Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Best Family Bike Trails in Jasper

We're working our way across the Canadian Rockies on our bikes this summer from Waterton Lakes National Park in the far south to Jasper National Park in the north.  And while we're certainly not biking between parks on the highways, we are camping in each park and spending as much time on our bikes as possible while there.  The mission:  To bike every beginner bike trail in the mountain parks.  Why?  Because I have a five year old that LOVES biking and we're enjoying the fact we can still keep up to him and bike as a family before he quickly starts out-riding us.

Biking along the Athabasca River in Jasper

We spent the July long weekend camping in Jasper this summer and spent a long day on our bikes looping the best beginner family trails the park has to offer near the townsite of Jasper.  What we loved about biking in Jasper was the way we could bike from our campsite to popular hiking trails, hop off our bikes, tag a short summit, and bike back to camp.  We were also able to bike from our campsite at Wapiti off the Hwy 93 all the way out to the Jasper Park Lodge and surrounding beaches.

Beautiful scenery along the Jasper bike trails

For an overview of where we biked in one day of easy riding around Jasper, check out the map below with trails highlighted orange:

Biking the Wapiti and Red Squirrel Trails

We started biking from the Wapiti Campground (far bottom of the map) on the easy Wapiti Trail.  It's one of the easiest green trails in Jasper and connects campers to the nearby Whistlers Campground and then continues on to the Jasper townsite.  So in theory, you could go into town for coffee and then bike back to camp in an easy 4.7km ride (one way.)

We jumped off the Wapiti trail onto the Red Squirrel Trail which took us to one of our favourite hikes in Jasper, the Old Fort Point Trail.  We hiked up to the top of the viewpoint over the town, had our lunch, and then continued on our way towards the Jasper Park Lodge.

From the Wapiti or Whistlers Campgrounds, it's an easy and enjoyable ride to Old Fort Point and back for a short hike.  We even did the ride one evening before bed.  The only downside is that it's easy going on the way out (downhill) and then you'll be climbing back to camp at the end.  Kids without gears would struggle a bit.

Easy riding on the Wapiti Trail
As you can see from the photo above, the Wapiti Trail is hard packed dirt and gravel.  It's awesome for introducing children to mountain biking with easy single track sections that young kids should have no challenge with at all.  The hills are mostly gradual and the one steep hill that's especially narrow could be walked if you had to.

Biking on the Wapiti Trail in Jasper

There are good signs everywhere to ensure you don't get lost! Always something I appreciate.

Easy flat biking along the Athabasca River

The Red Squirrel trail was a little more difficult than the Wapiti Trail but was still super easy - and fun. It was probably my favourite trail in fact because it was twisty and more narrow than the Wapiti Trail.  We were also riding it in the downhill direction towards the Old Fort Point Road so we were absolutely flying!  Squirrels fly, right?

As you can see from the photo below, it's still hard packed gravel and challenge free.  It's just a short little connector trail to get you from Wapiti over to the Athabasca River Loop.

Distance biked so far from the Wapiti Campground to Old Fort Point:  5 kilometres - mostly downhill or flat

The Red Squirrel Trail was a lot of fun!


Stopping to Hike the Old Fort Point Trail

This is our favourite hike in Jasper and we do it every year.  We hopped off our bikes, locked them up at the bike racks conveniently situated at the bottom of the stairs, and then climbed up to the stunning viewpoint looking over the town.

A short steep climb leads you to this view above the Athabasca River
We like scrambling on the final rocks leading to the top of the Old Fort Point
Reaching the top of the Old Fort Point
We didn't stop long on top because we still had further to bike but we did have lunch and play around a bit before running back down again.  All in all, it was a diversion of maybe an hour and provided a nice break from biking.

The annual summit shot on Old Fort Point
My classic "star" pose!
Side Planks looks cool!!
Nothing but our KEENS to bike and hike in for this family!


Biking The Athabasca River Loop

Back on our bikes, we continued towards the Jasper Park Lodge on the Athabasca River Loop trail. We didn't do the full loop but we biked from Old Fort Point to Beauvert Lake at Jasper Park Lodge - where we had more snacks and stopped to rest again.

Biking along the Athabasca River Loop
This trail was a bit bumpier than the first two we had done because it clearly sees a lot of horse traffic!  You could tell that horses had walked on it when the trail was wet and had left their mark on the poor rutted trail.  For this reason, it wasn't our favourite trail in the park.  It was flat and easy going but could have been in better shape.  There was also a lot of sand on the trail which we had to be careful of because small bike tries don't travel through sand so well!

Old Pump Track we found on the Athabasca River Loop
The one positive thing I do have to say about this trail though is that we found a secret bike park and pump track between the Old Fort Point parking lot and the Jasper Park Lodge!!

Noah playing on some jumps we found along the Athabasca River Loop

I have no idea if this little "bike park" that we found is well known amongst locals or not but I'm telling everybody about it now!  It was a lot of fun playing here on small jumps and there was even a small pump track of sorts.

The perfect spot to stop and "play" on the Athabasca River Loop

Resting at Jasper Park Lodge and Beauvert Lake

We continued our ride towards Beauvert Lake and stopped to rest at one of the little picnic areas located around the lake shore.  Snacks came out and I wondered how we could order a beer...

Biking around Beauvert Lake on the 4a trail (detour off the Athabasca River Loop)

Distance biked from Old Fort Point to the Jasper Park Lodge:  2 kilometres.  (total of 7km so far) - mostly flat along the Athabasca River.

Beauvert Lake - and Noah's definitely tired by this point!

Biking the Woodpecker Trail

After a short rest, we made our way over to the Woodpecker Trail by biking through the hotel grounds, and proceeded down this short 1.8km trail to Annette Lake.

Starting off on the Woodpecker Trail

We wanted to get to Annette Lake so we could go swimming and play at the beach - and the Woodpecker Trail is the easiest way to connect the Jasper Park Lodge with Annette Lake.  However, I'm not biking this trail again.  Next time, we'd actually continue on the Athabasca River Loop (horse traffic and all) and go to Annette Lake this way - even though it's longer.

Biking the Woodpecker Trail

There's nothing seriously wrong with the Woodpecker Trail and maybe it's because Noah was really tired by this point, but this is the one trail he absolutely lost it on!  It went slightly uphill for much of it towards Annette Lake and it was really hot with little shade.

My major complaint with this trail is this:  It looks like you are on a man-made gravel sidewalk that's been slapped down through the forest.  (which you can see from the photo above.)  All of the other trails we did resembled hiking trails and were very natural.  They had roots, they had rocks, they had dirt.  Meanwhile, The Woodpecker trail is little more than a sidewalk and was definitely created by stripping a section of trees from the forest for this new and "not so exciting" trail.

Distance biked from the Jasper Park Lodge to Annette Lake:  Approximately 3 kilometres.  (Total of about 10km so far) - gradual uphill from the JPL to Annette Lake.

Arriving at Annette Lake


Beach Time at Annette Lake

We stopped at Annette Lake where friends were conveniently meeting us with sand toys and swim suits.  And the plan was to swim for a bit before continuing on our way so that we could finish our ride in the town of Jasper.  We even had a truck parked in Jasper at the far end of the Discovery Trail past the Bighorn Alley Trail I wanted to bike.

Playing at Annette Lake
In the end, Noah was having so much fun playing at the lake and since it was getting late in the afternoon, we decided to stop our ride here and send Dad back into Jasper for the truck.  He got to bike the Bighorn Alley Trail along the Hwy 16 into town and finished the final 6 kilometres to the parking lot where we'd parked our truck at the far edge of town near the Cabin Creek trailhead at P2.

Much more fun than biking the final 6km back to town

We plan to visit Jasper again to finish the full loop and to ride the Bighorn Alley section along the railway tracks.  It's supposed to be a huge animal corridor (which I believe after my husband biked right by a bear on the trail) and what child doesn't like trains??

We also want to ride the full Athabasca River Loop and spend some time riding around the townsite on the Discovery Trail.  Guess this means we have to plan another trip next summer!

Biking the Athabasca River Loop

To see a better copy of the map I've shown at the top of this story, go to the Parks Canada website and download a copy of the Jasper Mountain Biking Guide.  It has the same map I've attached above with information on each trail.  There's also information here on the Jasper Easy Trails System.

If you don't want to loop all of the easy trails in a day, you can certainly pick and choose sections to ride.  Top suggestions would be:
  • Wapiti or Whistlers Campground to Old Fort Point on the Wapiti and Red Squirrel Trails  - 10km return from Wapiti.   Have an adult bike back for a vehicle for younger kids so that they can ride one way downhill.
  • Old Fort Point to the Jasper Park Lodge via the Athabasca River Trail - 4km return.  Easy riding, flat, and you can stop to play at the unofficial bike park.
  • Jasper Park Lodge to Annette Lake and back via the Athabasca River Loop and Woodpecker  Trails - By combining the #7, 7e, 4g or 4e, and #18 trails you can do a big loop around several lakes near the Jasper Park Lodge.  Annette Lake has a good beach so bring swim suits and a picnic lunch.  Loop distance would be approximately 10km if you followed #7 all the way to  Edith Lake.  Shorter if you cut back earlier on the 4e to Annette.
  • Jasper townsite to Annette Lake and back via Bighorn Alley - By parking at parking area P3 you can take the Discovery Trail to Big horn Alley and follow this path all the way to Annette Lake for a swim.  Send an adult back for a car if the kids can't bike both ways.  It would be about 9km return. 

I think Jasper has done a fabulous job with their easy trail system and it's the best I've seen yet in a national park.  As always, Jasper never disappoints!

Family Biking the Easy Trails in Jasper


New Trails and Updates for 2015 to 2016

It's been two years since I first wrote this story and I have three new trails to add since our recent visit to Jasper.

We managed to finish the loop mentioned above and ride the Big Horn Alley section of the trail this summer, 2016. It is an awesome trail!! There's a short hill you have to ride (or walk) up to get above the highway as you leave the Jasper Park Lodge area heading back into town, but then it's all flat riding on a lovely bench with some super fun downhill sections.

Big Horn Alley Trail from Lake Annette
Biking on the Big Horn Alley Trail

The second new trail we tried last fall, 2015, was the intermediate section of the Athabasca River Trail mentioned earlier in this story. Instead of taking the Woodpecker Trail from the Jasper Park Lodge we stayed on the river trail to find out what it was like. The verdict:  not child-friendly.We fortunately rode this trail without our son and thank goodness for that! It was bumpy with big hills that I found myself walking (both up and down.) And when I say bumpy, I mean loose rocks on huge hills that could send even a skilled rider tumbling off his or her bike. We were not fans of this trail. Fortunately, we weren't on the trail all that long before we made an escape to get onto the Big Horn Alley Trail.

Views down over the Athabasca River from the "blue" part of the Athabasca River Trail

Finally, we also rode the Pyramid Lake Trail down from Pyramid Lake into town both last fall and this recent summer. It shows up as trail #15 on the Jasper trail map and is an intermediate trail. It had 100+ metres of height loss and was a BLAST! The key word though is DOWN. You don't want to ride this trail up from town to Pyramid Lake with young kids. We did the ride with a shuttle so that we could ride all one way down to town. (Thanks Grandma for the ride to the trailhead and for picking us up in town!)

This trail is rated "intermediate" but it wasn't really all that hard a ride. It was single track for sure, twisty, flowy, and fast - but never that technical or challenging. In the downhill direction it is a relaxed ride for children who have had previous mountain  biking experience and can handle their brakes with skill.

Biking the Pyramid Lake Trail down to the Town of Jasper from Pyramid Lake

Next up for Trails

This summer, 2016, we tried "The Back of 7" from Old Fort Point towards the Jasper Park Lodge. We got a ways on this intermediate trail but unfortunately got turned back by a bear closure. We'll try it again next summer because it was a nice challenge and definitely on par with other intermediate trails we now ride as a family. It is definitely rootier and rockier than the easy trail system in Jasper with steeper hills.

Single track riding on "The back of 7" in Jasper

More Stories on Jasper National Park


Banff to Jasper - Camping in the National Parks

Family Friendly Summits in Jasper National Park

Touring the Canadian Rockies on a Stand Up Paddleboard

Spring Adventures in Jasper

Winter Escape to Jasper National Park 

The Wildest Winter Canyon Hike in the Canadian Rockies

Riding on the paved Discovery Trail through the Town of Jasper

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