Calgary by bike is the way to go. Our cycling infrastructure highlights the most beautiful and charming aspects of our prairie city. This mode of travel is always how we recommend visitors to best take in what the city has to offer. Urban bike rides are also one of my favourite ways to spend the day as a family.
Biking Calgary is one of my favourite outdoor activities in the city.
- Off the beaten track
- Urban landscapes
- Themed routes
The terrain of the routes outlined here is generally very accessible for all ages and abilities, with the added bonus of being relatively flat. Most of the routes described are free from cars, too, making them even more suitable for family fun in Calgary.
What to see and do
There are so many wonderful locations to choose from, enticing destinations to seek out nature or ice cream and other delicious treats. It is simple to go for just a little ride or make it an all-day urban adventure.
Many of our more idyllic main streets, like Kensington or Inglewood, are accessible by bike. And our prime museum attractions like the TELUS Spark science centre and the Calgary Zoo are located directly on the pathway network, i.e. completely car free access!
Google Maps is a fairly reliable route planning tool in central Calgary. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good most of the time.
There is also a City of Calgary Pathways App (Android) and a hard copy map available at City fitness & aquatic or leisure centres (or as a PDF here). There is an online map, too, which is good for checking for up-to-date pathway status (eg. closures for improvements or maintenance).
Mike’s Bloggity is the author of Calgary by Bike which is a useful map focusing on the centre city of Calgary, highlighting food and attractions. Refer to his website for where to find a hard copy of the most current map.
Reworks also sells a $5 self-guided brewery map tour (and is a great place for Calgary bike rentals, too).
The City of Calgary has PDF maps available for their parks and if the recommended route goes through or is in the park I have included a the link to the PDF.
Here are a dozen ideas for bike rides in Calgary, with or without kids:
Off the beaten track
Can’t make it to the mountains but you are seeking out vast stretches of green space within the city limits? Head off for a bike ride in one of these wild spaces in Calgary:
Fish Creek Provincial Park
There is a provincial park located within the City of Calgary’s limits! Down in the southern part of the city, you will find a beautiful valley. A paved pathway runs throughout its length, east to west, as well as a myriad of other shale trails and a fair amount of single track (or the red lines on this map).
Because the main trail network runs through the valley bottom, the terrain is generally quite flat to gently undulating with just the odd short, steep climb that some may need to walk. Here is the official map.
The western half of the park is more sheltered with significant deciduous tree cover, whereas the eastern expanse is comprised of open grasslands and poplar trees along the creek. Ride the whole park for a longer ride or pick a side depending on the weather. Go west if there is inclement weather or windy so that you are a bit more sheltered by the conifers.
Fish Creek has beautiful fall colours, check it out! Rumour has it the ice cream at Annie’s Café at the Ranch is delicious (albeit seasonal).
Nose Hill Park
This vast green space is one of the last remaining examples of the high plains ecology that used to cover the region. Nose Hill is the large grassy bump visible from many parts of town and very obvious when flying in.
My favourite times to visit Nose Hill are in early spring when it is freshly greening up, in late July/early August for wildflowers, and in September when fall colours explode in yellows, oranges, and reds. If you are looking for single track, the best times for mountain biking are on dry days in summer or fall.
Getting in to Nose Hill is challenging because the park is bounded on all sides by large (and fast) roads that you do not want to ride a bike on (IMHO). There are a few community access points, like tunnels under said roads or level crossings, but otherwise you will need to drive to this park unless you live nearby. For your easiest accessible grade up the hill, choose a parking lot that is connected to a paved pathway (the red lines on this map).
Beware there are many, many trail options in Nose Hill ranging from paved pathways, shale/gravel trails, and braided single track! Consider sticking to the paved pathways on your first visit or download the TrailForks app to help with navigating if you veer off the main routes. This app is also helpful if you are looking for mountain bike trails.
A paved pathway runs around the perimeter of this man-made lake on the Elbow River. The views are stunning when you are up on the ridge and then it feels very secluded when you dip down into the wild Weaslehead Flats wetlands portion along the western edge where you cannot see or hear the sounds of the city.
This approximately 14 km loop is relatively flat aside from two short but steep hills entering and exiting the Weaslehead. The section through North Glenmore park is slightly downhill going east (down river) and I recommend riding this route clockwise. The route itself is entirely off-road and on pathways except for two short, quiet residential blocks between the Rockyview General Hospital and Heritage Park Historical Village.
Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park is technically just outside of the City of Calgary’s boundaries, located between Calgary and Cochrane on the northwestern shores of the Bow River. Here is the official pathway map for the area, I highly recommend visiting in summertime, late July/early August, when the wildflowers are at their peak.
The park’s pathway network connects to the City’s limits, but the connection between the ranch and the City’s current pathway network system has not yet been built. This has been in the works for some time now and the latest rumour I heard was that it should be complete within 1-2 years, i.e. 2019/20. I’m not sure how the connection will be made (either maintaining grade along the river skirting the industrial area there or via linking together existing pathways through the communities of Tuscany, Lynx Ridge, and Bearspaw).
Unfortunately this Great Trail (aka Transcanada Trail) connection couldn’t be made in time for Canada’s sesquicentennial celebrations. Fingers crossed it will happen some day (soon) because it would be amazing to be able to ride your bike from Calgary all the way to Cochrane, traffic free. Consider writing your local government officials encouraging the completion of this project. If you need ideas on how to write such a letter, look here. When this connection is complete, you will be able to ride your bike from Calgary to Cochrane on traffic-free routes!
Planning and politics aside, make your way out to Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park and enjoy this splendid bit of history and peace along the Bow River!
Inglewood’s Bow River
Riding this section of the Bow River is fun! There is a great playground at Nellie Breene Park (resurfaced 2018), loads of green space to cruise through, Harvie Passage weir to watch water play, the Bow Habitat Station (including the Sam Livingston Fish Hatchery) and surrounding wetlands in Pearce Estates Park, and you can keep riding to the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary on the south side of 17th Ave./Blackfoot Trail SE at which point you will have to lock up your bike and go for a walk, if you wish.
If you ride to the sanctuary and back, it is about a 9 km ride (round trip). If you make Harvie Passage or Bow Habitat/Fish Hatchery your turnaround, it is a shorter 6-7 km.
This is a city park away from downtown in the more tucked away community of Bowness. The park itself is simply landscaped but the surroundings feel a bit wild, with the Bow River right there and lots of mature trees, including a deciduous stand at the westernmost edge.
A great location to bring the kids to ride while you walk or run, this small island in the bow is bounded by Stoney Trail and 85th Street bridges, is pretty much pancake flat and often quiet, especially mid-week. Here is the official map.
Accessible by car or public transit bus, and connected to the off-street pathway system via the north side of the Bow River if you would like to ride there.
Another loop option (instead of just around the island) would be to instead go west through the park and then north under Stoney Trail, east through Baker Park (stop for a round of disc golf), and then back to Bowness via the 85th St. bridge. The expanse of the Bow River is impressive so it is worth crossing over to the other side!
Central Calgary offers up a plethora of great urban landscapes and many of the highlights are easily accessible by bike thanks to our pathway and bikeway systems:
Riverwalk and the Bow River
Ride from the foot of the main street of Kensington all the way to East Village and experience one of the most beautiful urban corridors in all of Canada by bike.
The section of the City’s Bow River Pathway from the quaint shopping district of Kensington, over the iconic Peace Bridge designed by world famous architect Santiago Calatrava, to the Centre Street Bridge runs through busy — and freshly re-designed — Eau Claire Park, skirting Prince’s Island (a good detour, see below), and is a wonderful example of car-free infrastructure in the city.
Once you pass under the Centre Street Bridge, you enter the beautiful stretch of landscaped public space titled “Riverwalk”. Built and maintained by Calgary Land Management Corporation (CLMC) as part of their East Village development, this stretch of pathway continues to follow the Bow River all the way to its confluence with the smaller Elbow River at the Elbow River Traverse bridge.
Practically pancake flat with great coffee and restaurant options at the Simmons Building, this is a superb choice if you only have one day to ride in Calgary. There is also a great playground accessed just south of the Simmons Building. Another easy side trip is to head over the George C. King bridge (more or less beside/just east of the Simmons Building) — also known as the “Skipping Stone Bridge”, look carefully at its design and you’ll see why! — and veer off down the ramp on to St. Patrick’s Island for more wonderful landscape architecture, nature (look for owls!), and a playground.
You can return the way you came and detour through Prince’s Island (below), if you like; alternatively, you can loop back along the north shore of the Bow River (but note that it is a noisier as it runs parallel to Memorial Drive which can be quite busy with car traffic at times).
If you are not living or staying near the downtown area, consider taking the c-Train to Kensington and riding out-and-back from there to make it an almost completely car-free adventure.
Peter Anthony Prince was a lumberman who founded the Eau Claire Lumber Company in Calgary. They needed a place to float the logs off the Bow River (from Kananaskis country) and get them closer to their mill, so they dug a channel and the island was created in the late 19th century.
Prince’s Island is beautiful year round. This urban park is perhaps most ideal for biking summer and fall. Watch out for nesting cobra-chickens (aka Canada geese) in springtime, they can be a bit protective of their pathways at times! The beds of annuals in the summertime are lovely and the yellowing poplars in the fall are equally stunning.
Prince’s Island is a great biking destination for a longer ride, a small detour on one leg of the RiverWalk and Bow River ride (above), and a great destination for a picnic, playground play, or watching Theatre Calgary’s Shakespeare on the Bow. You can also enjoy fine dining in the park at the River Café.
Cycle track explorations
Come check out Calgary’s world famous cycle track network! Famous because instead of building it up bit by bit, the City installed an almost complete network in one fell swoop, trialled it*, and voted to keep it.
Grab a copy of the Calgary by Bike map, refer to the City of Calgary’s Centre City Cycle Track Network Guide, or use GoogleMaps on your phone to help you navigate downtown and the cycle track infrastructure therein.
Seek out great cafés, restaurants, or food trucks! Support businesses adjacent to this fantastic infrastructure.
Oggle at public art: murals and sculptures can be found all over. Many new murals have been added in the last couple of years and hunting for them makes for a fun treasure hunt! Here is a map of the City’s public art downtown, a favourite is the Famous 5 sculpture at Olympic Plaza on bike friendly Stephen Ave. Plus there are many private pieces, such as the “Wonderland” — the giant head sculpture by Jaume Plensa found in the plaza at the Bow Building (take note that not all pieces accessible by are protected infrastructure).
*Please note that our cycle track network is not yet complete and some protected lanes abruptly end and dump you onto busy streets with sharrows (eg. 5th St. SW south of 17th Ave.) or just a painted lane (no physical barrier, just paint), so if you are uncomfortable riding in traffic then plan your route accordingly. Refer to the City’s Centre City Cycle Track Network guide and seek out the thick lavender and thick orange lines for highest comfort riding, i.e. the most protected infrastructure.
For the kids (or the kid in you), these routes highlight the tastebuds, sensory experience, or easy terrain:
Licky-lick ice cream tour
There are some delicious ice creameries in Calgary. This route does involve significant unprotected on-street riding on designated bike routes (but that doesn’t mean much, safety-wise). So, do the whole tour or pick the parts that you think will work for you and your group.
The meandering nature of the gentle Elbow River has resulted in several great rocky beaches. Fun for splashing rocks, swimming at (when the water quality is acceptable, unfortunately), or having a picnic.
Start at either end of this out-and-back trip and enjoy mostly traffic-free ride along the Elbow River. If you do the entire route it is about 10 km, return.
There are lots of playgrounds, new and old, in this part of town. I’ve marked the ones with the least detour possible for the kids.
This ride can also be linked up to the RiverWalk ride or Inglewood’s Bow River simply by continuing on the Elbow River Pathway, past Lindsay Park, past the Stampede Grounds, then you will more or less land at the confluence of the Elbow and Bow Rivers, at which point you can go east into Inglewood or west towards downtown, through RiverWalk.
Train spotting to Edworthy
The ride from Edworthy Park to the western side of downtown Calgary along the south shore of the Bow River is quite secluded. It’s just you and the train tracks! If you are a train lover, you might be so lucky as to ride alongside one of these loud machines or stop and watch.
Edworthy is a great destination for a picnic with many BBQ pits to be had. Access to the park is along the south or north shore of the Bow (there is a car-free bridge that connects the two sides near the main green space).
It’s just over 3 km (one way) from the parking lot at Edworthy Park to the bottom of Quarry Trail Road and quite flat. Your easiest bet would be to do an out-and-back along this stretch.
Alternatively, consider exploring the beautiful forested gravel road called Quarry Trail, that connects down to the Bow River Pathway along the south shore. When you get to the bottom of a gravel road at just over the 3 km mark, start climbing! You will ascend through a beautiful forest with poplars at the lower elevations and trembling aspens further up, including wildflowers in summertime! When you get to the top of the trail, you could return the way you came or pop out to Spruce Drive SW all the way back to Edworthy, taking the beautiful twisty road back down to the parking lot. The whole loop is 7-8 km. Note that the cycling infrastructure along Spruce Dr is not separated from traffic, but rather a painted bike lane.
Then, have a picnic in Edworthy at one of its many sites or head over the bridge and grab an ice cream or cappuccino!
Urban Mural Treasure Hunt
Refer to the information in “Cycle Track Explorations” (above) and go on a fun treasure hunt, discovering two years’ worth of gigantic urban murals scattered all over the Beltline Community downtown.
This route will require good navigation skills and comfort riding on cycle tracks, as well as on-street routes (some busier than others).
Here is your treasure map!
Do you have a favourite ride in Calgary? Tried out one of these? If so, I would love to hear of your adventures.