Alberta’s Goat Creek Trail offers a fun mountain bike ride that traverses the beautiful valley between Mount Rundle and Sulphur Mountain. The trail starts above the town of Canmore at the top of the Smith Dorrien Road- Spray Lakes Road and finishes at the Spray River West trailhead, located approximately 150 metres beyond the Banff Springs Hotel at the northern end of Spray Avenue in Banff. From there you can cycle through Banff to pick up the Legacy Trail and ultimately finish in downtown Canmore.
The bike ride is not particularly difficult as most (but not all) of its 18.5 kilometre length is downhill on the wide Goat Creek Trail. There are a couple of steep sections that tentative mountain bikers might not like but they’re short and you can always walk.
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Finding the Goat Creek Trailhead
The Goat Creek Trail is easy to find. Drive up the Three Sisters Parkway past the Canmore Nordic Centre. Continue on as it becomes the dirt-packed, sometimes bone rattling Smith Dorrien – Spray Lakes Road past Whiteman’s Pond to the large and obvious parking lot on the west side of the road. It’s popular as it is also the trailhead for Ha Ling Peak and EEOR as well as being one of the access points to the High Rockies Trail.
You can park on the Spray Lakes Road if the parking lot is full but pull over as far as you can. Don’t wash your car beforehand as it’s going to be get covered in dust.
I wouldn’t recommend starting the Goat Creek Trail in Banff as it’s almost all uphill – and you’d be biking against the flow of traffic.
Starting the bike ride
The bike ride starts just a few feet from the parking lot by the obvious kiosk. Cycle 0.9 kilometres on one of the rougher sections of bike trail to reach the intersection with the High Rockies Trail – the western most section of the Great Trail in Alberta.
Keep right to stay on the Goat Creek Trail. Knock off the first three or four kilometres in short order, especially if you’re a biker who rarely uses brakes. I’m a more cautious biker – even though I understand speed is your friend on a mountain bike.
After you cross the Spray River on the first major bridge of the bike ride, you’ve got another 4.1 kilometres to go to reach the intersection with the Spray River Loop. Some of this section is uphill.
The intersection with the Spray River Loop is a good spot to pullover and take a break by the river before deciding what part of the loop to bike.
You can bike either way on the Spray River Loop though my preference is to stay right (east) as I think the trail is prettier and there are generally fewer hikers.
It ends 5.1 kilometres later beside the golf course at the Banff Springs Hotel. From there turn left and follow the trail over another bridge – with a distant view of the Banff Springs Hotel, to reach the western section of the Spray River Trail. Turn right and in a matter of minutes you’re at the Spray River West trailhead.
In theory you could leave a car here and shuttle to Canmore. That’s a great idea in winter if you’re cross-country skied the Goat Creek Trail but in summer and fall why not bike the Legacy Trail back to Canmore? It’s 95% downhill so you can knock off the 18 kilometres to the outskirts of Canmore near the Travel Alberta Centre in under an hour.
Peddle through Banff towards the highway – picking up the Legacy Trail off of Banff Avenue before you reach the Trans-Canada Highway.
If you’ve got the time I highly recommend a quick detour to see Bow Falls, as the turnoff is on the way into Banff a short distance after you pass the Banff Springs Hotel. After visiting the falls, take the shortcut back into town (the first trail on the right as you climb back up the road) via the pedestrian bridge and follow Muskrat Road until it reaches Fox Avenue. Turn left and then immediately right onto Banff Avenue and follow it for a short distance to reach the Legacy Trail.
From Banff to Canmore on the Legacy Trail
From the Banff Springs Hotel head for the Legacy Trail via Banff Avenue. Read a full report about biking the Legacy Trail here. It’s quite a bit easier cycling downhill to Canmore than it is to Banff.
Once in Canmore there is good signage directing you to the downtown area – and the Nordic Centre should you be one of the bikers who wants to bike the complete loop.
Renting bikes in Canmore
One of the convenient and popular places to rent a mountain bike is at Rebound Cycle. It cost my son $70 plus tax for a day.
There are two other bike rental shops – Outside Bike & Ski and Rundle Mountain Bike Rental – which is the most convenient location if you leave a car at the Travel Alberta Welcome Centre.
Getting from Canmore to the Goat Creek Trail at the end of the bike ride
Hardy bike riders pedal back up the up the Spray Lakes – Smith Dorrien Road to retrieve their cars or even to start the bike ride on the Goat Creek Trail. But I wouldn’t recommend it.
The bike ride up the road has several disadvantages – chief of which is the amount of dust you have to breathe and eat after you leave the paved road by the Grassi Lakes parking lot. And at the end of the day, many bikers might not want to peddle (or have the energy to cycle) the additional 8 kilometres from downtown Canmore to the Goat Creek parking lot. There is an elevation gain as well of about 357 metres and the road is very narrow in places.
There are a few options to get back to the Goat Creek trailhead.
If you have traveled with a group in two vehicles then you can leave one car in Canmore (the Travel Alberta Welcome Centre at the start of the Legacy Trail is a great choice) and another at the trailhead. Needless to say that requires friends or family to sign on for the bike ride as well.
Taxis are another option. Draw straws with the loser heading up in the taxi with the keys to retrieve the car while the rest of you enjoy a cold drink and something to eat in Canmore. There are three taxi companies – Canmore Cabs, Canmore Taxis and A1 Eh Taxi Cab, and they all charge $50 to get you up there (2020 prices).
And as a long time hitchhiker – before it was frowned upon – I would also make a sign, look friendly and try and score a ride to the trailhead from the Three Sister Parkway.
Biking the Goat Creek Trail – Legacy Trail combo is a fun outing that will take the fast people 2 – 2.5 hours to do but mere mortals like myself who like to stop for pictures and smell the roses about 3-4 hours. The Goat Creek section took us two hours – and I definitely slowed the guys down.
If you want to spend a night in Canmore
Canmore has everything from hostels to B&B’s, chain hotels to luxury ones.
For an upscale B&B experience try the Bear & Bison Country Inn.
Basecamp Lodge is a good choice if you want to do your own cooking – and you want a hot tub with a view.
The Malcolm Hotel is Canmore’s newest boutique hotel.
For further information visit Alberta Parks for more information.
Further reading on biking in Alberta
- Biking the Trans-Canada Trail in Glenbow Ranch
- Sheep River Valley Biking in Kananaskis Country
- Mountain Biking in Cypress Hills Provincial Park
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