Spring is a great time to be a cyclist in Calgary. The snow is gone – or what is left is inconsequential – and the temperatures are conducive to getting out on a bike. Calgary itself is lucky to have over 600 kilometres of bike trails. But there are also loads of great bike rides within 75 minutes to 90 minutes of the city. Here are my top 11 picks for Calgary and area bike rides.
COVID update: Not all places want cyclists. Canmore and Drumheller come to mind – so for now I’d give biking in these areas a pass. Check in with their their respective tourism board websites for updates on when they want to welcome visitors again.
Elbow River Valley
Just 30 minutes west of Calgary you’ll find Highway 66, a road that’s closed to cars until May 14th – but only from the winter gate by the Elbow Falls parking lot. It’s snow free already! The road follows the Elbow River and affords fantastic mountain views and a great workout as you climb up to 500 metres – if you start in Bragg Creek.
Park you car anywhere between Bragg Creek and the Elbow Falls parking lot. We started in Station Flats and rode a total of 32 kilometres. There’s a wide shoulder if you ride the highway before the winter gate. The only thing you have to avoid are the large piles of manure on the road from the free roaming horses. The return trip from Bragg Creek is 60 kilometres.
The Sheep River Valley
Start in Turner Valley, a 45 minute drive south of Calgary. We parked at the Community Centre just off of Main Street. It’s a 38 kilometre one way cycle from Turner Valley to the dead end at Junction Creek. You could also shorten the ride by starting at the winter gate. Then it’s just 18 kilometres one way. Gain 645 metres of elevation from Turner Valley, 300 m from the winter gate.
Ride past fields full of cows (look for cowboys) into the forested foothills. Along this section we saw a moose clear a fence in a few quick moves. At the winter gate the scenery gets better and better with mountain views appearing. Sheep River Falls is definitely a highlight and a great place for a picnic lunch.
If possible do this ride before May 14th when the road is closed at the winter gate to all but hikers and cyclists. However, it’s a stunning ride in the fall – just go early to avoid much of the traffic.
The Canmore Legacy Trail
Built in 2010 to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Parks Canada, the Canmore Legacy Trail is 26 kilometers one way. Start at the outskirts of Canmore (there’s a great big parking lot) and cycle into Banff and then along Vermilion Lakes Road to get the classic Mount Rundle view.
You can continue all the way to Highway 1A on a bike path. The elevation gain is only 185 metres; it’s easier biking to Canmore than it is riding to Banff.
Note that as of May 2020 during the COVID crisis, Banff National Park is still closed to all visitors.
Bow River Valley Trails in Canmore
If you want an easy but scenic and family friendly bike ride then check out the 20 kilometres of well-marked trails in Canmore. They’ll take you along the Bow River (with lots of benches that will beckon you to stop) and through the woods.
Sometimes you’ll feel like you’re miles from nowhere. Be prepared to cycle on a mix of pavement and gravel. Keep an eye out for wildlife.
Lake Minnewanka Loop
This is a wonderful 15.5 kilometre loop that climbs 142 metres in total. If you ride it before May, you’ll be able to enjoy a car free section on the western portion of the loop.
There are grand views of Cascade Mountain, the Parks Canada iconic red chairs to hang out in along the shores of Two Jack Lake and a high probability of seeing Bighorn sheep.
Those with energy to burn can add the Tunnel Mountain Loop accessed via Tunnel Mountain Road, about a kilometre past the Trans-Canada Highway overpass on the way towards the Banff townsite.
The Road to Nepal
If you think the landscape around Calgary is all pancake flat prairie you’d be wrong. Just south of Calgary you’ll find a landscape of rolling hills – including many that are very steep.
This ride starts at the parking lot at the junction of Highway 773 and 22X. Climb roughly 600 metres over 55 scenic kilometres. It’s easy to add in a side-trip for a cafe stop in nearby Millarville.
The backroads around Red Deer and Lacombe
You could explore the 30 kilometres of paved bike trails in Waskasoo Park if you go to Red Deer. But if you’re a tad adventurous – and you have a detailed map then it’s worth checking out the backroads between Red Deer and Lacombe.
Don’t miss a lunch stop at the Ellis Bird Farm but check to make sure it’s open. In total you can cycle a beautiful loop of almost 100 kilometres with most of it on quiet roads or trails.
Calgary to Chestermere
Start anywhere in Calgary and pick up the bike trail east of the Calgary Zoo that takes you over Deerfoot Trail towards the Max Bell Arena. Then look for signs saying Western Irrigation Ditch Canal and follow it for 29 sometimes bumpy kilometres to Chestermere.
Some of the landscape isn’t pretty – but it’s interesting to see the industrial heartland of the city. And eventually you hit long stretches of scenic countryside. There’s lots of bird life and a perfectly positioned bench at the end of the trail when you reach Chestermere Lake.
The Glenmore Reservoir
This is one of my favourite bike rides in the city. Easy to access via the Elbow River trails, it’s a great loop to cycle and one I love to do after work in the summer – providing I keep my mouth shut when the bugs are around.
The Weaselhead section at the western end of the reservoir is the wildest part of the ride – and a place where you might get lucky and see some wildlife. Otherwise, enjoy the distant views of the Rockies and the sight of the sailboats or kayaks on the lake.
It’s popular with walkers too so be prepared to deal with the occasional bottleneck. It’s easy to continue to Fish Creek Park and do a big loop back to the downtown if you’ve got a few hours. For a cafe stop, head to Good Earth at Glenmore Landing.
For a great workout with non-stop mountain scenery – and a road without cars if you cycle before June 15th, then Highwood Pass is it. You can approach from two directions, the north gate near King Creek on Highway 40 or the south gate near Highwood Junction.
The full there and back bike ride is 108 kilometres with 1267 metres of elevation gain, though many people just ride to the pass from either direction and then enjoy a great bike ride down. I carry bear spray on this route. Dress appropriately as it can be much colder in the mountains.
Highwood Pass is car free until June 15th – but car free doesn’t mean snow free. Every year is different and if you head out too soon, the snow will turn you back.
The Dinosaur Trail in Drumheller
Its 50 kilometres and and 160 metres of climbing to ride the full Dinosaur Trail. You can park near the giant dinosaur in Drumheller (you can’t miss it) and then head out and enjoy some of Alberta’s fabulous badlands scenery.
Along the way you’ll pass the world-class Royal Tyrell Museum, Horse Thief Canyon, numerous oil wells and grain elevators. To return to Drumheller take the Bleriot Ferry – free of charge across the Red Deer River. You need about three hours with stops to do the full loop.
2020 update: By all reports the Alberta government has cut funding for the Bleriot Ferry so double check before you go. If that’s the case you won’t be able to do a seamless loop – highly unfortunate because it’s such an interesting one to bike.
What’s your favourite bike ride in the Calgary area?
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