Summer strolls, new adventures, and picnics in the park are easy to come by in and around Calgary. Read on for my top summer walkabouts to get your family moving - happily!
Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, NW
Wildlife, a working ranch, trains, and Bow River picnics
Vast and open, Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park is situated along the north bank of the Bow River between Calgary and Cochrane in Rocky View County. Glenbow Ranch hosts 40 kilometres of interconnecting paved and gravel pathways. Rolling grasslands lead to boundless views of the Bow River Valley and the Rockies beyond, and dips lead into aspen-filled coulees. And you will see trains! Since 1883, trains have traveled through this piece of prairie as part of their cross-Canada trek. Walk west for big Rockies views or stroll east to get to the Bow River where you might catch a glimpse of the bald eagle that nests along the banks!
When you walk here, you follow in the footsteps of the First Nations peoples who lived and hunted in the area up to 4,000 years ago. Evidence of tipi rings, cairns, and bison kills have been found at the ranch. The area was later established as Western Canada’s first big ranch, named the Cochrane Ranche in 1881. Here, ranchers discovered their cattle could not withstand the harsh winters as the bison had; a lesson that was critical to the success of future Southern Alberta ranches.
Cattle still roam the fields, as the park remains a working ranch. Grazing helps maintain the health and vigour of the fescue grassland landscape. In the fall and winter, the cattle eat the tall, protein-rich grasses. Their cropping of the grasses allows sunlight to reach the roots, leading to healthy grass growth in the spring. Interpretive signs along the route provide an interesting background on Alberta’s ranching heritage and geological history.
Pack a picnic and spend a few hours exploring. A walk here calms the mind and refreshes the spirit.
Starting-point parking: Glenbow Road, off Highway 1A, about 4 kilometres east of Cochrane.
Tip: Kids can bike along beside the adults.
Facilities: Bathrooms at trailhead. Visitor Centre on-site. See albertaparks.ca/glenbow-ranch and Glenbow Ranch Parks Foundation, grpf.ca.
Pearce Estate Park, Harvey Passage, and Ramsay, SE
Natural water park, little libraries, café stops, and riverside picnics
Pearce Estate Park is the perfect picnic destination! Start your walk following the meandering interpretive trail system that moves through the constructed wetland area. Balsam poplar riverine forest, including willows, water birch, and red-osier dogwood thrive in the area. Keep an eye out for birds, such as tree swallows, northern flickers, and common goldeneye - all birds that live in cavities (the holes in old trees) of balsam poplars.
Harvey Passage, the white-water park on the Bow River, is the next stop. Once known as ‘the drowning machine,’ the weir was a serious hazard for all watercraft, but the Harvey Passage redesign has made it a destination for river kayakers, recreational rafters, spectators, and families in life jackets shooting the rapids on hot summer days.
For a longer walk, continue west into the eclectic, sometimes gritty, neighborhood of Ramsay, home to old-fashioned corner stores, little free libraries, folk art, historic homes and buildings from the early 1900s - some renovated and fantastic, some handyman delights. Ramsay is not polished and perfect, but that’s what makes walking here so enjoyable, so unpredictable. Red, bright yellow, violet blue, chartreuse, forest green, and turquoise: these are just some of the house colors you will see on this trek. And the gardens here are creative, personalized, and fun! Inglewood and Ramsay’s warm microclimate and rich, flood-plain soil makes green thumbs of everyone. The flowers bloom earlier in the season and last longer here than anywhere else in Calgary, and the pear trees hang heavy with fruit in the fall.
Climb to Scotsman’s Hill, a wonderful spot to pull up a bench and have a snack. The high point offers a bird’s eye view of Stampede Park as well as Calgary’s downtown core, reaching prominently out of the concrete and the Rockies spread across the horizon. Turn on your heels and head downhill along side streets to 9 Avenue. Small independent businesses, restaurants, and cafés make this a fun street to walk along, window shop, or stop for a bite to eat. Be sure to walk the length of it before calling it a day.
Starting point: Pearce Estate Park - 1440, 17a Street SE.
Picnic supplies: Cafés, restaurants, and corner stores along 9 Avenue and in Ramsay.
Edworthy Douglas Fir Trail, SW
Forested stairway adventure
Hidden amongst the most easterly stand of Douglas fir trees that tower above the Bow River is the Douglas Fir Trail. Stairs, bridges, creeks, and narrow winding paths dip and climb 60 metres from the river valley to the lookout point. A fantastic trail for physical training, it is also a shaded wilderness oasis in the height of summer. Trees, some more than two metres in diameter, and multitudes of Western Canada violets line the trail. Descend to the marsh trail along the railway and listen for the chorus of frogs. Move slowly in an attempt to sneak a peek before they stop croaking and dive for cover. At dusk, tip your head back and watch for the great horned owls on this same open flat stretch of the trail. These magnificent birds fly low over the open areas near the railway tracks when the natural light fades.
Cross the Bow River on the pedestrian underpass under Crowchild Trail and follow the Bow River Pathway west and stop for ice cream or a hot drink on a cold day. A few tasty eateries are en route or not far from the route.
This wonderful wild walkabout has a very civilized café ending: coffee, lunch, and ice cream:
The Lazy Loaf & Kettle - A great place to replenish lost calories with home-baked goods and hearty lunches. Substantial serving sizes, like cinnamon buns as big as your head, ensure you won’t be short on calories. While you’re there, buy a loaf of kettle bread for home. It’s delicious and healthy. The Lazy Loaf & Kettle is located at 8 Parkdale Crescent NW; lazyloafandkettle.com.
Leavitt’s Ice Cream Shop - Leavitt’s is located in the same cul-de-sac as The Lazy Loaf & Kettle. It’s a local favorite in hot weather. Drive (or walk) east on Memorial Drive and turn left (north) into Parkdale Crescent (a cul-de-sac). Leavitt’s Ice Cream Shop is located at 3410, 3 Avenue NW; lics.ca.
Angel’s Café - This café is also a convenient option for a hot drink, some lunch, or some ice cream. It is located at the route’s north-side parking lot. On a hot summer’s day, take your food and sit on the banks of the Bow River. Watch the world flow by. Angel’s Café is located in Edworthy Park, north-side parking lot, Shaganappi Trail and Bowness Road NW, 4105 Montgomery View NW; angelscafe.ca.
Starting-point parking: North side. At the intersection of Bowness Road and Shaganappi Trail NW, turn onto Montgomery View and continue to the parking areas.
Starting-point parking: South side. Follow 45 Street SW, north of Bow Trail to Spruce Drive. Turn west and follow the signs and winding gravel road to the south-side parking lot.
Facilities: Bathrooms at both trailheads.
Tip: The trail has become increasingly challenging over the years as the slope shifts and bridges tip due to the springs that run down the hillside. Ropes have been installed to help hikers navigate slippery slopes. Good footwear is essential.
Lori’s new guidebook, Calgary’s Best Walks Expanded, has 45 walks with maps and 40 suggested detours (all perfect for families!). She leads city walks and mountain hikes with her company, Fit Frog Adventures. Grab a copy of her book or connect with her on Instagram, Facebook and fitfrog.ca.
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