Updated: February 5, 2021
Located in magical David Thompson Country, smack dab in the middle of both the incredible Icefields Parkway and the Cowboy Trail, Nordegg is a picturesque community that’s perfect for the outdoor adventurer. From exploring its historic mine to hitting the road and exploring some of Alberta’s most stunning natural scenery, Nordegg is a great base for getting out into some of Canada’s most spectacular nature.
Nordegg, however, is just one small part of David Thompson Country, so we’ll explore the entire area in this travel guide, showing you what to do, where to stay, and how to get the most out of this incredible Alberta road trip.
Where is Nordegg?
Nordegg is a very small town just off Highway 11, right in-between the Icefields Parkway and the Cowboy Trail. It is located 90 kilometres west of Rocky Mountain House. Nordegg is part of David Thompson Country, which includes Rocky Mountain House, Caroline, and Clearwater County.
History of Nordegg
Although Nordegg itself is just a small town with a permanent population of close to 100, it’s the location that truly matters. Surrounded by wild country, rivers, and the backdrop of the Canadian Rockies, there’s no shortage of outdoor adventurous pursuits.
However, Nordegg got its start due to coal mining. It was back in 1907 when Martin Cohn (who later changed his last name to Nordegg) staked claims on coal deposits in the area. This led to the creation of the town of Nordegg and a thriving community of close to 2,500 people, which was also one of the first planned towns in Alberta. Due to Martin’s german background, however, combined with World War 1, he was eventually kicked out of the company and out of the country. In 1942, the mine was one of the top coal-producing mines in the province. It also had its fair share of disasters, such as an explosion in 1941 that killed 29 miners. As coal markets declined and steam locomotives became powered by diesel instead, the mine closed permanently in 1955. Nordegg is now mostly home to summer vacationers.
How to Get to Nordegg
The best way to get to Nordegg is by driving your own vehicle. While some tours may come through here, it’s not really a place you can visit by bus. the closest city is nearby Rocky Mountain House, but the closest major city would be Red Deer. This area is very popular with locals from Red Deer, Calgary, and Edmonton.
Calgary to Nordegg: The drive from Calgary to Nordegg is approximately 300 kilometres and takes just over three hours. The quickest route is to take Highway 2 towards Red Deer, taking a turn around Innisfail towards Sylvan Lake and then taking Highway 11 west. However, if you don’t mind adding a whopping 10 minutes to your drive and/or extending your vacation, you could take the Cowboy Trail as well, taking Highway 22 from Cochrane and up through Sundre and Caroline. Once in Rocky Mountain House, you’d then head west on Highway 11.
Edmonton to Nordegg: The drive from Edmonton to Nordegg is about the same distance as coming from Calgary. The drive is about 300 kilometres in length and takes around three hours. The quickest route is to head towards Red Deer and then taking Highway 12 west from Lacombe.
Banff to Nordegg: The drive from Banff to Nordegg is approximately 230 kilometres and takes around two hours and forty minutes. However, you’ll likely want to add some time as you’ll be driving through some of Canada’s most epic scenery. First, you’ll take the Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper, but at the halfway point (approximately), you’ll take Highway 11 east at the Saskatchewan River Crossing.
Best Time to Visit Nordegg
Nordegg is a great year-round destination. The most popular time to visit is during the warmer months from the summer to the fall. This is when the weather is at its best and many of the activities and attractions are open. This is when people go hiking, fishing, horseback riding, golfing, camping, and more. The spring can also be good, but it can be very rainy. The winter, on the other hand, is also a popular time to visit, as this is when people go snowshoeing, ice fishing, and admire the frozen bubbles in Abraham Lake.
Things to Do in Nordegg
Nordegg itself is just a small town. It was once home to a thriving mine, which is now a national historic site and museum. However, despite having a permanent population of roughly 100, Nordegg and the surrounding area is a great base for exploring the David Thompson region and some of Alberta’s most beautiful natural scenery. Below are some of the most popular things to do.
Brazeau Collieries Mine National Heritage Site
Since you’re visiting Nordegg, it makes sense to visit the most prominent attraction the town has. Nordegg exists because of the coal mine, which shut down in the 1950s. It’s now the Brazeau Collieries Mine National Heritage Site that offers guided tours of the industrial coal mine site during the summer months. These two-hour guided walks run three times each day, but you’ll want to check the website prior to arrival as the entire site is closed right now due to COVID-19. Fees range from $7 – $10.
Located in the heritage centre, which was once the town school, the Nordegg Museum is a great place to learn about the town itself. During our visit, it was closed due to COVID-19 but we did get to see some old photos of the man that started it all. It’s also located in the same building as Miner’s Cafe, which is perhaps the most popular place to buy a pie in the entire province. (Note: Miner’s Cafe is now building their own building next to the gas station. Yes, they’re that popular!)
Nordegg Historic Golf Course
If you’re up for a game of golf, you’ll want to visit the Nordegg golf course. Despite its beautiful location, it’s a relaxing 9-hole course that’s great for beginners, families, and avid golfers alike. It’s only $20 for the day and they also offer cart and club rentals.
Perhaps the crown jewel of the entire area is stunning Abraham Lake, the largest man-made lake in the province. At almost 54 square kilometres in size, you simply can’t miss its impressive turquoise colours and mountain views as you drive along Highway 11. Although it’s best to visit in the summer, it’s actually more famous in the winter months due to its ice bubbles. Just search Instagram and you’ll see how popular it is for people to come out and look down through the ice to see all the frozen bubbles caused by methane gas. We have to admit – it’s our favourite part of the lake as well!
For those visiting in the warmer months, it’s also a popular place to go camping, with many free campgrounds dotting the shoreline. However, it is not a safe place for paddling or swimming, as the winds can be very, very strong. We advise you to admire the views but stay out of the water.
Different viewpoints of Abraham Lake
Preacher’s Point: This area is where the North Saskatchewan River meets Abraham Lake. It has some of the best views in the entire region and is very popular with RV’ers as it’s home to a free unserviced campground. It’s a big area, so there’s plenty of places to drive around and explore. During our visit, we saw families out for walks and kids out biking on their own. We also snapped some of our best photos here. In this winter, this is a great place to see ice formations. It’s not the best place to see the ice bubbles, but the ice formations and overall landscape are remarkable.
Windy Point: Another beautiful place to visit is Windy Point. Besides being windy, this is a great place to go for a picnic or for short hikes along the lake. Just like everywhere around Abraham Lake, it’s gorgeous.
Hoodoo Creek: Another popular spot to go for a hike is Hoodoo Creek. For obvious reasons, it’s a great place to find hoodoos, but it’s also just a beautiful area with fairly easy hikes. Many people come here in the winter to spot the bubbles below the ice of Abraham Lake as well.
Ice Bubbles: Unfortunately, there’s not really a name for the main parking area where people go to see the ice bubbles. Some call it the “new parking lot”. However, you’ll almost certainly see cars or people and it’s worth stopping at various places for the views. Basically, they should be visible almost as soon as you make it onto the ice. We recommend wearing microspikes or ice cleats, but many don’t. The ice needs to be clear so it would not be good to come during or after a heavy snowfall. The best times to see them are usually December to February. Don’t go too far out on the ice either, just to be safe.
One of the most popular activities in and around Nordegg is hiking. There are loads of trails with everything from beginner-friendly short hikes to multi-day backpacking adventures. If you’re looking to go with a professional, consider contacting Pursuit Adventures. They operate out of Nordegg and know all about the area. They can do custom guided hikes, but their most popular hikes include Cline River Canyon, Crescent Falls and Bighorn Canyon, Whitegoat Falls, Coliseum Mountain, Coral Creek Canyon, Eagle Mountain Ridge, Siffleur Falls, and Survey Hill. Pursuit also offers winter tours of the Abraham Lake bubbles and winter hiking as well.
Cline River Canyon
During our summer visit to David Thompson Country, we were supposed to do a hike here but there was a bear in the area. We did, however, come back in the winter and it was spectacular. It was very quiet during our visit, which is surprising considering it’s only a 30-minute light hike from the car park and offers beautiful views and a spectacular icefall. If visiting in the winter, we recommend wearing ice cleats or microspikes, mainly for when you’re walking around the Cline River Icefalls.
One of our favourite things to do in the area is to go for a helicopter ride with Rockies Heli Canada. We’ve been on three of their tours, including both their summer and winter excursions. Our favourite ride was the 1-hour adventure that brought us deep into the Canadian Rocky Mountains to see incredible landscapes such as valleys, glaciers, and sweeping mountain vistas. We’ve also taken the summer adventure that brought us to a secluded waterfall as well as the winter excursion that brought us into the backcountry for some truly unforgettable snowshoeing. Rockies Heli Canada is located near the western edge of Abraham Lake.
Another beautiful Rocky Mountain experience is to go horseback riding with McKenzie’s Trails West. Saddle up and ride out into the backcountry. Tours can be as short as 30-minutes or as long as multiple days. In fact, for those wanting to explore the backcountry but not partake in the 9-hour horseback ride to get there, you can actually opt for the helicopter & horse package, partnering with Rockies Heli Canada to take a helicopter out to the staging area instead. Talk about an adventure! McKenzie’s Trails West is located across the street from Rockies Heli Canada on the western edge of Abraham Lake but on the north side of the highway.
Visit Crescent Falls
As the most popular waterfall in the area, Crescent Falls gets its fair share of visitors, but it is absolutely a must-visit when in Nordegg and the surrounding area. With two waterfalls cascading down with mountain views in the distance, it’s one of the most beautiful waterfalls you’ll ever see. There are a variety of platforms to admire the falls from or you can opt for the slightly riskier route of going down the cliff and seeing the waterfalls from below. There’s also a stunning canyon and lots of camping options, as this is a provincial park. The total time needed to admire the falls is about one hour, but if you wanted to extend that by going for a hike or having a picnic, you could easily spend the day.
Crescent Falls is also great to see in the winter months and is much less busy. The waterfall doesn’t always freeze completely but parts of it certainly will. When we went, it was entirely frozen, with the water only running behind the frozen facade.
Hike to Siffleur Falls
Perhaps the most popular hike in all of David Thompson Country is Siffleur Falls. This beautiful hike is fairly flat and is easy for anyone in moderate shape. It only takes about 2.5 hours return trip and includes a scenic boardwalk, a suspension bridge, and one of the most incredible canyons we’ve ever seen. It’s truly impressive. Oh, and of course, there’s the waterfall itself! With so many gorgeous views, it’s easy to see why this hike is so popular.
Drive to Ram Falls
Perhaps the most spectacular waterfall of them all is Ram Falls, which is also the most isolated. Located on Forestry Trunk Road, it’s about 100-km of dirt road from Nordegg to the falls and is great for an adventure. While it may seem far, this also means that fewer people visit. However, the drive itself is half the fun. There’s so many beautiful views along the way, as well as a plethora of free camping options. In fact, there’s even a mini airport out near Ram Falls, which is used by small bush points and the Canadian military. Either way, both the canyon and the falls are some of the most impressive we’ve ever seen and is a place you shouldn’t miss!
Climb a Mountian Via Ferrata
One of the coolest things we’ve ever done in the region was going mountain climbing via Ferrata with Girth Hitch Guiding. While the Via Ferrata is open to the public, it’s not recommended to go unless you’re a skilled mountain climber. What’s great about climbing mountains via Ferrata is that it’s basically a ladder-system build into the mountain. In fact, Tim from Girth Hitch Guiding is one of the guys who put it here! This system enables you to climb a mountain without looking for little ledges and rocks to pull your way up. You’re strapped into a cable system along the way, making it a very safe and enjoyable experience. However, you still get to essentially scale a mountain, scoring incredible views unlike any other. There are two Via Ferrata’s around the Nordegg area. The one we did is called the Fox and it’s the easiest of the two. It’s for intermediate hikers and introduced multi-pitch climbing while scaling a 500-foot cliff.
The other one is called From Nordegg With Love and is much more extreme. We look forward to doing this one next time, as it’s even more adventurous with a climb through exposed overhanging rock while scaling a 600-foot cliff. Woohoo!
If you’re visiting David Thompson Country in the winter and looking for an exciting activity, try ice climbing! This is a fun, sporty, and safe winter activity for those looking for adventure. We went ice climbing with Girth Hitch Guiding, a very popular guide in the area that also does summer mountain climbing. Tim and his team are very good at what they do and will not only keep you safe but also make you feel safe. They tell you everything you need to know and they truly help you become an ice climbing, giving you the right amount of information and motivation. They’ll also provide everything you need, including ice climbing boots and crampons, a helmet, ice picks, and the safety harnesses needed to make it to the top in one piece. While it’s certainly physically demanding, it’s not as hard as it looks!
If there’s one thing that always impresses us when driving highway 11, it’s all the wildlife we get to see. We’ve seen black bears, grizzly bears, deer, bighorn sheep, and even wild horses. It’s quite incredible. This is why it’s good to be alert while driving, not only because you want to see them, but because you don’t want to hit one with your car either. The wild horses, if out by the highway, are usually around Nordegg or in-between Nordegg and Abraham Lake. Deer can be seen anywhere, as well as bears. This place is one of the best places we’ve experienced in Alberta when it comes to finding wildlife.
Where to Eat in Nordegg
When it comes to the David Thompson region, the biggest selection of restaurants will be in Rocky Mountain House. After all, this is a wild area and is quite secluded. However, there actually are some options in Nordegg and the surrounding area.
Miner’s Cafe: The most famous place to stop for a bite to eat is Miner’s Cafe. However, what they’re really known for is their pies. In fact, they’re so famous for their pies that some people drive all the way here just for that! During our visit, we tried both their Strawberry Rhubarb pie and their Blueberry Mango pie. Both of them were heated up and served with a generous portion of vanilla ice cream, proving to be as delicious as we imagined them to be. They also have hot drinks, cold drinks, and other snacks such as sandwiches and soup. It’s located in the same building as the Nordegg Museum.
Nordegg Lodge Hotel: Located in the hotel, this restaurant is the place to go for things like hamburgers and other common food. We haven’t tried it but it’s pretty much the only proper restaurant in town.
Food Trucks: Operated by Pursuit Adventures and parked right in front of the golf course, this is another great place to eat, whether it’s a delicious salad or some cold ice cream.
Where to Stay in Nordegg
There aren’t lots of places to stay in and around Nordegg, but there are some hotels, lodges, cabins, and many places to camp. If you’re visiting in the summer months, you’ll want to book in advance.
Expanse Cottages: During our visit, we stayed at Expanse Cottages. These cottages are located roughly 5 minutes from Nordegg and are situated fairly deep within the forest with no highway sounds to be heard. They’re fully equipped with a living room, kitchen, TV, and a wood-burning stove. They also have BBQ’s and each cottage has its own outdoor firepit. Wood is provided. We loved our stay and would happily return.
Cheechako Cabins: Cheechako Cabins is located in the quiet cul-de-sac of Grouse Meadow Lane, about one kilometre away from Expanse Cottages. This is another great option for a fully-equipped cabin!
Nordegg Lodge Hotel: This is the main hotel in Nordegg and is also home to its only restaurant. We haven’t stayed there but the rooms look great and the reviews are fairly positive.
David Thompson Resort: This fairly large resort is about a 30-minute drive west of Nordegg. It features a restaurant, a big playground, and a place to get gas and basic groceries. They have a variety of options for accommodation, including a hotel, rustic cabins, and RV trailer rentals.
Exploring David Thompson Country
While Nordegg is a great base for exploring David Thompson Country, another option is Rocky Mountain House. As an established town, there is much more going on in Rocky Mountain House, including an array of restaurants and the very popular Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site. For anyone starting out in the area, we highly recommend visiting this historic site to learn about David Thompson, the fur trading that occurred here before Canada was even a country, and the indigenous people that have called this place home for centuries.
Other Things to Do in the Area
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, David Thompson Country is located right in the middle between the world-famous Icefields Parkway and the Cowboy Trail. It’s also a short drive to both Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, making it one of the best road trips in Alberta.
If you’re looking to head deeper into the mountains, we recommend driving the Icefields Parkway and going either north to Jasper or south to Banff. Even better, do both! If you’d rather embrace your inner cowboy, you could also drive the Cowboy Trail, driving south from Rocky Mountain House along Highway 22, taking time to explore Caroline, Sundre, Cochrane, the Bar-U-Ranch, and the other natural attractions along the way.
There are many things to do in these areas and we have many articles to help you plan the best trip possible, such as:
- Things to Do in Banff
- Things to Do in Jasper
- Things to Do in Lake Louise
- Things to Do in Canmore
- Things to Do in Golden BC
- Things to Do in Alberta
So, what do you think? Is Nordegg and the David Thompson Region on your Alberta Bucket List now?
If we missed anything, please let us know in the comments below.
Go Explore Canada!