Pipedream & Cambodia Trail

I discovered the Pipedream and Cambodia trails on a hike in the Spring of 2014. They’re a couple of Edmonton’s hidden jems, known to mountain bikers and hikers alike. These are not official city-maintained trails and they’re not on any map. From what little I can gather, the trails are maintained by Edmonton’s robust and active mountain bike community. Unfortunately, the approach to the trails has recently been compromised by deteriorating river banks and trail collapses. The paths are somewhat dangerous, but they’re still accessible on foot.

The trails are located on the south side of the river in Edmonton’s north east end – between the Strathcona Science Park and Gold Bar Park. They’re accessible from the west via a spur path beside the southern terminus of the Ainsworth Dyer bridge (which spans the river between Rundle and Gold Bar Parks). Note that a portion of this approach path has collapsed and is closed (see below) rendering it impassable for bikes, but dangerously passable on foot. I took the longer northeasterly approach from the Strathcona Science Park, but it also suffers from slumped banks, so caution should be exercised.

Image from The PipeDream Trail Hike
Rundle Footbridge

The Pipedream and Cambodia trails are about 1.5km from the Strathcona Science Park, southwest along the bank of the North Saskatchewan River. If you’re approaching from the SSP, there is paved multi-use track that begins roughly between the two parking areas (the main parking area, and the Sunridge Ski parking area), and leads down to the river bank. There’s an old utility building at the bottom of the hill. Go around the building and find the trail that runs beneath the Rundle Footbridge. This is a narrow, indistinct, overgrown goat path, but it has its charm. It’s barely wide enough for a single person.

Image from The PipeDream Trail Hike
There is a trail there somewhere

As stated, this is NOT an official path. At two points the bank has slumped into the river. The remaining banks are sharply undercut. If you’re doing this walk, BE CAUTIOUS. Cyclists can likely make it through, but may have to bushwhack a bit.

Image from The PipeDream Trail Hike
Slumped Bank
Image from The PipeDream Trail Hike
Cratered Bank

The bank may be deteriorating, but is not without its interesting points. As I was walking, I heard a weird yowl from the water’s edge. I spotted a Red-Breasted Merganser (I think?) feeding just off the bank.

Image from The PipeDream Trail Hike
Red-Breasted Merganser

Although it’s painful to admit, the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting cooler. I witnessed my first yellow leaves of the season.

Image from The PipeDream Trail Hike
Yellow Foliage

The trail continues through dense cover and at times seems to lead nowhere. At about the halfway point (that is, halfway between the SPP and the Ainsworth Dyer bridge), the trail seems to peter out near a collapsed drainage channel. The channel is cordoned off with snowfence and signage. It looks cool, but be careful and don’t get too close. The banks are undercut in places and dangerous.

Image from The PipeDream Trail Hike
Danger. And this is one sign you should listen to.
Image from The PipeDream Trail Hike
Collapsed Drainage channel
Image from The PipeDream Trail Hike
Collapsed Drainage Channel

It may be possible to continue along the bank to the bridge and Gold Bar Park, but it would likely involve some bushwhacking (seriously not recommended). At the drainage channel, turn left and climb up the bank beside the channel. There is a rough trail that will guide you, and it opens up to an access road a couple dozen meters up the hill. At the mouth of this road, The PipeDream trailhead awaits.

Image from The PipeDream Trail Hike
Trail sign, PipeDream Trail

Before you enter the trail, look up and over your left shoulder. You’ll catch a glimpse of the boardwalk that runs close to the abandoned archaeological center at the SSP. Also visible in the left central area of this photo are the remaining supports from an old lookout, burned down by vandals years ago.

Image from The PipeDream Trail Hike
Boardwalk, Strathcona Science Park

This trail is a mountain biker’s dream, and from what I understand, it’s also fairly high on the difficulty scale. It features boardwalks, jumps, hairpin switchbacks, exposed roots, and some serious uphill challenges. It’s all here, and there is plenty of track to explore. The trail is interesting to hikers as well, and I recommend making noise on the trail to help announce your presence to cyclists.

Image from The PipeDream Trail Hike
Boardwalk, PipeDream Trail
Image from The PipeDream Trail Hike
Boardwalk, PipeDream Trail
Image from The PipeDream Trail Hike
Boardwalk, PipeDream Trail

Aside form the semi-technical, somewhat ramshackle (some of the man-made boardwalks & bridges are in disrepair) bike accoutrements, the trail offers a beautiful, secluded wooded setting. There are no proper spots for picnics here – it’s best to just take in the “jungle-like” feel of the trail as you walk.

Image from The PipeDream Trail Hike
Beautiful Trail
Image from The PipeDream Trail Hike
A nice walk!

The trail eventually hooks into another great trail, Cambodia. This one is fairly close to the Ainsworth bridge, and contains some steep, challenging terrain as well as a few boardwalks. There are also many side trails that are worth checking out if you’ve got the time and the jam. The path is fairly easy to negotiate on foot, but cyclists should take caution.

Image from The PipeDream Trail Hike
Cambodia Trail

The trail skirts the Strathcona Imperial Oil refinery, which is located at the top the bank, but whose property extends down to the very edge of this trail. The exit path skirts the border fence, and at one point, the trail has disintegrated.

Image from The PipeDream Trail Hike
Trail Closed
Image from The PipeDream Trail Hike
Collapsed trail

Rather than turn back, I made the possibly foolish decision to shuffle along the lip of the remaining embankment, grasping the chainlink fence for support. BE WARNED: It’s a good 15 foot drop to solid ground, which slopes down a bank lined with downed trees and branches.

After this point, the trail gently makes its way to the Ainsworth Dyer bridge, but before that, crosses a creek on this quaint but tricky little bridge.

Image from The PipeDream Trail Hike
Crossing the creek

Again, watch yourself. There are missing steps and it’s not as stable as it appears. Fortunately, it’s only a 4 or 5 foot drop to the water.

The PipeDream and Cambodia trails are worthwhile destinations for those seeking something a little wilder and dangerous – especially mountain bikers. They’re secluded, unbusy, unofficial, and a refreshing change from safe, city-groomed trails. Be very aware that whichever approach you take must be made with caution. The photos above tell the story – it would be easy to fall into the river, trip off a high boardwalk, or take a tumble down an embankment. If you’re still game, I recommend accessing the trail from the northeast via the Strathcona Science park. Cyclists should slow down and hikers should make noise for safety. And in the dog days of summer, hordes of mosquitoes can quickly turn this jaunt into a nightmare. Be sure to coat yourself well if you plan to hike here. Me, I’m looking forward to hitting this track in the winter.