Northeast of Edmonton near Ashmont, the Iron Horse Trail is a 260km gravel and dirt surfaced route linking eighteen communities. The trail starts in Abilene Junction and follows abandoned railway lines. The southern spur runs from Heinsburg north through Elk Point and St. Paul, Glendon, Bonnyville, and ending up in Cold Lake. The western spur at Abilene Junction travels through Vilna and onto Smoky Lake, which is considered the western gateway to the Iron Horse Trail. The route passes through pastureland and rolling woodlands. There is some signage in place and more going up every year.
The Iron Horse Trail has 20 staging areas and rest stops in rural communities. The staging areas include maps, washrooms, picnic tables, off loading ramps and lots of parking. Along the way, there are also three provincial parks and many campgorunds.
Although the trail begins 20 kilometers to the west, the gateway to Alberta's Iron Horse Trail awaits you in the charming town of Smoky Lake. The staging area is located at the tee-intersection of Main Street and Railway Avenue. Traveling east from Smoky Lake, you will enter the White Earth Valley with its numerous trestle crossings over the White Earth River.
Traveling through expansive farmland, wetlands, and boreal forest, you will come to an impressive trestle at the hamlet of Bellis. Next stop is the Village of Vilna. Further to the east, is Spedden. Ashmont hosts a major equestrian staging area allowing wagon trains and trail rides an excellent starting point.
The town of Abilene Junction is called mile-zero on the trail, Abilene Junction is the centre of the three trail branches moving southwest to Smoky Lake, northeast to Cold Lake and southeast to Heinsburg.
In the southeast branch of the trail, the town of St. Paul offers full services. A full service campground is available at the St. Paul staging area. Note the spectacular gateway to the staging area – a tribute to Alberta’s centennial and the rich history of the region.
Carry on to Elk Point which, in 2009, rebuilt its former train station as an EcoCentre and Tourism Office. All services are available. Lindbergh offers a welcoming staging area to take a break before setting out on the final stretch which follows the North Saskatchewan River past Middle Creek and on into Heinsburg. Take the county road north from Middle Creek to access to Whitney Lakes Provincial Park. Heinsburg provides a beautiful start or finish to Alberta’s Iron Horse Trail.