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 section of the Columbia Valley stretching from Radium Hot Springs to Fairmont Hot Springs.  Located across the border in British Columbia, Radium Hot Springs is only 3 hours from Calgary by car and very accessible for a weekend getaway.  Add an extra half hour and you are at Fairmont Hot Springs.  And yes, they both have hot spring pools worth visiting while in the area!

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

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, 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 through Sinclair Creek to the Bike Park

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

This 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.  There's a lovely coffee shop, Meet on Higher Ground, located 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.

Easy Riding on the Old Coach Trail

We first biked the trail with our son at age 4 and while challenged, 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!)   The trail is 8 km one way and we prefer to start at Dry Gulch, biking into Radium Hotsprings.  If you're going to wait around for a ride at the end, it's nicer to wait in town.

Single Track Trails on the river side of the Old Coach Trail

For more information on the trail, where to park, and for a map of the route, visit the Village of Radium Hotsprings' website.

Views down over the Columbia Valley off of the single track trails on the Old Coach Trail

Deja View Extension to the Old Coach Trail (updated for 2016)

Want more of a real mountain biking adventure?  The Old Coach Trail follows a bench high above the Columbia River and there are "fun" (read "challenging" if you are a beginner) single track trails off to the left and right side of the gravel road.  You can jump off on to any of the single track trails  as you follow the Old Coach Trail but if you are new to mountain biking, you should take the trails on the river side as they are much easier.

Easy single track riding on the Deja View Trail

 The single track trails are collectively referred to as the "Deja View" Trail and we've ridden most of the loops on the river side. The first and second loops closest to Dry Gulch are especially good for newbies to mountain biking. The loops get harder the further you go towards Radium Hot Springs.

Awesome views on Deja View

The beauty of the mountain bike loops 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!!)

The return ride off of Deja View on the Old Coach Trail

For a map of this whole area, visit the Trail Forks Website. 
I have the Trail Forks app on my phone so I know which loop I'm on and how far it is back to the truck.

Having some fun on the harder loops off Deja View


Biking the Lillian Lake Trails, Invermere (Updated for 2016)

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.  Click on the The "Junior Johnson" is a double track trail, great for families and beginner mountain biking. It has a couple of steep hills but there are mild elevation changes along most of the trail. And it's very short (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 the easiest trail 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 single track 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.

I'd also give these trails another year or so to settle. They were brand new as of 2016 and could use some more bikes on them to pack them down.

Once you've mastered all of these trails, you can try sections of "the Johnston" or the "Kloosifier." My husband and son also really liked the "Arch Potential Trail," which they just rode this fall, 2016. (Note that my son is now 7 and is on a 20" bike with gears.")
The Junior Johnson "Garden Path"
An easy section on the "Johnston" at Lillian Lake

Biking The North Star Rails 2 Trails from Kimberly to Cranbrook (added for 2015)

The North Star Rails to Trails path is a converted railway trail,  25km in length and completely paved.  Start in Kimberly 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 this summer, 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

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 Kimberly (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. 

Cranbrook Trailhead for the North Star Rails to Trails

Family Biking at Nipika Mountain Resort (newly added for 2015)

Spend a weekend or a day at Nipika Mountain Resort just outside of Radium Hotsprings and you can bike on 100+ km of single track and double track bike and ski trails.  We spent a weekend here this spring, May 2015, and loved it! The kids biked about 15km 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

Mountain Biking in Fairmont Hot Springs (newly added for 2015)

We finally made it down to Fairmont at the end of summer (2015) to check out the bike trails and I've fallen in love with the Spirit Trail. While it's a bit tricky to follow and a detailed map would be lovely, I will try to give you some basic directions below:

First, drive towards Fairmont Hot Springs on hwy 95 from Invermere and continue past the big sign for the resort and swimming pool.  You'll be turning 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.

The road gets a bit rough but most cars should be able to get through if it hasn't been too muddy.  While you can park anywhere, we chose to go all the way until we reached the gate for the Nature Conservancy's protected area and parked there.  We lifted our bikes over the gate (yes, you can bike here) and explored from there.  We rode until we were tired and turned around.  It's mostly uphill riding on the way out so the return is FAST.

Checking out the Spirit Trail near Fairmont, BC

The riding started on an old road (which we thought we would be following the whole time) and then turned into easy family-friendly single track through the trees.  It was still wide enough for our kids and they loved the trail. After a couple kilometres though we came to an area of exposed single track hugging cliffs to our left.  We had to walk here for maybe 20 minutes and then the trail opened up again, spitting us out onto the old road again.

Easy double track riding on the Spirit Trail in Fairmont

There are several single track trails in the area and you could spend a month riding here and never do the same ride twice.  I've been twice now and I still have trails I want to check out.

We turned around after about 6-7 kms but it is possible to ride all the way towards Canal Flats with a second vehicle parked at the tower overlooking the lake. (you'll find it off of Grainger Road in Canal Flats and from there get onto the forestry road going UP to the tower.)  If you are going to do the trip one-way, start in Canal Flats at the tower and it will be mostly downhill for approximately 20km to Fairmont.

Easy single track riding on the Spirit Trail in Fairmont

More Biking in the Columbia Valley

Biking the Junior Johnson

For more information on biking in the Columbia Valley, visit the links below to find out about some great trails that we haven't tried yet.

Panorama Mountain Village - There's a 4km paved loop that follows Toby Creek as well as 20km of cross country mountain biking trails.  There's also a bike park and chair-accessed downhill riding.

Kimberly Bike Trails - The sky's the limit in Kimberly!  Check out the link to see just how many bike trails there are in Kimberly from easy family trails to technical single track rides.

Golden Bike Trails - The final area in the Columbia Valley is mountain bike Mecca and should not be missed if you are a biking family.  The link shows you all the trails you can set out to explore. 

Additional Reading on the Columbia Valley

Autumn Mountain Biking in the Columbia Valley

Camping Across British Columbia - Wasa Lake

Exploring the Columbia Valley Wetlands - by boat, bike, and hike

Thanksgiving at Lake Lillian in the Columbia Valley

Want Spring - Go West to the Columbia Valley 

Kids on Wheels - Nipika Mountain Resort

Nipika Mountain Resort

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