Alberta’s Golden Triangle awaits

Alberta’s Golden Triangle is a sledding mecca, with 350 kilometres of groomed snowmobile trails

by Jessica Kirby

Two men sit on snowmobiles in the deep snow.
Heavy snowfall and scenic vistas make the Summit Trail, part of the Golden Triangle, an unbelievable adventure. Photo courtesy of Dan Guenette

Take in a view of the Athabasca River and the town of Whitecourt at the Athabasca Lookout, overlook Goodwin Lake or Groat Creek Canyon, or do it all on a Golden Triangle adventure. Get ready for hilly sections, tight, winding tree trails and flat, straight runs where you can open up for some real adventure. Stop in at any of five warm-up shacks along the trail and keep an eye open for beautiful scenic vistas.

Dan Guenette, president of the Whitecourt Trailblazers, said the Golden Triangle trail system is family and beginner friendly terrain-wise, but it helps to be prepared for long distances between communities.

“Due to the distance of 110 kilometres between communities, it is recommended that riders bring fuel and survival gear, cellphone, GPS, and have a check-in system set up with a responsible adult,” said Guenette. “The area is vast and, although the trail is groomed, traffic in most areas is very light.”

Riders should be prepared to do a self-rescue in the event of medical or equipment problems, keeping in mind that cell coverage is not available throughout the system.

Most riders tackle the Golden Triangle over two days, riding two legs on day one and the last on the second day. Others prefer to take in the scenery over a full three days, enjoying this epic experience at a more leisurely pace.

Use caution throughout the system when crossing bogs, swamps, creeks and small lakes, said Guenette, and be mindful of industrial activity along the trail at all times of the year. Alberta Snowmobile Association trail passes are available for $20 per day or $70 for the year.

Head out from Whitecourt

The trail from Whitecourt offers up nice rolling hills through Alberta’s boreal forest, with some scenic flat stretches. The Whitecourt Trailblazers have been hard at work improving signage, and maps are available from the club’s website. 

Driving directions: The Whitecourt Trailhead is located at the Eagle River snowmobile staging area, 10 kilometres northwest of Whitecourt. Take Highway 43 from Whitecourt towards Fox Creek and travel 8 kilometres. Turn right onto Highway 32, north towards Swan Hills. The staging area is located 2 kilometres north along Highway 32.

Grooming season: Portions of the Golden Triangle near Whitecourt are groomed weekly. The entire Golden Triangle system is groomed by February 1 each year, snow conditions permitting.

Elevation: 2000-4500 feet

Difficulty level: Beginner to intermediate, but be prepared with survival gear and extra fuel for up to 110 kilometres between communities.

Tip: Before heading out on a 330 kilometre trail ride, make sure the sleds are in good condition and the riders are conditioned and experienced to ride this distance, said Guenette.

“The legs between the three communities are 110 kilometres each, and for a novice rider this can take up to eight hours, while an experienced rider can travel each section in four hours,” he said.

Golden Triangle maps can be printed from the Whitecourt Trailblazers’ website.

Leaving Swan Hills

The Swan Hills Snow-Goers maintain hundreds of miles of trails from the community, not the least of which are the legs of the Golden Triangle leading to Fox Creek and Whitecourt. The best thing about sledding from Swan Hills is that you can ride straight from town into 110 kilometres of sledding awesomeness in either direction. The leg of the trail between Swan Hills and Fox Creek tends to get the best snowfall, while the trip to Whitecourt offers excellent scenic views of the boreal forest. Watch for the Athabasca Lookout on this leg of the trail, where you can stop and gaze out over Whitecourt and the Athabasca River, or visit any number of Forestry lookout towers. The Goose Tower, for instance, is visible from the Triangle Trail and affords excellent views.

Don Kelm, trail co-ordinator for the Swan Hills Snowgoers, said the trail between Swan Hills and Whitecourt has a number of Forestry cutblocks that open up fantastic views of the Swan River Valley to the north.

“People tend to perceive these cutblocks as meadows,” he said, “but there are stumps in there, so be careful.”

Driving directions: Coming in to Swan Hills, head to the tourist information booth and turn south to a multi-purpose area with ball diamonds and a motocross track. Park and ride.

Grooming season:  Three or four times per season.

Elevation: 3,000 to 4,000 feet.

Tip: For a map of the local Swan Hills riding trails, including access to Goose Tower, call or visit Kelm’s parts and repair business, Wilderness Playground Tours at 780-333-2800.

Whitecourt Trailblazer Events:

Whitecourt Trailblazers 2014 VIP & Media Ride – January 29, 2014.

Whitecourt Trailblazers 2014 Snowmobile Rally – February 15 & 16, 2014.

Swan Hills Snowgoers Events:

Snowgoers Annual Rally: February 22, 2014

Alberta Girls Tracks for Cancer: February 22, 2014. The ride begins in Athabasca and travels through Swan Hills, Fox Creek, and Whitecourt on the Golden Triangle trail.

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