Unforgettable Road Trips Through Western Canada

As travellers, we may marvel at big cities, but what about the small towns we pass along the way? Don't miss this tribute to the plains, trains and back lanes less-travelled.

Road trips! We love them. We’ve always loved them. Sometimes the road trip is a day trip, sometimes a multi-week trip and sometimes it’s a ride on a bus where we both enjoy staring out the window.

For much of my working career, I was able to extend my vacation allotment with banked overtime. My husband, John, a self-employed cabinet maker, matched his vacation time to mine. Some years we travelled from Toronto only as far west as Banff. Other years, the extra weeks of vacation time took us to Vancouver Island, where we spent as many days as we could in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve before heading back home. For flatlanders by birth, the Rocky Mountains and the natural beauty of the old-growth forests were a huge draw. It’s no surprise that we eventually retired to the West Coast.

Freight Trains in Field, B.C.Catherine Sands-Unruh
Old trains in the small hamlet of Field, B.C.

Setting Our Own Pace

We currently live on Vancouver Island, surrounded by the ocean and an abundance of tall trees. As appealing as that was so many years ago, we find ourselves now yearning for the open plains and Prairies. On our vacations from work, we never felt that we had the time to stop and smell the proverbial roses. Now, the distances we travel are no longer so great and we stop to read the historical markers and visit attractions along the way. We stay at municipal campgrounds that are always so well-cared for and near to the town centres. During the day, we ride our bicycles to see and photograph the uniqueness of each city or town. Our focus for the last several years has been to explore the places we somewhat neglected in our single-mindedness to reach Banff and the coast. Places in British Columbia like Field, a town that was set up for the railway workers, and is not only a busy train route, but also boasts beautiful scenery and heritage buildings.

Discover more hidden gems in B.C.

Biking at Little Bow Provincial Park, AlbertaCatherine Sands-Unruh
Cathy enjoying the view from Little Bow Provincial Park, Alberta.

Exploring Alberta

Alberta is so much more than Banff and ranch land. Little Bow Provincial Park is a wonderful spot to get out on bikes and view the Prairie landscape and expressive skies. Granum’s town buildings, residential streets and back lanes provide abundant photo ops.

A bike ride into Milk River offers a respite in the community garden that came to be because of the efforts of a few people who gained permission to use a vacant lot.

Check out more great bike trails across Canada.

Bassano Dam AlbertaCatherine Sands-Unruh
The historic Bassano Dam located in Bassano, Alberta.

One of the most unusual stops we made in Alberta was at the Torrington Gopher Hole Museum. The dioramas containing stuffed Richardson’s ground squirrels were a bit off-putting at first but we soon forgot our initial discomfort and enjoyed the humour. Sometimes, chance sent us to places we wouldn’t have thought of visiting—like Bassano, Alberta, the best town by a dam site. My sister unknowingly instigated that trip 40 years ahead of time. She gave us a souvenir tray that she’d bought at a garage sale simply because the photo on the tray included a VW Beetle that was parked at the dam.

Here are 10 unusual museums worth visiting.

Road Trips Western Canada - Canola FieldsCatherine Sands-Unruh
A gorgeous canola field in southwest Saskatchewan.

Striking Prairie Landscapes

A photographer at a Banff farmers’ market prompted our visit to Flaxcombe, Saskatchewan, sharing the location of the grain elevator photo we were admiring. Photographing these disappearing silent sentinels is a favourite subject of mine.

Don’t miss this gorgeous gallery of grain elevator photography.

Road Trips Western Canada - Inglis Grain ElevatorsCatherine Sands-Unruh
The Inglis Elevators National Historic Site in Inglis, Manitoba.

In Inglis, Manitoba, the heritage society is working to preserve five grain elevators that have been designated as National Historic sites. There are so many communities across this land where residents are working hard to preserve the history of the area. It is inspiring.

Road Trips Western Canada - Camping Dinosaur Provincial ParkCatherine Sands-Unruh
Camping in Alberta’s Dinosaur Provincial Park.

At night, the haunting whistle of the frequent freight trains wake us from a deep sleep. The screeching, squealing and rattling of railcars as they travel across the vast landscape might annoy some weary travellers but to us it is a comforting sound that is reminiscent of our youth. There is something engaging, perhaps even romantic, about the continuous travel of people and freight trains moving across this country.

Prairie LandscapeCatherine Sands-Unruh
A shot taken near Pincher Creek, Alberta.

There is true beauty and uniqueness in Canada. We’ve experienced that firsthand in every province and territory we’ve visited. We are hopeful that we will not only travel across to Newfoundland and Labrador again, but also be fortunate enough to visit Nunavut for the first time someday—in the meantime, the Prairies are calling.

Check out more fantastic photos of the Canadian prairies that’ll have you packing your bags.

Originally Published in Our Canada