Cycling from Three Sisters to Cascade Ponds

With school out for the summer, K and a classmate were able to join us on the bike trails between Three Sisters in Canmore and Cascade Ponds just outside of Banff townsite. On account of rain showers, we pushed back our planned 9 o’clock start until the sun came out around 10:30. The weather forecast was calling for late afternoon/evening thunder showers, which gave us plenty of time for the 55 km round trip.

With a mix of road bikes and mountain bikes in the group, some of us took the Three Sisters Parkway into town while others rode bits of single track and along the Three Sisters Pathway. We met up at the start of the Legacy Trail across the street from the Travel Alberta Canmore Visitor Information Centre. According to the electronic counter, we were riders 117 – 120 on that particular day.

The ride west went smoothly. Naturally those of us on mountain bikes worked harder than those riding a road bike. We stopped at the Valleyview Day-Use Area to check out the pair of Parks Canada’s red chairs. The sky was mostly blue, but there was impressive cloud hanging over Cascade Mountain. Closer to Banff I had a chance to race the train; it was moving at about 22 kph and I managed to keep up for almost 5 minutes!

Legacy-TrailWe’d packed our lunches, so rather than head into Banff proper where we’d have to share the road with Canada Day long weekend traffic, we opted to follow the pathway under the TransCanada Highway a few hundred meters to the Cascade Ponds Day-Use Area, which has plenty of picnic tables and pit toilets.

After a good lunch break, we started back towards Canmore; clouds were massing and we wanted to minimize the chance of getting caught in a rain shower.

The further east we rode, the worse the clouds looked. We started riding faster. As we reached the outskirts of Canmore, we could see a rain front overtaking us from behind.

That’s about the time we heard a clap of thunder. A couple of minutes later, it started pouring down rain and we were being pummeled with hail. Fortunately, we were just about back at the Canmore Information Centre, so we propped our bikes up on the bike stands and dashed inside. K and his classmate appreciated the wi-fi in the lounge. Mr. GeoK and I appreciated the chance to dry off a little and to get out of the storm.


After 30 – 40 minutes, the storm passed and we were able to finish our ride. Mr. GeoK and K rode back along the Three Sisters Pathway and encountered a large herd of elk near the junction with the Riverside Trail.

In hindsight, we were pretty lucky with the timing of the storm. Long stretches of the Legacy Trail are paralleled by wildlife fencing; proximity to metal fencing isn’t a good place to be during a lightning storm. The whole experience was a good reminder to 1) stay off your bike if the weather forecast includes thunderstorms; and 2) review Canada Safety Council advice on what (not) to do if you’re caught in a lightning storm, including:

  • Use the 30/30 Rule to help you. If you can count 30 seconds or less between seeing lightning and hearing thunder, seek shelter immediately. Do not resume any outdoor activities until you have waited at least 30 minutes after hearing the last clap of thunder to ensure the risk of a lightning strike has passed completely.
  • Stay clear of high ground and open spaces.
  • If there is no shelter, get off your bike (the rubber tires will not protect you), walk away from it, and find a local low point if possible. Squat down, with just your feet in contact with the ground and keep your feet close together. Do not lie down on the ground. Do not hold on to other people, even if they are frightened. Remove metal items and electronics from your pockets and take off metal jewelry.

Total riding distance = 53 – 57 km, depending on exact route
Trip time = 3 hrs riding time + 1 hr stopped
Total elevation gain = 395 m
Top speed = 46 kph

A lovely sunset brought the day to an end.


2 thoughts on “Cycling from Three Sisters to Cascade Ponds

    1. Our primary purpose was to supervise / assess K and his classmate as they undertook their “excursion” part of Day 1 of their 2-day adventurous journey for the Duke of Edinburgh bronze award. Mr. GeoK and I will be riding the trail again soon, and we’ll be sure to stop for your geocache to earn a smiley. Thanks for the reminder!

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