The town of Cochrane is located 20 minutes west of Calgary and makes for a great day trip close to the city for a weekend family outing. You’ll experience mountain vibes, fresh air, and country living without having to make a longer drive out to Canmore or Banff.
Here are my family’s favorite places to play and explore in and around Cochrane:
1. Hike and bike around Glenbow Ranch.
Glenbow Ranch is a provincial park located west of Calgary off Highway 1A (you’ll see the turnoff as you drive out to Cochrane). From the parking lot, a paved trail takes you steeply down to the river and from there, you can explore both paved and natural trails for hours as you hike or bike around this active cattle ranch through the native grassland.
My favorite natural trails include the Tiger Lilly Loop (a hiking-only trail) and the Badger Bowl Loop (which can be hiked or biked). My family also likes the Bow River Loop because it’s relatively flat and great for a novice bike ride. If you’re looking for paved trails, the Glenbow Trail is relatively flat and very scenic as you walk or bike to the Narrows and back. For more information, trail reports, and maps, visit grpf.ca.
2. Explore the trails around Cochrane Ranche.
Arriving in Cochrane, my family likes to hike around Cochrane Ranche where you’ll find a large parking lot off Highway 1A, east of the intersection with Highway 22. The highlight here is a visit to the grandfather tree, a white spruce estimated to be over 300 years old. The tree is located uphill on a hiking trail that follows the creek flowing through the park labeled on Google Maps.
Autumn is an especially beautiful time to visit Cochrane Ranche when the large trees beside Big Hill Creek have changed color. Make sure to bring your camera for family photos that you can use for your Christmas cards this year. The kids will also find that several of the trees make for great climbing.
3. Spend an afternoon at Riverfront Park along the Bow River.
My family loves exploring the paved pathways along the Bow River starting from Riverfront Park off Griffin Road. In this park, you’ll find a disc golf course, a nature playground, and a beautiful paved loop to bike or walk with your family. The loop is relatively flat and perfect for novice bike riders. We like to stop by the creek to play, and we always head up to visit the tunnel that crosses under Griffin Road. For a longer walk or bike ride, continue heading east toward River Avenue and the off-leash dog park. This part of the pathway is a bit hillier but still makes for a great family bike ride.
If you have youth who like skateparks, the Zero Gravity Skatepark can be accessed from Riverfront Park. Head west under Highway 22 and climb up to the park. It’s one of my family’s favorite skateparks, and it’s popular with youth on skateboards, scooters, bikes, or inline skates. You can check out the paved pathways on Google Maps. They show up as green lines around Riverfront Park.
4. Go fishing at Mitford Pond and tour the trails through West Cochrane.
Mitford Pond is located west of Highway 22 and can easily be reached by bike or on foot from Riverfront Park where there are connected paved pathways between the two parks. If you choose to start from Riverfront Park, you can stop to play at the skatepark en route. Alternately, drive to Mitford Park off West Rock Road and you can start your adventure right at the pond. The pond is stocked with trout, and children under 14 can keep what they catch. Older youth and adults must catch and release.
Aside from fishing, there is a beautiful paved trail that extends farther west from the park heading toward the community of West Pointe. The pathway meanders high above the river for scenic views and is signed as ‘Glen Boles Trail.’ It’s one of our favorite paved pathways to ride as a family but it does have a couple of big hills, so you’ll want to save it for older youth who’ve mastered their bike gears and brakes.
If you bike or walk the full Glen Boles Trail to the final viewpoint, the distance is a 5-kilometre return from Mitford Park. To extend your bike ride, start at either Riverfront Park or even farther away by the River Avenue Bridge where you’ll be able to complete a return ride of 12 kilometres (from the bridge), all of it paved. This is one of our favorite spring or autumn bike rides close to Calgary.
5. Go playground-touring around Cochrane.
There are many fun playgrounds around Cochrane, including:
Sunset Ridge (Sunset Road). A large playground with a pond, pathway, and picnic area. Especially great for young kids who may want to bring their bikes with them to ride around the pond.
Riverfront Park Nature Playground (accessible from the Griffin Road parking lot). This park is fun for young children while exploring Riverfront Park.
William Camden Park Playground (located between Glenwood Crescent and Glenbrook Crescent in central Cochrane). This playground features a large web climber and a fun hanging bridge. It is a great destination while biking around Cochrane and can be reached from Riverfront Park if you follow the green pathways on Google Maps.
Centennial Park Playground (William Street and Pope Avenue). This playground has an accessible ramp system, is toddler-friendly, and you’ll see it as you enter Cochrane on Highway 1A from west Calgary. I find it tricky to access from the highway, so consult Google Maps before heading out.
The LaunchPad Bike Park (Bow Street, downtown Cochrane). Not your traditional playground, this park deserves to be included for the bike lovers in your family. The park has a fun dirt pump track with rollers, wooden bridges, and beginner jumps. Make sure the park is dry if visiting and stay off the pump track if it has rained recently.
Visit the Calgary Playground Review website for more playground suggestions in Cochrane, calgaryplaygroundreview.com/cochranes-best-playgrounds.
We all scream for ice cream!
When you’re done playing, make sure you stop downtown for delicious ice cream at MacKay’s, located on 1st Street. All products are manufactured locally in Cochrane using Western Canadian cream and fresh Alberta grown fruit. There are 50 different flavors of ice cream and you can view them all online, which is good news if you have children who have a hard time deciding on a flavor, mackaysicecream.com.
Tanya is a freelance writer and mom to an energetic boy. She loves hiking, camping, skiing, and all things mountain-related. She is the author of the blog, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies, rockiesfamilyadventures.com.
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