alberta, canada Iron HorSe TraIL
The sinking sun casts a lavender glow on the surrounding snow
banks and the only path on the prairie is the Iron Horse Trail.
You’ve ducked between hillsides, coasted over open fields,
trekked across trestles and skittered along a frozen river. The
temperature—bracing at 0° C—dips with every passing min-
ute. There’s nothing left to do but turn into a local pub for
whatever best warms your heart and hands, and recount your
day on this cool Canadian rail-trail.
Snowy serenity on the Iron
Horse Trail between the towns
of Smoky Lake and Vilna.
rails to trails u winter.08 23
Beyond the “southern” reaches of Calgary’s Also expect to share the Iron Horse with
Rockies, further northeast still from the pedestrians, bicyclists, equestrians, cross-
capital of Edmonton, lies a rail-trail that country skiers, snowmobiles and ATVs.
embodies everything wild and beautiful On this last count, it should be noted that
about Alberta, Canada’s snowy plains. the Iron Horse’s origins began with off-
Stretching 278 kilometers (172 miles) road vehicle use and, indeed, in the winter
through the province’s Lakeland region, months snowmobiling is a popular pastime appreciate the preservation of the Iron
linking more than a dozen modest-to- and transportation option. But those same Horse’s railroading past than its trestles.
tiny towns, and showcasing a fantastically trail users are voicing a heartening and ear- A 200-meter span in Bellis and another
impressive trestle, the Iron Horse Trail is nest desire—enhancing and nurturing non- 500-meter crossing in Bonnyville are
the answer to anyone seeking a remote, motorized use. The Riverland Recreational treat enough. But the stunner is the one-
winter wonderland. Trail Society, the trail’s managing entity, is kilometer (1,485 feet) Beaver River Trestle
With the“Y”-shaped trail, you can kick developing creative packages for bicyclists just outside Cold Lake that soars 195 feet
off a ride from one of its three endpoints— and other non-motorized users, and work- above the valley floor. Trekking down to
Waskatenau, Cold Lake and Heinsburg— ing to improve trail conditions where the the frozen riverbed to stand in the shadow
and certainly enjoy an epic, all-out ride. path is overly sandy or rough. Their wish: of the trestle is nearly as awe-inspiring as
But for those look- surveying the land from its deck. And
ing for shorter hops, until the trail opened in 2004, lifelong
start your trip in any residents had no idea it existed.
of the friendly towns This is the magic of the Iron Horse
along the trail. Each Trail. Along its length, it offers seemingly
community has its endless gems. But the treasure you take
own unique flair away is the giddy knowledge that now
compliments of you’re in on the secret of the Iron Horse
the region’s mix of Trail, too. Pass it along.
and First Nations.
attractions also add
in Alberta’s pump-
kin capital of Smoky Until the Iron Horse Trail was built, life-long
Lake, keep your eyes residents were unaware of the glory in their
peeled for some enor- midst, the one-kilometer long Beaver river
Trestle which, when viewed from the frozen
mous gourds; watch
riverbed below (right) is a massive amenity
for gigantic mush- to have stayed hidden so long. (above)
rooms in Vilna; and Snowmobiling trail users pause at one of
wonder at St. Paul’s the many trailhead comfort stations, found
“World’s First UFO in nearly every city along the trail.
Still, these arresting sites don’t eclipse for all users to revel in what the Iron Horse
the Iron Horse. Vistas along the trail range has to offer.
from vast, unending prairie on the west- Among the manmade offerings are vari-
ern end broken only by fence lines and ous staging areas at most of the town trail-
the errant moose, to sloping hills cut by heads. Many feature original train stations
creeks and lake-dotted valleys on the east- and restored rail cars from the corridor’s
ern side. The landscape of boreal forest and time as a Canadian National Rail line.
grassland is home to a wealth of wildlife Heinsburg boasts a fully restored, wood-
including elk, beaver, bears, coyotes, the en water tower that’s not to be missed.
aforementioned moose, and even wolves. However, nothing can make you better
24 rails to trails u winter.08
Seen at left, the trail town of St. Paul boasts the
World’s First UFo Landing Pad. (right) a restored
railcar in Smoky Lake; snowmobilers are knee-deep in
snow beside a beaver dam on the Iron Horse Trail.
0 10 20 30 40
0 5 10 15 20 25
Trans Canadian Cold Lake
Snowmobile Trail Provincial Park
M a r ie
Total trail length
278 kilometres Cold Lake
Trail surface: 866 trestle
gravel or snow iv e r 892 55
S A S K A T C
B ea ve r R
Town, with 36
831 Glendon 660 897
trailhead and parking Garner Lake
63 Provincial Park Mallaig
Lake Mann Moose
Smok y Smoky
A L B E R T A
Lake Ashmont 28A
Trans-Canada Lake Provincial Park
16 Highway Waskatenau Spedden
28 Warspite 857 Cache Lake
Map for reference only. St. Paul
Not to be used for
E W A N
Saskatchew 652 Elk Fr o g
L ak e
36 Therien Point
38 45 Whitney
28 28A 637
getting there: Due to its rather remote location, pumpkin Fair in Smoky Lake in October, the
a visit to the iron Horse Trail is something of a pyrogy Festival in Glendon in September, and
journey in and of itself. Happily, it’s well worth it. Buck of the Year in December. Visit www.
Begin in edmonton, either flying into edmonton albertaslakeland.com for a community events
international airport (www.edmontonairports. calendar and more information.
com) or enjoying canada’s superlative rail travel
(www.viarail.ca). From there, the trail’s “mile rentaLS: Snowmobile rentals are available in
Zero” point at albilene Junction (near ashmont) is St. paul from power merchants (780.645.4499).
approximately 113 miles away via Highway 28. at Bicycle rentals in the area are still in development
pHOTOS: JenniFer kaLeBa/rTc, map: DanieLLe markS
the junction, the trail offers three branches: 57 so it’s best to transport your own or rent from
miles to Waskatenau, 60 miles to cold Lake, and vendors in edmonton.
54 miles to Heinsburg.
For More inForMation: For more on the iron
what to do: Town spirit along the iron Horse Horse Trail visit www.ironhorsetrails.ca or call
With a well-represented Trail doesn’t stop at pumpkin sculptures and UFO 877.645.4521. alberta’s Lakeland (www.albertas
Ukrainian population, the landing pads. celebrations of the region’s history, lakeland.com) provides tourism information,
town of Glendon offers agriculture and people abound. events include travel guides and maps for the region. For more
trail users a Paul Bunyan the pro rodeo in Bonnyville in may, Haying in the pictures of the iron Horse Trail, visit www.railsto
portion of a traditional 30s in mallaig in august, the Great White north trails.org/magazine.
treat: the pyrogy.
rails to trails u winter.08 25