Carstairs is a small farming, dairy, and ranching center 67 kilometers (42 miles) north of Calgary. The town’s tree-lined streets are dotted with grand old houses, and the grain elevators associated with all prairie towns stand silhouetted against the skyline.
The official attractions are outside of town, including PaSu Farm (10 km/6.2 mi west of town, 403/337-2800, Tues.–Sat. 10 a.m.–4 p.m., Sun. noon–4 p.m.), a working farm with a dozen breeds of sheep. It also displays a wide variety of sheepskin and wool products, as well as weavings from Africa. The farm’s restaurant serves light lunches plus scones, homemade apple pie, and various teas Tuesday–Saturday noon–4 p.m., along with a Sunday lunch (noon–2:30 p.m.).
Much of the wool from PaSu Farm is sold to Custom Woolen Mills (403/337-2221, Mon.–Fri. 9 a.m.–3 p.m.), on the other side of Carstairs, 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) east on Highway 581 and 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) north on Highway 791. At this working museum, the raw wool is processed on clunky-looking machines—some of which date to the 1880s—into wools and yarns ready for knitting (and sale). A self-guided tour is offered.
Olds is a little more than halfway between Calgary  and Red Deer . Surrounded by rich farmland, it’s the home of Olds College (403/556-8281), which has been a leader in the development of Canadian agriculture for the last 100 years. Visitors are free to wander around the campus, admiring colorful beds of well-tended, prairie-hardy plants. The 600-hectare (1,480-acre) campus is along Highway 2, south of the main street.
Red Lodge Provincial Park protects a forested stretch of the Little Red Deer River 28 kilometers (17.5 miles) northwest of Olds. The park is situated within an ideal habitat for deer and moose. The campground (403/224-2547, mid-Apr.–mid-Oct., $22–28) has a kitchen shelter, coin-operated showers, and firewood, and the river is good for swimming, floating, and fishing.
Torrington, on Highway 27, 28 kilometers (17.5 miles) east of Olds, has more gophers than residents. This wouldn’t be unusual for a prairie town, except that Torrington’s gophers are all stuffed. The Gopher Hole Museum (208 1st St., 403/631-3931, June–Sept. daily 10 a.m.–5 p.m., $2.50) is described as “a whimsical portrayal of daily life in our tranquil village.”
And that it is—approximately 40 dioramas house stuffed gophers in various poses, including gophers in love, gophers playing sports, trailer-court gophers, and even gophers wearing shirts declaring that animal rights activists, who were incensed at the idea of the museum, should “Go stuff themselves.” Admission includes a copy of the words to the Torrington Gopher Call Song, which wafts through the quiet streets of the village whenever the museum is open.
The 1,180-hectare (2,900-acre) Dry Island Buffalo Jump park is named for both an isolated mesa in the Red Deer River Valley and the site where natives stampeded bison over a cliff approximately 2,000 years ago. The buffalo jump—a 50-meter (164-foot) drop—is much higher than other jumps in Alberta  and is in an ideal location; the approach to the jump is uphill, masking the presence of a cliff until the final few meters. Below the prairie benchland, cliff-like valley walls and banks of sandstone have been carved into strange-looking badlands by wind and water erosion.
A great diversity of plantlife grows in the valley; more than 400 species of flowering plants have been recorded. The park is a day-use area only; apart from a picnic area and a few trails, it is undeveloped. Access is along a gravel road east from Highway 21. From the park entrance, at the top of the buffalo jump, the road descends steeply for 200 vertical meters (660 feet) into the valley (it can be extremely slippery after rain) to the bank of the Red Deer River.
Innisfail Historical Village (in the fairgrounds at 42nd St. and 52nd Ave., 403/227-2906, summer Mon.–Sat. 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Sun. noon–5 p.m., donation) has re-created historic buildings, including a stopping house, a school, a store, a Canadian Pacific Railway (C.P.R.) station, and a blacksmith’s shop, on a one-hectare (1.5-acre) site.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Police Dog Service Training Centre (four km/2.5 mi south of town, 403/227-3346, free) is where police dog handlers and their four-legged companions come from across Canada to receive training in obedience, agility, and criminal apprehension. Through summer, public demonstrations are given every Wednesday at 2 p.m. Bookings are not required, but the small grandstand is usually full by start time, so arrive early for the best seats.
Markerville, 16 kilometers (10 miles) west then three kilometers (1.9 miles) north of Innisfail, was originally settled by Icelandic people in the 1880s, who had settled in eastern Canada but after finding the land unproductive continued west. Today, around 100 people—most of whom trace their heritage back to the original settlers—call Markerville home. It’s a pretty village, with smartly painted homes and well-kept gardens. The only official attraction is Markerville Creamery (403/728-3006, mid-May–early Sept. Mon.–Sat. 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m., Sun. noon–5:30 p.m.). Between 1902 and the time of its closure in 1972, the creamery won many awards for its fine-quality butters, as you’ll learn on a self-guided tour ($2) of the butter-making process. Part of the creamery has been converted to a kaffistofa (café) with a choice of Icelandic specialties.
The most famous of the Icelandic immigrants was Stephan A. Stephansson, one of the Western world’s most prolific poets. He spent the early part of his life in his homeland, but most of his poetry was written in Canada. Just north of Markerville is his restored 1927 home, the distinctive pink-and-green colored Stephansson House (403/728-3929, mid-May–Aug. daily 10 a.m.–6 p.m., adult $3, senior and child $2). Interpretive panels beside the parking lot tell the story of Stephansson and his fellow immigrants, while a short trail leads through a grove of trees to the house itself.