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)

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

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

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.

Easy Riding on the Old Coach Trail

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.)

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 the final hill up to Radium Hot Springs

Deja View Single Track Extension to the Old Coach Trail

Want more of a real mountain biking adventure?  The Old Coach Trail follows a bench high above the Columbia River and there are fun single track trails off both sides 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 all 6 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.

Awesome views on Deja View

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.

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

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 single track 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 6 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.

Beautiful riding along the Deja View Trail above the Columbia Valley wetlands


Biking the Lillian Lake Trails, 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 beginners to 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 (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 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.

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 "Garden Path"
An easy section on the "Johnson" at Lillian Lake

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. 

Cranbrook Trailhead for the North Star Rails to Trails Path

Family Biking at Nipika Mountain Resort

Spend a weekend or a day at Nipika Mountain Resort just outside of Radium Hot Springs and you can bike on 100+ km of single track 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 single track to the loop.

Crossing the Natural Bridge on the cross country ski trails

Single track 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 single track 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

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 Forks and you'll discover that you can drive the first part of it from Fairmont. You can also drive a large first section from Canal Flats. While 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. (driving the rest at both ends with a vehicle shuttle so that we only had to ride one way.)

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. The road gets a bit rough but most cars should be able to get through if it hasn't been too muddy.  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.  It's mostly uphill riding on the way out so the return is relatively painless.

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 single track through the trees. (strange since every website indicates this trail to be double track the entire distance.)

Half a kilometre in to the single track bit of trail, you'll reach a section of exposed single track hugging cliffs to your left.  This is either where you'll 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 single track that you can't avoid. (and a short section of it is quite sketchy for kids.)

Easy double track riding on the Spirit Trail in Fairmont

Teen Spirit, Single Track Extension to the Spirit Trail, Fairmont Hot Springs

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 single track 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.)

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 of the Spirit Trail

B&B was much harder than the Spirit Trail and my 8 year old didn't enjoy some parts of 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

More Biking in the Columbia Valley

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.

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

Golden Bike Trails - The final area in the Columbia Valley is mountain biking 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. 

Nipika Mountain Resort

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