First established as a fur-trading post by both the North West and Hudson’s Bay companies, Rocky Mountain House also served as a base for explorer, fur trader and mapmaker David Thompson – “the greatest land geographer in history,” according to Alberta geologist J.B. Tyrell.
Today, the David Thompson Highway honours the man who mapped from the Fraser River in the west to Lake Superior in the east, while Rocky Mountain House (largely settled by Scandinavian immigrants post the fur-trade era) serves as a gateway to the outdoors – without the crowds of the province’s national parks. Thanks to its proximity to the Rocky Mountains and the North Saskatchewan River, the area is a wilderness recreationist’s dream. Whitewater rafting, canoeing, plus birdwatching and hiking along kilometres of scenic trails are just a few of the options.
A 15-minute drive south of Rocky Mountain House, The Prairie Creek Inn (inset) was once a barn, though one wouldn’t know it without being told. The B&B’s two suites and two-bedroom cottage are tastefully decorated, with fireplaces, soaker tubs and wireless Internet, while the beautiful common room is stocked with DVDs for evening movies. Best of all: the inn’s large windows overlook 60 hectares of evergreens, meadows and the foothills of the Rockies, criss-crossed by the “golden mile” of its namesake, Prairie Creek (see above) – known far and wide by fly fishers. From $175 per night. 403-844-2672; http://www.theprairiecreekinn.com
The Inside Track
Survey the surveyor: Rocky Mountain House National Historical Site’s play fort, Metis trap-pers’ tent, bison herd and David Thompson puppet show. Opens May 16 (http://www.pc.gc.ca/rockymountainhouse).
Best town history: RMH Museum visitor info centre, with player piano and schoolhouse out back (403-845-2332; http://www.rockymuseum.com).
Divine dips: Nearby Crimson and Cow lakes.
Best sweet treat: The Stroopwafflen (syrup cakes) at the Rocky Bakery & Deli, “A Family Tradition since 1891” (403-845-7300).
Best antiques shopping: The newly opened Paper Moon Flea Market & Greentique, which offers carefully chosen collectibles and books, such as a circa-1800 tome on beekeeping (403-845-7480), and the Treasures in Time Antique Market (403-845-4024).
Most eclectic barber shop: Cactus Jack’s Hair Shop – worth a visit, even if you don’t need a trim, for its cactus collection, desert antiques, White Horse whisky bottle and oddball newspaper clippings (403-844-4228). Good eats: Martesa di Lume, Main Street (403-845-7197).