Edmonton may not be known as the hiking capital of Canada, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some great hiking spots. Apart from the iconic North Saskatchewan River Valley, both locals and visitors have a number of day hiking trails and areas to choose from. Throughout my time in Edmonton, I’ve made a point of discovering many hikes that don’t require a 3+ hour drive into the Rockies or out of the city. Here are some locations within an hour’s drive – what better excuse could there be to get out for the day and explore?
Chickakoo Lake Recreation Area
Where: 46km west of Edmonton’s city centre
Duration: 4 available trails (loops ranging from 2–4km round trip)
Tucked just outside the city of Spruce Grove, this is a great area for Edmontonians who want to hike and walk close to home. Not to be mistaken for a single lake, Chickakoo’s trail system circles through a series of beautiful smaller lakes. The four looped trails are marked based on ability, so you can pick the one that best suits your fitness level. Pack your binoculars for a chance to see the park’s wildlife and bird species.
Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Park Recreation Area
Where: About 40km east of Edmonton’s city centre
Duration: Trails up to 25km in length
This winter hot spot, home to the Birkebeiner Ski Festival, is a worthy hiking destination in spring and summer. With a unique combination of habitats, the park is home to moose, foxes, lynx and other wildlife species that you may spot when you’re exploring its 170km of trails. The Waskahegan Staging Area, which has a must-see interpretive centre, is the starting point for most hiking trails. The park’s “knob and kettle” terrain was formed by glaciers and boulders that originated in the Canadian Shield, and many of the routes provide a real workout, but there’s still something for everyone. For a challenge, take the Lost Lake Trail from the Staging Area to Islet Lake.
Kinnaird Park Highlands Hiking Trail
Where: Edmonton’s Central River Valley
Duration: 5km loop
Edmonton’s local River Valley Trail system is huge, and has 160km of multi-use trail options available. If you wanted to, you could easily map out an entire day of inner-city hiking and walking here. This lesser-known trail is suitable for hikers of all skill levels, and includes paths with braille trail interpretive signs for visually impaired visitors. It begins near Concordia University College and winds through the picturesque Kinnaird Park. Gear up your furry friends for this walk, as they can enjoy the trail off-leash.
Devon River Valley
Where: 40km south of Edmonton’s city centre
Duration: 3–4 hours (with shorter options available)
A short drive down Highway 60, south of the city’s core, the valley walls of the North Saskatchewan River become steep, the river widens and you can find the scenic trail system of the Town of Devon. Most day hikers choose to start their route from Voyageur Park and hike through the area’s dense forest that ascends and descends through the hoodoo-spotted landscape. Though manageable for all levels, you’ll feel the elevation changes along the river banks, which makes this day trip a slightly more challenging walk in the park. Voyageur Park can be a popular spot on summer days, so be sure to hit the road early.
Elk Island National Park
Where: 48km east from Edmonton’s city centre
Duration: Trails ranging from 30 minutes to 5 hours
Pick up your free Parks Canada Discovery Pass at one of two MEC Edmonton stores, then head to Elk Island National Park. As one of Alberta’s hidden gems just beyond Edmonton’s city limits, this park has well-marked and intertwined trails where hikers can spend hours (or days) exploring. The terrain is a mix of prairie meadows, wetlands and aspen woodlands, and the area is an important refuge for Alberta’s bison and elk species. In fact, on your drive into the park you just might get stuck in bison traffic or get to see herds grazing in roadside meadows. Astotin Lake is a great place to stop if you want to add kayaking, canoeing or paddleboarding to your hike. For multi-day hikers, the shores offer front row views of the northern lights on a clear night.
What to bring and more tips
To make exploring Edmonton’s backyard a good experience, be sure to bring comfortable hiking boots, a well-stocked daypack with protein-rich snacks, and lots of warm, compact layers (you just never know when the snow might fall in Alberta.)
If you’re new to day hiking, need tips on what essentials to pack or want more tips on where to go, stop by MEC in Edmonton – there are two stores to choose from. In addition to hiking workshops and gear, the staff have plenty of local expertise to help you enjoy Alberta’s hiking options and landscapes.
Photos: Katie Schneider, Shutterstock / DeymosHR, Shutterstock / John Kroetch, Shutterstock / 2009fotofriends