Bow Valley Ranch at Fish Creek Provincial Park hosts fascinating history in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Parking at the south end of Bow Bottom Trail is achieved from the exit off Deerfoot Trail S, the east end of Anderson Road SE or Canyon Meadows Drive SE in southeast Calgary. The generously-sized and normally busy parking area requires cautious driving to avoid little people darting out from between parked cars. Fish Creek - Bow Valley Ranch Visitor Centre and the historical Bow Valley Ranch complex are obviously visible west of parking. Fish Creek is south of parking and there are huge opportunities here for learning, exercise and adventure within a wide variety of physical and cultural options.
Past the white-trimmed, bright red garage and storage shed, the restored cookhouse and bunkhouse offer a prelude to the Fish Creek - Bow Valley Ranch Visitor Centre and the magnificent, historical Bow Valley Ranche House restored to its early 20th Century glory and now the home of a popular and busy, fine dining restaurant.
This small section of the park has been developed extensively to capture and display historic memorabilia as well as interesting and aesthetically-pleasing modern art exhibits. A plethora of interpretive plaques bring the background and history of indigenous people and industrious pioneers to life. Touring the area reveals many superlative sculptures with several embellished by historical significance. There are several unique and comfortable places to sit and relax including refreshment at Annie's Bakery and Cafe.
The conclusion of the circuitous tour through the Bow Valley Ranch and artistic complex continues south on paved path past the Cookhouse and the Bunkhouse towards the bridge crossing Fish Creek and the Stream Changes Trail. Paved components are wheelchair accessible but there is a recommended alternative for dropping off the side to dirt trail just prior to arrival at the bridge. The experience along the edge of Fish Creek provides closer examination of unique features and a more wilderness hiking type of experience.
Rustic creek-side trail provides a better natural sense of unique ice and cave features along the south side of Fish Creek in combination with the natural sights and sounds adjacent to occasionally twisting and cascading white water. The route of choice engages prairie grassland marred with the evidence of past growth and activity along the path to the bridge providing elevated access to the far side.
Every new area confronts the hiker with a many opportunities in direction and terrain within this magnificent park with many trail options varying from leisurely to rugged. Nature of gear and near-term weather will also determine the course alternatives on or near the Stream Changes Trail.
Past aging fallen trees, trail options track the course of Fish Creek with ice fall and conglomerate cave features magnetically capturing attention and motivating progress along the water course with periodic sight and sound from gently cascading white-water sections.
Continuing variety of dirt trail continues to meander through a wide collection of colorful fescue and brush interrupted by occasional old trees from former times on the sustained creek-side route towards another more formidable bridge crossing.
Paved path over the bridge links the Bow Valley Ranch complex with paved path along both sides of the valley containing Fish Creek. Paved spurs link communities along the top of the river valley with the major opportunities within Fish Creek Provincial Park and the extensive City of Calgary Pathway System now in excess of 800 KMs (500 miles) and consistently growing as new development expands the city.
As well as paved path, there is a complex variety of dirt path within Fish Creek Valley at various levels with a wide range of quality between good and rustic. On the return loop across and along the other side of the valley the trail choices vary between excellent, muddy and mildly precarious. The area containing the ice fall and cave is justifiably fenced off for obvious reasons which will prevent potentially serious or fatal falls.
Sharing specific photographs for this day's specific route above the south shore of Fish Creek would be of no benefit. Pick the route most suitable and branch onto whatever trails seem most appropriate for footwear, clothing, direction and ease of navigation.
Traversing above the ice fall and caves eventually provides the opportunity to drop back to creek level and hike the short distance west to the viewing platform for close-up examination and photography of the conglomerate caves and the ice fall.
Hiking east again past the bridge over Fish Creek leads to a labyrinth of paved trail opportunity past beautiful marshland prior to heading south past the entrance to Hull's Wood. Continuing south on paved trail passes another spectacular swamp prior to arrival near the summer recreational nirvana at Sikome Lake.
The artificial lake attracts huge crowds in the warm summer season and has developed over the years into a recreational focal point for Calgarians. Crews are working this day to prepare the sandy base of Sikomi Lake to accept millions of gallons of water for pending creation of the lake. At ground level, the ability to gain perspective of the large area is extremely limited within the focal width of the camera.
Climbing the only nearby hill does not improve perspective sufficiently to make the effort worthwhile, but a few photos taken through the surrounding chain link fence may provide a bit of perspective into the popular, summer recreational area.
A section of empty and sandy Sikome Lake viewed from the top of a nearby hill.
The descent from the hilltop to the swim and skate center provides limited opportunity to observe some of the playground, pavilion and theater features surrounding the soon-to-be-filled lake.
Leaving Sikome Lake by the road passes the entrance to the popular forested picnic area. Fish Creek Provincial Park extends north along the Bow River to Mallard Point and also includes the Rotary Nature Park and Lafarge Meadows on opposite sides of the Bow River south of Highway 22x. Recreational fishing is a big deal in the less frequented areas.
Crossing the bridge completes access to the final short hike on paved trail through prairie grassland to parking at Bow Valley Ranch near the red utility sheds and the cookhouse which is also the local Calgary headquarters and meeting place for Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park Society.
Although this hike has been a diverse, albeit short loop through a wide variety of interesting and unique terrain, the options are virtually endless for the type of adventure available within this large tract of valley paradise of 1,348 hectare (3,331 acre) Fish Creek Provincial Park. Paved path is most popular for cycling but there are several trail options for more ambitious mountain biking. Feel free to get out there and enjoy an adventure in fresh air and phenomenal scenery.