Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park is an oasis of green between Calgary and Cochrane. The park is huge, natural and wild, with lots of green rolling hills, pastures and wooded areas. In spite of being close to civilization it’s easy to imagine one is far, far away in a remote valley and no where near the hustle and bustle of the modern world. In other words, it’s a great place to loose one’s self.
Located off of Highway 1A, there are a huge number of trails in the park, some paved and others not. You can combine them into various loops like what we did, seeing many corners of the park without travelling the same route twice.
For this trip we’ll take the following trails: from the parking spot, we’ll head to the office, take the south leg of the Tiger Lilly Loop down then travel west on the Bowbend Trail. From there we’ll head up the Bowl Link path, walk the McPherson Trail to its high point, returning, before taking the Badger Bowl Trail down. Finally, we’ll travel up the north leg of the Tiger Lilly Trail.
Altogether our route was perhaps 7km long. The park is quite hilly and with the parking lot at the top of a bluff, everyone who visits will get a nice workout returning to their car. For our route however we’ll travel from the bluff top to the park’s lower realms and back not once, but twice.
Starting at the parking lot, we follow the paved path down to the park office. Along here is a couple old ruins just off the trail surrounded by dense bushes. These are the remains of a house that one stood here, long burned down. All that’s left are two chimneys from opposite ends of the structure. One is made mostly of brick, a lovely deep red brick, while the other is mostly made of field stones.
Back on the trail, we had pass the office with its wonderful views overlooking the park, to the junction with the south leg of the Tiger Lilly Loop. The trail turns gravel here and we head down steeply into a draw. Before long we are at a junction, with the paved Bowbend Trail, at a pond, almost mirror like in the still morning air.
Travelling west, we parallel the CPR mainline and just beyond the Bow River. Where the trail makes a sharp bend, there is yet another old Chimney, all that’s left of a house that once stood here. It’s off in a cow field, protected by a fence – you can not get close to it, and yes some of the park is still used for cattle grazing.
Heading up now along the Bow Link Trail, we top out at the Windmill Lookout where the pavement ends. Heading west now, we follow the McPherson Trail as it meanders along. There are a few pockets of trees here, and evidence of deer and other wildlife. And lots of flowers.
Where the trail drops down, eventually connecting with the Bowbend Trail we were on earlier, we stop, making this our turn around point. There are nice views looking west and not far away, the town of Cochrane encroaches on the park boundary. Retracing our steps, we head back to the Windmill Lookout. From this nice vantage point, almost the entire park can be seen spreading out below us. With recent rains everything is so green.
Dropping down behind a small hill we pass through beautiful flowery meadows. One of the most common species we see are Gaillardia with lovely yellow petals.
Back at the pond we turn on to the north leg of the Tiger Lilly Loop. Along here the trail passes through some trees as it makes its way upwards. Also seen along here are Gooseberries (or Currants) and lots of very large Cow Parsnips. Many game trails can be seen here.
Just before we get tot he top, we come across some very old cars. Presumably these were pushed over the hill here some time ago by the property owners, maybe when they become too old or unreliable. These looks like 1920s models and given that they may have been ten or fifteen years old when dumped here, that means they have been sitting on this hillside for seventy plus years. I tried to find some kind of factory mark that could tell me what make they were, but saw nothing.
At the top we are back on pavement. To the left is a lookout, with great views of the western half of the park and the Bow River beyond.
Heading back it’s only a few hundred metres to the parking lot.
We started our trip around 8am and initially had the place to ourselves – we were the first car there. By the time we finished it was much busier, but given how large the park is, you still won’t bump into many people, expect by the parking lot or the office.
A great trip behind us, we are happy knowing there are still lots of other trails we have yet to explore. That’s for next time.
The CPR runs right through the middle of the park and there are many great train watching spots either from the bluffs above of where the trails cross the tracks.
In the centre and eastern sections of the park used to be the town of Glenbow, which existed for perhaps a dozen years before being abandoned in the 1920s. All that is left of it is the old store, some remains from the brick works, some cellar pits and high up on a hillside, an old sandstone quarry.
Glenbow Ranch is a fairly young park, only having opened in 2011. Prior to that is was used for cattle ranching for many decades and today they still graze in certain sections of the park. Prime real estate, had it not been protected like it has, I am sure it would have otherwise been annexed by Cochrane for housing developments.
If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: August, 2013.
Location: Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park.
Distance: 7km by our route.
Height gain cumulative: 150m.
NOTE: all heights and distances are approximate.