Joyful, contented, absorbed, satisfied, accomplished, alert, calm and peaceful, confident, powerful, excited – happy. Cycling in and around Calgary is enjoyable for so many reasons – big nature, awe-inspiring vistas, peaceful river pedals, fresh air, the physical challenge, and so many destinations to discover along the way. Here are a few of my favorite fall rides to celebrate the change of seasons.
Ride 1: Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park
Vast and open, Glenbow Ranch hosts 40km of interconnected paved and wide gravel pathways that lead to stunning views, aspen-filled coulees, and grasslands where cattle still graze. Part of the Trans Canada Trail, now called the Great Trail, it is situated along the north bank of the Bow River between Calgary and Cochrane in Rocky View County. Begin with a paved pathway coast downhill before deciding your route. Alberta’s trademark big blue skies are a constant companion when you cycle around Glenbow Ranch.
When you bike here, you follow in the footsteps of the Indigenous Peoples who lived and hunted in the area up to 4000 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 vigor 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 interesting background on Alberta’s ranching heritage and geological history. Bring a picnic and plan to stay awhile.
Start: Official parking for Glenbow Ranch, Glenbow Road,
Facilities: Bathroom at trailhead
Distance & Difficulty: Mountain View Loop is 7km. Bow River Loop is 7km. Entire pathway network is 15km (hilly, paved pathways, gravel pathways)
Detours, Destinations, & Suggestions: Drive to Cochrane for MacKay’s ice cream, lunch, or a café stop.
Ride 2: Bow River Pathway (Shouldice Park – Edworthy Park – Prince’s Island Park – St. Patrick's Island Park)
The Bow River begins at Bow Glacier, on the Icefields Parkway, and travels through Lake Louise, Banff, Canmore, and eventually into the heart of Calgary. The riverside pathway passes beneath towering poplars, past public art, and has easy access to neighborhoods that host ice cream shops, playgrounds, pubs, and people-populated walking and shopping streets. Serving up the perfect mix of natural beauty and urban energy makes it the most popular pathway in Calgary. And for those who want to cycle through the winter, this path (along with over 500km of other regional pathways) is cleared of snow all winter long.
Cycle to Prince’s Island Park and take a walk along the wetland trails on the east end of the island, stop by the playground, or throw rocks in the Bow River. Continue along the north or south side of the Bow River to the RiverWalk, an energetic spot where walkers, strollers, roller skaters, and cyclists converge at the Simmons Building in the East Village. Continue to St. Patrick’s Island where you can stop at Trout Beach for a picnic. This natural water park is a favorite with kids. Keep on pedaling to the playground and then loop through Inglewood where you might want to detour for burgers or ice cream, a craft beer, or some strolling and shopping along 9th Avenue before cycling west all the way to Edworthy Park.
Start: Shouldice Park (4900 Monserrat Drive NW), Edworthy Park North (4105 Montgomery View NW) or Edworthy Park South (5050 Spruce Drive SW)
LRT: Sunnyside or Bridgeland Stations
Facilities: Bathrooms at Edworthy Park and St. Patrick’s Island
Distance & Difficulty: Shouldice to Prince’s Island Park return is 18km, Shouldice to St. Patrick’s Island return is 26km (mostly flat, paved pathways)
Detours, Destinations, & Suggestions: Delicious detours are a constant along this ride. Ice cream, cafés, pie, cupcakes, tea, lunch stops, and pubs – there are many options to choose from. On warm days, enjoy an ice cream stop at Abbey’s Creations in Montgomery or Inglewood, Lic’s in Parkdale, Made by Marcus in West Hillhurst, or Sweet Tooth in Chinatown.
Ride 3: Fish Creek Provincial Park (Shannon Terrace to Mallard Point)
Vast and peaceful, the wilds of Fish Creek Provincial Park recharge and refresh. Stretching 19km from east to west and encompassing over 13km2, the park is the ultimate urban-wilderness getaway. Bordered on three sides by city and on the west side by the territory of the Tsuut’ina First Nation, Fish Creek Park hosts more than 100km of pathways for walking, hiking, and biking. You begin in the forested west end, where a mix of poplar, aspen, and white spruce trees offer shaded relief on a hot day. All the rides follow paved pathways and enjoy mostly flat pedaling throughout, however there are many options to detour and explore along shale paths and single-track mountain bike trails.
Wondering what all the vegetation is around you? Bunchberry, purple clematis, kinnikinnick (bearberry), buffaloberry, and red osier dogwood are just some of the native flowers and shrubs that cover the forest floor in the far west end of the park. Pass by sandstone cliffs and multiple wetlands and continue under Macleod Trail into wide open grasslands, where wildflowers abundantly bloom from May through September. Listen for the birdlife in wetlands and among the riparian forests and slow the pace to catch a glimpse of one or two of the 200 bird species that have been found in the park. You may also see other wildlife: deer, coyotes, snakes, frogs, beavers, and black bears all call the park home or enjoy the occasional visit. From Mallard Point you can return along paved paths or follow shale pathways along the Bow River. Climb to the community of Parkland, above Annie’s Café, and follow the escarpment pathways, enjoying expansive views of the park below and the Rockies beyond before descending back into the park at Acadia Drive and continuing along the valley bottom into the vast urban wilds that are Fish Creek Park.
Start: Official Fish Creek Park parking lot at Shannon Terrace (13931 Woodpath Road SW)
LRT: Fish Creek Station
Facilities: Bathrooms at trailheads throughout the park
Distance & Difficulty: Entire Park loop is 33km; West End loop (Shannon Terrace to Votier’s Flats) is 14km; East End loop (Mallard Point to Votier’s Flats) is 20km (few hills, paved pathways)
Detours, Destinations, & Suggestions: Annie’s Café at Bow Valley Ranch is the perfect pit stop for ice cream, drinks or lunch
Mountain Bike Option: See the Fish Creek Park trail maps on the Calgary Mountain Bike Alliance website (cmbalink.com)
Lori is the author of the new guidebook Calgary’s Best Bike Rides, 50 urban cycle tours and pathway pedals and the best-selling Calgary’s Best Walks, the owner of Fit Frog and the CTV Walks segment host. She leads walks, hikes, and snowshoe days with her company Fit Frog. Connect with her and get a signed copy of her books on Instagram & Facebook @lorifitfrog and at fitfrog.ca.
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