Road trips are always more interesting when you head off the beaten path, but there's no reason you should have to resort to gas station snacks or drive-thrus when your stomach starts to groan from hours on the road. In fact, sometimes a restaurant (or pub, or farmers' market, or brewery) becomes the destination—and one well worth the journey, at that. Here are some Alberta spots worth seeking out when you have a day, weekend or just an afternoon to get outta dodge.

HiddenGem_MoundEngadine.jpg 1. Mount Engadine Lodge

Location: Kananaskis

Distance from Calgary: 160 km

Estimated driving time: 2 hours

A cozy lodge in Spray Valley Provincial Park, the Mount Engadine has six exceptional rooms, a few cabins and even a rustic yurt that sleeps up to four people (and accommodate pets!). In the afternoons, they host a Kananaskis-style tea with charcuterie, house-made baked goods and local brews. It's a cozy place for a break by the fireplace (you can drop in after a day of hiking—it's open to those not staying at the lodge) with boardgames to help you stay unplugged. Look out the window and you'll likely see a moose down by the water.

HiddenGem_ChuckWagon.jpg2. Chuckwagon Cafe

Location: Turner Valley

Distance from Calgary: 75 km

Estimated driving time: 52 minutes

It’s a beautiful drive down the Cowboy Trail—the road takes you by the Millarville Farmers’ Market, which is open on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Once you get to Turner Valley, it’s impossible to miss the Chuckwagon Cafe—it's the bright red barn in the middle of town, where owner Terry Myhre’s own herd of cattle are the focal point of the menu. The burgers are some of the best in Alberta, made with hand-ground aged beef, served with homemade relish and fries. They’re perhaps equally known for their flat iron steak topped with poached eggs and hollandaise for breakfast, and the pies that a local woman bakes from scratch. It’s worth the drive, but go early—they close at 2:30 p.m. (3:30 p.m. on weekends).

HiddenGem_EauClaire.jpg 3. Eau Claire Distillery

Location: Turner Valley

Distance from Calgary: 75 km

Estimated driving time: 52 minutes

The Eau Claire Distillery and tasting room is conveniently located right next door to the Chuckwagon Cafe. Alberta's first craft distillery, spirits are made with grains sourced and harvested from local farms and water from the Rockies. Try the award-winning Parlour Gin with its intense botanicals—juniper berry with hints of rosehip, Saskatoon berry, corinader, lemon, orange and mint—or the totally unique EquineOx, a prairie-inspired spirit made with locally grown prickly pear cactus.

HiddenGem_CilantroChive.jpg4. Cilantro and Chive 5. Blindman Brewing 6. Sweet Capone’s

Location: Lacombe

Distance from Calgary: 175 km

Estimated driving time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Just north of Red Deer, Lacombe has become a food hub, with a handful of delicious rooms all within a few minutes of each other. Cilantro and Chive, a family-owned restaurant that focuses on local ingredients, has no fewer than 120 craft beers on the menu—and has become the go-to restaurant for brunch, lunch and dinner. Down the street, Sweet Capone's Italian bakery specializes in handmade cannoli, made fresh every day using an old family recipe. At the edge of town, Blindman Brewing has a taproom and small patio.

7. Last Chance Saloon

Location: Wayne, Drumheller

Distance from Calgary: 150 km

Estimated driving time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

The Rosedeer Hotel has been standing in the tiny coal mining hamlet of Wayne, A.B. since 1913. (It's six-kilometre drive outside of Drumheller—you'll cross 11 bridges, each painted with its own number.) With a population of just 27, the saloon and hotel have as much character as you might expect from a small town. There's shuffleboard, cocktails in mason jars, homemade pies and all kinds of curious qualities—including a few gunshot holes in the walls. During the summer, the saloon turns into a live music venue, with local bands playing every Saturday night.

HiddenGem_CampCookhouse-1.jpg8. Camp Cookhouse and General Store

Location: Elkwater (Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park)

Distance from Calgary: 360 km

Estimated driving time: 3 hours, 35 minutes

In the tiny town of Elkwater, a sleepy (except in the height of summer) camping and cottage community about 40 minutes southeast of Medicine Hat, Camp Cookhouse and General Store turns out an amazing breakfast, lunch and dinner. Everything is homemade, from the bread to the bacon and the attached store is full of hip knick-knacks and curios (to wit: birdhouses made out of old license plates). You can camp and still eat well—but even if you’re not staying, it’s well worth the drive.

HiddenGem_PD3.jpg9. PD3 by Blake

Location: Canmore

Distance from Calgary: 105 km

Estimated driving time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

The bricks-and-mortar location is now open at 810 Bow Valley Trail, but the Blake started as a double-decker food bus known as PD3, which parks in a spare lot on the main drag throughout the summer, open from 11:30 a.m. to late. Stop by from some Asian-style street eats or to dine on the second level of the bus—it's truly a spectacular experience.

HiddenGem_LeFournil.jpg 10. Le Fournil

Location: Canmore

Distance from Calgary: 105 km

Estimated driving time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Not everyone who visits Canmore, or passes through enroute to Banff, realizes that some of the best French pastries are available in the Rockies. Crusty loaves and baguettes, flakey pastries, espresso brewed with Fratello beans, and a small but well-curated quiche and sandwich selection, including croque monsieurs and the perfect jambon-beurre (ham and butter sandwich on half a baguette). There's no better sandwich to eat on the road or to pack for the hiking trail.

HiddenGem_Westwood.jpg 11. The Westwood

Location: Black Diamond

Distance from Calgary: 65

Estimated driving time: 45 minutes

The success of the Westwood's semi-permanent food trailer inspired a bricks-and-mortar location further down the street in Black Diamond, where the trendy eatery serves up interesting salads, sandwiches, burgers and farmers’ plates sourced from growers and producers in and around the community. During the summer months, the empty lot alongside their large patio is transformed into a makers and growers market, so you can pick up some eggs, produce or local artwork after brunch, lunch or drinks on the patio.

HiddenGem_EdgarFarm.jpg 12. Edgar Farms

Location: Innisfail

Distance from Calgary: 120 km

Estimated driving time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

If you love old fashioned farm stores, turn off Highway 2 at Innisfail and make the 10 minute trek to visit Doug and Elna Edgar and their family at Edgar Farms. Their farm store is open for the season (11 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Sundays). The fresh asparagus will be snapped up quickly, but there are peas and other veggies to be had—as well as grass-fed beef, handmade preserves and the very best ready-to-bake pies made with Saskatoon berries, rhubarb, strawberries and other ingredients that are grown on the farm. And if you're worried about getting there, they have a trusty map that can be downloaded from their website.

HiddenGem_RedcliffGreenhouses.jpg 13. Redcliff Greenhouses

Location: Redcliff

Distance from Calgary: 285 km

Estimated driving time: 2 hours, 45 minutes

This hidden gem isn't a traditional eatery, but it's well-worth the drive through southern Alberta. On the northwest outskirts of Medicine Hat, the town of Redcliff is the greenhouse capital of the prairies (you'll drive past dozens of them if you go through town), most of which have small farm stores attached. They work on the honour system—select your fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs, peppers and garlic and then weigh them and leave your money in the dropbox. It's a great way to directly support farms and to bring home the freshest product for less than you'd pay even at most farmers' markets.

HiddenGem_RoysPlace.jpg 14. Roy’s Place

Location: Claresholm

Distance from Calgary: 132 km

Estimated driving time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Roy’s Place has been a highway stop for hungry passersby for more than 20 years; more recently, they’ve become famous for their enormous cinnamon buns. The size of a dinner plate and as thick as a cake, the buns have been featured on You Gotta Eat Here! on Food Network Canada. You can get one to eat in or take out, with a container of cream cheese frosting to apply yourself (make sure you load up on the wet wipes).

HiddenGem_Zums.jpg 15. Zum's Eatery and Mercantile

Location: Waterton

Distance from Calgary: 270 km

Estimated driving time: 3 hours

If you haven't discovered Waterton, you are seriously missing out. The tiny town (population: 105) within Waterton Lakes National Park is small enough that you can park anywhere and stroll through the entire city. There are plenty of great places to eat, and being a seasonal destination, they must have patios. It's worth stopping at Zum's Eatery for their famous fried chicken and homemade pie.

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