Riding Alberta’s Historic Iron Horse Trail with Robert Pruneau

ATVing plus backcountry plus wildlife equals a one-of-a-kind adventure.

by Susan Lohrer |

Trail Steward Robert Pruneau assesses the trail condition.

Trail steward Robert Pruneau assesses the trail condition. — Photo taken by Calvin Dobnar

As trail steward for St. Paul’s local ATV club, Robert Pruneau gets to spend a lot of time exploring the 300-plus kilometres of Alberta’s historic Iron Horse Trail. While he has enjoyed many years of ATV adventures on this trail, his best day riding the Iron Horse involves a fair amount of time spent with his machine sitting at idle.

Years ago, Pruneau took his foster kids out for one of many rides in his side-by-side, an Arctic Cat Prowler. They’d been on the trail for a while when they spotted two black forms ahead of them, perhaps large dogs. In short order, Pruneau realized the animals were yearling bear cubs.

Mindful of safety, the family of humans tried to keep their distance as the young bears engaged in mock battle, running, rearing up on their hind legs, and pawing at each other, all the while slowly approaching the Prowler. Suddenly the bears noticed they weren’t alone and took off galloping up a side trail into the trees. Pruneau kept his eyes peeled as he and the children continued along their ride. Eventually they came to the spot where the bears had veered off, and in the distance they could see the two animals meandering along a small valley and grazing on grass. Extremely aware that where there are young bears, there is likely a mother bear, he stopped the machine, leaving the engine running, and he and the kids spent a good 20 minutes sharing this incredible moment they may never get the opportunity to experience again.

Even all these years later, those precious minutes spent with the kids simply watching our Canadian wildlife being wild remains a high point of Pruneau’s life.

ATV riders riding in the snow between Two Hills and Cold Lake

A February trip between Two Hills and Cold Lake. — Photo taken by Robert Pruneau

Where to find the Iron Horse Trail

The Iron Horse Trail, which can be used year-round, runs east along the abandoned railroad right-of-way from Waskatenau to Abilene. There, it branches northeast to Cold Lake and southeast to Heinsburg, with at least 15 staging areas along the three arms. St. Paul is on the southeast arm of the trail and has developed a staging area that’s been called “the best in Lakeland.”

Places to visit along the Iron Horse Trail

Cold Lake
Elk Point
Smoky Lake
St. Paul

Click for a detailed PDF map of the Iron Horse Trail.

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