Biking, birding, swimming and boating are only some of the activities nature-lovers can enjoy in Fish Creek Provincial Park, 22km south of Calgary. This historic park, stretching 19km east to west, is Canada's largest urban park and one of the biggest in North America.
There are a myriad of multi-use paved, granular and single-track pathways throughout the park, with picnic areas dotted here and there, where you can stop and enjoy some refreshment or take in the sounds and sights of park life. You can try your luck fishing for trout (be aware of Alberta's fishing regulations) on the Bow River and Fish Creek or enjoy a spot of swimming and sunbathing at the Sikome Aquatic centre's lake and beach.
In the winter, cross-country skiing and snow shoeing are possible, snow conditions permitting. Some pathways are also cleared to allow for hiking.
Children of Yesterday sculpture in the Artisan Gardens, Fish Creek Provincial Park, Calgary
Native communities reputedly started living in Fish Creek Valley in about 6500BC, followed thousands of years later by the first European settlers in 1873. The Burns family, who took over the farm at the turn of the 20th century, buying all of the ranches and farms around it, continued to own the ranch until 1972 when the provincial government bought the land and opened the area to the public in 1975 as Fish Creek Provincial Park.
The beautiful Bow Valley Ranche House, originally built in 1896 by former owners, the Hull Brothers, still exists today as a restaurant at the heart of Fish Creek Provincial Park. It is one of a cluster of buildings, including a visitor centre, Annie's Bakery and Café and Artisan Gardens, that are a welcome sight after a long, hot bike ride south from Calgary along the Bow River pathway.
We stopped for a bite to eat at Annie's Café where they serve fresh sandwiches, soup, cakes, ice-cream and hot and cold beverages at reasonable prices. This early 20th century former farmhouse, which originally housed the ranch foremen and their families, has a lovely sunny porch and picnic tables outside, as well as indoor seating.
Next to Annie's are the Artisan Gardens, a project by The Ranche at Fish Creek Restoration Society, bringing together the work of Canadian artists celebrating the First Nations People. The artworks range from sculptures, such as a bronze
Bow Valley Ranche Restaurant, Fish Creek Provincial Park, Calgary
bust of 'Chief David Crowchild, 1899 – 1982', to works of art encapsulated in monolith art placards. My favourite was the 'Children of Yesterday' statue, which portrays two young native Canadians out walking together.
Bow Valley Ranche restaurant is a magnificent example of early 20th century colonial architecture, which has been lovingly preserved in well-kept grounds. We felt altogether too scruffy to have lunch or afternoon tea there, but it is the sort of place I would go back to for dinner, dressed rather more smartly. Judging by the menu, appetisers start from about CN$17, with mains for about CN$40.
Fish Creek Provincial Park is accessible by car from Macleod Trail (Highway 2A) or Deerfoot Trail (Highway 2) and by bike via the Bow River pathway heading south out of Calgary.