I suspect that most photograph-crazy visitors to a new city want to suss out where they can find the best views to capture their memories and to get a feel of the lay-of-the-land during their stay. I would venture so far as to say most locals in any city have their favourite location that they take visitors to for this very purpose. So, if you were to be a first-time visitor to Calgary and were to stay at our home, our default downtown viewing point would be McHugh Bluff, without a doubt.
Downtown Calgary with Prince’s Island Park, the Bow River and Memorial Drive in the foreground [DD, 2017]
The Peace Bridge straddling the banks of the Bow River [DD, 2017]
This 21 hectare park offers elevated, unobstructed views of Downtown that you feel you could almost reach out and touch, underlined by the Bow River cradling Prince’s Island Park, traversed by the iconic Peace Bridge upstream and the architecturally beautiful white Centre Street Bridge downstream, the ever-busy Memorial Drive mirroring the flow of the river, the distant views of Winsport Canada Olympic Park and then the sentinels of the Rocky Mountain foothills in the distance.
There are as many enjoyable times and seasons to enjoy this inspiring view as there are days of the year. An idyllic, cloudless, Alberta big blue-sky day. When the Chinook Arch seems to be magnetically repelling the clouds away from the Rocky Mountains. At night when the shimmering lights, stretching out beneath you, make the landscape look like a scene from a fairy tale. When fall’s iridescent yellow hues seem to unroll across the city and distant neighbourhoods like a carpet. Or when the white blanket of winter’s fresh snows subdue the landscape and plumes of smoke-like vapour pour from the highrise buildings and homes. I find I never seem to tire from soaking in this ever-changing landscape.
Calgarians may enjoy McHugh Bluff’s offerings for several different reasons. It’s a common vantage point for observing the Canada Day fireworks that are set off from the Centre Street Bridge. Residents living along Crescent Road NW have multi-million dollar views from multi-million dollar homes that always stir deep envy and intrigue in passers-by who can only wonder how “the other side” live! Casual strollers seeking some effortless exercise, who favour firm ground beneath our feet, may prefer to just amble along Crescent Road NW that runs along the length of the Bluff. For the off-road running, cycling and dog walking enthusiasts there are numerous pathyways that criss-cross this greenbelt escarpment that drops down to the Bow River’s flood plain and the neighbourhood of Sunnyside below. It’s common to find the real exercise die-hards sweating themselves to the core by doing multiple sets of the McHugh Bluff stairs that take you in a near vertical drop from Crescent Road NW above to the parking lot adjacent to Memorial Drive and the Calgary Curling Club below.
The McHugh Bluff Stairs leading from Crescent Road NW at the top to the Calgary Curling Club on Memorial Dr NW below [DD, 2017]
The 167-step wooden stairway certainly has the ability to shred your calf muscles and hastily remind your lungs that you are not in a city at sea level but rather at an elevation 1,200m closer to the heavens where the air really is thinner. However, embracing the challenge, albeit at a slower pace, is worth checking off your to-do list as a visitor. If you’re approaching the stairs from the lower Memorial Drive end you can take heart in knowing that there are platforms that break the gruelling ascent every 15 steps, enabling you to legitimately take in the emerging views around you even if, in reality, you’re just needing to catch your breath and regain your composure! The view from the top really does make the arduous climb worthwhile. If you’re descending the staircase to heaven from the Crescent Road NW end then you probably are in for an easier experience. However, depending on where your car is parked, what goes down, must likely come up (in this instance), so be warned!
It’s hard to believe that in June 2013 the scene from this location was one of quiet carnage. The Bow River burst its banks with flood waters that eventually lapped their way to the very edge of McHugh Bluff’s slopes, submerging streets, cascading into basements, flooding homes to the ground floor ceilings, decimating Prince’s Island Park, rising to within centimetres of bridge decks, and spilling over into the city centre shutting down all of Downtown for 2 weeks as underground car parkades were flooded and power had to be cut to residences and offices in this high-density area alike.
Enjoying this view today one would never know the extent or severity of this carnage had you not been able to see it, let alone live through it, yourself. The fact that today there is minimal evidence of this destruction is testimony to the residents and municipality of Calgary who gathered themselves and rebuilt with determination and pride.
The Bow River, Prince’s Island Park and Downtown viewed from the top of the McHugh Bluff Stairs [DD, 2017]
For other similar insightful content refer to the following articles:
- Our top five recommended city skyline vantage points;
- Visit two of our favourite downtown city parks, Prince’s Island Park and St Patrick’s Island Park;
- If you have very limited time to explore Calgary, check out our recommendations for a two-hour of half-day detour through downtown;
- Are you into exploring by bicycle? Then consider one of our popular recommended cycle circuits (and coffee shops!) and enjoy some diverse, local neighbourhoods within easy reach of the city;
- Interested in outdoor art? Discover some of our favourite downtown wall art and graffiti? Or explore some of our favourite city sculptures (and ice cream shops!) on your bicycle?
Overview information about McHugh Bluff:
- 240 Crescent Rd NW, Calgary, AB T2M 4A3
- GPS: 51.059041, -114.067571
- Google Maps
- Access: Family-friendly; disabled access; pet-friendly (on-leash)
- How to get there:
- LRT: no direct access
- Bus transit: northbound Centre Street N at Samis Rd NE, Bus stop ID# 6656, Bus No. 2, 3 & 17; southbound Centre Street N opposite Samis Rd NE, Bus stop ID# 5113, Bus No. 2, 3 & 17; visit Calgary Transit to plan your trip
- Cycle / walk: Crescent Road NW (top rim of the Bluff); Bow River Pathway and Memorial Drive (bottom of the Bluff)
- Car: free limited time parking is available on Crescent Road NW (top access) and paid parking at 200 Memorial Drive NW / Calgary Parking Authority Lot 59 (bottom access)
- Cost: no access charge; payment for parking may apply
- Hours of operation:
- 05h00 – 23h00
- Amenities: no public washrooms available; public benches; access stairway
- Nearby attractions, activities & services:
- Calgary Curling Club where visitors are welcome!
- Memorial Drive
- Prince’s Island Park
- Memorial Drive Field of Crosses (November)
- Rotary Park
- Centre Street Bridge
- Eau Claire Market
- Peace Bridge
- Downtown Calgary
Views of Prince’s Island Park from McHugh Bluff:
Left – October 2017; Right – during the flood in June 2013