Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Fall Biking! 5 Places to Explore with your Family

Summer is slowly creeping away from us as temperatures slowly drop and early season snow blankets the mountains already. Fortunately the snow hasn't quite reached ground level yet at most elevations here and for us, that means we can continue biking till the last trails are too slippery to ride.

We've enjoyed several biking weekends over the past month and have been loving the beautiful fall colors, the cooler temperatures for climbing hills, and the chance to continue doing a sport that we love on trails that are much quieter these days. Below are five places that we've enjoyed fall biking as a family. I hope you'll get the opportunity to plan a trip to one of these locations over the next month. They are also great destinations for a Thanksgiving road trip should you want to make a long weekend out of your adventures.

Fall biking in Drumheller, Alberta Badlands

Fall Biking! 5 Places to Explore with your Family




1. Drumheller and the Alberta Badlands


We took advantage of a free day to go explore Drumheller a few weeks ago. We checked out a brand new bike trail while there (new to us that is) and rode our bikes from just outside McMullen Island Park to the Royal Tyrell Museum on the river parks trail system so that we could take advantage of our Experience Alberta's History Annual Pass.

Biking the Drumheller River Parks Trail System near McMullen Island Park

While the paved riverside trail was generally easy, there is one long hilly stretch leading up to the museum that younger kids may have to walk. I'd also strongly advise sending adults down the hill first on the return ride. There's one blind corner and if you're going too fast, you could easily collide with people walking or riding up. Other than this section though, the ride is relatively flat and you can start your ride downtown by the giant dinosaur if you want to ride further. Our shortened trip from outside the town core was only 6 km return at most.

Biking to the Royal Tyrell Museum, Drumheller


The other bike ride that we LOVE in Drumheller is a bit more "off the beaten path" and will have you feeling like perhaps you should be on a motorized version of your bike. Earlier this summer we rode to the ghost town of Wayne where we got to cross 11 one-lane bridges on a scenic country road. The ride is short and is approximately 10 km return. A stop at the Last Chance Saloon breaks the trip up and makes for an extremely pleasant outing.


Biking the road to the Ghost Town of Wayne, Drumheller


Notes if you want to bike to Wayne with children:

  • You will be sharing the road with vehicles and motor bikes. This is not a bike path. Make sure your children know to stay to the right side of the road. We found most vehicles and bikers to be very respectful of us and most let us cross the bridges first before passing.

  • The motorbikes were quite scary at times when they came up behind us in groups of 10+ riders. Children with sensitivities to loud noise might not enjoy this ride.

  • You will be visiting a "biker bar" should you choose to stop at the Last Chance Saloon. Most visitors to Wayne arrive on motor bike and you will most likely be the only guests on "pedal bikes." There is also a very good chance that you will be the only people with children in the bar. Needless to say, language is sometimes an issue and conversations around you might not always be family-friendly. We didn't really find this to be a big problem but I would suggest going early in the day before the bar gets too busy.
Parked outside the Last Chance Saloon in Wayne


2. Jasper, Northern Rockies


Last September we took a weekend trip to Jasper and fully enjoyed biking around the Town of Jasper's easy trail system. I've written about all of our favourite trails in Jasper in this story: The Best Family Bike Trails in Jasper so you can plot out your adventure should you wish to plan a trip north for Thanksgiving.

Biking Jasper's Easy Trail System


Given Jasper's location, 5 hours from Calgary or 4 hours from Edmonton, you'll need to find a place to stay. I have two suggestions for you that won't involve camping (unless you like cool-weather camping.) First, book a private room at the HI Athabasca Falls Wilderness Hostel. The rooms sleep 5 to 6 people with two bunk beds and a double bed. Cooking facilities are located in a separate shared cabin and  the hostel is quite cozy for a wilderness facility. Bathrooms (pit toilets) are located outside but there is clean filtered drinking water, electricity, and heat at the hostel to make you very comfortable for a weekend.

For more information on the Athabasca Falls hostel, visit the website at the link above.

Checking in at Athabasca Falls Hostel

The second option that I enjoy for cool weather "glamping" in Jasper is to book a cozy resort style cabin with a kitchen. Follow this link to see plenty of other options in Jasper.

And if you want to plan your trip for mid-October, try to plan it around the Jasper Dark Sky Festival.  You'll be able to bike all day and then spend your evenings star gazing or attending free interpretive science shows.

Jasper has many cute cabin resorts perfect for a fall biking weekend


3. Lake Louise, Banff National Park


After hiking in snow last weekend it feels crazy to recommend Lake Louise as a prime "fall biking" location but fortunately the snow tends to stay higher up until November so you still have a month to get out and enjoy the great bike trails here. And yes, I said "bike" trails! Lake Louise has some awesome trails that are much more fun on a bike than they would be on foot. And, they are super fun with kids!!

We spent a day biking at Lake Louise this month and discovered two prime trails for families. The first one is the Tramline Trail which takes you from the lake all the way down to the village. Don't make the kids bike back uphill to the lake at the end and skip setting up a shuttle. We just hung out at the coffee shop in the village while the dads biked back up the road for the vehicles parked at the lake.

Biking from Lake Louise down to the Village on the Tramline Trail

The Tramline Trail is 5 km in length and loses 186 metres in height, all on a good double wide trail that is tracked and groomed for cross country skiing in the winter. The trail is a bit bumpy in spots and I advise having hand brakes for it. That being said, our youngest group rider had coaster brakes and was riding a small 14" bike - and did just fine.

Easy riding on the Tramline Trail at Lake Louise

The second trail that we enjoyed biking was the Bow River Loop which circles the village and campground area. The full loop is 7 km and is relatively flat. The trail is more narrow than the Tramline Trail (single track in nature) but is definitely not super skinny. Kids will enjoy the occasional roots and flowy sections, the bridges, and opportunities to get close to the Bow River.

After riding the Bow River Loop once, I think it will become an annual favourite for our family and I can see us camping at Lake Louise next summer so that we can spend the weekend biking.

Scenic riding on the Bow River Loop, Lake Louise


Where to stay at Lake Louise this fall:


There are private rooms located at the HI Lake Louise Hostel and Alpine Centre where you can hop on the bike trails mentioned above right from your hostel front door. We stayed here last year for the first time and will be making repeat visits.

Stay at the Lake Louise Alpine Centre and you'll be steps away from the bike trails

4. Rocky Mountain House, Central Alberta


When I think of "National Historic Site"  I always seem to think "mountains." This definitely isn't the case in Rocky Mountain House where you can bike to the National Historic Site there to learn about our fur trading history, aboriginal peoples and explorers. We visited the site over the September long weekend and biked the Petro Canada Bicycle Trail from the Town of Rocky Mountain House. The trail was 5 km in length (one way) and relatively flat. We chose to just ride one way while dads rode back for the vehicles so that we could explore the bike trails around the Historic Site after arriving.


Biking on the Petro Canada Bicycle Trail into the Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site

At the Rocky Mountain National Historic Site, we enjoyed biking the David Thompson Trail which is a 3.2 km loop. It took us to the 1799 fort sites of the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company. We biked past the heritage camping area (where families can stay in traditional tipis or canvas tents,) checked out the Brierley rapids (the furthest point the explorers could get in their canoes, going upstream,) and got up close to the bison paddock.

Interpretive Trails at the Historic Site, great for biking or walking

While the Interpretive Centre at the Historic Site is closed for the season after October 1st, you can still bike into the site and explore the park trails. You can also buy tickets for special Halloween themed events in the park running from early through mid October.

Families wanting to camp can still camp at  nearby Crimson Lake Provincial Park. It is open through the end of October.

Displays at the Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site

If camping at Crimson Lake, make sure you check out the Amerada Mountain Bike Trail, 10 km in length, or the Twin Lake - Crimson Lake Trail which connects Rocky Mountain House with Twin Lake and Crimson Lake.

Biking the Amerada Trail, Crimson Lake Provincial Park

For more information on camping at Crimson Lake Provincial Park, please check out my previous story: Crimson Lake Provincial Park - Hidden Gem in Alberta Campgrounds.

Biking the Twin Lake to Crimson Lake Trail

5. Invermere, Radium Hot Springs, and the The Columbia Valley, BC


I couldn't write a fall biking story without including my absolute favourite place to ride in October. This is a regular destination for us over Thanksgiving and the fall colours are absolutely beautiful in this valley.

Thanksgiving Biking in Radium Hot Springs, Sinclair Creek

For a complete list of bike trails that I recommend for families, check out my previous post on the Best Family Bike Trails in the Columbia Valley.

Scenic Views on the Old Coach Trail, Columbia Valley

Also check out Autumn Mountain Biking in the Columbia Valley.

The Radium Hot Springs Bike Park - always a hit with the kids!


For other inspiration, read The Best of the Columbia Valley (Radium Hot Springs to Invermere - and beyond) 

For accommodations in the valley, I'll have to leave the searching to you because we always rent a condo.  Owner Direct Vacations is a good place to get started.

For campers, the Red Streak Campground in Radium Hot Springs is open through the Thanksgiving weekend as is the Canyon RV Resort in Radium and the Fairmont Hot Springs RV Resort.

Deja View! (the unofficial name for the single track loops off of the Old Coach Trail)



Top Gear that We Recommend for Fall Biking


Along with a good bike (because it always starts there) I recommend three key pieces of clothing to make cool weather biking enjoyable.

First, we love wearing a Buff or similar version of the classic "tubular head wrap" underneath our helmets on cooler days. This keeps your ears and face warm without creating a lot of bulkiness underneath the helmet.

Can you see the purple buff under my helmet? My ears were toasty warm on this chilly ride

Second, gloves are paramount to fall biking happiness! And while I'm partial to a cheap pair of fleece mittens for myself, we have two current models of bike gloves that we swear by for our son. On warmer days, we love the ZippyRooz Half Finger Gloves that we got from the Alberta company All Out Kids Gear.

The ZippyRooz gloves have more padding on the palms than the previous kids bike gloves we had and have finger loops to help kids pull their gloves off (without turning them inside out!) They are honestly the best style of bike gloves I've seen yet for kids on the market and are super stretchy so that I can easily get them on my son's hands. (unlike our previous ones where it was always a battle!)

The Zippy Rooz bike gloves come in fun colours and designs along with a full finger version that we'll have to check out for cooler weather next.

ZippyRooz Bike Gloves for warm fall days


The other gloves that we like for colder days are the Outdoor Research Flurry Wool Gloves. My son's are a bit more "basic" than the current model at MEC but we love how warm they are. They also allow kids to still use their brakes and gears (unlike bulkier gloves or mittens.)

The OR Flurry gloves double well as cool weather hiking gloves

Finally, a light puffy is KEY for cool days on a bike. Nothing super heavy but just a light insulated jacket. We are partial to the kids' North Face Jackets and my son is currently wearing the Boy's Thermoball Full Zip Jacket that we got from Canadian company, Altitude Sports. While we wouldn't wear insulated jackets when climbing big hills, they are awesome for leisurely cool weather bike rides, trips to school, and chilly fall days.

Autumn hiking in our new North Face Thermoball puffy

 End of Season Thanks Yous


Thank you to the many sponsors and groups who helped make the content in this story possible.Thank you to Alberta Parks for giving me the honor of being an Alberta Parks Ambassador this season. This has given us the challenge we needed to go out and explore new campgrounds, new parks, and new bike trails.

Big thanks to All Out Kids Gear, ZippyRooz, and Altitude Sports for helping us gear up for fall and for our outdoor pursuits.

Huge thanks to Hostelling International who put us up for a weekend at the Mosquito Creek Hostel so that we could finally spend a weekend biking at Lake Louise.

And finally, we are continually grateful to Spawn Cycles for allowing our son to ride such an amazing bike. We still swear by the 20" Savage 1.0 that Noah rides and thanks to a great mountain bike instructor, he is finally starting to see the value in riding UP the mountain before he can enjoy the ride down. (something I wouldn't want to make my child do on a heavy box store bike that weighs more than he does.)

Parting shot


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