Alberta’s David Thompson Trail
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  Posted July 14th, 2017 by Zdenko  in Edmonton, Travel | 2 comments

Travel Alberta

Source: WestWorld, By: Lucas Aykroyd

A road trip through Alberta’s David Thompson Trail.
Southern Alberta’s east-west Hwy. 11 takes its nickname from legen-dary English cartographer and fur trader David Thompson (1770-1857), who surveyed nearly four million square kilometers of North America for the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company. Today’s voyageurs-by-car will discover vintage trains, trading posts and trail rides along this more laid-back alternative to the Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy. 1).

Abraham Lake, a man-made body of water that runs along the David Thompson Trail between the Saskatchewan River and Nordegg

Leg One: Stettler to Big Valley and Back, Via the Alberta Prairie Railway (Approx. 70 km)
The trail begins in Stettler, a down-home, compact agriculture and oil-services centre a three-hour drive northeast of Calgary. First, ride the rails with Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions (1-800-282-3994; APRE). Vintage railway cars fitted out with wood paneling and brass lamps chug south along a century-old line to the village of Big Valley. Escape a “train robbery” with horseback-riding actors, shop for pumpkin fudge and oil paintings and devour a community-hall roast beef dinner. It’s about six hours round-trip.

A roadtrip through Alberta’s David Thompson Trail

Good eats and sleeps: Stettler’s Phoenix B&B (403-742-3602), in a 1916 home restored by owners Dave and Barb Goodwin, serves up blueberry pancakes and award-winning gardens.

Leg Two: Stettler to Rocky Mountain House (Approx. 180 km)
Before forging westward, potter around the Stettler Town and Country Museum (403-742-4534). With 26 historic buildings, including a courthouse, school and church, the eclectic collection features two Model T Ford cars, a huge 1905 spinning wheel and Estonian immigrant artifacts. Then drive 20 km west on Hwy. 12 and turn left on Hwy. 11. Another 55 km through gently rolling farmland leads into Red Deer, where aspen trees flourish by the Red Deer River. Equidistant between Edmonton and Calgary, the city offers respite at Waskasoo Park (Waskasoo), an outdoor playground with more than 80 km of trails, fishing, a bird sanctuary and log-walled Fort Normandeau.

Typical scenery driving through the prairies

Alberta acreages and farms

From downtown, head to the west end of 43 Street, which becomes Cronquist Drive, and check out the park’s Heritage Ranch (403-347-4977; Heritage Ranch).

Looking to emulate David Thompson and his wife Charlotte, who had 13 children together? Modern couples can spark romance with a horse-drawn carriage ride along a forested road.

Follow the signs back to Hwy. 11 and continue 85 km west through a carpet of farmland and forest to the town of Rocky Mountain House, which was originally established in 1799 as a fur-trading post.

Life on Alberta ranch

Squeeze in a day-ending visit to the Rocky Museum (403- 845-2332; Rocky Museum) at the town’s visitor centre. It’s easy to spot across the highway, thanks to its forestry lookout tower. Highlights include counterfeit money plates, logging exhibits and a working 1916 player piano that rocks everything from the Beatles to “Blue Danube.” Also, learn the story of the Trail Blazers, a group of Rocky Mountain House men who forded streams, chopped down trees and hauled their cars up a 305-metre-tall ridge in the 1930s and 1940s (to refute the Alberta government’s assertion that the terrain was impassable) while lobbying to extend Hwy. 11 west to Nordegg.

Good eats: Grab a steak, or mix it up with teriyaki salmon and yam fries, at Grillers (403-844-4430).

Good sleeps: Just south of town, serene isolation reigns at the Prairie Creek Inn (403-844-2672; Prairie Creek Inn), where sumptuous lodgings on 60 hectares reflect themes from fishing to western Canadian history.

Ice fields Parkway

David Thompson Highway near Rocky Mountain House

Leg Three: Rocky Mountain House to Saskatchewan River Crossing (Approx. 260 km)
Take a quick morning stroll along Main Street’s Walk of History, where titled plaques commemorate Thompson’s anti-alcohol attitude (“Evil Spirits”) and his wife’s willingness to travel 25,000 km with him (“Unsung Heroine”), among other historic episodes and events.

Next, turn left on 52 Avenue/Hwy. 11A and drive to Range Road 75, continuing to Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site (403-845-2412). At the visitor centre, watch a film on the archaeological remains of four fur trading posts, handle beaver and fox pelts and admire a native horse headstall made with dyed porcupine quills. Outside, a play fort beckons kids and adults with miniature gardens and a puppet theatre. Impassive bison roam near a Métis camp with a traditional Red River cart (a two-wheeled wooden cart used to transport furs and other goods of the time). Birds and mushrooms flourish on trails by the North Saskatchewan River.

A mock train robbery on an Alberta Prairie Railway for tourists

Questing onward, like Thompson himself, return to Hwy. 11A. Head 2 km west before turning right to rejoin Hwy. 11 after 4.5 km. It’s another 80 km west to Nordegg, a former coal mining town in the rugged foothills of the Rockies. Meet up here with Bear Baker, owner of Wildhorse Mountain Ranch (403-729-2910;Wild Horse Camp), for horseback riding on wagon and game trails. Trotting through aspen clearings dotted with native prayer cloths and abandoned sweat lodges, this authentic backwoodsman spins tales of Sasquatch sightings and the Western outfitter lifestyle. Time permitting, detour to the stupendously deep Bighorn Canyon with its sandstone walls and gushing green river.

Grain elevators in Alberta

The final 92-km stretch of the trip is pure, single-lane solitude amid snowcapped peaks. Continue west on Hwy. 11, curling majestically around the glacial blue waters of man-made Abraham Lake, beneath 2,545- metre-tall Mount Michener. For a bird’s-eye perspective, try Icefields Helicopter Tours (888-844-3514; Helicopter Tours) at adjacent Cline River. The Kootenay Plains ecological reserve, with 76 species of birds and 49 types of mammals, is a worthwhile stop, long sacred to natives. When you reach Saskatchewan River Crossing and Hwy. 93, pick your Banff National Park pleasure: north to Jasper or south to Lake Louise and Banff.

Just a barn in the prairies

David Thompson Trail – Rocky Mountain House, Central Alberta Region
David Thompson Trail is a is an educational interpretive walking trail located on the shores of the North Saskatchewan River at the Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site in the community of Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, Canada.

The 3.2 kilometre loop trail explores the life of David Thompson and the history of the first two forts (oldest forts) which once stood on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River during the fur trade of the 1800s.

The David Thompson Trail visits the original site of the North West Company fort which was named Rocky Mountain House and the site of the Hudson Bay Company fort which was named Acton House. Both forts were constructed in and around the year of 1799.

David Thompson Trail canoe

The forts were the base camp for the explorer David Thompson between 1807 and 1811. During these years David Thompson explored much of the the western interior of Canada. His exploration of the Howse and Athabasca Passes helped with the expansion of the fur trade into the Columbia River region.

However, in 1821 the fur trade industry was slowing down and the forts merged to become one and kept the name Rocky Mountain House. The forts continued to operate as fur trading posts into the late 1800s.

The David Thompson Trail is an easy going loop pathway exploring the times of the fort and the life of David Thompson. The loop route consists of an upper level path and a lower level path.

Rockie Mountains Alberta

The lower level path follows the banks of the North Saskatchewan River and visits with a First Nation tipi village. The dirt path is narrow, includes stairs and explores the forest providing views of the river.


The upper level path is similar to an access road in width. It is very level and leads to a bison lookout tower, a canoe exhibit with audio billboards, a play fort, some picnic tables and a fort construction exhibit. Located along the trail are information boards and more audio exhibits.

The David Thompson trail eventually connects to the Chimney Trail near the parking lot and the Visitor Centre.

Tourist Train going through the Rockie Mountains

How to Get to the David Thompson Trail:
Travel to Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, Canada. From downtown Rocky Mountain House on main street (52 Avenue) travel west connecting to Highway 11a and the North Saskatchewan River Bridge. Continue on Highway 11a for 6 kilometres to the entrance of the Rocky Mountain Historic Site. From the parking lot walk towards the river and the Chimney and David Thompson Trails.

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2 comments to “Alberta’s David Thompson Trail”

  1. Comment by Leilla:

    whoah, this weblog is magnificent i really like reading your articles. Keep up the good work! You realize, a lot of individuals are hunting round for this info, you
    could help them greatly. Must visit Alberta one day!!

  2. Comment by Ashley:

    Thanks for suggesting the Icefields helicopter tours; I didn’t know they provide this service so now I’ll book them online to make sure I find some available hours. In Banff it’s practically impossible to get a bad picture but if you capture your photos from above you get incredible views. Do you know if they provide discounts if we book a 5-person ride?

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