Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park borders the Bow River between Calgary and Cochrane, Alberta
The Government of Alberta acquired 3,246 acres of ranch land from the Harvie Family northwest of Calgary in August of 2006 to be developed as the Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park. Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park opened on August 9, 2011.
The entrance to Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park is south on Glenbow Road from Hwy 1A (Crowchild Trail) on 3 KM (1⅞ miles) of scenic, gravel road heading south through private land, and terminating at a large, well-signed parking area surrounded by tall Alberta prairie grass. The hike finally begins following the fog induced delay spent productively at Cochrane Ranche.
A short walk past old farm buildings leads to the Park Office where there are exhibits of historical significance. A map is available on the Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park website, or can be purchased at the Park Office for a nominal fee which also supports further development and maintenance at the park.
Voluntary contributions are gratefully received. A park representative is in attendance daily to answer questions and provide advice during the summer but only on Saturday and Sunday in the off-season. Check ahead.
The hike begins with gradual descent on paved path called Glenbow Trail, past the last lingering frost on trees in a sheltered cove, to the trail junction where a branch left ascends to viewpoints on the high, south side of the Yodel Loop. At major trail junctions there are large maps of the park which show current location. Navigation is clear and easy.
The first viewpoint looks south from a ridge top over expansive grassland to the Bow River and the river valley beyond. A focal point is the old Glenbow Store, stubbornly standing beside the ruins of the old brick factory.
The old Glenbow Store is adjacent to the Canadian Pacific Railway transcontinental rail line which runs through the park. Today the rail line is busy as several trains thunder through during this 3 hour hike in Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park.
Surrounding hills hosted the homes of wealthy cattle ranchers. One of the hills above the coulee was called Millionaire Hill for Chester Rhoades de la Vergne who moved here from New York City in 1908 to establish a successful sheep and horse ranch.
The hike east across the top of the ridge on the Yodel Loop reveals spectacular views to the coulee on the left and the river valley to the right. The rich earth colors of early spring are striking. Soon, arrival at the second viewpoint overlooks the Corrals.
The descent off the ridge from the Yodel Loop Trail intersects with the Scott Trail before turning south to the Corrals, then proceeds west on the Glenbow Trail where interpretive plaques explain the history of the Corrals.
A half kilometer further west on the Glenbow Trail, remnants of an old industrial complex and foundations which were once part of the Glenbow Valley Brick Plant reside near the old Glenbow Store. A short spur trail leads directly to close views of the old Glenbow Store. A long freight train rumbling past lends ambiance to these building skeletons which were once the heart of a thriving community in days long gone.
Further west, arrival at a trail-side, frozen pond separates the intersection of the Tiger Lily Loop Trail and Badger Bowl Trails with Glenbow Trail. These trails will be passed by in favor of continuing west along the Bowbend Trail where another passing freight train creates realistic surroundings.
As a young boy, growing up in Central Ontario, there was a busy rail line directly behind our home and I would run to wave to the engineers of the massive, smokey coal-fired engines. The engineers always waved back, as they do today, from diesel-electric powered locomotives, and I fondly reflect on those joyous times, decades ago, when men in charge of large, thundering machines gave a moment of their time to acknowledge the presence of a small boy's wonder.
A trail side interpretive exhibit explains the process of soil erosion which creates the staircase slopes on nearby hill sides.
The Bowbend Trail leads to Waverley Chimney where another interpretive plaque documents the history of early settlers. The Bowbend Trail turns sharply north on paved cycle/ hiking trail for the switchback ascent to a right turn onto Bowl Link which tops out at a viewpoint called Windmill Lookout. From here there are expansive views of the Bow River Valley to Cochrane and well beyond to the Rocky Mountains.
At the Windmill Lookout, with expansive views over the park, an interpretive plaque explains the area's geology and the Bighill Creek Formation. We learn mammoths roamed this land 13,000 years ago. Camels and ancient horses lived here as well. A large herd of cattle are returning home in a long uphill line on the descent southeast through picturesque hills on the Badger Bowl Trail.
After descending the Badger Bowl Trail, the ascent on the west side of the Tiger Lily Loop Trail begins through typical grassland before leading into leafless forest which has provided sufficient shelter to keep a bit snow and ice on the trail.
About halfway up the hill, a glance to the left reveals 'old artifacts' scattered in the forest and am therefore compelled to root around in the forest above the trail to see what can be discovered, before exhibiting elevated common sense by continuing the ascent to the Lookout at the top of Tiger Lily Loop.
From the top of Tiger Lily Loop there are expansive views across Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park to the south over the Bow River, and west towards Cochrane and the Rocky Mountains which are buried in haze and accumulating cloud cover.
Time is taken to prepare a short video of the sweeping view from Tiger Lily Loop.
The video sweeps first to the south from the Lookout above Tiger Lily Loop, then pans to the northeast over Cochrane, Alberta. The camera microphones pick up the slight breeze and the video is jerky as a result of being wedged between two fences where the backpack gets stuck during the rotation.
Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park is austere but different and impressive. The park is an easy day of hiking for a broad range of age and physical capability. Hikers can do as little or as much as they choose. There are several picnic locations and the provincial park is a gold mine of educational opportunity for inquisitive minds.
Hiking on this day consumes about 12 KM (7½ miles) and gross elevation for the day, accumulated in small increments ascending and descending small hills is estimated to be about 457 m (1,500 ft). There is a lot of trail to hike another day, mainly to the east on the Glenbow Trail past Glenbow Village and The Narrows, and adjacent to the Bow River on the figure-eight Bow River Loop.
Some of the trail in Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park is bicycle friendly but there are restrictions and bicycle racks are frequently visible at trail intersections where travel by bicycle is prohibited. A plan would be wise.
Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park is operated and managed by the Fish Creek District of Alberta Tourism, Parks, Recreation and Culture.