Hello everyone, we are indeed alive! We have been taking some time away from writing about travel to a) follow the medical professionals’ advice and lie low and b) to do landscaping on our new house. As unexciting as that may be to some of you, it’s been great to have a project to keep us busy during these strange and trying times.
While we may have been busy staying close to home and this might be a bit late given the time of year, we couldn’t help but be encouraged by how many people took up cycling this year. Most local bike shops were sold out, had long waitlists, and it was even hard to find a good used bike on Kijiji or Facebook Marketplace. Cycling is an activity we have loved doing around Calgary for years so we’re happy to share some tips for easy bike rides near Calgary to get you dreaming about cycling next year when the snow is gone (or maybe even this winter if you’re a brave frost biker!)
Cycling is a wonderful way to explore your local community and accessible activity to people of all ages and skill levels. Fortunately for Calgarians, there are many amazing cycling opportunities both in the city and the nearby mountains.
So where can you take that shiny new bike? Cycling in and around Calgary is surprisingly easy thanks to dedicated cycle tracks, an extensive pathway system, and a growing number of traffic-calmed roads. Cycling in the nearby Rocky Mountains is a bit trickier for beginner cyclists but there are still some amazing trails out there to enjoy.
This article will focus on family-friendly rides on paved trails that are suitable for a variety of bikes. Most are paved, dedicated trails or on roads that are closed to vehicles, although a few may have you sharing the road depending on the time of year. Those looking for resources on mountain biking should check out the Trail Forks App or the All Trails App.
Calgary City Pathways
As the mayor has reminded us numerous times over the course of this pandemic, there is 984km of regional pathways around the city, which includes the 138km Rotary Mattamy Greenway, and 290km of on-street cycling and cycle tracks, so there is plenty of room to spread out and cycle in Calgary and explore the city. While we’ll be the first to admit that cycling along the Bow River to Prince’s Island Park is an absolute gem of a ride, there are plenty of other lovely places to check out around the city.
For a good place to start on planning your next ride, Bike Calgary is a wonderful local resource that provides maps, updates on pathway closures, and cycling events. City of Calgary pathways are mixed-use pathways so expect to see people walking, roller skating, or scootering as well, and be sure to ring your bell if you go to pass someone. In some extra busy places, such as the Bow River Pathway, there are separate lanes for cyclists so make sure you don’t stray into the walking lane.
Google Maps directions on the pathway are pretty good, as is Maps.Me, and if you prefer paper you can find the City of Calgary pathway map at recreation centres.
Bow River Pathway
This is mixed-use cycling path is 33km in total, but it can easily be split into a longer or shorter wide to suit your ability and preference. Some favourite pathway stretches of ours are of course, along Memorial Drive from Edworthy Park in the northwest, through downtown, and all the way to the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary (where you must park your bike for walking around the sanctuary), but that is probably the busiest stretch.
Another rightfully busy ride is the Glenmore Reservoir which is a 16km ride that circles the reservoir with downtown views and a glimpse of the mountains if the weather cooperates. In fact, the pathway across the Glenmore Dam just re-opened in 2020 after a flood mitigation project and the new bike path is certainly worth checking out.
Nose Creek Pathway
Quieter but still picturesque is the Nose Creek Pathway, which connects to the Bow River Pathway near the Calgary Zoo and carries on to the infamous giant blue ring, aka Traveling Light sculpture. This leisurely ride follows Nose Creek and Deerfoot Trail north and south through the city and can again, can be mixed into a long or short bike ride depending on how far you’d like to go.
Rotary Mattamy Greenway
This 138km (or 150km depending on who you ask) route links several pathways to circle the entire city and offers plenty of places to explore along the way. This is obviously the longest ride in the city, and a bucket list route for several cyclists in Calgary…just make sure that you’ve built up to a ride of this length beforehand and pack lots of snacks!
Like most of the City’s bike paths, this can be split into shorter segments, and one of our favourites is the Southeast Interpretive Wetlands where you can cycle on the boardwalk to bird blinds and an observation tower and see many species of waterfowl and migratory birds while learning about local ecology along the way. The Calgary Parks Foundation has a great overview of some of the Greenway highlights to plan your trip.
Cycling in the Rocky Mountains
Banff National Park, Kananaskis, and the Bragg Creek area each offer some great cycling opportunities for everything ranging from family-friendly rides to endurance challenges for die-hard MAMILs, to exhilarating downhills for mountain bikers. Like we said at the outset, we’ll focus on the more accessible rides in the mountains although a few of these may lean more towards the experienced rider as you’ll during certain times of year you might need to be comfortable in traffic, and steeper climbs are unavoidable when cycling in the Rockies.
Cycling in Banff National Park
This is possibly one of the most popular cycling trails in Banff National Park. This easy paved trail is part of The Great Trail, and it follows the Trans-Canada Highway between the Travel Alberta Visitor Centre in Canmore and the town of Banff. Most people do it from Canmore to Banff so they can have a picnic/lunch/drink in Banff and then the way back is mostly downhill. It’s about 22.5km one way (depending on where you stop) and should take 2-3 hours for most cyclists.
You’ll see cyclists of all ages and abilities on the Legacy Trail, and if you’re not up for the full ride, you can easily hop on Roam transit to get a ride back either way. The only downside to this trail is that it is literally right beside the highway, so it can be quite loud.
Bow Valley Parkway
There’s been very little good news in 2020 but one such phenomenon was the closure of the Bow Valley Parkway for vehicles. This incredibly beautiful stretch of road with fresh asphalt and great views could be cycled without worrying about traffic, and many who took advantage of the opportunity and have made an effort to let Parks Canada know that they would like it to stay.
There are no concrete plans announced to continue the closure and opening the Bow Valley Parkway up to cyclists, but Parks Canada has been commitments to evaluate the viability of making the road more cycling-friendly. In fact, up to 90% of people surveyed by CPAWS were in strong agreement that they’d like to see some sort of continued closure and access for cyclists. At the very least, if you’re comfortable with some traffic the road is still a great ride during normal times.
Banff Fenlands Trail
This flat, but slightly off-road path deserves an honourable mention since it follows a dirt path that meanders throughout the town of Banff. It features surprisingly beautiful views and can be combined with a trip to the gorgeous Vermillion Lakes Drive where you can catch breath-taking views of Mount Rundle.
If you are on a road or hybrid bike with skinny tires, you can probably still manage the Fenlands Trail with a little bit of work. Or skip it and bike on the road straight to Vermillion Lakes Drive. You can also connect the three trails above (Legacy Trail, Fenlands, and Bow Valley Parkway) for one long ride!
This is an easy but bumpy now-closed road that can be cycled during the summer and skied, or even dog-sledded during the winter. It’s about 21km roundtrip to cycle from the parking lot near Lake Louise, AB to Yoho National Park in BC. Do not forget the bear spray on this one.
Cycling in Kananaskis
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention that many areas in Kananaskis are now at risk of industrial development and even closure under the UCP government. If you love these areas as much as we do, please read more about how you can help protect this invaluable natural area here. We have been fortunate enough to cycle in many places in the world and can say with utmost certainty, that Kananaskis is worth protecting for future generations to enjoy.
This is one of our all-time favourite bike rides in Kananaskis Country. It’s an easy 10km out-and-back trail that begins either at the Kananaskis Mountain Lodge or Wedge Pond parking lot, We typically leave from the hotel and have a picnic at the beautiful Wedge Pond. This direction begins with a winding downhill ride through the forest before eventually levelling out as it follows Highway 40. It can also be skied in the winter. (at least as long as there continues to be cross country track setting)
This is a tough uphill climbing route that has big payoffs. Highwood Pass is the highest paved road in Canada at 2206m (7238ft). 54km of the road is typically closed to motorized vehicles between December 1st to June 14th and cyclable as early as April, depending on the snowmelt and/or what bike you may have.
Most cyclists do the 34km roundtrip jaunt from the north gate at King Creek to the top of the pass and back, which is steep, but doable by all sorts of cyclists. The southern portion starting near Longview is a bit less steep, but a longer distance. If you want to do the whole road you’ll have to park a car at both ends of the trail and shuttle in between.
While it’s a tough ride, we’ve seen families towing carriages, MAMIL-approved road bikes, mountain bikes, beach cruisers, and even unicycles while cycling Highwood Pass.
Cycling in Waterton National Park
This gently rolling 6.9km (one-way) trail follows the Park gate into the Waterton village while providing lovely meadow and mountain views. It is a perfect choice for beginner riders and families, just watch out for that famous Southern Alberta wind!
Akamina Parkway and Red Rock Parkway
The Akamina Parkway, leading to Cameron Lake is steep but worth the effort if you ever get the chance. Unfortunately, it’s narrow and cars rule it most of the time. While it had been closed to forest fires for several years, it re-opened in 2020 with a very short window to cycle it before it re-opened to vehicles. We’re hoping that there are future opportunities for cyclists here as it was a great ride!
Like the Akamina Parkway, the Red Rock Parkway has fantastic views but unfortunately is quite narrow and busy with traffic during the summer. That said, there is a narrow window to cycle this road during the shoulder season. From Nov – May the Red Rock Parkway is closed to vehicles. so weather permitting, it’s a beautiful area to explore on two wheels!
Chief Mountain Highway
The Chief Mountain Highway has larger shoulders and less traffic, but steep climbs and some traffic to contend with. Follow the highway out of the park from the Kootenai Brown trail. The climb is steep, but the views of Chief Mountain are fantastic. Your ride will likely end shortly at the US border before returning the same way; after getting all of the hill climbs out of the way the downhill return to the park will be quick!
So these are just a few ideas on where to get out and enjoy some of the best easy bike rides that the City of Calgary and surrounding areas near the mountains offer. There are plenty of places to get out and enjoy the great outdoors safely on two wheels, regardless of your ability, skill, or fitness. Get out there, and let us know what your favourite cycling pathways are in the comments!