I’ve been interested in hiking the Alberta Iron Horse Trail since I heard that it was 300 kilometres long. Of course, I don’t have time or transportation to hike all of it at once, so I tried to figure out how it would be possible to hike it in portions. Luckily, my friend Helen also enjoys endurance activities, so she agreed to come with me for a long weekend hiking journey. We left Edmonton on Friday afternoon and camped at Whitney Lakes Campground (Ross Lake). What a fantastic campground!! It’s at least 50 kilometres from a decent-sized grocery store or other conveniences, but it’s less than 3 hours straight east of Edmonton. When we arrived, we had 2 cars and 2 tents, but only 1 reserved campsite. No problem!! Most campsites restrict the number of vehicles or tents and trailers, but they said 2 cars and 2 tents was fine. We set up our tents, along with tarps in case of rain, and we made a supper and had a campfire. The bugs weren’t too bad until dusk, but then they really attacked our ankles!
We didn’t set any alarms for the next couple of days, so we didn’t get out to the trailhead until after 11. We parked 1 car in Elk Point, and then drove to Heinsburg, 34+ kilometres away by trail. We met cyclists who were just getting off the trail, so they told us where to watch for a bull, bears, and a dog. They said that this stretch of the trail was really lovely, and they were right. This first day was probably the most scenic, but it was also the hardest, because we walked twice as far that day as we did for the other 2. Until Riverview, the trail stays close to the North Saskatchewan River, and I really want to do that as a bicycle-canoeing trip someday. At Riverview, we passed the giant Windsor Salt plant. Soon, we were at the highway (Lindbergh), and there was a gas station/grocery store there, where we purchased drinking water and beef jerky. Although this station was only 500 metres from the trail and the ONLY place with services, the owners had never visited the trail, and couldn’t tell us whether there was a rest stop nearby (about 2K further). We enjoyed our sandwiches here, and it was about the halfway point back to Elk Point. It definitely got harder to keep going, as it got later and later in the day, but we knew that there would eventually be an end to our walk. Luckily, there was a bar across the street and the manager was very friendly as we sat for a bit. We returned to get our second car at Heinsburg and had a late dinner. We didn’t feel like a campfire, but went to bed quickly after eating.
On day 2, we dropped off our first car at Elk Point, and then drove on, in search of Edouardville, a former railroad town. We stopped and asked a farmer who was mowing his lawn, and luckily, he knew about the Iron Horse Trail, and he gave us directions to get to the staging area. It was down the road, after the St. Edouard Church, but there was no marking on Highway 29, except for St. Edouard. This stretch was also very nice, and there was a rest stop about halfway, at Armistice Hall (marked on the highway). There was a good shelter here. After starting out again, we enjoyed our walk, and we were very surprised when we saw the grain elevator for Elk Point, much sooner than we expected it. We returned to the bar, but it was noisier and less relaxing that day. After returning to the campsite, we made supper right away, and then went to swim and relax at the beach. That was another great surprise, because the beach was really nice, with soft, clean sand, and it was really refreshing to swim, and then catch up on reading.
Finally, it was day 3, and we wanted to get an earlier start and finish to our hike, so we set our alarms for 7 am. We took down our campsite very quickly, and we drove to St. Paul, AB, after dropping off a car at Edouardville. Here, we stopped at the busiest-looking restaurant, Silver Star, a Chinese-Canadian restaurant. The breakfast menu wasn’t very big, but my meal was very satisfying. We started out a lot earlier on the trail, with full bellies. We couldn’t really find out where the staging area was in St. Paul, so we drove along the trail, then chose a point where we should start. The trail in St. Paul is not too exciting, just a straight trail. One side is paved, for walkers, and there is a separate, gravel trail for motorized traffic. People in town were walking and cycling on the trail. Just before we walked out of town, we came to the staging area, where there’s a beautiful, busy campground. It looked like the distance from here would be 14 kilometres, but we weren’t exactly sure. This stretch of trail had one of the only “hills” for the whole trail, still very short and easy. There was a young eagle circling one of the ponds, and screaming, and we also saw a really bright yellow warbler swooping along the trail. Before we knew it, we were already at the Edouardville staging area, and there was our car! After that, we returned to St. Paul and ate delicious pizza at UFO Pizza, a long-term business in St. Paul.
We had fantastic weather for the whole weekend, clear and sunny. It was a little bit warm for comfort at times, but the trees along the trail definitely made things more comfortable. According to MapMyRun, our distances were as follows:
- Heinsburg – Lindbergh Staging area (including side trip to garage) 18.22 kilometres
- Lindbergh – Elk Point 17.99 km
- Edouardville – Elk Point 17.12 km
- St. Paul – Edouardville 16.66 km
So, the total was about 70 kilometres, or 43.5 miles. It was a good hiking weekend for us. We were very glad that we brought 2 cars, so that we only had to go once in each direction, and also we were very glad that we did our hardest day first. Saturday was the only night when we really felt uncomfortable (I did, anyway), but a good night’s sleep cured that! We haven’t decided yet what stretch of the trail we’ll do next. It was kind of sad to see that there only seemed to be motorized users on the trail, except for the cyclists we met before we started. The trail has excellent facilities for equestrians, cyclists, or hikers.