Go Outside: The Yikes Bikes edition!

Five ways to enjoy the mountains on two wheels this spring, summer and fall

Biking on the Bow Valley Parkway in October 2020

More than 13 months into the pandemic, we’re keen to find and hold on to the rare bright spots. One of the good parts of the never-ending months of Zoom meetings and missing hugging family and friends has been the great pandemic bicycle boom.

We’ve both long loved the freedom that comes on two wheels and we’ve been so pleased to see so many others, of all ages and abilities, embrace biking in recent months.

With the snow melting, it’s the perfect time to go for a bicycle ride and there’s plenty of exciting options in Alberta — including a couple of car-free routes that exist because of the pandemic. Read on, as some of these seasonal closures end soon, while others start soon. No matter which route you choose, the fact of the matter is enjoying a bike ride on a stunning mountain highway without cars zooming by is the best. Time to get riding!

Bow Valley Parkway

Highway 1A, the scenic secondary highway between Banff and Lake Louise, is known as The Bow Valley Parkway. Last spring, the popular road was quietly closed to motor vehicles and opened to people for a 24-kilometre stretch from the parkway’s East Gate to Castle Junction, in an effort to reduce COVID-19 exposure.

The closure didn’t stay quiet for long and biking the parkway became a highlight of the strange pandemic spring/summer/fall. We were so pleased to hear Albertans can enjoy this car-free road again this summer.

We both biked the Parkway several times in 2020 and saw people of all ages (literally, there were toddlers on strider bikes enjoying the freshly paved, car-free road) and people using everything from rollerblades to e-bikes, hand-pedal bikes, old bikes, new bikes, and their own two feet.

If you want to mix things up and hike, in addition to bike, Johnston Canyon is located about 17 kilometres down the Parkway from the East Gate. We did an entry last fall on A Once In A Lifetime Bike + Hike that’s full of details on how to bike the parkway (where to park, where to snack, what to expect) and how to hike Johnston Canyon and the Ink Pots, which are seven striking, spring-fed pools of water.

Lake Minnewanka Loop Road

The Parkway bike experience was so popular last year that Banff National Park is experimenting with new closures. Mark your calendars as this one is pretty specific. From May 1 to May 20, Parks will close the Minnewanka Lake Loop to vehicles (giving cyclists more room) on Mondays to Thursdays, as part of a pilot project. The road will be open to motorists on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Parking will be available at the Cascade Ponds day-use area. Weekday schedules permitting, we can’t wait to give this car-free road a spin!

Sheep River

Every year Highway 546 closes to vehicles, west of Sandy McNabb campground, from December 1 to May 14. Thus, the first two weeks of May provide a typically snow-free and peaceful mountain ride without vehicles zooming by. We’ve never not seen sheep while biking this route and the last couple of years we’ve been lucky enough to see bears (at a distance.) Don’t forget your bear spray.

You can park at the Sandy McNabb campground and bike on the highway about 16 kilometres to Sheep River Falls. Walk for less than a kilometre and you’ll be rewarded with a lovely waterfall.

Highwood Pass

Highwood Pass is the highest paved road in Canada. The route is car-free annually until June 15th and we recommend a visit on two wheels. There’s several different options, depending on if you want a 110-kilometre day or a 35-kilometre day. More details here and here.

Because we’re not that hardcore, we like to park at the end of Highway 40 and bike the 17-kilometres to the summit and then go back the same way we came. We’ve hit snow every time we’ve done Highwood Pass, but the closer to June 15th you ride it, the more likely you’ll have a clear route.

Bikepacking

Okay, we’re going to be honest here. While we’ve both biked with backpacks on, we’ve never done a proper bikepacking trip. Maybe that will change this summer! We have some friends who are avid bikepackers and simply love it. Bikepacking is essentially biking and camping — two things we love. People kit their bikes out with fancy bags stuffed with minimalist camping gear. Then, you get to enjoy the freedom of a multi-day backcountry hike, without the hiking part, and with the thrill of riding.


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