If you can’t find your ‘home on the range’ where you live, Alberta is full of options to give you the cowboy or cowgirl experience of your dreams. Put on a cowboy hat and some spurs, and check out three great ways to live the Western life on a long weekend in Alberta.
Day 1-2: Ride on the Ranch
If you’re after a real, authentic, cowboy experience, you won’t find better than the Sierra West Cabins.
Over the course of two days, you’ll saddle up a horse and help out on a cattle drive, herding 100 yearlings through the backcountry to new pastures. Your lunch will be eaten on the trail amid picturesque wildflowers and a view of the Rocky Mountain foothills — keeping an eye open for moose and eagles, of course. Then, you’ll finish the day with a home-cooked feast in the Longhorn Saloon — part of a reconstructed wild west Cowtown — before gathering around a campfire for songs and cowboy poetry until you’re ready to rest your head in your western bunkhouse.
This quintessential cowboy experience should be on every buckaroo’s bucket list.
Sierra West Cabins and Alberta Ranch Vacations
- When: There are two cattle drives every summer, in mid-July and mid-August
- Where: Lundbreck, Alberta, 1h 50 mins south of Calgary
- Cattle Drive Cost: $625 per person
- Website: http://sierrawestcabins.com/
Day 3: Take in the sights on horseback
Want to leave the cattle behind and take in Alberta’s incredible scenery on horseback?
Join Brewster Adventures on a trail ride to a historic mountain teahouse 7000-feet above sea level in the Canadian Rockies. The Brewsters are a legendary cowboy family that has been a part of Banff’s history for six generations, so you know the ride is going to be something special. The 5.5-kilometre trek will take you in the footsteps of early explorers and mountaineers, across icefields, through sub-alpine forests, and under jagged rock faces. You’ll witness six breathtaking glaciers on your way to the historic tea house, which was built over 90 years ago by mountain guides.
Brewster Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House Ride
- When: Departures at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. daily during the summer
- Duration: 4 hours
- Cost: $194.25 per person
- Website: http://www.brewsteradventures.com/summer-trail-rides
If you’re not big on tea, or prefer to keep your feet… sorry, your horse’s feet a little closer to sea level, then you’ll probably enjoy the Cowboy Cookout Lunch with Banff Trail Riders. This three-hour horseback or wagon tour starts off in Banff and brings you along a secluded trail, past the very hot springs that spawned the creation of Banff National Park. You’ll follow an old road alongside the Bow River, and once you reach the historic 3-mile Cabin, ranch hands will prepare a feast worth of a cowboy. You can also enjoy a game of horseshoes or learn how to toss a rope to work up your appetite.
Banff Trail Riders Cowboy Cookout Lunch
- When: 11 a.m. daily, between May and September
- Duration: 3 hours
- Cost: $139 per person for horseback riding, $89 for a wagon ride
- Website: http://horseback.com/package/cowboy-cookout-lunch-ride/
Day 4: Enjoy the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth
No discussion about the Alberta cowboy life is complete without mention of the world-famous Calgary Stampede.
This event is far more than just a rodeo. The self-proclaimed “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” attracts over 1.2 million visitors each year — people who might come for the cowboys but stay for the shows, music, and spectacle.
You can’t visit the Calgary Stampede without stopping by the rodeo. With six main events — including crowd favourites like barrel racing and bull riding — you’ll immerse yourself in the cowboy spirit and be left totally gobsmacked by the skill and quality of the competitors. If you’re looking for something a bit different, check out the up-and-coming cowboys and cowgirls at the 4-H Rodeo.
Then, admire those creative cowboys and cowgirls at the Western Oasis, where you’ll be able to explore the relaxed side of Western living. Think art, music, food, and wine, all in a tranquil garden setting. Yes, there is tranquillity to be found at the Stampede! Also be sure to check out the Western Art Auction, where you can get your fill of inspiring art—and a buffet— then stuff yourself with yummy barbecue favourites at the cook-off between the Calgary Police Service and Calgary Fire Department.
The Calgary Stampede
- When: Every year for 10 days in July (in 2017, the dates are July 7-16)
- Rodeo cost: Approx. $39-$312 CAD depending on your seats
- Website: http://www.calgarystampede.com/
Check out our post on 10 Things to do During the Calgary Stampede for more.
Other Alberta musts
Food: Most conversations about food in Alberta start with the beef–and for good reason. The province has close to two million more cattle than it does humans and is known for producing some of the highest quality beef on the planet. But beef is only the start of the Alberta food conversation. From a multitude of cultural influences, to a thriving agricultural industry that feeds the farm-to-table mantra of countless local restaurants, Alberta has a meal for every palate. Read our Foodie’s Guide to Alberta and learn why you might (not) want to try a prairie oyster.
Activities: On the western side of Alberta you’ll find the incredible Canadian Rockies, and that means a ton of outdoor sightseeing and adventuring. Paddle a canoe through the bright turquoise waters of Lake Moraine or Lake Louise. Go for a hike to Athabasca Falls or through Maligne Canyon. Cycle the Icefields Parkway or go rafting in Kananaskis Country. You really will never run out of outdoor activities in Alberta. For more info, have a look at our Adventurer’s Guide to the Canadian Rockies.
Other highlights: Of course, after a weekend as a cowboy, you may want to take a long, hot shower and spend some time enjoying the modern comforts of a big city. Alberta’s two biggest cities, Calgary and Edmonton, each have their own distinct style and feel. From the great festivals and events in Calgary, to Edmonton’s incredible museums and shopping, pay both cities a visit and see where you feel more at home.