Friday, June 26, 2015

Family Bike Adventures in the Spray Valley

Want to get off the beaten path in the Canadian Rockies?  The Spray Valley beyond the popular mountain town of Canmore beckons families to come explore - without the crowds. Love biking?  Even better because chances are high you'll have many trails all to yourself.  (and no, you don't have to be terrified of bears out there alone as long as you make a lot of noise and bike in a group.)

Backcountry Mountain Biking in the Spray Valley

Introduction to the Spray Valley

Spray Valley Provincial Park is located along the Spray River and near the Spray Lakes Reservoir off of Highway 742 out of Canmore.  The provincial park also stretches to Highway 40 near the Wedge Pond day use area but I am going to focus purely on the area off of the Smith Dorrien Trail (Highway 742) in this story.

Scenery off the Smith Dorrien Trail

Bike Trails in the Spray Valley

There are only a handful of bike trails in this valley but that just means you don't have to debate over which trail to do.  Plan a long weekend to the valley and conquer all of the bike trails in one shot.  They are all family-friendly and doable by children on 16-20" bikes.  We've even had our son out here biking to Watridge Lake on his balance bike back when he was just 4 years old.

Biking to Watridge Lake in the Spray Valley

What I love most about the bike trails in this valley is the remoteness and the feeling of solitude you'll get as you ride way into the backcountry on well maintained trails and old roads perfect for young riders not up for the challenges of single track riding. 

Backcountry riding in the Spray Valley to Watridge Lake

Biking Mount Shark to Watridge Lake

The Watridge Lake trail is an 8km bike ride (round trip distance) that we try to do once a year.  The trail starts from the Mount Shark Day Use area and follows an old logging road that is very family-friendly.  Our son has been doing the ride since he was 4 years old and we've just walked the occasional steep hill we come across.  Most of the trip is pretty gradual though without huge amounts of height gain or loss.

Biking the Watridge Lake Trail from Mount Shark

At the 3.9km mark, you'll reach a sign for Watridge Lake.  Here is where we leave our bikes and walk down a steep hill to reach the lake.  From the lake, you can hike an additional 0.8km (one way) up to Karst Spring which is highly recommended during run off season when water is high.

Watridge Lake, Spray Valley

There are no technical challenges on this outing and it is Chariot-friendly for the entire distance. Children on balance bikes will also have few problems on this gradual trail. 

My son  made it all the way to Watridge Lake and back on his balance bike at the age of 4

Biking The Goat Creek Trail from the Spray Valley to Banff

The Goat Creek Trail starts from the Goat Creek Day Use Area just outside of Canmore and is a 19 km one way ride from the Spray Valley to the Banff townsite.  Strong riders can bike the full return distance in 3-4 hours but it will take families the same amount of time to ride one way to Banff.

Canmore to Banff on the Goat Creek Trail

While many people set up a car shuttle, leaving a second vehicle at Bow Falls in Banff, we chose to make things simple on ourselves since we were staying in the Spray Valley overnight.  My son and I biked one-way into Banff while Dad turned around at the final bridge and headed back for the truck.  Yay Dad! He then came into Banff to pick us up and we tried to keep it a secret that we'd been eating ice-cream while he was biking back uphill to fetch the vehicle.

The Goat Creek Bridge en route to Banff

What to expect on this trail:

  •  Double track riding on gravel and dirt
  •  Some loose rocks and a few hills that are quite challenging with big rocks you must dodge. The hill down to the first big bridge is the worst and should probably be walked by young children.  We rode it but it was a bit scary. (it has a sign at the top of it warning people to take caution.)
  • Downhill riding with 435m of height loss spread out over 19km in the Canmore to Banff direction
  • A few significant hills in the up direction with 176m of height gain (something we weren't prepared for - and why kids really should have gears for this ride)
  • Remote backcountry riding (make sure you have spare tubes and a bike repair kit)
Lots of cool bridges to cross on the Goat Creek Trail

Exploring the Trails near the Spray Lakes West Campground

If you're looking for a sense of  remoteness, this is the place for you to go biking!  You likely won't see a single other person on your ride and you might even come across a moose if you're lucky.

There are two main trails that start from the Spray Lakes West Campground (which is great if you're camping here.) First, you can follow the West Side Lake Trail which is a gravel road connecting the campground with the Mt. Shark trail system near Watridge Lake.  The West Side Lake Trail follows the Spray Lakes Reservoir all the way to the far end at Canyon dam.  The trail is 10.8km one way and is typically done as an out and back trip. It is relatively flat and easy for family-riding.

This will be your backdrop as you bike around the Spray Lakes Reservoir on the West Side Lake Trail

For information on how to connect the West Side Lake Trail with the Mount Shark trails, pick up a copy of Doug Eastcott's book, Backcountry Biking in the Canadian Rockies. Families will likely just want to ride the West Side Lake Trail out for about 5km, and then return the same way for a shorter day.

Remote riding near the Spray Lakes West Campground

We haven't tried the West Side Lake Trail yet, but the trail we did bike (and thoroughly enjoyed) was the Goat Pond Canal trail which connects the Spray Lakes Reservoir with Goat Pond further up the Smith Dorrien Trail towards Canmore.  This was a lovely family ride, relatively flat and easy going on a gravel maintenance road.

This trail won't show up on maps and I challenge you to find any information on the trail in a Google search.  However, if you go to the Spray Lakes West Campground, you can't miss the trail. The trail starts right below the dam at the campground and follows the gravel road beside the canal on the other side of the Smith Dorrien Trail. You'll be paralleling the highway (hidden by a forest of trees) the whole time and you'll end up within sight of Goat Pond.  (we hiked a bit further to explore the pond and marsh area once our trail had ended.)

Easy riding on the Goat Pond Canal from the Spray Lakes West Campground

Where to Stay in the Spray Valley

If you're looking for budget accommodations, you'll probably want to stay at the Spray Lakes West Campground mentioned in the previous paragraphs.  However, if you have the means to splurge for a weekend, you definitely want to upgrade your digs and stay at Mount Engadine Lodge near Mount Shark.  Not only will you be within a short bike ride's distance from the Watridge Lake trailhead but you'll also get an unparalleled stay in one of the finest lodges of the Canadian Rockies.

Mount Engadine Lodge

What you can expect from a stay at Mount Engadine Lodge:

  • Gourmet breakfasts and dinners served family style while dining with other guests from countries around the world
  •  Packed lunches for your day's adventures (and you won't have to lift a finger to pack your own lunch.)
  • Afternoon tea served daily in the sunny dining room as you scan the meadow for wildlife sightings (look carefully and you might see moose, bears, deer, or elk while you sip on your cup of tea.)
Afternoon tea at Mount Engadine Lodge

  • Individual bedrooms with private bathrooms and showers that rival anything you'd find at a luxury hotel in Canmore (This is no hostel or backcountry cabin.)
  • Cabins and suites for those traveling with children or pets
  • Opportunities to mingle with local and international guests as you swap travel stories and make notes for future trips you're going to want to take next year
  • A perfect blend of comfort and luxury.  Come here for a romantic weekend getaway or bring the kids and they'll feel right at home too.
The meadow outside the lodge is a natural playground for the kids

We've stayed here a few times now and every visit is a special treat leaving us begging to come back for more. Winter or Summer, Mount Engadine Lodge never disappoints and it gets my vote for "best place to go glamping with the kids in Kananaskis."  - pretty sure I might have actually said I never wanted to camp again after staying at Mount Engadine a few weeks ago.

Private Cabin in Paradise Anybody??


Other Recommended Reading

For more on Mount Engadine Lodge in summer, read Just Another Day in Paradise at Mount Engadine Lodge or   We went for the Snowshoeing and Returned for the Mountain Biking which was published for Snowshoe Magazine.

For a look at winter at Mount Engadine Lodge, please take a look at my story, Escape to Snow Paradise, for Snowshoe Magazine along with the story on my blog here:  Paradise at Mount Engadine Lodge.

Also, check out my newest story, also written for Snowshoe Magazine,  Mount Engadine Lodge:  Alberta's Front Country Lodge with Backcountry Charm.

The fact  that I've written 6 different stories now featuring Mount Engadine Lodge says something about how much we absolutely LOVE this place.  

Mount Engadine Lodge in Winter - Paradise Baby!!

To book your own stay at Mount Engadine Lodge, visit their website and ask about one of the lodge suites.

Big thanks to the amazing staff at Mount Engadine Lodge for making our stay possible.

Home sweet home at Mount Engadine Lodge

Disclaimer:  Our stay at Mount Engadine Lodge was provided for us but as always, all words in this story are my own and I wasn't paid for this review.


  1. With a balance bike however, they are able to master the balance necessary for a two-wheel bike without having to be afraid of falling.

  2. Just got back from an overnight camping trip at the spray lakes west campground. Our girls, 6 and 8 loved mountain biking to Karst Spring and our 3 year old enjoyed the chariot ride. Thanks for this how to post that inspired us. We had a great time.