We walk all year. When the temperature gets below -20 C (especially if there’s wind chill to make it feel even colder), we add more layers, opt for shorter walks and – in extreme cases – resort to hand warmers and balaclavas! And if there’s any snow or ice on sidewalks and pathways, we carry traction aids like MICROspikes or NANOspikes because better safe than sorry. 🙂
Both of us walk for exercise and as a form of active transportation. Some days I supercharge an exercise walk by adding urban poles.
I also walk for the benefits of nature therapy. Between November and March, walking is when I pay attention to the onset, deep hold and gradual release of winter – especially evident in the degree of ice cover along the Bow River as it flows through Canmore. The slow lengthening and eventual shrinking of shadows is something else I notice. I enjoy trying to read tracks in the snow, trying to figure out what kind of being was first to set paw, hoof or foot on fresh snow, and which tracks came next. Sometimes I even make up short stories based on tracks I see.
Over the winter of 2017/18, we walked the trails and pathways of Canmore as regularly as ever. And I always had some sort of camera along. Since 2010, when we started learning our way around the pathways southwest of the TransCanada highway in Canmore, I’ve taken thousands of photographs between Quarry Lake and Stewart Creek golf course. My favourites from the winter of 2017/18 include a few majestic landscapes, but also some of the details that are easily overshadowed by the mountain peaks.
The trails and pathways we most frequently walk in Canmore include: Bow River Loop Trail, Quarry Lake, Powerline Trail, Canmore Creek Trail, Three Sisters Pathway, Riverside Trail and the east end of Highline Trail – all shown on this map from the Town of Canmore’s website.
There is also a map for trails in Benchlands/Silvertip, the other side of Canmore across the TransCanada highway.
Three Sisters Multi-Use Pathway
Heading out along the Three Sisters Pathway from downtown, there are several logical turnaround points depending on fitness level, weather conditions and how much time you have. At minimum, we’d recommend walking to the sharp bend in the Bow River, near the access to Van Horne and Morris. There’s a wide open view of Grotto Mountain just before the turn in the river. Be sure to look across the river, as we sometimes spot elk in this area. Just around the corner is a great spot to look northwest upstream, where Mt Rundle is visible on the left and Cascade Mountain appears right in line with the river channel. Depending on snow conditions, we sometimes make our way down to the shoreline or climb up the small cut to the meadow for a slightly different perspective.
Continuing past the big bend opens options for dropping down to valley bottom (near the pumping stations), checking out the sulphur-smelling pond where we often spot ducks paddling, or making the short detour to check out the closed mine shaft and old lamphouse. Plus, the grassy meadow on the west side of the path provides a wide open view of Ha Ling and Mount Lawrence Grassi with the added bonus of an occasional elk herd.
No matter what time of year, a large percentage of people accessing Three Sisters Pathway turnaround at the top of the short zigzag a few minutes beyond the sulphur-smelling pond. The slight elevation gain opens up the view to include the Bow River, all previously mentioned and familiar mountain peaks, plus Mount Lady MacDonald and the Fairholme Range across the valley.
If this is your turnaround point, consider veering left at the far end of the sulphur-smelling pond to follow the hard-packed trail past the closed mineshaft. Walking past the large meadow on this side may entice you to go off trail for a bit, such as I did when I spotted this depression in deep shadow with last summer’s wild grasses lit up gold in the sun.
Pushing on for 10 minutes or so past the zigzag at the far end of the meadow, you’ll reach the intersection with the north end of the Riverside Trail, which follows a side channel of the Bow River until it outlets into the main channel. Again, this is fairly sheltered as it’s mostly in the woods, but there are some pretty good views as you approach the south end of the Riverside Trail.
I also like the south end of the Riverside Trail for observing the Bow River water level and ice conditions:
At its south end, the Riverside Trail reconnects with the Three Sisters Pathway just off the often busy Three Sisters Parkway. This is another natural point for heading back to town via the Three Sisters Pathway between the Parkway and the gated Cairns residential community.
If you opt to continue on, across the highway, another good turnaround point is The Market Bistro at Dyrgas Gate. And, thanks to Roam Transit, another option is to catch a Route 5 bus from here back to town!
This post offers a more summertime/bike-oriented description of the Three Sisters Pathway.
East End of Highline/Three Sisters Creek
From the access point at the west end of Three Sisters Blvd, this relatively short walk is a good option for high windchill days, since walking through the woods provides some shelter from wind. This is the first time in eight years that we’ve seen Three Sisters Creek entirely frozen over for several weeks at a stretch. If you’re into photography, this is a great option to practice your long-exposure skills (one manmade waterfall, one natural waterfall, cascades and ice formations). Keep an ear open for fatbike riders!
You’ll find a more complete trail description in this post.
The Powerline Trail is not paved, but is used quite a bit by both walkers and cyclists (many on fat bikes in winter). We use the Powerline Trail to get reach Quarry Lake. At the east end of Powerline Trail, there’s a locked gate that everyone goes around to transit through the unfinished Three Sisters golf course on their way to the Highline Trail or to connect to the far end of the Three Sisters Pathway. I spent several minutes one morning trying to compose photos that convey how this stand-alone gate cuts the landscape.
Off the Beaten Path
A few of my favourites from the winter of 2017/18 were taken on trails through the woods, many of them old coal mining roads, or otherwise off the beaten path.
One of the benefits of hiking familiar trails is that after a while, you start looking around for fresh ways to photograph familiar territory. The Bow Valley had a lot of snow cover for a long time this winter, so I explored photographing just snow, using shadow lines to hint at what’s hidden underneath.
In addition to the physical and mental wellness benefits, the challenge of trying to find something fresh in a familiar landscape gets me out on local paths over and over again. I’m interested to know what motivates you to get out to explore familiar trails and pathways over and over again. Or maybe you prefer the enticement of the unknown and new-to-you to get out and about. What’s your preference? Please let me know by leaving a comment.