This loop hits a just few of central Alberta’s great small towns. Around Carstairs, see how wool is processed at Custom Woolen Mills (it’s a little out of the way, but well worth it) and have a true farm lunch at PaSu Farm. Stop at Olds for a historical museum visit and to admire the Olds College Botanic Gardens. If you have time, stop in Bowden to pick your own Saskatoon berries or visit a sunflower maze before heading into Torrington to see the “world famous” Torrington Gopher Hole Museum.
385 km round trip.
Where to stop along the way
On the way into Carstairs, turn onto Highway 580 and spend some time visiting Pat and Sue de Rosemond’s sheep farm. See the working farm and shop for a range of sheep-related products in the boutique, like cozy insoles, mitts and socks. The boutique is open Tuesday through Sunday. Stick around for some food, too. As well as lunch, afternoon tea and meals to go, PaSu Farms hosts special foodie events like its Saturday evening barbecue in the summer. (Find more information on dining at PaSu Farm below.)
PaSu Farm, off Hwy. 580, 403-337-2800, pasu.com
This seasonal farmers’ market is worth the drive north. The market runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on select Saturdays from May through September. At this small-town market you’ll find everything from homemade baked goods to crafts to Hutterite preserves. The 2018 market days are May 12, June 9 and 30, July 21 and 28, August 11 and 25 and September 15 and 29. For Beef and Barley day on July 21 and Pumpkin Festival on September 15, the market is open from noon until 4 p.m.
Carstairs Curling Rink, 350 11 Ave., carstairsfarmersmarket.weebly.com
Make a point to stop at the family-run woolen mill that’s a little east of Carstairs. The wool shop is open Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. From May to September, it’s also open the last Saturday of the month. You can buy a range of wool items processed at the mill. Buy prairie wool socks or a handmade knit sweater or a wooly toque now to wear later in the year. There are also guided tours offered on Fridays and one Saturday a month. Take the tour and see how raw fleece is processed into a usable product using old-school carding machines -the machines here are from 1895, 1910 and 1927.
Custom Woolen Mills, 30453 Range Rd. 27-2, 403-337-2221, customwoolenmills.com
History buffs will want to make a stop at the Mountain View Museum and Archives in Olds. The museum is run by the Olds Historical Society and showcases the history, heritage and culture of Olds. As well as visiting the exhibits, see historical documents and more than 2,000 historical photographs. The museum is open Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Mountain View Museum and Archives, 5038 59 Ave., 403-556-8464, oldsmuseum.ca
This is the time of year to stop by Olds College to admire its Botanic Gardens and Treatment Wetlands that cover more than 25 acres. For the rest of the summer, expect to see the garden’s summer perennials in full bloom and aquatic species on the ponds. The herb garden will also be at its peak. The gardens are free to explore form down until dusk from October to April. To get the most out of the gardens, book a guided tour. Tours are at least one hour in duration and cost $10 per person and are capped at 15 people.
Olds College, 4500 50 St., 403-556-8323, oldscollege.ca
If you have time to head toward Bowden before turning off to Torrington, this is a must-stop venue for all lovers of Saskatoon berries. This farm was founded in 1969 by Len and Joyce Pearson. While there are now hundreds of Saskatoon berry orchards across the prairies, Pearson’s Berry Farm is recognized as the first commercial orchard of these berries in the world. Throughout July and August, you can pick your own Saskatoon berries at the U-pick here (call ahead to make sure there are berries to pick). Or, if you just want the baked goods without all the work of picking the fruit, just stop by the bakery and caf. Opt for the Saskatoon tarts, Morning Glory muffins or Saskatoon berry pie to enjoy in the garden caf. (Or sample all of them.)
Pearson’s Berry Farm, 34463 Range Rd. 40, 403-224-3011, pearsonsberryfarm.ca
You’ve probably visited a corn maze during the fall, but drive north and a little past Bowden this summer, and you can visit Canada’s only sunflower maze. The maze is made up of 100,000 sunflowers. After escaping the maze, stick around to pick your own vegetables, flowers and strawberries from the Eagle Creek Farms U-Pick.
Eagle Creek Farms, 1-877-224-3939, sunmaze.ca
This museum is small and it’s certainly quirky, but if you’re a fan of the unusual then make sure you stop here while you’re in the area. The one-room museum has several boxed dioramas where stuffed gophers dressed in tiny costumes are the stars. Each diorama depicts a different scene: you’ll see stuffed gophers barbecuing dinner, stuffed gophers at the library, stuffed gophers winning at the Olympics and more. The museum is only open during the summertime from June 1 to September 30.
The Torrington Gopher Hole Museum, 208 1 St. S., 403-631-2133, gopherholemuseum.ca
Where to eat along the way
If you’re looking for a quick lunch while passing through Carstairs on your way to Olds, stop at this drive-thru burger joint. You’ll find classic diner food on the menu like a range of different burgers, side orders like onion rings, fries (French and curly), and milkshakes. The Texas fried chicken is particularly delicious.
853 Centre St., 403-337-3941
For a satisfying, high-protein meal, make a reservation at the PaSu Farm restaurant. The restaurant is open for lunch from Tuesday through to Saturday, and on Sunday there is a very meaty lunch buffet – you’ll eat roast lamb, beef and chicken. The restaurant is located in a building the shape of a hip-roof barn and has high ceilings and lots of natural light. For a particularly special meal, make a point to visit on a Saturday evening for the South African barbecue dinner. The evening begins at 5:30 p.m. with appetizers and drinks, followed by all the meat you can eat. There’s everything from steak to lamb ribs to tandoori chicken to South African sausage, called Boerewors. The barbecue dinner is $50 per person and you have to make reservations.
PaSu Farm, off Hwy. 580, 403-337-2800, pasu.com
This trendy spot is a gem in Olds. You’re spoiled for choice here with a range of appetizers, salads, pastas, pizzas, burgers and rice bowls on the menu. Most dishes are under $20, including the prime rib beef dip, grouchy bread, nachos and lobster mac and cheese. Also, order a virgin cocktail before you keep driving to your next destination. If you aren’t driving, this restaurant is licensed and has beer, wine and cocktails. Don’t leave before having a slice of turtle cheesecake.
5038 46 St., 403-556-6488, grouchydaddys.com
This diner is located just off of Highway 2. Instead of stopping at a fast food chain, pull over and try a burger, club sandwich or Reuben at this diner. (And be sure to finish off with a slice of Saskatoon berry pie.) Come hungry – the portions are generous. With its neon signage, booth seating and vintage dcor, this is a true diner.
1, 1-3 Heritage Dr., 403-657-3503, facebook.com
May 27, June 3 and June 10
See how asparagus is harvested at Edgar Farms just north of the Bowden SunMaze. Go on a wagon ride to learn about the process, shop for preserves, pies and, of course, fresh-picked asparagus at the store, shop the artisan market and let your kids play in the bale maze.
June 23, 2018
Sample beer, spirits and mead from Alberta breweries, distilleries and meaderies at this one night event. 2018 is the third year for this rural beer festival adn tickets are $10 in advance or $15 at the door.
July 20 to 22, 2018
This is the big community party for Carstairs. The weekend includes a rodeo, parade, slow-pitch tournament, farmer’s market, pancake breakfast and fireworks.
August 28, 2018
For one night in August, the Carstairs Memorial Arena is transformed into a drive-in movie theatre. This is a family-friendly event and the movie that will be screened is yet to be announced. The movie will be screened at dusk, but the annual parenting fair takes place before the screening in the same area, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. It’s free to attend the movie screening but do bring along a non-perishable food item for the Carstairs youth food bank. There is also a concession selling popcorn.