There is excellent mountain and road biking in and around the town of Banff. In just a few hours you can get a good taste of the area and hit some of the iconic spots – without getting caught up in traffic. Mountain biking seems to be growing – partially as there has been some trail building in the last few years in the Tunnel Mountain area. But if you’re not into mountain biking, there are plenty of opportunities to explore on a road bike.
Here are 5 great bike rides in the Banff area I can recommend.
Tunnel Mountain for Mountain Bikers
There are two ways to explore the Tunnel Mountain area – via the road and via the mountain bike trails.
For some fun and excitement I recommend mountain biking. There’s a bonus – stellar views of the Banff Springs Hotel, the Bow River and the hoodoos. There are several trails in the Tunnel Mountain area catering to different abilities. The 5.7 kilometre Tunnel Bench Loop starting at the Hoodoos Lookout parking lot is perfect for beginner mountain bikers. Experienced riders can add The Toe – a 7.9 kilometre technical loop with winding, narrow singletrack. I did it (lost my phone with the pictures to prove it) but had to hop on and off my bike on a few of the really steep sections.
Tunnel Mountain Road Tour
Tunnel Mountain Road is the first exit on your left (west) if you take the westernmost exit into Banff. Follow this road as it gently climbs to a high point overlooking the hoodoos. Continue on Tunnel Mountain Scenic Drive and descend into the town of Banff on Buffalo Street. This is about an 11 kilometre loop but with the climb it’s rated as intermediate. It can easily be combined with Lake Minnewanka – and the two together are sometimes called the Figure Eight. It’s also fun to ride some of the back streets of Banff on the way back to your starting point.
The 15.5 kilometre loop from the Cascade Pond picnic area up to Lake Minnewanka and back is entirely paved and suitable for road or hybrid bikes. You can do it in either direction but I prefer counterclockwise so I can have Two Jack Lake and Lake Minnewanka on the same side of the road as my bike. Before April 15th part of the road is off limits to cars – and especially lovely to cycle. You can knock this loop off in about 90 minutes but there are distractions that might make it longer. Chances are you’ll see bighorn sheep and recently I was treated to my first sight of a grizzly bear in Banff National Park in the meadows close to where we’d parked the car.
From the Lake Minnewanka parking lot, hard-core, experienced mountain bikers can follow the single-track trails alongside Lake Minnewanka to the junction at Aylmer Pass or if your legs still have juice all the way down the lake to the Warden’s Cabin for a total of 32 tough kilometres. Because of bears, the area is closed every year from July 10th to September 15th. I’ll happily hike this trail but I won’t bike it.
Spray River – Goat Creek Combo
This is a popular mountain bike ride on a fire road that offers several variations. You can do and out an back ride along the Spray River; alternatively start above Canmore at the Goat Creek Trailhead and do a one way 19 kilometre bike ride into Banff (much easier as there is less climbing) and organize a shuttle back; or do a full out and back ride starting either at the Banff Springs Hotel or at Goat Creek. Don’t miss the side trip to see Bow’s Falls.
Bow Valley Parkway
From Banff you can take the Mount Norquay Road to the Highway 1 interchange. After you cross the highway, head west for 5.7 kilometres to reach the intersection with Highway 1A, also called the Bow Valley Parkway. This is a quieter alternative to the main highway with the added benefit of being a wildlife corridor. Once on it you have a few options: cycle to Castle Junction and return on the main highway, cycle to Lake Louise and return on the main highway or just stick to the Bow Valley Parkway and cycle whatever distance you want and then retrace your steps to Banff. Enjoy great views of Castle Mountain, interpretive exhibits and short hikes if you’re up for it including the popular Johnson Canyon hike.
There are many more mountain bike rides – most of them short within spitting distance of Banff.
For people looking for a fabulous multi-day bike ride you can’t beat the Banff to Jasper trip. (Download my free guide here.) Also popular is the Banff Legacy Trail that runs from Canmore to the junction of the Bow Valley Parkway, almost all of it which is on dedicated bike trail.
You can rent bikes in both Banff and Canmore. If you’re thinking of doing the Legacy Trail first, rent in Canmore at Rebound Cycle. They have an awesome selection of both road and mountain bikes and loads of local advice. If you’re starting in Banff you can check out Soul Ski and Bike. In prime season – eg. summer weekends – reserve bikes ahead of time.
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Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta
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