Sometimes you need something a bit more fast paced and exciting then hiking, something that gets the blood flowing. Mountain biking is a great activity that fills those requirements! Now before you think “mountain biking is too extreme for me” and veto the idea, understand this; mountain biking like hiking, varies in grades of difficulty and physical exertion (like a two hour walk around a lake versus an eight hour scramble up a mountain). Wearing full faced helmets and doing drops and jumps (downhill biking) is not the only face of mountain biking.
So let me introduce you to cross-country mountain biking. It’s characterized by single tracked forest paths with an easy to moderate technicality to it and unlike downhill biking, it involves uphill sections as well as downhill sections. My favourite thing about cross-country biking is that it’s a great fast paced workout that can be done with a group of friends. Ultimately, you make the trip as difficult and fast as you want it to be, making it a great sport for a beginner to enter into.
So if that brief pitch/explanation intrigued you and you would like to explore the world of the cross-country mountain biking, I highly suggest the Goat Creek Trail running from Canmore to Banff in the Rundle Mountain Range. This is the same trail that I cross-country skied in the winter (for that trail review click here). The scenic views will keep you entertained, the pine and spruce forest will protect you from the elements (wind and sun) and the easy technical rating will keep you wanting more.
Trail Name: Goat Creek Trail
Trailhead: Goat Creek parking lot at the top of the Spray Lakes along the Smith-Dorrien highway (outside of Canmore, AB)
Distance: 18km one way
Elevation: 1000ft drop overall (in the Canmore to Banff direction), with small uphill sections
Time Required: 1-3hrs depending on your biking speed
Recommended Equipment: Mountain bike, helmet, sunglasses, water, weather appropriate clothing, flat tire repair kit, daypack filled with essentials and a snack or lunch. Mountain bikes can be rented from numerous places in Canmore such as Sports Experts and Trail Sports for about $45/day.
The trail starts right out of the Goat Creek parking lot with an immediate downhill section, but don’t let that intimidate you, follow some of the tips for going downhill below. For the first 750m or so the trail is busy with day hikers so keep an eye out for them. The first ~9km of the trail sees a few mild uphill sections and a couple creek crossings with steep approaches. The last ~9km is characterized by more uphill sections, but the trail widens so you can suck air side by side with your friends. As you get closer to Banff (~5km from the end of the trail) you’ll pass a serene picnic spot to the right of the trail. There’s a picnic table next to the scenic creek you’ve been chasing the whole time, and is an excellent spot to take a breather and have a couple snacks.
Tips For Going Downhill:
- Move your centre of gravity back by lifting your butt off your seat and hovering it above the back of your seat
- Keep pedals flat and level (feet at the same height)
- Use your back break more then your front break (80%-20% dispersion)
- Slow and steady wins the race, avoid skidding
Eventually you pop out at a parking lot right above the Banff Springs Hotel. From here you have a choice of some of my favorite indulgences after a good mountain adventure. On weekends I recommend the infamous Banff Springs Brunch or the Banff Hot Springs feels good any day of the week (20min walk up from the trail ending parking lot or a 3km uphill ride following the road).
There are a couple options for returning to Canmore. One is leaving a car in Banff (there is parking at the trail end near the Banff Springs hotel) ahead of time. If a second car is not an option, there are regular shuttle busses between Canmore-Banff for $6/trip, however these will only get you back to the town centre and not back up to the parking lot by the Spray Lakes. There are shuttle services specifically for the goat creek trail that can be booked ahead of time through Bike And Hike Shuttle ($25/pp). For those ambitious people thinking of returning on the Goat Creek Trail, I will warn you of the 1,000 ft elevation gain (Banff to Canmore direction). Although it is not impossible, this direction will be drastically harder and therefore more time should be allocated for this. My favourite way to return is by the Legacy Trail. It’s a paved path that follows the Trans Canada Highway that can be completed in less than an hour easily. For my Legacy Trail trail review click here.
So, when planning your next weekend out in the mountains keep this mountain biking option in mind! It’s never too late to try something new, and a little adrenaline and excitement never hurt anyone. Happy biking!