Thursday, May 01, 2014

The Best Family Bike Trails in the Columbia Valley, BC

Everybody needs a happy place and for us, it's the Columbia Valley stretching from Radium Hot Springs to Fairmont Hot Springs. From there we head further south to Kimberley, or north to Golden.

Located across the border in British Columbia, the Towns of Radium Hot Springs and Golden are only 3 hours from Calgary by car and very accessible for a weekend getaway.  Add an extra half hour from Radium, and you are at Fairmont Hot Springs. Take it further for a long weekend and you can also reach Kimberley to the south.

Awesome family mountain biking in the Columbia Valley, BC (Deja View Trail)

Editor's note: this story was first started in 2014 but receives annual updates, additions of new trails, and photo upgrades. It will continue to grow every year.

Most links to go the Trail Forks website where you can see maps and difficulty ratings for each trail along with detailed information on height gain/loss and distance. I highly recommend following these links to learn more about each trail before trying them with your family.

Trails around Radium Hot Springs and Area

The Radium Hot Springs Bike Park and Sinclair Creek Trail

The Radium Pump and Jump is located in Sinclair Creek. You can either just walk/bike down off of Forsters Landing Road or you can drive to the official parking lot and bike along the creek to reach the bike park (and the link above gives directions for both options.)

Playing at the Radium Pump and Jump

We love biking along the Sinclair Creek Trail on our way to/from the bike park. It is a lovely gravel hiking trail, only 1.2 km long (one way,) double track width the whole time, and pretty much flat the entire distance. It's a great trail for novice riders.

Radium Pump and Jump Bike Park

The pump track is a great addition to the town, and combined with a bike ride or hike along Sinclair Creek, makes for a great half day adventure.  (and even adults will have fun playing in the bike park.)

Easy biking along Sinclair Creek, Radium Hot Springs

Pacemaker Trail, Radium Hot Springs

The Pacemaker Trail starts in the Red Streak Campground and is a short little 3 km loop if you ride it together with Pacemaker Return. We just discovered this trail after seeing a post on Instagram, and will enjoy it on future camping trips in Radium.

Pacemaker  Trail, Radium Hot Springs 

The Pacemaker loop is relatively easy, has gentle elevation changes, and poses no real technical challenges. While it is definitely singletrack, it's one of the easier ones in the valley. We loved that it was relatively smooth without a lot of roots or rocks, and I thought it had some good views.

If you want an easier trip for beginner riders, just do the Pacemaker Return trail out and back. It is rated green on Trail Forks and is much easier than the "blue" Pacemaker Trail (which does have a few twisty turns and steep hills.)

Easy riding on the Pacemaker Return Trail

Family Biking at Nipika Mountain Resort, near Radium Hot Springs

Spend a weekend or a day at Nipika Mountain Resort just outside Radium Hot Springs and you can bike on 100+ km of singletrack and double track bike and ski trails.  We spent a weekend here in May of 2015 and loved it! Our group of kids biked about 15 km over our two days spent here and had a lot of fun exploring the Natural Bridge and the Canyon Bridge.

For more information and a full trip report, please read my story on our experience:  Kids on Wheels - Nipika Mountain Resort.  

Family Riding at Nipika Mountain Resort

Suggested Bike Loops at Nipika Mountain Resort

First, visit the Trail Forks site to see a map of the Nipika bike trails so you can get a general idea of where I'm sending you on the following suggested loops. All loops below follow the north trails.

Double track easy loop: Starting from the day lodge, follow "Main Street" to the  meadow where you'll find a warming hut and outhouse bathroom. Follow the cross country ski trails from here to the Natural Bridge (there are maps at the day lodge if you want to take one with you, and you'll find a map at every trail intersection as well.)

Cross the natural bridge and continue following the cross country ski trails around until you come to the Canyon Bridge. Cross, and make your way back to the day lodge for a loop that's approximately 10 km in length. Read the full trip report for this loop here: Kids on Wheels - Nipika Mountain Resort

And if you read the story above, I've offered suggestions on how to add some easy singletrack biking to the loop.

Crossing the Natural Bridge on the cross country ski trails

Singletrack easy/intermediate loop: Follow "Main Street" from the day lodge to the first meadow with the warming hut. From Main Street, you can do an optional short out and back ride on "Teen Spirit" to get an idea of what Nipika singletrack looks like. It's only 600 metres long one way and is a fun flowy trail (especially coming back down towards the meadow)

Back at the meadow, follow Dunbar's Trail (easy, flowy, and fun) to the intersection with Cliff Hanger. You'll follow CH for a short distance until you get on the Kootenay River Trail. The river trail is 1.8 km long and relatively flat. It is quite rooty in spots, but it's nothing that a 20" bike can't handle. There's one challenging hill you'll have to push your bikes up, but other than that, it's easy riding and it connects several small beach areas to stop and play at.

Beach area along the Kootenay River Trail

Once you reach the last beach area on the Kootenay River Trail, you'll have to push your bikes up a steep hill (a double track ski trail) to get back towards Main Street. From here you can either follow ski trails back to the day lodge (or be adventurous like us and attempt to bike Chamois Whammy.) Note that Chamois Whammy is very exposed in spots and that a fall could end in the river far below you. My son wasn't scared at all when we just did this in 2017 (age 8) but I walked a lot of it.

This loop is no more than 7 to 8 km in total distance.
Recommended for competent riders with previous mountain biking experience on bikes with at least 20" tires, hand brakes, and gears.

A look at some of the narrow riding along Chamois Whammy at Nipika Mountain Resort

Biking the Old Coach Trail from Dry Gulch to Radium Hot Springs

The Old Coach Trail, an old historic road is one of the nicest family-friendly mountain bike rides in the valley and isn't too long if you set up a vehicle shuttle or send an adult back for the car. The Old Coach Trail is double track the entire time and is 9 km one way.

There's a lovely coffee shop on main street as well near the end of the trail in Radium Hot Springs if you should find yourself waiting around with the kids while another adult is riding back to the trailhead for the vehicle. There's also an ice-cream shop on main street on the other side of the highway.

Biking the Old Coach Trail from Dry Gulch to Radium Hot Springs

We first biked the trail with our son at age 4 and while challenging at that age, he did awesome.  My husband ran along beside him to offer a bit of assistance on the occasional steep hill or loose gravel patch but by age 5 he was doing fine  - and just walked the big hills (of which there are a few.)

Route Directions: 

We prefer to start at Dry Gulch, biking into Radium Hot Springs. This way, most of the ride is gradual downhill until the final climb back up to town at the end. Note that the final hill is over a kilometre long in distance (and quite steep) so bring lots of candy for the end.

Climbing up the final section of the Old Coach Trail to Radium Hot Springs

Deja View (Singletrack Extension to the Old Coach Trail)

This is one of our favourite mountain bike trails in all of the Columbia Valley. It's smooth, flowy, technically easy, and there are no roots or rocks. It's paradise!

From the Old Coach Trail, there are fun singletrack trails off both sides of the gravel road.  You can jump off on to any of the singletrack trails  as you follow the gravel road, but if you are new to mountain biking, you should take the trails on the river side as they are much easier.

Easy singletrack riding on Deja View off the Old Coach Trail

The singletrack trails we ride are collectively referred to as the Deja View Trail and we've ridden all 5 of the loops on the river side. The first and second loops closest to Dry Gulch are especially good for novice mountain bikers, and then each loop gets progressively harder.

Amazing views on the Deja View Trail 

The beauty of the mountain bike loops along Deja View is that you can ride as many as you want for a short out and back ride. Start at Dry Gulch, ride a few loops, and come back on the old road. (It will be up hill the whole way back on the Old Coach Trail so save energy for the return ride!!)

Alternately, ride some of the loops and then continue on the Old Coach Trail to the far trailhead in Radium Hot Springs so that you don't have to backtrack at all. This is what we usually do.

Flowy easy riding on Deja View

Additional direction notes: Make sure you start your ride from the parking lot at Dry Gulch by going through the gate at the far left side of the parking lot. Don't go up the gravel hill. If you go up the gravel hill you will miss the entrance to the first loop. Go through the gate, start following the wide gravel road, and take the first singletrack trail you come to on the left hand side of the road.

Also, the Deja View Trail continues on the right hand side of the Old Coach Trail after you've finished the first 5 loops. Anything on the right side is MUCH harder though and so we've always skipped these sections.

And my best suggestion for "what age do you recommend this trail for?" - Try the first loop. If it's way too hard, stick to the Old Coach Trail. If it goes well, try the second loop. Walk any hills that scare you (or your kids,) and push your bike up any hills that are too steep. The beauty of this trail  is that the hills are never that long and it's a very cruisy, flowy, cross country ride.

Our favourite bike trail in the Columbia Valley

Trails around Invermere and Area 

Lillian Lake Trails, near Invermere

5 year old approved!
If you go to the Trail Forks website you'll find a map showing the amazing bike trails at Lillian Lake near Invermere.  The "Junior Johnson" is a double track trail, great for families and beginner riders. It has a couple of steep hills but there are mild elevation changes along most of the trail. And it's very short (a 3 km loop) so you'll only be riding it for an hour or two at most!

Our 5 year old still found the trail to be a challenge when we first rode it but it's one of the easiest trails in the area by far!

The Junior Johnson: Balance bike friendly
The trail would be chariot-friendly too. Just don't take babies that you don't want to be jostled around a bit because it is bumpy in spots.

Once you've mastered the Junior Johnston, the next trails to try are "Let it Flow" and "Filler up." They are rated "green" but are singletrack and quite a bit more difficult than the Junior Johnston. I actually found them quite a bit trickier than "Deja View" above as well and not nearly as much fun. There were quite a few hills and you definitely need gears on the kids' bikes.

Once you've mastered all of these trails, you can try sections of "the Johnson" or the "Kloosifier." My husband and son also really liked the "Arch Potential Trail," which they rode when my son was 7 on a 20" bike with gears.
The Junior Johnson double track trail
An easy section on the "Johnson" at Lillian Lake

Panorama Mountain Resort Trails, near Invermere

We finally visited Panorama with our bikes and rode two different trails.

Option One: The Paved Valley Trail Loop

The first option here is the Valley Trail, a paved 3.9 km loop. And while it is paved, know that there is some steep climbing from the upper village to the Grey Wolf golf course. Once you leave the golf course, you'll be riding down to the lower village (where you'll have one section of very steep switchbacks.)

The best direction to do this loop is from the Upper Village up to the golf course and then down to the Lower Village. You'll end up at the gondola (which you can ride for free with your bikes back up to the Upper Village.)

I do not recommend riding uphill from the Lower Village to reach the golf course. This would involve biking up the steep switchbacks.

Riding the paved Valley Trail at Panorama Mountain Resort 

The first cabin on the Pacer Trail

Option Two: Hale Hut Ride

For a second option that is more of an easy mountain bike ride (and not paved) you can bike from the Grey Wolf golf course up to the Hale Hut in roughly a 5 km return ride. You'll be riding on winter ski trails.

You'll start on the Pacer Trail, a double track gravel trail, and you'll pass by a small cabin before reaching the junction with the Hale Trail.

The Pacer Trail gains about 100 metres but it is never overly steep. You can always push your bike up any hill that proves to be too difficult. From the junction with the Hale Trail you'll gain another 60 metres or so (in a very short distance.) We pushed our bikes up most of this section (which thank goodness only took about 10 minutes at the most.)

The ride out from the Hale Hut is very fast and you'll be at the final climb back up to the golf course in no time!

Hale Hut (which is open for warming up in on cool days)

Option Three: Combine the Valley Trail and the Hale Hut Trip 

Starting at the Upper Village, bike the Valley Trail until you reach the golf course. Hop onto the Pacer Trail and ride out to the Hale Hut. Return and then finish your ride on the Valley Trail, heading down to the Lower Village. Ride the gondola back up to return to your starting point at the Upper Village.

Total distance here would be roughly 9 km. It is a half day outing and fun for families staying in one of the condos at the resort.

Riding along the Pacer Trail en route to the Hale Hut

During the summer season there is also lift accessed mountain biking at the resort, but the chairlifts weren't running for biking when we were there.

You can see all of the trails at Panorama Mountain Resort on the Trail Forks website.

Biking down from the Hale Hut

The Markin-MacPhail Westside Legacy Trail, near Invermere

This is a paved trail in the valley (one of the few) but don't count on a cute little family bike trail. This trail has more steep ups and downs than any other paved trail I've ridden, and you'll get quite the workout!

Paved biking on the Westside Legacy Trail 

The Westside Legacy Trail, or the Markin-MacPhail Trail as it's been recently renamed, will be 25 km in length, once fully completed, and will join the communities of Invermere and Fairmont.

The trail parallels beside and often above The Westside Road that connects Invermere and Fairmont. Westside Road is on the far side of Lake Windermere and you'll have no problems finding the paved bike trail if you start from the Invermere side and just drive until you see the first trailhead. At this point, the trail is right beside the road and easy to spot.

Climbing switchbacks on the Legacy Trail
So far there is 10 km of paved trail completed so you can complete a decent out and back ride. Once the trail is complete, I'd recommend setting up a shuttle and riding one direction with the kids. (and there are big hills in both directions so I'm not sure either direction is easier.)

Follow the progress of this trail on the Legacy Trail website

Lots of climbing on this trail!

The SRL Lakeside Trail near Invermere (newly added for 2019)

If you're already ridden Deja View and Teen Spirit (below under Fairmont,) this should be the next trail you seek out. Together, these are our top three favourite trails in the valley for flowy, easy, smooth, non technical riding.

This one will require a bit of route finding to locate the trailhead as it is not on Trail Forks. You'll also be riding on private land (that is open to biking and hiking) so please be respectful, pack out all garbage, and treat the trails with care.

Gorgeous views of Lake Windermere from the SRL Lakeside Trail 

The easiest way I can guide you here is through this link on Strava. If you are not on Strava, follow the directions below:

  1. From Invermere, get on to Westside Road on the far side of Lake Windermere. This road goes all the way towards Fairmont. Follow the road until you see the paved Legacy Trail beside you on your right. Keep driving until you arrive at a big parking lot with a sign that says SRL Property on your right hand side. The parking lot is number one on this map for the Legacy Trail.

  2. The Legacy Trail starts beside the parking lot but you want to cross Westside Road to start biking on the far side of the road. You'll see a singletrack trail heading up into the forest on the opposite side of the road. This is your trail. It is unmarked other than signs saying you are on SRL property. (But it's ok because you are allowed to bike and hike here.)

Once you've found the trail, enjoy a nice smooth flowy 6km loop that will take you further down Westside Road. From here you can cross the road and return on the Legacy Trail, or you can bike back on the road. (It is an uphill ride back though so my son and I usually hang out at the end while my husband rides to get the truck.) 

Trails do not get more beautiful than this! 

Trails around Fairmont Hot Springs 

The Spirit Trail, Fairmont Hot Springs

This is an 18 km long double track old road that goes from Fairmont Hot Springs to Canal Flats. I'd been obsessed with this trail for a while now so we finally explored the entire thing in the summer of 2017 (my son aged 8.)

You'll find the trail on Trail ForksWhile I recommend doing an out and back from Fairmont, we did the full traverse from Canal Flats to Fairmont (starting high up) and rode approximately 12 km. We set up a vehicle shuttle so that we only had to ride one way, and were able to drive a fairly long section of the trail on the Canal Flats side where there was no gate or barrier (until the trail got too rough and we knew we had to switch to our bikes.)

Riding on the double track Spirit Trail between Canal Flats and Fairmont

Fairmont Trailhead:

If riding from Fairmont as an out and back ride, continue past the big sign for the resort on the highway (coming from Invermere.) Turn left onto Fairmont Creek Road (same side of the road as the resort.)  Take your first right off this road onto Columbia River Road.

Follow Columbia River Road until it turns to gravel and keep going as you follow the river and some cliffs on your left hand side. Drive until you reach the gate for the Nature Conservancy's protected area. There is an official parking lot with bathrooms here.

From here, Ride until you get tired and turned around.  The trail is very gradual with little elevation change.

Easy riding on the Spirit Trail, Fairmont Hot Springs

What to expect from the "mostly double track" Spirit Trail: 

The riding starts on an old road (which we thought we would be following the whole time) and then turns into easy family-friendly singletrack through the trees.

Half a kilometre in to the singletrack bit of trail, you'll reach a section of exposed trail hugging cliffs to your left.  This is where you'll either turn around or you can walk the narrowest parts until the trail opens up again. It's only a kilometre through this section at most until the trail becomes the wide open road again.

And while Trail Forks indicates this trail being double track the whole distance from Fairmont to Canal Flats, we have thoroughly explored it - and can confirm that there is definitely a brief section of singletrack that you can't avoid.

Easy double track riding on the Spirit Trail in Fairmont

Teen Spirit (Singletrack Extension to the Spirit Trail)

Teen Spirit is our new favourite trail in the Columbia Valley as of fall 2017. Prerequisite experience for this trail should be riding "Deja View" (mentioned earlier) or other intermediate singletrack trails in the area. Kids will need a 20" bike (or larger) with hand brakes and gears.

We love this trail because it is very similar to our beloved flowy, cruisy, "Deja View" Trail near Invermere. The hills are never very long or sustained, there are no big climbs, and the trail is gloriously smooth. (no roots or rocks.)

The trail is 6.1 km long and you can make a loop with the Spirit Trail for a total distance of 12 km.

From Fairmont, ride the Spirit Trail on the way out and return on Teen Spirit for best flow.

Biking along Teen Spirit above Columbia Lake, Fairmont Hot Springs

To access this trail you have two options:

Easy option for accessing Teen Spirit - Ride the Spirit Trail until you come to the junction with Teen Spirit (which is easy to find if you're following Trail Forks while you ride.) I recommend riding Teen Spirit on the way back to the parking lot for best flow.

Biking above Columbia Lake on Teen Spirit

Intermediate option for accessing Teen Spirit - From the parking lot, climb up Mini Pipe, 400 metres in distance, and you'll be walking. This will put you on to B&B, a lovely but challenging singletrack trail that parallels the Spirit Trail, higher up on the hillside. We found this to be a beautiful trail but there was a lot of climbing.

Scenic riding along the B&B Trail off the Spirit Trail

B&B was much harder than the Spirit Trail and my 8 year old didn't enjoy the climbing on it. You'll have an awesome decent down off of B&B though to the intersection with Teen Spirit - and you'll avoid riding on the boring old road this way.

Biking across a large grassy meadow on the B&B Trail, Fairmont Hot Springs

For an optional end to the ride, return to the parking lot on a Little Bit of Spirit, a short 2 km loop that is pretty much the same as the Teen Spirit Trail in terms of character and difficulty. (note there is a big climb at the end on a loose gravel hiking trail, but we just walk our bikes back up and it only takes 5 minutes to get up to the parking lot.)

If you choose not to return on this trail, you'll have to take the Spirit Trail for the final kilometre or so back to the trailhead once you've finished riding Teen Spirit.

Family riding on Teen Spirit 

Trails around the Town of Golden to the North 

We've only just scratched the surface for what you can ride around the Town of Golden. We spent a weekend in Golden and tried to ride as much as we could, but rain prevented us from exploring more than a couple of good trails.

Below are some of the options that you may want to check out if you're in Golden.

Easy double track riding - Check out the Town Rotary Loop. This 7 km loop is a nice wide gravel trail and it takes you by the Municipal Campground, the outdoor pool, the town pump track and skills park, and the skate park.

Playing on the town pump track located off the Rotary Loop behind the Mount 7 Rec Plex

Easy singletrack riding - Try "Bush Party" in the Mountain Shadows section of trails. It's basically a 2 km long pump track. Expect easy singletrack riding in a figure eight loop, and a great agility course to work on small bumps and roots along with manoeuvering around trees and rocks.

The trail is relatively flat with a few short hills. Awesome for families and definitely balance bike friendly. (full face helmet definitely not needed!)

Easy flat terrain on Bush Party 

Intermediate singletrack riding - We headed to the CBT Trails at a recommendation from Tourism Golden. I drove my husband and son to the top of "The Mighty Quinn" where they then connected to the bottom part of Gold Rush. Then I drove to the bottom and picked them up on Elk Road.

Both trails are downhill only and feature fun flowy berms, jumps, and steep descents. My son LOVED this ride and I would recommend full face helmets for the kids on this one.

It was a very short shuttle and the ride was less than 2 km long. Note with the trailhead for starting the Mighty Quinn, you can drive all the way right up to the starting point off the CBT Mainline Trail. Just go to the Trail Forks map and look for the unnamed road leading in off the Kicking Horse Trail (the road leading up to the ski resort.) 

There is a road that leaves the Kicking Horse Trail (with a gate across it) - and most of the time the gate is open. Proceed past the gate and make your way to the junction with the CBT Mainline Trail and the Mighty Quinn. We drove right up to this junction and were able to start our ride right from the top of the Mighty Quinn.

Descending the Mighty Quinn 

For more trails in the Golden area, please visit the Trail Forks website where you'll find no shortage of trails to try out. I have the Trail Forks app on my phone so we can find trailheads when out traveling (and to make sure we never get lost.)

Reminder to carry bear spray when riding and to make lots of noise!

Trails around Kimberley to the South 

Biking The North Star Rails 2 Trails from Kimberley to Cranbrook

The North Star Rails to Trails path is a converted railway trail,  25km in length, and completely paved.  Start in Kimberley and it is all downhill to Marysville.  From here there is a wee bit of uphill but it is mostly flat to Wycliffe.  From Wycliffe, you will descend and then climb back up from the St. Mary's River Bridge.  Once you finish the climb back up, it is relatively flat again until you reach Cranbrook.

We did this ride on a 30+ degree day in July 2015, and it was hot!  There is very little shade on this trail so bring lots of water or else bike it on a cooler day.  Starting early is also a good idea before it gets too hot.

Biking on the North Star Rails to Trails Path

While it is possible to get a bus ride to Cranbrook to start the ride, you would then have to bike mostly uphill all the way back to Kimberley (less than ideal with kids.)  Easier is to do your own shuttle with friends (stashing a second vehicle in Cranbrook) or else have an adult bike back for the vehicle.

If an adult is biking back, consider parking somewhere around the halfway mark (maybe in Wycliffe) so that you don't have to bike back so far at the end.  My husband parked in Cranbrook and then biked back up the trail to meet us.  This meant that he didn't get to ride the whole trail with us but at least we had our truck at the end.

All trail info. can be found on the North Star Rails to Trails website

And I have not covered any of the mountain bike trails around Kimberley yet. The Tourism Kimberley website is your best bet here to discover more trails in this part of the valley.

North Star Rails To Trails

More Biking in the Columbia Valley

For more information on biking in the Columbia Valley, visit Trail Forks for the Columbia Valley and search the various areas to see what trails might be suitable for your family.

Nipika Mountain Resort

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