Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Tour de Banff - The Ultimate Family Bike Tour

We've biked around Banff a lot but recently set out to do a big loop around the whole Banff Town area. The goal would be to get from the Healy Creek trailhead at the bottom of the road up to Sunshine Village Resort back into town along Healy Creek and Sundance Canyon.

From there, we wanted to ride through town and head back towards our vehicles by riding on Vermillion Lakes Drive and a portion of the Legacy Trail. We'd end up a few kilometres from our vehicles and send a couple of adults ahead to finish a short section on the TransCanada Hwy. T

he loop ended up being just short of 20 km and only took an afternoon to ride with many stops.

Family Version of the "Bow Valley Bomber"

Doug Eastcott came up with the "Bow Valley Bomber" loop in his book, Backcountry Biking in the Canadian Rockies. Back when he first wrote about this circuit, the Legacy Trail had not been built yet and much more highway riding was involved.

Today, almost the whole loop can be completed on trails or quiet roads. There was only one section at the end that required some highway riding and we sent the dads to complete this part. They rode ahead while the kids played at the third Vermillion Lake and were back at the vehicles before we had even left the lake.

Family-friendly Bow Valley Bomber

Healy Creek to Sundance Canyon

Starting at the Healy Creek trailhead, we rode approximately 5 km to the junction with the Sundance Canyon Trail in Banff. The trail was wide, relatively easy with a few hills that could be walked by younger children, and was great for novice riders wanting an easy mountain bike ride.

This is wide doubletrack riding on a nice gravel/dirt surface with few roots. Chariot friendly even.

We chose to ride the trail in the direction towards Sundance Canyon from Healy Creek thinking it would be more downhill. In hind site though I don't think it matters which direction you ride the trail. You'll go up and down in both directions with roughly 94 to 98 metres of elevation gain in either direction.

See the Healy Creek Trail on Trail Forks. 

Easy mountain biking on the Healy Creek Trail

This was the most difficult part of the ride and once we reached the Sundance Canyon trail we had easy coasting on the paved trail back towards the Town of Banff.

Family biking on the Healy Creek Trail in Banff

Sundance Canyon to the Banff Townsite

The Sundance Trail is 3.5 km one way and starts at the Cave and Basin Historical Site. From where we entered the trail, we had perhaps 2.5 km to ride  and it was mostly downhill. The trail is paved, wide, and easy going after riding Healy Creek.

You'll be sharing the trail with horse traffic and with hikers so children need to be encouraged to be respectful of other trail users and to get over to the side as necessary. (especially when horses are passing)

See the Sundance trail on Trail Forks. 

Views on the Sundance Trail, Banff

Rather than climb up to the Cave and Basin site, we followed the horse trail down by the river leading towards the Banff Recreation Grounds and downtown Banff. 

Riding from the Sundance Trail to the Banff Recreation Grounds

We stopped at the Recreation Grounds to play at the bike park and playground. We then headed into the town to get ice-cream before getting back on the trails. Here is a map of the Banff Town trails if you'd like to see where you'll be heading.

Playing in the Banff Bike Park at the Banff Recreation Grounds

And NEW for 2018: There is a super awesome skatepark at the Banff Recreation Grounds now. And kids will love it as a rest stop before continuing the loop.

Playing at the new skatepark in Banff 

Central Park to the Fenland Loop

The next section was easy peasy and fun. We followed the paved pathway along the Bow River (map here) from Central Park over to the Banff Canoe docks. From here we got onto the Fenland Loop Trail which is an easy gravel/dirt mountain bike trail (wide and flat with a few roots) shared with hikers and dog walkers. Please be respectful and make way for folks on foot rather than running into them.

Easy riding along the river downtown Banff

We didn't do the entire Fenland Loop (though you certainly could as it's only 1.8 km in length and flat) as we were making our way over to Vermillion Lakes Drive. We tried to turn left at all junctions to head for the paved Vermillion Lakes Drive.

Once we got to the bridge leading to the Vermillion Lakes Drive, we jumped onto the paved road and continued our journey back towards the Healy Creek trailhead.

Family mountain biking doesn't get much easier than on the Fenland Trail

Vermillion Lakes Drive and the Legacy Trail

The Vermillion Lakes Drive Road is 4.3 km in length and you'll pass by three beautiful lakes on this section of your ride. The riding is easy, paved, and relatively flat. Note that you will be sharing the road with traffic but the speed limit is low and cars always give us wide berth on this section. We've never felt scared and we just remind the kids often to stay on the side of the road.

See a PDF map of trails here from the Banff National Park website. 

Road riding on Vermillion Lakes Drive

There are many docks to stop at along the way and children will be entertained at each one. Once you get to the end of the road, you'll get onto the farthest section of the Legacy Trail (the paved trail running between Canmore and Banff) and you'll ride it 1.6 kilometres to the junction with the Trans Canada HWY and the Highway 1A. (This will be the end with children and adults should bike back on the highway to reach the vehicles at Healy Creek.)

Finishing off our ride on the Legacy Trail which parallels the TransCanada Hwy

Ending our Ride

We hadn't quite reached 20 km and thought this would be a nice round number so we rode up the Highway 1A on the shoulder of the road for a couple of kilometres at the end.

The dads were waiting for us here after having ridden ahead to get the vehicles from Healy Creek. If you don't want to ride on the 1A, do the Fenland loop a couple of times instead to reach 20 km or else ride further up the Sundance Canyon trail.

Finishing our trip with a short ride along the 1A Highway

Safety Notes

Vermillion Lakes

Wildlife is plentiful in this area of Banff and many people see bears on these trails. Ride in a group, have bear spray handy, make noise (especially around water and when riding around blind corners,) and give all animals wide berth. I came across a couple of large elk and got off the pathway, going  around to give them space.

It's also wise to check trail reports and look for warnings before starting out. There are often bear warnings on the Fenland Trail and trails get closed on occasion if there is a problem animal in the area. 

Check the Banff National Park website for information on trail trail closures, trail reports, and safety bulletins.



More information on Biking in Banff

Tour de Banff: Vermillion Lakes Drive section

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Epic Family Bike Rides: Cat Creek Falls, Kananaskis via Highway 40

Want to take the family for a hike somewhere that's off the beaten path, almost "secret," and guaranteed to be quiet? Cat Creek is the place to go before Highway 40 opens on June 15th. With no road access, peace and quiet is guaranteed.

Biking Highway 40 in Kananaskis (solitude guaranteed!)


You'll be staging your adventure from the Town of Longview in Southern Alberta. From here, get onto Highway 541 heading west into the mountains. You'll drive approximately half an hour until you reach Highwood Junction where Hwy 541 turns into Highway 40. This is as far as you will drive and you can park on the side of the highway by the closed gate, blocking your way from driving further into Kananaskis Country. On June 15th, you'll be able to drive all the way from here towards Peter Lougheed Provincial Park over Highwood Pass. For now, you bike.

Our Bike Crew for the Cat Creek Ride on Highway 40

The Road Ride

I tried to track the distance we rode and it was approximately 4.5 km one way to the Cat Creek day use area from the road gate. I figure that we rode about 9 km total on the highway.

Know that there are a few BIG hills so this is not a beginner ride, nor was it easy. If going with young children, prep them ahead of time with encouragement that they can walk any hill that is too big. Bring candy or something to reward them if they do get up the big hills, and bring along a Chariot or bike trailer for younger kids who can't ride 9 km. We had children on our trip who were using balance bikes without pedals but they did not ride the full time, nor did they do any of the bigger hills.

Family-friendly spring riding on Highway 40

The first hill from the gate is the biggest. I reached a speed of 40km/h on the way back down to the truck on this hill. It's also a kilometre long - so it's not the friendliest way to start off a ride. Rest assured though, it does flatten out for a bit after that (and it can always be walked.)

Cruising back down to the vehicles at the end of our ride

Hiking or Biking to the Cat Creek Falls

Ride until you see the sign for the Cat Creek Day Use Area. From here you have two options for reaching the Cat Creek waterfalls. Option #1 is to hike. If you choose this, park your bikes beside the road bridge above the picnic area and find the hiking trail on the opposite side of the bridge. It goes up a slope beside the highway, enters the trees, climbs to a viewpoint, and then descends to the creek. From here there are a couple of nice little bridges and you'll reach the waterfalls in an easy 1.3 kms. Go to the Alberta Parks website to read more about this interpretive hiking trail.

Creek crossing if you choose "not" to take the official hiking trail

The second option is to bike most of the way to the falls on an old road. The old road is found on the near side of the road bridge (opposite side from the hiking trail.) Descend down off the highway into a big clearing, go into the bush a short distance and you will see the old road. Follow it until you see the hiking trail on the other side of the creek. Cross the creek on rocks, and it's a very short 2 minute walk to the falls from here.

Biking to Cat Creek Falls on the old road

Cat Creek Falls 


Cat Creek Falls are a magical place and I love visiting them in any season. Some day though I want to come back on a hot day and go swimming. There is a scramblers route above the falls using an old rope but we decided to play it safe and stay beside the falls rather than trust a rope we did not personally put up.

Cat Creek Falls

The ride back was quick and was definitely more downhill. Families wanting to hike the Cat Creek trail once the road is open will just have to wait until June 15th. For the rest of you, go now and enjoy a fun bike/hike outing.

Bike/Hike outing to Cat Creek