This adventure we head to Glenbow Ranch, a nice natural oasis roughly halfway between Calgary and Cochrane, to hike a number of trails within the park (there are many. We’ll trek in an eastbound direction and paralleling the Bow River for the most part, taking in the Glenbow, Yodel Loop and The Narrows trails. Along the way we’ll pass through lots of open grasslands, some cow pastures and a few pleasant wooded areas. We’ll often be close to the railway tracks which for a train buffs like us is a nice bonus.
From the parking lot we pass the park office and following the main paved path, drop down towards the river. By the way no matter what trail you take in the park, all loose elevation meaning there is always a good climb back to your car.
We intercept the gravelled Yodel Loop (all other parts this trip are paved) and head up the south leg, via some switchbacks to an overlook on the top of a small hill. From here were have a good view of much of the park along with the site of the former community of Glenbow. The only things left of it today is the near-collapsed store and post office, and remains from a brick works. On the return leg of our journey, we’ll take a closer look at these.
We follow the trail as it heads east and soon drop down to a small draw where it enters an animal pasture. This is a working park meaning in sections the cows roam freely (and leave behind their calling cards).
We soon intercept the Glenbow Trail, which we left earlier, and head towards the train tracks directly south. At one point (interpretive sign) we pass where the Glenbow School once stood. It operated intermittently in the 1910s and 20s.
We cross the CPR’s east/west mainline and immediately turn left. A gravel path heads off in the other direction, one of many side trails we’ll pass one the trip.
Passing a junction with map, picnic spot and biffy stop we soon drop down again, almost to river level. This section is the most wild and looking around all one sees is nature and little in the way of human development. Strange to think that so close to a major centre one can feel so remote. The flats here is where the actual town of Glenbow once stood, for a few short years in the early decades of twentieth century.
The CPR tracks are now high above us. It was a quiet train day and we saw only two freights pass this whole trip.
Heading up a bit, we come to a view point overlooking the Bow River. Again, no matter which direction we face it looks and feels like we are somewhere remote. Its an interesting illusion. On the bluffs to the north is the location of an old sandstone quarry, of which scant evidence remains, that once operated here in the 1900s and 1910s. A number of notable buildings in the province were constructed of this material.
Now on The Narrows section of the trail we drop down a little to a treed river flat. This, I understand, is a good birding area. Along here, a number of interpretative signs can be seen stapled to trees. In one of them we learn about Wolf Willow, a silvery grey plant that grows nears rivers in the area and provides food to wild animals and birds. Now you know!
We pass a small pond. On the far side is an old dump full of junked equipment, a couple smashed-up cars, a vintage wagon, and lengths of wire and metal fencing.
Unceremoniously the trail ends. There is a picnic table and map here and an abandoned acreage nearby. This not a permanent setup, or at least it’s not planned as such. They want to extend the trail network further east, eventually making it all the way to Calgary it’s hoped. For now however, this is where you turn around.
This becomes are lunch spot. I hope some trains pass by on the CPR tracks only metres away, as we enjoy our meal, but have no such luck. Maybe I’ll have more fun checking out that abandoned house instead.
It’s clearly not that old of a building, nor is it from an historic perspective terribly interesting. But it is abandoned and that’s enough to make it worth a look. Its location, at the end of a long private road, means it’s not often visited unless it’s someone who’s either hiked or rode in via the park trails like us. Peering inside I see it’s still partially furnished (the decor is something my mom would have loved – very Brady). Some old phone books and catalogues seen in the kitchen date from 2010, which tell us it was vacated only recently.
From the backyard one has a great view of the Bearspaw Reservoir, a man made lake on the Bow River. In an old shed I find some interesting bits, an old beer keg, 1950s/60s era license plates and two outboard motors under repair that were left behind when the people moved out. The building itself is made of cut logs which suggest it’s older then the house.
From this point, we can see many expensive estate houses that have been built up around the reservoir on the opposite shore.
Heading back, we retrace out steps for the most part. Save for detour to take in the store and brick works. The former was established around 1910 and operated for less then a decade. Since then it’s been abandoned. The brick works lasted for only a few short years in the early 1910s – its products were sub-par and the operation quickly closed. A pile of broken bricks and a pit where clay was dug from is all that’s left of this operation. These are both off-limits but can be viewed easily from a nearby pathway.
At one time there was a train station nearby, along with a grain elevator. They’re of course loooong gone.
Recall it’s a climb back up to the car from here. No point in fretting it, you have to do it. In no time, we’re back at our ride, a good day’s hiking behind us.
Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park was established only a few short years ago. Had it not come to be, you can bet the whole area would have been quickly built up. Lots with river views, a developer’s wet dream. The park encroaches on both Calgary’s and Cochrane’s borders and as such is a natural buffer zone between them.
Note that bikes use many of the Glenbow Ranch trails, so keep an eye open for them.
We’ve hiked other trails in the park…
Glenbow Ranch western trails.
If you wish more information on this trail, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: October, 2014.
Location: Between Cochrane and Calgary.
Distance: 15km out and back.
Height gain cumulative: 180m.
NOTE: all heights and distances are approximate.