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Calgary’s best winter walks to cool spots

Glenbow Ranch: Trains, cattle, deer and ice cream

Alberta’s trademark, big, blue skies are a constant companion when you walk around Glenbow Ranch. And when the clouds roll in, the textures and patterns of the land juxtaposed to the blue backdrop draw your eyes high. The Chinook arch is especially impressive; its distinctive straight-line cloud formation and warm westerly winds provide welcome respite in mid-January. Be prepared: the winds can be fierce here, especially pre-Chinook, when gusts foreshadow the rise in temperatures.

Vast and open, the park is situated along the north bank of the Bow River between Calgary and Cochrane in Rocky View County. Glenbow Ranch hosts 25 km 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 travelled through this piece of prairie as part of their cross-Canada trek.

When you walk here, you follow in the footsteps of the First Nations peoples who lived and hunted in the area up to four thousand 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 interesting background on Alberta’s ranching heritage and geological history. A walk here calms the mind and refreshes the spirit.

Starting point: Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, Hwy 1A, about 4 km east of Cochrane.

Cool spots: If you didn’t bring your lunch to the ranch, head to Cochrane Coffee Traders post-walk for a cuppa fresh-roasted coffee and house-made lunches and baked goods. Popular with cyclists out for a day ride from Calgary, this is a nice spot to warm up by the fireplace on a cold day. If it is a winter chinook day and you feel the need for some ice cream, drop by MacKay’s ice cream shop. Serving house-made ice cream since 1948, MacKay’s is a destination drive for Calgarians.

Cochrane Coffee Traders: 114, 2 Avenue West
MacKay’s: 220, 1 Street West

 

Dale Hodges Park and Bowmont Park East: Wetlands, off leash and rolling hills

Tucked in between the community of Silver Springs and the Bow River, Bowmont Natural Environment Park offers a nature break, with grassland trails and paved pathways. Start the walk on the paved Bow River Pathway and connect to Dale Hodges Park, a former gravel pit that was transformed into wetlands and meadows through a unique collaboration between Parks, Water Resources and Public Art. The rolling grassland trail is perfect for hikers in training, with its multiple climbs and descents. The high points on the trail offer a bird’s eye view of some of the vast and impressive properties along the river in Bowness. Post-climb rest breaks allow you to soak up the Rocky Mountain views, which are hard to beat. Walk the trails past polishing marshes, wet meadows and the Nautilus Pond and learn about the storm water treatment process as it flows to the Bow River. This process is estimated to reduce sediment in stormwater by 50 percent, helping to protect our river system. Continue past the Nautilus Pond and onto the roller coaster grassland pathways. Connect across the Bow River into Bowness for a longer walk. Walking bridges lead to paved pathways and Bowness Road where tasty spots like Cadence Coffee await!

Starting point: Park at the official parking area on 52 Street (one-way) just off Home Road.

Cool spots: Cadence Coffee is a local hot spot. Popular for breakfasts or a cup of coffee and freshly baked muffin, it is a wonderful post-walk destination. Grab some tasty food and enjoy it during a break at one of the sightseeing lookouts perched on the Bowmont Park escarpments.

Cadence Coffee: 6407 Bowness Road NW

 

Ramsay and RiverWalk: Art, murals, sledding and hot chocolate

Eclectic, sometimes gritty, neighborhoods make for the best urban hikes. Ramsay is home to old-fashioned corner stores, historic homes and buildings from the early 1900s - some renovated and fantastic, some handyman delights. Ramsay is not polished and perfect, and that is 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. Walk over the Elbow River pedestrian bridge, past Fort Calgary, and into the East Village. RiverWalk is a beautiful pathway development that connects, or will connect, the East Village, Stampede Park, Lindsay Park, and the community of Mission.  Continue west along the Bow River and stop at the historic Simmons Building, the home of a diverse group of eateries and cafés. Walk through East Village to the Central Library or National Music Centre or connect to St. Patrick’s Island, at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers. The park has 1.6 km of pathways, waterparks, a playground and sledding hill, picnic spots, wetlands, and forests.

Starting point: Park anywhere along 8 Avenue near 8 Street, or Bridgeland LRT Station.

Cool spots: Grab a hot chocolate and bite to eat at the Simmons Building on the RiverWalk. Walk through the East Village to the Central Library and the National Music Centre. Check out the 4 Street SE “Corridor of Connection” mural. Detour along 9 Avenue and visit the free Esker Foundation Gallery of Contemporary Art on 9 Avenue.

Simmons Building: 618 Confluence Way SE
Central Library: 800 3 Street SE
National Music Centre: 850 4 Street SE
Esker Foundation Gallery of Contemporary Art: 1011 9 Avenue SE

Lori is the author of Calgary’s Best Walks, the owner of Fit Frog and the CTV Walks segment host. Watch for her new book, Calgary’s Best Bike Rides, 50 Urban Cycle Tours and Pathway Pedals, coming this spring. 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 and Facebook @lorifitfrog and at fitfrog.ca.

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