Destination: Cardston

by | May 17, 2010


Only sixteen miles beyond the United States' border, you can find the friendly town of Cardston, Alberta. With just under four thousand residents, this small town offers a relaxing getaway through options of camping under the Alberta stars, exploring the nearby national parks, and visiting local museums. Unbeknownst to many, Cardston was actually founded by Latter-day Saint pioneers directed there by President John Taylor.

Back in the late nineteenth century, the United States government passed the Edmunds Act that made it legal to fine or jail any person who was practicing polygamy. Several Latter-day Saints had to rush into hiding, and many of them sought out for Mexico. Charles Ora Card was one such man who intended to go towards Mexico; however, President John Taylor asked him to change routes and head in the opposite direction: Canada. With a group of only ten other families, Card traversed the mountainous terrain and settled in what is now the town of Cardston, Ablerta. Today Cardston is home to many Latter-day Saints.

The green rolling hills and panoramic scenes of the mountain vistas entice travelers to stop by this historic town. Cardston boasts a nationally famous museum of horse-drawn carriages, wagons, and sleighs, and is proud to have been the first town outside of the United States to have a temple erected. There are also many more historical sites to visit, and the adventure to Cardston is never complete until you experience the wonders of the outdoors!

Historical Sites Cardston, Alberta Temple This white granite edifice sits on a raised hill at the city center and was officially named a Canadian Historic Site by the government in 1995. It should definitely be on your list of places to visit. As you walk around the temple grounds with your family, be sure to point out the unusual design and architecture. The Cardston Temple was the first temple whose design was commissioned to architects instead of being designed by Joseph Smith or Brigham Young. Built in the shape of a Maltese cross, this temple is one of three in the world that was not built with a spire (the others are the Laie Hawaii Temple and the Mesa Arizona Temple).

As you continue your walk around the temple, be sure to stop in at the visitors center, open every day through the summertime (closed in the winter). There you will find photographs from the early days of construction (it took ten years to build because of World War I) and several other interesting displays showing the rich history of the temple and it's completion in 1923.

Remington Carriage Museum When you walk in the doors of this museum, you'll wonder if you really have a car to drive anymore. Hundreds of carriages, wagons, and sleighs surround you as you are guided through the interior. With an overwhelming number of horse-drawn vehicles (over 240), you will find yourself transported back into the early nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As you tour the museum, you will learn about the different types of carriages that were made and used in earlier days. A variety of displays - set up like a stage with lights and background facades - will show you wagons used for the prairie, city, school, and leisurely activities. This museum is very kid friendly with its interactive displays and carriage rides, so bring the whole family on your trip to Cardston.

If the museum alone does not pull you back a century or two, taking a ride in these rustic contraptions surely will. The museum also offers carriage rides where you can experience the rugged travel of earlier pioneers. And if you are feeling quite adventurous, try renting a carriage of your own. The museum supplies you with a driver, groom and two horses. The prices vary on how long you want the carriage and what type you rent out, but it will definitely be something you and your family might not be able to do anywhere else!

Courthouse Museum This sandstone structure offers a taste of Cardston's history like nothing else. With the original judges' bench, witness box, and some jail cells still in place, it's like you have stepped back in time when you enter this building. As you explore the jail cells, make sure to point out to the kids the original graffiti that has been preserved. The Courthouse, built in 1907, holds the record of being the only courthouse in Alberta to have been used the longest.

Card Pioneer Home This "little house on the prairie" was built by Charles Ora Card when he first settled in Cardston in 1887, and it offers a taste of the pioneer heritage. Still standing in its original spot, the cabin was used as a community center and resting spot for travelers because there was no hotel built in the town until 1894. Although this cabin was once one building out of a few, there are now many businesses located right by this Registered Provincial Historic site. You can learn more of the history regarding Charles Ora Card and the settlement of Cardston.

Seabiscuit Monument Cardston was also the birthplace of George Woolf, the famous racehorse jockey of Seabiscuit. This summer, the city will commemorate their success by revealing a large, bronze statue of the horse and jockey on July 17, 2010.

Outdoor Adventures Waterton Lakes National Park Just a half hour drive outside of Cardston lies some of the beautiful mountains in the Rocky Mountain range. This gorgeous area is part of Waterton Lakes National Park, which is open year round. If you are looking to have a fun, family picnic or just an escape into nature, this National Park is the best place to retreat. The park offers various trails for you to hike and witness magnificent views of stunning mountaintops and glistening lakes. Waterton Lake National Park's namesake is the deepest lake in the Canadian Rockies, a well-known fact about the park. You can have the option of taking a scenic boat tour on one of the northern lakes and have the chance of looking for all the different types of wildlife. Make sure to also check out the Prince of Wales Hotel, a national historic site of Canada that overlooks Upper Waterton Lake.

Going-to-the-Sun-Road Cardston is also just 15 miles away from the preferred Canadian entrance to the famous Going-to-the-Sun-Road in Glacier National Park. Most foreign visitors to this area love to take the twists and turns of this road as a way to see beautiful Glacier.

Great Canadian Barn Dance Being so near the Rocky Mountains makes it impossible not to enjoy the outdoors. What better way to be plunged into the scenery than by going camping? Immerse yourself and your family in nature when you stay at the Great Canadian Barn Dance resort. With fantastic views of the Rockies and a small lake on the property, it is hard to believe that family won't have a good time here.

The Kunkel family, owners of the resort, offers a great family atmosphere with fun barn dances, good food, and clean entertainment all of which take place in a 94-year-old barn. It is an alcohol-free area with the goal of making their resort a family friendly place. If you are a bit skeptical about roughing it out on the campground, they do offer RV camping and six rooms at a bed and breakfast.

Mountain Meadows Trail Rides What better way to enjoy the scenic outdoors than by going on a trail ride? Located just outside of Cardston, Mountain Meadows Trail Rides is a company that offers adventure to those wanting to feel the breeze in their hair. Make sure to check the dates each package is available (at You can select a trail ride that lasts an hour and a half or a two and a half hours. You also have the option to take a ride for a half day, full day or try a little more adventure with a Cowboy Cookout ride. Before you make these decisions, make sure you know how long each family member can last riding on a horse. The company will match a horse to the level of skill each person has, but remember to not exhaust yourself or your children on this vacation.

They also offer overnight pack trips where you can wind your way through meadows of wildflowers and through beautiful pine forests for two, three, or even four days. You and your family can have a real cowboy adventure by joining the cattle drive - although it is required that you have previous riding experience for this journey. The cattle drive can be a rather rigorous ride and may not be the best for younger children. But this is surely a way to explore the outdoors. No one knows the outdoors better than a cowboy!

Kimball River Sports If you have had your fill of pioneer and cowboy culture, head out to Kimball River Sports where you can raft down the river and explore other water activities. Although river rafting can be for anyone and any age, Kimball River Sports is experienced with white water rafting. This adventure may be a little too rough for younger children, but Kimball River Sports claims to work with intermediate and beginning level customers. They provide a safe journey down the river and emphasize their experience with wilderness first aid and swift-water rescue.

If river rafting is not for you and your family, Kimball River Sports also offers guided fly-fishing tours. It doesn't matter if you have never been fly-fishing in your life or if you live and breathe fly-fishing, they are there to help you no matter what stage you are at. They will also take you to ideal areas where you will be sure to come home with something at the end of the day.

Cardston, Alberta may be a small town just north of the border, but because of the rich pioneer history and the beautiful scenery, it is one destination that should not be skipped. You are guaranteed to have a wonderful family adventure once you enter this historic town. To find out more information about Cardston and different activities, go to

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