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A Cowboy Adventure in Canada’s Wild West

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Photograph by Banff Lake Louise Tourism/Paul Zizka

Canada’s western provinces have long staked their claim as premier cowboy destinations. The Albertan city of Calgary draws tens of thousands of people each summer to its legendary Stampede for two-stepping and beer-chugging galore. But the crowds are big and hotels book up fast—and sometimes a quieter retreat beckons. Travel west in Alberta and into British Columbia and you’ll find unexpected pockets of rustic food and rodeo charm.

Whether it’s a week-long adventure or a weekend getaway, these charming locales will transport you back in time to Canada’s Wild, Wild West.

Jasper, Alberta

Photograph by Parks Canada/Ryan Bray

The stunning snow-capped Rockies and pristine lakes bordering Jasper are no doubt its main draws. But this beautiful alpine town—considered Banff’s quainter and more relaxed neighbour—also boasts plenty of cowboy fun. Since 1926, the town has hosted the annual Jasper Heritage Rodeo. This year’s event runs for four days in August and features seven professional events each night, including bareback, steer wrestling, and bull riding. During the day, explore the forest, river, and lakeside trails on a guided horseback tour at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. Stretch out your legs after with a leisurely stroll in town and peruse the charming galleries and gift shops. To recharge for the rodeo festivities, take a seat at Karouzos Steakhouse and try their aged Alberta beef prime rib roast served with onions, mushrooms, and a red wine sauce, or take on their flame-broiled chicken with homemade BBQ sauce.

Cochrane, Alberta

Photograph by davebloggs007

Just a skip away from Calgary, Cochrane is home to the Historic Cochrane Ranche Site, the location of Alberta’s first large-scale livestock operation, which opened in 1881. Start your getaway with a visit to the farmers’ market at the ranch’s Historic Westerson Cabin, which also features free cultural and heritage demonstrations by local artists, crafters and story tellers. The town has plenty of year-round attractions, but the summer fun ramps up every August with the roll out of the Cochrane Fair. A rowdy evening awaits as the world’s top bull riders face off in the annual Cochrane Bull Riding Classic, which happens concurrently with the Fair. After cheering the winner, you can ten-step polka to the Blake Reid Band as the outdoor arena turns into a dance floor. If you need a break, visit one of the food trucks on site or check out the family-friendly beer gardens.

Barkerville, British Columbia

Photograph by Thomas Drasdauskis

The historic town of Barkerville was once the epicenter of the Cariboo Gold Rush in British Columbia—and that legacy still lives on today. The town, which draws more than 50,000 visitors each year, remains perfectly preserved, with 107 heritage buildings and 200,000 collection items. Learn more about its sprawling history with a guided tour from a historical interpreter, or by hopping aboard an authentic stagecoach. You can refuel at the charming Wake-Up Jake Restaurant with a hearty miners’ breakfast. The town’s cowboy frenzy peaks in September the annual Barkerville Cowboy and Drover Jubilee, which features a bevy of musical performances and even cowboy poetry.

Merritt, British Columbia

Photograph by Rockin’ River Music Fest

Nestled in British Columbia’s south-central interior is Canada’s version of Nashville, Tennessee. The city of Merritt has hosted some of the biggest country stars at its annual music festival. And a fair share of them have left their mark permanently on the Merritt Walk of Stars with their handprints immortalized in concrete stars. Scope out the street to find the bronze displays for national icons like Gordon Lightfoot and Buffy Sainte-Marie. The annual Rockin’ River Music Fest—which runs in early August—boasts equally big headliners, with former acts such as Aaron Pritchett, Toby Keith, Willie Nelson and Family, and Kacey Musgraves. Take a breather from the festival with a trip east of Merritt to Douglas Lake Ranch, Canada’s largest working cattle ranch. Hardcore fly fishing enthusiasts will get a kick out of nearby Stoney and Minnie Lakes, whose rainbow trout are notorious for waging a fight.

Canada’s rich cowboy culture lives on in the region’s rodeos, historic towns, and country music festivals, giving visitors a glimpse into what life was (and still is) like for folks in the Pacific Northwest. Next time you’re itching to explore something off the beaten path—and yet strangely familiar—saddle up and head north.

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