Driving Distance, Calgary: Cochrane

Many tourists flock to Calgary with images of cattle rustlers and dusty trails dancing in their heads, understandably if annoying. A native Calgarian would likely point visitors toward Cochrane for such indulgences. The town, originally known as Cochrane Ranche (after local rancher, Matthew Cochrane) is situated along the world-famous Cowboy Trail and is considered the heart of Alberta cattle country — OK, you get the point, it’s still authentically Western. In addition to the real-deal cowboy experience, Cochrane offers tons of outdoor activities, boutique shopping, big events, and fine dining. So if you’re feeling a lil’ restless, point the (Volks)wagons due west and head to Canada’s real cowboy country.

For decades, Calgarians have been driving a mere 20 minutes west to Cochrane, a major hub of outdoor fun, for an adrenaline fix. Capture the Flag, one of Alberta’s first and finest outdoor paintball courses is a massive, intense wilderness experience — with the added benefit of simulated warfare! This 116-acre paintball course is divided into 19 different playing fields and integrates man-made objects like buses, cars and wooden forts into the extreme tactical game. If that doesn’t raise your pulse enough, try heading up to Cochrane Hill and visiting Muller Windsports. The renowned windsport shop and school teaches paragliding, hang gliding and kiting to those brave enough to fly. If you’re really into exploration, see the beautiful backcountry of the Ghost/Waiparous area by booking an ATV tour with Hidden Trails Adventures.

Rare, kitschy and remarkable finds await in Cochrane’s eccentric boutiques. Old and Crafty is a must-visit for any collector; the shop features handcrafted furniture, rustic art, woodwork and many other unique items. If the area’s artwork has you truly taken, then carry on to Rustica Fine Art Gallery, which specializes in original works from Western Canadian artists, as well as limited editions and sculptures from international masters. If you’re not quite sure what you’re looking for, check out Elements Emporium, a random bazaar (also a good place to take a female companion) boasting antiques, vintage clothing, independent music and literature — near anything you might consider collectible, they’ve got it.

Even though we’re heading into winter’s depths, Mackay’s ice cream parlor is probably the first place anyone who hasn’t been to Cochrane should visit. Made with Alberta high butterfat cream, Mackay’s frozen flavours have been in huge (near frantic) demand, since 1948. Another perfectly done local delight, Alberta ranched beef, is found at the Canyon Rose Steakhouse. AAA prime rib, steak and bison ribeye, all Alberta-farm raised, highlight a succulent menu, and the restaurant’s saloon ambiance — with tin ceilings and player piano — will have you feeling like you stepped onto the set of Tombstone. Lastly, for a tasty caffeine fix, hit up Guy’s Café & Bakery. The large, organic coffee bar offers many lavish blends, including Milky Way, Maple Cinnamon, and Chocolate Almond, and the café’s soup-and-sandwich combos turn a rewarding coffee break into an hearty lunch, with just a word.

Image courtesy of Leo Fung.

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