The town of Cochrane is just west of Calgary and like its larger neighbour is located along the Bow River. Once a quaint little village, it seems to be losing that magic as it experiences explosive growth. Where there was once charm and serenity, there is now a sprawling bedroom community with generic strip malls, chain coffee shops, giant F350 Super Duty grocery-getting pickup trucks and cookie cutter McMansions. It feels soulless. It was the small town appeal that brought people in, yet oddly it’s that very thing that’s responsible for destroying it (soapbox off).
Anyway…Cochrane does have an awesome and scenic pathway system that follows the river from one end of town to the other, which will be our route for the day.
We choose to start at the old single lane bridge at the south east corner of town, but you could actually begin at a more easterly spot if you wish. Our destination was the CPR’s Bow River bridge, which is located just west of the town limits, and from point to point it’s about 7km each way. Some of our trek is off path, but you can always stay on it and get to where we did.
The official route ends a modest distance from and within sight of the railway bridge and the final stretch can either be reached by following the banks of the Bow River or by walking along on the railway right of way. The latter is wide and the trail set far back from the tracks, so it’s relatively safe.
Heading out, we cross River Avenue and get a good look at the single lane road bridge that spans the river. It looks to be quite an oldie but I have yet to find any history about it.
We follow The Bow River along some flats. The town has made sure there is a wide green space here (brown space in the winter), with lawn and trees, and while the backyard of houses will keep us company for most of the trip, they are set back far enough to be unobtrusive. The trail here is paved with red shale but other sections are asphalt.
Across the way from here there are some steep wooded bluffs and with the constant eating away of their base by the river, some sections are slumping badly. Even tree roots can’t hold the unstable slopes in check.
We slowly gain some elevation then drop down to the flats again where a small side creek comes in. There have been lots of junctions and there will be lots yet to come, but stay left near the river and you’ll be fine. Before long we pass under the highway bridge with it’s nice town mural.
There is two possible routes from here, but both meet up in a kilometre or so, so choose which ever you wish. Or follow one in and take the other on the way back, like we did. Before long we are at the base of a bluff. If you’d like something interesting, there is a west heading dirt path that traverses the bluffs, which is what we took. You can stay on the paved path though and get to where we did.
Gaining elevation, the loose track is often narrow and slippery, so be careful. Before long we are at the top of the bluff, meeting up with the paved pathway we left earlier. Along here there are some great views of he river and if the sky is clear, the mountains in the distance. The latter view includes Devil’s Head (I’ve heard it called the Devil’s Nipple), which stands out with it unique tower shape some 70km away. It looks very much like the very famous and similarly named Devil’s Tower in Wyoming USA.
Still along the top of the bluff, in short order we come to a steep hill and head down. Almost at river level now, the route almost immediately starts regaining the elevation just lost, albeit gently now. Before long, in a kilometre or two, we come the end of the official pathway. Here one can double back a bit to meet up with the train tracks, then head west again to the bridge. Or you can drop down to the river via an obvious path and follow its bank to your objective – or do like we did and do one route in and the other back.
If you follow the train tracks remember you will be on private property, so stay on the trail (which is well back from the tracks) and keep ears and eyes open for trains.
Before long, perhaps a kilometre, you’re at the bridge. It’s an imposing structure and while old, it seems to have no trouble handling the heavy trains of today. This makes sense when you consider that railways always overbuilt and over engineered their infrastructure, to a factor of several hundred perfect or more in many cases.
While I could not find a date on any of the piers, nor could I find anything about it online, looking at the design one could guess it was built in the first few decades of he twentieth century. I believe, and I am no bridge engineer, this one was made in the common Pratt Truss pattern which seemed to be favoured by railways given the ease of construction, strength of design and long spans it allowed. If I am wrong here (me, I’m never wrong :>), please someone chime in.
The track here is along the CPR’s east west mainline, the Laggan Subdivision, and it sees a lot of trains per day.
At the bridge you are a very short distance away from something interesting, the old ghost town of Mitford. Nothing really remains, but in the field to the north there used to be a sawmill and brick factory and a small town site. This was an early settlement dating from the mid 1880s but it’s life was short and by the turn of the twentieth century it was already done for.
We’ll be doing a follow up article documenting what we could find of the town (very little, but it was interesting) and a link below will lead you to that. Given Cochrane’s growth, this place is likely to be swallowed up soon by the fast encroaching development.
Leaving the bridge behind, we follow the river bank. Along here it’d be easy to imagine you are in the middle of nowhere. The town behind you can not been seen from this angle and there is yet to be development across the river. A nice feeling. Before long though that illusion is shattered and after crossing (the frozen) Horse Creek we climb up the bluff and are back in an urban environment.
On the way back we take the official pathway (you recall we detoured on a dirt track that traversed the bluff earlier) and pass a skating pond, a bandstand and a concession building. Dropping back down to river level we pass an odd concrete wall. What it’s from is anyone’s guess but it does have a plaque on it. “Commemorating Mitford Park Stewards and their walking companions”.
Just past here the asphalt ends. The ground was frozen on our way in, but with the day’s warm weather, in the interim it has become a muddy quagmire. Before long we are at our parking spot.
There are lots of benches along the trail and many great places to have a picnic. We had ours beside the train bridge.
We really enjoyed our trip. Given it flanks the town, the pathway is surprisingly interesting and serene, there is lots of flora and fauna to see (lots of Canada Geese in particular) and it was overall a very pleasant experience.
Our destination for this adventure was the railway bridge. Right next to it is the former town of Mitford and to read more about it, follow these links…
In search of Mitford Alberta part 1.
In search of Mitford Alberta part 2.
In search of Mitford Alberta part 3: Bow River Coal.
To see a closer look at the Devil’s Head as seen in this article, go here…
Devils, Phantoms and Ghosts.
If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: March, 2013.
Location: Cochrane, AB
Distance: 14km return.
Height gain cumulative: 200m
Technical bits: One very steep section that may be slippery when it’s wet.
Notes: Some mud if wet, last bit to the train bridge is along the CPR tracks or Bow River banks.