Over the years I’ve been pretty proud of the dent I’ve been able to make in my Alberta travels. There’s so much to see and do right in my home province, I never felt short of local adventures. But I’m always delighted when I get a chance to visit a place I’ve never been to before in the province.
That place (and the topic of this blog post) is Alberta’s ‘West Country,’ near Sundre, Alberta.
Note: this exploration of Alberta’s West Country and Town of Sundre was part of a hosted Tourism Sundre partnership. This is the first of two blog posts I’ll be sharing about what to see, do and eat in Sundre, Alberta area. Thank you to the Town of Sundre for inviting me to experience what the gorgeous region has to offer!
Travel Guide: A Weekend in West Country
(Horseback Riding and White Water Rafting near Sundre, Alberta)
In my other Sundre, Alberta blog post, I detail a bunch of things to see, do and eat right in the Town of Sundre. For this blog post I wanted to highlight how you could take a perfect, outdoorsy West Country vacation featuring horseback riding and cozy cabins at Sunset Guiding and Backcountry Retreat and whitewater rafting and cliff jumping (optional) with Mukwah Rafting Tours!
Watch my short video blog of our adventure!
Where is the West Country?
Alberta’s West Country is located in west-central Alberta near the Panther and Red Deer Rivers southwest of Edmonton and northwest of Calgary, in Clearwater County (near Mountain View County). For reference, the Town of Sundre is located near Olds, Alberta approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes drive (253 km) south west of Edmonton, and just 1 hour and 20 minutes drive (115 km) north west of Calgary. From Sundre, the West Country (at least, Sunset Guiding & Backcountry Retreat and Mukwah Rafting) is about an hour drive west. Sundre is like the gateway to the West Country.
The West Country is home to the province’s largest concentration of wild horses (!!) and full of pristine wilderness—rivers, Rocky Mountains, and lots and lots of forest. It’s a gorgeous region of Alberta.
It’s also an area that really doesn’t get as much tourist attention in the province (especially compared to places like Banff, Lake Louise or Jasper).
We were told by Sundre locals that Calgarians often come out to the West Country during long weekends, but that it’s got fairly ‘hidden gem’ status otherwise. (Why are you not sharing your secrets, Calgarians?! lol)
Horseback Riding in the West Country
Horseback riding is a popular pastime in Alberta’s West Country. A popular company to horseback ride with in the West Country backcountry (so many countries lol) is Sunset Guiding & Backcountry Retreat.
Sunset Guiding & Backcountry Retreat is family-owned (by a man name Greg) but managed by a sweet couple named Lori and Merle, and their wonderful team Bev, Dennis and Gwyneth (all of whom you would meet if you book a horseback riding trip or stay at their cabins!)
Sunset Guiding offers day horseback riding trips, whether for an hour or up to nine, you can do simpler loops (we did a simpler loop of about two hours that overlooked Cline Lake) or you can go for four hours to see wild horses, six hours to Dormer Lake, seven hours to Ya Ha Tinda Ranch and National Park, or nine hours to an ice lake.
Children as young as 4 can ride and if you do a ride over four hours it includes a bagged lunch. Your horseback riding guides are super friendly (the team I mentioned above!) and are happy to answer all your questions about horseback riding and the backcountry.
Our horseback riding excursion with Sunset Guiding & Backcountry Retreat was just perfect.
We went through forests, across fields, overlooking lakes and mountains, and up and down hills. We were able to stop and take photos at certain spots along the trail (and if you see a photogenic spot that isn’t a formal stop, just ask if you can pause for photos! Merle and Dennis were really accommodating).
You really don’t need any horseback riding experience to try riding with Sunset! All horses are gentle and well-trained, making this a holiday on horseback that you’ll never forget! (We sure won’t!)
You’ll also need closed-toe shoes in order to ride (I tried going out in my flip flops and that was a no no lol)
You’re encouraged and welcome to bring along your camera (DSLR or otherwise) as long as it can loop around your neck. I took all of these horseback riding photos with my phone (it was just easier to work with one hand, while the other hand is holding onto the horse reins) but there are also saddle bags where you can put your camera or other smaller equipment in as you ride, if you wanted to unload at one of the more scenic spots to take more serious photos.
This was such a peaceful ride with breathtaking views, I couldn’t recommend it more.
Where to stay in West Country
Along with horseback riding, Sunset Guiding & Backcountry Retreat also offers cozy cabin accommodations!
They have five cabins of varying sizes that range from $73.50 (one double bed), $94.50 (two double beds or one queen bed and one twin bed), $126 (two queen beds and a twin bunked) or $210 (full cabin house with king bed, double bed, two beds, full kitchen, two baths and a BBQ).
My friend Rachel and I stayed in the two double bed cabin (“Burnt”) which included the beds, a little fridge, a fireplace, and dresser. It’s a super cozy and comfortable cabin and really made us feel like we were in the backcountry.
The shared bathroom cabin is just a few steps from our bed so it’s not totally inconvenient but I could definitely see a stay in the bigger cabin with bathroom on a return visit (and something that if you’ve got a young family might want to. consider booking for convenience!)
Sunset Guiding & Backcountry Retreat also offers RV parking or tenting!
And the cabins are dog-friendly (at an additional cost).
On site, there is a little cafe / kitchen called the Sunset Cafe which offers breakfast and lunch, and sometimes by request, dinners. It’s definitely got a mom’s cooking, home kitchen vibe. They are also popular for their milkshakes! It’s a great place to grab a bite before your horseback riding or other backcountry adventures.
IMPORTANT Wi-Fi NOTICE!
Something to note about the West Country is that there is *NO SERVICE* lol so if you’re looking for a weekend where you can truly unplug, staying at Sunset Guiding & Backcountry, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, or hiking, is most certainly the place in Alberta to get a bit of a digital detox.
The only area with Wi-Fi access is their office/general store, so admittedly, Rachel and I went up a few times to just hang out and use the Wi-Fi during our visit (after all the adventures of course!)
You should also make sure you’ve pre-loaded your Google Maps with Sunset Guiding or Mukwah Rafting Tours before you set out from Sundre (it doesn’t take long once you’ve gone. west of Sundre for service to get spotty!)
White Water Rafting with Mukwah Rafting Tours
Your Weekend in West Country should also include a white water rafting tour with Mukwah Rafting!
Mukwah Rafting has been offering thrilling whitewater rafting tours of the Upper Red Deer River since 1982. It is located just a few minutes from Sunset Guiding, which is why pairing outdoor activities at both spots makes a ton of sense!
My experience with Mukwah was my third time whitewater rafting—and I’m happy to report my most favourite experience to date! I’ve previously white water rafted on. the Athabasca River in Jasper and the Sulphur River in Grande Cache. Both experiences (don’t get me wrong) were fun and provided breathtaking, scenic mountain views, but the Upper Red Deer River raft through Mukwah had the most white water rapids so it made the whole tour pretty exciting the entire time.
Not only were there a bunch of rapids, but Mukwah’s Full Jaunty 4.5-hour tour also includes an extremely thrilling cliff jumping spot if you’re brave enough to jump!! This was one of the most simultaneously exciting and terrifying things I’ve ever done and I would highly recommend it.
If you have glasses, do NOT wear them for the cliff jump!!
I took mine off and left it with one of the rafting guides before I jumped because I was certain they would’ve flown off or broken with the force that you hit the rapid water. Best to be safe.
In addition to the awesome rapid action, there’s two other things that really set Mukwah Rafting apart from other Alberta rafting providers:
- Mukwah Rafting base camp is located RIGHT along the Panther River (which connects to the Upper Red Deer River), so it takes just a few steps to get your raft out and onto the water.
- Mukwah Rafting includes lunch before you head out on your rafting adventure! Our lunch was soup and sandwiches, and by the end of your rafting adventure, we felt so grateful that we had filled up our bellies before we hit the water.
Our tourism rafting trip was during a weekday so we were fortunate to get a raft full of guides! We loved rafting with Ryan, Pete, Cody and Ben. They were knowledgable, funny (we appreciate the funny guides), and made great rafting companions.
A Few Things To Know About White Water Rafting
- Like horseback riding, you do not need to be an experienced swimmer or white water rafter to participate! Everyone gets life jackets so you’re good to go (I’m a TERRIBLE swimmer but I never feel in danger on these rafting tours lol). You get all safety gear, a wet suit, wet shoes, a fleece sweater and more to stay afloat, warm and (mostly) dry.
- You don’t need to be too strong to raft. I am a TERRIBLE athlete (lol) and rarely do any form of physical exercise (lol) and paddling on the raft is pretty easy. It helps because you’ve got a group of people paddling with you, but you definitely don’t need to be in peak physical condition to raft!
- I like to chat it up during my rafting trips but you also need to pay attention to the instructions your guide is giving the group (paddle forward, paddle back, sometimes left side will paddle one direction and right side will paddle another, sometimes you only need to paddle once or twice, other times they’ll instruct you to keep paddling until you’re told to stop!) Admittedly Rachel and I probably talked too much, and too loudly, at times during our trip, so that’s something to be mindful of. Your guides are providing instructions to keep you SAFE (avoiding rocks, trees and other potential dangers) so it’s important to pay attention!
- If you want to bring your phone with you to take photos at certain spots along the way, you should bring a dry bag, or ziploc bag placed inside another bag you don’t mind getting wet. Mukwah Rafting may have some dry bags but better if you bring your own. I’d recommend taking a photo with your friends/family/group prior to entering the water (but after you’ve changed into your rafting gear and got your paddles) then you can also put your phone away if you don’t want to bring it on the raft. There is another good spot for photos when they take the cliff jumping break too. If you want official photos from Mukwah you’ll need to ask/order beforehand and get them at an extra charge.
Like Sunset Guiding, Mukwah Rafting also offers cabins and camping on site (learn more). Also like Sunset, there is no Wi-Fi at Mukwah Base Camp or along the river! There’s your warning lol.
Mukwah also offers a river floating experience if you think navigating the rapids might be too much for you (but I would highly recommend the white water rafting!! Anyone can do it!! And you’ll have so much fun!!)
If you’re looking for a weekend adventure in the West Country of Alberta, I’d highly recommend horseback riding and white water rafting, along with a stay at Sunset Guiding’s cozy cabins (or if you’re into camping, or have an RV, camping at Sunset or Mukwah).
We did our horseback riding and rafting adventure all in one day (it was quite a jam-packed day lol) but here’s a slightly chiller paced itinerary you could try:
Weekend in West Country Sample Itinerary
- Option A: Drive in to Sundre first and have dinner (watch for my blog post with suggestions on where to eat in Sundre or check out their listings!!) then drive out to Sunset Guiding & Backcountry Retreat.
- Option B: Drive right to Sunset Guiding & Backcountry Retreat (pick up something to eat on the way).
* Be sure to watch for wild horses along the side of road on your way in!!! There are many *
Check into Sunset Guiding & Backcountry Retreat and unwind for the night in your cabin or by the fire pits, or in chairs looking out onto the Panther River.
- Have a small breakfast at Sunset Cafe before you head out for whitewater rafting with Mukwah Rafting Tours! The full day experience starts around 11 a.m. (including lunch!) and ends just after 4 p.m.
- Drive to Sundre for dinner and exploration, or arrange with Sunset Guiding for a dinner, OR if you booked the cabin with full kitchen, make sure you bring some food to cook for your dinner in-cabin!
- Hike or relax in your cabin or by the fire or river before bed.
- Do a one, two, or three-hour horseback ride with Sunset Guiding! Grab lunch at Sunset Cafe (and maybe milkshakes for the road), or stop in town for a bite before you head home!
That just gives you an idea of the weekend adventure you can have in Alberta’s West Country.
Of course if you have an RV or you’re an avid camper or hiker, there’s even more outdoor exploration you can try! I’m told there are beautiful waterfalls (the Bighorn Falls) not too far away at Ya Ha Tinda Ranch.
If you’re planning on a West Country adventure, be sure to book well in advance as they do get pretty busy during the summer! If you can book during weekdays, there’s likely to be more availability. If you have any questions, call or email both companies to clarify before booking!
Rachel and I had such an awesome adventure in and around Sundre, Alberta.
No Wi-Fi at times was a challenge (lol) but was also pretty freeing.
We’re grateful to the really fine people at Sunset Guiding & Backcountry Retreat as well as Mukwah Rafting Tours for hosting us. And for Sundre Tourism / Town of Sundre for inviting us to experience the West Country for the very first (but certainly not the last!!!!) time.
And be sure to watch my short video blog of our West Country, Alberta adventure:
And share this blog / video blog!
Disclaimer: I partnered with Tourism Sundre to explore and promote activities you could do and places you could eat in and around the Town of Sundre. My accommodations, dining and activities were complimentary. This does not impact opinions stated in this post. I didn’t realize how beautiful ‘West Country’ Alberta was and I absolutely loved my mountain and river adventures here.