photo: Mark Morris

Alberta’s Special Area 3 is a Cowpoke’s Paradise

By AMA Staff

About 180 kilometres north of Medicine Hat, this sparsely populated region is a paradise for lovers of prairie vistas, cattle ranches and the open road. Gas stations are few and far between, however, so fill up when you can.

See: On the edge of Youngstown, the Back in Time Museum showcases an eclectic variety of antique motorcycles alongside other automotive artifacts. The grounds also teem with quirky pieces of junkyard art—sculptures made with vintage car parts. 113 5 Ave. SE

Savour: It’s easy to spot the Prairie Elevator Museum in Acadia Valley: the restored Alberta Wheat Pool elevator towers over the surrounding hamlet. After touring the facility, pop into the quaint tea room for a cuppa, slice of pie or gooey cinnamon bun. Open July & August. 202 Railway Ave. E.

Stroll: Near the junction of highways 9 and 41, the town of Oyen is home to the Crossroads Museum, which honours Alberta’s pioneer roots with nine historical buildings, including a one-room schoolhouse, chuckwagon and Ukrainian Catholic church. 312 1 Ave. E.

Shop: Empress prides itself as a community of artisans—some of whose works are on display at That’s Empressive. In a former bank, the gallery offers handmade ceramics, costume jewellery, decor items, First Nations art and more. Notably, you can also buy gas. 309 Center St.

special area 3 alberta bar diamond guest ranch cowboy
Surveying the land at Bar Diamond Guest Ranch (photo: Mark Morris)

Set in a horseshoe bow of the Red Deer River northeast of Bindloss, Bar Diamond Guest Ranch is a working ranch where 650 cattle roam 13,750 hectares of prairie. Owners— and AMA members—Carol and Jim Hern also welcome visitors for stays with activities ranging from horseback riding and jet boating to interpretive hikes.

What do you love most about the ranching life?
Carol: Watching our cattle grow.
Jim: That you’re your own boss!

Why do you want to share it with visitors?
Carol: The reason we do this is so that people can experience the country. As rural people we have to start educating others about what we do and why it’s important.
Jim: And we have so much wildlife to see.

Four Cowboy Trail towns to rediscover

Why do you both enjoy living here?
Carol: I just love the picturesque landscape, especially the Red Deer river flowing nearby. Jim: The sense of community. We’re getting smaller, but we still have our community.

Why should people visit this part of Alberta?
Carol: Because of the beauty of the area and its wide-open spaces. It hasn’t really been touched. What you see today is the same landscape as the indigenous Siksika, Kainai and Piikani peoples have known for centuries, and what the pioneers and homesteaders saw when they arrived too.

special area 3 dinosaur provincial park
Dinosaur Provincial Park

The great outdoors is truly great in this part of Alberta.

• A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Dinosaur Provincial Park is a fossil-filled treasure. Book a guided tour at the visitor centre or enjoy views of the coulees and cottonwood trees on five easy trails. You’ll also find the cabin of John Ware, a freed slave who became one of Alberta’s greatest cowboys.

Make tracks to these off-the-Rockies hiking trails

• Spend a day cruising the South Saskatchewan River as you cast for goldeye, walleye, pike and more with JC’s River Fishing. Launching from Sandy Point Park on Highway 41 (south of Bindloss), the outfitter provides all tackle and gear, plus a shore lunch on half- and full-day tours.

• Driving the open grasslands is at the heart of any Alberta prairies experience. A grid of well-maintained gravel roads makes exploration easy. You’ll spot ranches and farms, the sites of pioneer-era schools, and spectacular wildflower fields. Wildlife like curlews, badgers and pronghorn antelope are common.