May 13, 2021
I have cycled this route for decades, but it has really grown in popularity over the last 2-4 years. Even just 5 years ago, I cycled from Turner Valley and decided to count the number of cars on the road – it was less than 10 both ways! Yesterday was an absolute zoo. The photos below are from various trips over the years.
The Sheep River Road is closed from December 1st and reopens May 15th. The gates are at the Sandy McNabb campground. Please note that this is an equestrian area, and there is parking for horse trailers. Do not block these areas.
Access is via Turner Valley, which is a small town and not used to the hoards descending upon them. Please drive SLOWLY through town. There is an RCMP detachment, as well as the Peace Officers swing through occasionally. Don’t make your eagerness to get to the park a reason to speed through someone else’s town.
Depending on where you start, your bike will change. Road cyclists can start at Turner Valley to get in the full 80 km. Mountain bikers might start at the Kananaskis sign to catch that extra hill. The heavier hybrid or single gear bikes with baskets on the front will enjoy parking at the gates.
Park at your chosen distance spot. Bike until you can’t stand one more hill, or the wind grinds you to a stand-still, then return the way you came.
Turner Valley – if you opt for the full meal deal, then drive to Turner Valley. The best place to park is the far end of the Sheep River Library parking lot, next to the Flare ‘n Derrick hall. Please do not park in the Dr. Lander Pool parking lot. They have swimming lessons, and kids coming and going constantly. If that lot is full, then you will have to find street parking. Please do not be tempted to park in the library spots.
Kananaskis Sign – There is a pull out on the north side of highway 546. It’s mostly used by hikers, but is a great spot to park for some extra KMs.
Winter Gates – This is the most popular place to park. I should have taken a photo when I returned. The road was lined up on both sides, and people were parked in the lots on both sides. Again, this is an equestrian area. Parking along the entrance to the parking lots means these trucks and horse trailers cannot get into their lots, or turn around properly. Please do not ruin another user’s experience for the convenience of parking closer to the gate.
This is cattle grazing country, and the main way to keep the cows from walking away is the use of cattle guards, known as Texas Gates here in Alberta (but oddly, not in Texas). These are a series of round metal bars inset in the road that prevent cattle from continuing down the road. They have thin strips of metal to cycle over.
To safely cycle over these, line up your front tire with the thin strip of metal. As soon as you hit the Texas Gate, stop looking down and focus on something straight ahead. Your bike will automatically stay straight, and you won’t fall off the thin strip.
You can also choose to simply bike over the rumble bars. It’s not pleasant, but if you keep up your speed, it’s quickly over.
Cycle Route from Turner Valley to Junction Falls
The cycle from Turner Valley to the Kananaskis sign is my favourite part of this trip. The rolling hills are beautiful. There is a nice wide shoulder. Other than cars with bikes on their racks racing to the park gate, there is very little traffic. It is a nice, steady climb up to the park gates with lovely views the whole way.
The Kananaskis Sign marks the start of the steep hills. Despite a good warm up to this point, this hill is still a bit of a kicker.
Once at the top of that hill, it’s a lovely and relatively flat cycle to the winter gates and beyond. From here, you start the constantly rolling hills, with the overall trend of gaining elevation.
Keep an eye on the wind. Ideally, you want a good west wind, that will then blow you back to your starting point. If you suspect an east wind, then be careful of going too far west and having one heck of a struggle back. That happened to me last August. It was a stiff east wind, and the group got away from me so I had to do it all myself. What doesn’t kill you…
The Gorge Creek Trail turn off is cause for concern for many cyclists. The road down is steep and long, but the road up the other side is super steep and unrelenting. According to Strava, the grade is 14.8% in some spots. When the road is closed, it’s possible to switchback up this steep section to lesson the angle a bit. Walking your bike up is also an option.
Beyond Gorge Creek is where the views get really pretty, and there are plenty of places to stop for viewpoints. There is Tiger Falls at the Indian Oils parking lot, and Sheep River Falls further down.
The mountain views are also incredible. While you can see Shunga-la-she on the left, and Mount Burns on the right, the impressive massif of Gibraltar Mountain is only visible from the far end.
The end of the road is just past Bluerock Campground, at the Junction Falls turnout. There was still some snow at this relatively lower elevation, and was thankful the research trucks had been through.
The best time to view the Bighorn Sheep is definitely early spring. The moms and babies are most readily viewed, with the rams coming and going. About 15 years ago, I biked this area in late March and saw a large circle of rams, heads down, horn to horn. It was quite the sight. There were no camera phones then, but I should have taken the time to dig out my real camera because I’ve never seen that again.
From Turner Valley to the far end of Sheep River Road is about 39 km (78 return).
From the Kananaskis Sign to the end of Sheep River Road is about 21 km (42 return).
From the Winter Gates to the end of Sheep River Road is about 19 km (38 return).
Totals – Tracked on Strava
Date: May 13, 2021 (photo are from various trips over the years)
Group: Two (Alisen and Mike)
Distance: 77.6 km
Elevation: 939 m (3,098′)
Time: 3 hours 55 minutes (includes lunch & breaks)