Hunters regard this as one of the finest big game areas in the world and, in particular, flock to Edson and Hinton in the autumn.
Within easy reach of these towns are abandoned mines - ghostly reminders of the heyday of the "Coal Branch." This once thriving area of coal-mining towns prospered from 1910 to the 1930s, revived during the Second World War, but slumped again in the late 1940s, when the railways introduced diesel-powered engines.
Edson was created by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway in 1910 when it built a branch line from here into the coal-rich area to the south. In its heyday, Edson was promoted as "Gateway to the Last Great West." Today, although most of the branch installations are gone, Edson is still an important stop on the CN line. Summer events here include a rodeo and a two-day sidewalk jamboree featuring street dancing, bands, auctions, and art and craft displays.
Just south of Edson is the McLeod River. This clear, cold river, fed by melting snow and rain, abounds with Rocky Mountain whitefish, Dolly Varden, eastern brook trout, walleye, northern pike and arctic grayling.
Continuing along Highway 16, you will come to Hinton. Hikers and horseback riders can explore a 20-kilometre restored section of the Bighorn Trail, an early pack trail that extended some 140 kilometres along the Bighorn Ridge between Hinton and Nordegg. There are two wilderness campsites on the trail.
About 1,000 wild horses, descendants of once-enormous herds, roam near Hinton in the wooded foothills of the Rockies. Relentlessly rounded up, first by cowboys, then by hunters to supply pet-food manufacturers, wild horses have all but disappeared from the Canadian West.
About 7 kilometres (4 miles) past Hinton, you can turn North on Highway 40 for about 22 kilometres (13 miles) and reach William A Switzer Provincial Park. Five lakes, linked by Jarvis Creek, provide more than 30 kilometres of canoeing through this park in the foothills of the Rockies. One, Graveyard Lake, gets its name from a nearby Indian burial ground.
Moose, wapiti, lynx, coyotes, deer, marten, fisher, muskrat and beaver, owls, woodpeckers, loons and eagles inhabit the woods and waterways. A lush forest of lodgepole pine, white and black spruce, balsam poplar and trembling aspen supports a thick underbrush of saskatoon, cranberry, wild rose and juniper bushes. Harebell, lily-of-the-valley, fireweed and Indian paintbrush blossom throughout spring and summer.
At Alberta Blue Lake Center in the park, you can study archery, canoe construction, bush survival, natural history, rock climbing, snowshoeing, sailing and fishing. The center was established in 1971 by the provincial government to develop public interest in the outdoors and to train recreation leaders for community agencies and educational institutions. In close proximity to the William A. Switzer Provincial Park is the 4,597-square-kilometre Willmore Wilderness Park. Visitors can hike or canoe for a few days (or a few weeks) without meeting or seeing another person. There are no permanent residents and, except for a few Forest Service cabins and some fire lookouts, no buildings in this wilderness. Automobiles are prohibited. Local commercial outfitters take families horseback riding along trails in summer, and guide hunters in the fall.
Returning to Highway 16, you will continue on to Jasper National Park and the town of Jasper. Jasper National Park is a sweeping expanse of scenic beauty - of awesome mountain peaks and centuries-old glacial ice, of flower-carpeted meadows and mirror-like lakes.
In the early 1800s the need for a fur-trade route across the Continental Divide brought the first white men to this alpine wilderness. Three log buildings were built for weary voyageurs traveling over the Yellowhead and Athabasca passes. The ramshackle settlement was named Jasper House after North West Company clerk Jasper Hawes. In 1907 the coming of the railway through Yellowhead Pass prompted the federal government to preserve the area as a national park.
Today, the park covers more than 10,800 square kilometres, of which only 800 square kilometres are flat valley bottoms. Grassy meadows carpet the lower slopes, where rainfall is scant. Higher up, a moister climate has produced bands of forest on the mountain flanks. Above the timberline - at about 2,100 metres - a sub-arctic climate stunts even tenacious alpine vegetation. Mule deer graze among the poplar and jack pine stands of the Miette and Athabasca valleys. Bighorn sheep share their lofty range with mountain goats, but are left far behind when the goats climb to narrow ledges shared only with eagles. Rarest of all sights in the park is the mountain caribou herd that ranges by the headwaters of Maligne Lake. We recommend a drive out to Maligne Lake where you can take a scenic cruise to world-famous Spirit Island and capture your own photo of the iconic stand of trees with towering mountains in the background.
In the 1800's, the townsite of Jasper was was a way station for wilderness travelers - trappers, missionaries, geologists, surveyors, naturalists and prospectors. The first facility for park visitors was established in 1915 in the form of a tent camp on Lac Beauvert. Today the town is a year-round recreation center with facilities ranging from the primitive to the plush.
Located near the confluence of the Athabasca and Miette rivers, Old Fort Point is the site of Henry's House (1811), an early fur-trade post. Nearby grassy slopes are a grazing area for mule deer.
Pyramid Lake Drive winds for eight kilometres north to 2,722-metre Pyramid Mountain and a pair of sparkling glacial lakes. Haida Indians of the Queen Charlotte Islands carved the totem pole outside the railway station. A cairn near the mouth of the Rocky River commemorates Jasper House, built by the North West Company in 1813 and run by Jasper Hawes.