June 2, 2020
I started cycling three years ago after I trashed my left knee backcountry skiing down a canyon. Long story. When I asked for a good exercise to help my knee heal and get stronger, the answer was cycling.
I joined the Highwood Cycle Club in Okotoks and stared riding with the women’s group. It was pretty embarrassing to start, because most of the women were either actively training for an Ironman event or were former triathletes. However, they are a welcoming group, and are happy to help a new person learn the ropes.
I’ve gone from actively ignoring my bike, to actually looking forward to riding. This means I’m now on the hunt for new routes. I’ve always wanted to cycle the 1A Highway – known as the Bow Valley Parkway – from Banff. Luckily for me, this year the road was closed to car traffic due to road paving and Covid-19. This was a rare opportunity, so we packed up the whole family and off we went.
I am riding a Trek 1000 road bike, but the kids only have “town” hybrid-type bikes. Mike was riding his mountain bike with knobby tires and panniers to carry our lunch. While the vast majority (99%) of the riders were on road bikes, we did the full 62 km no problem on our non-aerodynamic bikes.
Where to Park
We parked at the Fenlands Recreation Centre on the western edge of Banff. It is closed now for Covid-19, but it has a large parking lot so can probably accommodate extra parking even when open.
There was some parking at the start of the Bow Valley Parkway gate, but I’m not sure if this is always an option when the road is open.
From Banff, take Vermillion Lakes Road westbound. This road parallels the #1 Trans Canada Highway. This is a scenic view of Vermillion Lakes, and the surrounding mountains. Keep an eye out for canoes and kayaks that paddle up from Banff. There are lots of pull-outs here for cars, so be careful of Door Prizes as tourists have their eyes on the scenery.
Where Vermillion Lakes Road ends, it is the start of the Vermillion bike trail.
Follow the bike trail all the way to the end, passing through two separate gates. These are to keep animals, especially Elk, out of the Banff town site. Elk are HUGE and can be aggressive. Ensure you close the gates behind you.
At the end of the trail, you come to the 1A Bow Valley connector road. Turn left, keeping an eye out for car traffic.
Follow the connector and it takes you to the start of the historic 1A Highway “Bow Valley Parkway” gate. This was the original narrow road through Banff National Park, before the TransCanada Highway was built. It is now a scenic drive, with many pull outs to admire the views of the surrounding mountains.
Below are some photos of the scenery on the way west towards Castle Junction, which is both a highway interchange, and the base of Castle Mountain.
This is a rest stop at the intersection of Highway 1, the Bow Valley Parkway (1A) and Highway 93 (that goes to Inveremere). There is a general store, chalets, the Castle campground, and the trail head to either climb Castle Mountain, or hike into Rockbound Lake.
This is our end point. We turned around here, and then biked back to the Castle campground where we ate our lunch. However, the fun need not end! The Bow Valley Parkway continues all the way to Lake Louise.
On the way back, we stopped at Johnson’s Canyon. I wish I was wearing normal shoes, because we could have hiked up the trail and had the falls all to ourselves. Instead, we got a chai latte and enjoyed the river.
The return bike is just as enjoyable for a couple of reasons. First, your mountain view changes.
Second, the road is different! The highway splits in two for several kilometres. Heading west is the ‘high’ road, which takes you up a pretty good hill. The way east takes the ‘low’ road and skips this hill.
Finally, keep your eye out for wildlife. We saw one coyote, several deer, and this Rocky Mountain Sheep that was so well camouflaged that six other cyclists zoomed past without noticing him.
Once we were back in Banff, we loaded up the bikes, and then walked around town. It was delightful to be in Banff without a million tourists. This was the Banff of my childhood and I’m glad I could enjoy it.
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Totals – Tracked on Strava
Date: June 2, 2020
Group: Four (Alisen, Mike, Kayla and Mackenzie)
Distance: 62 km
Elevation: 464 m (1,530′)
Time: 4 hours (a very leisurely pace)