Bicycling the Canadian Rockies, August, 2002

The Rocky Mountains in Alberta and British Columbia are a popular destination for road cyclists during the short Canadian summer. The mountain scenery is beautiful, the weather is generally mild, and traffic isn't too bad. Here are some pictures from a tour I did with Vermont Bicycle Tours (VBT) in early August, 2002.

Click on any of the pictures below for a larger image (about 80KB each). The pictures will pop up in a separate window, so you should turn off any popup blocking software.

Note that VBT has recently changed the route of this tour. The new tour skips the British Columbia part of the tour as well as most of the longer hills. If you are looking for a tour with more cycling time, you might try www.timbertours.com or www.backroads.com.

I flew from San Francisco to Calgary on Tuesday, July 30. About half our group stayed at the Palliser Hotel in downtown Calgary. The Calgary Tower is next door and gives a nice view of the city. There are plenty of bank ATM machines downtown where you can withdraw Canadian cash. A couple of blocks north of the hotel is a nice restaurant district and also a nice Chinatown district (with lots of Vietnamese restaurants mixed in).

On Wednesday, we took a shuttle from Calgary to the resort town of Banff and met the rest of the group.

(Click on any picture for a larger image.)
Calgary Tower

There are many companies offering bicycle tours in the Canadian Rockies. The VBT tour takes a slightly different route from most of the other companies, crossing the continental divide twice and looping through the popular Banff National Park in Alberta and the quieter Yoho and Kootenay National Parks in British Columbia. We have one layover day in Yoho, then one day of white water rafting on the Kicking Horse River. Route Map

Our first riding day was Thursday. In the morning, we ride north from Banff along the rolling Bow Valley Parkway and quickly get our first wildlife sightings of deer and elk.

Later in the morning, we stopped for a short hike through Johnston Canyon. A river pours through the bottom of the narrow canyon, but a series of cat walks keep our feet dry.

Elk Johnson Canyon

We have the first of a series of great picnic lunches under Castle Mountain, reportedly the most photographed mountain in the Canadian Rockies.

The Bow Valley Parkway continues to Lake Louise Village. Lake Louise (and our hotel) is actually up a short hill from the village. We take the scenic dirt Tram Line Trail up the hill to the lake.

All the glacier fed lakes in the Canadian Rockies have a deep blue green color, supposedly due to the altitude and glacier silt in the water.

Castle Mountain Lake Louise Tramline Trail

During breakfast on Friday morning, we see a hail and lightening storm outside. We were supposed to ride up to Moraine Lake in the morning, but instead take the van and do some hiking there. The view from Moraine Lake is famous in Canada, as it appears on the back of their $20 bill. Unfortunately, we can see little of it through the clouds. We take the van back to Lake Louise and hike up a 1000 foot hill to Lake Agnes. We have lunch at the Lake Agnes tea house, while snow falls outside. Hiking in a storm is more pleasant than cycling in one.

After lunch, the weather clears up a bit and we ride west over the continental divide towards Cathedral Mountain. The continental divide separates rivers flowing west to the Pacific Ocean and east to the Atlantic. It also separates the Alberta and British Columbia provinces and Banff and Yoho National Parks. Another hail storm catches up to us near the end of our ride, and we shuttle the last few miles to the lodge. Our weather forecast is for rain for most of the week, but fortunately this is the only day we really get wet. The rest of the week turns out to be cool, but mostly dry.

Moraine Lake Lake Agnes Lake Louise

Saturday is a layover day (meaning that we spend two nights at the lodge, so all the rides that day are "optional"). In the morning, we ride up the hill to Takakkaw Falls. At 1200 feet, this is one of the tallest waterfalls in Canada. The road to the falls involves a 1000 foot climb, most of which occurs in one steep stretch of switch backs. The turns are so sharp that busses and campers must backup through one section. The hill is no match for our triple cranksets, though.

In the afternoon, we ride along the Kicking Horse River to the town of Field and up to Emerald Lake. One interesting stop along the way is this natural bridge carved by the river. The Emerald Lake area has many scenic hikes and we take one around the lake shore. We ride back to the Cathedral Mountain Lodge for the night. Our "layover" day turns out to be our longest riding day, as we start riding at 9am and don't get back to the lodge until 5pm.

On Sunday, we have a short ride in the morning, then a fun day of white water rafting on the Kicking Horse River. I didn't take my camera on the river, so you have to imagine it.

Takakkaw uphill Takakkaw Falls Takakkaw switch backs Natural Bridge

On Monday, we have the biggest climb of our trip. From the town of Radium Hot Springs, we climb 2100 vertical feet over Sinclair Pass. There is a steep 11% section in the first half of the climb, but the upper half is a moderate 6% to 8% grade.

After the pass, trip leader Deb has another great picnic waiting for us.

Sinclair Pass picnic

Monday afternoon, we ride through the Kootenay Valley to the Kootenay National Park Lodge. We have individual rustic cabins. That night, trip leader Jeff shows us another of his many talents. Kootenay lodge Jeff

Tuesday is our last riding day. From the lodge, we ride up the long, but not very steep Vermilion Pass and back over the continental divide into Alberta and Banff National Park. Along the way, we stop for a hike through the beautiful Marble Canyon. Marble Canyon is often much narrower than Johnston Canyon from our first day.

From the top of Vermilon Pass, we have a long downhill to Castle Mountain Village, then take the rolling Bow Valley Parkway back to Banff. As on our first day, we see many elk and deer along the parkway.

Marble Canyon elk

My thanks to our guides Deb and Jeff for a great job of keeping the tour moving, despite continuing weather issues. VBT recommended bringing rain and cool weather gear for this trip and we needed it as our daytime temperatures were 10 to 25 degrees (F) below average for the entire week. Even Canadian Deb was wearing her long pants (at times).

The Canadian Rockies tour is great for intermediate level recreational cyclists. While the daily distances on this trip were not great (usually about 40 miles per day), there were several nice hills to keep it interesting. There are also lots of nice sightseeing opportunities, both along the route and in the afternoons after the rides. This was my first tour with VBT. I think they did a great job and will recommend them to my friends.

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Copyright © 2002, Kenton Lee, Palo Alto, California. All rights reserved.