Thursday, May 14, 2020

Ten Day Trips for Spring Adventures Close to Calgary

We all want to get outside, but spring is always challenging with lingering snow on trails in Kananaskis, some still snowy enough that you could probably ski. 

Spring is a great time to explore Bow Valley Provincial Park 

Start with the day trips below, my family's annual favorites for early spring hiking and exploring.

1. Start Local and Explore a New City Park or Natural Area

If everybody's healthy and you're not being asked to self-isolate, this is a great way to get outside close to home. Drive to a natural area  in a neighboring community. Maybe explore a park you've never visited before.

Check out some of my personal favourites in Calgary here: Calgary Urban Hikes  

Go for a walk on Nose Hill and find the First Nations Medicine Wheel

As with any hike at this time, please practice physical distancing and have a backup plan if the parking lot for your chosen park appears to be over crowded.  Finally, you'll find much more solitude if you grab your hiking boots and get off the paved pathways!!

Recommended reading: Calgary's Best Walks 35 Brand New Urban Jaunts And Nature Strolls

Go for a walk or bike ride and discover the Split Rock in Confluence Park 

2. Explore the City Pathways on your Bikes

My son and I biked all the way from Tuscany in the far NW corner of Calgary all the way down to the Highway 22X below Fish Creek Provincial Park following the paved Bow River Pathway. It took us two days using Carburn Park in the SE as an ending/re-starting point but it gave us a goal for a weekend, and we discovered several new sections of the pathway system we'd never biked before.

I've created a giant list of paved pathways we want to bike in the city this summer and I suspect it'll actually take us till September to finish the list.

We've discovered many new parks and natural areas by biking across the city 

Recommended reading:  

Read: Epic Family Bike Rides: The Best Spring Rides near Calgary

We love biking the Bow River Pathway through Calgary 

3. Explore Glenbow Ranch or Fish Creek Provincial Park 

You don't have to go far to access a provincial park. Fish Creek Provincial Park is located in South Calgary and  is one of the largest urban green spaces in North America. You'll find over 80 km of trails here including paved pathways, singletrack mountain bike trails, and wide gravel trails for walking or biking.

Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park is located just outside NW Calgary on the way to Cochrane along the Highway 1A. It's a beautiful park with a scenic paved pathway that follows the north bank of the Bow River. There's a long hill down to the river from the parking lot but once you reach the bottom, it's relatively flat as your ride out and back towards Calgary.

There are also many hiking trails in Glenbow Ranch. Our favourite is the Tiger Lilly Loop, a short 1.4 km loop that starts from the Visitor Centre by the parking lot.

Early spring hiking in Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park 

4. Discover the Trails and Pathways in Cochrane

We live in NW Calgary so we've been exploring the trails in Cochrane this spring. For hiking, we absolutely fell in love with the trails at the Cochrane Ranche. You can view the Cochrane Ranche Trail guide here and I recommend looking for the Grandfather Tree (number 9 on the map.)

We always start at the parking lot off the Highway 1A and hike a loop up towards the ranch house. From the ranch house you can continue further to complete the Cochrane Ranch Trail as shown on Trail Forks. It's a 6km loop and note that you'll be on private property once you start the back loop. Treat the trail with respect and do not bike this loop. We also did the back loop as an out and back on the right side of the creek. (We couldn't find a trail on the left side other than the gravel road.)

Go for an easy hike and discover the Grandfather Tree at Cochrane Ranche 

For biking, check out the beautiful paved trail through Riverfront Park. My suggestion would be to park at the large Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre, biking carefully through the off leash dog park heading west, or to park at the small parking lot at the bottom of River Ave (north side of the river) at the far side of the dog park.

From the River Avenue Bridge, it's a beautiful 12km return bike ride along a paved pathway through Riverfront Park, past Mitford Pond (there's a big climb here,) and on to the Glen Boles Trail which ends at a beautiful viewpoint. The entire ride is paved and there are only a couple of big hills.

Most of the trail is quite flat. For the easiest ride with young children, just ride through Riverfront Park where there are no hills. There's a parking lot by the Highway 22 bridge north of the river.

You can get more information on the Cochrane Parks and Pathways page. Google maps also shows a dotted line along the entire route that you'll be biking.

Cochrane is a beautiful place to go for a bike ride along the Bow River 

 5. Spend a Day in Bow Valley Provincial Park

We love biking or hiking around the Bow Valley Campground off the TransCanada Hwy and Highway 1X. Park at the Middle Lake day use area and bike around on the quiet paved campground roads. The campground doesn't open until the end of April so until then the roads will be vehicle-free. 

We like to bike to the Elk Flats Group Campground where you can have a picnic at the playground. We then continue on to the Many Springs Trailhead (bring a bike lock if you want to go for a short hike,) and then we head down to the river. From there we return through the campground where you'll find more playgrounds.

Biking the quiet campground roads through the Bow Valley Campground 

You can also hike around the park, completing a loop with the Elk Flats, Bow River, and Moraine Trails. Add on the Middle Lake or Many Springs Loop to extend the distance. See the map here.

We love hiking the Moraine Trail in Bow Valley Provincial Park 

Finally there is a paved bike trail that connects the Visitor Centre near the Highway 1X with the camp store. We like to bike around the campground from Middle Lake and then hop on the bike trail at the end to extend our ride. We return to Middle Lake on the road. This can all be done in a big loop of 12km. Alternately, park at the Visitor Centre and bike on the paved trail to the campground and over to the river for a picnic.

Note the bike path is very hilly and would not be appropriate for beginner riders.

The paved bike path in Bow Valley Provincial Park is a very scenic trail

Other places to explore in Bow Valley Provincial Park:

  1. Hike the Flowing Waters Trail in the Willow Rock Campground off the Highway 1X across from the Bow Valley Campground. The Flowing Water Trail is a short 2.5 km interpretive loop. The campground doesn't open until the end of April so if it's closed, just park at the campground gate.

  2. Hike the Prairie View Trail to the Barrier Fire Lookout and Yates Mt. Summit above Barrier Lake off Highway 40. The Prairie View Trail climbs to a beautiful viewpoint over the lake and then continues on to a fire lookout. Expect some snow on this trail early season.

Read: Bike and Hike Closed Campgrounds near Calgary this Spring

Read: First Summits - Yates Mountain and the Barrier Lake Lookout, Kananaskis

The Prairie View Trail takes you to this beautiful viewpoint over Barrier Lake

6. Spend a Day in the Elbow Valley

There are several great day use areas and hiking trails outside Bragg Creek. Below are my current recommendations:

One.  Hike the Fullerton Loop from the Allen Bill Day Use Area.

This trail is very popular but it's also nice and wide to allow for safe passing. It's an easy trail for young children and has a nice viewpoint over the valley. You can also have a picnic down by the Elbow River after.

We've always loved the Fullerton Loop in the Elbow Valley

Two. Hike the Paddy's Flat Interpretive Trail from the Paddy's Flat Campground.

Park at the closed campground gate (It doesn't open until May 15th) and hike down to the river. Hike along the Paddy's Flat Interpretive Trail until it joins the Riverview Trail. This is a great place to practice physical distancing because you'll have a large campground to spread out in.

This is also a great place to bring the kids' bikes for some easy campground riding on gravel roads before it opens, and there are secret beaches along the river with beautiful sand. There is also a playground in the loop near the river.

We loved the Paddy's Flat Trail when my son was young

Three. Hike the Prairie Mountain Trail from the Elbow Falls parking lot.

Note this is not a beginner hike. You'll gain 700 metres of height. The trail is also busy so go early or hike mid-week. Expect snow on the trail until mid April.

Read more here: First Summits: Prairie Mountain, Kananaskis 

We love the Prairie Mountain hike!

Four. Hike the Beaver Flats Interpretive Trail from the Winter Gate on Highway 66 at Elbow Falls.

This trail is either accessed from the Beaver Flats Campground or from the Beaver Lodge Day Use Area just past the winter gate on Highway 66.

The campground is a hike-in campground until Highway 66 opens on May 15th. Park at the winter gate by Elbow Falls and walk down the closed highway. (It's also a fabulous bike ride when the snow is gone!!) 

Either hike/bike all the way to the campground (30 minutes at most on a bike) or stop at the Beaver Lodge Day Use area (about a 5 minute walk from the winter gate) and hop on the Beaver Flats Interpretive Trail.

The hiking trail takes you to the campground and is a great hike with kids as you meander along beaver ponds (which are super fun to play in.)

The hike is only 3 km return + a short distance on the highway. It is best enjoyed on foot so bring bike locks if you want to access the trail via the campground at the far end of the trail.

We often bring sand and water toys to play with at the beaver ponds. (And expect the kids to get wet!) 

The Beaver Flats Trail has many small ponds that are fun to play in

Five Have a picnic at Forgetmenot Pond in the Little Elbow Campground.

Highway 66 opens on May 15th past the winter gate at Elbow Falls. After that you can drive to the Little Elbow Campground and it is a great place to explore and have a picnic. Go for a walk along the river, play in the sand underneath the suspension bridge, or head towards the Nihahi Ridge Trailhead at the back of the E loop (which might still have snow along the ridge until early June.)

You can also go for a short out and back ride on the Big Elbow Trail, a wide gravel road, until you reach a beautiful open area along the Elbow River.

Discover more great hikes in this area:

We love playing along the river in the Little Elbow Campground 

7. Go for a Walk around Kananaskis Village or Ribbon Creek

Kananaskis Village is a beautiful place to walk around with many trails in the area. You can also start from the Ribbon Creek parking lot below the Village for a nice walk along Ribbon Creek. There are lots of bridges in the first couple of kilometres until you reach the junction with the Kovach Trail. You can make a 5.5 km loop as well with the Ribbon Creek, Kovach, and Terrace Trails. (See the loop here on All Trails.)

The Troll Falls trail is very popular and you can hike the Hay Meadows Trail to have a picnic beside the Kananaskis River.

Troll Falls melting out for beautiful spring hiking

The  Bill Milne Trail is also a great spring bike trail and is paved. Just wait until the snow melts off, usually by May.

We also like walking around the Kananaskis Lodge where there's a pretty walking path that loops the property.

We like exploring along the Hay Meadows Trail from Ribbon Creek

8. Bike Highway 40 in South Kananaskis before the Highway opens

We love biking on closed highways and roads in spring. It's a great way to self-distance yourself from others too when you're on a big road with space for miles! (Much easier than on a narrow bike path in the city!)

Highway 40 west of Longview doesn't open to vehicles until June 15th. Park at the winter gate at Highwood Junction and ride as far as you get, returning when the kids get tired. You'll have some very big hills in both directions so save energy for the return ride. We like to ride as far as the Cat Creek day use area where we then hike in to see the falls.

Read: Biking to Cat Creek Falls on Highway 40

Biking closed highways is always a favourite spring activity for us

9. Take a Day Trip to Sheep River Provincial Park south of Calgary

For families who live in South Calgary, this is a beautiful corner of Kananaskis. It's similar in vibe to the Elbow Valley but sees a third of the traffic and crowds.

Take a drive along the scenic Sheep River Road heading west from Turner Valley, and find a new favourite day use area. We love the Sheep River Falls Day Use Area and these waterfalls are way more spectacular than Elbow Falls!

You can have a picnic by the Sheep River as well from numerous day use areas along this highway.

Sheep River Falls is beautiful in spring!

Recommended spring hikes in this area include the Dyson Falls Trail and the Foran Grade Loop

Dyson Falls in Spring is a great hike!

The Foran Grade Ridge Loop is a nice shoulder season hike

10. Explore the Sibbald Creek Region of Kananaskis

This is a lesser-known area of Kananaskis and there are a few nice little hiking trails out this way. The turnoff for the Sibbald Creek Trail (Highway 68) is also a short drive for Calgary, 20 minutes west of Calaway Park. We like the Sibbald Lake Day Use Area located beside a quiet campground that will be closed until June.

From Sibbald Lake you can either hike the Sibbald Flat Interpretive Trail or continue on to the Deer Ridge Trail where you climb up to a pretty viewpoint along the ridge.

Deer Ridge is a lovely hike in a quiet corner of Kananaskis 

Other recommended reading for spring adventures 

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