Great Trails of Alberta Canada

Great-Hiking-Trails-of-Alberta-Canada

The best of the Trans Canada Trail in Southern Alberta

Hiking and Cycling the Top Trails in Western Canada

The Great Trails of Alberta Canada have something for everyone. Whether you love wilderness footpaths with epic mountain scenery, enjoying sunsets among the rolling hills of ranch country, or speeding down paved urban cycling paths, the Trans Canada Trail in Alberta has it all. In addition, with over 3,000 km of pathways and waterways in this beautiful western province, the Trans Canada Trail (formerly the Great Trail) offers hikers, cyclists, horseback riders, cross-country skiers, snowmobilers, and ATVers two different routes. The southern portion runs from the Saskatchewan border through Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer, and Banff before crossing into British Columbia at the Elk Pass. Alternatively, the northern section extends from Fort Saskatchewan north to Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories. As part of our 14,000 km Come Walk With Us Expedition from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean we hiked the southern route from east to west. Amazingly, over the past 30 years local volunteers and Alberta TrailNet have transformed abandoned railways, city green spaces, historic ranches, and logging roads through the Rocky Mountains into world class hiking trails and challenging cycling routes. Our summary of the best of the Trans Canada Trail in Alberta includes some of our favorite trails in the whole country.
Great Trails of Alberta Canada. Credit: Sean Morton
Plan your next hiking adventure in Alberta. Credit: Sean Morton

The world reveals itself to those who travel on foot.

by Werner Herzog

Iron Horse Trail is a Great Trail of Alberta Canada

The Iron Horse Trail of Alberta Canada is one of the most easterly sections of the Trans Canada Trail Alberta. Specifically, it spans over 176 km from Heinsburg, AB to Waskatenau. It follows a route that was used in the 1800's by Red River Ox Carts, and later became part of the Canadian National Railway. Developed by trail builders between 1999 and 2001, the Iron Horse Trail of Alberta is now the longest completed section of the Trans Canada Trail in Alberta, and it is one of the province's top multiuse recreational trails. It is open year round for mountain bikers, fat bikers, hikers, and horseback riders, as well as off-road vehicles like all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), off-highway vehicles (OHVs), Quads, Side by Sides, and snowmobiles. In fact, it has been named one of the nation's Must-ride Great Canadian ATV trails.

Highlights along the Iron Horse of Trail of Alberta

Highligts along the sand and gravel rail trail include regular staging areas, information plaques, and several famous roadside attractions. In addition, the Iron Horse Trail of Alberta takes trail users through the communities of Elk Point, St Paul, Spedden, Vilna, and Smoky Lake. Not only do these towns offer food and accommodations, but they each deserve to be explored in their own right! For example, we stopped for ice cream in the historic Village of Vilna, who's restored 1920's main street features Alberta's oldest operating pool hall and barbershop. Nearby is one of Canada's many roadside attractions - the World's Biggest Mushrooms! Furthermore, fans of Canada's unique and oversized roadside attractions can stop at the World's First Alien Landing Pad while spending a night in St Paul, or pose for a selfie beside the Giant Pumpkins in Smoky Lake. In between the towns, the Iron Horse Trail of Alberta features spectacular scenery ranging from forest, to rolling countryside, to extensive ranchland. Without doubt, it is one of Alberta's hidden gems you need to explore.

River Valley Trail - City of Edmonton

The River Valley Trail network that runs throughout the City of Edmonton, Alberta is one of the best developed urban pathways in Canada. Impressively, there are over 160 km of urban cycling, jogging, and walking routes in Edmonton, around 35 km of which are part of the Trans Canada Trail. As we followed the tree-lined hiking and cycling pathways along the banks of the North Saskatchewan River, we felt more like we were in a provincial park than crossing the fifth largest city in Canada. Moreover, the urban pathway system is fantastic for keeping hikers, bikers, joggers, runners, and inline skaters off roads, in gorgeous green spaces, and connected to nature.  Without doubt, the River Valley Trail is among the great trails of Alberta.

Trans Canada Trail portion of the River Valley Trail

In Edmonton, Alberta the route of the Trans Canada Trail spans from the Strathcona Science Provincial Park in the northwest to Terwillegar Park in the southwest. Along the way, the pathway crosses the North Saskatchewan River several times, traverses multiple green spaces, including Rundle Park, Capilano Park, and Kinsmen Park, and bypasses no less than six golf courses. In addition, near the downtown core, it passes the Alberta Legislature, the University of Alberta, and historic Fort Edmonton. In short, this stunning urban pathway, which features regular rest stops, washrooms, picnic areas, and green spaces, is a fantastic way to explore Edmonton and connect with nature in the city. The River Valley Trail definitely deserves as spot on any list of the great trails of Alberta.

Meadowlark Trail

The Meadowlark Trail is next on our list of great trails of Alberta, Canada and it is one of the newest additions to the Trans Canada Trail system. The Meadowlark Trail was opened in 2022, and spans 10 km between the communities of Beiseker and Irricana, Alberta. Conveniently, Irricana is only a half hour drive from Airdrie, and a 50 minute drive from Calgary, AB. Interestingly, this hard packed gravel walking and cycling pathway was built on a decommissioned CP rail line and donated to Alberta TrailNet in 2005. It provides a terrific off-road link between the two communities, offering spectacular views of the rolling hills and surrounding agricultural land. Furthermore, this rail trail has been superbly designed, providing access and parking at each end, regular information signage along the route, and terrific trailside landscaping. Therefore, the Meadowlark Trail is a great place to reconnect with nature close to the city, and as the name suggests, it is a great location for bird watching as well!

City of Calgary Trails

The City of Calgary Trails is another network of urban pathways that deserves a place on our list of the great trails of Alberta. Once again, the dedication of residents, volunteers and city planners has given way to amazing results! With more than 100 km of developed and maintained gravel paths and paved cycling routes through Calgary, the route followed by the Trans Canada Trail includes several large spurs within the city. As a result, local walkers, joggers, runners, and cyclists have tons of possibilities to choose from. Furthermore, Calgary's trail system is a wonderful natural experience connecting users to some of the city's most stunning attractions. For example, these include Fort Calgary, the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, Fish Creek Provincial Park and the exceptional Bowmont Park, with its spectacular views of the Bow River and the former Calgary '88 Olympic Site. Forming one of the most extensive networks of urban recreational pathways in the country, the Trails of the City of Calgary serve as one of the best pathways on the Trans Canada Trail!


Insider Tip: For more amazing urban trails in the prairies check out our recommendations for the Best Hiking Trails in Saskatchewan!

Trails of Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park

The Trails of Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park are the next "can't miss" great trails in Alberta on our list.  Located a half hour drive west of Calgary and a 10 minute drive from Cochrane, Glenbow Ranch is one of the province's newest provincial parks. Interestingly, this day-use park still functions as a working ranch, and features a Visitor Center and over 28 km of hiking trails, 13 km of which are part of the Trans Canada Trail. In addition, throughout the park and along the paths are interpretive panels with information on local history and biodiversity, as well as picnic areas, benches for resting, and scenic outlooks offering stunning views of the Bow River valley. Infrastructure in the park is overseen by the Glenbow Ranch Park Foundation, which conserves the park's biodiversity, runs educational programs, and facilitates ways to explore Canada with Citizen Science, such as participating in Bumble Bee Watch. Best of all, the Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park Trails provide visitors with amazing opportunities for wildlife viewing and bird watching. We spent two days exploring this amazing trail system, and frequently spotted White-tailed Deer, Richardson's Ground Squirrels, and countless migrating birds.

Insider Tip: Glenbow Ranch Trails are an amazing place for an afternoon cycling or hiking trip along paved pathways.

West Bragg Creek, Kananaskis Country, and Quaite Creek Trails

The West Bragg Creek, Kananaskis Country, and Quaite Creek Trails are the next candidates on our list of the best of the Trans Canada Trail in Alberta. Together, these trails give users more than 90 km of continuous mountain pathways that span from the community of Bragg Creek to the town of Exshaw on the shores of Lac des Arcs. Why the combo? Sometimes one trail isn't enough, either to explore a region, or capture the sense of a place! Luckily, as the Trans Canada Trail enters the Rocky Mountains three separate but seamlessly woven together paths give users a truly epic backcountry adventure. As a result, the combination of the West Bragg Creek (50.1 km), Kananaskis Country (31.3 km) and Quaite Creek Trails (13.2 km) sections of the Trans Canada Trail creates one of the best multi-day wilderness hiking and cycling experiences in Alberta.

What to expect while hiking Kanaskis Country

These great trails have clear signage, are challenging but extremely well developed, regularly maintained, and showcase some of the most breathtaking scenery the Rocky Mountains have to offer. Furthermore, while traversing stunningly scenic valleys, following impressive mountain rivers, and navigating into the heart of the Rocky Mountain range, hikers, cyclists, and horseback riders have the option to visit or overnight camp in the stunning Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park, Spray Valley Provincial Park, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, and to climb the epic Cox Hill Trail!

Insider Tip: Given that these sections of the Trans Canada Trail traverse the peaks and valleys within the Rocky Mountains, it is necessary to dress appropriately and plan for unexpected and variable weather conditions!

High Rockies Trail of Alberta Canada

The High Rockies Trail might be last on our list of the Great Trails in Alberta, but images captured along this epic mountain footpath are enough to put it on everyone's bucket list of Great Canadian Hikes! This 86 km long pathway connects the resort town of Banff, Alberta with the Elk Pass on the border of British Columbia. Amazingly, in a landscape subject to frequent avalanches, landslides, forest fires, and floods, the High Rockies Trail is well designed and superbly maintained for both hikers and cyclists. Furthermore, it is part of the spectacular Canadian Great Divide Trail, which is an extenstion of the epic Continental Divide Trail (CDT).

A True Alberta Wilderness Experience

If you are looking for a true wilderness experience, the High Rockies Trail may be a perfect choice. This undulating dirt and gravel trail through the Rocky Mountains requires hikers and cyclists to come prepared, carrying their own food, filtering their own water, and camping along the way. Fortunately, dedicated campsites for hikers and cyclists are located along its length in recreation areas and backcountry campgrounds. While the mountain terrain is challenging, the breathtaking scenery is a reward in itself. For example, glaciers, crystal clear mountain lakes, waterfalls, and snow covered peaks abound. Furthermore, elk, deer, bear, and other wildlife sightings are definite highlights. This is not a trail for the faint of heart, but it is one of my all-time favourite hiking trails in Canada!

Insider Tip: The High Rockies Trail is more suited for mountain bikes and fat bikes than touring bikes.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, Alberta is the only province that can boast of having sections of the Trans Canada Trail that span the open landscapes of the prairies, urban centers, historical ranches, provincial parks, and the awesome landscape of the Rocky Mountains. The development of the great trails of Alberta allows terrific hiking and ATVing in the north, urban exploration in Calgary and Edmonton, and wilderness trekking and cycling throughout the Rocky Mountains. The result is a system of world class trails that gives easy access to the region's natural wonders, both to residents and visitors alike.

Great Trails of Alberta Canada

The best of the Trans Canada Trail in Alberta

Location (Map)

Alberta, Canada
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Comments 11

EH Canada Marketing Group on Sunday, 10 September 2023 20:35

Tons of good info. Enjoyed the areas of selfie opportunities and the history of the trails.

Tons of good info. Enjoyed the areas of selfie opportunities and the history of the trails.
Andrea Horning on Sunday, 10 September 2023 20:52

Great information! I have been to a few on the list, but I see more that I'd love to explore. Thanks for the informative article

Great information! I have been to a few on the list, but I see more that I'd love to explore. Thanks for the informative article
Cary Horning on Monday, 11 September 2023 03:02

Lots of great info! Thanks Sonya!

Lots of great info! Thanks Sonya!
Diana Mohrsen on Monday, 11 September 2023 22:58

I've been intrigued by the Trans Canada Trail for years. Love your descriptions and photos. But my favorite is the 2 seconds a day across Alberta.

I've been intrigued by the Trans Canada Trail for years. Love your descriptions and photos. But my favorite is the 2 seconds a day across Alberta.
Sonya Richmond on Friday, 15 September 2023 16:45

I'm glad you enjoyed the video - I was pretty happy with the way it shows how Alberta changes from rolling countryside to gorgeous Rocky Mountains. One of my favourite provinces for sure!

I'm glad you enjoyed the video - I was pretty happy with the way it shows how Alberta changes from rolling countryside to gorgeous Rocky Mountains. One of my favourite provinces for sure!
Sonya Richmond on Tuesday, 12 September 2023 02:46

EH Canada Marketing Group Thanks! Alberta has a really amazing trail culture - when they make a trail, they go all out and really do it right! It was an absolute pleasure walking across this beautiful province.

EH Canada Marketing Group Thanks! Alberta has a really amazing trail culture - when they make a trail, they go all out and really do it right! It was an absolute pleasure walking across this beautiful province.
Sonya Richmond on Tuesday, 12 September 2023 02:47

Cary Horning Thanks! You know better than most, Alberta is such an amazing place to explore, offering the perfect adventure for everyone.

Cary Horning Thanks! You know better than most, Alberta is such an amazing place to explore, offering the perfect adventure for everyone.
Janet Guthrie on Tuesday, 12 September 2023 04:39

Great post Sonya. I really enjoyed reading about your experience on the Trans Canada Trail through Alberta. The photos were fantastic as well and I learned about new places to explore too.

Great post Sonya. I really enjoyed reading about your experience on the Trans Canada Trail through Alberta. The photos were fantastic as well and I learned about new places to explore too.
Sonya Richmond on Friday, 15 September 2023 16:46

I'm glad if it gave you some new ideas - I think you could spend a lifetime exploring Alberta and still find more to see and do.

I'm glad if it gave you some new ideas - I think you could spend a lifetime exploring Alberta and still find more to see and do.
Cora Lee Rennie on Tuesday, 12 September 2023 22:29

Fantastic article Sonya! Great photos and video. I miss the Edmonton River Valley a lot sometimes. I used to love walking and running the trails during my time nursing in Alberta.

Fantastic article Sonya! Great photos and video. I miss the Edmonton River Valley a lot sometimes. I used to love walking and running the trails during my time nursing in Alberta.
Sonya Richmond on Friday, 15 September 2023 16:48

The urban pathway system in Edmonton was one of the best I've seen anywhere - you literally couldn't tell you were in a city sometimes. It must be the perfect way to escape into nature for everyone who is lucky enough to live there.

The urban pathway system in Edmonton was one of the best I've seen anywhere - you literally couldn't tell you were in a city sometimes. It must be the perfect way to escape into nature for everyone who is lucky enough to live there.
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Monday, 25 September 2023

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