Sheep River Road Cycle Trip

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.

Gear

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.

Overview

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.

Parking

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.

Texas Gates

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.

This is actually a Texas Gate from the Highwood Pass Cycle, but they are all pretty much the same.

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.

My biking buddy Deb. This is just past the town of Turner Valley. The views of the front ranges keep us motivated.
This is the big turn in the road on Highway 546. The Anchor D Ranch and the K Country sign are around the corner on the right.

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.

During the first phase of Covid in 2020, the parks were shut down and there was no parking on the roads. What to do? Cycle instead with our family. My other daughter took the photo. This is where you can park for a bit longer trek into Bluerock.

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.

Past the gates, descend a pretty good hill as you cycle towards Windy Point Ridge.
Looking down on the Sheep River valley. The highway is on the left.

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…

This shows the rolling hills. It feels like you are going up and down the whole way in, but on the way home you realize you are mainly going up. The vehicles are parked there to view the Bighorn Sheep in the meadow. The mountains in the back are Shuna-la-she on the left, Mount Burns in the middle, and the long ridge on the right is Bluerock Mountain.

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.

The Gorge Creek Road is well signed before you reach it. On the right (entrance to Gorge Creek Road) is a group of triathletes who cycled from Turner Valley. They said No to the Gorge, so don’t feel bad if this is not for you. On the left, you can see the road snaking up the other side from the low point of Gorge Creek. If in doubt, stop here and eye it up for yourself. It’s a beast of a climb.

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.

Tiger Falls from my trip up to Mt. Hoffman the previous fall.

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.

Gibraltar Mountain is only seen briefly while cycling this far section of the road.

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.

This is the end of the road. To access the mountains ahead, take the trail on the right.
We stopped for a bite to eat here. You can see Mike is taking his foot out of the clips. His tire hit the snow, and then he went down. I just missed capturing the fall.

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.

These lovely ladies lined up on the berm above the road. It was like they were being paid to stand there for so many hours a day πŸ™‚

Distances

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).

If you found this post useful, please do me a huge favour and click the Star button to “Like” it. You can also follow my blog, follow me on Instagram, or join my FaceBook page Al’s Adventurers.

Alisen

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 (3,098β€²)
Time:  3 hours 55 minutes (includes lunch & breaks)

This is the full meal deal – from Turner Valley to the end of the Sheep River Road. I wanted to get a full 80 km, so cycled down Highway 22 for the extra 3 km.
As you can see, this trip is very much up and down the whole way. At about 2/3 of the way in, the deep and steep Gorge Creek crossing is clearly visible on the elevation profile. This deep gorge is then followed by a super steep hill that is almost the high point of the trip.
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Posted in Adventures, Cycling
15 comments on “Sheep River Road Cycle Trip
  1. What a beautiful place, and beautiful photographs.

  2. Shruti says:

    Lovely vieww!! ❀️

  3. Great descriptions of the different options πŸ™‚

  4. Wow, that’s really nice location Alisen.

    I also like the fact that you are multi disciplinary in terms of outdoor activities. From hiking and skiing up to biking.

    Well done.

    • alisendopf says:

      Awww, thank you! That puts a good spin on it πŸ™‚ I am so NOT a specialist. That’s partly why I will never be a good climber like yourself. My other major passion sport is paddling. I LOVE a good canoe, but those trips take a lot of planning. Most of the good rivers and lakes are in the next province, and we are not allowed to travel there for Covid. Soon, hopefully.

  5. I can see why this cycling route has become more popular over the past few years. It’s always a bonus when there is very little traffic on the roads. Looks like there are lots of great views of the landscape along the way, and potentially of Bighorn sheep too early in the spring. Hope all is well and you’re enjoying the spring. Take care.

    • alisendopf says:

      Thank you! I’ve had to take a few weeks off for personal reasons, but I’m back now. I see you are still safe and enjoying your cabin in Ontario. Finding camping spots here is as bad as out there. My husband is a pilot, so we can’t book months in advance because we just don’t know his schedule. I highly doubt we will get in any camping as a result.

      • That’s unfortunate. It seems like everyone these days is into camping. We decided to postpone our big Northern Ontario road trip until September to avoid the crowds and stress of booking a decent campsite during the peak period. You might be able to snag a campsite last minute because there are usually people who don’t show up for their reservation. It can be a bit risky though as there is no guarantee.

  6. ponzoblogs says:

    Sadly because Covid I can’t Travel anymore for my blog that I just started. Feels really sad that I have to wait before planning a new travel journey 😦

  7. Babri says:

    Such an awesome trip!! It is my dream to cycle through those high mountains.

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