Distance: 3.8 km
Time: 30 min – 1hr
Elevation Gain: 92 m
Elevation Loss: 152 m
Technical Rating: Advanced
Physical Rating: Moderate – Hard
Season: June – October
Permit Required: Yes; Park pass
Topp Notch has it all. An exciting assortment of ladder bridges, skinnies, wooden overhanging corners, endless switchbacks, descending and ascending, all line its route. The builders responsible for this trail found creative ways to incorporate the various obstacles that make up this incredible ride. Boulders and rocks are ridden up, across, over and down, while huge bermed corners, re-enforced with wood, enable the rider to keep their flow on the descents. This is an advanced (black) trail that requires skill and experience. Simply put, this trail is a joy to ride and nothing like it currently exists in Banff Park. If you’re an intermediate rider pushing advanced or an experienced rider looking for something unique and interesting to tackle, Topp Notch will not disappoint.
Located on Tunnel Mountain in Banff National Park, a short pedal up from centre of town, Topp Notch is a must-do ride for all experienced mountain bikers. Riders will typically combine Topp Notch with Tunnel Mountain’s favourites, including Return of the Jedi, Star Wars, Tunnel Loop and The Toe. The trailhead for Topp Notch is found just west of the well-marked Star Wars and should only be ridden one way, south. The name for Topp Notch came about during the goodbye party for the outgoing BVMBA’s president, where the core volunteers voted on the name in recognition of Doug Topp’s efforts; he’s the man responsible for flagging the route and leading the charge to get the approval for this one-of-a-kind ride.
The amount of work and effort that went into this trail is incredible; I’m not just referring to the two years of sweat equity, but rather, the years of lobbying Parks to make Topp Notch a reality. All lobbying efforts were led by the BVMBA directors and past president Doug Topp – please buy these boys a beer or two when you run into them. Before any shovel, pick or pulaski touched dirt, there were many meetings, email exchanges and phone conversations with representatives from Parks Canada to make this unique Banff trail a reality. As someone recently said to me, Topp Notch resembles the kind of trail you’d expect to find on the west coast, with its ladder bridges, rock features and lush vegetation. This is not what you would expect from a trail found in the heart of the Rockies, in a national park, located in the small tourist town of Banff, Alberta. And I couldn’t agree more; it’s not at all what you’d expect, but exactly what you want from a trail.
Topp Notch begins with a mandatory feature meant to weed out the less experienced. If you cannot ride this opening feature please consider turning around and heading back down to Star Wars. Once past the entry on Topp Notch, the trail will ascend several switchbacks towards the first large feature, the Big Daddy corner. What follows next can only be described as incredible flow along some challenging technical trail features (TTFs) which will all have you hooting and hollering all the way down to the finish. Sections such as Big Daddy corner, Space Rocks and Split Rock are just a few of the features that will greet you on your journey. Buckle up and get ready for one exhilarating ride up, across and down this Topp Notch ride.
TRAILHEAD | N51 10.889 W115 33.262
The access to Topp Notch is found west of the Star Wars trailhead, accessible from Tunnel Mountain Road and located across (south) from Buffalo Mountain Lodge. Begin your ride from Tunnel Mountain Road following the sign for the Star Wars trailhead leading up into the woods. As you approach the trailhead for Star Wars (30 metres in), continue right (west) and past the entry to Star Wars up the trail. From here, there are markers and arrows pointing you in the direction of the Topp Notch trailhead.
bikepirate rating: 5 Skulls