Each week my sister and I walk Edmonton’s river valley trails at a different off-leash park – there are 14 of them right along the river. It’s our time to reconnect with each other, bond with our silly pups and appreciate nature right here in the middle of our city. We see spring buds turn to glossy green leaves, then gold and red in the fall. We watch the river freeze, melt and rise, turning blue with glacial run-off all the way from the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
Walk, Bike and Picnic in a Ribbon of Green
Twenty-two major parks make up Edmonton’s ribbon of green stretching along the North Saskatchewan River – the largest expanse of urban parkland in North America. Throughout the 150 km (93 mi) of multi-use trails, I encounter happy cyclists, rollerbladers, runners and ramblers, like me, out for an afternoon of sunshine and fresh air.
I have my favourite spots in the river valley parks: Louise McKinney’s Chinese Garden, the pebble beach at Terwillegar and the steep dips and rises of the Mill Creek ravine. I often wander the shady aspen woods in Dawson and Laurier, just steps from the steep edge of the riverbank. Picnicking with friends on the big lawns at Hawrelak and Rundle and taking a paddleboat out for a spin are my other much loved pastimes. In winter, these same ponds become smooth rinks for ice-skating and friendly hockey games.
Festivals in the Valley
Then there are Edmonton’s festivals, where we gather in the river valley to listen to music and celebrate the city’s vibrant community spirit. Each August, I make my way to Gallagher Park, just above the valley, for the Edmonton International Folk Music Festival. From the top of the tall hill, I gaze at the lush green riverbank, downtown’s silhouette and glowing pink sunsets as the music plays on below.
This year, I plan to take in the Interstellar Rodeo, another very hip summer music festival at Hawrelak Park, which is also home to two of the city’s longest-running events, the multicultural Heritage Festival and winter Silver Skate Festival. You’ll find me be back on the riverbank at Louise McKinney Park in August. I’ll be listening for the loud beat of approaching drums and scanning the water for colourful boats as my brother-in-law’s team aims for the finish line at the Edmonton Dragon Boat Festival.