John and I are in training – trying to ready our legs and butts for the 154 kilometre Kootenay Gran Fondo we are doing in Cranbrook in early September. To that end we’re looking for bike rides in the Calgary area we’ve never done. Oddly enough I found out about the 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!!
With a little research we figured we could cycle from our house to the Calgary Zoo via bike trails along the Elbow River and then pick up a trail that would take us to Chestermere. From the zoo we went south on a bike trail through the zoo (no access though you can hear the animals), alongside Memorial Drive to Deerfoot Trail. There’s a pedestrian/bike crossing over the highway that takes you towards the Max Bell Arena.
Then we found signs saying Western Irrigation Ditch Canal – and the trail deteriorated. 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 – just bad for a few kilometres though roller blading on this section wouldn’t be much fun.
From the Max Bell Arena you follow the mostly flat trail along the east side of the canal (which parallels the Bow River) until you reach 17th Avenue SE. Then cross the Bow River and continue south for 8.7 kilometres on the west side of the irrigation canal until you reach the intersection of Glenmore Trail SE and Ogden Road SE. This intersection is a starting point for some people as they come and park their car in the strip mall/hotel area – though I don’t know if that’s formally allowed.
You have to cycle along the road for two blocks to get back on the trail. Watch for the signs directing you back to the canal.
There was a long section of 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.
But almost immediately after having that thought 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Did you know this canal existed?