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A Visit To Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park In Alberta

A Visit to Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park in Alberta

Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, located between Calgary and Cochrane is an excellent four season destination. Over 1,300 hectares of fescue grasslands, some of it rare, are protected along a section of the Bow River. Explore approximately 30 kilometres of paved trails running through these grasslands on foot, by bike or on snowshoes in winter. In summer there are even golf carts for those with mobility issues.

Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park is a delight for the nature lover. If you visit at dawn or dusk keep your eyes peeled for deer, coyotes, elk, badgers, weasels and even cougars. Should your visit coincide with a time when the Visitor Information Centre is open, be sure to pick up a bird, animal and plant checklist.

Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park - bald eagle in its nest
Bald eagle spying down from its monster nest in Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park

History of Glenbow Ranch

This is primarily ranch country and in fact Glenbow Ranch continues to be a working ranch. The ranch was originally established by the Harvie family.

The provincial park came into being when the land was sold for less than market value to the Government of Alberta – with the express intention of both protecting the land from development and conserving it. We have the children of Neil Harvie to thank for that.

Also within the park is the Glenbow Quarry. Outcrops of the Porcupine Hills Formation sandstone are still visible on the cliffs (above the trains in the photo below). This is the rock that was used in the construction of many downtown Calgary buildings including the Calgary Courthouse building and Edmonton’s Alberta Legislature Building.

Horse on the working ranch
Horse on the working ranch
Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park is home to old ranch buildings
Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park is home to old ranch buildings
Ruins of an old homestead
The Waverly Chimney – all that’s left of an old homestead
Trains that seem to stretch forever pass through the park with some frequency
Trains that seem to stretch forever pass through the park with some frequency

Biking and hiking in Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park

With over 30 kilometres of trails accessible to hikers (and most trails are open to mountain bikers) there’s a lot to see. Signage is excellent – so don’t worry about getting lost. I always recommend taking a photo at the beginning of the hike or bike ride so you can get your bearings if you’re not near a trail intersection – which is where you typically find the signage.

Trails are a combination of asphalt and dirt. You can do and out and back type of hike or bike ride but there are plenty of loops do hike/bike too.

Read: Biking the Trans-Canada Trail in Glenbow Ranch

Glenbow Ranch provincial Park has lots of paved trails
Lots of paved trails perfect for biking
Biking the Glenbow Ranch trails
Biking the Glenbow Ranch trails in summer
Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park is so green in June
Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park is so green in June
Glenbow Provincial Park trail map
Glenbow Provincial Park trail map

I have hiked most but not all of the trails. I haven’t taken the Bearspaw Trail east along the train tracks. 

Most people start on the Glenbow Trail, one that offers gorgeous views of the Rocky Mountains. I think the Tiger Lily Loop is a great one to start on – because there are usually fewer people and it takes you down through a beautiful forested section to the Bowbend Junction.  From there you can head west and pass a pretty pond that often has a lot of duck action. Keep going west and you eventually get some exceptional views.

No matter where you hike or bike look for signs detailing the history of the Glenbow Townsite, school and quarry. Fascinating reading. Really.

Some of the signage you see along the trails
Some of the signage you see along the trails

On one of our hikes we took the Bow River Loop – a 4.9 kilometre circuit that takes you across the railway tracks. If you’re into trains, park yourself on the nearby bench and count away. These trains are like long snakes and in the three plus hours we were there, we saw four of them.

The Bow River Loop parallels the Bow River for several kilometres. As my husband and I walked along I noticed a monster-sized nest in a tree beside the Bow River. My first thoughts were it must be a squirrels nest. But it was a bald eagle’s nest with not one but two bald eagles in it. It was certainly the highlight of our eleven kilometre hike.

And the scenery on the rest of the hike wasn’t too shabby either.

Looking west along the Bow River on a November hike
Looking west along the Bow River on a November hike
Beautiful deep blue skies are a hallmark of Alberta
Beautiful deep blue skies are a hallmark of Alberta
Great Rocky Mountain views no matter what the season
Great Rocky Mountain views no matter what the season

Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park in winter

I have been on several occasions to Glenbow Ranch in winter and absolutely love it. There are rarely many people and yet the same trails you hike in summer are ideal for snowshoeing – or for hiking boots, though often I’d suggest bringing icers along as well. 

Enjoy the peace and solitude but be prepared to bundle up as the winds in the winter in the park can be particularly cruel.

Glenbow Ranch provincial Park snowshoeing
Snowshoeing on the Tiger Lily loop
Beautiful leaning trees on the Tiger Lily loop
Beautiful leaning trees on the Tiger Lily loop
The only people I saw one day were the skiers
The only people I saw one day were the folks in the top right of the photo 
Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park is home to a lot of deer
Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park is home to a lot of deer
The park has so many moods depending on when you visit
The park has so many moods depending on when you visit
The Bow River looks frigid on a December day
The Bow River looks frigid on a December day

Close to cities but a feeling of being far-removed

The beauty of a visit to Glenbow Ranch is its proximity to Calgary and Cochrane and the fact that it’s a year-round destination. I can get to the park within 40 minutes of my house in Calgary. If you lived in the north you could probably halve that.

The park doesn’t offer the jaw dropping vistas you get in the mountains but prairie skies have their own charm. And it’s hard to beat all the bird and animal sightings, especially of a bald eagle in a nest.

Getting to Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park from Calgary

Take Crowchild Trail North from the downtown core. Stay on it as it becomes Highway 1A west for 24.1 kilometres.

Turn left onto Glenbow Road (look for highway signs too) – a dirt road, and follow it 1.1 kilometres to the parking lot. Parking is free as is entrance to the park.

More useful Glenbow Ranch information

Dogs are allowed on a leash

Bring water especially as it warms up.

This park will be a hot one on a summer day. I’d recommend hiking either early or late in the day.

Camping is not allowed. It’s a day use park only.

There are pit toilets, one in the parking lot and one in the park along, I believe along Glenbow Trail.

The Visitor Centre is typically open only on weekends.

Visit the Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park website for more information.

Further reading on things to do in Alberta

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park - a year round destination between Calgary and Cochrane, Alberta

 

 

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

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