Calgary’s Best Urban Hikes & Walks
While most Calgarians head to the Rocky Mountains for adventure, it seems unlikely that Calgary could be an outdoor destination in itself. For intrepid urban hikers, Calgary’s concrete jungle is more than office towers, SUVs and suburbia. It is a mix of funky shopping districts, architecturally-interesting neighbourhoods, pockets of nature, parks, pathways and tasty local eateries. It’s the vast range of treasures in a small, easily navigated space that makes exploring the city on foot so appealing. And if you are one of those time-crunched urbanites that are over-booked and under-vacationed, urban hiking is your ticket to being a tourist in your own city. Self-propelled urban mini-vacations keep your body fit and your mind intrigued. And there’s no better time than the long days of summer to start your walking habit. You’ll get landscaping and gardening ideas en route, soak up the smells of wild roses and barbecued steak, shade yourself under the canopy of full grown poplars that line inner-city streets, and enjoy a picnic lunch or supper that you purchased at a local shop. A cultured walk could include pit-stops at galleries, the Glenbow Museum or, yee haw, the Stampede grounds in July.
Mother Nature is easy to find in Calgary, so if you prefer solitude and earthy terrain then point your walking shoes to the Glenmore Reservoir, Nose Hill Park in the north, or Fish Creek Park in the south. And for the ultimate mix of the urban vibe, breathtaking vistas and architectural variety, start your travels on the populated shopping streets of Kensington, Inglewood, Bridgeland, Mission, 17 Avenue SW or Marda Loop. Keep walking year–round and see how neighbourhoods change with the seasons and with renovations.
Planning Your Urban Adventure
When you travel to Paris you take maps and guidebooks to help you choose the areas to investigate. This is the same approach to take with your Calgary adventures. Pick the area of the city that you’d like to explore, grab the map and guidebooks, and start to walk. My upcoming route suggestions will help you get started.If you would like more direction, you could purchase my guidebook. Available at Calgary bookstores and Mountain Equipment Co-op in Calgary.
Trail Training & Nature Hikes
Hike 1: Twelve-Mile Coulee, NW
Parking: This is street parking. In the neighbourhood of Tuscany park on Tuscany Hills Crescent or Mews. Hike starts at the end of Tuscany Hills Mews on the paved path.
Take Note: Twelve Mile Coulee has no official trails. Since this wild area is not owned by the city (it is still part of the Stoney right-of-way) it has no status as a park. That means there are no garbage cans for doggie do-do and the trails are not maintained. There are many narrow paths that are frequently used by hikers and mountain bikers. My route follows the creek along the bottom of the coulee. The creek may be dry in the summer and fall so just imagine water trickling along. In the spring and winter the trails can be slippery and muddy.
Description: This wild walkabout takes a dip into a coulee that runs parallel to Stoney Trail. The treed valley bottom hides you from the city’s hustle and sets you up for some exciting hill climbing if you need some hiking training! If you’d like a leisurely stroll than you can forget the hills and enjoy the creek walk. Eventually you’ll climb to views of the Rocky Mountain ranges, Canada Olympic Park and Calgary’s city core.
The Route: From the end of Tuscany Mews, follow the paved path until you see a set of stairs that head down into the coulee. Follow them and cross the creek. Follow the creek to end of the coulee at which point you’ll see Canada Olympic Park. At the end of the coulee you can backtrack along the creek or climb west up the hill to the neighbourhood. Follow the escarpment in front of the houses back to you car.
Hike 2: Nose Hill Berkley Gate, NW
Parking: Use the official parking lot at the intersection of Berkley Gate and 14th Street, NW.
Description and Route: Grasslands, coulees, wildflowers and mushrooms as big as your head! Nose hill has great views, wildlife, and an abundance of wildflowers. There are no maps for the trails of Nose Hill but there are many landmarks to use so you find your car at the end of the trek. Use the power lines, the airport view, the mountain view and the city core view to keep you on track.
Hike 3: Bowmont Natural Environment Park, NW
Parking: Park at the official parking area on Scenic Bow Rd. just off 85 St. The parking area is a pull-off on a sharp corner. A Bowmont Park sign hangs on the fence at the park entrance.
Take Note: Bowmont Park has one official paved path and no other official trails. There are many narrow paths that are frequently used by hikers and mountain bikers. There are many hills and this is great hiking training. If you want to avoid knee problems you should bring your hiking poles on this trek. The hills are steep and there are lots of them! Trails can be slippery and muddy in the winter and spring.
Description: No matter what the season this is one of my favourite places to hike in Calgary. Single track dirt paths take you along the escarpment overlooking the Bow River. You descend into Waterfall Valley and you’ll think you’ve left the city! The summer wildflowers are breathtaking and so are the hills!
The Route: Hike east through the fence from the parking area. Continue on the paved path under the CPR tracks. Once past the next parking area on your right and over the road I suggest getting off the pavement and following the narrow dirt paths along the escarpment edge. You are rewarded with Bow River views to the east and mountain vistas to the west. The icing on the cake is when you drop down into waterfall valley! Hard to believe you are in the city. You can continue as far as Home Road or make a loop and head back to your car at any point.
Hike 4: Edworthy Park & the Douglas Fir Trail, NW
South Parking: From Bow Trail turn north on 45 St. Turn west on Spruce Drive and follow Edworthy Park road down the hill.
North Parking: At the corner of Shagannappi and Memorial Drive turn onto Montgomery View and park in the parking lot near the Boothman bridge (a foot bridge).
Description: This is another of my favourite places to get away from it all and to sweat profusely! I often meet many a hiker who is training for Nepal on the hill behind the south parking lot. The Douglas Fir Trail is beautiful in the summer and fall and treacherous in the winter and spring due to huge ice flows that cover the stairs. Dogwood and violets are some of the shady summer wildflowers you’ll see on this trek. It is a birders paradise so bring your binoculars. At dusk in the Fall I saw three Great-horned Owls fly across the path in front of me and then the coyotes started to howl. A wilderness trek in the heart of the city!
The Route: From the north parking area, you cross the walking bridge and follow the paved Bow River pathway over the tracks to the south parking area. Hike east along the paved path and watch on your right for the Douglas Fir trail sign. A hill of stairs leads us into a Douglas fir forest. Follow this signed route to Crowchild Trail and then loop back on the paved pathway or backtrack through the trees for more stairs. Once back at the south parking lot make sure to try the steep hill that overlooks the parking area.
Coffee Shop Stop: The Lazy Loaf & Kettle Café (Memorial Drive and Parkdale Cres.) will tempt your taste buds with cinnamon buns as big as your head, and scrumptious lunches! Definitely a favourite!
Neighbourhood & Trail Training
Hike 5: Riley Park / Crescent Heights Loop, NW (great trail training!)
Parking: At the intersection of of 8 Ave and 12 St continue along 8 Ave. to the official parking area for Riley park.
Description: This route is a perfect combination of neighbourhoods and parks. Riley park has cheery gardens in the summer. The downtown view from Crescent Heights is spectacular and in the winter the Christmas lights along Crescent Road make this a festive trek. And for those of you keen to work up a sweat you’ll enjoy the stairs across from Princes Island. If you climb the Crescent Heights 130 times you will have climbed the elevation of Everest!
The Route: Hike east towards 10th street, cross over and continue under the LRT tracks. Follow the stairs to the top of the escarpment and continue uphill, heading east. The best route for hills and stairs is to follow this green space to 7A St. and then east on Crescent Road. McHugh Bluff is the name of the green space that appears on your right. Zigzag on dirt paths up and down this hillside until you reach the stairs across from Princes Island. Do them a few times or make a loop of stairs and paved path and then loop back through Princes Island to Kensington and Riley Park.
Hike 6: Roxboro Natural Park, SW
(includes Stanley Park, Elbow Park and Mount Royal)
Parking: Access Roxboro Rd. off 4th St just south of 26th Ave. over the Mission Bridge. Park on the street at the corner of Roxboro Rd. and Roxboro Glen Rd.
Description: Hidden pathways, stairs and hills, river trails, interesting architecture, great gardening ideas and wonderful Christmas lights in the winter! There are also some great hills and stairs for those of you addicted to sweat.
The Route: Hike east into the park, keeping the Elbow River on your left. At the base of the escarpment you’ll come to a Roxboro Natural Area sign. Follow the dirt trail uphill into the trees. Continue along the escarpment and back down to Mission Road. Hike through Parkhill and then down to the Elbow River and through Stanley park. Continue on the paved Elbow River Pathway under Elbow Drive to 8 St. At 8 St., cross the Elbow River on the walking bridge and continue across 38 Ave. onto 8 St. Follow the any street through the community of Elbow Park to the Glencoe Club for some great stairs. Hike through Mount Royal and Mission. From 4th St., cross the Mission Bridge and turn onto Roxboro Road. Hike to the end to find your car!
Neighbourhood, Nature & Trail Training
Hike 7: Sandy Beach and River Park, SW
Parking: At the intersection of 14A St & 50 Ave,SW (River Park), follow 50th Ave past the Emily Follensbee Centre and down the hill to the last parking lot at the bottom of the hill.
Description and Route: You are surrounded by hills! How exciting! Grab your pack and explore both sides on the Elbow River valley . There are great hiking trails below the Glenmore Dam to the south. All-in-all, this is a great route for training and for views of the downtown core, the mountains and the Elbow River. Oh yah, the hoar frost is the winter is spectacular!
Coffee Shop Stop: Bell’s Bookstore Cafe (14 St and 34 Ave., SW) is a great place for home-made goodies and well roasted coffee.
Hike 8: North Glenmore and the Weaselhead, SW
Parking: From Glenmore trail turn south onto 37 St and follow to either of the parking areas. If you want a shorter hike start at the Weaselhead parking area. A sign marks the parking lot. The longer hike starts at parking lot “E” in North Glenmore Park.
Description: If you want solitude then hike in the Weaselhead. Many birds, deer, coyotes and the occasional black bear all populate this wilderness area. Listen for the piliated woodpecker who rocks his noggin making huge holes in dead trees. Stay on the paved path or venture off into the series of trails along the Elbow River. This is true wilderness.
Take note: The official Weaselhead trails can be confusing so be prepared to pay attention. It can be a mosquito nightmare in the heat of the summer so be prepared!
Shorter Route: From the Weaselhead parking area head down the paved path, across the bridge to the signs for the Weaselhead. I should warn you that the trails are very confusing once you have entered. The signage is not good and you can’t see out of the forest to get your bearings. Watch for my hiking guidebook in Spring 2002 since it will have a detailed map of this route.
Longer Route: From parking lot E you hike towards the reservoir and come to a set of stairs. This route takes you down the stairs and north along the water until you hit the paved path. If the water is high the trails will be covered so you should follow the paved path at the top of the escarpment. From the parking area walk to the paved path and turn right (north). Follow until you hike down a long hill and cross the walking bridge. The signs are just after the bridge.