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Nestled in a broad valley between the Purcell Range and the Rocky Mountains, Cranbrook encompasses a surprisingly large stretch of prairie in the shadow of giants. When the railroad came to town in 1898, the settlement grew into a commercial hub for the surrounding farms and ranches. Today, major employers include Cranbrook Regional Hospital and the College of the Rockies. Home to several golf courses, Cranbrook has emerged as a popular retirement destination.

To understand just how closely Cranbrook’s early development was tied to the railroad, visit the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel, one of Cranbrook’s top tourist attractions, in the city centre. Assembled over 30 years, the indoor/outdoor collection of rail cars and other railroad-related items is truly exhaustive. Well-informed guides take visitors on regularly scheduled tours. The museum’s 1907 Palace sleeping car exemplifies the high style of the era, with extravagant touches like stained-glass half domes built into the ceiling. The restored Argyle dining car is also opulent, with wood-panelled walls and ornate carpeting.

About 20 kilometres to the northeast, Fort Steele Heritage Town affords a glimpse of what might have been Cranbrook’s fate if the railroad had bypassed the town. Fort Steele went from Gold Rush boomtown in the 1860s to ghost town within a few years. Sixty buildings were restored to transport visitors back to the late 1800s when the town was still thriving. Visitors can walk through dentist’s offices, churches, hotels, a post office and a school house.

For those in search of faster-paced action, the Three Bars Guest Ranch, 20 kilometres northwest of Cranbrook, offers horseback riding, rafting and mountain biking. Log cabins are available for rent, and buffet-style meals are served nightly in the dining hall.

Thanks to the prairie location, golf courses are among Cranbrook’s top tourist attractions. On the north side of town lies Wildstone Golf Course, designed by Gary Player, a former Grand Slam winner. The gently rolling terrain provides new challenges around every turn amid eye-popping scenery. Less than 8 kilometres north of Wildstone, St. Eugene Golf Course overlooks the St. Mary River and meanders through towering trees. The St. Eugene property also includes a resort and casino. Within Cranbrook city limits, the Cranbrook Golf Club may not be as challenging or glamorous as the others, but the scenery is still spectacular.

For fine post-golf dining, drive 2 kilometres northwest from Cranbrook Golf Club to Allegra Restaurant. One of Cranbrook’s best restaurants, Allegra specialises in Mediterranean fare, ranging from Spanish-style baked mussels to pistachio-crusted cod. Leave room for the chocolate ravioli for dessert.

About 2 kilometres southwest, Sakura Sushi & Grill, another of Cranbrook’s best restaurants, has earned a loyal following due to its wide selection of artfully presented sushi rolls and consistently friendly service. Diners who are not sushi fans still visit regularly for specialities such as seaweed salad and chicken teriyaki. Several vegetarian options are available, and many dishes can be prepared to accommodate customers who are following a gluten-free diet.