Monday, October 27, 2014

Autumn Mountain Biking in the Columbia Valley

We love the towns of Radium Hotsprings and Invermere in the Columbia Valley, west of the border in British Columbia.  It's a short 3 hour drive from Calgary to reach this warm sunny valley and so we often start off the summer season here in early spring.  We like to return again in fall because it feels like we get a second shot at summer with warmer weather and dry trails to ride or hike.

Biking the Old Coach Trail in the Columbia Valley this past Thanksgiving

Our Favourite Family-Friendly Bike Trails in the Columbia Valley

Autumn in the Columbia Valley on the Old Coach Trail

Biking the Old Coach Trail

I'm starting off with this trail because it has the best scenery in the valley for biking and is a great ride for families.  I biked the Old Coach Trail earlier this year at Easter with my girlfriend but Noah never got a chance to do the ride from Dry Gulch to Radium Hotsprings at that time.  It was therefore at the top of the list for Thanksgiving because we'd tried it with Noah in 2013 when he was very very new to his pedal bike, and it was a very challenging ride for him at that time.

This time - wow!  Noah and I were flying down hills together, side by side, in total sync, and I wasn't braking to match his speed.  It was awesome and we only had to walk up a couple of the especially big hills.  All the others were ridden.

High above the Columbia River on the Old Coach Trail

The Old Coach Trail is basically an old gravel road with lots of single track loop options to explore on the river side of the trail.  We did the first loop with Noah this time and he had few problems.  We walked a couple of the steeper hills but other than that, it provided great scenery and photo opps.

What most of the trail looks like on the old road

The Old Coach Trail is doable on small 16" bikes (maybe even smaller 14" bikes) but it is bumpy in spots and there are some big hills that have to be walked if you don't have gears yet.  There's also some scary downhill sections that really require hand brakes (not coaster brakes) and good braking skills.  The trail could be done with a Chariot or bike trailer pulling younger children but if you aren't in exceptional shape, you'll be walking at least one section.

Trying out the Single Track Trails off the Old Coach Trail

The Lake Lillian Bike Trails

The other trail we really wanted to revisit this autumn was the Junior Johnson at Lake Lillian outside of Invermere.  We did this one with Noah at Easter and he was a little challenged by it.  This time was quick and fast and we completed the small loop in maybe half an hour.  Officially known as "Along the Johnson," the trail is a 2.5km loop and we think it's fabulous for kids learning how to ride off pavement.  Next summer Noah will learn to use his gears to get up the hills on it, and he's definitely had to practice good braking on the down hill sections that are steep and rocky in spots.

Riding "Along the Johnson" outside of Invermere

As you can see from the photo above, it's basically a "garden trail" and definitely wide enough for bike trailers and Chariots.  It's a good into-mountain biking ride and at 2.5km, sections can easily be walked if you find it's too difficult for your child.  This trail is also awesome for kids on balance bikes because it's so short.

My Boys biking the green trail at Lake Lillian


The Radium Hotsprings Bike Park and The Sinclair Creek Trail

We visited the Radium Hotsprings Bike Park at Easter and Noah was still on his Strider Balance Bike.  This fall was the first visit on his Spawn Pedal Bike and we knew he'd do well because he's been riding on pump tracks all summer around Alberta and BC.

Playing on the Radium Hotsprings Pump Track

Noah wasn't thrilled that he had to share the park this time around (it was deserted at Easter) but we played for a short bit and then rode the Sinclair Creek Bike Trail to the far parking lot.  This was a big biking day because we first rode the Old Coach Trail from Dry Gulch to Radium Hotsprings (mentioned above,) biked through town to the pump track which we accessed from Hwy 95 near Rotary Park, and then biked along the Sinclair Creek Trail to our truck parked at the far end.

Radium Hotsprings Pump Track and Bike Park

For the big vehicle shuttle, I convinced my husband to bike back along the Old Coach Trail to get the truck from the original parking lot and meet us at the pump track after stashing the truck at the end of Sinclair Creek. And he was actually happy to do more biking at an adult pace and didn't really mind.

Autumn biking in Sinclair Creek in Radium Hotsprings

The Invermere Pump Track 

We discovered a new pump track in the town of Invermere this fall at the Mount Nelson Athletic Park.  It's smaller than the one in Radium Hotsprings but we still had fun at it.  There was also a cute little playground with exercise equipment and a skate park.

Playing on the Pump Track in Invermere


The Old Toby Road - Bike/Hike Combo (with 4x4 Adventure)

This just might be our new favourite "crazy" adventure in the Columbia Valley. To reach the Old Toby Road you'll first have to navigate old logging roads and hopefully you have a high clearance vehicle with bikes in the box and not dragging on the ground as you hit bumps (yes that happened.)

Adventure to reach the Old Toby Road

We honestly didn't expect much of a driving challenge because the Panorama Mountain Resort website said the drive was all of 9km from the school in Invermere. We figured we could do the drive in ten minutes.  Ha!  As it turned out though, the drive was one of the easier challenges of the day. The Old Toby Road is 3km in length to an old bridge site and we had hoped for a pleasant 6km round trip ride on a wide old dirt trail.  That's what "road" means, right?

Starting out with great hopes on the Old Toby Road
The old road was easy, wide, and super sweet for the first 1.5km.  Then we came to a small road block and discovered why this trail was listed on the hiking page and not the biking page on the Panorama website.

End of the "bike trail" on the Old Toby Road

The trail turned into a hiking trail past the 1.5km mark with big chunky rocks, narrow exposed sections that required holding the kids' hands, and even a bit of scrambling at times.  It was a fun hike, but definitely not bike-friendly.  We got within 0.1km of the old bridge site and were turned around by an old rickety ladder we didn't want to scale.

Hiking the Old Toby Road
Narrow sections you wouldn't want to bike with kids
The End of the Road for us

Even though we had to hike the final 1.5km, we still had a pleasant hike/bike combo outing.  And we'd still bring bikes again in the future because the 3km that we did bike were a lot of fun and helped to knock some distance off at the beginning and end of the trip.

Biking the first section of the Old Toby Road on the way out
Very cool biking on the Old Toby Road
The first 1.5km were very easy for family biking

Please note I have heard rumors that the trailhead for the Old Toby Road might not be accessible at the moment.  Please inquire with a tourism centre in the valley before heading out and if you do get there, please let me know!

Autumn Biking in Sinclair Creek

Hopefully I've given you inspiration to get out to the Columbia Valley for a biking adventure.  I didn't go into great details on how to find each of these trails, but if you follow the links throughout the story, they all go to other websites with great route descriptions, parking lot info, and driving details.  For more photos, check out my story that I wrote at Easter:  Kids on Wheels - Biking the Columbia Valley

If you're more interested in hiking in the valley, I've written a few stories on that as well.

There's also a lot of other hiking trails mentioned on the Panorama website where we found out about the Old Toby Creek Road.

Finally, the Kootenay National Park website lists many great hiking trails including the Juniper Trail in Radium Hotsprings. 

Balance Biking the Old Toby Creek Road

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