Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Tour de Banff - The Ultimate Family Mountain Bike Loop

We've spent a lot of time biking the trails around Banff over the past month and have come up with a few amazing family tours. I wrote about our last tour in Tour de Banff - The Ultimate Family Bike Tour. The previous tour combines both paved and natural trails for an amazing 20 km loop where you can stop at playgrounds, go for ice-cream, and take numerous breaks along the way. Today's loop is for the more experienced riders in your family and takes you on the best single track mountain bike trails around the Tunnel Mountain Bench.

This mountain bike tour has two endings depending on whether you want to set up a vehicle shuttle or not. Sections could be ride-able by younger children on balance bikes (which will be indicated below,) but the loop is definitely not chariot-friendly. I also don't really recommend riding these trails with  young kids in child seats mounted to bikes. That being said however, a really good mountain biker would find it easy enough to do.

Single track riding on the Coastline section of the Tunnel Bench Loop

Overview of the Trails You'll be Riding

The loop that I'll be describing follows two main trails: The Tunnel Bench Loop (Coastline,Teddy Bear's Picnic, and the Spine,) and the Bow Falls-Hoodoo Trail. They can be found on the Trail Forks website

Minimum requirement for these trails would be a 20" bike with gears and hand brakes. I do not recommend using coaster brakes on these trails. Strong kids could try sections on a 16" bike but would struggle on a few hills without gears. Capable youngsters could also try riding some of the sections on a balance bike with supervision on the bigger hills.

Proud riders on the Tunnel Bench Loop

These trails are intermediate single track mountain bike trails, and good for the confident rider who's already mastered a few easier trails (see my full story on the Best Bike Trails in Banff to choose a few easier mountain bike trails.) The trails are cross country in nature and have rolling terrain. There are no steep relentless climbs (the ending of the Hoodoo Trail aside) and hills are always short enough to walk.

Not sure your child is ready yet? Go out as an adult and explore the loop first. Alternately, work up to doing the full loop with the Junior Tunnel Mountain Bench Loop. It includes sections of the Tunnel Bench Loop together with the easier Tunnel Campground Loop. My son road this easier loop when he was on a 16" bike.

One of the first steep hills my son learned to ride on the Tunnel Bench Loop

The Coastline Trail (Tunnel Bench Loop)

We always start riding on the Coastline section of the Tunnel Bench Loop. We are usually camping in the Tunnel Mountain Village 1 Campground for easy access. We jump on the Tunnel Campground Loop (a gravel trail that circles all three campgrounds on the bench) and jump off when we see the Tunnel Mountain Road beside us. The Coastline Trail starts on the opposite side of the road. It can be seen on Trail Forks. 

If you don't want to start here, you could start at the Hoodoo viewpoint parking lot (opposite the Tunnel Mountain Village 1 Campground) and proceed from here.

Scenery on the Coastline Trail

The Coastline Trail is a flowy trail that is best ridden towards the Hoodoos (riding the Tunnel Bench loop clockwise.)

Here is a map of the Coastline Trail with details on length and height gain. 

What you can expect:
  • Lots of roots

  • Short hills with no steep or sustained climbs

  • One hill down that you may choose to walk because of a root you have to drop over

  • Exposure and airy bits along the bank above the river (short sections could be walked)

  • Flat riding and downhill coasting along the bench until you get further into the trees. From here the trail climbs back up towards a paved service road (closed to the public.)

  • A short section of technical riding that has recently been changed (the trail used to be easier.) Just walk this short hilly section if you have to 

Below is a video of my son on the Coastline Trail. It should tell you if this trail is appropriate for your child.



Teddy Bear's Picnic (Tunnel Bench Loop)

Once you get to the service road you have two choices. If you're thoroughly freaked out and done, just bike down the road and you'll end up at the Hoodoo viewpoint. Here you can head back to camp or whatever and take a rest. (and yes, we've taken this escape route.)

If you're keen to keep riding, ride down the access road until you see the sign for Teddy Bear's Picnic. This short trail is relatively easy and would be one of the best sections for youngsters on balance bikes or smaller pedal bikes. Looped with the access road it could be a pleasant outing from the Hoodoo viewpoint parking lot.

For a map of this trail along with stats on distance and height gain, follow this link to the Teddy Bear's Picnic Trail.

One of the viewpoints on the Tunnel Bench Loop 


Don's Bypass Trail (Tunnel Bench Loop)

Teddy Bear's Picnic will take you to the Hoodoo Viewpoint Hiking Trail (a lovely little tourist trail that gives you awesome views of the Banff hoodoos and the Bow River below.) If you watch for it, you'll see a short connector trail called Don's Bypass. This trail takes you down to the parking lot without having to take the tourist hiking trail. Should you choose to take the hiking trail, please dismount your bikes and walk.

Don's Bypass Trail might just be the primary reason your are doing this loop clockwise! It is a sweet short downhill ride that is fast and very flowy! You might even be tempted to climb back up so you can ride it twice.

Hoodoo Viewpoint

Upper Hoodoo Trail (Tunnel Bench Loop)

Biker Boyz on the Hoodoo Trail along the Tunnel Bench

This next section of trail parallels the road and is an easy section of the loop. This is the first part of the Tunnel Bench Loop that we rode when my son was much younger combined with the easier Tunnel Campground Loop.

Read my Junior Tunnel Bench Loop story to find out how you can loop the campground trail with this section of the Tunnel Bench Loop.

This is also one of the most scenic sections of the Tunnel Bench Loop. To read the trail description with all stats on distance/height gain, go here to the Bow Falls - Hoodoos Trail. This is the full route we'll be following next, down to the Bow Falls viewpoint with a shuttle.



Trail Ending #1 - Lower Hoodoo Trail to Surprise Corner

This is where you have decisions to make. You can keep following the Hoodoo Trail on the Bow Falls - Hoodoos Trail or you can continue with the Tunnel Bench Loop. We personally love finishing the ride down to Surprise Corner. The ride is very diverse and has a few challenging moments.

Riding across the big meadow on the Hoodoo Trail

What you can expect from this section:

  • A long descent down to river level from the top of the bench. One loose section could/should be walked as even I wiped out on the loose gravel.

  • One challenging hill down a steep section with trail erosion you must work your way around (can be walked)

  • A lovely flat ride through a big open meadow beside the river

  • A pleasant forest ride along the river towards Surprise Corner

  • A challenging ending that involves pushing your bike up a couple of big hills and pushing your bike down a set of stairs
Playing on the bridge in the meadow

So, yeah, it's a bit challenging in spots but it's a very beautiful ride and worth doing at least once. Just set up a shuttle in advance because you are ending much lower than you started. You really don't want to bike back up!!

Reward the kids with a drive straight downtown for ice-cream at the end of this one.

One of the easier sections of the Hoodoo Trail down by the river

Total ride distance (Coastline to Surprise Corner):  10.6 km

The ride took us roughly 2 hours at a good pace and we gained just under 200 metres of height over the course of the ride.

Rad riders on the Hoodoo Trail

Trail Ending #2 - Upper Hoodoo Trail to the Spine Trail (Tunnel Bench Loop)

Orange pumpkin in the sky on the Spine
Don't want to set up a shuttle? Continue with the Tunnel Bench Loop and don't drop down onto the Lower Hoodoo Trail. Stay high along the Tunnel Mountain Road and follow the Upper Hoodoo Trail until you come to the Hidden Ridge Resort.

Here you will get onto the Tunnel Campground Loop for a short distance until you come to the Spine Trail. You can read about the Spine Trail here.

We've always found the Spine section of the Tunnel Bench Loop to be the hardest section. It is very rooty and there are numerous trees down across the trail at times. For this reason, we usually  bike it up until we reach the big orange water tower (I think that's what it is) and from there drop back onto the Campground Loop. You can follow the Campground loop back to where you started from.

Watch out for the fun "bike park" section on the spine, right below the big orange pumpkin as we call it. It's a lot of fun to play on with rollers, bumps, and banked corners.

Fun "Bike Park" section of the Spine Trail

Optional Loops

Try riding the Junior Version of the Tunnel Bench Loop combining the easy Campground Loop with the bench portion of the Upper Hoodoo Trail. My son has been riding this loop since he was 5 years old on a 6" bike. It could also be ride-able by children on balance bikes with heavy parent supervision at all times.

The Junior Version is approximately 7 km with 90 metres of height gain. As before, it is usually ridden clockwise.

Easy riding along the Upper Hoodoo Trail along the Tunnel Mt. Bench

Additional Resources

The Best Family Bike Trails in Banff National Park 

Easy riding on the Hoodoo Trail near the Banff Hostel


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Eeek! Those look like some super steep drop offs super close to the edge of the trail in the Coastline video. Is it as bad as it looks in the video? Like one little slip and you're dead kinda bad?

    1. The video definitely makes it look worse than it was. It's certainly narrow though and you have to be careful. I wouldn't ride the trail with really young kids, or with inexperienced riders. One could always walk the narrow parts too if nervous.

      The biggest challenge right now is that they replaced a section of the trail over the summer and it's now harder. One part of the trail is definitely not "intermediate" by my standards. Fortunately it's not narrow or along the edge so you can just walk the new steep bit through the trees on the Coastline trail.

      Tanya, Rockies Family Adventures

    2. Thanks! They are 10 and 8 and pretty good bikers. We spend lots of time on the blue trails in Jasper and really enjoy them. That drop off might scare ME though!

    3. If it was going to scare anybody, it would scare me, lol. I'm not generally phased by it though. My biggest complaint is how rooty the trail is. The trails in Jasper that we bike are a lot smoother. And speaking of Jasper, any suggestions on good blue trails there for a strong 8 year old who hates biking up hill? We love the Pyramid to Town trail and just discovered the Water tower trail, which my son loved in the downhill direction.

    4. The Moberlander (#10, start at the 6th bridge end) was a great trail. There were definitely some areas where we all had to walk our bikes but there were no long uphills and there are rooty sections too. Trail #7 between 5th bridge and 6th bridge is super fun and one of our favourite short rides (we did it along with the Moberlander). Trail 3e to 3 out to just past Marjorie Lake and then back in on 3a and Wynd Rd was another great one but it is a little tougher than the other 2 mentioned and has a super long, sustained downhill on 3a and Wynd Rd. I know you said your son hates uphills, but our absolute FAVOURITE ride so far has been the Berg Lake Trail to Kinney Lake. It is uphill pretty much the whole 4 km in and my kids did whine a lot, but it was so worth it once we got there (make sure to pack a good picnic!). The ride back out is fun and easy and our kids loved it so much that we will definitely be doing that one again! We do find many of the blue trails that we have ridden in Jasper to be rooty and/or rocky, but I kind of like it ;)

    5. Thanks for the suggestions Marcie. Added to the list. And next time you're in Jasper, try the Water tower trail. (it's on trail forks.) It was pretty thrilling for my husband and son.