By Madeleine Cummings
Edmonton would never claim to be Canada’s most scenic city. It lacks mountains and the ocean, certainly. Its skyline is modest. In its 2017 review of Canadian cities, Lonely Planet called it “spread out and frigidly cold for much of the year” and “a stopover en route to Jasper National Park.” Everybody loves to hate Edmonton, especially those who have never set foot there and favour the name “Deadmonton.”
Edmonton’s defining feature is an enormous river valley that bisects the city. Its banks are steep, rugged and largely undeveloped. The valley, which forms the longest stretch of parkland in any Canadian city, includes 22 major parks and more than 150 kilometres of trails. Naturally, the place is a runner’s paradise. Paved paths have their purpose, but the river valley boasts seemingly endless dirt and single-track trails. Bridges provide loop opportunities, not to mention competitive (but not too competitive) Strava segments.
The city clears snow off the valley’s bike paths in the winter, ensuring these routes can be used by runners and cyclists. These are also the best routes in the spring, as the last of the slush and ice melts from the trails. Edmonton sees long and sunny days in the summer, rewards for putting up with snow and cold for so long. But fall, all two weeks of it, is the most beautiful season of all. Green and golden leaves frame the shining river, then fall and form a yellow carpet on the paths.
On a clear day, trails on the south-central bank of the North Saskatchewan River offer stunning views of the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald and downtown’s multiplying skyscrapers. Not far from there, near Cloverdale, the construction of a new LRT line recently led to the emergence of a sandy one-kilometre shore, dubbed “Accidental Beach” by locals. Flat paths on River Valley Road and at William Hawrelak Park are good spots for pace work or a fast mile. Edmonton’s newly built funicular was designed to make the river valley more accessible to all. But for runners, the easiest way in and out of the valley is to take any number of wooden staircases, paved paths or goat trails.
Madeleine Cummings is a journalist and columnist. She was born in Toronto, but now proudly calls Edmonton home. This story originally appeared in the January-February 2018 print issue.