Mr. Burnside trail is a unique hiking experience that will test hikers who choose to embrace the challenge.
Following my visit to the Medicine Hat Tourist Center and the nearby Saamis Tepee, check-in at the Days Inn, Medicine Hat is another couple of kilometers southeast along the TransCanada Highway. Comfortable accommodation for the next three days is located in east Medicine Hat near an important intersection on the TransCanada Highway at Dunbow Road and South Boundary Road close to major commercial enterprise and quick transportation to other nearby, major attractions and hiking opportunities. The shared hiking and mountain biking trail called Mr. Burnside is a recent addition to significant hiking opportunities within Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada.
Cities built around a major river tend to be navigationally challenging. Like Calgary, Lethbridge and Edmonton, Medicine Hat is no exception. Traffic corridors are constructed and packaged in groups of odd angles on fluctuating inclines and declines curling their way up and down through coulees and valleys. The map and a driving plan to any destination becomes very important. To make one wrong turn may require a twenty minute recovery to get back on track. Two mistakes could possibly consume an hour for necessary corrections. Three wrong turns may potentially result in never being seen again.
The route between southeast Medicine Hat and trail beginning for Mr. Burnside is straightforward northwest along the TransCanada Highway between Days Inn and the first exit at the interchange past crossing over South Saskatchewan River. A left turn leads directly under the TransCanada Highway to parking over a curb at the end of 3rd Street on pavement to the right. A small, ground level, wooden sign, ‘Mr. Burnside’, may be obstructed by parked cars but the parked cars then become the clue. An adjacent and private gravel road downhill to the river is a mistake.
Mr. Burnside is an unusual, wiggly line on the Heritage Trail Network map. The main purpose of this trail is to provide access for Medicine Hat residents to challenging, river-adjacent mountain biking trails within the South Saskatchewan River Valley near Redcliff.
Following a short, steep drop from parking, the predominantly hard-packed trail curls into incline which twists and turns around the banks of coulees. The curly line on the map becomes immediately self explanatory. This hard clay trail is probably best avoided in wet weather. Mr. Burnside maintains a relatively constant elevation by tracking terrain into and out from a long series of many coulees forming the barrier between flat grassland at the top and flat river delta adjacent to the major water course at the bottom. The long lens captures a pair of deer tracking my progress from grain fields on the river delta, away from and below my position.
Mr. Burnside becomes a monotonous trail very quickly but there is an amazing opportunity here. An attitude and observational correction is absolutely essential. The opportunity lies within the detail combined with a positive attitude. Trail side is a kaleidoscope of unique, observation opportunity. The main features include a repetitive transition between long and short views. The inner portion of the coulee is enclosed and protective where game trail is always occupying the bottom center of each coulee providing wildlife transportation to and from the river and valley floor. The outer banks of each coulee provide a wide, sweeping vista across grain fields on the river delta to spectacular views of steep and eroded cliffs along the opposite side of the major river with city views in the far distance.
Detailed trail features include a wide variety of unique and hardy plants which can withstand a broad and harsh range of weather conditions. The mainly grassy terrain is punctuated by multi-sized, lichen covered and rounded boulders periodically reminiscent of a scaled down version of Red Rock Coulee terrain. The trail surface and length encourages a rapid aerobic pace to add a complementary and beneficial exercise component. The pace can create a magical morphing between long, abstract views and short, detailed plant life components. This trail is all about adaption to, and appreciation of, something different.
Mr. Burnside trail begins to gradually lose elevation and straighten on the final approach towards achieving close proximity to the South Saskatchewan River. The last section includes hiking through Badland terrain below steep hills as more protected plant life, closer to the river, increases in volume and variety. At the end of Mr. Burnside, technical mountain biking trails continue towards Redcliff and there is an opportunity to relax, enjoy lunch and appreciate the surrounding beauty of the river and rugged terrain.
The 6 KM return hike is via the same route used for access. There are grand river and canyon views on the first kilometer of gradual ascent from river level to interception with the relatively level coulee loops through unique grassland terrain. This unique hike is best enjoyed by matching mental status to trail reality. The experience is enhanced by careful attention to discovery and appreciation of terrain detail combined with a brisk, aerobic pace.
With no-one else around, this very peaceful place provides the opportunity to bond within unique and spectacular terrain. River flow creates the sound of water against rock and is accompanied by bird calls within the avian populated and vibrant wildlife corridor.
Back at the hotel, the vacant hot tub and pool provide the opportunity to relax and enjoy the soothing and muscle relaxing warm water while air jets massage and reenergize weary muscles in the Jacuzzi alternated with swimming a few laps in the cooler waters of the pool prior to the enjoyment of an outstanding dinner in nearby fine dining. The day ends with downloading of photos and an excellent nights rest in preparation for tomorrow’s adventures at the Historic Clay District and Police Point.
Accommodation is exceptionally quiet and comfortable. Each morning provides an early, included hot breakfast. The in-suite bathroom is a bit different. Toilet and tub are standard but there is no sink and the use of the bidet seems unreasonably awkward. Please excuse my feeble attempt at inserting a bit of humor.
Mr. Burnside is a unique trail intended for enjoyment by hikers and cyclists. The trail seems to be used primarily as cycle access for more aggressive cycle trails to the west in the Redcliff area. On this quiet Wednesday midday the only other traffic encountered is a couple of cyclists. The trail essentially belonged to me and my hike was a grand experience. If the trail is busy with cycle traffic on evenings or weekends, it may not be a good choice for hiking.
The greatest threat to this trail is short-cutting across the coulees or trail braiding. So far, there is evidence of only limited transgression but failure in ethic has the potential to seriously damage trail integrity over time.
Photographs for this unique hike along Mr. Burnside are captured in the afternoon of Wednesday, September 13, 2017 above the South Saskatchewan River in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada.