I am a former journalist and editor, currently writing fiction for adults and children. Visit my website at www.karengrikitis.wordpress.com.
Published August 6th 2015
Recreation for all the family in a natural environment
Walkers, cyclists, joggers, and roller-bladers in Calgary are blessed with a 48km pathway system running along both sides of the Rivers Bow and Elbow. Developed in the mid-1970s to celebrate the city's centenary, the Bow River Pathway is a recreational gem, catering for all levels of activity from a short, evening stroll along the river bank to a full day's outing to one of the riverside parks along its route.
Looking over the River Bow from the Bow River Pathway, west of Calgary in Bowmont Park
During the summer months I have seen an octogenarian on roller blades, entire families with children riding independently or on bike trailers, couples strolling hand in hand and lone joggers and power walkers.
What makes the Bow River Pathway special is its riverside location and the myriad parks and green spaces it runs through, making it a very scenic way to spend time exercising and enjoying nature. It is also very safe as no vehicular traffic is allowed on the pathway and in many areas there are segregated paths for walkers and cyclists/roller-bladers. Priority to pedestrians is a given and cyclists are fairly good at ringing their bell or making their presence known when approaching walkers from behind.
The Bow River Pathway is well sign-posted but there are some sections where the path ends and you have to go through quiet residential areas to get back on to the path. If you get lost, ask someone the way. It has happened to me a couple of times and everyone is very friendly and happy to get you back on track.
Travelling west from the lovely Prince's Island Park near downtown Calgary, the Bow River pathway on the south side of the river passes through Edworthy Park where there are picnic sites, a playground and the 2.5km Douglas Fir walking trail. If you cross the pedestrian bridge here to the north side of the river you will find a delightful rest stop called Angel's Cappuccino and Ice Cream Café where you can have a bite to eat by the river.
Continuing west you pass through three parks. The first is Shouldice Park with its aquatic centre, arena and sports fields, which is also the drop-off point for Lazy Day Rafting if you opt for the shorter downstream journey by boat back to Calgary. Further on is Bowmont Park, where there are some fantastic viewpoints looking out over the Bow River and beyond. This is a 164 hectare natural park with hiking trails, picnic tables and off-leash areas for walking dogs. If you keep heading west you come to Baker Park in the north, the further drop-off point for Lazy Day Rafting, and Bowness Park in the south.
Baker Park is reputedly a very popular location for outdoor weddings as it features promenades, stone archways, fountains in the summer, and a grass amphitheatre. Its neighbour across the river, Bowness Park is an urban park with picnic tables, a playground and a lagoon where you can paddle a boat. Here the Bow River pathway ends, although it is being extended as far as Glenmore Ranch Provincial Park near Cochrane over the next 12 to 18 months.
The distance from Prince's Island to Baker Park is about 20km, making a round trip of 40km. We have cycled this route alternating between the north and south sides of the river on a number of occasions. It is very easy with fairly flat terrain and the pathways are almost all paved. Alternatively, you can simply walk or cycle a small section of the pathway and explore one of the parks before heading back.
Street art along the Bow River Pathway, just east out of Calgary
If you travel east on the Bow River Pathway, following the river as it turns southward, you will eventually reach Fish Creek Provincial Park, which is about 22km from Prince's Island. This is a wonderful park covering 19km from east to west, with a tea room and lots of trails worth exploring. If the cycle or walk there seem too daunting a prospect, however, there are lots of places to visit en route that are less of a trek from Calgary. As you leave the city heading east on the south side of the river look out for the imaginative street art painted on utility buildings by the side of the pathway and under the bridges.
A few kilometres out of the city is Calgary Zoo on St George's Island, which is Canada's second largest zoo and renowned for its conservation research. Pearce Estate Park, a little further along, incorporates a constructed wetland and fish hatchery. There are picnic tables here where you can take a break and watch the birds and insect life around the ponds. Close by, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary with its nature centre has recently opened again to the public after the 2013 flood. Trails and guided tours are available at the Sanctuary, which has provided a place for migratory birds to rest since 1929.
There are a handful of other parks further south along the Bow River Pathway, including Carburn Park with its boating ponds and Sue Higgins Park with Calgary's largest fenced off-leash area for dog walkers.
Public art work along the Bow River Pathway near Inglewood
Instead of following the Bow River path route, you can take the Elbow River pathway, which takes you all the way to Glenmore Reservoir and Dam, about 14km south of Calgary. Here you can cycle or walk round the reservoir or visit the Heritage Park Historical Village on the east side of the reservoir, which is reputedly Canada's largest living history museum.
As well as providing recreation and access to lots of interesting places, the Bow River Pathway is a useful conduit to one or two of Calgary's more interesting neighbourhoods for those of you living or staying in or near the city. If you leave the pathway at 10th Street NW bridge and walk a short way north you will come to Kensington Village, a lively area full of cafes, pubs, restaurants and independent shops, much loved by students and free-spirited residents. To the east of the city, if you come off the Bow River pathway at 12th Street SE you will come to 9th Avenue SE in Inglewood, home of the Esker Foundation art gallery and a host of unusual shops, pubs and cafes.
Before embarking on a cycle ride or walk along the Bow River Pathway, check the City of Calgary website's pathways page for path closures, as some sections of the pathway may still be closed due to the damage caused by the flood in 2013.