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How to Get from Calgary to Chestermere by Bike

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The first time John and I did the Calgary to Chestermere bike ride we were trying to ready our legs and butts for the 154 kilometre Kootenay Gran Fondo we are planning to do in Cranbrook in early September. To that end we were looking for bike rides in the Calgary area we’d never done. Oddly enough I found out about the bike ride from Calgary to Chestermere along the canal when I last got my hair cut. I didn’t even know there was a canal (used for irrigation purposes) and neither did my neighbour who has lived in Calgary for decades!!

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Getting from Calgary to Chestermere by bike

With a little research we figured we could cycle from our house near Mission south to the downtown via the Elbow River bike trail. Then we’d cross the Bow River and cycle behind the Calgary Zoo and pick up the Bow River Pathway heading south. With a few wrong turns – on both bike rides we’ve done, we eventually found the often bumpy trail that would take us to Chestermere.

The first time we cycled to Chestermere we took the pedestrian/bike crossing over Deerfoot that takes you towards the Max Bell Arena. But the second time we just took an immediate right turn before Deerfoot and followed the Bow River Pathway – which is the easier way to go.

Biking the Elbow River trail on route to the Bow River near downtown Calgary
Biking the Elbow River trail on route to the Bow River near downtown Calgary
Cycling on a trail behind the zoo towards Deerfoot Trail
Cycling on a trail behind the zoo towards Deerfoot Trail
Taking the Bow River Pathway south from near the intersection with Deerfoot and the Calgary Zoo
Taking the Bow River Pathway south from near the intersection with Deerfoot and the Calgary Zoo

Finding the bike trail to Chestermere – option one

On our most recent bike ride to Chestermere, we rode the Bow River Pathway, parallel to Deerfoot Trail until we reached 17th Ave SE. Then we crossed Deerfoot on a bike trail and picked up a new multi-use trail east of Deerfoot that ran close to 26th St. SE. When we reached 34th Avenue SE, we cycled over the Deerfoot again to pick up the trail by the Southview Off Leash Dog Park. We stayed on that section until we reached 50th Avenue SE. (Check out the Google map and it all makes sense!)

From there we cycled across a bridge and finally picked up the trail beside the Western Irrigation Ditch Canal. We stayed on it all the way to Chestermere.

Do this instead

However, if we’d been smart would have picked up the trail beside the Western Irrigation Canal from the 17th Avenue SE crossing over Deerfoot. To get your bearings, note the Rocky Mountain Paddling Centre on the east side of the canal. Ultimately you want to be on the west side of the irrigation ditch canal.

Downtown Calgary views
Downtown Calgary views

Western Irrigation Ditch Canal

Once you’re on the trail beside the Western Irrigation Ditch Canal you’ll see that it’s not in the best of shape. In fact, I wondered if it was going to be nothing but a series of bumps and waves in the pavement for the 29 kilometres we planned to ride to Chestermere. It turned out to be fine – but there were a few uncomfortable kilometres. Roller blading on this section wouldn’t be any fun.

Dead flat riding alongside the Western Irrigation District Canal
Dead flat riding alongside the Western Irrigation District Canal
The same section in March – and its snow and ice free
The same section in March – and its snow and ice free

Discovering Calgary’s industrial heartland

There was a long section of bike trail that took us through Calgary’s industrial heartland – one I never knew existed. At one point along the trail I was thinking to myself about a title for this blog post – and what came to mind – was the ugliest bike ride you’ll ever do in Calgary.

One of the factories you pass on the bike ride, Evraz PLC, has as its largest shareholder none other than billionaire Roman Abramovich – the owner of Chelsea FC.

Riding through Calgary’s industrial land
Riding through Calgary’s industrial land

There is pretty scenery on the Calgary to Chestermere bike ride

But almost immediately after having that thought about the ugliness of the trail, we hit farm country and a long stretch of delightful riding. We stopped at the fence of one farm to check out a handful of horses looking for a treat.

A little further on we came across a wetlands area though we’d forgotten the binoculars and didn’t see anything. Along the canal itself, we were able to see grebes, Canada geese, mallard ducks, killdeer and even a loon.

The closer you get to Chestermere the more rural it gets
The closer you get to Chestermere the more rural it gets
Signage describing the wetlands
Signage describing the wetlands

Soon Chestermere came into view. Full of new housing developments, you can’t help but wonder how long the rural land will last before being swallowed by tract housing.

For several kilometres heading into Chestermere there are also signs along the canal where they have cautioned paddlers to pull out and portage to avoid an incident. We didn’t see anyone paddle and over the course of roughly four hours we probably saw no more than a few dozen cyclists.

There is occasional Greenway signage
There is occasional Greenway signage
More signage as we got closer to Chestermere
More signage as we got closer to Chestermere

The trail itself ends at Chestermere Lake

There are shady benches just up from the lake if you’ve brought a lunch with you. We hadn’t so off we headed down the street for several kilometres until we found a shopping plaza. It was nothing special but I don’t know where else you can find food in town.

The lake itself can get busy in summer with boats and water skiers. On a Sunday at noon it was still peaceful on our first visit.

Chestermere has grown a lot since we were last here
Chestermere has grown a lot since we were last here
Chestermere Lake
Chestermere Lake

You can make good time cycling along the canal IF THE WIND IS AT YOUR BACK. On the way to Chestermere it was but on the return to Calgary it blew hard in our face – no matter what direction we rode. It was Murphy’s Law at work!

Don't be fooled by the lack of hills - wind is your enemy on the bike ride between Calgary and Chestermere
Don’t be fooled by the lack of hills – wind is your enemy
Flat sections like this are great when its not windy
Flat sections like this are great when its not windy

How long is the bike ride from Calgary to Chestermere?

From Chestermere to the Calgary Zoo it’s 28.8 kilometres, 46.2 kilometres if you were to continue to Bowness Park. I figure we cycled 80 kilometres with all the add-ons we did. What impressed me was the fact that I cycled no more than 10 kilometres on the road. Everything else was on a dedicated, car-free trail.

The Calgary to Chestermere bike ride is not the prettiest one you’ll ever do – but it’s interesting to see the factories and businesses that normally remain out of public view. Photographers with a passion for industrial landscapes will love it.

All told it took us five hours – including at least an hour’s worth of stops and studying of maps. For something different, it’s worth cycling at least once.

Heading back to Calgary along the canal
Heading back to Calgary along the canal just out of Chestermere

A few things to take on your bike ride to Chestermere

  • Don’t forget a bike pump in case you get a flat. This one fits in your jersey pocket.
  • bike lock could come in handy if you decide you want to go into Chestermere for food.
  • I like to carry a handlebar bag with my raincoat and bike tools rather than having something on my back.
  • Bike lights are one of those things you should always have – just in case.
  • Don’t forget some energy and protein bars to fuel your bike ride.

Further reading on cycling in Alberta

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

How to get from Calgary to Chestermere by bike

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