For this urban hike we’ll follow a series of pathways in the community of Okotoks, just south of Calgary. Our chosen route was roughly 8km long and encompassed a loop with a little out and back at the beginning and end. Always paralleling the Sheep River, the pathway is paved although some sections have been damaged or washed away by recent flooding (June 2013), necessitating a detour, sometimes a muddy detour, around them. Most of the way we’ll be travelling through natural wooded areas or green spaces. It’s a pleasant walk.
According to the town’s website, the route we’ll travel is known collectively as the Sheep River Loop. Certain sections have their own unique name however: Heritage Parkway, Cimmaron Parkway, Woodhaven Pathway and perhaps others. There are signs at most junctions, although no distances are listed for some reason. It’s a popular place, especially so on a nice spring day like this, although not so busy that it takes away from the enjoyment of it all.
We started our adventure at Hunter’s Crescent, a little west of the Lion’s Campground and Park, whose parking lot was too full for us to use.
Heading east, we quickly drop down to near river level then cross under Southridge Drive. Using the road bridge here, we make our way over the Sheep River. Turning east on the north bank, we enter a grove of large trees. It’s still to early in the spring, so they barren of leaves.
Coming to a grassed clearing, we find the remains of an old railway spur line and some sawmill equipment. Operated by the Lineham Lumber Company, the enterprise was founded in the 1890s and continued on until around World War One. There are, of course, few suitable trees in the Okotoks area – it’s on the prairies after all – but in the west, in the nearby foothills and mountains, there were large stands of Spruce and Pine that were ripe for the picking. They’d simply float the logs down the river to the mill located here.
We also find an interesting mermaid sculpture nearby. Beside it is a footbridge over the river. It’s quite narrow and looks far too spindly to have survived those awful floods from last spring. But it did.
Continuing on, we travel right beside the river then head into another grove of big trees, mainly cottonwoods, some of them simply huge. They make us think of the mountains, which I know we’ll be visiting soon (snow’s almost gone).
This area was low enough that during the floods, it was underwater. Evidence of this event is plainly obvious – there is lots of deposited silt and much wood debris is scattered about. It looks like some clean up has taken place but it’s going to be a while before they’ll be finished. The river left behind that big a mess.
Along here some of the pathway has been washed away (technically this part of our route was officially closed) and detours in the trees were sometimes muddy. Recall, everything is covered in fine silt that seems to hold water very well.
Arriving at the CPR train bridge, we decide a large gravel bank near the river would be a good lunch spot. As always we bring yummy goodies, in this case meats, cheeses crackers and the like. And wine of course, and every walk, every hike, every bike ride and for all summits, we always bring some. Little did we know that on the far side of the bridge, was a sewage treatment plant. Had we been a hundred meters or so to the east, we would have seen and most certainly smelled it.
I took time out to photograph the bridge, which I found to be very interesting. It’s been here for a long time and was damaged by those floods that were mentioned before. Even almost a year later, it’s still under repairs. I ended up writing a report on it and there is a link to it below.
Back to the walk – we soon catch a whiff of the sewage plant. Gross! Hold your breath and keep moving!
We come to a junction and turn left. Beside the pathways is a BMX track and we watch some kids having some fun there.
Turning south, we cross the Sheep again on a road bridge. The river is running a bit high, but nothing to be alarmed about and certainly no where close to the levels of last year. It’s normally quite clear but today is a hot chocolate shade of brown. There is still a lot of snow in the mountains and I bet many are worried that those devastating floods will be repeated again. Let’s hope not.
Crossing over the railway we drop down, heading west now, and parallel the tracks for a short distance. The pathway heads up for a bit and tops out at the edge of a high bluff overlooking the river, although here trees for the most part block the view. Houses back on to the pathway and at one we see a grain elevator themed birdhouse (pic below).
There will be many junctions on this section of the pathway – always keep heading behind the houses and you’ll be fine. After a time, the trees open up and this affords us a good view of the Sheep River below. Last year, it broke its banks and cut new channels and generally chewed up the riverbed and the flood plains beside it. What a mess and lots of debris can be seen. The scars will certainly be around for years to come.
Passing one more junction – remember, keep going west – the trail soon joins up with a with a road. Turning right at the campground entrance we make our way back to the river, where were turn left. A few hundred metres and we are back at the car. It was a pleasant walk.
This day we were blessed with stunning blue skies. It made the day near perfect.
For this hike and probably any others after it, we’ll be including a basic route map in the post. We’ve been reluctant to do this since that sort of information, for most trails anyway, is readily available both online and in books. But you’ve asked and how can we turn down that sort of request? We can’t.
If you wish more information on this trail, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: April, 2014.
Location: Okotoks, AB.
Distance: 8.5km, loop with a small out and back at the start and end.
Height gain maximum: 60m
Height gain cumulative: 60m
NOTE: all heights and distances are approximate.