When you're looking to ATV in Alberta, the Iron Horse Trail is an obvious choice. It was once a corridor used by fur traders and later a CN rail line, but now it serves as a popular place for outdoor recreation. The route is massive, extending for more than 300 kilometres, and running through a number of pleasant (not to mention rider-friendly) communities.
Some experienced riders aim to tackle the entire length of the trail, but most choose to take shorter trips along it, stopping at each town they encounter. With so many fascinating historic sites and other points of interest along the way, it's nice to be able to take your time and soak it all in. These are some of the charming towns and villages you will find on your Iron Horse Trail journey. Each one has standard amenities, including access to an ATM, fuel, staging area, dining, accommodations and shopping.
Cold Lake is home to the deepest lake in Alberta, lovely beaches and parks, arts and culture attractions, and an innovative inland marina. It's close to the Saskatchewan border and serves as the northernmost stop on the Iron Horse Trail. The riding here tends to be easy and picturesque, making it ideal for families.
Be sure to get a photo of the trestle bridge, and hunt for some of Cold Lake's renowned geocaching sites.
Bonnyville has its share of wilderness beauty, with crystal-clear lakes, sandy beaches and lush forests. Fishing, hiking, biking, ATVing and water sports are preferred activities among locals and visitors.
It's one of those places where you can bring a group of friends (or your spouse and kids) for a day in the outdoors, and everyone will come home tired and happy.
The town slogan for St. Paul is "A people kind of place," and you'll understand why when you meet its warm, welcoming residents. There are plenty of quality restaurants here, where you can take a break from riding and enjoy a home-style meal. The staging area here is particularly well-developed, and along this part of the trail you can find a fish pond, full hook-up campground and updated bathrooms.
For a unique photo op, check out the world's first UFO landing pad that was built by the community of St. Paul back in 1967. During the grand opening when it was unveiled, the Government of Canada declared the town to be the Centennial Capital of Canada. In keeping with the extra-terrestrial theme, an adjacent UFO tourist information centre was built in the 1990s, with exhibits featuring crop circle photos and other intriguing information.
If you are looking for an especially scenic route, take the trail from St. Paul down through Elk Point to Lindbergh and Heinsburg.
The Iron Horse Trail will take you meandering through the Smoky Lake valley and its namesake community. If you take the trail east of town, you will find yourself riding among impressive sand hills and jack pine forests. There are even areas where you can leave the trail and explore sand dunes on your quad. Be sure to respect the signage and stay in designated areas.
The staging area has a Trans-Canada Trail kiosk. You will be travelling on part of the Trans-Canada Trail if you head east from Smoky Lake to Heinsburg.
Elk Point features incredible views of the North Saskatchewan River, and there are places where you can hop off your ATV and take a kayak or canoe along the waterways. The town of Elk Point offers all you need to service your machine, fuel up and relax before hitting the trail again.
If you decide to stay at a local campsite in Elk Point, you may find an access route that runs directly from your campsite to the Iron Horse Trail. The staging area itself is not open for camping. However, there is ample parking for trailers, if required. While at the staging area, you can also find the Elk Point Visitor Information Eco-Centre, which was built to replicate a 1927 CN train station.