Cycling Alberta’s Trans Canada Trail and Iron Horse Trail

Alberta showcases its urban paths and rail trails

The province of Alberta is the largest per capita donator to Canada’s nation-wide, multi-use Trans Canada Trail, and perhaps as a result it boasts not one but four Alberta TCT routes. I was invited to explore two sections of the trail by very different means: by bicycle on Edmonton’s River Valley Parks, and by all-terrain vehicle (ATV) on northeastern Alberta’s Iron Horse rail trail.

Edmonton’s River Valley Parks

With 460 parks, the city of Edmonton boasts the largest expanse of urban parkland in North America. Twenty-two parks comprise the “ribbon of green” that lines the North Saskatchewan river, and the Trans Canada Trail joins over 150 kilometres of total urban bike trails.

Accordingly, Edmonton’s bike community is active and ardent. Visit Alberta’s capital city for their annual Bikeology festival every June; drop by the Edmonton Bicycle Commuter Society‘s non-profit Bike Works shop; or join a “Show N Go” ride with the friendly members of the Edmonton Bicycling and Touring Club.

View photos of Edmonton City Cycling: River Valley Trail, North Saskatchewan bridges, Bike Works, Earth’s General Store, and Bikeology’s “mocktails on the bridge” event (20 images).

Alberta’s Iron Horse Trail

It’s taken 10 municipalities more than 3 decades to transform almost 300 kilometers of abandoned rail bed into a visitor-friendly section of the Trans Canada Trail, but they did it.

Thanks to the grassroots efforts of individuals (Riverland Recreational Trail Society) and communities (Muni-Corr), Alberta’s Iron Horse Trail (AIHT) now passes through boreal forest, farmland, and wild animal habitat to connect 15 historic towns in the province’s northeastern “Lakeland” region.

Still in progress and partly a wilderness trail, the Iron Horse caters primarily towards equestrians, snowmobilers and ATV’rs at the moment. That may go against the Trans Canada Trail’s non-motorized use philosophy, but bear in mind that it’s these community users who have maintained the trails over the years and worked so passionately to preserve it. In conversation with the townspeople along the route (in Heinsburg, Elk Point, St. Paul, Bonnyville, Fort Kent and Cold Lake) I was convinced that they are very excited about welcoming hikers and bikers as the trail moves towards completion.

All the trail’s staging areas provide water and toilets for example; and food and accommodations are not far away. I was particularly impressed by the tiny town of Elk Point which has blue prints for an off-the-grid “green” visitor and community centre.

View photos
View photos

At this point organizers suggest that though it is considered an unsupervised backcountry, the trail nevertheless demonstrates a community-supported legacy experience along Alberta’s oldest and longest continuous trail.

View photos of Alberta’s Iron Horse Trail: Heinsburg, Elk Point, St. Paul, Bonnyville, Glendon, Fort Kent, Cold Lake.