When I turned seven, I carried my six-shooter cap pistol with the fake-pearl handle everywhere. All summer I swaggered down sidewalks practicing my quick-draw. Cowboys were cool. They were lonesome, strong. While they roped steer, I could lasso my sister with a skipping rope. No one could corral me.
Flash forward 30 years: a cowboy named Cindy introduces me to Moss, my sure-footed quarter horse. One leg in the stirrup, I’m up and over, stroking Moss’ wispy auburn mane and patting his neck. Cindy, our trail guide, explains our route along the Bow River up Sulphur Mountain in Banff National Park. From Saskatchewan cattle-and-grain people, Cindy’s spent her life on horseback. I’ve been in the saddle almost five minutes.
No experienced wrangler or rider, no skilled roper or herder, I’m drawn to Alberta’s True West. Stretching my arms wide across the prairie sky, I want to take it all in: the ranches and rodeos, cowboy-poets and country fairs, cattle drives and campfire cookouts. Judging from the swell of visitors to Alberta’s cowboy country, I’m not alone.
Living high on the Cowboy TrailThe mythic Old West meets real life along Alberta’s Cowboy Trail. From Cardston in southern Alberta, the scenic drive winds north along the Rocky Mountain foothills over 700 km (435 mi) to Mayerthorpe. Sure as shooting, this is cattle country. You can spot cowpokes herding in corrals, visit small-town rodeos, attend country fairs or stop by legendary historical sites and western-themed museums. Don’t miss North America’s largest selection of horse-drawn vehicles at the Remington Carriage Museum.
Once one of the world's main suppliers of purebred Percheron workhorses and home to millions of cattle, Bar U Ranch National Historic Site plunks you in the middle of rugged ranch life. Sidle up to the cookhouse, the old bunkhouse, and tour the Percheron barn as well as 30 more original buildings on this still-operating ranch.
Alberta guest and working ranchesWould-be cowboys and cowgirls can choose from 30 guest ranches and trail-ride packages in Alberta. Gallop into sunsets studded with mountain crests, towering evergreens and trickling creeks. By sundown, rest up in “bunkhouses” that range from luxury lodges to comfortable log cabins. If you holiday at a working ranch, you’ll also learn to handle a horse, rope a steer and may even join wranglers on an authentic cattle drive. Cowboy Country Vacations
Foot stompin’ stampedes and ride’ em rodeosBroncos buck and cowboys wrestle during the wildly popular Calgary Stampede, still drawing in excess of one million visitors each year. Recently, city officials broke ground on the new development of Stampede Park to create a year-round destination for visitors. You’ll also find small-town summer rodeos all across Alberta. Alberta Fairs, Exhibitions, Rodeos, Rodeo Canada
Kicking up your heels, cowboy-styleCanada’s popular singing cowboy, Ian Tyson, might be one inspiration behind the rhymin’ rough riders attending Pincher Creek’s annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Hear the best of prairie poetry and songs straight from the heart. For old-time fiddle and banjo music, and western style two-steps, hit Hillspring’s Friday and Saturday nights’ Great Canadian Barn Dance.
Big Sky RoundupBy noontime, Moss and the other quarter horses are ready to rest. Next to a clear stream, Cindy loosens up the mule’s pack, then spreads out the fixins for our steak cookout. A can of beans soon blackens on the grill. Seasoned Alberta Grade A beef sizzles and spits while we stretch out our sore legs. I sip my cowboy coffee slowly, knowing when the Spirit of the West hits, there’s no better place than Alberta to let your heart roam free.www.horseback.comwww.travelalberta.com