As Mike and I continue to staycation the heck out of this province, we were both pretty excited to cross ‘train ride’ off our Alberta summer vacation list.
I first heard of the Alberta Prairie Railway a few years ago.
Someone I know had tried it and loved it – then recommended it to me, but I can’t remember who!! (So if it was you, please let me know!)
I’d been meaning to go on this railway adventure for years ever since, and was so excited that it finally worked out for Mike and I to attend on Canada Day!
The Alberta Prairie Railway runs steam or diesel trains from Stettler, Alberta to Big Valley, Alberta.
From Edmonton, it’s just a 2-hour drive to Stettler so it easily works for a day trip.
Alberta Prairie Railway operates day and evening rides on weekends from July through December, and depending on the time of year/day, there are different themes for the train rides – including murder mysteries, live stage shows, teddy bear specials (for kids), Christmas specials, and more.
Each ride includes some type of on-board entertainment, and you typically get ‘robbed’ by bandits part-way through the ride. You also get a meal of some kind (lunch or dinner) in Big Valley, and a bit of time to explore the town.
Alberta Prairie Railway is very family-friendly and when we went on our Canada Day trip, I was amazed at how packed it was!
More than 300 people were on board our No. 41 steam engine for the Canada Day ride (the train was decked out with Canadian flags for the occasion).
As the train left the station, Metis buffalo hunter (and hero of the Riel Rebellion) Gabriel Dumont went from car to car greeting passengers and asking us where we’re from.
The Alberta Prairie Railway has made a great name for itself with international travelers.
On our ride, there were people from England, Arizona, Texas, Montana, and all over Alberta – Calgary, Stony Plain, Spruce Grove, Edgerton, Red Deer, and of course Edmonton.
After the initial greetings, the saloon and bar service opens up and then it’s up to you where you want to spend your ride. Mike and I spent the majority of the ride in the saloon, listening to live music from country singer Alecia Aichelle.
— Linda Hoang (@lindork) July 1, 2016
We did explore the entire train though (and was so surprised by how long it stretched) including a few of its concession cars, and the open-air car (which was Mike’s favourite place after the saloon).
There’s also a games room and a kids play area, and if you don’t hang out in the saloon, they have a musician who also travels across the different cars and plays music wherever you are.
The ‘bandits’ who rob the train came with blank firing gun replicas, riding horses, and there’s a mini show where Gabriel Dumont jumps out of the train to try and save the day.
If the bandits stick you up, you’re asked to hand over some change. Gabriel rescues us all and then donates the money taken to different Alberta children’s charities! It’s a pretty entertaining part of the ride.
The ride goes by really quickly (I mean, driving from Stettler to Big Valley only takes 25 minutes).
Once you’re off the train in Big Valley, you either have an hour or so to explore the town first before going to their big hall for a country-style lunch (or dinner), or you go right for lunch and then explore the town after.
Mike and I were among the later-lunch group, so we walked all over Big Valley – exploring its little shops and cute boardwalk. Big Valley is home to just 300 some people (so the amount of passengers on board the train that day almost equalled the total number of people in Big Valley!) and I think the train is a big activity and income-driver for the community.
They have a touristy board walk called the Jimmy Jock Boardwalk which includes a fudge factory, old time dress-up shop, ice cream store, restaurant and miscellaneous souvenirs. There are also plaques throughout with different bits of Big Valley history.
We learned that Jimmy Jock, who the board walk is named after, was a well-respected Big Valley citizen who ran a cafe and later, confectionary store in the town.
The country lunch is in the town’s community hall. The roast beef, mashed potatoes and vegetable lunch isn’t really anything spectacular (I wouldn’t be recommending this trip based on the food alone) but it’s nice to have a meal included in the day trip.
Some of the other trips include different meals (steak, seafood, etc.) so those ones might be a bit tastier than the country roast beef.
Since it was Canada Day, our itinerary also included a Canadian Reaffirmation Ceremony – which was really just some dignitaries and legion members doing a Canada Day speech and then reciting a speech.
After the ceremony, we hopped back onto the train for the ride home – more saloon-in’ and live entertainment, and I squeezed in a quick nap too.
Our ride that day was also sponsored by Panda Flowers, so staff went through and gave everyone complimentary roses! How lovely.
Overall, Mike and I really enjoyed traveling back in time, across our rolling Alberta prairies, in this classic train!
These day trips range from $100 up to $160 for adults, $40 up to $70 for children, $70 up to $140 for youth. Children three and under ride free on almost all trips and are assigned a seat so you don’t have to hold them on your lap.
I think the ride fares skew a bit high but you’re really getting a six-to-seven-hour adventure – round trip ride, entertainment, and meal out of it so I think that’s fair.
I’d say the Alberta Prairie Railway definitely leans towards being more of a young families or older/senior adventure.
I enjoy low-key, themed/sight-seeing trips like these so I still had fun and found lots of aspects interesting, but I think it’s probably far more entertaining if you’re a mom and dad with kids, or grandparents.
There are rides that are more adult-themed (like the murder mystery) though, so I’d still recommend it – and I do think even the family-friendly rides makes for a great couples day trip! Definitely experience it for yourself.
We had perfect summer weather for our trip too – I think going in the wintertime when there’s snow and sleigh rides would be a really nice experience as well.
- Check out the Alberta Prairie Railway schedule for the rest of this season!
- Learn more about Big Valley, Alberta
- Learn more about Stettler, Alberta
Also if you do on a ride, remember to bring cash (or hit up an ATM in Stettler) as they don’t take debit/credit on board (you are traveling back in time after all!)
Disclaimer: I will always provide my 100% honest opinion on this blog. I partnered with the Alberta Prairie Railway to experience one of their day trips in exchange for an honest blog recap. This has no impact on opinions stated in this post.