Raising Little Rippers in the Bow Valley

Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail
Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail

A year ago I could not have named more than a few bike trails in Banff, let alone the whole Bow Valley from Canmore to Lake Louise. And five years ago I didn’t even own a bike! In fact, I hadn’t biked since I was a high school student and that’s a long time ago now! Something happens though when you discover your child is good at something (as in really, really good) and you have no choice but to encourage him or her with total enthusiasm as you jump on board and hope you won’t get left behind in the dust for at least a few years. I knew we were on to something when we bought our son a balance bike without pedals at the age of 3 – and he quickly became so fast on the thing that we started taking him on mountain bike trails while we hiked alongside. At the age of 4 he rode his bike in and out of Sundance Lodge in Banff, a distance of 10km one way, and we knew we’d better get him on pedals.

My son is the proud owner of a Spawn Cycles 16” Banshee and he is taking the trails across the Canadian Rockies by storm on his bike this year. In fact, at the age of 5, he’s already out-biking me in his technical ability! We started him riding with pedals last year on pavement and pathways but transitioned to mountain biking this spring when we saw him develop a love for pump tracks and bike parks. The Canmore pump track in Millennium Park has become one of our favourite places for a day trip from Calgary and we visit every bike park we find across the Rockies as we travel around.

If you have a little ripper of you own that you’d like to see biking the trails across the Bow Valley, below are my suggestions for first rides. Some of them are paved and serve to build endurance, while others offer an introduction to easy gravel, dirt, and single track riding. There is nothing overly technical about any of the trails I’ve featured but you can expect to find a few roots, loose sand and gravel on occasion with short steep hills that children can always walk if they don’t have gears yet or lack confidence at braking.

Watridge Lake
Watridge Lake

Family Trails in and around Canmore

Watridge Lake – Reached from the Mount Shark trailhead on the Spray Lakes Road outside Canmore, this out and back ride is 7.5 km round trip. Expect some steep hills, loose gravel, and big rocks (usually on the biggest hills,) but otherwise, you’ll be biking an old gravel road the whole way to the lake and back. From the lake you can continue on foot to see the Karst Spring where water shoots out of a hole in the rock. It’s pretty incredible to see actually (even if you are wearing bike shoes and jumping the creek that’s overflown its banks.)

Canmore Nordic Centre – There’s a green single track loop good for novice riders that we haven’t done yet (on the list for the summer,) and there are no trail fees for mountain biking at the Nordic Centre. Families wanting an easier ride can follow the paved roller skiing trail to the meadow and back in a 6 km return ride. Maps are available in the day lodge or online if you want to plan out your route before you go. The day lodge is also a very comfortable place to hand out if you want to take turns doing family rides while adults split up to check out some of the more challenging terrain.

Canmore Pathways – Without ever leaving the town limits, you can bike over 20km of beautiful maintained pathways and trails.  Most of them are gravel but there are a few paved sections here and there.  You don’t have to worry about the trails being bumpy though and they are very family-friendly. The Blue and Green Activity Loops serve as a great introduction to mountain biking for children used to paved streets and sidewalks. The Red Trail that goes up towards the Three Sisters Mountain Resort is also a beautiful ride and introduces children to gradual hills on packed gravel.

For a pathway map, trail photos, updates and more, visit the trail page. Also, while you’re there, make sure you spend some time at the Millennium Mountain Bike Skills Park. It is great for bikers of all abilities (balance bike friendly in fact) and has a sweet flow to its pump track that’s hard to find anywhere else!

For more information and photos on the bike trails in Canmore, follow this link to my recent story: The Best Family Bike Trails in Canmore.


Family Trails in Banff

Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail – This is one of the classic rides in the Banff area and connects the towns of Banff and Canmore. It is approximately 20km one way depending on how much of the full trail you ride, but there are plenty of options for shortening the route.  While the trail is paved, it serves for great endurance training and there are a few hills to negotiate. For more information on this trail and on breaking it down into child-sized portions, read my recent story: Biking the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail with Kids.

Cascade Ponds to Bankhead – This is a gem of a trail in the Lake Minnewanka area that I didn’t know existed until this year. It is an out and back ride of 5 km round trip and serves as an awesome introduction to easy single track riding. Expect a bit of loose sand and gravel with a few roots. There is also one creek crossing that can be rock hopped while carrying bikes. Kids will enjoy discovering the old coal train and ghost town at Bankhead.

Fenland Trail – We love biking this short easy loop in Banff and it serves as a great way to connect some mountain biking with road riding on Vermillion Lakes Drive. From downtown Banff, park near the gazebo in Central Park and bike the paved Bow River Trail in the direction of the highway. You’ll reach the Fenland trail in less than a kilometre. Loop the 2 km Fenland trail and climb up to Vermillion Lakes Drive if you want to extend your ride. From here, you can ride to the first lake or continue to the second or third before turning back and returning to the Fenland Trail. Total distance from Central Park to the Middle Lake is 7 km return.

For more information and photos on biking in Banff, visit my recent story: The Best Family Bike Trails in Banff National Park.

Millennium Park Pump Track
Millennium Park Pump Track

Family Trails at Lake Louise

Tramline Trail – We haven’t biked the trails of Lake Louise yet but this trail is high on our list to bike soon. If riding with kids, start at Lake Louise and bike one way down to the Village below. As a one-way ride it is 4.5km – and mostly all downhill! What kid (or adult) wouldn’t love that?!! Flip a coin for who has to bike back up to get the car. My husband would choose to do it for the “exercise.” Meanwhile, I’d be waiting at Laggan’s Bakery at the end sipping a latte.

Bow River Loop – Another great family ride at Lake Louise, this 7.1 km loop has minimal elevation gain and is situated near the campground for those camped there. You’ll be biking near the river the whole time so make lots of noise to scare off bears in the area and check for bear warnings before you go.

For more information on biking Lake Louise, visit the bikepirate Trails listing and search “Lake Louise” for all trails open to mountain biking in the Park.

See you on the trails!

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