Driving the Cowboy Trail

After a rain day at the Delta Lodge at Kananaskis, I continue my journey across Alberta.  Today I’m heading south, and to parts of the province I’m really excited to explore.  Well I’ve visited places like Banff, Jasper, and Canmore hundreds of times, I can’t remember the last time I drove down the Cowboy trail to Southern Alberta.  And to be quite honest, I’m fairly sure that I’ve ever been to my end destination for today: Waterton National Park.

Cowboy, Alberta

The cowboy trail is about as iconic as anywhere in Alberta gets, though the road gets very little traffic.  Highway 40 runs along the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and offers some of the most classic Alberta views anywhere in the province.  This time of year it’s hay bales and mountains.

Cowboy Trail, mountains and hay bales

Though the highway towards Southern Alberta offers scenes nearly all Albertans are familiar with, even the locals don’t often stroll too far down this road.  The drive is peaceful, and I coast along a couple kilometers under the speed limit taking it all in.  With each bend of the road I stumble a view, pull over to the side of the road and shoot it.  However, each turn I take offers another view even more stunning.  It’ll take me all day to photograph it all, so I push on through the towns that dot the highway.

Cowboy Trail, tractor

I stop in the town of Longview for some classic beef jerky, a staple on just about every Albertan’s junk food shopping list.  It’s not easy to feel like I have this part of Alberta to myself, because as a tourist, I do.  Well places like Banff and Lake Louise crawl with camera weilding foreigners, the locals here all give me a bit of strange look as I pull my Nokia Smartphone from my pocket and shoot a photo of the giant cowboy on main street.

Longview beef jerky

Southern Alberta has always been a favourite of mine, and I’m reminded why as I continue south along the cowboy trail.  Life seems so easy down here, so calm.  The weather, however, well generally sunny is never calm.  As I turn off the cowboy trail towards the city of Pincher Creek heavy winds push and pull my vehicle all over the road.  Dozens of giant white windmills turns quickly, but almost seem to be moving in slow motion.

Cowboy Trail, windmills

I stop in Pincher Creek at Tim Horton’s for a quick coffee and about 20 timbits more than I should be eating.  Today feels like such an iconic Alberta day.  It’s funny though, how tourists see just a sliver of the province.  They see places like Lake Louise and Moraine Lake as our iconic images, when in reality it’s more likely beef jerky, Tim Horton’s, and fields of hay.  But I suppose well tourists might only see a sliver of the province, even us locals rarely see the region.

The road down towards Waterton twists as it enters the mountains.  Imposing clouds have begun to form on the slopes, and the massive lake appears in front of me with a road outlining the scene.  It all look surreal, like I’m staring out at a model train set.

Waterton National Park

I dump my suitcase down on the floor of my room at Waterton Lakes Resort and look out at the rain now pouring down on town.  As much as I’ve explored this beautiful province, and as much as today has felt so familiar, I love that I can end my day here in some town I’ve never been, enjoying a view I’ve never seen before.  It goes to show something that the road has always taught me, no matter how close to home, there are always new things and places to discover.


Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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4 Comments

  1. Wow, this looks so cool! It reminds me of the landscape in Wyoming.

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  2. Yeah, true! There are always places to discover even when you think we have seen it all! Nice pictures!

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  3. Some great photos really showing the beauty of Alberta, Canada does look an amazing place I really need to get out there! I was not aware Cowboys where quite so engrained in the region either, interesting to find out!

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    • Hey Alex, this is definitely cowboy country. Much like Montana just to the south, it’s all ranches and farms out in this part of Canada. Cowboy culture isn’t really “bragged” about by the people, but they certainly fit the bill.

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