If you haven’t staggered up and down a big, splintery, possibly slippery wooden staircase at least five times, have you even gone for a run in Edmonton’s river valley or attemped one of the many River Valley Stairs? Or, really, what’s the point of riding a bike through the trails if you don’t add some conditioning by doing the same, with the bike over your shoulder?

I kid, I kid. But the huge staircases leading up and down the sides of the river valley at varying locations around the city are popular with runners and walkers for good reason. They’re there, they’re free, they’re difficult, and if they’re not difficult enough for you, you can just go back up and down them until they are.

So, for no particular reason other than the fact that I am a cardio junkie with plenty of things that I’m happy to procrastinate on, I went and ran up and down every major set of river valley stairs in the flippin’ city, and will review them here, in order from West to East, for your five- minute- study- break reading pleasure.

Wolf Willow Stairs

Close to the home I lived in as a teenager, I have often thought this staircase to be the most brutal in the city. A quick Google search confirmed that I am not alone in this opinion. They’re long, they’re steep, there’s nowhere to bail to, and they get quite icy and slippery in inclement weather, which I like to think of as some additional stability training.

  • Difficulty: 5/5
  • Scenery: 5/5

Quesnell Bridge Stairs

This isn’t generally counted as a complete set of River Valley Stairs, but I’m counting it as such. The first bit takes you up onto the Quesnell bridge from Fort Edmonton Park road, and from there you can proceed up, and out of the river valley into Laurier Heights. Available from that point onwards are trailheads leading down towards the Valley Zoo. They’re fairly steep, but fairly short, and often are shrouded with a haze of marijuana smoke. Watch out for cyclists zipping around the sharp corner near the bottom.

  • Difficulty: 3/5
  • Scenery: 3/5

Grandview Stairs

These are very popular; I attribute this to their visibility from Fox Drive and the accessible parking lot via a turnoff near the Equine Centre. While they are long, their grade is comparably gentle, making them good for beginners and endurance enthusiasts alike. There’s also the warming hut right below them, which contains a public bathroom, and trailheads into Whitemud Creek Ravine.

  • Difficulty: 3/5
  • Scenery: 4/5

Hawrelak Park/Groat Road

These are basically a quick, steep shortcut onto the trail that merges into Hawrelak park. It is super handy if you’re inclined to go up Keillor road to skip the dog park. This set of River Valley Stairs makes a good addition to any jog or walk in the area.

  • Difficulty: 3/5
  • Scenery: 1/5

Glenora Stairs

This is an iconic set of stairs. Popular on lunch breaks for those who spend their days downtown and at the University, and patrons of the Royal Glenora Club. They connect to the High Level Bridge and LRT bridge, as well as the trails that go near Victoria Park. Don’t let their shortness and relatively gentle grade fool you – people tend to repeat these ones. Over, and over, and over…. Often while carrying stuff.

  • Difficulty: 2/5 if you only do it once, but really, who does that
  • Scenery: 5/5

Saskatchewan Drive/Queen Elizabeth Park Stairs

These River Valley Stairs are popular with runners who are running from Kinsmen Sports Centre or the 109th Street Running Room. Short and moderate lending themselves to repetition. Be aware that at dawn and dusk, it is not uncommon to encounter people camping on/under them.

  • Difficulty: 2/5
  • Scenery: 1/5

Hotel MacDonald Stairs

Since the funicular was installed, these stairs were remodeled into what looks like a hybrid between a staircase and a bunch of public benches. I think it’s pretty neat. A worthwhile detour from the Rossdale area or Louise Mckinney Park.

  • Difficulty: 1/5
  • Scenery: 4/5
  • Parkour Opportunities: 5/5
  • Parkour Attempts will be very public: 1/5


Ray Walters is a student in NAIT’s PT program, class of 2019. She is passionate about public accessibility to fitness and the outdoors.