Jun. 06, 2012 - Issue #868: Hot Summer Guide
One step at a time
Urban hiking offers a multitude of possibilities
Let's be clear, though: urban hiking is not window-shopping. Hiking, whether in the wild or in cities, is about discovering our environment, appreciating nature (even if it's within manmade spaces) and getting some exercise.
"Risk. And I will say that as an absolute truth," says Peter McClure, founder of Edmonton Hikers Group, of the difference between mountain hikes and urban hikes. "On the urban hike you have a fairly good idea of what you're getting into, and that the paths are generally going to be safe, although there are hazards."
Edmonton trails are not hazard free, but most threats are moderate. If you're scared of dogs, be aware that some trails intersect with dog parks, and some owners allow their dogs to roam trails off leash, so you may be surprised by the odd canine.
"People are a hazard," adds McClure, who has come across shady characters on walks in the river valley, but has never encountered trouble. "A number of people live in the river valley. That's one of the good things about hiking in a group."
Rhonda Scheurer, a volunteer guide for the Edmonton Outdoor Club, has seen wildlife on city trails, such as porcupines, beavers and the occasional moose. She also suggests caution around eroding trails near riverbanks and ice floes during the spring as the river begins to break.
"Especially between Emily Murphy Park and the High Level Bridge, on the south side of the river, there can be some really awesome ice floes," Scheurer explains. "If you have ice cleats they're a lot of fun, if you don't they are very treacherous and can fling you right off the trail and into the river if you're not careful."
Edmonton is an urban hiker's paradise, boasting 160 kilometres of trail throughout the river valley, so there is no shortage of trek routes. Scheurer's favourites are the trails extending from Dawson Park found on the north side of the river, between 84 Street and 92 Street.
"It's very wild, the trail is narrow, it's very beautiful," she says. "It feels like you're not in the city when you're walking there," she says.
For those seeking a day trip, McClure suggests taking the 30-minute drive to explore Elk Island National Park. "Its got very interesting terrain specific to our area, it's called knob and kettle, and it's post glacial," she explains. "It's also home to beavers, so from an ecological standpoint it's quite beautiful. It's not heavily travelled, so you won't be bumping into people constantly."
Even if you prefer mountain hikes, the urban trail systems are perfect training grounds for more advanced excursions. And for those of us who are bound by bleak office walls during the week and who are vitamin D deficient, a weekend hike near home may be the cure.
"If you're on the paths, you'll be perfectly safe," says McClure. "And don't forget to bring a snack."
• Bottle of water is not only recommended but required if you are hiking with an organized group such as the Edmonton Hikers Group or the EOC.
• Old, broken-in sneakers or trail boots
• Day pack, with snacks
• Rain poncho
(dollarama brands will do)
• Cell phone
• A warm layer
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