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Prairies to Peaks

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Prairies to Peaks

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Prairies to Peaks is a region in Central Alberta, Canada covering just over 5500 sq km, with a population of 31,000. It is made up of small towns and rural landscapes stretching from prairie plateaus in the east to foothills in the west and includes the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rocky Mountains.


There are 4 sub-regions in Prairies to Peaks (P2P).


P2P's Rocky Mountains are a remote back-country with waterfalls, inland lakes, larger white-water rivers and smaller creeks. They are divided into 2 sections: "Big Horn Back Country" and "Ghost Area". It's lower elevations support the largest herds of wild horses in Alberta as well as more common species such as Mountain Sheep, Elk, Moose, Deer, Cougars and Bears. There are no towns or villages. There is a small seasonal population of rangers, lodge and tourism service staff, oilfield workers and loggers.


P2P's foothills are traditional ranching country and moderately forested. They are a northern extension of the Kananaskis Foothills that lead to Banff and Canmore. Many of the roads through this area were placed on older established foot or horse paths, such as the historic Cowboy Trail (Hwy 22) - easily one of Alberta's most scenic roads.


Alberta's Boreal and Aspen Parkland run in north-south strips across the province. Parkland is mainly rolling green hills, pastures and large sections of mixed forest. P2P's Parkland was heavily affected by Volcanic Ash from Mount St. Helen's eruptions, creating an amazingly fertile area. Much of the original forest, however, was destroyed by fires and buffalo stampedes centuries ago. The low coulee's and high plateaus have been re-forested by area ranchers and farmers. All of the adjacent prairie towns lay on the border between the Parkland and Prairies.


Rural farms, small and medium towns lay along or near Alberta's busiest highway corridor between the cities of Calgary (south) and Red Deer (north).

The prairie towns grew up in the late 1800's around stations of the Calgary - Edmonton Railway. The first residents came as homesteaders and opened businesses around the stations to cash in on travelers passing through. The railway still runs through the center of each town and is surrounded entirely by ranches and farms, raising flowers, grains, buffalo, elk, sheep, horses, cows and chickens.

Towns, Villages and Hamlets[edit]

Sundre[1] is a resort town along the Red Deer River, established by cowboys, rangers and a Norwegian postman. In the summer its small population of 2500 is joined by a constant stream of campers, hikers, "just-out-of-college" back-packers, cowboys, golfers, art lovers and international tourists. Its commercial center is the 2nd largest in the region and it is just possible that there are more stores, coffee shops and services than residents.

Village of Cremona[2] In spite of its size, (pop 463), you simply can't miss the Village; the highway speed limit abruptly changes from 100km/h to 30km/h (going downhill with very little warning). It has a single main street, 5 or 6 shops, a gas station and THREE hotels.

Olds[3] is the largest town and the main commercial center. The Olds Uptowne & East Village are undergoing historical renovations to revert the buildings back to their original 1900's appearances. The Olds College is a living laboratory for agriculture and animal husbandry. It houses botanical gardens featuring unique prairie and parkland flora. The Town also has a new cutting edge business & technology center (1 of only 2 in western Canada), a new performing arts theatre and massive health & wellness facility.

Didsbury[4], the 2nd largest town in the region, is on a plateau peninsula, surrounded on three sides by the wide Rosebud River Valley (a seasonal stream). It's quaint, brick main street has many artisan shops and galleries. Each winter, Didsbury hosts a mushers competition - a 2 day dogsled race through the valley.

Carstairs[5] is a smaller town backing onto Alberta wetlands and a waterfowl preserve. It is surrounded with lush green hills housing horse ranches and commercial cowboy supply stores. Carstairs is home to the annual Mountain View Music Fest - a three day, town-wide music fest best described as "Woodstock with family values".

Bowden[6], the smallest town in the Prairies to Peaks Region was once a bustling boomtown, headed for city status until it's main commercial center was completely gutted by fires in the early 1900's. Today the town sits just off of highway 2 and preserves it's past with a multi-building museum that, among other things, features displays on key women in pioneer history and musical instruments of the early 1900's.

HAMLETS[7] are small service and commercial centers in rural areas.

Hamlets in the Foothills

James River is a traditional pioneer-style general store. The James River Ranger Station from early 1900's was moved to Bearberry and opened as museum, artisan shop and gallery. Bearberry Community Hall has campgrounds and can be rented for group events. Bergen is set off the highway with directional signage to "Beautiful Downtown Bergen". This "downtown" is a single building acting as a general store, ice-cream shop, post-office, museum and library. Bergen is home of the Bergen Rocks International Sculpture Symposium. Water Valley looks and feels like the wild-west from a century ago with wood-fronted shops, a saloon and roadhouse. Water Valley is well known for its summer "high end" camping and golfing and holds an annual Celtic Music and Poetry festival.

Hamlets in the Parklands & Prairies

There are three hamlets with commercial centers geared towards area visitors. Neopolis, on the east side of highway 2, has a museum with the largest private collection of Budweiser memorabilia in the world. Westward Ho is a valley hamlet east of Olds and along the Little Red Deer River. A general store serves it's year-round campground and recreational area. Eagle Hill, set on a plateau towering over the coulees below was a viewing spot for eagles. Today it houses a small co-op that carries everything from bandaids and jelly beans to fertilizer and tractor parts.

Other destinations[edit]



English is the main language of communication throughout the region. Printed materials in French are available at registry offices, post offices and government offices. In the town of Olds it is also quite common to hear Tagalog spoken on the streets, in restaurants and local businesses.

Get in[edit]

By Plane The nearest International Airport is in Calgary, a 45 minute drive from Prairies to Peaks. Calgary International Airport (IATA: YYC, ICAO: CYYC), [8]. Calgary International has four concourses (A,B,C,D) in one terminal. It is well laid out and easy to find your way around.

    • WestJet, [9]. CIA is both the home and hub for Canada's main discount airline.
    • Air Canada, [10]. The national carrier uses Calgary International as a focus city.
    • British Airways, [11]. Daily flights to London Heathrow.

In addition there are numerous American and International carriers that serve Calgary's airport. Unfortunately, getting in by air from the USA isn't easy if you live south of Calgary on the American side. In such case, the only routes in are via Seattle, Salt Lake City, Denver, and Minneapolis. There are more flights from further away (e.g. New York, Chicago, Los Angeles), but none closer.

From Europe there are non-stop flights from London, Glasgow, Manchester, Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt.

Smaller Municipal Airports are located outside of Sundre, Olds and Didsbury.

By Car A car is essential to enjoying the region. Car Rentals are available in Calgary and Red Deer.

To get to the Foothills and Mountains, take highway 1 from Calgary or Banff to Cochrane and continue north on highway 22, into the foothills. There are 3 access points to the mountains - west of Water Valley, West of Sundre and Northwest of Bearberry.

Access to Carstairs, Didsbury, Olds and Bowden is via highway 2 (QEII), north of the Calgary International Airport. It is a 40 minute drive from Calgary to Carstairs and 1.5 hours to Bowden. Exits from highway 2 are clearly marked and easily accessible.

There are several east-west crossings connecting the parkland & prairies to the foothills. The largest is highway 27, which runs from Olds to Sundre.

Maps of the Prairies to Peaks region are available at all travel information centers in Alberta and the Calgary International Airport.

By Bus Greyhound buses from Calgary and Red Deer stop in Carstairs, Didsbury, Olds and Bowden. There is currently no public transportation to Sundre or Cremona and no buses between the towns.

Get around[edit]

Taxi services are available in Carstairs, Didsbury and Olds. Limousine services are available in Olds.

See[edit][add listing]

Wild Horses Herds of wild horses inhabit the fields and slopes of the lower Rocky Mountains. Best viewing is early spring and summer.

The Bud Barn[12] The worlds largest (and only) museum collection of Budweiser Memorabilia, from the 19th Century to yesterday. The Bud Barn is a family-oriented museum on a farm with hay-rides, horses and event facilities.

Pioneer History Museums From wild-west rangers to Union Loyalists, each museum chronicles the early pioneer history of a town and it's surrounding area. Pioneer Museums are in Carstairs[13], Didsbury[14], Olds[15], Sundre[16], Bowden[17] and Innisfail[18].

Chester Mjolsness World of Wildlife Museum[19] complete ecosystem with more than 150 animal mounts from around the world, all displayed in their natural habitats.

Otter Pottery[20] Exhibit and Gallery of barrel fired pottery by Sundre Artist David Todd, who uses a primitive style firing pit and glazes made from the ash of local trees.

Bergen International Sculpture Garden[21] A forested garden displaying stone sculptures (6 to 12 feet high) created each summer by artists from around the world. Current collection represents India, Cuba, Kenya, Viet Nam (3), Thialand, Armenia, Ireland (2) and Canada.


Do[edit][add listing]


Mountain View Music Fest[22] is a 3 day annual concert, on the 2nd week of August, in Carstairs, featuring an eclectic mix of Alberta's musical talent (Country Western, Pop, Jazz and Alternative), mobile art galleries and artisan markets. It's unique atmosphere is akin to "Woodstock meets Town Fair with Family Values".

Bergen Rocks Sculpture Symposium[23] is a month long summer event (July or August) featuring world-class sculpture artists from different nations each year. The artists have 30 days to transform thousands of tons of sandstone, granite and marble into monumental artworks. Every artist creates a sculpture that represents his nation's culture. An on-site gallery features classic and modern art works from Canadian artists, including first nations artists and artisans.

Rosebud Run Sled Dog Classic[24] is a 2 day event in January or February (snow dependent). Mushers from across the continent compete with sleds and sled dogs in an obstacle-laden course in Didsbury's Rosebud Valley.

Water Valley Celtic Festival[25] is a 2 day event in May featuring Celtic music groups and poetry readings.

Summer Rodeos Rodeos and Festivals take place in the Summer throughout the region (see: [26] for details).


Solstice Berry Farm[27] U-pick Saskatoon berry farm.

Eagle Creek Flowers[28] U-pick flowers and farm fresh vegetables.

Eat[edit][add listing]

PASU FARMS is a working sheep farm with a gourmet restaurant that is known as one of the best eating establishments between Calgary and Edmonton. The restaurant is open during set meal times and holds events such as dinner theatre and themed-food nights throughout the year. Reservations are essential. [29]

Drink[edit][add listing]

Stay safe[edit]

Bears & Cougars: The Mountains and Foothills are bear country and home to the cougar - a large mountain cat. Understanding wildlife and how they interact with people is key to remaining safe. Bear Smart information is available on the Alberta Sustainable Resource Development website [30], which also recommends walking in groups of 3 or more, sealing food and removing all trash from any site you visit.

Wild Horses travel in herds dominated by a single male who can become aggressive when feeling threatened. It is advised to view these noble creatures from a distance.

Moose are very large wild animals who can cause injury by charging. They are common throughout the region and can be seen on the roadways and even walking down the center of towns or in parks.

Driving and Wildlife Deer and Moose frequently cross roads and highways, presenting dangers to drivers. If you see wildlife from any distance, near or on a road way, slow down and be prepared to stop suddenly. They are most difficult to spot at night.

Temperatures in summer range from 18C to 32C with strong sunlight. Winter temperatures range from 0C to -40C. Very low humidity makes it possible (even pleasant) to insulate yourself from the winter cold with multiple layers of warm clothing.

Hospitals are located in Sundre, Didsbury and Olds.

Get out[edit]

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