Canmore to Lake Minnewanka Cycle

June 2, 2021

After watching several of my friends take advantage of the Lake Minnewanka Road closure to ride this beautiful stretch of road, I managed to dilly-dally around so much that I missed the opportunity. However, by starting early in the day, we enjoyed a car-free ride all the same.

Our 7:30 am start served us well in two other ways. One, it was a smoking hot day (close to 30 degrees Celsius), and there was no way I’d be able to climb the big hills in the heat of the day. Starting early meant a cool start, but I’d not die of heat exhaustion.

Two, we avoided the crowds on the Canmore to Banff Legacy Trail. This stretch can get really busy with families, tourists and casual cyclists out for an afternoon ride. By starting early, we were practically the only ones on the trail heading west in the morning. By the time we cycled back around 10:30 am, the west bound traffic had picked up, but the east bound lane was wide open.

Since we finished the Minnewanka Loop so early, we decided to ride into Banff and bike up to Tunnel Mountain before returning to Canmore.

Gear

I have a road bike, but a hybrid or mountain bike is also fine. It will just take longer.

I use a very bright, blinking red tail light. The ride to Lake Minnewanka and up to Tunnel Mountain is on roads, not pathways. It’s always best to be seen, especially with spectacular views to distract drivers.

Bike helmet, sun glasses, sun screen, bike tools, extra tube, and some clothing options. I started riding with a very light cycling jacket, which was quickly tucked away. I kept it handy in case it was cooler at Lake Minnewanka.

I carried a water bottle and some snacks, because there wasn’t food or water available until we rode into Banff. I believe there is a snack shack at Lake Minnewanka, but not sure of the seasonal operating hours.

Overview

From the Canmore Visitor Information Centre, ride West on the Legacy Trail. Prior to Banff, take the turn off on the right for Lake Minnewanka. Now riding on Lake Minnewanka Road, take the first right to cycle past Two Jack Lake. Ride to Lake Minnewanka, and then continue on Lake Minnewanka Loop to complete the loop.

Either ride back to Canmore, or continue into Banff and cycle up Tunnel Mountain.

Parking and Legacy Trail Start

I was up at 5:00 am so I could drive into Canmore for an early start. Parking for the Legacy Trail is in Canmore at the Visitor Information Centre. However, please park in the side lot furthest to the west. This is the designated cyclist parking.

From the parking lot, cross Bow Valley Trail. The Legacy Trail starts just across the road.

Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail – Canmore to Cascade Ponds

Built in honour of Banff’s 125 anniversary, the Legacy trail is a 26.8 km paved cycle pathway. It only has 30 m of elevation gain, most of which is gained gradually. There are a couple steep sections, and one surprising hair-pin turn.

There are a few gates with electrified rubber mats that keep gates open for cyclists. These gates close to keep wildlife off the trails and roads. There are pedestrian gates for walkers. Please keep your pets off the mats.

The TransCanada highway is always busy, so it’s a real joy to be able to ride between these two mountain towns on a paved pathway, away from the traffic.

The Legacy Trail beside the TransCanada highway. Cascade Mountain looms above. What a view! The right hand turn for Lake Minnewanka is just ahead.

Lake Minnewanka Loop

At the 17 km mark, we took the right (and only) fork to head towards Lake Minnewanka (straight goes to Banff). This was pretty fun because we rode underneath the highway, and popped out close to Cascade Ponds.

At 18 km, we made the right hand turn onto Lake Minnewanka Road. We were now off the pathway system and onto a narrow mountain road. Time to keep an eye out for cars travelling in both directions.

The big debate is which direction to ride the Minnewanka Loop. I chose to ride past Two Jack Lake on the way up for several reasons:

  1. there is more up and down, which gives a bit of a reprieve from the constant uphill grind,
  2. there are amazing views on this side, which meant lots of totally legitimate reasons to stop and gawk, and
  3. the other side is all in the trees, and no lake views. Ideal downhill riding.

With that debate settled, we took the first right at the 18.8 km mark. To be clear, there is still lots of riding with no views but endless trees. With the elevation gain coming on strong, this just has to be endured.

From about 24 km onwards, there is a fantastic view of Two Jack Lake below the road. Looking back towards the west is the impressive Mount Rundle.

The summit of Mount Rundle is reflected in Two Jack Lake. Access is below. No wind or clouds whatsoever, on a beautiful hot day in early June.

Keep an eye out for traffic of another sort. We were lucky enough to come across a herd of Rocky Mountain Sheep that were also enjoying the cool mountain air.

The high point of the ride is at 25.5 km, which is a lookout above Lake Minnewanka.

This is the Lake Minnewanka lookout. It’s a large pull out for cars, but by starting early and mid-week, we had it to ourselves.
This is the view across Lake Minnewanka. This lake can be quite wild with massive waves, and it is absolutely freezing.

After the pullout, it’s a downhill cruise to the shores of Lake Minnewanka. There is a narrowing of the road at the end of the damn, so go slow and watch for traffic.

To the left is the narrow roadway. Way back when… you could park on this stretch and use it as the access point to scuba dive the sunken damn.

We cycled over to the day use area, parked our bikes, and walked down to the shore. Despite it being a brilliant sunshine day, the lake was empty.

A few commercial and private boats are docked. I took a boat tour of Lake Minnewanka when I was about 19 years old. It was a great experience as the mountains had several ‘faces’ hidden in the rock formations.

Cycling time to Lake Minnewanka was 1 hour and 45 minutes. Distance was 27.5 km.

After soaking up some sun, and avoiding some early season mosquitos, we ate a snack, and kept on cycling.

While I’d like say it’s all downhill from here back to the Legacy Trail, I cannot tell a lie. Cycling past the Minnewanka day use parking lot and washrooms, the road undulates up and down a bit through the trees. After the 30 km mark, the road finally commits to a steady downhill that lasts for a good 4 km. After this, it levels out for an extended flat section into Banff.

Banff Tunnel Mountain

What’s a trip to Banff without actually stopping in Banff? Instead of heading left back along the Cascade Ponds pathway to the Legacy Trail, we instead kept going straight ahead and biked along Banff Avenue into the heart of Banff.

We rode up to Wolf Street, where we found the road closed for a pedestrian corridor. This gets the cars off the road, and creates an easy way for pedestrians to visit the many shops and restaurants in Banff. A quick check on the website shows this pedestrian corridor runs from mid-May to mid-October for 2022 and 2023. If successful, I’m sure it will continue past this date.

The road into Banff is closed at Wolf Street to create a fun and safe pedestrian corridor. Considering how insanely busy Banff is in the summer, this should make life easier for visitors and shops/restaurants. Sulphur Mountain is above.

At Wolf Street, we rode east to cycle up to Tunnel Mountain. Despite hiking Tunnel Mountain earlier that year, I’d never driven up the road on this side. Turn left on Otter Street, which will automatically turn into Tunnel Mountain Road.

I guess I’m not much of a tourist, because I never knew there was an entire village of accommodations and massive camping facilities up here. Good to know!

One of many camping areas, with Cascade above.

There were impressive views of Cascade Mountain, Rundle and Tunnel mountains from up here.

An impressive view of Mount Rundle.
Tunnel Mountain, with Sulphur Mountain behind. It’s called Tunnel because the CP Railway thought they had to build a tunnel through it. Instead, they moved the railway a bit to the north and avoided it altogether, but the name stuck.

By following Tunnel Mountain Road all the way around, we coasted down to the Legacy Trail. Total distance to the end of Tunnel Mountain Road is 45 km.

This is the lower section of Tunnel Mountain Road. It wraps around to the left and joins the Legacy Trail. Turn right on the pathway to go back to Canmore.

Legacy Trail Return

We turned right (north) to once again ride the Legacy Trail back to Canmore. As it was now mid morning, and being in Banff, the trail was getting busy. We were mindful to keep our speed down, and to pass casual riders with caution. Yelling out “on your left” helped immensely.

We cycled back to Canmore by 11:00 am. Total distance was 64.3 km, and total time was 3 hours and 30 minutes. Total elevation gain was 498 m.

I have to say, this was an absolutely gorgeous ride. It’s varied enough to do every year, although there is always something special about doing a route for the first time. I sure hope I have encouraged you to park the car and go explore on your bike.

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, join my FaceBook page Al’s Adventurers, or follow me on Instagram

Alisen

Totals – Tracked on Strava

Date: June 2, 2021
Group:  Two (Alisen and Mike)
Distance:  64.3  km
Elevation:  498m (1,643′)
Time:  3 hours 30 minutes (includes snacks & breaks)

The Legacy Trail is a game changer for cycling in and around Banff National Park. Another cycling route is the Bow Valley Parkway from Banff to Castle Junction.
The highest elevation point is at 25.5 km, and is the lookout above Lake Minnewanka. Tunnel Mountain adds some kilometers and elevation gain, but I felt the time and distance was worth it as I had to drive to Canmore.
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Posted in Adventures, Cycling
13 comments on “Canmore to Lake Minnewanka Cycle
  1. This is a great cycle ride. Beautiful views 🙂

  2. Sonya Laing says:

    Your post makes me want to get a bike! 😆 Looks like a great day and so well written. It’s great that you share so many levels of fitness and types of bikes can do part (or all) of this.

    • alisendopf says:

      Thanks Sonya. Yes, if only you had a bike 🙂
      So true – you don’t need to bike the whole way. It would be fun to start and end at Two Jack Lake, or ride from Banff.

  3. How beautiful Alisen.

    the photo Mount Rundle reflected in Two Jack Lake is really nice and the cycle ride is another great post from you.

    And how lovely nature you have over there.

  4. Cycling the Banff Legacy Trail sounds like a nice way to shake things up and do something different besides hiking. Looks like it paid off to get an early start to beat the heat and the crowds. Your pictures look beautiful with those blue skies and sun.

    • alisendopf says:

      You’re right – it is a great way to break up the day and switch up from hiking. You can rent bikes in Banff and do the trail starting in Banff if you prefer. I’m sure there are bike rentals in Canmore too.

  5. oishmortal says:

    What a lovely view. I’d wish to wake up to such serenity everyday 💜

  6. Truly spectacular

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