Iron Horse Trail at a Glance
Scenic Trail Ensures A Positive Users' Experience
The Iron Horse Trail is a very attractive part of the local landscape of North-Eastern Alberta. It has existed in its relatively natural state since approximately 1920. This means that it has developed its own ecological character with naturally growing trees and other plants. The trail crosses sloughs, aspen groves, pine forests, spruce forests, and winds among rolling hills and around lakes. The many culverts, extant in the original rail bed, and the numerous bridges and trestles, make it possible for the trail users to experience the scenic wonders of the area with a minimum of difficulty. This trail is perfect for a family adventure that can last a day or a week.
The trail follows the abandoned railroad right-of-way, connecting many small communities and several large towns. Some of the communities survive in name only, with the trail providing the last tangible evidence of these places. While towns and villages along the Iron Horse Trail can be visited by conventional motorized vehicles, some of these "ghost towns" are off established highways. The Trail affords a unique and slow-paced view of the region not possible for motorists.
The Iron Horse Trail will be easy to use, allowing people to view wildlife or enjoy a sociable outing with their families and companions. It will not be challenging for the majority of users. It is an excellent way to get to know northeast Alberta better and experience the hospitality of the many excellent tourist facilities along the way. At the same time, the length will allow long trips or many visits to different sections.
Trail users will encounter a range of natural and agricultural landscapes typical of northeast Alberta. Beginning at Heinsburg, the trail follows the north bank of the North Saskatchewan River before heading up the Moose Creek valley away from the North Saskatchewan. It then slowly climbs a slight grade after Lindbergh out of the valley across mixed farmland on its way to Elk Point. From Elk Point, the trail winds westward through some scenic hilly country, up a narrow coulee where cattle and buffalo ranching prevail. As the trail nears St. Paul, the terrain levels out and farmland replaces the wooded hills.
From St. Paul, the trail extends westward over level terrain through grain and cattle farms. The trail is bordered by natural aspen and osier dogwood groves. The landscape becomes undulating as the trail reaches Abilene Junction, the site of a fork in the trail. One part of the trail heads northeast to Cold Lake and the other continues west toward Waskatenau.
From Abilene, the trail winds westward through aspen forest to Ashmont, with Upper Mann Lake just north of the trail. Between Ashmont and Vilna, the trail follows Highway 28 on one side and farmland on the other for most of the way. From Bellis westward, the trail winds through an aromatic pine forest.
The next siding is Edwand, at one time a village with some services, but now only a handful of neat houses. The trail now winds and undulates through some of the most picturesque scenery in this part of the world. Hills, valleys, sloughs, streams, farmland, forest - all are part of the trail between Bellis and Smoky Lake. All of this very easily negotiable thanks to the culverts and trestles along the way. From Smoky Lake through Warspite to the trail's end in Waskatenau, we encounter quintessential farmland - level except for some sloughs and streams.
The northeast branch from Abilene to Cold Lake provides some differences in scenery. From Abilene to Mallaig, the trail winds through some hilly country, crossing sloughs, and skirting small lakes. Before the trail gets to Mallaig, it is bounded on both sides by some very excellent farmland. Between Mallaig and Therien, the trail passes through some farmland and pastureland. The history of Therien's settlement speaks of times when it was a thriving community.
From Glendon to Bonnyville, the trail passes through some pine forest, boreal forest, skirting close to Franchere and past Moose Lake Provincial Park. After passing through Bonnyville, the trail continues through farmland, pastureland, and sloughs to Fort Kent, then on past Ardmore. The Beaver River trestle, over 450 metres long, is breathtaking, and it makes crossing the river a simple but exciting matter. Cold Lake, with a complete range of tourist facilities provides the northeast trailhead.
The trail grade is well above water and no flooding is anticipated because of all the culverts and trestles along the way. Negative impacts on the environment are not anticipated either. The trail will follow the abandoned railway right-of-way and will not require any new right-of-way.
Very limited impact is expected for adjacent landowners. Certainly there will be much less disturbance than there was in the time of railroad activity. The trail Code of Conduct stresses the importance of staying on the trail, and the provision of services, including campsites, at villages will reduce or eliminate the need for contacting landowners.