From a distance, Calgary is a tiny cluster of buildings in a vast prairie wilderness. And that’s great. It means no matter how fluorescently lit or aggressively air-conditioned your current location is, you’re never far from some place full of birdsong, flowing water and butterflies. Here are five trails in (and near) Calgary that you can hike today. Go right now.
Nose Hill Park: Perimeter
Drive time from Calgary Tower: 17 to 35 mins
There’s a reason everyone familiar with Nose Hill loves it. It’s enormous (1,129 hectares) varied (sheltered coulees and rough fescue grassland) and easy to get to (it has five parking lots). Park in any of these, pick a direction and try walking all the way around the park. If the full 16-km perimeter is too much for a weeknight, shorten the loop by cutting back on one of the countless intersecting trails. Choose your own adventure.
Take: Your macro lens. This may be the best spot in the city to see wildflowers, and wildflowers bring bees and butterflies.
South Glenmore Park: Jackrabbit Trail
Drive time from Calgary Tower: 18 to 40 mins
Start at the Glenmore Sailing Club just off 90 Ave. SW and head west on the paved bike path, keeping your eyes peeled for single-track paths in the tall grass and trees to your right. Any of these (there are several) will connect you to Jackrabbit Trail. The trail winds up and down a mossy, rose-scented dirt path through the forest. Eventually, you’ll meet up with the Weaselhead trail system — look for beavers in the pond and moose tracks on the mud flats. It’s about 7 km from start to finish, but allow time for many Instagram stops.
Try this: Take bug spray and black oil sunflower seeds so the bugs won’t land on you but the chickadees will.
Griffith Woods Natural Environment Park
Drive time from Calgary Tower: 20 to 40 mins
This patch of forest sandwiched between the southwest community of Discovery Ridge and the Elbow River is one of the city’s most obscure beauties. Trails take you in a well-signed loop along the meandering riverbank, with wooden bridges and single-track side paths. Its about 7 km from one end of the park to the other, but give yourself three hours so you can take detours and look for ducklings in oxbows.
Fun fact: An oxbow is a body of water (usually U-shaped) that has been cut off from the main river. Tell your friends!
Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area: Fescue Trail
Drive time from Calgary Tower: 33 to 60 mins
Ann and Sandy Cross (A.E. Cross of the Big Four was his dad) donated this 1942-hectare patch of foothills land to the Province of Alberta in 1987. Now it’s dedicated to conservation education. Head up the hill from the Belvedere Centre — the only building around — and follow the 4.6-km Fescue Trail through rolling grassland. It’s hilly and peppered with lookout points where you can see the sunset over the mountains. Watch the path for owl pellets, the gross, amazing wads of fur and bone spit up by great horned owls.
Etiquette tip: Register at wooden kiosk in the parking lot when you arrive (it’s like a guest book). Also, be a sport and leave a donation in the box provided.
Big Hill Springs Provincial Park
Drive time from Calgary Tower: 40 to 70 mins
This tiny park in a coulee 15 km east of Cochrane has a stream with waterfalls, geologically interesting (and fun to say) tufa rock, a glacial erratic and an uphill climb that is both rewarding and brief. The whole loop is only 2.3 km, which makes it a great one to tackle if you only have a couple of hours until sunset and you still don’t have your shoes on.
Look for: Ridges of concrete at the start of the hike, which are the remains of Alberta’s first commercial creamery. There, now you want ice cream.
By Julia Williams