For all the hikes and summits we do, we also like to bike on occasion (not nearly enough in fact). With many parts of of Kananaskis closed completely due to flood damage and the few open trails in various states disrepair for the same reason, we decided to forgo that area and try something closer to home. Wanting solitude, we choose to ride the irrigation canal pathway that travels from Calgary to the bedroom community of Chestermere just east of town. It’s a fairly quiet route overall.
You’ll never hear a trip like this described as exciting or exhilarating, but it’s still a pleasant jaunt.
This entire journey is along a flat easy to ride pathway. Travelling this paved route you’ll pass industrial areas, farmer’s field, tree plantations, golf courses, wetlands, and encroaching housing developments. Most roads you encounter pass over the pathway, save for a couple.
We’ll begin our adventure at Glenmore Trail and Ogden Road and it appears others like this as a staring point too. As we unloaded the bikes we saw others doing the same. The parking lot here belongs to a hotel and strip mall, but it’s large with lots of spaces. I doubt they mind as long as you park away from the businesses at the far end of the lot.
Immediately crossing Glenmore Trail, you’ll head east across a road bridge, where you enter the pathway proper along the canal. At this point you’re heading south for a bit before swinging east and then finally north east. The canal meanders as canals are apt to do.
The going is smooth and fast and we make good time. Passing under Barlow Trail we stop to watch Cliff Swallows, whose mud nests can be seen far above on the underside of the bridge. It’s amazing how chaotic the scene is and birds fly about, barely missing each other. How in the world they know which nest is which is beyond me. Swallows eat on the fly, mostly consuming bugs (so they are our friends).
On the opposite side of the canal is the CPR mainline. A train can be seen sitting and Connie points out a container that appears to balancing precariously. It’s not however and is being supported by two containers underneath, just one of them is a bulkhead style can, which was hard to see until we were right across from it. This looks like a dangerous way to load them, but it’s fine.
Trending east now, we pass under a few more bridges. One is under construction and new second span being added. To a Calgarian, this sort of thing is common place and at any one time a huge chunks of infrastructure are being worked on. In fact, if you travel somewhere without passing construction, consider yourself lucky.
Along here we’ve been passing through industrial areas and our views have been of factories, trucking terminals and trains. Before long however, we’re amongst farmer’s fields and wetlands, all of that stuff behind us. There are a few tree plantations here too. We pass under Stoney Trail, a yet unopened section of the ambitious Calgary ring road. Just past here are some locks and a side canal heading south.
We’ll pass a few more rural roads, which we’ll have to ride across. Watch for traffic!
Coming to busy Glenmore Trail (again) and ducking under it – and I mean duck or you’ll loss your head – before long we’re at the Heritage Glen Golf Course. We’ll pass right through the centre of it in fact. We’re tempted to purchase a beer from the concession cart, stationed right by the pathway. Mmmm, that would be nice! Watch for errant balls here (ANOTHER reason to wear a helmet) and those crazy golf-cart drivers who may cut out in front of you.
Beyond the golf course now, we’ll travel through a fairly rural area for a next few kilometres. How long before it becomes an industrial park or housing tract however is a big question on my mind, With Calgary’s explosive growth, it’s just a matter of time I’d guess. Along here there are a few wetlands, oddly devoid of birds. Any others time we’ve cycled here, we’ve seen many.
We continue past some pastures and the horses there are so happy to see that they run to the fence and whinny for our attention. Hoping for a treat perhaps, or even a good petting, they ham it up for the camera.
Before long we come to some canal locks followed by a train bridge. The track belongs to the CNR and this branch travels east of here to Lyalta, not terribly far away – formerly it went all the way to Saskatoon Saskatchewan but the centre section has been abandoned for a few years. This will be our lunch spot on the way back.
Just past here the town of Chetermere comes into view and the next kilometre or two, we’ll ride beside a new housing development. Like Calgary, Chestermere is experiencing incredible growth and it would not surprise me if the two ended up butting up against each other at some time in the near future. Only a few kilometres separate the two – as the crow flies, not by the more circuitous route we took. This is the most busy section of the path.
The canal enters Chestermere Lake here, a man made body of water surrounded by the town. It’s shallow, warm and often weed choked, abuzz with the sound of jet skis and boats. It’s a busy place, sort of a superhighway for the nouveau rich and their noisy water craft.
Heading back, we stop at the train bridge for lunch. By this point, the heat was a little beyond our comfort level (as I’ve said before heat is our Kryptonite) and on the way back we take our time and cool off under bridges. Slow and steady.
On this trip we saw only perhaps two or three dozen people, most near the Chestermere end. This trail can be roller bladed, and even walked if you wish, but the later would be a fairly dull trip – too flat with little to see. We saw lots of water birds in the canal, including on mother duck with TEN ducklings!
Interestingly the canal did not seem to have been damaged by recent flooding, unlike most water courses in the region. It was however silted up and brown. Lots of water birds can be seen along its banks, in particular geese and ducks, many with broods. You can and are allowed to canoe or kayak the canal, but I have never seen anyone do that.
Chestermere Lake is actually a reservoir for the irrigation network, known as the Western Headworks System of the Western Irrigation District, and two other canals leave the lake on their way east to dryer parts of the region. Without this live giving water farming would be a challenge in those areas.
This pathway can be followed much further than we travelled and it’s possible to get all the way to Bowness Park, some 46km from Chestermere without leaving it. There are of course lots of offshoot paths along the way too.
Oddly, I had no flats this trip – a first for me.
If you wish more information on this route, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: July, 2013.
Location: Pathway system between Calgary and Chestermere.
Distance: 33km return.