Bow Valley Provincial Park, less than an hour’s drive west of Calgary, is a great year-round destination. The park is blessed with a varied landscape that includes a section along the glacier-fed Bow River at the confluence of the Kananaskis River, grasslands, boreal forest and a bit of the front range of the Canadian Rockies.
In summer Bow Valley Provincial Park is a wonderful place to go camping (though be prepared for some highway and train noise), hiking, horseback riding and kayaking. Until the snow flies sometime in fall you can continue to hike and bike the quiet roads. Come winter, go for a snowshoe or even a cross-country ski, though don’t visit with the expectation of track-set trails. In spring, the park is ideal for an easy walk.
Bow Valley Provincial Park is irregularly shaped. It’s surrounded by Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park to the north and southwest and Elbow Sheep Wildland Provincial Park to the southeast.
To access it, there are two main entrance points. One is off the Trans-Canada Highway at the intersection with Highway 1X and the other is at the entrance to the Barrier Dam via Highway 40. In the park there are also several places to launch kayaks (eg. Canoe Meadows off of Highway 40) along with some pretty picnic areas off of Highway 40, especially Mount Lorette Ponds.
Bow Valley Provincial Park – what to do on on the north side of the Trans-Canada
It took years of driving to Canmore, Banff and beyond to finally stop and make the detour into Bow Valley Provincial Park. This section of the park is home to a wide array of birds from the tiny rufous hummingbird to the bald eagle. In late spring when there’s still snow around we’ve seen the sleeping spots of a herd of elk and chances are high you’ll see a deer. Bears frequent the park too.
Camping in Bow Valley Provincial Park
We decided to try camping in Bow Valley Provincial Park for a night – for a quick getaway from Calgary. If it’s a fine day (without wind) the campsites along the Bow River are a treat. But on colder days you might want to be in the woods where it’s many degrees warmer.
There’s lots of camping available with many excellent campsites along the beautiful Bow River. If you snag one of these sites you can certainly enjoy the birds that fly through the area from the front door of your tent. Don’t forget your bike so you can cycle the roads. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife – including wolf, mule deer, elk, moose, and bears – though I have only seen squirrels.
Many of the people we spoke with in the park booked their campsites for as much as a week so they could easily and affordably access the Canmore – Banff corridor. From the campsite it’s only a 25-minute drive to Canmore and a 40-minute drive to the Banff townsite.
You can hike any of the seven easy trails in the park on a year-round basis (if you’re prepared to break trail in winter). Enjoy outstanding mountain views from most of them and a surprisingly diverse range of eco-systems.
The 1.6 km Many Springs Trail is the must-do trail in the park. It makes a loop – via a mix of trail and boardwalk, through a spring-fed wetland where the temperature remains constant year-round. Views are terrific here, especially of Mt. Yamnuska. Although I have not seen any deer or elk, reportedly they are drawn to the minerals in the spring.
In June, the trail is dotted with bright yellow lady’s slipper and pretty pink mountain shooting stars.
The Montane Trail is also worth the hike. It loops through the transition zone where the foothills meet the mountain. The five other hiking trails are all short and easy and most offer outstanding mountain views.
Visiting the park in winter
One year we visited Bow Valley Provincial Park after a big snowstorm. None of the roads had been plowed so we parked near the entrance with the intention of hiking or snowshoeing the Many Springs Trail. The hike normally takes about an hour depending on where you start but we took three to four hours – because of deep snow and the long walk to the trailhead. Still it was peaceful, and exceptionally beautiful – and the perfect thing to do before going into COVID lockdown.
Any of the other hiking trails are fair game in the winter but be prepared for route finding issues – and count on spending extra energy to break trail. Fortunately, that is a good excuse to indulge in some high energy food.