Alberta Route 1A: Bow Valley Trail, Morleyville, Cochrane, Ghost Lake


For the drive from the mountains back to Calgary, I decided to take the slowest, most scenic route possible, to delay the inevitable end of my vacation as long as possible.  Instead of taking the faster, twinned Trans Canada 1 from Banff to Calgary, I hopped onto Route 1A, the Bow Valley Trail, which travels on the north side of the Bow River (Highway 1 is on the south side).

The Bow Valley Trail begins at Canmore, and runs through the industrial town of Exmore (where magnesium carbonate and cement are made).  Even though it passes through the unattractive industrial areas, most of Route 1A is a nice, scenic drive, winding through the Bow Valley…

… and past some wide spots in the river.  Of course, when you’re headed away from the Rocky Mountains, the scenery is a lot more beautiful in the rear-view mirror…

… which is why I stopped and looked back whenever possible.  Before long, those mountains got smaller and smaller, and eventually I was surrounded by prairie.

Morleyville Mission

I found one unexpected stop along the side of Highway 1A, the old Morleyville church.  Morleyville was the site of southern Alberta’s first settlement.  It was once home to more than 200 people, and now it’s preserved as a provincial historic site.

The church isn’t open to visitors (except on special occasions), but everyone is free to walk around the mission’s grounds.

Monuments at the site honor Reverend George McDougall, who moved to western Canada in 1862 to minister to the native Stoney people, as well as fur trappers who were working in the area.  He and his  son John built this church by hand in 1875.  The church was used until 1921.

There is also a pyramid monument in the parking area, dedicated in 1927 to the McDougalls and Alberta’s early pioneers.

Those mountains in the distance are quite small now.

Ghost Lake Reservoir

Not long after Morleyville, Ghost Lake appears at the side of Highway 1A.  There’s a good spot to turn off the highway…

… and take a look at the reservoir.

Ghost Lake has been part of the Bow River since the Ghost Dam was constructed in 1929.

Ghost Lake freezes during the winter.  For the rest of the year, it’s a popular fishing spot, with populations of trout and whitefish.

Cochrane, Alberta

Cochrane is a small town that’s quickly growing, thanks to its nearby location to Calgary.  Despite the boom, Cochrane’s main street still has a western feel, and it’s worth at least a brief detour off Highway 1A.

Cochrane added its Centennial Plaza in 2002 and 2003, across Main Street from the Rockyview Hotel. The statue is called “The Cochrane Legacy”, a tribute to the prairie women who helped build the town.

Beyond Cochrane, I found one more place to enjoy a rural landscape, before the sudden onset of Calgary’s sprawl.  This farm is next to Rockpointe Church, and I took the liberty of driving through an open gate onto the prairie for a few photos.

Yes… those mountains are quite small now.

I drove on to the airport on Stoney Trail and Country Hills Boulevard, which cuts a leisurely path through one neighborhood of newly-built houses after another.  It’s a slow drive, with not a lot to appreciate, other than the entrances to subdivisions and an endless number of red lights.  After stopping at a Tim Horton’s for one last sandwich, I drove on into the airport.

The final tally: 2,102 kilometers, or 1,306 miles.  Not bad for an 11-day trip.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s the time-lapse dash-cam video of the drive from Banff to Cochrane…

… and from Cochrane into Calgary, over Country Hills Boulevard around through the residential neighborhoods on the north end of town, and ending at YYC Calgary Airport:

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