After two summers of bike touring, we carved out September for a Canada mountain biking van trip. A glance at the Trailforks app whet my appetite: British Columbia has 7,182 mountain biking trails and Alberta chimes in with 1,329.
This was a lifetime of pedaling, and there just weren’t enough sunny fall days to explore it all. My ambitious goals to explore more of British Columbia and Vancouver Island ran aground the shoals of realistic time constraints, so a return trip is already brewing!
Still, in 25 days, I managed to squeeze in 20 bike rides, plus four excellent hikes. The only thing that accumulated faster than the lactic acid in my legs was my appreciation for the beauty and fun of Canada. I also learned that solo rides make all tree stumps closely resemble large grizzly bears…
Here are some of my favorite locations and rides (plus hikes) from the Canadian Rockies and eastern B.C. It’s not even close to comprehensive, but hey, it’s a start. We didn’t make it west of Nelson/Revelstoke, so please cease irate trolling if you think I missed something in another area.
Note: Chelsea joined me for a few rides, but mostly stuck to hiking and running because the trails in Canada are, shall we say, a bit gnarly and not her style. Her sense of self-preservation is more acutely developed than mine!
Favorite Mountain Biking Town: Fernie, B.C.
Bikes perch on every car in Fernie, B.C. If you’re looking for a place to park and just RIDE without driving all over, this is it.
Known as a ski town in the past, strong investment in bike infrastructure makes this a MTB destination. The signage is fantastic and there are dozens of trails accessed directly from town.
Stay downtown, or camp at Fernie Provincial Park, which has big, private camp spots, hot showers, and feeder trails leaving right from the campground.
Trails of note:
–Stovepipe/Brokeback: rooty, rocky chaos after a lung-popping effort to the top via the aptly-named Lactic Ridge
–Hyperventilation/Hyperextension: switchback climbing to test your skills, then a fast descent back to town. Try Broken Hip as a kicker finish – it has a corkscrew section you won’t forget.
–Lazy Lizard: machine-built trail that is fun for beginners or at Mach 7.
Hot tip: make sure to get a huge smoothie downtown at Lunchbox. The Solara was my favorite.
Bright Blue Rivers and Wildlife Viewing: Jasper, Alberta
Jasper is renowned for its beauty, not to mention the stunning drive up the Icefields Parkway. It’s a laid-back town 1/10th as crazy as Banff, with equally impressive sights. The wildlife is also very present: giant elk stopped traffic on the highway and mountain goats/sheep gazed down as I rode by.
Trails of note:
Valley of Five Lakes: rooty, rocking riding through pretty forest, along lakes like blue gems, all with views of snow-capped mountains. Hard work, but so worth it.
Overlander: similar to #1, but less rooty and with bigger views. A good point-to-point ending right in Jasper.
Hot tip: Try the pizza downtown at Famosa Pizzeria; do your laundry at the most-excellent Coin Clean Laundry.
Crazy Alpine Adventures: Black Rock Mountain near Canmore, Alberta
I’d never heard of alpine hike-a-bike until Instagram showed me a dude drifting steep, rocky mountain slopes. His buddy Jake was kind enough to invite me on an alpine MTB adventure at Black Rock Mountain. What followed was a day of riding unlike any I’d done before.
If you’re an experienced rider looking for an adventure, try bagging some alpine peaks in the Rockies while you’re there! Make sure to bring a full-face helmet.
Best Flow Trail: Nelson and Revelstoke, B.C.
Two options here, both awesome. Nelson is famous for tough, steep trails; Revelstoke has stuff equally as fun.
Turnstiles and Lefty (Nelson): For huge, perfect berms, head up to Nelson’s magnificent jump trail, newly built in 2016.
Flowdown (Revelstoke): grand fun easily accessed with a pedal up from the highway. Four miles of quintessential Canada fun.
South of the Border Bonus: Continental Divide NST #337 (Helena, Montana)
A varied, challenging, and FUN trail. If you ride uphill through the rock gardens without dabbing a foot a few times, I’ll buy you lunch!
Best done as a shuttle from MacDonald Pass, about 30 min west of Helena on Highway 12. Rowdy, tough rock gardens the first few miles, then FAST downhill from there on the Switchback Ridge Trail.
Favorite Day Hikes:
Since my focus this trip was riding, we stuck to accessible, well-known hikes for rest days. They were all scenic and worth doing!
Waterton National Park: Alderson-Carthew
Everyone goes to Glacier National Park, but just north across the Canadian border is Waterton. This scenic park shares the border with Glacier and gets 1/10th the traffic.
We checked out the excellent Alderson-Carthew hike, a 15 mile point-to-point journey. There’s a free shuttle from town that runs until mid-September. Sign up online or at Tamarack Outfitters on the way into town.
Banff/Lake Louise: Devil’s Thumb
Fear the crowds of Lake Louise! They are REAL, and they will engulf you like the flames of Mordor.
As usual, if you hike a couple miles up, you’ll escape the crowds and find the real fun. A local photographer showed us Devil’s Thumb, a scramble up steep scree to a viewpoint of Lake Agnes and Lake Louise.
For my money, you won’t a much prettier view than those two with the snowy mountains as a backdrop. Throw in yellow larches and the scrum of selfie-snapping tourists around the lake is a small, small price to pay.
Yoho National Park: Iceline hike
Just the name of this park makes it worth a visit, and a trek up Iceline is another reward. For the full shebang, do the 17-mile loop; for a more sedate hike, just head to the toe of glaciers, eat lunch with a stunning view, and head back.
Banff Honorable Mention: Helen Lake
This hike is a steep climb through forest until you break into the scenic valley. Freezing sleet and snow dampened our enthusiasm for scaling snowy peaks around the lake, but apparently the views are stunning from up there.