Calgary, Alberta, Canada has a feature which is rather unique – glacial erratics. Several of these ice age mementos of various sizes are located within the Calgary city limits. Each of the glacial erratics of Calgary, although different in size and shape, are similar in rock type and origin.
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THE ORIGIN OF THE FOOTHILLS GLACIAL ERRATICS
Some 15,000 to 20,000 years ago a rockfall occurred in the Tonquin Valley near Jasper, Alberta. The rock debris from this rockfall fell onto the massive glacier below and began a long journey from the Tonquin Valley, then out of the mountains as part of the Cordilleran Ice Sheet.
Contact with the larger Laurentide Ice Sheet deflected the rock debris along a southeast direction paralleling the front of the Canadian Rockies. Thousands of glacial erratic rocks were deposited along a 650 kilometres (400 miles) path from Hinton, Alberta to northern Montana, USA.
The rockfall debris path is known as the Foothills Erratic Train, including boulders ranging in size from a few centimetres to over 40 metres thick.
For survival of these erratics in their current condition, they had to withstand the erosive power of the immense glacier that carried them such long distances. The 500 million year old quartzite erratics minimized any significant erosion throughout their journey south. However, the hardness of the quartzite erratics allowed for significant fracturing.
CALGARY’S GLACIAL ERRATICS
A multitude of glacial erratics lie throughout Calgary in various settings including small neighbourhood parks, beside pathways, meridians, and in large city green spaces.
However, fifteen glacial erratics are high-lighted due to their size or prominence in their locations. I photographed myself with each boulder in order to gain perspectives of their respective sizes. I’m 1.75 metres (5.75 feet) in height so you can get a sense of scale.
For a taste of the Calgary glacial erratics of all sizes, check out this video.
The map below shows the locations of each glacial erratic presented. The yellow stars signify the locations of prominent glacial erratics, while the small black dots signify locations of less prominent glacial erratics.
BEDDINGTON (COVENTRY HILLS) GLACIAL ERRATIC
The most northern, and largest, known glacial erratic within Calgary is the Beddington Glacial Erratic, located near Beddington Creek, just east of the Coventry Hills community in northeast Calgary between Country Hills Blvd and Stoney Trail.
This four meter (13 feet) high, graffiti covered rock sits in a depression on an open field between Beddington Creek and the railway tracks.
Access to this erratic is a 5 minute, 365 metres (1,200 feet) walk along the access path, down the hill and across the railway tracks from the pedestrian path at Coventry Drive and Covington Close NE (51.134042, -114.066033).
PANORAMA HILLS BUFFALO RUBBING STONE (aka CRATER ROCK)
Panorama Hills Buffalo Rubbing Stone (aka Crater Rock) is located in in the community of Panorama Hills in northwest Calgary and stands about 3 metres (10 feet) tall. This glacial erratic is the centerpiece of a small community park. Centuries ago, this glacial erratic was used by the native bison to rub against in order to either remove winter coats and relieve the itch of insect bites.
Before the City of Calgary expanded into this area, Crater Rock was a rock climbing (bouldering) destination. Originally sitting in a crater-like depression, Crater Rock was much taller. Area development reduced the height of Crater Rock by filling in the depression.
It is an easy access to Crater Rock at the intersection of Panorama Hills Way NW and Panorama Hills Road NW (51.151864, -114.070225)
SPLIT ROCK (CONFLUENCE PARK ERRATIC)
The magnificent Split Rock is located near the pedestrian pathway in Confluence Park just north of Beddington Trail NW. Gee, I wonder how it got its name?
Sitting some 3.5 metres (12 feet) high, Split Rock has a clean vertical fracture, but is definitely not the only glacial erratic that has split. Big Rock (Okotoks Erratic), near Okotoks, is another great, and much larger, example of a fractured glacial erratic.
There are several smaller boulders beside the main split rock, which obviously broke off at some point in the long glacial journey from the mountains.
Split Rock can be accessed from the Confluence Park parking lot off of Harvest Hills Blvd. NW. Walk eastward for some 300 meters (1000 feet), and Split Rock is just down the hill from the path (51.134042, -114.066033).
TUSCANY GLACIAL ERRATIC
The low-profile, conference table sized, Tuscany Glacial Erratic rests along a major pedestrian path system in the community of Tuscany.
The cozy location of the Tuscany Glacial Erratic is accessed along a 155 metre (505 feet) connecting pedestrian path at Tuscany Hills Point NW (51.124214, -114.238706).
NOSE HILL BUFFALO RUBBING STONE
The Nose Hill Buffalo Rubbing Stone sits high on the east side of the massive Nose Hill Park. It is the largest of the many known glacial erratics in the park at about 3 metres (10 feet) high. This glacial erratic has one of the best views of Calgary due to its elevation. Native bison rubbed up against this large stone centuries ago.
The Nose Hill erratic is best accessed from the 64 Avenue Parking lot off of 14th Street NW. It is then a moderate 600 metre (1,965 feet) mainly uphill hike in the northwest direction to this glacial erratic. The view makes it worth the journey (51.111872, -114.090789).
NOSE HILL 64th AVE GLACIAL ERRATIC
The mini car-sized Nose Hill 64th Ave Glacial Erratic sits on the eastern slope of Nose Hill, west of the 64th Avenue Parking Lot off of 14th Street. Sitting in a swale off the main trails and close to a wooded area, this erratic is consequently not obviously spotted.
Access is westward and up the hill, 670 metres (2,220 feet) from the Nose Hill 64 Avenue Parking Lot off 14th Street NW (51.109089, -114.084530).
NOSE HILL BRISEBOIS GLACIAL ERRATIC
The Nose Hill Brisebois Glacial Erratic is a grizzly bear sized glacial erratic located between the south Nose Hill Parking Lot at Brisebois Drive and John Laurie Blvd. NW.
Access to the Nose Hill Brisebois erratic is 30 metres (99 feet) from the south Nose Hill Parking Lot off John Laurie Blvd. at Brisebois Drive NW (51.103655, -114.127117).
VALLEY RIDGE BUFFALO RUBBING STONE
The Valley Ridge Buffalo Rubbing Stone is located in the northwest Calgary community of Valley Ridge. It’s name comes from the historic use bison had to help remove their winter coat and relieve any itch they may have had. Many large glacial erratics along the Foothills Erratic Train were used by the bison in the same manner.
Access to the Valley Ridge Erratic is 152 metres (500 feet) along the pedestrian path access on Valley Creek Crescent (51.092758, -114.260472).
PASKAPOO’S BIG ROCK
Paskapoo’s Big Rock is a large and ski-jump looking glacial erratic located in the Paskapoo Slopes Environment Reserve below Calgary’s Cougar Ridge community.
This 3 metre (10 feet) high glacial erratic sits on a clearing within a highly vegetated area. The trail down to this erratic is steep and challenging. Watch out for mountain bikers on the myriad of interconnecting paths in this area.
The hike down is well worth the effort. Please note that this ‘big rock’ glacial erratic, although big, pales in size to Big Rock, some 50 kilometres (30 miles) further south near Okotoks.
Access to Paskapoo’s Big Rock begins by parking along the pond beside Cougar Ridge Heights SW. Walk around the east side of the pond and follow the downhill path into the wooded area. Follow this path straight down for about 200 metres (640 ft.) to Paskapoo’s Big Rock (51.075042, -114.198686).
It is a fairly steep hill, so the climb back up is a workout. Total distance round trip is 915 metres (3,000 feet).
SIENNA HILLS MOUNTAIN ERRATIC
The car-size Sienna Hills Mountain Erratic is 1.8 metres (6 feet) high, 6 metres (20 feet) long and 2.1 to 2.5 metres (7 to 8 feet) wide. It is located in the southwest community of Sienna Hills, incorporated into a small residential park.
Access to this erratic is at the corner of Sienna Hills Drive SW and Sienna Hill Court SW (51.025967, -114.171917).
DOVERGLEN GLACIAL ERRATIC
The dump truck sized, graffiti covered Doverglen Glacial Erratic, stands some 3 metres (10 feet) in height, with a great view of downtown Calgary from its ridgetop location.
Access to the Doverglen Glacial Erratic is from a small parking area on Gosling Way SE on the west side of Deerfoot Trail. Walk through the Southview Off-Leash Dog Park for about 160 metres (525 feet) on top of the ridge (51.022228, -114.003150).
PARKLAND GLACIAL ERRATIC
The truck-sized Parkland Glacial Erratic, about 2.5 metres (8 feet) in height, is located along a main road at the north end of the Calgary community of Parkland. This erratic has the Parkland community name and logo etched into the side of this flat topped boulder.
The Parkland Glacial Erratic at the corner of Canyon Meadows Drive SE and Park Estates Drive SE, on the north edge of the Fish Creek Park, and accessed from Parkwood Way SE and Park Estate Drive SE (50.929066, -114.044810).
FISH CREEK PARK GLACIAL ERRATIC
The Harley-Davidson sized Fish Creek Park Glacial Erratic resides on a steep hillside just above the Fish Creek Park parking lot off of Bow Bottom Trail.
A steep but short walk up the north slope just east of the Fish Creek parking lot off of Bow Bottom Trail (50.91016, -114.016765).
MCKENZIE LAKE GLACIAL ERRATIC
The truck-sized McKenzie Lake Glacial Erratic resides in a McKenzie Lake community park in the southeast Calgary. Its angled orientation suggests it may extend below ground and be much larger than it appears.
The McKenzie Lake Erratic, with its mountain-like shape, appropriately resides in the small Mt. Norquay Park (Mt. Norquay is a ski resort near Banff).
Access to this erratic is from Mountain Park Drive SE with a very short downhill walk into Mt. Norquay Park. (50.906436, -113.997764)
BRIDLEWOOD GLACIAL ERRATIC
The Bridlewood Glacial Erratic sits within Bridlewood Wetlands Park in the deep southwest Calgary community of Bridlewood. This erratic is the size of delivery truck and lies in two pieces. It stands about 3 to 3.5 metres (10 to 11 feet) in height.
The Bridlewood Glacial Erratic is tucked into the southeast part of Bridlewood with access from Bridlecreek Park SW. Luckily the ground was relatively dry so close access to the erratic was reasonable.
During wetter times of the year, the Bridlewood Glacial Erratic is in the middle of a swamp (50.899817, -114.096694).
ARE THERE MORE GLACIAL ERRATICS IN CALGARY?
There is no doubt many more glacial erratics are lurking around in Calgary and beyond. Who knows where the next one will be located. For example, a news article from 2015 described the discovery of a large glacial erratic while excavating below where an old house once stood in the heart of the City of Calgary. It measured about 4 metres by 4 metres (13 feet x 13 feet).
Please comment if you know of any other glacial erratics in the Calgary area. If you’re not from this vicinity, what other erratic boulders have you come across?
Here are additional ice-age related posts: