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Beauty in our Backyard: South Edmonton River Valley

When I take a moment to stop and reflect on the ways experiencing a global pandemic has changed me, I keep returning to the concept of value, and how my values and others’ have changed. The shuttering of clubs, casinos, restaurants, movie theatres, and all other forms of public entertainment left us with no choice but to stay inside our homes or venture into the outdoors for activity. I think that, with limited options, a lot of us were forced to gain a greater appreciation for fresh air and sunshine, and hopefully that’s something that sticks with us for the next summer too. This year, when I wasn’t able to get out of town to hike or camp as I wanted, I had the chance to see more of the city and the South Edmonton river valley served as an extensive network of trails and parks to explore. The value of its offerings increased for me, so I thought I would share that by highlighting my favourite locations, each having something different to offer. 


Fort Edmonton Park

This is an educational park in the southwest of Edmonton featuring buildings and activities representing life from the 1840s-1920s. There are demonstrations of beading and fur-grading, pony and wagon rides, and a replica of Edmonton’s 1929 capitol theatre. While the park itself has many activities, it also has trails that connect across the river if you take the Fort Edmonton Footbridge, and the river loop trail is a beautiful, easy walk. The park hosts various events as well, one of which I have attended: Dark. Dark is a 14+ Halloween event the park hosts that features multiple haunts, food and drink, and bonus haunts and activities available for additional purchase. It’s geared more towards the adults and while I don’t know how they’ll be adjusting, they’re planning on returning this season so if you want to get spooked, so keep your eyes open. 


Keillor Point

This is a lookout point high above the river. The height is the one difference between it and the other two parks, which are low in the valley. You get a wide sweeping view and can see all the way from the Whitemud bridge to the bend towards Hawrelak park. If you go further down the road you’ll also find the Belgravia Off Leash Site Viewpoint which overlooks the Whitemud Equestrian Park. My favourite thing about this place is its vast network of crisscrossing trails fit for any speed, whether you are walking or mountain biking, as the trails start high and then descend towards the river. It’s easy to find a new path to take every time you go and creates the opportunity to walk from Fort Edmonton, all the way up to Hawrelak. If you wish, from there you can even take Groat Road across the river and continue to Victoria Park or even further downtown to grab a bite to eat. 


Hawrelak Park

I harbor favouritism towards Hawrelak because it’s the first place I started exploring when I moved to Edmonton. Like Keillor Point, paths here are multi-use, however, horse-back riders and cross-country skiers can add themselves to the mix as well. The trails are very gentle and stretch in multiple directions- I haven’t made it to the end of one yet because I tend to change directions before I get the chance. There’s also an easily accessible footbridge here which crosses the river to an off-leash dog park, probably my favourite place to go when I need some cheering up and yet another area with too many trails to choose from- just watch your step. While there’s plenty to see along the river, there’s also a lake with paddleboats available for rent in the summer and ice skating in the winter. Picnic sites and fire-pits are available as well, so you can pack a picnic and spend the afternoon. Like Fort Edmonton, Hawrelak also hosts various events too, such as the Heritage Festival, a multicultural celebration featuring art, performances, and food from various cultures across the globe.  In the winter they cool things down with the Ice Castles, a sparkling blue spectacle that draws a crowd and creates a little magic in the valley. 


No matter the season, our river valley has something to offer everyone, whether you want something to do with the kids, a place to exercise, a date night, or some time to yourself. It’s one place where I feel like I can escape the city a little bit without having to drive 40 minutes to actually start getting out of town, and I’m grateful for it. If you haven’t taken the time to check it out yourself, hopefully you can find the time and take yourself out and catch a break from some of the city noise.


I'm an undergrad student who's all about balance: my favourite pants are of the pyjama variety and I love to cozy up inside with Netflix and coffee, but I also love to get outside and walk in our riverside parks or try a new activity in town. You'll find me on campus in the sunniest study spots, soaking up some rays as I work towards my Journalism degree.
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