Road Trip: Crowsnest Pass
– This post was created in partnership with Travel Alberta – as always, all words, photos and explorations are my/our own. –
Crowsnest Pass has always been my sister’s camping destination of choice; I haven’t had much opportunity to head that deep into southwestern Alberta over the years, but when we decided to take the long way to the coast last summer, taking the windy highway 3 all the way along the US border to the Pacific ocean, we were reminded of how gorgeous the area is, how much we love driving through all the wind turbines, and how the small towns in that direction have a completely different flavour than anywhere else.
This was the most amazing scene, with the ranch and horse jumping ring and that mountain in the background that’s far more spectacular than I managed to capture – I couldn’t get the best shot with my phone in a moving car…
There are two routes to Crowsnest Pass from Calgary, both an equal distance and equally worth taking – the great thing about this road trip is you can head down highway 2, through High River, Nanton, Claresholm and Fort MacLeod, and back home via the Cowboy Trail, including the Bar U Ranch and Longview, Black Diamond and Turner Valley. It’s about 2 1/2 hours each way – long enough to feel like a trip, but not long enough that anyone is going to get tired of driving.
Before the townsites, you go through Frank, site of the Frank slide in 1903, when at 4:10 am, 82 million tonnes of limestone rock slid off Turtle Mountain onto the townsite below. I remember going on a field trip to the Frank slide in elementary school, and it stuck with me, imagining the tiny town and its people still under all that rubble.
Just past Frank are Coleman and Blairmore – close enough that they could be one town, with a bit of extra green space in the middle- it’s easy to confuse the two. They’re old towns, with not much in the way of new developments – but the aging facades are part of its charm.
One of the best things about small town Alberta are the diners – the legit ones, with actual round vinyl-covered stools lined up at a low counter, Jell-O cups and pie in a display case, and rows of thick ceramic mugs piled within easy reach for the bottomless black coffee.
And burgers piled like this. And grilled cheese sandwiches cut like this.
I somehow stumbled upon Chris’ Restaurant – perhaps by googling “diners in Crowsnest Pass” – and made Mike turn off the main road to get to it, a minute or three into downtown Coleman. We walked in and the handful of regulars turned to look at us – not in a weird way, in a sleepy small town way – and W was ecstatic to sit at the counter, and would you look at this menu?? A Denver sandwich for $4.50! Grilled cheese with chipped beef! Beef dip au jus! Patty melts! I am so excited to go back.
They also had 18 kinds of milkshakes – W’s favourite – served straight from the metal blending cup, no glass even. They also make their own pie – of course they do – but happened to be out that day except for one slice of pumpkin, which I don’t love. But the milkshake? Bliss.
And then – second dessert in Blairmore. Cinnamon Bear always has a lineup, and it’s easy to understand why – for one, I found the best chocolate cake on the planet – no seriously, the best – there. A straight-up thick slab cake, dark and moist, with a thick layer of chocolate buttercream on top. Just a cake, no layers, no decoration, no fuss. A square of cake on a plate with a fork. If they were closer to Calgary I’d be making the trek on far too many midafternoons. Coffee and chocolate cake? Yes please.
And Stone’s Throw Cafe is a friendly little family cafe with sandwiches and chili, and things like rhubarb crumble bars, butter tarts and Nanaimo bars – pure Canadiana.
Coffee + baking = best road trip fare.
In Coleman, there’s a brilliant yellow old church that has been for sale for years – it had Blackbird painted on one side, and I wanted to turn it into a pie shop. We heard just before heading through that it had been transformed into a cafe and music hall, and so we popped in. When I asked the owners at the counter when they had opened, they answered kind of cautiously… “today?” and I thought they had misunderstood, and rephrased my question, but no – they had literally just opened their doors, and it was their very first day of business.
It’s called the Holy Ghost Cafe & Music Hall, and besides brewing Crowsnest Coffee Co. and offering up their own baked goods, they have a whole roster of live bands lined up. What an awesome place.
All good reasons to head in a whole new direction if you have road trips planned this summer – or not – the best thing about this kind of short trip is that you can just hop in the car when you need to get out of town, and they don’t require a lot of pre-planning.
* Huge thanks to Travel Alberta for sponsoring this post, and helping me share this corner of my world.
15 comments on “Road Trip: Crowsnest Pass”
Oh I’ve been to Stone’s Throw! It is super cute! A few years ago I did Edmonton to Drumheller to Calgary to Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump to Pincher Creek to Crowsnest Pass and then to Banff (via Cowboy Trail). It was all gorgeous but the southern Alberta stuff was.the.best. Love the prairies.
Oh yeah, that’s such a great route too!
We’re heading to the coast the first two weeks of August. Guess which route we’ll be taking? Guess which diners we’ll be visiting? Thanks for this, Julie. As usual, you are an inspiration.
Aw, I hope you guys have fun!
You missed Bellevue, the easternmost town in the Pass, right before Frank and home of the Old Dairy Ice Cream Shoppe. You’ll have to check it out on your next visit.
Yes!! Totally forgot this time, sorry! we did drive through last summer and it was an adorable town!
Just to clarify, tne Cinnamon Bear is in Coleman right in Highway #3,
Oh sorry! I thought it was in Coleman, but when I went to double check it says Blairmore on their Facebook page…
To add to Kim and N Robertson – by the time you hit the Frank slide you have already passed Bellevue on the north side of the highway and Hillcrest on the south side. The Bellevue ice cream shop is a must for your next visit! And the cinnamon bear is in Coleman. Great article though. It’s nice to hear such nice things about my home town.
You missed the Bellevue Dairy. Before frankslide there are 2 more townsites. On top of the hill (Bellevue) has a dairy that makes even better milk shakes. The wayside chapel (the little church). Then there’s the Bellevue mine underground mine tours. More history in hilcrest. There is enough to see and do that you can’t just pass through.
The Bellevue underground mine tours are great! I highly recommend them.
Good to know! I’ve walked around the mine but never went on a tour.. totally missed the Bellevue Dairy! We did drive through the town last summer, and I had forgotten (I don’t think we stopped anywhere) – thanks for the reminder!
Dang it! Just drove through there yesterday and read your review this morning. Awesome!
Thought you might like to know that this Theatre in Coleman Alberta is starting to be renovated, we (Crowsnest Cando Society) are purchasing it on behalf of the community and want to restore it as a Live and Movie theatre. Our Facebook group is: FB Group @Revive The Roxy Theatre Coleman CNP (Crowsnest Pass)
You have a beautiful photo, it would be wonderful if we could is it in some of our promotional and grant applications.
Hope to hear back.
http://www.crowsnestcando.ca – Home
The Roxy Project