This article was originally posted on Wild Rose Adventures Website
Gravel riding and bike packing are a growing endeavour and in Alberta we have some of the best looking terrain to explore. Have you had your eyes on a self-guided bikepacking adventure but don't know where to go? Perhaps you are looking for a bikepacking trip you can do on a weekend or maybe an extended long weekend?
Our friends at Wild Rose Adventures have curated these self-guided routes for you. We’ve linked the article to their website which has more details and the GPS files to help you navigate. Don’t forget to stock up on 7 Summits Snacks bars, as well to make sure you fuel your next adventure and avoid bonking whilst you’re grinding it out on the gravel.
Don’t fear - The Wild Rose Adventures crew have scouted and ridden these routes with their friends. Whether you’re just getting into self-supported/multi-day bike adventures and are looking for some starter trips -or- you are itching to tackle something a little longer/tougher - there is something here for everyone.
Big Elbow Bike Overnight
This out-and-back route is a great option for the first time bikepacker.
The Big Elbow trail in Kananaskis is a classic trail, part of the Big Elbow/Little Elbow loop. It is accessed from the parking area located at the very end of Hwy.66. The campground is located about 10kms away from the lot.
The trail is 99% doubletrack and gravel road with very moderate elevation gain, making it ideal as your first bikepacking trip. The views up in the valley are spectacular and with no cell service it really does feel like your way out there. Mostly uphill in, mostly downhill back to the lot.
There are bear bins, firewood, picnic tables, and outhouses at the campsite. You need to book your stay through Alberta Parks website. You’ll also need to bring all your water or filter water from the river adjacent to the campground.
There are some rocky sections here and there so best to use a bike with 45mm+ tires, with 50-55mm being optimal.
This out-and-back route is a great option for the first time bikepacker.
The Tom Snow Trail in Kananaskis has seen some improvements, new bridges and re-routing around boggy sections the last couple of seasons since being designated part of the Trans Canada Trail. This trail connects the trails on Moose Mountain to West Bragg Creek and north to Dawson and the Sibbald PLUZ.
While not perfect, and with many sections still under construction near the West Bragg Creek area, it is rideable on a loaded bikepacking bike or gravel bike. The route is almost entirely in the forest as well. One of the potentially fun (challenging?) aspects of this route is the ability to link a few of WBC’s most popular trails into the route - namely Bragging Rights, Merlin View, and the new Kestrel Trail if one was so inclined.
Stage your adventure either in Bragg Creek proper if you want to make it a bit longer or at the parking area in West Bragg Creek trail system. Ride north towards Sibbald Campground, spend the night camping, then return the same way. The trails in the area of the Demonstration Forest parking area can be confusing. Stay on the Tom Snow Trail and once you reach the gas plant access road head up the hill, past the gate, and you should be on the road towards Hwy.68 and Sibbald Campground.
There are some rocky sections here and there so best to use a bike with 45mm+ tires, with 50-55mm being optimal. There isn’t much in the way of clean water along the route so bring what you need to make it to Sibbald. There are pumps there but water from the pumps needs to be filtered before drinking.
This is a fun route that avoids the big elevation gains and colder/wetter weather often associated with bikecamping in the Rockies.
2 Elbows And A Lake
High reward beginner/intermediate bikepacking loop with significant elevation.
The Big Elbow/Little Elbow Loop is a decades old mountain biking classic ride. For mountain bikers, this ride is considered a “big day out” type ride, often being tackled in one day. The entire loop is off-pavement and predominantly on wide 2-track mountain road. The route is also suitable for modern gravel bikes too with a minimum recommended tire width of 45mm. Of special note, the route from Tombstone up to Elbow Lake is quite a bit rougher, well, a lot rougher. We wouldn’t recommend gravel bikers head up there unless Type 2 Fun (or maybe 1.7 fun) is something you’re into :)
There are 4 campgrounds on the loop: The main campground at Big Elbow/Little Elbow parking area, Romulus Backcountry about 1/4 of the way around, Tombstone Backcountry at the 1/2 way point, and Big Elbow Backcountry at the 3/4 mark.
There is no food or resupply opportunities.
Alternately, you could park at the Elbow Lake trailhead (on Hwy.40) and start from there. Just beware that the push up from that parking lot is a brute - very very steep but mercifully short at about 1km long.
The Elbow Lake Backcountry campground is about 7kms from Tombstone and totally worth the extra effort to get up to it.
2 Elbows: Big Elbow and Little Elbow. And a lake: Elbow Lake. Makes sense, right?
To Banff And Back Again
Intermediate-difficulty 3-5 day route with lots of camping options, resupply points, and plenty of super fun sections!
Starting at the Big Elbow parking lot and finishing in Bragg Creek, this route would be a tough 3 day affair or a more relaxed but still challenging 4 day route that offers a little bit of everything. Minimum recommended tire width is 42mm with wider being much better. Singletrack riding skills recommended and intermediate to advanced level of fitness recommended. Plenty of camping spots along the way are really convenient - just be sure to book ahead to ensure a spot.
The Hiker Biker sites do not require bookings.
Lots of places to fill up bottles (bring a purification filter/tabs) and places to restock on food. You could even add in a night in a hotel in Banff, Canmore, or Dead Man's Flats if weather conditions are sub-optimal or to add a bit of luxury.
Be sure to check for any trail closures before heading out.
There are parallel singletrack trail options available in the Spray Valley (High Rockies Trail) and in the Bow Valley (TCT from Canmore to Heart/Quaite).
There really are too many cool things on this route to mention in just a few paragraphs. Suffice to say *variety* is what this route is all about.
Rocky Mountain Ramble
Advanced 3-5-day one-way route for the adventurous bikepacker.
It can be ridden in either direction, we prefer north to south. Our shuttle dropped us off at the Mt. Burke parking area and picked us up 4 days later at the Castle Falls Campground. You can add another day by returning to Blairmore.
Big mountain riding with long climbs, epic descents, non-stop postcard views, swimming opportunities, all on quiet roads and only 22kms of pavement in the Crowsnest Pass area. There’s even a brewery stop - if that’s your thing.
Starting at the Mt. Burke trailhead on the Forestry Trunk Road south of Highwood House, this route takes the little known Lost Creek Road deep into the backcountry, climbing up over 2000m in the first17kms, eventually leading you into the headwaters of the Oldman River, and descending from there back to the trunk road for 35kms. Day 2 starts with a 20km long climb on the Atlas-Dutch Creek Road eventually taking you to Chinook Lake Campground - which has a beautiful lake suitable for swimming. Day 3 you’re off through all the little towns in the Crowsnet Pass including Coleman, Blairemore, and Frank. After the stiff climb out of the valley you drop down into the Castle Wilderness area, finishing at Castle Falls Campground.
There are all kinds of gravel roads to explore in this area, including Lynx Creek Road which completes a optional loop back to Blairmore.
About Wild Rose Adventures
Wild Rose Adventures is a bike-touring company out of Calgary, Alberta. If you’re looking for a friendly guide or a tasty tour, the folks at Wild Rose Adventures also offer these as options to their customers. Check out their website to plan a different sort of adventure that is sure to make amazing memories... and don't forget to pack your favourite chocolate sports nutrition: 7 Summits Snacks ;-)