Exploring our ribbon of green
The nation’s largest expanse of urban parkland lies right here in Edmonton. The River Valley parks form an unbroken “ribbon of green,” stretching 48 km and covering 18,000 acres. The River Valley provides Edmontonians with an array
of activities and events, especially during the summer months. Here’s what the River Valley has to offer you.
Take in a Festival
Edmonton is a city with many titles: “Festival City” and “River City” to name a couple. It only seems natural to combine these two features when we can, giving Edmontonians the best of both worlds. Many of the River Valley festivals allow patrons to escape the city noise, enjoy the beauty of nature, and enjoy hours of music and culture.
The Valley hosts a variety of music festivals to match just about any taste: The Edmonton Folk Music Festival comes to Gallagher Park every August; and the Edmonton Rock Music Festival, Interstellar Rodeo and Symphony Under the Sky can all be found in Hawrelak Park.
During the summer, Harwelak Park also welcomes thespians and lovers of theatre as it hosts the Freewill Shakespeare Festival. You can enjoy (or critique) modern takes on the bard’s most famous plays. It’s also home to the popular Heritage Festival—a celebration of diversity and the cross-cultural bonds we share.
Hit the Trails and Rails
An extensive network of trails criss-cross the River Valley, providing over 160 km of exploration for walkers, joggers and cyclists alike. They range from busy, paved routes to narrow, hard-packed trails that see little traffic. They form a nearly unbroken link across the city as you can travel from Hermitage Park in the northeast to the Fort Edmonton Footbridge in the southwest without ever leaving the River Valley.
For those seeking something less intense, there are other transportation options. From May to October, the High Level Bridge Streetcar uses the former CPR tracks and a fleet of restored electric streetcars that ferry travellers from Jasper Plaza to Old Strathcona for $6 round-trip. Meanwhile, Edmonton’s new funicular whisks people (for free) from 100th Street down Grierson Hill and into Louise McKinney Riverfront Park—a great option for anyone daunted by the
multitude of stairs leading from downtown to the river.
High Level Bridge Streetcar: http://www.edmonton-radial-railway.ab.ca/highlevelbridge/
Take a Tour
Exploration can be its own reward, but for the uninitiated it’s sometimes difficult to know where to start. Luckily, the River Valley boasts a number of tours as a starting point. For those looking to experience the River Valley’s natural beauty, try River Valley Adventure Co. They offer hour-long Segway tours that allow everyone from beginner to advanced, including those with limited mobility, to travel the trails. Revolution Cycle offers “pedelec” (electric bicycle) tours during the warmer months. These bikes use motors to assist with pedalling, which is handy for the uphill slogs. The two- and five-hour tours hit multiple points of interest in and around the River Valley.
If history is more your niche, there’s a tour for that, too. Every day at the Legislature Building, you can join a guided tour to learn about Albertan history and politics. For those wanting to explore Edmonton’s settler history, make sure you take a tour of Fort Edmonton Park this summer, which is currently undergoing renovations, so many aspects
of this tour will be unavailable.
River Valley Adventure Co.: https://www.rivervalleyadventure.com/
Revolution Cycle: https://revolutioncycle.com/
Besides fresh air and great vistas, the River Valley is an obvious choice for viewing nature. The John Janzen Nature Centre is located by Fort Edmonton Park. It offers nature-themed programs and day camps for children. There are also two easy nature walks nearby that feature many native trees and shrubs. The Birch Tree Trail takes about 20 minutes, while the 3 km-long River Loop Trail encircles
For more of a wilderness feel, try the numerous ravines connected to the River Valley. Whitemud Creek Ravine is reported to have the highest diversity of plants and animals in the city, as there’s an old growth forest and over 150 species of birds. Mill Creek Ravine is easily accessible from Whyte Avenue; it’s a great place to birdwatch where you may just catch a glimpse of a boreal owl.
Enjoy the Water
The North Saskatchewan River has always been an important feature of our city. For early settlers, it was the only mode of transportation for trade, making it Edmonton’s lifeline to the outside world. Now, you can rent a canoe or kayak and explore the Valley by water. And if you’re feeling ambitious, you can drive a watercraft of choice to the town of Devon and spend the day gently floating back home; just make sure you have a way to get back to your car afterwards.
The river is also a great place for recreational fishing. With a valid licence, you can catch over eight species of fish in the river, though health advisories recommend against eating them. Want to catch your dinner? Head to Hermitage Park where you can cast your line into one of many stocked ponds.
Head Down to the Beach
We’d be remiss not to mention that Edmonton now boasts its own beach—at least for the moment. The aptly, and popularly, named Accidental Beach took everyone by surprise in 2017, when it appeared near Cloverdale. Previously a sandbar, it emerged due to berms put in place for construction of the Tawatina LRT Bridge. Edmontonians
quickly fell in love with it and hope it’ll become a permanent fixture.
Admittedly though, its future is up in the air. Rising water levels, the removal of the berms in 2019/2020, and municipal regulations threaten its existence. In the meantime, if you choose to visit Accidental Beach this summer, consider taking public transit to cut down on the area’s traffic congestion. And always take out what you take in—including garbage.
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