Follow the Tracks
Waskatenau to Cold Lake: approx. 191 km (119 mi)
Waskatenau to Heinsburg: approx. 177 km (109 mi)
So what in the world, you ask, is an Iron Horse Trail?
Like its name suggests, this unique journey through Alberta’s northeastern Lakeland district follows rail lines abandoned by the Canadian National Railway in 1999. This recreation corridor is part of the Trans-Canada Trail and offers endless kilometres of trails and pathways for cyclists, walkers, ATVs and horseback riders. And in the winter, snowmobilers and skiers come out to play.
Explore historic towns and villages, as you wind through gently rolling hills, aspen and pine forests, past wetlands and pothole lakes. Whatever portion of these trails you choose to traverse, you will make friends with the locals. You may well also spot the occasional bear, moose, elk, coyote or badger. Stay in a B&B or inn along the way.
There are 15 vehicle-accessible staging areas in pretty little towns that help travellers connect, refuel and navigate this recreation corridor. On the map, the trail looks like a jagged fork of lightning lying on its side. The trail officially begins at Waskatenau, home to an impressive train trestle used by CN in its heyday. But Smoky Lake, 20 km (12 mi) east, is considered the trailhead as it has the first staging area. From Smoky Lake, the trail moves east through Ashmont, and forks at Abilene Junction, “Mile Zero”, where you can either take the northeast fork all the way to Cold Lake, or take the southeast fork all the way to Heinsburg, the eastern trailhead.
- At Smoky Lake, take a side trip to Victoria Settlement or Métis Crossing, 13 km (8 mi) south of town on the North Saskatchewan River, accessed via Hwy 855.
- Enjoy the scenery of White Earth Valley with many trestles crossing over the pretty White Earth River. Meander through to Bellis (impressive trestle), and on to Vilna (stroll its lovely historic Main Street).
- Continue on to Ashmont, which hosts a major equestrian staging area, an excellent starting point for trail riding.
- Abilene Junction marks the spot where you can head in three different directions, hence “Mile Zero”. From here each of the branches is about 90 km (56 mi) long.
Option A: You can zig southeast through the communities of St. Paul, Elk Point, Lindbergh and on to Heinsburg.
Option B: Zag northeast to Mallaig, then Glendon, Moose Lake Provincial Park, Bonnyville, Fort Kent, Ardmore and on to Cold Lake.