This is my list of pipe dreams and missions accomplished! I will link to any posts that I have written up about specific rides or bikepacking trips, which usually include notes on elevation profiles, camping option(s), and our experiences as a family (including the ages of the kids and what they were riding). After pining over European bike vacations, I’ve begun to realize that we have so many wonderful trips to be had right in our very own backyard, with no expensive flights or jetlagged children to enjoy; miles to work out the kinks and refine our joy, within an hour or two’s drive from Calgary.
These trips are pretty much all double track or gravel road, but car-free. We don’t really have the set-up (yet!) to get us into the realm of singletrack rides, but next year our youngest should be old enough to ride a trail-a-bike, so our options might open up to more “real” mountain biking.
Wondering what to bring on trips like this? Check out my family-friendly packing list.
We rode from Upper Bankhead Parking Lot to backcountry campground Cr6 “Cascade Bridge”, along the Cascade Fire Road in Banff National Park, August 2017. It’s just under 6.5 km to this campsite on the Cascade River. There is one short but steep climb and descent, initially (and know that there is nothing steeper after that!), proceeded by about a 2.5 km long, steady ascent up the valley, as can be seen on this elevation profile. The trail gently undulates after that, rolling past some pretty wetlands and when you hit a real descent you know that you are dropping down to Cascade River and are a few minutes from Cr6 which is located on your left, just after the bridge.
We haven’t done it yet, but this can be made into a longer distance trip or a two-nighter by incorporating backcountry campground Cr15 “Stoney Creek” into your plans. Bikes aren’t permitted past this point.
When we did our trip to Cr6, our youngest enjoyed her last day of being 2 years old and our eldest was a few weeks shy of 6. The baby in the family rode on the back of the Edgerunner in the Hooptie and sometimes with her dad on the Haul-a-Day in the Whoopie-Deux, both setups use an Xtracycle cushion. We had the Yepp on the back of the Edgerunner in case she decided to doze off, but that didn’t happen. Our eldest rode her new-that-week Frog 55 and she could ride a lot of the long incline with lots of breaks and candy incentives, with a huge grin on her face the whole time (I was so proud). She needs a few more teeth on her granny gear to spin a bit more freely and tire less easily (or a smaller chainring in front… I need to see which is more feasible). We fashioned a fork-mount on the back of the Haul-a-Day for her bike when she needed a break, and then she’d catch a ride with mum or dad.
So, with loaded adult bikes, two young kids, and lots of rest stops, I’d budget at least 2-3 hours to get in the almost 6.5 km to Cr6. Give yourself an extra hour to allow for breakdowns (from bikes or kids).
Here is the full trip report!
2. Goat Creek – Legacy Loop
We did this trip July 2018 with another couple and their 18 month old. It was rad! So awesome to find an almost completely car-free loop close to home in Canada.
We started at the Goat Creek Trailhead above Canmore, rode “down” to Mount Rundle Backcountry (Sp6) in Banff National Park, camped, had coffee, rode into Banff for brunch at Wild Flour, then ripped back along the Legacy Trail to Canmore. We did not ride back up the busy and dusty Smith-Dorien to the trailhead and were fortunate to not have to set up a shuttle as my mum lives in Canmore and was around so she was kind enough to drive two drivers back up the hill to grab our cars. With kids, I would recommend a shuttle or send a strong rider to retrieve the car.
This ride is perfect when finished with a refreshing dip in Quarry Lake! Here is the link to the full trip report with more details!
And, here is some winter inspiration for an out-and-back along Goat Creek to Sp6. Tricky for an older kid, but done with grace! Which, to me, speaks volumes about this kid and that this is a very family-friendly option for summertime.
3. Spray River Loop
This ride is in the same neck-of-the-woods as #2, above, except it would start and end in Banff and is much shorter, overall. Generally, people ride the loop in the direction of Banff Springs Hotel to Bow Falls. There is parking for this trail about 100 m past the BSH parkade. The loop itself is about 11.3 km and I am in the process of finding a detailed enough map of where Sp6 is actually located (i.e. is it at the tip of this loop or is it a little bit up Goat Creek Trail). Lemme know if you have a good map or online link you recommend for that… so far I only have this one. Edited to add a description of the campground from Doug Dunlop over at coldbike.com: “The campground is about 100m from the turn-around bridge, on the east side of the river and the eating area about 300m further from the bridge.”
So, the plan would be park, ride the 6.5 or so km to Sp6, camp, ride out, soak in hot springs, go home! Sounds pretty okay and very kid-friendly. And, here’s proof, done in winter, no less! And, in case you’re not a winter biker, you could walk, snowshoe, or cross-country ski this one, too.
4. Goat Creek Parking Lot to Spray West, via High Rockies Trail
This route would start in the Goat Creek Parking Lot, again, but this time heading up the new High Rockies Trail section of The Great Trail (aka the Transcanada Trail), riding to Spray Lakes West Campground. This trail is not yet on GoogleMaps but there is a map link here. It appears that this route would be a little over 10 km, one way.
5. Goat Pond to Spray West, via High Rockies Trail
A shorter version of #4, above. Instead, park at Goat Pond and connect in to the High Rockies Trail, then ride about 3.8 km on the trail to Spray West, and continue for a few hundred metres more to the campground. This is the best map link I’ve found. It appears that this route would be a little over 4 km, one way.
In fact, this would be a pretty amazing first trip where you could even “cheat” and have a car parked with the bulk of your gear at the campground…!
6. Redearth Creek
This was our first ever bikepacking trip before we even really knew what “bikepacking” was: Summer 2013. We rode our old mountain bikes in, borrowed a BOB trailer, had a couple of panniers, and pulled our 22 month old toddler in our single Chariot. It was quite the slog. But, we did it!!! We made it to backcountry campground Re6 (“Lost Horse Creek”) and set up camp. And, then it was so very dark with clouds. I was thinking, ‘what the heck are we going to do with the three of us crammed in a tent in a torrential downpour for the next 12+ hours?’ So, after a little marital dischord, we packed up, zipped down the fire road in very good time, loaded up our gear into the car, turned onto the highway, and then it POURED. Buckets and buckets of rain. Vindicated, we ordered pizza from Rocky Mountain Flatbread as soon as we had cell service, picked it up on our way through Canmore and went home.
We successfully repeated this trip as a day trip a few weeks later and it was great. We rode up past Re6 to as far as you can go up this fire road by bike. Locked up the bikes. Switched the toddler into our hiking pack and walked in to Shadow Lake. Beautiful. Then we walked out, zipped back down the hill, and went home. It’s about 21 km return trip, doing this. Our dog was tired after her half marathon!
I’d like to try this trip again without kids or when the kids are both on geared bikes and decent at climbing.
Riding out on an old fire road, “Little Elbow Trail” to Mount Romulus backcountry campground, almost 12 km, one way. Access is from Little Elbow Campground area (which adds another 1.8 km to the trip). The trip could take anywhere from 1 to 5 hours depending on your ability, fitness, load, if you’re travelling with kids or in a big group! It took our group of ten families about 3 hours or so.
Check out the trip report link for lots of details and know that this route has a wonderful day trip option of riding to the bridge and back — super family-friendly.
Romulus is open year round and some people park at the winter gate on this road and fat bike sections or all of the Elbow Loop… just in case you’re inspired to do the same!
8. Elbow Loop: Little Elbow to Tombstone
We are going to save this one for when the kids are a bit bigger, I think. It can be done in one bigger ~20 km day or could be broken up into two days with a night at Big Elbow backcountry campground or coming in from the other direction along Little Elbow and staying at Romulus. *Edited to add: Tombstone Backcountry Campground is currently closed (2018) and being redone. Big Elbow Backcountry is open this season (and I believe that it is slated to be redone next year, 2019). Trip report for Little Elbow to Big Elbow coming soon!!!
9. Elbow Loop: Little Elbow to Big Elbow
We did this trip twice in June 2018 and it is great as an out-and-back. On both trips there were families who had never been bikepacking before and had fun doing it! So much so that we have since done another trip with one of the families — I think that speaks pretty highly of the adventure! It is the perfect balance of easy yet challenging enough for younger kids that they get an immense degree of satisfaction from completing the journey.
You can read my complete write-up here with more details and pictures.
10. Elbow Loop: The Complete Loop
This is a great way to break down this trip into more kid-sized nuggets of distance.
11. Lake Minnewanka
This route has restrictions for time of year that you can ride it (closed to bikes from July 10 to September 15) and this post has great inspiration. I think we will save this one for when the kids are a bit older, too, as we don’t currently have a setup that will work… Well, after reading this gorgeous post, maybe we could make it work with a little tweaking!
A little further afield…
I’d like to learn more about Alberta’s Iron Horse Trail up North…