10 Family Friendly Bikepacking Trips in the Canadian Rockies

camping with kids

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 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.

1. Cascade Valley

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.

cascade bridge

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).

2. Goat Creek – Legacy Loop

We are looking at doing this route as an overnighter for my eldest’s 6th birthday, early September 2017, pending my knee. *Updated to say we didn’t make it because my body wasn’t cooperating and it was super forest fire smokey — next year!

Our plan would be to drive up the Spray Lakes/Smith-Dorrien and park at the Goat Creek Trailhead located after Whiteman’s Pond. Ride down to Sp6 “Mount Rundle”. Camp. Ride into Banff for brunch and then loop back to Canmore via the Legacy Trail (with my stoic husband riding the last leg back up Spray Lakes Rd. to get the car…).

Sp6 is approximately 6 km from where this fire road starts near Banff, I’m assuming (because that’s roughly what the campground numbers refer to), which means it’s about 13-16 km from Goat Creek Parking Lot, pretty much all down hill other than a few steep ups after water crossings.

Hit me up with your favourite brunch recommendations in Banff!

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 oneEdited to add a description of the campground from Doug Dunlop over at coldbike.wordpress.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!

lost horse creek

I’d like to try this trip again without kids or when the kids are both on geared bikes and decent at climbing.

7. Elbow Loop: Little Elbow to Romulus

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.

9. Elbow Loop: The Complete Loop

This is a great way to break down this trip into more kid-sized nuggets of distance.

10. 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…

There are more bits that I want to ride along the Kettle Valley Railway and related sections, more day trips as well as multiday adventures like this one.

I’d like to learn more about Alberta’s Iron Horse Trail up North…

11 Replies to “10 Family Friendly Bikepacking Trips in the Canadian Rockies”

  1. […] 10 Family Friendly Bikepacking Trips in the Canadian Rockies […]

  2. Some of these trips sound great. We have 3 littles, eldest is 5 and he likes to bike. I think getting into burrowing would be great but what gear do you bring?

    1. Great question! In essence, it’s the same gear as backpacking, except you need to carry some basic bike tools (pump, patch kit, multi-tool including chain break, spare tube, etc.). Keep your eyes peeled for a write-up on this or you can scan my Instagram feed for our a picture of our packing list… hmm, let’s see if I can find it… we essentially brought this (if morphed a bit from this list as we ended up doing a shorter trip): https://www.instagram.com/p/BXD82SIHhRS/?taken-by=our100acrewood

    2. I’m working on a post and will link it here when I’m done. But, for now, check out Megan’s link for packing ideas. Hers includes a great outline about how things have morphed over time for them as a family of three, from toddlerdom to school-aged kid. http://evilmoose.me/?p=6120

  3. We have done the Spray Loop a bunch of times, usually in winter. It is indeed kid-friendly bikepacking. Last winter we went for New Years https://coldbike.wordpress.com/2017/01/03/new-years-2017-fatbikepacking-campout/ and later Fiona guided a trip with a couple of my friends down Goat Creek to SP6 and back https://coldbike.wordpress.com/2017/03/17/fatbikepacking-guiding-by-a-9-year-old/. 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. Still no map, but I also took Fiona there in Feb 2014, https://coldbike.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/skipacking-with-fiona/
    I only advise it in winter, but fatbiking in to Sundance Lodge or BW10 is family challenging-but-friendly. In summer, the trail is about ankle deep in horse manure and mud. The trail is trackset for skiing, so that is an option as well.
    Also, the very awesome Megan Dunn talks about packing here: http://evilmoose.me/?p=6120

    1. Awesome, Doug, thanks! Updating the post right now to include most of the links. I’m not sure I ever considered myself a winter camper but not I’m getting curious because there are so many of these trips that I still want to do and next summer is feeling very far away at this point, ha!

      1. Winter has the advantages of no bugs, few bears, no crowds, and fresh milk.

  4. Also from Megan, one of her Minnewanka trips: http://evilmoose.me/?p=6098

  5. Also, in my rush to help you find the campground, I forgot to mention how much I like this piece. It gives a nice overview of some great options near here.

    1. Thanks! Des has been saying there are lots of great-looking options up Jasper way, too? More exploring to be had once we’ve checked out most of these options.

      1. There is also a rail trail (not as back country nor as non-motorized as I would prefer) https://ironhorsetrail.ca/ in Alberta and Saskatchewan now has the Boreal trail http://www.tourismsaskatchewan.com/things-to-do/trails/105242/meadow-lake-provincial-park-boreal-trail (allows bikes)

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