Urban hikes: let’s hit the trail without hitting the road!
Parenting involves seasons of desperately trying to fill the days with activities, like taking toddlers swimming, even though you know perfectly well you might spend more time getting ready and cleaning up than you actually spend in the pool.
It also brings seasons where you feel like you’re hurtling down a mountain, hoping the wheels don’t fall off. Then, you’re texting your teen the night before their birthday to find out what kind of cake they want you to buy when you hit the grocery store at 10 pm.
But from tots to teens, family time is important and if you can combine it with outdoor activity and a short (or non-existent!) drive, it’s even better. As Calgarians do, our family often heads to the mountains for a day of hiking and picnicking. But Calgary, being the sprawling city that it is, has a number of urban hikes that you can enjoy throughout the year, without ever leaving the city. They are perfect for filling time with toddlers, squeezing in time with teens, and creating memories as a family.
With any luck, they will be mostly positive memories.
Urban Hikes in Calgary
Nose Hill Park is an 11 square kilometre protrusion in Calgary’s northwest that practically has its own weather system. This natural environment park is filled with hiking trails and boasts fabulous views in all directions. The Rough Fescue grassland you hike over is one of the most significant examples of this ecosystem left on the Canadian prairies. Besides the native grasslands, you’ll find trees, shrubs, and wildflowers in the coulees. One of the dominant species in the park is the Trembling Aspen, which, along with willows, occupies the north-facing slopes of the coulees and provides a refuge for many of the wild animals living in the park.
Pack up the kids (and bring the dogs for the off-leash areas) and get a good hill workout on either paved or dirt trails. Head north to find a small pond or to the southeast to look for a Siksikaitsitapi Medicine Wheel.
Along the northern bank of the Bow River, lies the natural environment park in northwest Calgary known as Bowmont Park. You can access it from Silver Springs, or walk from Baker Park or Bowness Park. (Between the three parks, you could spend a long time enjoying the outdoors!) With paved trails, natural trails, hills, a waterfall, and gorgeous views of the river and the city, Bowmont Park is a favourite. Start exploring the trails and you’ll find lots to discover.
A classic prairie coulee is a deep gulch or ravine, usually with a stream running through it in the spring. Twelve Mile Coulee was originally named this as it was approximately 12 miles from the post office in Fort Calgary and the area served as a mail drop on the old stagecoach run to Cochrane. Now it’s a great place to tromp through, filled with trees, water, and some grassland. In the spring, you’ll probably need rubber boots for navigating the stream and the mud, but in the fall, the stream is usually dried up. Either way, it’s the perfect place to get down into nature and you might even see some great wildlife, like moose, deer, porcupines, or coyotes. Archaeological artifacts found in the area indicate that First Nations people had been using the area for hunting and camping for at least 8000 years.
Edworthy Park, in Calgary’s southwest on the southern bank of the Bow River, offers refined picnics and playgrounds or more rustic trails and hiking. It includes the popular Douglas Fir Trail (you can read about our experience here) and Lawrey Gardens, with its off-leash park. You could spend all day at Edworthy Park. Hike some interesting and possibly challenging trails (hills and stairs), revel in the forest, and throw rocks in the river. Train lovers will enjoy the train going right through the park and you can hit up a playground or Angel’s Cafe for ice cream when you’re done.
Weaselhead Flats is a huge natural environment park on the west end of Glenmore Reservoir and it connects North and South Glenmore Park. This is the only delta in the city; as the Elbow River flows into the Glenmore Reservoir it slows down and deposits sand and gravel, creating a network of bars, channels and marsh areas. The diverse habitat, with the delta and one of the largest stands of coniferous forest in the city, brings a wide range of wildlife and is an especially great place for birdwatching. In open water, you might see Common Loons and Tundra Swans, species you are unlikely to see in other parks. Here you could hike for several kilometres and feel like you’ve escaped the city.
Griffith Woods Park is a natural environment park along the banks of the Elbow River. Here you’ll find paved and unpaved trails that are mostly flat and easy to walk. The Elbow River flows unhindered through Griffith Woods and you can see the oxbow wetlands from the river’s abandoned curves. With boardwalks across the wetlands and the surrounding white spruce forest, this is an ideal place to watch birds and keep your eyes peeled for other wildlife that may wander through. See if you can find the small swimming hole in the park.
Spanning over 3300 acres throughout the south part of the city, Fish Creek Provincial Park is one of the largest urban parks in Canada. The park is mostly in a natural, forested state, but you’ll find more than 100 kms of paved and unpaved trails, a learning centre, picnic shelters, and the man-made Sikome Lake, with a beach and great swimming. Fishing is also permitted in Fish Creek and the Bow River. Whether you want to pack a picnic, hit the trails, check out the bike skills park, or throw rocks into the creek, you can find more than enough for a day of urban hiking with your kids here. Of course, you might see some interesting wildlife here, too, so keep watching.
Carburn Park and Beaverdam Flats make a natural urban hike along the Bow River. Carburn Park features three man-made ponds, a regional pathway, and numerous wildlife, waterfowl and wildflowers to experience and you can hike along the river to Beaver Dam Flats Park, whose name is derived, as you might guess, from the beaver dams down on the flats. At Beaver Dam Flats, you’ll find an interesting structure called a “sappers bridge,” which was built in 1992 by military field engineers. Keep an eye out for blue herons!
West Nose Creek Park is also known as Confluence Park and lies along the banks of West Nose Creek. It’s home to a riparian zone, the narrow green space along the edge of the water that is home to a diverse group of plants and animals, as well as native grassland and a historic stone quarry. This park is best known for “Split Rock,” the most famous glacial erratic in the city. (The erratic was once part of Mount Edith Cavell in Jasper National Park!) Bike or hike along the natural creekside trails or the pathway above the creek.
No list of urban hikes in Calgary would be complete without mentioning the amazing pathway system in this city. The Rotary/Mattamy Greenway path system, together with the City of Calgary trail system, is the longest urban park and pathway system in the world. Connecting all four quadrants of Calgary, it loops the city and brings the City of Calgary trail system to 1000 kilometres of trails.
Happy hiking (and biking and walking and playing), Calgary!