August long weekend 2015: Iron Horse Trail: Cold Lake, Franchere-Ardmore (don’t bother!), Edwand-Bellis


Trailhead in Bellis, AB includes original train sign

Trailhead in Bellis, AB includes original train sign

Another long weekend means another adventure, and this one was an opportunity to venture to the Northeast end of the Iron Horse Trail.  We camped in Cold Lake Provincial Park, a beautiful park, which is located on a peninsula in Cold Lake, one of the largest lakes in Alberta.  I’m very happy that I booked a “walk-in” tenting site here, since each campsite was completely private and peaceful, with no noises of generators or diesel trucks!  It was slightly inconvenient to carry food supplies and preparation equipment back and forth to the car after each meal, but it was worth it to have such a lovely campsite.  There was rain overnight on 2 or 3 of our nights there, but we didn’t have rain during the day, except for a light sprinkle during Friday supper.

On our first day in Cold Lake, we didn’t actually hike on the Iron Horse Trail.  Instead, we started on the Millenium Trail, a multi-user path that runs from the Cold Lake Marina to what used to be the town of Grand Centre, as well as to Medley, the former town that is located on CFB Cold Lake, the Canadian Air Force base.  The 3 communities, including Cold Lake amalgamated in 1996, to share resources, and became known as Cold Lake (now a city).  The surface on this trail is in good repair, and it’s a pleasant walk through the community.  The walk was only 8.5 kilometres and ended at the trailhead for the Iron Horse Trail in Cold Lake, conveniently located behind Budget Western Motel.  The ladies at the Cold Lake chamber were helpful in finding out what they could about the trail.  Sadly, the Beaver River Trestle Bridge, located on the first leg of the trail out of Cold Lake is “under repair”, and nobody seems to know when, or if, this job will be completed.  Because of that, we avoided the leg between Cold Lake and Ardmore on this trip.

After hiking on Friday, we were able to visit the private gallery of one of my all-time favourite artists, Alex Janvier, located near town, on Cold Lake First Nation. I visited 2 years ago, and I was very happy to be able to return to this beautiful environment.  The gallery was designed by Albertan architect Douglas Cardinal, and the space is bright and open.  Upon arrival, a sign requests that the visitor take no photographs of the artwork.  It was wonderful to just be able to spend some calm time, enjoying the work of both men (the artist and the architect).  I’m always blown away at how amazingly well they are both able to use curved lines in their work, creating a special sense of peace.

After spending our first day exploring Cold Lake, it was time to go farther on the Iron Horse Trail.  On our July long weekend trip, we weren’t able to hike all of the areas near Bonnyville, due to the smoke from forest fires, as well as due to the hot temperatures.  We ate breakfast in Bonnyville at Jennie’s a diner that was styled like something from the 50s or 60s.  Following that, we drove to Franchere, on the edge of Moose Lake Provincial Park, and we hiked the 22K back to Bonnyville.  The girl at the museum wasn’t able to give us very good directions to make the short trip, but fortunately, we pretty much remembered the way there.  It was a warm day, and this stretch of trail included a lot of loose gravel, which was difficult to hike on.  Luckily, the lake was nearby for a lot of the journey, and the scenery was pleasant until we approached Bonnyville proper.  At this point, the area was strictly industrial, and very unattractive.  It was a big disappointment when we returned to the “staging area”, only to realize that it didn’t exist.  The museum blocked off the access to the original train station and parking lot, and it was necessary for us to follow quad tracks through the ditch, in order to return to our vehicle.  When we complained at the museum, the employee said that there had been a staging area at the museum, but they weren’t happy with the mess that off-road drivers had left behind, so they closed the staging area.

On Sunday, we needed to return to Bonnyville, in order to hike to Ardmore, south of Cold Lake. We enjoyed hearty breakfasts and fresh coffee at the very popular A&Ws. This is absolutely the WORST stretch of the trail that we have hiked!  As previously mentioned, there is no proper access to the trail from the museum.  Less than a kilometre later, we could see many tracks that quads had made through freshly-laid sod, in order to access the trail from the town.  This stretch of trail didn’t pretend to be for anything except motorized vehicles: quads, dirt-bikes, and snowmobiles.  There were no signs or services for pedestrians, cyclists, or equestrians (horseback riders).  The trail was nothing but extremely loose sand and gravel, which was basically impossible to walk on.  Although it was a very hot day, I was really glad that I wore long pants, since I had to hike the entire 21K in the longer grass, along the side of the trail.  The trail ran very close to highway 28, so it was usually noisy, with a lot of big vehicles going by.  One good thing is that there was shade for most of the route.  We met a friendly person in Fort Kent who has done the whole trail on a quad.  Finally, we were finished our hike, and I was extremely glad to get off the trail for the day.  In the evening, I made a meal that I had dehydrated.  I rehydrated it with boiling water about an hour before I reheated it, and added a rice packet.  I was quite happy with the results, since I added a really big mixture of dried vegetables.

Finally, it was Monday morning, time to break camp.  We ate a leisurely breakfast at the campsite and packed up.  I was really relieved to find my main set of car keys, after misplacing them on my first day of camping.  It’s really expensive to replace the transponder unit, and I really appreciate that feature when I’m running a lot of errands.  We drove about halfway back to Edmonton, to complete a small stretch that we had previously missed, between Edwand and Bellis.  This stretch was between 8 and 9 kilometres long, and it was also very soft, and somewhat difficult to walk.  Nevertheless, most of this stretch of trail was quite scenic, with many flowers and butterflies, quite a few wetlands as well as sandhills along the way, and a nice variety of trees.  Some of the farms were also very pretty so it was a nice place to finish our 4 days of hiking.  There were attractive outhouses and signs at both ends of the trail.  One small problem is that we are still missing one mile of trail in the area, since we previously finished at Edwand Church, one mile west, and this time we started in the former hamlet.

This was the last Iron Horse hike of summer 2015, but we may venture out again in later October for another day or 2.  With about 60 kilometres of hiking over 4 days, it was a good effort.  Cold Lake was a very nice starting point, and I hope that the trestle bridge will reopen soon so that we can hike that part of the trail. The weather was quite good for all 4 days.  According to maps of the area, there are some more trails that connect Wasketenau with Fort Saskatchewan, so that will be another stretch of trail (not on the Iron Horse) to discover.  In terms of the Iron Horse Trail, the area that we still need to complete is all of the area around Abilene, where the trail forks out in 3 directions, to Mallaig, St. Paul, and Vilna.  It’s good to set a big goal and to keep working towards it, step-by-step.

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