You get away to the country for the big open sky, farm fresh food, living history and warm welcoming communities. You’ll find all of this in Ponoka – plus a huge Stampede, championship golf and plenty of space to play. Here are six ways to spend a real good weekend in Ponoka – just 40 minutes north of Red Deer.
One – The Ponoka Stampede and Rodeo
Now, Ponoka is not just for cowboys – there’s also the farm fresh food, lush green riverside trails, some of Alberta’s best golf and lots of history. But we’ll get to all that, I promise. Right now, transport yourself – along with 70,000 other visitors – to cowboy Christmas at the Ponoka Stampede and Rodeo.
Breathe in the sweet aroma of mini-donuts and hear crowds of kids scream and laugh on the busy midway. But next door in the stands is the real action – so hold onto your donuts and head back yonder.
When the buzzer sounds a big bucking horse tears from the stall and on his back, a brave man in a muddy hat holds tight with one hand. The horse kicks high and the grimacing cowboy grips tighter – and for eight brutal seconds you hold your breath. Then you hoot, holler and cheer.
Last year, the Ponoka Stampede purse surpassed $600,000 for the cowboys and chuckwagons, making it the richest in Alberta next to the ten-day Calgary Stampede. Come for the rodeo thrills, championship chucks, community pancakes breakfasts, fireworks and live music.
Two – Stampede parade day
Ponoka at least doubles in size with Stampede visitors during the long-running event and it all kicks off with a big parade. Pick a shady spot to kick back and as the three-mile long parade drifts by.
Get your camera ready for colourful floats, marching bands, dancers and clowns, chuckwagons, big rigs and monster trucks, tiny cars, fire engines and at least 81 horses (I might have lost track). Then follow the crowds for a short walk to the Stampede grounds – you’ve earned yourself a corn dog, brother.
Three – Championship golf
OK, you’re going to have to wait until next summer for the Stampede – so meanwhile come play some legendary golf. Wolf Creek is a championship Scottish-style links course with 36 holes of sandy dunes, knee-high grasses and hidden dugouts. You’ll encounter wild prairie wind, unreasonably tight fairways and double-crossing water – you’ll love every minute.
If you still haven’t had your fill of the links – try the recently renovated Ponoka Community Golf Club an 18-hole course that winds through the green Battle River Valley.
Four – Green spaces
Everyday in the summer, the mayor of Ponoka orders up big fluffy white clouds, wide blue sky and a fresh country breeze – and some of the best spots to enjoy the mayor’s efforts are surrounded by leafy green trees and sparkling water.
Wind along paved trails to find the perfect picnic spot along the curvy Battle River, cool off at the splash park in Lion’s Centennial Park or hunt for water-striders at the nearby J.J. Collett nature sanctuary, just south on Hwy 2A.
Five – Shops in historic downtown
Folks here have a healthy respect for tradition and the past – and you can see this in the lovingly restored architecture of Ponoka’s historic main street. A family owned butcher, artisan book-binder, florist and friendly eateries inhabit the wooden boomtown storefronts – and outside, fascinating plaques tell the stories of a town with deep roots.
Six – Even more Western history
Since this town has been stampeding since 1936 – they have a hat full of cowboy stories to share. You can hear and see them all at the Canadian pro rodeo hall of fame in the new ag event centre on Hwy 2A. You’ll also learn how this small town came to lead the country in mental health and brain injury rehabilitation at the Fort Ostell museum’s history of mental health exhibit.
Learn more at Ponoka.ca
The town also hosts regular dinner theatre at the Klaglahachie Fine Arts Society, a weekly farmer’s market, vintage motorcycle show and special celebrations all year long. Visit the Town of Ponoka online for more community information and events listings. And follow the town on Twitter – @TownofPonoka – for instant community news and happenings.