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Date night: river valley hidden gems

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Edmonton’s river valley is the largest urban park in Canada. In it, there are 160 km of pathways not counting the functionally infinite less-than-sanctioned dirt trails winding through the woods — providing weeks’ worth of activity for anyone who likes biking or jogging, or just taking walks. The only problem is you may get tired of looking at dumb old undifferentiated trees and rocks the whole time, and the few well-known landmarks and attractions are often crowded, and also become stale after a few visits anyways. Sure, you could go to the End of the World again, but The Man had to come in last summer and file down all the public safety hazards that made the spot so endearing.

If you are bent on spending an afternoon or evening in the river valley, here are a few cool, lesser-known spots and landmarks you could check out to keep things fresh.

FALSE HOODOOS

You don’t have to drive all the way to Drumheller to see hoodoos. OK, these aren’t real hoodoos — they’re bentonite outcrops, whatever that means, but they look like hoodoos and if you’re up for some real exercise you can climb them like hoodoos, too. They’re easy to find — you can see them from the main trail that leads you through Dawson Park, about one kilometre from the parking lot.

WOLF WILLOW STAIRS

You’ll want to leave your bikes behind for this 201 step staircase that spans the entire elevation of the valley. They’re found on the west end of town, just across the river from Fort Edmonton Park — head to Wolf Willow Ravine and follow the main trail north along the river. There are some neat boardwalks along the way, and if you manage to make it to the top, you’ll get one of the best river valley views in the city, including the full span of the Fort Edmonton Footbridge in the distance.

FORT EDMONTON FOOTBRIDGE

One of only a few suspension bridges in the city — and the second largest in the province at 246 metres long. The Fort Edmonton Footbridge is pedestrian-only, has a cool design, and connects all the west-end trail systems to Fort Edmonton Park and to a bike path that will take you all the way to Hawrelak Park.

BIG SWING

A big swing. It’s right on the river with a great view. It’s also the hardest on this list to find and it’s impossible to describe exactly where to go, so you’ll have (get) to do a bit of adventuring. Go to the Highlands area, and along the trail closest to the river, you’re basically just going to be looking out for a stick somebody anchored in the ground with a rope attached, which will help you down the steep 10-metre hill to get to the river bank.

MACKINNON FOOD FOREST

This one’s more of an activity all to itself than a sight to see, though it is pretty. The Food Forest is a manufactured but self-sustaining ecosystem of food-producing shrubs and trees native to the area — meaning mostly berry bushes. A lot of the forest was planted in 2015, so not everything is fully grown yet, but all the produce that is there is publicly accessible to forage, so snack away along the trail or take some for home. It’s also just a fun place to explore. The Food Forest is somewhere in the middle of MacKinnon Ravine Park, and there are a lot of trails that will take you there, so just wander around for 20 minutes or so and you’ll come across the signs.

Images courtesy of Jackson Spring and submitted.

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