It’s good to be a local. The Foothills surrounding Calgary are an undiscovered paradise of scenery, recreation, fantastic food and not-soon forgotten experiences. With something for everyone, come take a tour in Calgary’s Backyard.
1. SIP ON DISTILLED OR FERMENTED BEVERAGES FROM EAU CLAIRE AND SPIRIT HILLS
The Foothills are home to makers of world-renowned wines and spirits. It must be something in the water, combined with Albertan entrepreneurial know-how because there is nothing better than a glassful (or two) of our local liquors. A stop in at Spirit Hills Winery
, near Millarville or Eau Claire Distillery
in Turner Valley for a tasting, lifts the spirits and inspires.
2. GET OUT FOR A RIP ON YOUR MOTORBIKE
This is no secret: the whole of the Foothills is well known to motorcyclists as one of the best cruising routes around
. The best biking duds are found at the Bragg Creek Leather Shop and if it’s a tune up you’re after, Motörrad in Turner Valley is a drive-up shop with great Mexican-inspired eats, while you wait, at MotoBurrito
3. MUSEUM OF THE HIGHWOOD
With exhibits and archives spanning the past 125 years, the Museum of the Highwood
in downtown High River fits the bill as a local gem. The museum plays caretaker to several artifacts once owned by the Canadian author and one-time High Riverite, W.O. Mitchell. If you are a fan of the television show Heartland
, then the Museum of the Highwood is a must see. Their collection of props from the locally-filmed and longest-running Canadian series is certain to delight.
4. LIVE ALBERTA’S COWBOY SPIRIT ON A TRAIL RIDE
Earn your swagger with a day in the saddle. The west was conquered on horseback and there is no better way to spend a day than in a line of horses out on the trail. Anchor D Outfitting
is the premiere trail guide ‘round these parts and you can’t claim to be a true local unless you’ve explored the High Country on horseback. If trail rides are not your speed, there are many barns
that offer private or group lessons before you mosey down the trail.
5. CYCLE THE BACKROADS
While it might not be the locals’ pastime, there certainly are a lot of cyclists on Foothills highways and backroads. Swing into a slightly different saddle and pedal your way around, taking in the stunning views at the crest of every hill. Make sure you play safe whatever conveyance you use; most secondary highways have no shoulder so ride and drive with caution.
There is no denying, the Foothills is home to some world-class fishing. Step outside your backdoor and you’ve got the Sheep and the Highwood Rivers. No self-respecting local will tell you their favourite fishing hole but the thrill is in the hunt. There are two great apps those in-the-know use: AlbertaRELM which is tied to the WIN cards, and Alberta Rivers which gives you all the data on conditions, flooding and monitoring stations. If gear is what you need, check out Rollick Co.
in Black Diamond or Flys Etc.
in High River.
7. FOOTHILLS SALVAGE AND RECYCLING CENTRE
A true local secret, the Foothills Salvage and Recycling Society
was borne from a desire to keep usable items out of the landfill. It worked and today, 28 years on, Foothills Salvage has kept 5,000+ tonnes of useable items from going into the landfill. Anything your heart desires can be found at the Salvage Centre, and for a reasonable price too.
Turns out, Foothills locals are excellent brewers. Four exceptional breweries call this area home and locals love nothing more than supporting them. From Brauerei Fahr and Hard Kno
x in the west, to Hub Town
in Okotoks and High River Brewing
in, you guessed it – High River, beer lovers will find the suds best suited to their tastes. All the local liquor outlets stock their products but there’s something to be said about sipping a cold glass right from the source.
9. FARMERS’ MARKETS
Foothills plays host to more than just the Saturday Millarville Farmers’ Marke
t. When it comes to homegrown and hand-made wares, all over the region, markets are starting up. Okotoks (Friday along Highway 2A and Saturday at the Elks’ Hall downtown), High River (Thursdays on 4th Avenue from 3:30 to 6:30), Turner Valley (Saturday, 7:30 to 11:30) and Black Diamond (Saturday, noon to 4) all have summertime markets. Find fresh produce, baking and preserves all for sale in parking lots and market spaces around the Foothills.
Art loving locals know these hills are brimming with artists. Weaving, pottery, painting, writing and photography are all for sale and on display amidst the stunning backdrop of the Eastern Slopes. Home to The Most Beautiful Art Tour and a multitude of galleries in Bragg Creek, Black Diamond, Okotoks, High River and Nanton, a drive
will net you a new appreciation of Alberta’s artists no matter what their medium.
This area is known as the gateway to Kananaskis. Drive west and you’ll find more trails than you can handle. The best trail books are Gillean Daffern’s Kananaskis Country Trail Guides
. Make sure you use the most recent editions as the flood of 2013 changed everything. This series of books can be found at Bluerock Gallery
in Black Diamond, the unofficial tourist information booth. A local tip: hiking the equestrian trails at Sandy McNabb, Bluerock and Mesa Butte is a messy adventure. Stick to the hiking-only trails and you won’t spend all your time avoiding the mud.
12. BE A FOODIE
You won’t starve in the Foothills. It seems like everywhere you look there’s another eatery. Familiar favourites are the Hitchin’ Post Drive-In
in High River, Rancher’s Corner
at the junction of Highways 22 and 549 East, Little Fast + Fresh
in Okotoks and the new Root 22
in Longview. Find your own favourite or just ask a local.
13. TAKE A FARM TOUR OR BLACKSMITH FOR A DAY
This is ranch country. Agriculture was and still is a way of life for many in the Foothills. Knowing where your food comes from is a gift and there are lots of producers around who are happy to show off their operations. Grazed Right
, a cattle ranching family-business near Black Diamond offers farm tours as does the self-proclaimed Garlic Queen
of Forage and Farm
near Millarville. Another, fantastic farm tour is at Chinook Honey
off Highway 7. Learn all about keeping bees and the harvesting of local honey. If you are looking to get deep into homesteading and lost arts, Stone Wood & Steel
is the local blacksmith shop and they offer classes and workshops in the metallurgic arts.
14. HIDDEN PARKS FOR SKATEBOARDING, HIKING OR DOG WALKING
The Foothills can get busy but they are rarely crowded. With so many parks, natural areas and recreational spaces, it’s not hard to find a piece for yourself. Okotoks boasts a phenomenal skate park and the small towns that pepper the hills have so many parks for kids to play and adults to sit and relax. Brown Lowery Provincial Park
, tucked off Highway 762, may be one of the smallest parks in the province but boasts some of the nicest trails – just perfect for a leisurely family stroll. In Black Diamond
you will find an exceptional riverside off-leash park as well as the Friendship Trail that leads pedestrians to Turner Valley. Lace up your walking shoes and hit the paths.
15. JOHN WARE RIDGE
On the very western edge of the Foothills, right before Kananaskis Country stands John Ware Ridge. Named after the former slave turned Alberta cowboy, John Ware Ridge is a reminder of a history rich in lore, tall tales and amazing people. A cairn in honour of the cowboy sits at the base of the hill. Get there by turning south at the junction of Highways 549 West and 762. Drive the winding, dirt roads until you reach the end and you’ll find the cairn.
16. FAMILY OUTING AT GRANARY ROW
Bring everyone for a Foothills experience you won’t soon forget. Granary Road
is a brilliant mix of dining, shopping, a public market and massive outdoor park all on one gorgeous, grassy site. The outdoor park is the perfect place to let kids run and learn and play. Seriously, this is no ordinary park. There’s a four-storey tall ant farm, a spider web made of ropes to climb, a petting zoo and way more to keep everyone enthralled for hours.
17. LEARN TO GARDEN
Gardening beneath the arch is not for the faint of heart. Wild weather, late springs and cruel winters take their toll on any gardener. Luckily, there are many experts in the Foothills ready to lend and ear and offer advice on what grows best in this tricky area. Check out Vale’s Greenhouses
, Kayben Farms
, Beaver Dam Nursery or Country Depot for great selection and insider advice.
18. SEE IT ALL AT THE LEIGHTON ARTS CENTRE
Up the winding back roads, you’ll find the Leighton Art Centre
. Perched atop a hillside with a view of the surrounding foothills and a 300-mile view of the Rocky Mountains, you will find the house Alfred Crocker Leighton built as a home for himself and his wife. If the views aren’t enough, the Leighton Art Centre hosts exhibits by outstanding Alberta artists. Come for the scenery as Alfred Leighton did and stay to admire the artwork and browse in the gallery.
It’s a fact: Foothills golf courses
are above par. From Bragg Creek to Nanton, the fairways and greens are perfectly groomed and free from the maddening crowds. With half a dozen courses to choose from, locals book tee-times that suit their schedules and lifestyle. If standard golf is not the experience you crave, try WJ Homestead’s Disc Golf
. It’s a different take on the classic game and a true Foothills-only experience.
20. BOOST YOUR HEALTH
Locals know they are lucky; there are so many health and alternative health services in the Foothills. Book in for a massage, chiropractic treatment physiotherapy or acupuncture. Wait times are shorter than in the city and the drive to and from your appointment will only serve to relax you further.
21. TRAILS AT WEST BRAGG CREEK
Bragg Creek is well known for its hiking, biking and equestrian trails off Highway 66 but the locals know the best place to find solitude in nature is at West Bragg Creek. Head west past the townsite and across the bridge over the Elbow River, then turn left and head for the hills.
22. FINE DINING AZURERIDGE, LONGVIEW STEAK AND BAVARIAN INN
Three restaurants have made an experience out of pairing gorgeous settings and fine dining: the Longview Steakhouse, Azureridge
and the Bavarian Inn. They didn’t name it Longview for nothing and the view from the Longview Steakhouse
is nothing short of spectacular. If being treated like royalty makes you smile, this family-run restaurant is just the ticket. At Azureridge, south of Priddis, it’s not only the view that will stun. This former residence has architecture that turns heads and drops jaws. At the Bavarian Inn
, locals tuck in for a German feast prepared with modern flair. Almost hidden in the spruce and pines of Bragg Creek, the Bavarian Inn’s charm and flavour is a cozy delight to be experienced. Reservations at all three are a must.
23. THE RIVERS – FLOATING, ROCK THROWING AND THE RIVER FORD
Skipping stones isn’t something to grow out of. While the rivers and creeks that flow down the eastern slopes can be incredibly changeable depending on the season, there is always enough water to get a few skips in. Once the spring runoff has slowed in July, the opportunity to float the Sheep or the Highwood Rivers is a summertime chance that should be taken. The best kept secret is the River Ford north of Black Diamond. A ‘use at your own risk’ driving shortcut off Highway 549 East, the River Ford also serves as a great spot to splash in Three Point Creek just before it merges with the Sheep River.
24. SHOPPING – SO MUCH SHOPPING
It would take weeks of dedicated effort to hit every shop around; from feed stores to footwear, every town has so much on offer. Don’t overlook any of them because you never know what treasures you will find inside. Locals know to spend at least the afternoon and possibly the entire day, if hitting the shops is your activity of choice.
25. TAKE A DRIVE
Any direction is sure to supply enough natural beauty to fill your eyes and your heart. From Highway 549, to Highway 762 into Bragg Creek or Plumber’s Road to the 546 into Bluerock Provincial Park
, wherever your car takes you is a wonder. So, grab a map, fill up on gas and get going.