Saturday, May 08, 2021

Epic Family Bike Rides: The Best Spring Rides near Calgary

Every spring bike ride feels epic when you find glorious dry pavement and start to use those muscles again (and definitely not the same ones you used for skiing.)

Featured in this guide are my family's favourite spring rides in and around Calgary. Some are wonderfully flat and great for novice riders, others are more challenging and offer a good hill training workout (which you'll need for mountain biking come summer.) I've also included a few rides my family hasn't done yet - but that are on our hit list for this spring!

Glorious spring road biking! (Featured: Biking to Moraine Lake in Banff)

Summary of Rides Included in this Guide

  1. Pathways in and around Calgary

  2. Biking around closed campgrounds in Kananaskis

  3. The best bike trails around Kananaskis, Banff, and Canmore

  4. Biking closed roads and highways

  5. Other spring bike destinations 

Closed Highway biking on Hwy 40 in Kananaskis 

Pathways in and around Calgary

Spring is a great time to explore the many fabulous pathways in Calgary. We love riding around the city on the regional pathways, heading out to Cochrane for the day, traversing Fish Creek Provincial Park, or riding the canal pathway to Chestermere.

There are so many amazing options!

I've written about all of our favourite urban rides in this recent story below.

Read: Biking around Calgary with Kids - The Best Family Pathways and Trails

Nose Hill is an amazing place to explore by bike in Calgary

Biking around Closed Campgrounds in Kananaskis

Campgrounds typically have very slow speed limits, facilitating family biking at any time of the summer, but there's something special about biking around a closed campground when you have the entire thing to yourself before it opens for the spring.

Read about our favourite campgrounds for spring biking in the story I recently wrote below:

Read: Bike and Hike Closed Campgrounds near Calgary this Spring

Biking around the Bow Valley Campground on closed roads in April

The Best Bike Trails around Kananaskis, Banff and Canmore 

By May we start to have options for biking in the mountains and the suggestions below are where my family enjoys riding our bikes.

Biking around Canmore

The Town of Canmore has beautiful pathways that meander along the river and climb up to the Three Sisters Resort area. The riverside pathways are not paved, but are flat wide gravel or dirt trails. As you climb up to the Three Sisters area, the paths are paved.

Read: The Best Family Bike Trails in Canmore 

Biking around the Town of Canmore is a favourite spring day trip for us!

Biking the Sundance Trail, Banff

The Sundance Trail starts at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site and takes you to the start of the Sundance Canyon Trail on a beautiful paved pathway. Bring a bike lock if you want to hike the canyon. The round trip ride is 7.4 km and there is some light climbing to reach the canyon. It's a fast ride back though until you reach the final hill that takes you back up to the parking lot.

Read: The Best Family Bike Trails in Banff 

Views from the Sundance Trail in Banff 

Biking the Legacy Trail between Canmore and Banff

This beautiful paved trail is good to go by May and is a very pleasant ride with gorgeous scenery in both directions. We prefer to ride from Banff to Canmore for the easiest ride (with more height loss.) Park at the Cascade Ponds Day Use Area to access the trail and send an adult back for the vehicle while you hang out in Canmore. The trail is approximately 20 km one way between Banff and Canmore.

Read: Biking the rocky Mountain Legacy Trail - WITH KIDS

Riding the Legacy Trail in Banff as a family

Biking around the Banff Springs Golf course 

There is an 11 km loop around the Banff Springs Golf Course on Golf Course Drive. Park at Bow Falls and enjoy this easy paved ride. While the road is open to vehicles in May each year, the speed limit is very low and vehicles will give you space when passing. 

Technically this would fall under the category of "road riding" but the road is one-direction for most of it, you'll likely only see a handful of cars on your ride (if that,) and there are very few reasons to actually drive this loop. It accesses the river for paddlers wanting to launch boats and it accesses one mountain bike trail. Other than that, nobody drives the road to get anywhere.

The Golf Course Drive is relatively flat and great for novice riders. Just make sure you stress to the kids that they'll need to pull over to the side if a car wants to pass. All motorists will pass from behind so I suggest having an adult at the back who can yell up at the kids to get to the side if you hear a car coming.

There is also a great picnic area down by the river.

Biking Golf Course Drive in the Town of Banff

Visit before the golf course opens and you "might" also be able to ride on the golf cart paths. For 2022, the golf course opens on May 6th.

The golf cart loop through the golf course is 9 km long on connected paved pathways and it's a lovely family ride. Most of the loop is 100% flat other than one hill at the far end. Watch for elk and give them wide birth if you encounter a group.

Note that we were asked to get off the golf course the last time we tried to ride on the cart paths so be warned that you can "try," but maintenance staff would prefer you stick to the road loop. Walking appears to be ok though and I suspect kids on balance bikes would  be fine.

Bike around the Banff Springs Golf Course for easy family riding

Biking the Vermilion Lakes Drive and the Fenland Loop in Banff 

Park at the Banff Recreation Centre on Mount Norquay Road leading into town. Cross the road and you'll be at the Fenland Trailhead. This 2 km loop trail is a fun intro to mountain biking and children will enjoy the dirt pathway that meanders along 40 Mile Creek. It's a wide flat trail and great for introducing the kids to non-paved biking.

Easy non paved biking on the Fenlands Trail

From the Fenland Trail, you can hop on Vermilion Lakes Drive which is 8 km round trip. The road is paved and relatively flat. You'll be sharing the road with vehicles but the speed limit is very slow and motorists will give you space when passing.

Upon reaching the end of Vermilion Lakes Drive you can also ride a short section of the paved Legacy Trail until you reach the end at the Highway 1A intersection.

For a complete list of family bike trails in Banff, including mountain biking options, read the story below:

Read: The Best Family Bike Trails in Banff 

Easy family road biking on Vermilion Lakes Drive

Biking the Lake Minnewanka Loop Road, Banff 

This road is shared with vehicles but the speed limit is low and cars should give you plenty of space as they pass. (That being said, I wouldn't do this ride with young children. It's a good trip for families with older youth and teens.)

The loop is 13 km in distance with 160 metres of elevation gain. and you can park at the Cascade Ponds Day Use Area just outside the Town of Banff. From here, we like to bike the loop in a counter clockwise direction, where you'll pass by Johnson Lake and Two Jack Lake en route to Lake Minnewanka. 

Lake Minnewanka by bike 

We completed this ride in an hour (moving time.) There is a fair bit of climbing until you reach the junction with Johnson Lake but after that it gets more gradual. We were able to ride all of the hills at a slow and steady pace. Once arriving at Lake Minnewanka it was a very fast ride down the other side of the loop past the Lower and Upper Bankhead trailheads.

Riding across the dam on Lake Minnewanka with no traffic 

We didn't stop either than for photos on our ride, but to make a day out of this ride, you can go down to Johnson Lake (it's all downhill so be prepared to climb back up to the road) where there is a beach area and a nice loop around the lake for hiking (bring a bike lock.)

Other great stops include Two Jack Lake (good for a picnic lunch,) Lake Minnewanka itself where you can hike along the lakeshore to Stewart Canyon (3 km round trip,) the Lower Bankhead site where you can hike down to view the old ghost town remains and a pretty cool coal train (1 km loop hike,) and the Upper Bankhead site where you can hike up to view more village remains from the ghost town. The trail from Upper Bankhead continues all the way to C Level Cirque but if you stop at the old village it's a short hike.

The Minnewanka Loop is a gorgeous spring bike ride! 

Biking the Bill Milne Trail in Kananaskis

This paved bike trail is 9.7 km one way and starts up at Kananaskis Village.   You can avoid the big hill down from the Village though by starting at the Kovach Day Use Area by the highway below. It is 17 km return distance between the Kovach Day Use Area and Wedge Pond at the far end. 

There are a couple hills near Wedge Pond but the rest of the trail is relatively flat.  You will notice it is more downhill as you head from Wedge Pond back to Kovach though as you will be coasting most of the return journey.  It makes sense therefore to bike to the pond on the way out with fresh legs, have a break at the pond, and then coast back to the car.

The trail is usually dry and good to go by mid May.

For a complete list of family bike trails in Kananaskis, including mountain biking options, read the stories below:

Read: The Best Family Bike Trails in Kananaskis 

The Bill Milne Bike Trail is a great spring ride 

Biking the paved bike path through Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

You'll want to wait until mid to late May for this one, but when the snow is gone, there's a lovely 12 km long paved bike path that connects the campgrounds in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. The path starts at the Visitor Centre and ends at the peninsula which separates the Lower and Upper Kananaskis Lakes where you'll find a couple of day use areas.

The trail is rolling and you'll have hills in both directions. If riding just one way, we've always liked the section from the Boulton Creek Campground down to the Canyon Campground where there's a playground to wait at while an adult rides back for the vehicle. 

If you're doing the full 24 km round trip ride, you'll find playgrounds to stop at in many of the campgrounds and there's ice-cream at the Boulton Creek Trading Post.

Cross-country skiers will recognize the path if they have skied the Wheeler and Lodgepole trails in winter.

For mountain bike trails in the area read the story below (and wait until mid-June) : 

Read: Biking the High Rockies Trail in Kananaskis with Kids 

Riding the paved bike path in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

Biking Closed Roads and Highways 

I wouldn't typically consider "road biking" to be a family-friendly activity but we get a brief window in spring where some of the roads and highways near Calgary still have winter closures, and we can ride on them without vehicles.

It's a glorious feeling to be cruising down a wide open highway, snow all melted out, but vehicles still restricted from driving on the road. You can access beautiful day use areas (without crowds,) have a picnic beside a scenic pond (without other users,) and you can even ride to trailheads to enjoy a quiet hike.

A few disclaimers before I get to the suggestions for rides below:

  • Bring bear spray! Riding a closed highway brings plenty of opportunities to encounter wildlife (usually deer or sheep.) Bear sightings are fairly common on the closed highways in Banff and many cyclists report seeing bears while riding the 1A (I myself did last year.)

  • Ride in a group. It doesn't have to be a large group, but there is safety in numbers. We like to have at least one other family along in case we do meet up with a bear.

  • Pay attention to the direction and speed of the wind!! Head winds going uphill are not your friend! Even going downhill they can be scary at high speeds. Cross winds can also be terrifying when there are strong gusts. Choose calm days for highway rides.

Climbing to Rainy Summit on Highway 66

Highway 66, Elbow Valley (road opens to traffic May 15th) 

Park at the winter gate by Elbow Falls. The full ride is 20 km round trip from the gate to Forgetmenot Pond. The road climbs 225 metres to the top of Rainy Summit in 5 km one way (and it's pretty much relentless climbing the whole time.) From there you lose 125 metres riding down to the pond (which you have to climb back up on the return ride.)

Follow this link to Google maps to see where you'll park for this ride.

Biking Highway 66 from Elbow Falls 

For an easy tour on Highway 66, bike to the Beaver Flats Campground (an easy 4 km round trip ride) and go for a hike on the Beaver Flats Interpretive Trail. The kids will have fun playing in the beaver ponds and will appreciate the short (relatively flat) ride. 

The roads through the campground are gravel but it's an easy ride to reach the trailhead. Bring a bike lock for your bikes.

Playing in the beaver ponds along the Beaver Flats Hiking Trail

Sheep River Road (Highway 546,) Southern Kananaskis  (road opens to traffic May 15th) 

Park at the closed gate by the Sandy McNabb Campground and ride as far as you want towards the Bluerock Campground. Most people go as far as the Sheep River Falls (a distance of 32 km return with 500 total metres of climbing.)

This is my favourite spring road ride because it's never an endless slog (unlike Highway 66.) There are hills in both directions so while you won't get the "cruise the whole way back to the vehicle" experience, at least you won't climb for 15 straight kilometres to reach the falls! The 500 metres height gain is spread out over the entire trip (there and back.)

Because of the hills on the return ride, make sure you save energy for the trip home! There is definitely one hill between the Bighorn Lookout and the vehicles that you'll climb on the way back - and after 25+ km, it feels pretty big.

Family biking on the Sheep River Road

With children it's a nice ride to the Bighorn Lookout and day use area (15 km round trip with gentle hills.) The kids will still appreciate having gears on their bikes, and by no means is it flat, but it's much more gradual than Highway 66.

From the Bighorn Day Use Area there's a short singletrack trail that takes you to the viewpoint. There's also an outhouse here (that is kept open.) 

Bighorn Lookout (a great lunch spot on the Sheep River Ride)

Beyond the Bighorn Lookout expect one epic hill that goes down and back up (so there's climbing in both directions.) If you decide to go for it though you'll be rewarded with two waterfalls. The first one, Tiger Jaw Falls, is found at the Indian Oils Trailhead (it's a short hike or bike from the highway.)

From the Indian Oils parking lot, look for the gravel trail beyond a gate to keep cars out. Bike or hike the gravel road and it will lead you to a large bridge where the falls are found underneath. 

Tiger Jaw Falls at the Indian Oils Day Use Area 

The second waterfall, Sheep River Falls is only half a kilometre further down the highway past Indian Oils. 

For Sheep River Falls, go into the parking lot and then head upstream along a trail by the river to see the falls. We just pushed our bikes up the trail as we hadn't brought bike locks with us. You could leave the bikes in the parking lot locked up though.

Our complete ride with stops at all three day use areas took 3.5 hours at the pace of two 12 year old boys.

Follow this link to Google maps to see where you'll park for this ride. The link will take you to the Sandy McNabb Campground. You don't need to descend into the campground though. Just park along the side of the highway beside the closed gate that prevents further driving on this road until May 15th.

Sheep River Falls with no crowds before the highway opens in May

Highway 40, Kananaskis (road opens to traffic June 15th)

While you can bike this highway from Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, riding towards Highwood Pass, we prefer to start in the south near Highwood Junction.

Drive south to Longview and get on Highway 541. Follow this highway until you reach the winter gate at Highwood Junction. This is where Highway 40 begins and climbs all the way to Highwood Pass. If you were to continue over the pass, you'd end up near the Kananaskis Lakes.

Highway 40 from Longview towards Highwood Pass

From the winter gate, it is just under 5 km one way to the Cat Creek Day Use Area where you can hike the trail to the Cat Creek Falls. Bring bike locks so you can hike to the waterfalls.

Between the winter gate and the Cat Creek day use area you'll definitely have some hills to contend with but the largest one can always be walked, and it's a short ride.

Follow this link to Google maps to see where you'll park for this ride. 

Biking Highway 40 with no vehicles!

The hike to the falls is also very short at less than 3 km round trip.

Read more about this trip here:

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

Cat Creek Falls after biking Highway 40

Moraine Lake Road, Lake Louise (road opens to shuttle bus traffic June 1st)

The 13 km road to Moraine Lake is set to open on June 1st for shuttle bus traffic. Public vehicles are not allowed on this road, so expect a quiet bike ride any time of the season. For a vehicle-free experience though, aim for mid to late May after the snow has melted.

The road to Moraine Lake climbs to a gorgeous viewpoint before descending to the lake

We finally rode this one when my son was 12 years old (and definitely better at climbing than me!) We used mountain bikes and it was a slog. I was in my lowest gear for much of the 400 metres of climbing and there were some hills that required several breaks midway.

Reaching the lake however, was glorious. Expect a descent down to the lake (which you'll have to climb on the way back.) Fortunately the climb back up to the viewpoint is nothing like what you climbed on the ride in. And after you reach the viewpoint, it's all downhill to the car (and lightning fast!)

Riding the Moraine Lake Road before it opened to vehicles in 2021

The return 25 km ride took us 2 hours (moving time.) At the lake we stopped to climb the rock pile for views of the lake and to have lunch.

Parking for this one: Parking is tricky because there is usually no parking allowed at the entrance to the Moraine Lake Road during the spring/summer season. They've also been closing other nearby parking lots.

One option is to use the Tramline Trail to access the Moraine Lake Road. It's not paved, but it's wide, relatively smooth, and is used as a ski trail in winter or a hiking/biking trail in summer. 

To access the Tramline Trail, either park at the old train station (Google Maps link) down below in the Village, and climb to the Moraine Lake Road (MLR,) or park up at the lake and descend to the MLR. 

Note if you want to park at the lake, you'll have to pay for parking. You should be able to drop people off though if you're biking with children. Drop the kids and a parent off at the lake to bike down to the MLR. The second adult can park at the bottom (free parking) and climb up to meet the group.

The Tramline Trail climbs 120 metres from the Train Station at a gentle rail grade over 3 km distance.

The Tramline Trail descends 72 metres from Lake Louise over 1.6 km distance.

See the Tramline Trail on the All Trails website here.

The viewpoint above Moraine Lake is a great photo stop on your ride 

Highway 1A, Banff  (closed to vehicles in spring and fall)

Each spring and fall from May 1 to June 25 and from September 1 to September 30, vehicle access is restricted along the eastern 17 kilometres of the Highway 1A Parkway to allow for a safe family-friendly cycling experience. Access to the Johnston Canyon day-use area and campground is still open via Castle Junction and the western section of the Highway 1A.

If you're biking from Banff, please park at the Banff Train Station rather than dangerously parking on the side of the road beside the 1A Highway. From the train station bike along Vermilion Lakes Road to reach the far western section of the Legacy Trail, then connecting to the 1A to begin your ride.

From the Town of Banff it is a 24 km ride to Johnston Canyon (one way.) Consider setting up a shuttle with a second vehicle at Castle Junction. The first 6 km from Castle Junction is open to traffic but it allows you to ride one way from Castle back to Banff in ~ 30 km. 

And personally, if I were to ride the 1A Highway one way, I'd start at Castle Junction and bike to Banff, down river for more height loss than gain.

See the route here on Google Maps from the Train Station to Johnston Canyon.

Riding the Highway 1A with Castle Mountain in the background

Read more in my recent story below:

Read: Epic Family Bike Rides: Johnston Canyon via the 1A Highway

Biking the Highway 1A with kids is a lot of fun!

Other Spring Bike Destinations

Biking around Drumheller 

We love driving out to Drumheller for a day in spring where you can either ride the paved pathway between town and the museum, or you can head out for a road ride to the ghost town of Wayne. Arriving in Wayne, you'll find a family-friendly saloon (when open) and there's a disc golf course there.

Regardless of whether you choose the bike paths or the road option to Wayne, you'll be riding through the badlands which is a very cool experience!

You can read all about our favourite spring adventures in Drumheller in my story below:

Read: Spring Road Trip to Drumheller (and bike to a ghost town!) 

Biking to the Ghost Town of Wayne near Drumheller

Other Recommended Reading

5 Steps to Crushing Local Mountain Bike Trails as a Family

Hello Wheels! Success Strategies for Pedaling into another Bike Season

No comments:

Post a Comment