercraft.
Battle River Train Excursions: We are sure you have heard of the train tour in Stettler even before reading this article, but did you know the town of Forestburg offers another delightful trip that will take you from Forestburg to Village of Alliance. Unlike Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions, the themed day excursions by Battle River Railway are only held during special days. If your trip coincides with those dates, we recommend you check them out.
On the Road: Another short jog north and west will take you to a unique place in the prairies. (Directions)
Donalda & District Museum
This cool museum hosts an incredible 1,100 lamps, dating from the 1690’s all the way through to the 1960’s. Along with this unique collection of lamps, you will also find an impressive collection of artifacts from the Metis culture, and about 4,000 general history items and artifacts from the area. Also, The Donalda & District Museum Society manages an historic Creamery (1955), an Imperial Bank of Canada building (1928) and a Canadian Northern Railway station (1909).
We can’t forget to mention that there is the world’s largest lamp here as well – an astounding 42 feet high (12.8m) and 17 feet wide (5.18m) at the base. The lamp overlooks Meeting Creek Coulee. While here, hike the Donalda Hiking Trail that will take you to Willow Canyon and the area’s Badlands.
On the Road: An almost straight line north for 45 minutes will take you to the next destination, the first city along this driving route. (Directions)
A small city with all the conveniences that you might want on your road trip, this may be a good place to spend the night, get gas, stock up on snacks or grab something to eat. Take a drive through the historic part of town to get a view of lovely houses and gardens, or a walk through the historic downtown area to shop at some unique stores. The Bailey Theatre, the oldest operating theatre in the province, is located on the north end of Main Street. There is a lovely 3-kilometer walking path through the city that has interesting interpretive signage explaining the history of the area, if you are looking for a place to stretch your legs. Of course, there are also some local museums if you want more history.
On the Road: Heading east out of Camrose (yes, you read that correctly, east), you will make a left turn to once again travel north! (Directions)
Beaverhill Lake Heritage Rangeland Natural Area / Nature Center
Located by the cute little town of Tofield, which you will head to next, the Beaverhill Lake area is beautiful and a nice place to spend some time with your binoculars watching for any of the 270 known bird species here. Beaverhill Lake was designated a RAMSAR site (wetland of international significance) in 1987 and is internationally recognized for its wetlands and diverse bird populations. Take some time to visit the Nature Center as well for interesting exhibits and information about birds and the natural area.
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On the Road: From here you will make the short drive to the town of Tofield. (Directions)
Tofield Historical Museum
One of the best little museums in the area, the Society that runs this has worked hard to provide exhibits that cover the development of the town and region, from the early native settlements to the coming of European and American settlers, and subsequent agricultural and business developments. These exhibits reflect the development of schools, medical care, agricultural practices, and church communities of early pioneers.
On the Road: From Tofield, a half-hour drive north takes you to the Yellowhead highway (Highway 16), which eventually will take you into the city of Edmonton. In the meantime, there are still a couple of stops to make before you hit the big city. (Directions)
Ukrainian Heritage Cultural Village
This fantastic living history museum showcases the lives of the Ukrainian settlers who made so much of an impact in the area. With costumed interpreters and fun activities, you can easily spend a whole morning or afternoon enjoying this site. There are more than 40 original buildings to explore! This museum site opens on June 20th and runs throughout the summer season. Please check their website for specific visitor information regarding protocols and restrictions.
On the Road: There is one last stop just 5 minutes down the highway before continuing on to Edmonton. (Directions)
Elk Island National Park
If you haven’t yet been to this fantastic National Park, then this is a must-do on this list. Split into two different sections, one to the south of the highway, and one to the north of the highway, this Park is home to both Wood Bison and Plains Bison. The northern side is where you need to purchase your park pass and get any information you require from the Visitor’s Center. There is a nice picnic area, camping spots, and a short interpretive trail which you can enjoy, as well as a bison paddock. The beasts roam the park freely, so if you choose to do one of the longer hikes be aware that you may come across them. There are plenty of hiking paths to explore, varying in length and activity level.
Now, what about a trip to Whitehorse in Yukon from Edmonton, via the Alaska Highwayand then to Inuvik via Dempster Highway or Skagway, Alaska via South Klondike Highway. Need to travel more, return to Calgary after a trip to Vancouver (from Whitehorse) via Sea to Sky & Cassiar Highways.