THE COWBOY TRAIL AND CROWSNEST PASS
Drive time: about 3.5 hours
Visitors preferring a scenic route to Fernie from Calgary will certainly enjoy the trip along Alberta’s famed Cowboy Trail (Hwy 22) to the Crowsnest Highway (Hwy 3).
The Cowboy Trail route will take you along the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, through beautiful rolling grasslands. This area is rich in its wide array of wildlife and biodiversity; herds of buffalo roamed freely here centuries ago when the First Nations peoples first migrated to the area.
In the 19th century, the region was settled by ranching families who began the rich history of cattle farming, an occupation that remains an important part of the local economy. As you drive along the Cowboy Trail, you may catch a glimpse of modern day cowboys at work along the highway.
The charming historic towns along this part of the Cowboy Trail — Black Diamond and Longview — provide a window into the culture of the Old West, with the pioneer spirit evident in their art, history and food.
Please note that Highway #22 is not a major highway, although it is well traveled. In poor winter weather conditions, this highway can be treacherous; Highway #2 is recommended over Highway #22 during adverse conditions. So, if the weather is good, take this slightly shorter scenic route otherwise, follow the “Poor Weather Route” (see below).
Take Highway #2 south out of Calgary and make your way to Highway #22, via the town of Black Diamond. There are two routes to Black Diamond, both of which take the same length of time:
1. From Highway #2, turn west on Highway #22a immediately upon leaving the city. Turn south on Highway #22. Careful: signs are small and easy to miss. If you hit Priddis, you have gone too far.
2. Remain on Highway #2 and turn west on Highway #7, which ends in the town of Black Diamond. Turn south on Highway #22.
From Longview, you will wind through beautiful aspen covered foothills. The Rocky Mountains will be off in the distance to your right (west). This stretch of road is prone to wind gusts and is frequented by deer and elk. Drive with caution. You’ll pass through rolling grasslands and scenic farmland.
After about an hour of driving, you will come to the Crowsnest Highway, also known as Highway #3. Turn right (west). You are now entering the community of the Crowsnest Pass, one rich in history. Small towns dot the Crowsest Highway, many of which were formed at the turn of the century after coal was discovered in the region.
While still in Alberta, you will pass the incredible Frank Slide. On April 29, 1903, 30 million cubic meters (82 million tonnes) of limestone fell from Turtle Mountain and covered part of the town of Frank in just 90 seconds.
The origin, Turtle Mountain, will be visible on your left and the expanse of giant limestone boulders extends far beyond the line of sight to your right. There is an interpretive centre at the scene of the slide.
Further on after passing through the towns of Blairmore and Coleman, you will see the magnificent Crowsnest Mountain on your right. The Alberta/British Columbia border in the middle of the Crowsnest pass. The height of the pass is at 1,382 metres in elevation.
You will next go through the old townsites of Michel and Natal. Not much is left except for the Michel Hotel: a hard to miss pink building. Next, you will pass through the community of Sparwood. On your right, you will see the “World’s Biggest Truck.”
Continue on through a small community called Hosmer. On your right is Hosmer Mountain, the mountain of the Ghostrider legend.
As you continue driving, the Lizard Range and Fernie Alpine Resort will appear directly ahead in the distance. If it is after dark, “Hieko’s Star” will be visible 3/4 of the way up the mountain, at the top of the Bear ski run. On nights of heavy snowfall, the Star is obscured.
Before the East Fernie Bridge, you will see the Chamber of Commerce and Tourist Information Centre on your right.
THE POOR WEATHER ROUTE
Drive time: 4 hours
The Cowboy Trail (Hwy 22) can be a challenge in poor weather; if difficult road conditions are likely, it is best to take this alternate route.
Head South out of Calgary on Highway #2 toward Fort McLeod. This will bring you directly to the Crowsnest Highway, also known as Highway #3. Turn west on Highway #3. Once you get past Lundbreck, all of the landmarks will be as mentioned in “The Cowboy Trail and the Crowsnest Pass.”
FROM CRANBROOK AIRPORT
Drive time: About 1 hour
Head west on Airport Road, and turn left (south) toward Cranbrook on Highway #95a. Turn left (east) toward Fernie on Highway #3. On your left you will see the dramatic Steeple range. You will pass through the communities of Jaffray and Elko.
Be careful on the next stretch of highway. It passes through some rock cuts: visibility is poor and big horn sheep and other wildlife are often on the road.
After you pass through the tunnel, you may notice differences in the climate. The Fernie side of the tunnel typically has more precipitation, lower temperatures and later seasons. On your right, you will catch your first glimpses of the Elk River.
Once you pass Morrissey, you will see the turnoff to Fernie Alpine Resort on your left. Fernie is less than ten minutes away.
Drive time: 2 hours
Head north on Highway #93 through the United States-Canada border. Once on Canadian soil, follow Highway #93 to its end at the junction of Highway #3, also known as the Crowsnest Highway. Turn east on Highway #3. Once here, all of the landmarks will be as mentioned in “From Cranbrook Airport.”