Queen Elizabeth II Highway – Calgary to Edmonton

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Chuck Wagon Racing – Westerner Days, Red Deer
Photo: Travel Alberta

Author: Bob Kenyon

Between Alberta’s two, large booming cities of Calgary and its capital, to the north Edmonton, runs the Queen Elizabeth II highway (QEII) and many opportunities for exploring and trekking.

The areas west of the southern part of the highway, heading north from Calgary are comprised mainly of farms, ranches, towns (Airdrie, Crossfield, Carstairs, Didsbury). Going west leads to the Alberta foothills, leading up to Canadian Rocky Mountains. This area offers amazing sightseeing, fishing, and waterfalls. Take Hwy. 27 west, from Olds to Sundre, which also connects to the Cowboy Trail (Hwy. 22) a scenic north/south drive along the foothills, into ranching country and spectacular views of the distant mountains.

The first side trip, going north from Calgary on the QEII, which was formerly known as the Calgary/Edmonton Trail (Depending on which destination you were headed for), would have to be east (via Hwy. 72 & 9) to Drumheller, where you can take in the badlands, abandoned coal mines, ghost towns and, of course, The Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology. Give yourself at least the better half of a day, to see this world acclaimed museum…It’s worth, just for the Tyrannosaurus Rex itself!

The next area along the QEII will be at Innisfail with the RCMP Police Dog Service Training Centre visible east of the highway, where during the summer months (Wednesday at 2:00 p.m.) visitors can watch a public demonstration. Other attractions in the area of Innisfail are the Innisfail and District Historical Village remnants of Alberta’s Icelandic heritage with the Markerville Creamery and the restored house of the famous Icelandic-Canadian poet, Stephen G. Stephansson.

Innisfail is also home to the Discovery Wildlife Park, which in addition to exotic animals the park serves as a sanctuary to orphaned animals native to Alberta by taking animals from Alberta Fish and Wildlife. They have bottle-fed, doctored and cared for numerous species, including bears, elk, moose, deer, beaver, badger, skunk, coyote, cougars and wolves. The animals have either remained at DWP or have been placed in other institutions that have been able to provide quality facilities for them.

Also near Innisfail, at Spruce View culturally and historically interested travelers, can visit the Danish Canadian Museum. The museum has Viking Days battle reenactments, during August. As well the museum has excellent exhibits and traditional food, in their dining room.

Cowboy and rodeo enthusiasts will find the Daines Rodeo Ranch interesting. It’s the site of the annual mid-June Innisfail Pro Rodeo, the Mothers Day Bucking Horse Sale, and the August long weekend Ivan Daines Country Music Picknic (the correct spelling). From late spring to early fall, you can also find other rodeos along the QEII, as well as throughout western Canada.

Going east from Innisfail on Hwy. 590 will take you to an aboriginal buffalo jump at Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park.

Kerrywoods Sanctuary

Displays, Kerrywood Nature Centre, Waskasoo Park, Red Deer
Photo: Travel Alberta

Further north on the QEII takes you to Red Deer, central Alberta’s small, but expanding city, with Waskasoo Park which contains the Kerry Woods Nature Centre, Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary, and the re-created Ft. Normandeau.

On the south end of Red Deer in the Westerner Park that hosts the Westerner Days Fair & Exposition and also their Centrium is the home of the Red Deer Rebels Hockey Team, for winter entertainment. Also, just north of the service area of the highway (appropriately called “Gasoline Alley), is the the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame Museum.

Going north from Red Deer and taking the David Thompson Highway (Hwy 11), west is probably the least known, but most scenic route into the Canadian Rockies, joining the Banff to Jasper by the Ice Fields Parkway (Hwy 93), at Saskatchewan Crossing. Travelers can also take this route to central Alberta’s lakeside resort town of Sylvan Lake.

East of Red Deer on Hwy 11 for 101 km. will take you to the town of Stettler, the home of Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions, where steam locomotive enthusiast can travel from Stettler to Big Valley, the divisional point for the Canadian Northern Railway in the early 1900s. Along the line they may experience train robbers and featured attractions at Big Valley include restored railway station, roundhouse interpretive centre, St. Edmund’s Church and Jimmy Jock Boardwalk.

meeting creek railway station grain elevators

Meeting Creek Railway Station Museum and Grain Elevators
Photo: Bob Kenyon

In addition to the railway excursion, at Stettler; railway enthusiasts will find a treasure trove of similar museums in central Alberta. There are museums, restored locomotives and railway cars in Big ValleyCamrose, EdmontonForestburg, HannaMeeting Creek and Wetaskiwin (click on the links to go to the railway sites).

Ellis Bird Farm

Ellis Bird Farm
Photo: Bob Kenyon

Continuing North on the QEII will take you into the Alberta Heartland and an abundance of locations to tour, lakes, campgrounds and agri-tourism with a mixture of grain, corn, mixed, dairy, poultry and even bison, alpaca and elk ranches. For bird watchers the Ellis Bird Farm, southeast of Lacombe.

For a more leisurely drive north, many travelers and cyclist go east to the older, original Calgary/Edmonton Trail. It’s a two-lane highway (2A) that wanders through the farmland and communities of Lacombe, Ponoka, Maskwakis, Wetaskiwin, Morningside, Millet and Leduc.

Fort Ethier Blockhouse

Fort Ethier Blockhouse
Photo:  FortWiki.com

The stretch of Hwy. 2A, east of the QEII, from Red Deer to Wetaskiwin has remains, recreations and museums related to three small forts, built during the 1885 North-West Rebellion. The area was without incident, but as a precaution, Fort Normandeau (Red Deer), Fort Ostell (Ponoka) and Fort Ethier (north of Wetaskiwin) were constructed.

Lacombe Flat Iron Building

Lacombe Flat Iron Building
Photo: Travel Alberta

Those that enjoy early western prairie architecture, will want to give themselves time to visit Lacombe, which has some of the best preserved early 20th century georgian buildings in the centre of town. This city is one of the best examples of restoration under Alberta’s Main Street program. Step back in time and take time to visit this town!

Each fall there are several corn mazes, near the QEII Hwy, where visitors can find their way through a labyrinth cut into a cornfield. Each year the maze is also visible, from the air as a different image.

For those seeking a western experience, with a bit of a twist, they may want to check-out the annual Tees Longears Days – Mule and Donkey Show. This event, sponsored by the Alberta Donkey & Mule Club, is held every August at the Tees Rodeo Grounds, 25 Km east of Lacombe on Hwy. 12.

Further east, if you want to see the restored main street of  a farm town, be sure to take in Bashaw. You can also continue north on the QEII and go east, from Wetaskiwin on Hwy 13 to see the restored downtown of Camrose. If geology is your hobby, stop along the way to Camrose at the deep valley at Gwynn. This was the point where the prehistoric “Lake Edmonton” poured out onto the prairie. If you’re a bird watcher, this reservoir, know as Coal Lake offers excellent sightings!

The next town north is Ponoka, well worth a visit for their annual Ponoka Stampede, Alberta’s 6th largest rodeo. Book your accommodations and tickets early for this rodeo, that happens the nearest weekend to July 1st (Canada Day). 2016 will be the 80th anniversary of this event, with the “Mile Long Parade on opening day as well bronco and bull riding, rodeo clowns, chuck wagon races, country music and, of course cowboys and cowgirls!

If you want to know about the history of Alberta’s cars, trucks, airplanes, farm equipment and pretty well everything else mechanized; go to the Reynolds-Alberta Museum in Wetaskiwin.

Maskwacis (trans: BEAR HILLS), east of the QEII, on Hwy 2A is the centre of four First Nations bands Ermineskin Cree, Louis Bull Tribe, Montana Samson Cree nation.

On to the city of Leduc, where you can enjoy its intricate 35 km walkway, great downtown (for poking around) or beautiful city centre lake. Leduc is a neighbour to the industrial centre of Alberta’s oil industry, Nisku and home to the newly expanded Edmonton International Airport (YEG).

Edmonton International AirportEdmonton International Airport
Photo: EIA

The Edmonton International Airport is a natural to arrive at should you wish to explore Canada’s north, northern pats of Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and (of course) Jasper!

From Leduc, travelers can carry on into Edmonton, explore the agritourism in the area, head west, via Devon to the University of Alberta Devonian Gardens, the Clifford Lee Bird Sanctuary, the Enoch Cree Nation, or take HWY 16 west to Hinton and Jasper.

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