The trip counter on the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail between Canmore and Banff registered the one millionth trip milestone in mid-June. There was absolutely NO fanfare or media coverage that I’ve been able to find!
Maybe it’s because the link to the trip counter on the Town of Canmore’s website is about 40 thousand trips behind. I’ve no idea why.
Maybe it’s because the one million trip milestone was actually reached months ago, maybe even late in the 2020 cycling season. The counter was turned off in May and June 2020, early in the COVID-19 pandemic. But we rode it a few times that spring, and it was steady-busy. Plus the counter is usually turned off sometime in October and turned back on in April or May. So it’s not counted all the frost-biker trips over the years.
Regardless, the momentary display of “1000000” on the trip counter across from the Canmore Visitor Centre is a great excuse to share our top recommendations for cycling adventures that include the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail.
These routes all start from the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail trip counter across Bow Valley Trail from the Canmore Visitor Centre. One big advantage of riding from Canmore? No need for a Banff National Park Pass. Just reverse the description if you’re riding from the Banff end. Parking options in Banff include the old train station, Fenlands Rec Centre or Cascade Ponds.
Option 1 – Canmore to Cascade Ponds (35 km return)
Ride the main section of the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail from the Canmore Visitor Centre to Cascade Ponds. Highlights include:
- Osprey nest just before the “Welcome to Canmore” sign.
2. Enjoy the curvy sections through mixed forest between “Welcome to Canmore” sign and Banff National Park east gate. Watch for oncoming riders who may underestimate the corners and cross the centre line!
3. Conquer the steep hill from distance marker 0.5 km to 1.0 km, elevation gain of 20-25 meters. Push if you have to, knowing this is the hardest climb riding westward.
4. Enjoy the rest stop at Valley View Day Use Area (picnic tables, pit toilets and red “share the chairs”).
6. Race downhill to the beaver ponds! Even if the wind is blowing from the west (which it usually is), this is your best chance to hit your top speed while riding westbound. Pedal like mad and hunch down to reduce resistance if you’re a speed demon. Or enjoy the opportunity to coast and take in the scenery, if you prefer. 🙂
7. Spot the old mileage marker between current distance marker 7.5 and 8.0.
8. Cascade Mountain and Water Tower – not only a great photo stop, but a sign you’re almost there!
9. Drop down to ride beside the Cascade River – this stretch is more sheltered from the wind. It’s picturesque and you might even spot a bear across the water.
10. Arrive at Cascade Ponds. With picnic tables, pit toilets and a walking trail, this is your turnaround point, rest stop and photo stop all in one.
Option 2 – Canmore to Downtown Banff (42 km return)
Bring a bike lock! Same as option 1 BUT at the trail fork continue parallel to the TransCanada Highway instead of taking the underpass to Cascade Ponds.
The final stretch into downtown Banff includes on street riding, in shared lanes. For 2021, a few blocks of Bear Street are closed to vehicles, so bring a mask and push your bike along the pedestrian only section until you find a patio for a cool drink and/or midway meal.
Options to extend your ride in and around Banff include Bow Falls, Banff Springs Hotel, Sundance Canyon, Vermilion Lakes and Sulphur Mountain. See this post for more details.
Option 3 – Canmore to Lake Minnewanka Loop (51 km return)
Same as option 1 BUT continue from Cascade Ponds to ride the scenic Lake Minnewanka loop. NOTE: you’ll be sharing the road with vehicles, some towing camping or boat trailers. Maximize your visibility by using flashing tail/head lights and wear bright clothing or socks.
Highlights include views of Two Jack Lake and Lake Minnewanka and a high likelihood of spotting some Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep between the two lakes.
Add another 5 km to this route by making the side trip to Johnson Lake. Bring a bike lock if you want to mix it up a bit with a walk around Johnson Lake.
Option 4 – Canmore to Tunnel Mountain Loop (51 km return)
Continue through Banff townsite to Buffalo Street. Ride in the bicycle lane heading east and then south, to Surprise Corner.
Continue from Surprise Corner onto Tunnel Mountain Drive, then Tunnel Mountain Road. Rejoin the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail at the intersection with Banff Avenue. Like the Lake Minnewanka Loop, the Tunnel Mountain Loop is on a road shared with vehicles and RVs. Use bike tail/headlights and bright clothing to maximize visibility.
The Tunnel Mountain Loop adds more elevation to the ride than Lake Minnewanka Loop (additional 200 meters total gain vs additional 150 meters total gain). This is more of an exercise ride than a scenery ride. Change it up by adding a short walk at the hoodoos.
Option 5 – Canmore to Johnston Canyon (100+ km return)
One of the best pandemic perqs for cyclists has been riding the vehicle-free Bow Valley Parkway between Banff and Castle Junction. In fact ridership on Highway 1A has eroded ridership on the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail since word got out late June 2020. See this post for more Bow Valley Parkway distance and hike & bike options.
If you want to earn metric century (100+km ride) bragging rights, start your ride to Johnston Canyon from Canmore!
Five Tips to Make Your Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail Adventure Awesome!
- Make sure your bike’s in good repair. Bring a basic repair kit, so you can deal with a flat tire or lost pin. Know how to get your chain back on if it comes off. Once I used a zip tie to make an emergency repair to my rear brake handle so I could safely finish a ride. You don’t want to end up having to push your bike all the way back to the Canmore Visitor Centre!!
- Bring lots of water and plenty of snacks. As things open up post-pandemic, it’ll be easier to find somewhere to fill water bottles and enjoy a meal or snack in Banff.
- Plan rest stops and photo stops so you can share your adventure!
- Check the wind forecast. The ride from Canmore to Banff is gently uphill most of the way, and riding into a 40+ kph headwind makes it a lot tougher. If you can’t shift your plans to a less windy day, consider catching the ROAM bus to Banff and riding back to Canmore.
- Speaking of ROAM, don’t be afraid to bail on your plans. If the temperature’s too hot or your family/cycling buddies are miserable, catch a ROAM bus back to Canmore. The Banff-Canmore regional ROAM bus has capacity for 6 bikes (no e-bikes) on a first come basis. Reservations are required for the Johnston Canyon ROAM bus. Check ROAM transit for fees, schedules and the latest mask regulations.
Don’t be afraid to make a day of it. Pack a bike lock so you can walk around Banff. Or bike around Banff. Or enjoy the sunshine from one of the docks at Vermilion Lakes. Bring a picnic. Share your adventure…with a comment below or by tagging us on Twitter (@GeoKs) or Instagram (@mrs_geok).
A Short History of the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail
- Opened in 2010, Banff Legacy Trail was built to celebrate Banff National Park’s 125th anniversary (Canada’s oldest national park, and the fourth oldest national park in the world)
- Initially ran from Banff National Park east gate to Banff to the east end of Banff Avenue, with another short stretch connecting the end of Vermilion Lakes Drive to the Bow Valley Parkway (aka Highway 1A); parking at the Canmore end was dangerous
- In 2013, extended from Banff National Park east gate to Canmore Visitor Centre (4.5 km) and name changed to Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail; a MUCH more enjoyable ride when starting at the Canmore end
- Flood damage in 2013 temporarily shifted a couple of short stretches onto the shoulder of the TransCanada Highway (repairs included significant improvements to the appearance of the Cascade River where it runs beside the paved pathway for about 1 km)
- Trip counter shut down for two months in 2020, due to COVID-19 pandemic
- To-date the maximum daily number of trips = 3,210 (July 11, 2020)
- 43,466 trips were recorded in August 2020
- Extended again at the Canmore end, with a new, switch-backed trail section up to the Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park (opened 2020)