Parkland, Wetlands, and Rocky Mountains! Top 3 Alberta Hikes + Bonus Walk

Paved, gravel, natural surface – trails take on a variety of forms. They can traverse great distances into the backcountry, travel through an urban park, or roam through local neighbourhoods. Historically, trails were used for the transport of goods and livestock between local villages and towns. Walking for leisure was a luxury, mostly reserved for those with garden paths or access to local forested trails. Recreational walking grew in popularity in North America at the end of the 19th century and gained traction post-war in the 20th century. The environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s further inspired people to seek time outdoors in nature for relaxation and fitness.Nowadays trails are tourist attractions and community refuges for outdoor recreation. Whether planning a long-day hike to a mountain lake, or a short dog-walk close to home, I love to explore new and familiar trails. A note about wildlife…Wildlife can be encountered at any time while on trails. Human-wildlife coexistence is integral to safe and enjoyable recreation that also promotes wildlife conservation. What is human-wildlife coexistence?It is a sustainable state that encourages the co-adaption of humans and wildlife that live in shared landscapes. Regarding hiking, it seeks to ensure wildlife conservation while promoting safe human recreation. When planning for your hikes, please keep the local wildlife in mind and leave no trace. My Favorite Hikes:I’m a mountain-lover, and so it is no surprise that two of my top three hikes are in the Rocky Mountains. To make use of increased daylight, I enjoy long-day hikes that leave me with sore feet and happy memories. It should be noted that some of the hikes below are in bear and cougar habitat and proper precautions should be taken before travel. If hiking in an Alberta Park or a National Park, ensure you check local advisories and warnings before heading out. 1) Middle Kootenay PassLocation: Castle Provincial Park (begins near Castle Mountain Ski Resort)Distance: 7.6 km to pass, add 2.2 km if going to Middle Pass Lakes in BCAscent: 540m, add 223m if going to lakesType: Long day bike & hike or backcountry (if going to the campground at the lakes)Difficulty: moderateWebsite: Alberta Parks Note: This hike is in bear country – bring bear spray and make noise! Looking towards BC from Middle Kootenay Pass in July 2020This bike n’ hike starts from the Castle Mountain Ski resort and takes you 7.6 km along an old road up towards a beautiful mountain pass. We managed to bike until it got steep, but avid mountain bikers could likely make it to the pass with minimal issues. Adding another 2.2 km took us to a lovely mountain lake and another spectacular pass. Middle Pass Lakes looking towards Middle Kootenay PassWhile we chose to keep this to a long day hike, there is a backcountry campground located at Middle Pass Lakes in BC with fire rings and bear-proof food storage. Bringing a bike shaved off time at the beginning and end along a wide and flat road (and was very enjoyable on the way back!) The trail is easy to follow and becomes moderately steep closer to the pass and the lakes. 2) Big Elbow and Little Elbow Trail – “Elbow Loop”Location: Elbow Valley. There are a few ways into this area, we started from the Little Elbow Trailhead to go counter clockwise on the loop.Distance: ~40 km – more if including any day hikesType: Backcountry, multi-day hike or bikeDifficulty: The trail itself is moderate, but the length will increase the difficultyOur itinerary: Day 1 – hike to Mount Romulus Campground; Day 2 – hike to Tombstone Campground with a side trip to Tombstone Lakes; Day 3 – day-hike to Piper Pass from Tombstone Campground; Day 4 – hike out along the Big Elbow TrailWebsite: Alberta Parks Big Elbow and Little Elbow Note: This is in bear country – bring bear spray and make noise!Looking out along the Little Elbow River from the Mount Romulus Backcountry CampgroundMolly and I at Tombstone Backcountry Campground in August 2020 I loved this backcountry trip. The walk between campgrounds was mostly on a road, but the scenery was incredible, and the campgrounds were well maintained and comfortable. This is a long and tiring trip and requires careful planning and knowledge of backcountry camping. The trail between the campgrounds is easy to follow and of moderate difficulty. It is also used by bike packers and horse riders.Molly and I heading up towards Piper PassWe added an extra day to our trip so we could hike up to Piper Pass from the Tombstone Backcountry Campground. This hike is of moderate difficulty to the meadows below the pass and becomes harder and steeper on scree to gain Piper Pass. Looking out from the pass is breathtaking (and windy!) and the meadows below make the perfect lunch spot.Looking back to Piper Pass (dark brown rock)A wonderful trip with beautiful scenery and relaxing time spent in nature! We followed the Big Elbow trail to complete our loop, passing through the Big Elbow Backcountry Campground.Exhausted by the end, we retreated to the Little Elbow campground 30 km west of Bragg Creek for a much-needed day of rest!Molly takes a break at the Little Elbow Campground We spent a few nights at the Little Elbow Campground just west of Bragg Creek. After a rest day we headed back out on the trail for a few day hikes in one of our favourite places. This included a trip to Sibbald Meadows Pond, an area impacted by the Alberta Government’s decision to delist and close many cherished parks. On the way we also passed by Sibbald Lake Provincial Recreation Area and Dawson Provincial Recreation Area, both places we have spent much time in before that are also slated to be delisted. See the Prairie Chapter’s March 2020 blog post for more information. Sibbald Meadows Pond in August 2020 On a short trail that loops from Sibbald Lake Provincial Recreation Area in June 2020 3) Bunchberry MeadowsLocation: 30 km west of central EdmontonDistance: A few options ranging from ~4 km to 7+ km loopsType: Hike (cross-country skiing in the winter)Note: dogs and bikes are not allowed at Bunchberry MeadowsDifficulty: easy (or moderate ski)Website: Edmonton Area Land Trust I’ll confess, I’ve only ever been here in the winter to cross-country ski. But the landscape is so beautiful in the snow that I can only imagine how gorgeous it becomes in the summer. Due to its sensitive habitat, dogs are not allowed at Bunchberry Meadows, and as a dog-owner who rarely walks without her constant companions, I haven’t been able to bring myself to leave them behind. So, I’ve only cross-country skied this area (without dogs, of course). I do believe Bunchberry Meadows would be a wonderful summer day hike with its small, rolling hills and varying scenery.BONUS! Lindsay’s Favortie WalkMill Creek Ravine Walking Trails Difficulty: EasyTrail: both gravel path and paved path. Does include some modest hills.Starting Point: You can start this hike from the overflow parking lot at Mill Creek Pool.  Click here for Google Maps.  Lindsay Boucher, Prairie Chapter CoordinatorMy favorite (and most frequent!) trail to walk is Mill Creek Ravine. Walking in nature is a regular practice I do to feel reinvigorated. During the COVID-19 pandemic, setting aside time to spend in nature has been especially important!Mill Creek Ravine is a beautiful park Edmonton has to offer! It is a tributary of the North Saskatchewan River and runs from Argyll Road (63 Ave) north all the way to Connors Road. There is a main paved path that is all-access and is very popular for running, biking, walking dogs, or family walks with strollers.This path is in a mixed forest. You will notice aspen trees, spruce trees, and tamaracks that boast of all beautiful colors in the fall. I also especially love at certain parts of the trail the trees will overarch the path allowing you to forget that you are in the city. Along the loop, you will see the creek and hear the water burble as it runs parallel to the path.The most frequent wild visitors I encounter during my walks are squirrels, chickadees, and woodpeckers. At different times of the year, I have also seen deer, mallards, and frogs! Looking for more inspiration?For more inspiration for walks in the Edmonton Area, check out East End Trails, Whitemud Ravine South, Clifford E. Lee Nature Sanctuary Join us this Fall, as our team will be taking a special hike in support of THE NATIONAL HIKE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT.This nation-wide event will help re-connect people across the country with the natural world that sustains us, while raising support for the challenging work of Sierra Club Canada Foundation and our efforts to fight for urgent environmental protections. Want to be a Hiking Hero?1) Sign up on our CanadaHelps page as an individual or part of the Prairie Chapter Team.2) Ask 10 friends to donate to your cause3) Go for a hike! This can be on a mountain, on a favoured walking trail, indoors with your walking group, or even around your neighbourhood.  Michelle Murphy, Prairie Executive Co-ChairMichelle Murphy is a PhD student and research assistant at the University of Alberta with an interdisciplinary background in biology and environmental history. Her current research interests include conservation and recreation issues, parks and protected areas, and the human dimensions of wildlife conservation and management. She has a specific interests in human-wildlife interactions along the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rocky Mountains in Alberta and intends to focus her PhD research on large mammals like grizzly bears. Michelle is also a board member with the North Saskatchewan River Valley Conservation Society (NSRVCS) in Edmonton. Outside of school and work Michelle enjoys dog-walking, hiking, horse-riding, and cross-country skiing.