In April 2017 Red Deer was named by Expedia as one of the 34 most breathtaking cities in North America – high praise indeed for a city that many think of as a stop for gas or food between Calgary and Edmonton. I decided to spend a day biking in Red Deer to check out the claims.
A few years before this excursion I’d spent a very pleasant few days in Red Deer. On that trip I also went biking in Red Deer – but on quiet backroads outside of the city on route to the wonderful Ellis Bird Farm.
This time I wanted to see what the City of Red Deer bike trails offered the cyclist. Specifically I wanted to check out two places mentioned in the Expedia post – Maskepetoon Park and Bower Ponds to see if they met my criteria for breathtaking.
Also, I like most keen cyclists, really enjoy eating after a workout so part two of my reason for visiting was to check out the food and beverage scene in Red Deer on my bike.
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Here are the places that made me love biking in Red Deer
It’s a 90-minute drive from Calgary to the Visitor Centre/Sports Hall of Fame in Red Deer just off of Highway 2. It’s a great place to start biking as the parking is free, there’s lots of it and you’re immediately on the extensive trail system by Heritage Ranch.
Biking in Red Deer through Waskasoo Park
Before you get started, pick up a map of Waskasoo Park from the Visitor Centre. Take a look and you’ll notice a ribbon of green on either side of the Red Deer River. Bike trails run through that ribbon on both sides of the river, at least in places.
According to the book The 10 Premier Bike Rides by Kathy and Craig Copeland, Red Deer is home to about 200 kilometres of paved bike trails. Of that approximately 100 km wind through Waskasoo Park. They are not all connected but there are plenty of options to keep you busy for a good part of the day.
Waskasoo Park is a delight. Not only does it have cycling trails that make you feel a million miles away from a city, the park offers many interesting diversions.
I didn’t spend any time on this trip at Heritage Ranch, but a few years ago I enjoyed an excellent lunch onsite. They offer many activities – both in summer and winter including kayak rentals so you can explore the Red Deer River.
From the ranch it’s mostly downhill to reach the McKenzie Trail Recreation Area. You’d never know looking out at the peaceful ponds that they were formerly gravel pits. Now that they’ve been reclaimed, you can hike, fish and enjoy nature in a peaceful setting.
Stop at Bower Ponds
The Bower Ponds were my next stop while biking in Red Deer. It’s here you can fish for trout (catch and release only), canoe or rent a paddleboat. There’s also a great little Victorian tea house by the ponds – Cronquist House, built in 1911 and faced with bricks though built with wood.
But breathtaking the Bower Ponds are not. More like pleasant and a great place for families to come. Sorry Red Deer.
Continuing, my companion Danielle from Pursuit Adventures and I crossed the CP bridge that offers views up and down the Red Deer River. From there we went north and followed the river on the other side on route to the Kerry Wood Nature Centre.
Biking in Red Deer to the Kerry Wood Nature Centre and Gaetz Lake Sanctuary
You could easily spend a few hours at the Gaetz Lake Sanctuary, Alberta’s oldest federal migratory bird sanctuary. The Kerry Wood Nature Centre is at the entrance to the sanctuary and it is here you have to leave your bikes.
Once in the sanctuary walk the four kilometre loop, check out the bird blind and keep an eye out for northern flying squirrels.
We took a bit of time to wander down to the bird blind where I was rewarded with a sighting of a muskrat and a sora rail (a type of bird), one of the 130 bird species and 28 types of mammals that have been seen here. I just wasn’t fast enough with my camera.
Biking in Red Deer to Maskepetoon Park
After eating and drinking it was time to check out Maskepetoon Park. The park overlooks the Red Deer River and it’s as close to breathtaking as you’ll find in Red Deer.
There are trails throughout the park as well as a popular set of stairs for running that take you down to the Red Deer River.
Interestingly Maskepetoon is called a city-dedicated pollinator park. Both native and planted habitat is protected for native pollinators like bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. There is no spraying. Grass grows longer and as one sign explains – the edges between grass and forest are more ragged.
Biking the backroads on the way to Ellis Bird Farm and Lacombe
On another occasion, John and I biked over 100 km of backroads and cycling trails with long stops at the Ellis Bird Farm and the Lacombe Agricultural Research Centre to check out the surprisingly cool Weed Garden.
We started at the Holiday Inn and weaved our onto a network of bike paths. In short order we were out of the city. Although we cycled on the highway in a few places, there was always a good shoulder and cars were few and far between.
After climbing a couple of bigger hills in the vicinity of the Red Deer River, it was back into rolling countryside – with a mix of farming and petrochemical facilities. It may not sound pretty but the facilities were well kept up and the surrounding landscape was green.
With cooperative winds we were able to cycle 57 km to the Ellis Bird Farm in about 2.5 hours, including photography stops.
From the Ellis Bird Farm it’s almost 20 km to Lacombe – and though the riding was easy I ended up ass over teakettle as the saying goes when my tire clipped Johns. Next thing I knew I was in the ditch, but only my pride was wounded.
From Lacombe we got on a mix of trail and road to continue the 45 km back to the Holiday Inn – our home for the night. It was all pretty easy going, though there’s some signage still needed.
On the way biking back to Red Deer we made one side trip into the interior of the Abbey Centre – a recreational complex in Blackfald.
We carried our bikes up the stairs and then rode along a short stretch of the Trans-Canada Trail inside the building – on the second floor – the only interior section of the Trans-Canada Trail in all of Canada. You ride out on grade and continue to Red Deer.
Looking for food and drink in Red Deer
From the nature centre we partially retraced our steps with the focus for the next hour turning to food. We made a few stops in the Riverlands area starting at Wild Brewing.
We both tried the raspberry ginger and a blueberry mint kombucha, a fermented tea that I think is an acquired taste. But it’s supposed to be very good for you. Tea is offered on tap in beautiful surroundings or you can bring in your own containers to get filled.
From there we slipped over to Dose and Purearth Organicsfor lunch and a coffee. Everything is organic and the two side by side businesses help each other.
Buy food at Purearth and take it over to enjoy with your latte made with both organic milk and coffee. Already both places seem to have quite a following.
Our last food-drink stop was at the Troubled Monk Brewery. I love the name – but even more I love the aesthetic.
The beer was okay though I’m hardly a judge as I’m not much of a beer drinker. You must try it for yourself. What was mind-blowing was their homemade gingerale and root beer. You can buy them in six packs. They are both exceptional!
Where to stay in Red Deer
I highly recommend the Holiday Inn and Suites in Red Deer. I was pleasantly surprised at how nice the rooms were in this hotel (the best in the city!). If you’re driving between Edmonton and Calgary and need a meal this is a convenient and great place to stop.