River View Loop is a hike along the Oldman River in Lethbridge, Alberta.
The early morning 83 KM (53 mile) northwest drive along Highway 4 from Milk River towards Lethbridge, passes through Warner, New Dayton and Stirling with brilliant sun rising rapidly into big, clear blue sky. A quick diversion into the Lethbridge Visitor Centre at the corner of Highway 4 and 32 Street S nets invaluable information from very knowledgeable staff along with a plethora of worthwhile maps, guides and recommendations.
The quick backtrack east along 24 Ave S (Highway 4) to 43 St S proceeds north to reservations for three days at the Quality Inn near the intersection with Highway 3 which divides north and south Lethbridge as well as providing rapid, straightforward access across the city. Like the majority of cities developed around a major river valley, Lethbridge is no exception to the confusing array of scenic, landscape-compromised, free-form routes which baffle directionally-challenged adventurers.
Accommodation at the Quality Inn restores the availability of included buffet breakfasts to begin the day as well as the pool and hot tub benefits so welcome at day's end.
Activity for the remainder of this day will be spent gaining familiarity with the commute west across Highway 3 to parking at Fort Whoop Up, adjacent to Hoodoo Hills, for exploration of the trail complex emanating from Indian Battle Park near the infamous and imposing High Level Bridge aka Lethbridge Viaduct.
From parking at Fort Whoop Up, surrounded by unique and fascinating terrain, access to the Coal Banks Trail is nearby just south towards the river. Large, descriptive signage indicates the River View Loop Trail along the east bank of the Oldman River may be a worthy 6 KM (3¾ mile) round trip, easy and scenic initial objective.
The River View Loop Trail is accessed via Coal Banks Trail near Fort Whoop Up. Paved trail near the Oldman River heads southeast and passes beneath the multiple lanes of Fort Whoop Up Drive W which crosses the Oldman River. Past the major roadway bridge, the Coal Banks Trail, now in Botterill Bottom Park, continues southeast beside the east bank of the historical and impressive Oldman River.
Wide, paved trail gradually escapes civilization in the Oldman River Valley as the scenic route passes an irrigation canal and flow control station before another parking area briefly interrupts the continuation of the hike through forest along riverside. A trail side signs warns of a nearby and well-concealed Police Firing Range.
Construction at the University of Lethbridge is clearly visible crowning the top of sandstone bluffs on the opposite side of the Oldman River. Cool breeze from the significant Oldman River tempers the warmth of the day and provides accompanying melody to the natural beauty of brilliant blue water flowing through idyllic, lush and varied terrain with only a hint of urban incursion. The peaceful ambiance is palpable and soothing.
A significant junction of paved trail is clearly visible past the Police Firing Range. The continuation of Coal Banks Trail veers left and River View Trail begins to the right. Just prior to the major paved trail intersection, a gravel road veers right to reveal a mandatory portage exit location allowing river craft to avoid a downstream weir dam and its associated serious undertows. This gravel road diversion provides relief for paved trail as dirt trail adjacent to riverbank proceeds south in an enhanced and more remote hiking experience.
Rustic gravel trail intersects paved trail and the River View Loop curls through dense, mature forest. There is rustic dirt trail extension at the end point of the loop but no indication of where or how far it continues downstream. The main paved trail reverses direction and soon links back into the original route. Again there are many trail offshoot options and hiking on dirt trail directly adjacent to the Oldman River offers the most scenic and sensually pleasing experience.
On the return route, approach to the Police Firing Range offers a short trailside dirt road towards high and barbwire-protected chain link fence discouraging access to the restricted area. In the absence of gun fire, surely there would be little harm in checking out the view.
The compound contains an assortment of vehicles and obstacles, many riddled with bullet holes, that provide the opportunity to stage conflict simulations. Interesting.
Back at the main paved trail this return hike continues northwest along the canal towards Fort Whoop Up, which hosts a fascinating history but is open only for enjoyment and interpretive tours only during the summer. The present day replica fort is in a different location than the original. The location of the current replica fort is about 9.6 KM (6 miles) downstream on the Oldman River from the original site at the junction with St. Mary River. The land, on which the original fort stood, remains protected as a National Historic Site.
The River View Trail reconnects with the lengthy and meandering Coal Banks Trail for return to parking at Fort Whoop Up. A quick drive around the area reveals a multitude of trail opportunities which will be researched in the evening following a swim in the pool, a good soak in the hot tub and an excellent dinner at nearby, within easy walking distance, Moxie's Grill and Bar.
Photographs for this post are captured along a small portion of the Coalbanks Trail and the River View Trail, accessed via the Coalbanks Trail from Indian Battle Park near the replica of Fort Whoop Up along the Oldman River within Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada on Tuesday, September 19, 2017.