Thursday, May 24, 2018

5 Steps to Crushing Local Mountain Bike Trails as a Family

My son loves biking down mountains and is constantly trying to get air in our local bike parks. Like all kids though, he started at the beginning, learning to pedal his bike along our paved city pathways and building endurance for longer rides each season.

Mountain bike weekends put huge smiles on both of our faces!

My Family's Mountain Bike Journey 

We've been a biking family for 5 years now (longer if you count the time my son Noah spent on a balance bike first) and I've had a steep learning curve ahead of me as well after not riding a bike since I was a teenager.

Together as a family we're learning to ride progressively harder trails each summer and I've just made my fourth bike upgrade now (moving up to a bike with full suspension) in an effort to keep up to my son and husband.

My boys enjoying some flowy cross country mountain biking

My husband got into mountain biking after completing university, but Noah and I have had to slowly work our way up to singletrack trails, downhill riding, and feeling comfortable on dirt trails. You don't just hop on a bike and ride down a mountain!

Below are the steps that we've taken as a family on our mountain biking journey.

Every year the rides get more and more spectacular! 

5 Steps to Crushing Local Mountain Bike Trails as a Family

1. Start on Wide Gravel Pathways and Trails 

Most kids aren't going to feel comfortable starting out on a skinny dirt trail if they're used to wide paved pathways. Introduce them to dirt and gravel gently by sticking with wide doubletrack trails until they're used to the feeling of rocks rolling under their tires and the occasional root popping up underneath them.

And if you're not sure what exactly "doubletrack" refers to, the photo below is a classic example. It is the starting point for mountain bike trails before moving on to "singletrack" trails (skinny trails where you must ride single file.)

Biking the wide Watridge Lake Trail in Kananaskis, Alberta

Excellent Choices Near Calgary:

  • Watridge Lake, Kananaskis (3.7 km one way)

  • Troll Falls Loop, Kananaskis (approximately 3 km loop)

  • The trail to the meadow and back at the Canmore Nordic Centre (approximately 2 km one way)

  • Spray Lakes West Campground to Goat Creek on the High Rockies Trail (9.9 km one way, can be shortened)

Recommended Reading: The Best Family Bike Trails in Kananaskis, Alberta

Biking to the meadow at the Canmore Nordic Centre

  • The Canmore Town Trails along the river (many options for distance)

Recommended Reading: The Best Family Bike Trails in Canmore

Biking along the river in Canmore 

  • Gravel trails through Nose Hill Park, Calgary

  • Gravel trails through Fish Creek Provincial Park, Calgary 

Recommended Trail Resource: Trail Forks (put the app on your phone and never get lost)

Easy gravel trails in Nose Hill Park, Calgary

  • The easy trail network around the Town of Jasper, AB (Great road trip destination for a summer camping trip)

Recommended Reading: The Best Family Bike Trails in Jasper, AB
Jasper has a fabulous trail network of beginner to intermediate trails 

2. Look for Areas with a Variety of Trails

We still look for areas that have a wide variety of trails accessible from the same parking lot when we go out for a ride as a family. 

It's nice to have the option of being able to hop on and off of singletrack trails from a nice wide easy trail as your "base trail" for the day. Younger kids might not be able to do a long ride on real mountain bike trails either so it's nice if you have short options for playing off an easier trail you'll spend most of your time on. 

A good example would be the trails found in either Nose Hill Park or Fish Creek Provincial Park in Calgary. We start off on one of the paved pathways and then take a random mixture of gravel trails and narrower dirt trails as we explore the parks. And if we get on a trail that's too difficult, it's not a big deal because we know we'll be back on a wider easy trail shortly.

This is where having the Trail Forks app on your phone is super helpful as you seek out a variety of trails and try to create a loop out of your choices. 

Exploring some of the singletrack trails in Fish Creek Provincial Park, Calgary

Some of our Favourite Choices outside Calgary: 

  • Nipika Mountain Resort, BC - Start off on the wide ski trails and then explore some of the singletrack trails that you'll cross. You'll always be within a short distance from the ski trails if you end up on something that's too difficult. And there are cabins on site so you can spend the whole weekend here! 

Recommended Reading: Kids on Wheels: Nipika Mountain Resort 

Trying some of the easy singletrack options at Nipika Mountain Resort, BC 

  • The Tour de Banff Loop - 20 km loop made up of wide doubletrack riding on the Healy Creek Trail, paved riding on the Sundance Trail and through the Town of Banff, fun dirt riding on the Fenland Loop, and then paved riding again on Vermillion Lakes Drive and the Legacy Trail. (An adult finishes the final highway section to make the ride a loop.)

  • The Tunnel Bench Loop, Banff - We use the gravel Tunnel Campground Loop (6.2 km) as our base trail for this one, and then hop on and off the harder mountain bike trails around the Tunnel Bench Loop (5.7 km long.) Favourite trails include the Coastline Trail, Teddy Bear's Picnic, and the Bow Falls-Hoodoos Trail. 

Recommended Reading: The Best Family Bike Trails in Banff National Park

Recommended Reading: Tour de Banff - The Ultimate Family Bike Tour

Recommended Reading: Tour de Banff - the Ultimate Family Mountain Bike Loop 

Easy riding along the Healy Creek Trail, Banff 

  • Canmore Nordic Centre - Start off on the easy Banff Trail (doubletrack) and then explore other loops as you feel led. There's a short beginner singletrack loop that's only 2km so I'd start there and then move on to bigger/harder loops. And note, there are no trail fees to use the nordic centre in the summer.

And, check out the Trail Map for this Place! So many options for creating a loop.

Lunch in the meadow at the Canmore Nordic Centre 

3. Practice at your Local Bike Park 

Mountain bike parks and pump tracks are a great place to perfect skills before moving to the trails. In Calgary you won't have to go far to find an amazing bike park in Fish Creek Provincial Park. The park has a beginner pump track, a larger pump track with a variety of loop options, and then several practice trails with jumps, bumps, and banked corners. 

Practicing in the Fish Creek Bike Park 

Further afield, there is another great park in nearby Chestermere. Canmore also has a great beginner park where we first started on their easy pump track.

To read more about bike parks and pump tracks, check out this story I wrote: Kids on Wheels: Pump Tracks and Mountain Bike Parks. I add to this story annually with every new park we visit across Alberta and BC. 

Large mountain bike park in Blackfalds, Alberta 

4. Look for Flowy Cross-Country Singletrack Trails 

Don't start the kids off in an area where they'll have to climb for an hour before they'll get any fun biking. This will only prove to be a frustrating experience for everybody!

I also don't recommend starting on your typical "Rocky Mountain Root Fest" trails. Choose something that's smooth with a hard dirt or sand base, few roots, and has a nice flow to it. In a nutshell, leave Calgary and head to BC for a weekend.

Easy flowy singletrack riding in Fairmont, BC 

Our favourite place to go mountain biking near Calgary is in the Columbia Valley outside Radium Hot Springs. We bike the trails around Invermere and Fairmont.

Read all about our favourite trails in the Columbia Valley in the story below and make sure you check out Deja View near Invermere along with Teen Spirit near Fairmont. They both have beautiful flow, a hard smooth dirt and sand base, and very few roots. And they are both located off wide doubletrack gravel roads so you can exit your singletrack ride anytime you want.

Recommended Reading: The Best Family Bike Trails in the Columbia Valley, BC 

Scenic riding on Deja View, Columbia Valley, BC

5. Look for Downhill Flow Trails that you can Ride with a Vehicle Shuttle

We love biking in Fernie, British Columbia, because we can drive up gravel roads to access trailheads for amazing bike trails. We ride downhill into town on the Montane Trails, ending up at the bike park, and then play there while my husband bikes back up for the truck. There's even a swimming pool located beside the bike park if you know you'll be waiting a while after your ride.

Cruising down the Montane Trails in Fernie, BC

We also love the Lazy Lizard Trail in Fernie, definitely one of the best mountain bike trails we've ridden, in the downhill direction from Island Lake Lodge. We drive up to the lodge and then my son and I hang out there while my husband drives back down to the bottom, leaves the truck, and bikes back up to join us. Then we all get to enjoy the ride down together.

The trails we enjoy in Fernie are smooth, flowy, and have a hard dirt/sand base with few roots. They are a joy to ride and will spoil you for future biking.

Recommended Reading: The Best Family Bike Trails in Fernie, BC 

Boardwalks on the Lazy Lizard Trail, Fernie

And NEWLY DISCOVERED - The High Rockies Trail in Kananaskis has some great flowy downhill sections that you can shuttle for one-way riding.

I recommend the section from the Blackshale Creek Suspension Bridge down to the Peninsula Day Use Area.

Recommended Reading: Biking the High Rockies Trail in Kananaskis with Kids 

Flowy downhill riding on the High Rockies Trail in Kananaskis 

Bonus 6 - Register the Kids in a Mountain Bike Camp

If you aren't an accomplished rider yourself, this can be a great way of teaching the kids some basic skills from standing on their pedals to keeping those pedals flat. Our son has taken several mountain bike classes and camps at our local ski hill, Winsport's Canada Olympic Park. Here he learns the basic techniques to ride safely, but also gets to enjoy chairlift assisted downhill riding.

Recommended Reading: An Inside Look at Winsport Mountain Bike Camps at Canada Olympic Park

Mountain bike camp at Winsport's Canada Olympic Park 


  1. Great places to start Tanya. Thanks for the info.

  2. Oooh - you've made me want to come back to Canada and ride the trails again! Such a pity we're on the other side of the world! A great step by step guide to how to start MTBing.