Okay, here’s an odd choice for a hiking trail – let’s follow access roads that parallel the CPR”s rail line along Bow River, travelling from the Bearspaw Dam on the west edge of Calgary all the way to Cochrane. Sounds like a interesting idea and in spite of being close to major population centres, we’ll travel through a valley not often visited by people.
This trip is from way back in 2004, in fact it was July 1st 2004, Canada Day and I can not think of a better way to spend it then doing this.
Now before anyone gets too concerned, we’ll be travelling near the rail line, but not necessarily on it. Railways always seem to have access roads paralleling their rights of way and we’ll use those as a path, well back from the tracks most of the time. And if we do get close to the track, say due to the terrain, we are always mindful of trains and stay well back when one passes. We did not want to give the crews something to worry about.
This was a one way trip and we had a shuttle car parked in Cochrane allowing us to get back into Calgary easily.
This “trail” starts at the Bearspaw dam parking lot. The area in and around here is (or was) a popular spot to walk your dog, stretch your legs, or to go fishing, although as of 2013 it appears the place is now off limits and the whole area has been fenced off. I am not sure what’s in store here, and so as of today the trip we did might not be possible. Although I understand the Glenbow Parks Foundation is hoping to build a paved path next to the train tracks all the way from the their namesake park just east of Cochrane into Calgary. So things could change and we’ll keep you posted.
Starting down the tracks just past the dam (why did I not take a picture of it), we head west hugging a steep hillside – the track is to your left with the reservoir right beside it. Here we are close to the tracks and we keep an ear open and an eye open for approaching trains. And as it turns out, this day will be a busy one on the tracks and we’ll seen over twenty pass in the time it takes us to travel the line. In fact, at times as soon as one passes another is right on it’s tail and we can see both snaking away together separated by only a small distance. Business must have been good for the CPR in the summer of 2004 and I am sure the line was near or at capacity the day of our trip.
All the trains seen were powered by GE AC4400 locomotives. The railway has a large fleet of them.
Before long the valley opens up and we’re not feeling so squeezed and it’s here we cross the one and only road we’ll cross on the entire trip, a gravel track that heads to a farm house. Some dogs from here approach us, but they are friendly. Which leads to one recommendation, when travelling in places like this, dog encounters are quite possible and not all may be so happy to see you. We always bring doggie treats which seems to appease most aggressive dogs, but we also bring an emergency whistle and the sounds seems to drive them away. It drives them crazy. We’ve only had one worrisome dog encounter, but it ended well.
As we head west the valley and Bow River drop away some and we are treated to unobstructed views of the forested river flats below and the hillsides above us and in places not single sign of civilization can be seen. Outside of the train tracks of course. We are only thirty or so kilometres form the centre of Calgary, yet it appears we are far removed from anything and anybody. I almost expect to see an Indian encampment on the flats below, and buffalo roaming the meadows ahead, and cowboys corralling cattle. The illusion is that powerful.
The only section that requires you travel on the tracks themselves is a stretch where the hillside is quite steep. Perhaps it’s 500 metres long or so, but there are little coves and gullies that one can bail into should a train approach. As of 2013 there is a paved pathway on the flats below, part of the new Glenbow Park, would allow you to bypass this section. Along here there used to be a sandstone quarry (above us on the hill) and it supplied building materials to lots of sites in Calgary and elsewhere. At the time of our passing, I was unaware it was here and only learned about it recently.
Shortly after we come to some large flats, which are flanked by barren hills to the north. Unbeknownst to us at time, we are at the site of the former town of Glenbow. A total ghost town it’s now home to a provincial park, but at the time of our visit it was simply a cow pasture. There is one building here, what was the towns store as it turns out, along with some debris from the remains of a brick factory. On a recent visit, the brick pile seems smaller leading me to believe that people have been removing then. The area were are in is now well within the Glenbow Park, and today there are pathways and such to explore.
Glenbow is but a footnote in history and some hundred years ago a small town existed here. A very small town that lasted for perhaps a dozen years, with it’s main industry being sandstone quarrying and brick making. Not much remains, the store, the brick piles and an old chimney. That’s it and if you blink you might miss the place.
Not long after Glenbow, we start seeing signs of civilization closing in, although nearly the whole trip we occasionally have glimpsed houses on the slopes above us. The feeling is still one of remoteness though, except for that endless stream of passing trains.
Before long we are in Cochrane and I spot an old train station in an industrial area. I think it came from Gleichen AB, from the Buffalo Jump Station arts and crafts store along the highway. As a side note, I don’t know if it’s still in Cochrane however, which invites further research.
We hear some rumblings and it’s not before a storm rolls in. We take refuge under some bushes and wait it out, but it’s a deluge. Nothing is going to stop it and we get drenched. So much fun!
Before long the storm passes and we are back at the car, looking like drowned cats.
As mentioned, this trip, as we experienced it anyway, is not likely doable any more. Parts have been fenced off, paths are now in the area and so on. Things differ now and in particular the Glenbow Parks has really changed the face of things and now that section sees a lot of people, where are on out trip we saw no one. Not a single person.
To see a similar hike we did, following a rail line, click the link below…
Calgary to Okotoks
If you wish more information on this route, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: July 1, 2004.
Location: Bow Valley between Calgary and Cochrane.
Distance: Did not measure, estimate 20-25km one way.
Height gain from start: Negligible
Height gain cumulative: Negligible
Notes: Trains, watch for trains!