Edmonton has long been renowned for its indoor opportunities—ahem, West Edmonton Mall—but you can shop anywhere. We’d argue that Edmonton should be known for its outdoor activities. With a massive river running through its core, dozens of lakes on its periphery and hundreds of kilometers of trails, there are endless opportunities for outdoor adventure in the capital city region.
Whether you’re an Edmonton local wondering what to do or a first-time visitor researching Edmonton attractions, we’ve rounded up a list of our favorite adventures.
Adventurous things to do in Edmonton
1. Edmonton hiking trails
You don’t have to look further than the river to find hikes near Edmonton. Allegedly the longest and largest stretch of urban parkland in North America (it’s 22 times bigger than New York City’s Central Park), Edmonton’s River Valley has over 150 kilometers of mixed-use trails.
Designed for hiking, biking, cycling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and even Segwaying (it’s a thing here), trails can be found on either side of the river. Not sure where to start? Some of the most popular walking trails can be found in William Hawrelak Park, Laurier Park, Emily Murphy Park and Victoria Park. Visit the Edmonton.ca interactive map for details on all of the river valley’s trails and amenities.
Whitemud Ravine Nature Reserve
Running between Fox Drive and Whitemud Drive, the Whitemud Ravine Nature Reserve boasts some of the highest biodiversity in the city. The easy 4.4-km round-trip trail crosses the Whitemud Creek three times, taking hikers through a mix of huge balsam poplars and spruce trees.
You must love dogs to walk here. With its expansive off-leash area, this is the spot to boop dogs’ noses as you breathe in the fresh air. Terwillegar Park can be found on the south bank of the North Saskatchewan River at the end of Rabbit Hill Road.
Elk Island National Park
Located just 35 minutes outside of Edmonton, Elk Island is one of Canada’s most accessible national parks. Fully fenced, it’s home to a herd of free-roaming bison, which you can see on the 15.6-km Wood Bison Trail. If that seems too long, this park has plenty of more family-friendly options, with walks ranging in length from 30 minutes to five hours.
Lois Hole Centennial Park
You’ll find Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park on the edges of St. Albert, a city on Edmonton’s northwest border. The main trail is the 1.27-km John E. Poole boardwalk; while short, it’s designed to give visitors views over the wetlands and a chance to spot some of the migratory bird species that use the area on their flight paths.
White Spruce Park
Also in St. Albert is Grey Nuns White Spruce Park, located just east of Ray Gibbon Drive. One of the last native white spruce forests within an urban municipality in North America, the park is home to trees that are over 100 years old, along with a wide variety of birds, mammals and amphibians.
Clifford E. Lee Bird Sanctuary & Bunchberry Meadows
A 35-minute drive southwest of Edmonton, the Clifford E. Lee Nature Sanctuary near Devon has a series of four short trails (none more than 2 km), which take hikers through ecosystems ranging from wetlands to pine forests and meadows. The sanctuary can be accessed from Range Road 264 or Road 512.
If you want to extend your day, drive 10 minutes east to nearby Bunchberry Meadows Conservation Area. Despite being within spitting distance from Clifford E. Lee, Bunchberry Meadows is actually an entirely different ecosystem. The meadow sits on sand dunes blown by post-glacial winds, providing habitat for unique plant species that are found nowhere else in the Edmonton region.
Chickakoo Lake Recreation Area
Just northwest of Spruce Grove is where you’ll find Chickakoo Lake. This multi-sport destination has 11 kilometers of trails spread over 480 acres of woodland and lakes, ideal for cross-country skiing, walking, mountain biking and horseback riding. For paddlers, there’s even a hand launch on site.
2. Edmonton bike trails
There’s a reason Edmonton champions its river valley trail system—in addition to hiking, it offers some of the best biking trails in Edmonton. With 150 kilometers of mixed-use trails, it might feel hard to narrow down where to go, which is why you should consult the Adventure Alberta guide to some of the park system’s best trails. And if you need a set of wheels to get around, River Valley Adventure Co. offers mountain bike rentals for $13 per hour (or $60 per day). The outfitter plans to add fat bikes to its line-up in the near future, turning this into an all-season destination for cyclists.
Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area
With around 170 kilometers of pathways, the trail system of Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Recreation Area is open to mountain bikers, hikers, snowshoers and even dog sledders. (Fat biking is also available at Blackfoot Lake Staging Area.) The park is located just south of Elk Island National Park, about 35 minutes east of Edmonton.
Mill Creek Ravine Park
A tributary of the North Saskatchewan River, Mill Creek is a favorite destination for local mountain bikers. It has a two-kilometer paved pathway and connects riders to the river valley’s network of trails.
Devon Voyageur Park
Want to know why Devon is known as “Bike Town, AB”? A visit to the small town’s Voyageur Park will answer that question for you. Soon, it will be the start of an 88-km trail system that starts in Edmonton and runs all the way to Fort Saskatchewan along the riverfront.
3. Edmonton cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and skating trails
We’ve outlined some of the best hiking and biking trails, but winter doesn’t put a stop to outdoor activities in Edmonton. Many of the above parks are transformed into cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and even skating destinations come wintertime. Refer to each park’s website for details.
Looking for other places to check out? The Strathcona Wilderness Centre offers groomed cross-country ski trails, along with rentals. During the wintertime, the Devon Nordic Ski Club turns the town’s golf course into a cross-country ski mecca.
4. Kayak Edmonton
In addition to the North Saskatchewan River, there are ample opportunities to kayak on the dozens of lakes surrounding Edmonton.
Read on to find out the Best Places To Kayak In And Around Edmonton.
5. Canoeing Edmonton
Like kayaking, canoeing in Edmonton isn’t limited to the North Saskatchewan River (although the trip from Devon to Edmonton is a must-do). Travel for 45 minutes in any direction and you’ll hit a lake.
Read about for our Favorite Spots To Canoe In And Near Edmonton.
6. Paddleboard Edmonton
Alberta’s small and shallow lakes are an ideal place to learn to stand-up paddleboarding or to brush up on your existing skills.
We’ve rounded up the Top Places To SUP In The Edmonton Area.
Where to stay in Edmonton
Fairmont Hotel McDonald
Edmonton’s own castle, the Fairmont Hotel McDonald, has sat on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River for over 100 years. Located right off Jasper Avenue, these fancy digs offer direct access to Edmonton’s River Valley and its extensive trail system.
Also located close to the River Valley, the Matrix Hotel is all about the inclusions. Think: cocktail hour, à la carte breakfast, and WiFi.
One of Edmonton’s newest hotels, the JW Marriott is right in the ICE District. On opening, the JW Marriott was the go-to spot in town, with its cocktail bar hidden behind a bookcase. Adventurers will love the 13,000 square foot gym, which is rumored to be a favored training spot for the city’s elite athletes. In addition to the standard equipment, guests are welcome to sign-up for yoga and fitness classes in the high-tech studios.
Cabin rentals near Edmonton
Elk Island Retreat
Within a short driving distance of Elk Island National Park, the privately-owned Elk Island Retreat has yurts, cabins and tipis. The latest addition is a group of geo domes that allow visitors to gaze up at the night sky from the comfort of their beds.
Countless private and provincial park campgrounds can be found both directly within Edmonton and on the shores of lakes in the region.
We’ve compiled a list of the Best Camping In Edmonton to help you find the perfect place to pitch your tent or park up for the night.
Here’s the good news: Edmonton is one of the sunniest places in Canada, with up to 17 hours of sunshine in the summer. In the winter, these clear skies allow the opportunity to see northern lights from just outside the city limits on occasion.
Now here’s the bad news: As one of Canada’s more northerly capital cities, Edmonton is notorious for its long, cold and frigid winters, often with plenty of snow. But it’s not the averages that will get you—it’s the extremes. Temperatures can dip as low as –40°C (with or without the windchill) in the winter, and reach up to 35°C in the summer.
If you’re visiting Edmonton to paddle, cycle, or hike, the best months to visit are June, July, August or September. If you’re ready to ski, snowshoe or fat bike, consider December, January, February or March. Visit The Weather Network for up-to-date forecasts.
When adventuring in Edmonton and area, don’t be surprised to spot porcupines, beavers, deer, moose, elk and even bison.
However, even in the urban wilderness it’s not out of the question to cross paths with a coyote or black bear. In the past few years, there have also been incidents of cougars stalking hikers or being spotted on the city’s fringes.
In the woods, be sure to make plenty of noise to warn off bears—even if you’re close to civilization. For backcountry excursions, travel in groups and consider carrying bear spray as a precaution. When camping, always follow bear-aware best practices: don’t store food in your tent, keep your campsite clean and use bear-proof bins to dispose of any waste.
Ultimately, the biggest threat to your safety (and sanity) while adventuring in Edmonton will be much smaller. The mosquitos up here are bloodthirsty and don’t disguise it.
Finally, be sure to wear a hat while walking in wooded areas, as ticks have been reported to carry Lyme disease in Alberta.
The Edmonton river valley boasts hiking and biking trails galore. | Photo courtesy of: George Simhoni