Red Rock Canyon Parkway Cycle

May 26, 2021

I originally got the idea to cycle the Red Rock Parkway because Waterton Lakes National Park used to close it to car traffic one half day a week. It is now closed to car traffic from October 31 to May 1. Not a big window for cyclists, but it is possible to have snow free days during this time.

I cycled the Parkway in late May, and barely saw any cars. However, it was mid-week, and I started around 10:30 am, so before most traffic gets going. The road has zero shoulders. While it’s not overly twisty, the scenery and wildlife viewing potential may be distracting for drivers.

I felt like this road had a bit of an optical illusion when cycling north towards Red Rock Canyon. While the road is definitely gaining elevation from Highway 5 to Red Rock Canyon, the road itself always looked like it was going downhill. You’ll see this in a few of my photos. I was working my butt off going up all these hills, but I kept thinking that if this way was hard, I was going to get killed on the way back. While there are still hills on the way back, the general downward trend made the return trip faster and more enjoyable.

Gear

Bike, helmet, water bottle, snacks, and layers depending on the time of year. Wear bright colours. I used a road bike, but as it’s a short ride (29 km return), a hybrid or mountain bike will suffice.

I highly recommend using a high quality, bright red tail light on your bike. While cars should be looking out for riders, I always try to give myself a fighting chance by being as visible as possible.

Overview

Start in either Waterton Town or at the Red Rock Parkway gates. Cycle 15 km to the end at Red Rock Canyon. Return the same way.

Parking and Trail Head

If starting from Waterton townsite, bike east towards Red Rock Parkway on the separate paved Kootenai Brown pathway that parallels Highway 5. Add an extra 4 km to the distance each way.

If starting from the Red Rock Parkway, park in the small parking lot at the gate. The distances for this trip report begin at the gates. If you start at the gates, be prepared for a climb for the first 1.5 km or so.

This is the start of the Red Rock Parkway. These are the winter gates that are closed from October 31 to May 1st. As you can see, the road starts climbing immediately.

Main Trail

Once on the Red Rock Parkway, we just keep cycling. The mountain views are truly stunning as the classic Waterton ‘prairie meets mountains” landscape unfolded before us.

There is a campground half way to Red Rock Canyon, plus horse riding, so watch for vehicles pulling trailers.

Bellevue Hill is directly in front of Mike, and the pointy peak of Mount Galwey is behind.
The weather was cloudy and chilly when we started, so we didn’t stop much on the way out. Right: lower flank of Bellevue Hill. Left: Mount Crandell. Middle: Mount Blakiston (I believe). Is it just me? Does the road seem to be trending downward?
Directly below Mount Galwey. Approximately 9 km from the winter gates.
Another view of the road ‘descending’ towards Rock Rock Canyon. Trust me, it is easier on the way back. There is ZERO shoulder on this parkway. It is wise to pick your moment and avoid busy weekends, or high traffic times. Early morning sees the least amount of vehicle traffic.

After cycling for just over an hour, we arrived at Red Rock Canyon Day Use area. There are picnic tables, and an indoor washroom. Mid-week and early season, we had it all to ourselves.

We had visited Red Rock Canyon on an earlier trip, and it’s well worth it to explore this area. It’s a short interpretive walk up both sides of the canyon. Click here for more details on Red Rock Canyon.

Looking up at Anderson Peak. The forest fires of 2017 are clearly visible.
Mount Blakiston is across the parkway. There were only a few cars in the parking lot, which made for a lovely cycle. This road is very busy in the summer and on weekends.

Red Rock Parkway Return

The sun finally decided to come out when we cycled back. After some cajoling, I convinced Mike to stop and enjoy one of the side streams. At the base of Mount Galwey is the aptly named Coppermine Creek.

The copper coloured rocks are gorgeous, and rarely seen in the Rockies.
Just like that, we were back on the prairie. This view is looking at the mountains across Waterton Lake. The winter gates are just on the other side of the little hill ahead.

The trip back to the Parkway gates was definitely downhill, as we only took 45 minutes to return, and that included the side trip to Coppermine Creek.

Watch for Wildlife

We saw onecoyote and a herd of Bighorn Sheep. While we didn’t see any bears, be aware that Waterton is crawling with them. The population might have been knocked back after the 2017 wild fires, but in 2016, there were an estimated 67 resident bears, and 172 grizzlies that use this area.

We found this friendly coyote right at the winter gates. It had no problem trotting through the parking lot, and then continued down to the stream below.
This ‘bear’ is at the base of the Bellevue Hill hike to remind people to be bear aware. If you see a real bear, don’t do what I’m doing 🙂 If driving, just keep on moving. Please do NOT stop. A desensitized bear is a dead bear. If cycling, don’t draw attention to yourself. The bear is most likely just wanting to eat flowers or dig for grubs.
We stopped for several minutes to watch this frisky herd of young Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep play in the rocks.

Thanks for reading! 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: May 26, 2021
Group:  Two (Alisen and Mike)
Distance:  28.66  km
Elevation:  419 m (1,383′)
Time:  1 hours 47 minutes (includes breaks)

This scenic bike ride passes underneath some very impressive mountains in a short amount of time.
The Red Rock Parkway is definitely not flat, however the hills were not overly steep or overly long. Despite what it looks like, the road is definitely gaining in elevation as it heads towards Red Rock Canyon.
Tagged with: , , , , , , ,
Posted in Adventures, Cycling
8 comments on “Red Rock Canyon Parkway Cycle
  1. Priti says:

    Beautiful Red Rock Canyon well shared with excellent photos. Thanks 🙏🏻

  2. love your pics always and adventurous spirit. Promise i won’t stop! like you did 😂😂😂
    not sure if we are following each other ..

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