Farkas: Twin parks serve up sanctuary and adventure, close to home

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Can you keep a secret? 

Sprawling grasslands. Glacier-carved benchlands. Expansive mountain views. Rolling hills. Hidden trails. No crowds.

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Canada’s best park is one that you’ve likely never even heard of. And it’s less than five minutes from the city limits.

Created in 2011 through the collaboration and unwavering vision of the Harvie family and the provincial government – and aided in no small part by Andy Crooks and Cam Crawford – the 1,334-ha (3,300-acre) Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park is quintessentially Albertan.

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Located just a few minutes drive northwest of Calgary, a visit will reward you with beautiful views of ranchland set to the stunning backdrop of the Rocky Mountains’ eastern slopes. That’s to say nothing of the park’s rich history and abundant wildlife.

The mountains appear so close when seen from Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park. Photo, Jeromy Farkas cal

And now, thanks to the completion of Haskayne Legacy Park within the City of Calgary, the best has gotten even better. 

Planning for the neighbouring 126-ha (260-acre) regional park began nearly 20 years ago. Through the generous support of Richard and Lois Haskayne, alongside the persistence of former Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier, their vision saw fruition late last year. 

The Glenbow Ranch Park Foundation, through the leadership of board chair Georg Paffrath, stewards additional land holdings in the area. The assembly is an unprecedented 1,578-ha (3,900-acre) continuous greenway, spanning all the way from Calgary to Cochrane. 

The result is nothing less than a spectacular, must-visit destination for every Canadian.

Thanks to the guidance of the Baum family and Cochrane Rotary, momentum is building to complete the final bridge connection into town. As shining jewels in the greatest trail network in history – the 28,000-km Trans Canada Trail – these twin parks will soon welcome over a million visitors a year. Travellers will come from far and wide, to our backyard, to experience the very best Canada has to offer.

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A new pavilion at Haskayne Legacy Park will offer visitor amenities. Photo, City of Calgary cal

The best way for first-time visitors to experience the area is with a journey along the 2.1-km “Yodel Loop,” accessed from Glenbow Ranch. This trail heads south through some of the park’s best quality fescue grasslands, overlooking the historic Glenbow store, post office and brickyards. You can even see the corrals, still in use today through the careful stewardship and working ranch operations of John Copithorne and family.

Two scenic outlooks on the hill provide interpretive signage with a general overview of the park’s most easily accessed natural and historic resources. The eastern end of the loop provides an opportunity to venture further and explore Scott Trail – a deceptively steep climb up the centre of the park to another spectacular viewpoint. From Calgary to Cochrane, the Bow River Valley stretches for miles before you.

Haskayne Legacy Park regional pathway takes you through grasslands. Photo, City of Calgary cal

The trail then meanders briefly through the sheltered wooded backside of Yodel Hill, providing some respite from the summer sun or winter wind. After breaking the trees, you climb gradually back to the park office.

Without a doubt, Glenbow Ranch and Haskayne Legacy Park are southern Alberta’s best-kept secret. But with any luck, that’s about to change.

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 Where to start: To access the Calgary side, turn south on Woodland Road from Crowchild Trail (Highway 1A) to arrive at the Haskayne Legacy Park trailhead. To access the Cochrane side, turn south from Highway 1A, continuing to the end of Glenbow Road to arrive at Glenbow Ranch.

Drive time: 27 minutes from downtown Calgary.

Difficulty: Easy, with modest elevation gain on the west end

When to visit: Trails are open year-round. There are occasional seasonal closures due to the freezing of the Bow River and the working ranch operations. Visit www.grpf.ca for up-to-date information.

Distance: Up to 40 kilometres of paved and unpaved trails.

Don’t forget: A full water bottle, snacks, and layered clothing, including a hat and sturdy walking shoes. The pathways have some steep sections, and there can be long distances between parking lots, washrooms, and viewpoints.

Haskayne Legacy Park runs alongside the Bow River close to Cochrane. Photo, City of Calgary cal

Final verdict: The best things come in pairs. Located just a few minutes’ drive from the city limits, a visit to these twin parks will reward you with beautiful ranchland trails set to the stunning backdrop of the Rocky Mountains’ eastern slopes.

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Former city councillor Jeromy “Pathfinder” Farkas is chief executive officer at the Glenbow Ranch Park Foundation, with a mission to protect and promote one of Alberta’s signature provincial parks through engagement, education, and conservation. 

Join him on May 1, 2024 for the inaugural “Park Talk” at Haskayne Legacy Park. Sharing intimate stories of first-timers and seasoned veterans alike, Jeromy’s talk will dive deep into the triumphs and setbacks of his 172-day, 5,000-km fundraising trek from Mexico to Canada for Big Brothers and Big Sisters. This free event is made possible through the generous support of Richard and Lois Haskayne. For information and to RSVP, please visit www.grpf.ca.

Resident porcupine “Quillbert” finds shelter on a tree after a storm in Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park. Photo, Jeromy Farkas cal

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