Shaftesbury Trail, Peace River, and Shaftesbury Ferry

This makes a nice summer day trip from Spirit River, with something for everyone.

Just west of Peace River, Highway 684 runs 28 km alongside the Peace River, still following the route of early Peace Country explorers and settlers.  On the way, take in some beautiful riverside scenery, stop at the parks for a picnic or playground break, and imagine the horses, wagons and pioneers following the Shaftesbury Trail!

The Trail will sweep you right into Peace River, where you can enjoy peaceful riverside walks, bike rides or rollerblading.  Interpretive signs and a museum with indoor and outdoor exhibits are right there on the path so you can learn about the local history and environment.  Or you could explore the town, with plenty of shopping opportunities at both unique and well-known stores.

Peace River’s Tourist Information Centre is housed in a photogenic old train station.  There are many other historic buildings in town as well, so ask for directions.

A necessary stop on a hot day is the outdoor water park, featuring water canons, a weeping wall, and fountains, not to mention a regular playground and a skateboard park.  It’s free entertainment for the kids and a bit of cool relaxation for the parents!  There is an indoor pool as well.

One of the best places to take in the view is from 12-foot Davis’ grave site (undergoing “tourist-ization” with picnic tables, interpretive signs and trails). Davis was a gold prospector who hit it rich and became legendary for his honest dealings and a cabin door that was always open to anyone who needed it.  From his grave site on the hill you’ll see the whole town spread out below you, including the Shaftesbury Trail. Maybe you’ll want to try some gold prospecting on the creek that runs through town!

Just out of town, Sergeant Anderson’s 19th century cabin has been preserved so you can get a feeling of what it was like to be a lone lawman (and mailman) in the vast wilderness of the Peace Country almost 100 years ago.  Anderson didn’t spend much time in the cabin – he was busy with his circuit, which took a month to complete.  There is a more information in the Record Gazette article here.

St. Mary’s on the Peace was a Hudson’s Bay Company fort dating back to 1818, and the Mackenzie Cairn commemorates Fort Fork, a North West Company fort built in 1792.  It’s also a monument to the great explorer’s harrowing journey through the Peace River Canyon and the spot where he began his “push for the Pacific”.  There’s a nice view of the river from the cairn.

One of the most exciting parts of this trip is a ride on the Shaftesbury Ferry, one of only two tug-driven ferries in Alberta.  Highway 740 runs into the Peace River, where the Ferry will carry you on the 325 m crossing.  Tangent Park on the south side is a great place for a rest or an overnight stop, and you can watch other people take their turn on the ferry.

From Spirit River, you can make the Shaftesbury Trail drive into a loop, starting or ending by crossing the Peace River at Dunvegan.

Have you taken the Shaftesbury Trail and Ferry?  What did you discover?  Tell us!  Please use the comment button or email townspirit@hotmail.com.

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