Highway 12 East
From Lacombe, it’s 70 kilometers (43 miles) west to Stettler on Highway 12. Out of sight to the north is Buffalo Lake, a large, shallow body of water surrounded by a hummocky area created by receding ice during the last Ice Age.
On the lake’s southern shore is Ol’ MacDonalds Resort (off Hwy. 835, 403/742-6603, www.olmacdonalds.com, May–Sept., unserviced $25–28, hookups $32–40, cabins $62–150 s or d), a sprawling campground offering over 300 treed sites and an amazing array of things to do. Aside from the beach with shallow, warm water, there’s watercraft rentals, evening wagon rides, a petting zoo, indoor mini-golf within a museum, an antique carousel, a café, and bike and buggy rentals.
The farming town of Stettler (population 5,800) is home to Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions (403/742-2811, www.absteamtrain.com), a tourist train that runs south to the even smaller town of Big Valley. A rollicking good time is had by all, with live music, the occasional train robbery, and a hearty meal served at the turnaround point. Check the website for a schedule; the train runs each weekend May through October (and Thurs. and Fri. in July and Aug.). The fare is adult $85, youth $65, child $35.
Stettler also offers the Town and Country Museum (6302 44th Ave., 403/742-4534, May–early Sept. daily 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m., adult $3, senior and child $2), a surprisingly large complex comprising over two dozen buildings spread over three hectares (7.5 acres). Highlights include the imposing courthouse, a railway station, and a small farmhouse that provided a home for three generations of the same family.
The nicest of five accommodations in town is Ramada Inn & Suites (6711 49th Ave., at the west entrance to town, 403/742-6555 or 888/442-6555, www.ramada.com, $145 s or d), a solid four-story chain hotel that opened in 2007. Town of Stettler Campground (6202 44th Ave., 403/742-4411, May–Oct., $14–20) is across the road from a spray park on the west side of town.
Big Knife Provincial Park
Legend has it that Big Knife Creek was named after a fight between two long-standing enemies—one Cree, the other Blackfoot—that resulted in the death of both men. The park’s small campground (mid-May–mid-Sept., $18) has limited facilities, but the Battle River flows through the park, making for good swimming and canoeing. To get to the park from Stettler, head east along Highway 12 approximately 40 kilometers (25 miles) to Halkirk, then north on Highway 855 another 20 kilometers (12.5 miles).
Gooseberry Lake Provincial Park
This small park, 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) north of Consort, is on the shore of a tree-encircled lake and is made up of rolling grassland and a series of alkaline ponds. Many birds, including the northern phalarope, use the lake as a staging area along their migratory paths. The campground (403/742-7512, mid-May–mid-Sept., $20–25) is between the lake and a nine-hole golf course and has a kitchen shelter and firewood.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition