The name "Bow" refers to the reeds that grew along its banks and which were used by the local First Nations people to make bows; the Blackfoot language name for the river is Makhabn, meaning "river where bow weeds grow".
Bow Valley Provincial Park (part of the Kananaskis Country park system) is established east of the Canadian Rockies in the arch of the valley, while the upper course of the Bow River flows through the Banff National Park. The Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park is located between the Banff National Park and Canmore in the Bow River Valley.
Numerous other recreation areas dot the valley. Provincial Recreation Areas are established at Three Sisters, Gap Lake, Grotto Mountain, Lac des Arcs, Heart Ridge, Heart Mountain, Ghost Reservoir and other locations.
Many lakes, glacial and artificial, are found in the Bow Valley: