Cochrane: Willow Ridge Ranch
Treating myself to a trip to celebrate graduating university was something I’d always planned to do. I was more so imagining a backpacking trip in Europe or South America – but the universe clearly had other plans in mind. With the pandemic making travel a no-go, sticking close to home was the only option. But hey – I figured it couldn’t be too tricky to find somewhere close by that would allow me to explore and kick back for a few days.
What I didn’t expect was to find the perfect getaway nestled in the outskirts of a town I’ve been to more times than I can count: Cochrane. I grew up spending my summers at a campground near by and when I was a hiking guide in Banff, I’d always take clients from Calgary to Banff via the 1A to take in the the stellar view up top the hill descending into the town.
But this time, I got to soak in new views of the foothills from a family owned ranch. Just a few minutes drive from the town centre, lies the most beautiful cottage on Willow Ridge Ranch.
I stumbled upon this place on AirBnb and immediately fell in love. Not only was the cottage itself extremely beautiful and equipped with everything a person could need, but the views were absolutely breathtaking. Plus, there was a plethora of walking and biking trails nearby.
The cottage was booked up until the end of summer (which didn’t surprise me), but a couple of nights happened to open up right after Mother’s Day. Perfect. This would make a wonderful mother-daughter getaway. Nothing better than celebrating graduation and my amazing mother all in one.
And so, my mom and I packed our bags, and our bikes, and headed out west.
Arriving at the cottage we were greeted by Jenna, one of the owners of the ranch (along with her pups Ruby & Molly – who are too stinkin’ cute!). After giving us a quick tour of the space, Jenna brought us to the ridge and told us stories of the land and how this area came to be. She pointed out the cliffs that the Niitsitapi, or Blackfoot peoples, used as buffalo jumps and how teepee rings can still be found in the valley.
Waking up and sipping a fresh cup of coffee while overlooking the valley was something we could certainly get used to. We were even lucky enough to catch site of ravens teaching their young ones to dive and dozens of white tailed deer grazing in the meadow below.
But my favorite part of the trip? Collecting fresh eggs from the chicken coop! Farm fresh eggs are complimentary with the stay – but if you’re interested, you can arrange a time with Jenna to collect some yourself. There was no way I was turning that opportunity down.
So, in the coop I went. Surprisingly, my mother – who is terrified of birds – followed me in. Not sure what convinced her to… but don’t worry – she got out of the coop unscathed and 8 eggs richer.
If farm fresh eggs don’t tickle your fancy – you can check out the beehives to watch the bees busy at work making honey. (Jenna told us that each hive makes about 200lbs of honey!)
Aside from getting a peek into the local life on this ranch, we spent our days exploring the little network of trails and soaking up some sun on the cottage porch… we may have had some wine and charcuterie to compliment the experience 😉 . On that note, I highly recommend stocking up on some good eats from The Butchery Block: a local butcher shop. We stopped by and picked up some fixings to make ourselves a wicked charcuterie for 2.
(Side note: Oh. My. God. You MUST try their steaks and meat pies – brought some home and am already planning to go back for more!)
Otherwise, the only downside to our stay was that it went by too fast! We certainly would’ve been happy to stay a few more nights. While packing up to head back home, we realized that we got so caught up in relaxing and taking in our surroundings, we never did make use of our bikes. Absolutely nothing wrong with that – but we wanted to squeeze at least one ride in.
So, before getting back to Calgary, we decided to stop at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park.
Neither of us had managed to visit this park. Ever. But wow – so glad we did. There’s a few different pathways to choose from – with a bunch of historic sites to check out as well. Having never been, we took a peek at the map and were enticed by the sound of the Windmill Lookout – it quickly became our goal destination.
After breaking a sweat pedaling up and down the hills, we came to realize that there wasn’t actually a windmill at the lookout… fooled us! But the views were still more than worth it.
While riding through the park we heard through the grapevine that, in the near future, the main trail in Glenbow Ranch is actually supposed to connect with the Rotary Greenway in Calgary – meaning you can bike from Glenbow Ranch all the way to south Calgary. As soon as this happens, you bet we’ll be biking that trail!
For an interpretive experience of the area, make sure to check out Tiger Lily Loop. Bikes aren’t allowed on this trail, but it makes for a lovely 2km stroll. There’s even a virtual Indigenous tour you can do to learn about the area before you go! This loop is accessed near the main entrance of the park.
All in all, Cochrane is a wonderful destination – especially for those wanting to connect with nature and experience the life of the locals.