Riding in the Bow Valley                     

Plan your trip
Sharing the trails
What about wildlife?
Enough about predators
Best biking practises

When can you ride

The trails in the Bow Valley are some of the best classic cross country mountain biking that you will find anywhere in North America. In Canmore, the riding season is generally from late to mid to late October depending when the snow flies and stays on the ground. Some years we have ridden right into December and there are some people who ride year round. Banff’s season starts in early to mid-May depending on the trail and the weather and finishes early October, but can stretch to early November on occasion. Lake Louise is quite a bit higher in altitude and the season there is a late May to mid-June start with the trails mostly being snowbound by early October. It is best to check with Parks Canada for Banff and Lake Louise trail conditions if you are coming here early or late season.

Sharing the trails - you may not be alone!

All trails in the Bow Valley that are open to mountain biking are also multi-user trails. That means you will be sharing with horses, hikers and runners from time to time. Please slow down and yield the trail to all other users. When approaching horse riders, it is best to slow down and call out to the lead or last rider to make your presence known. Bikes can be spooky for horses, so be prepared to dismount and move off the trail on a singletrack trail. Talking to the horse rider lets the horses know you are a human being and not a weird monster they should fear. Tell the rider you’d like to pass and they will give you the all clear as soon as it is practical.

Hikers have been using these trails for many years. Please be sensitive to their experience as you approach and pass them. Slowing down and having a friendly word or two with them can go a long way to reducing conflict on the trails. Try getting off the trail for them sometimes and you’ll probably find a much friendlier attitude.

What about wildlife?


Bears- Yes, we have bears. No, we don’t have a huge number. Yes, they can be anywhere and yes, you need to know a little about them for your safety and their future health. Don’t let paranoia of bears ruin your ride and experience in the Canadian Rockies. You probably have more chance of being hit by lightning than being attacked by a bear. Keep things in perspective.

For more details Parks Canada has a good brochure called Bears and People at     http://www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/ab/banff/visit/visit12_E.asp that provides useful and interesting information on bears.

Much of the Rockies is actually rock and ice, making it land that many animals, including humans, may visit but really choose not to call their home. Animals and people share the same land, both spending much of their time in the valley areas and the lower montane regions. And animals, like humans, often take the path of least resistance, so trails can be an attraction for them to move along as well.

The last thing you want is a surprise encounter with a bear at a close range. To avoid this, the best thing you can do is make lots of noise and make it often. Bears generally want to avoid you as much as you want to avoid them. Call out from time to time, sing or yoddle.  any loud noise is good. Bear bells – those small bells people attach to their backpacks or shoes or wherever are generally quite ineffective, so don’t rely on them. Remember bikes travel quite quickly and quietly down trails, so you soon travel past the range of the last time you made noise. Be aware of sight lines, and make some noise as you come into a bend or blind spot on the trail.

Be bear aware at all times – look for signs of bear presence – bear scat on the trail, perhaps a bear paw print in the mud or dirt, fresh diggings for roots, larges rocks flipped over etc. Should you carry bear spray?? We think it is a good idea and we do ourselves, but it has its limitations and you need to know how to use it and when to use it. It is a last resort weapon rather than excuse to ignore other bear safety procedures. If you do carry it, don’t store it in the bottom of your pack. It should be somewhere on you or your bike that you can access very readily. One effective method is to cut the top off on old water bottle, secure the bear spray inside, and carry it in your water bottle cage (see photo above). While this is a popular way to keep the spray close at hand, some experts feel that it is better to secure the spray to your body such as being strapped to your waist. They point out that it is not uncommon when an incident with a bear occurs for you to quickly become separated from your bike and thus your spray.

Learn about bears, their behaviour and what to do if you see one -- it is your responsibility.

Dogs - Leave Fido at home. Dogs are not allowed off-leash in national parks. Dogs can also sniff out a bear and chase it only to have the bear turn and chase the dog.

Cougars - What about cougars? We don’t have many at all and people rarely see them, although they may be watching you at any time. Cougar attacks are very unusual but the approach to handling cougar sightings is quite different from how you should handle bear encounters. To learn what to do if you see or encounter one follow this link:http://www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/ab/banff/visit/visit7_e.asp#predator

Elk   - Always watch out for elk, espically in the spring during calving season. Elk are big, grumpy, not so smart and for some reason don't love mountain bikers (imagine that). Keep your head up. When you come accross a herd of elk, look for a way around them. If thats a no-go, make some noise and see if they calmly move off. Don't shout and carry on to the point where they are running all over the place. If you see a single female elk (no horns) standing her ground ahead of you, its likley she has a calf in the area. Be very cautious as this can be a dangerous situation. Locals will turn around when faced with this type of encounter.

Enough about predators – other wildlife live here too!

You may see deer, elk, moose, mountain goats and mountain sheep, rabbits, pine martens, and all sorts of beautiful and fascinating animals. Please enjoy watching them without trying to have contact with them. Help keep these animal wild. Habituation (being familiar with humans and losing an animal’s natural wariness of people) is not good for any wild animal – it can lead scrounging for food and introduce them to all kinds of foods that shouldn’t be part of their diet.

Keep your distance from elk especially during the spring calving season and rutting (mating) season in the fall. They can both protective and aggressive at these times and there have been many incidents of people being charged and badly hurt by them. Elk are large and you don’t want an encounter with them. Keep a good distance from all wild animals no matter how quiet or harmless they seem. Many of these animals are quite unpredictable in their behaviour.

Parks Canada has a very interesting and informative section on their website about wild animals and things you should be aware of. Have a look at http://www.pc.gc.ca/docs/pc/guide/nature/nature01_e.asp

Best biking practices

Once spring starts, riders are keen to get out on the trail after being off their bikes so long during the winter. Please wait until the trails dry out before you start riding. Early season tire ruts in the mud can stay for a long time, hold water and increase the time needed for the trail to dry out. One of the best early season rides is the Lake Minnewanka Trail. It is often good to ride near the end of April. Or try the benchlands in Canmore on the north side of the valley. It gets a lot of spring sunshine and often is rideable in late March or early April.

When the trails are wet, don’t ride around mud puddles – ride through them. Try to avoid widening and braiding trails. Let’s keep singletrack single! On downhill sections, try not to lock up your wheels when you apply the brakes. Skidding causes erosion and a path for water run down to cause even more erosion. Ride, don’t slide!

In Banff National Park (BNP), except for the townsite area, mountain bikes are only permitted on designated trails. We may not always agree with this but it is something we must live with if we want to be allowed to bike here well into the future. There is a lot of BNP that is sensitive ecologically and we don’t want mountain bikers to contribute to harming the environment in these sensitive areas.

Don’t build illegal trails or stunts out in the woods. This doesn’t do our sport and the image of mountain biking any good. Sure we all get frustrated at not being able to do whatever we want at times and mountain bikers are often a free-thinking group of people – they don’t like boundaries and they don’t like people telling them what they can’t do. But we need to think about the big picture here and practice some restraint.

  Learn the IMBA Rules of the Trail:


 – well, give them a read at least. These rules form the foundation for good riding practices that help make your experience safe and fun and help give our sport a future.

When riding in Banff National Park, it is a good idea to visit or call the Parks Canada visitor information centres (Banff 403-762-1550 or Lake Louise 403-522-3833) to obtain up-to-the-minute information on any trail closures or trail conditions.

We hope you enjoy your rides in the Bow Valley. This is a very special and unique area that will give you many natural rewards on each ride. And as you ride here we ask you to always keep in mind our motto, Ride with Respect.

Biking in Canmore

There are some superb cross rides in the mountains and valleys south and east of Canmore.

Access to trails in the immediate vicinity of Canmore has become very controversial with competition between recreationalists, developers, and the need to set aside land for wildlife conservation. As a result some trails are being closed and the trail network is beginning to become more formalized. This trend will likely continue over the next few years. The result will be a network of formal trails and some no-go zones. Respecting the no-go areas that are closed for wildlife is very important. There are lots of opportunities to work with the BVMBA to increase riding opportunities in the Canmore area. There is very little in the way of freeride and downhill opportunities – these activities are not widely supported by local land managers though some opportunity does exist at the Nordic Centre for freeride biking.

Responsible riding is the order of the day given the limited number of good trails. Some trails are showing classic signs of over-use including shortcuts, trail widening, skidded out corners and eroded steeps. Please follow the IMBA Rules of the Trail. Particularly frustrating is the effort by some riders to remove every technical obstacle from every trail. Select trails that match your ability, if a technical trail feature is too difficult for you please just walk past it and continue on your way.

Featured below are some of our favorite local rides in the vicinity of Canmore townsite. Southwest of the river you will find the Canmore Nordic Center trails, the Reclaimer, and the old Whiteman Gap trail. Northeast of the river you will find the Benchland trails which are shown in a brochure called ‘The Benchland Trails Near Canmore’ available at a variety of locations in Canmore.

Unauthorized Trails - BVMBA's Position & Solutions
(adapted from the I.M.B.A.’s position on this topic)

Freedom. This word captures the spirit of mountain biking. Mountain biking calls to the self-sufficient individual looking to explore the endless wooded trail, to push their physical and mental boundaries and to escape - however briefly - the standard routine of life in the 21st century. This search for freedom, however, has taken a side path that threatens the future of our sport: the construction of unauthorized trails.

Some mountain bikers build unauthorized trails and stunts because they seek more challenging terrain to match their improving skills and technology. Others are motivated by a desire to satisfy the need for viable connector routes linking trail systems while still others feel frustration at the opportunities presently available. Popular mountain biking films and magazines have glorified clandestine paths and extreme riding. Regardless of the rationale, the BVMBA absolutely does not support building unauthorized trails.

All the work that mountain bike groups such as ours do relies on co-operation with land managers. The construction of unauthorized trails undermines this process - not only because it defies the spirit of cooperation but also because it poses environmental uncertainties, particularly in a national park setting. Most trails are planned and built as part of a master plan that considers multiple factors. Unauthorized trails, while often carefully built, may threaten wildlife habitat, plants and trees and increase erosion and even put people’s safety at risk. Renegade trails hurt the vast majority of mountain bikers who have never even considered building an unauthorized trail.

Where we stand:

  • The future of mountain biking depends on cooperation with land managers
  • BVMBA opposes building or altering trails or structures without land manager consultation and permission
  • Unauthorized trail building may produce unwanted environmental consequences
  • Do not ride on trails that are closed to bikes
  • Don't ride off trail or widen existing trails

What we suggest:
  • Mountain bikers and land managers should cooperate to find solutions that work for everyone.
  • When possible, trail networks should accommodate a wide range of user groups and ability levels. There should be trail opportunities for beginning, intermediate and expert visitors.
  • BVMBA is concerned by the recent trail construction trend of unauthorized elevated, man-made technical stunts. 
  • BVMBA supports the development of technical trails using natural terrain and features.
  • BVMBA supports skills (man made stunts) parks and special use technical riding areas where land manager permission is granted.