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Cross-country Skiing On The Banff Fire Road

Cascade Fire Road Skiing in Banff National Park

One of the best places for cross-country skiing in the Banff area is the Cascade Fire Road. It’s an easy to moderate out and back ski so it’s a good one for younger families. Many people ski to the Cascade Bridge spanning the Cascade River, approximately 7.4 km from the Lake Minnewanka parking lot. For those that want a longer day, you can continue on track-set trails all the way to the Stoney Creek ranger cabin –  a further 8.4 km from the bridge. All told that makes it 15.8 km one way to the ranger cabin. There are no big hills to climb like you’d find on the Skogan Pass trail, but there is definitely some elevation gain as you ski north up the Cascade Valley.

This is a popular trail but the further you go the more likely you are to lose people. Only a small fraction of skiers seem to continue past the bridge. I have always skied the Cascade Fire Road when there’s been a perfect combination of safe driving conditions, blue skies, sunshine and great snow. But if it’s such a day, go early so parking isn’t an issue.

Cascade Fire Road skiing
Cascade Fire Road skiing

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The Cascade Fire Road is exactly that – a fire road from the Lake Minnewanka parking lot that doubles as a track set cross-country ski trail in the winter. It gets great early season snow and it’s one of the first in the area to be track set, often by sometime in late November.

Glorious Cascade Fire Road skiing
Glorious skiing on the Cascade Fire Road with heaps of snow
A couple of happy skiers enjoying the Cascade Fire Road skiing
A couple of happy skiers

The Cascade Fire Road goes to a warden’s cabin

The Cascade Fire Road is an easy cross-country ski unless you elect to ski out and back to the warden’s cabin – and that’s 15.8 kilometres up the road one way. Then you’ve got a long day on your hands. I’d say allow 4 – 6 hours if you’re planning to do that.

Otherwise there is only one major hill near the beginning of the trail but it’s gradual and swiftly dispatched. The rest of the trail is either flat or on gently rolling hills.

The bridge over the Cascade River
The bridge over the Cascade River

The trail is skied by both regular cross-country skiers and those on skate skis. There were one heck of a lot of fit bodies that blew by me when I was out.

Beautiful mountain river
Beautiful turquoise – coloured mountain river from the bridge
Small loop right after the bridge
Small loop right after the bridge

The Cascade Fire Road from the bridge to Stoney Creek Ranger Cabin

The 8.4 km section of cross-country skiing from the bridge to the cabin is gently rolling and easy skiing – just long. There are a couple of places with nice views along the way, but mostly its kilometre after kilometre of skiing through the trees.

There is an intersection about a half kilometre shy of the cabin. If you go left you can ski down a fairly steep narrow trail and be at the cabin in a few minutes. If you’re not good on narrow descents, continue up the road for about a kilometre. Look for a trail on your left and take it. After about half a kilometre you reach the gates marking the entrance to the cabin area. Carry on and in a few minutes you’ll be there. (Photos below show what that looks like.)

Someone has thoughtfully put a few logs in a sunny place that are ideal for sitting on at lunch time. There is also a picnic table. 

Retrace your steps to return to the parking lot.

A really pretty section along the Cascade Fire Road
A really pretty section along the Cascade Fire Road
Lots of skiing through the trees with little in the way of views
Lots of skiing through the trees with little in the way of views
At this intersection you can ski down 500 m to reach the Stoney Creek cabin
At this intersection you can ski down 500 m to reach the Stoney Creek cabin or ski north for about a km and then take a left and ski to the cabin
Pretty skiing on a side trail to the Stoney Creek cabin
Pretty skiing on a side trail to the Stoney Creek cabin
Entrance to the Stoney Creek Cabin area from the north
Entrance to the Stoney Creek Cabin area from the north
The Stoney Creek Cabin in Banff National Park
The Stoney Creek Cabin in Banff National Park
The home of the Carletons
The home of the Carletons – a park ranger and his young family who lived here from 1949-1953
Looking south from the Stoney Creek Cabin
Looking south from the Stoney Creek Cabin
The view north from the cabin
The view north from the cabin – and the perfect place to enjoy lunch
Skiing up the narrow trail from the cabin
Skiing up the narrow trail from the cabin to meet the Cascade Fire Road
View on the return from the Cascade Fire Road
View on the return
Heading south through a woodsy section
Heading south through a woodsy section – with more needles on the trail than anywhere else
By early afternoon the shadows are lengthening
By early afternoon the shadows are lengthening
Such pretty skiing on the Cascade Fire Road when you're heading towards Lake Minnewanka
Such pretty skiing on the Cascade Fire Road when you’re heading towards Lake Minnewanka

What to take cross-country skiing

It was -24 °C on one occasion that I skied this trail. You don’t want to have anything go wrong when it’s like that – especially if you’re skiing to the Stoney Creek Cabin. I’d suggest the following – in addition to the 10 essentials. 

Look for wildlife on the road up to Lake Minnewanka

On the access road to the trailhead you almost always spot wildlife. The day we visited was no exception. We saw elk and big-horned sheep going in and coming out.

Big horned sheep licking the cars
Big-horned sheep licking the cars
You almost always see elk on the drive in to Lake Minnewanka
You almost always see elk on the drive in to Lake Minnewanka

The Cascade Fire Road is a wonderful trail. It offers occasional mountain and meadow views plus easy entrance to the back-country. The trailhead is accessed via the Lake Minnewanka Road. And it’s perfect for an hour or a day – because it’s an out and back ski you can turn around at any time.

Visit the Banff National Park website for more information.

Lake Minnewanka before its frozen
Lake Minnewanka before its frozen – the trailhead for the skiing the Cascade Fire Road is steps away

Getting to the Cascade Fire Road trailhead

To reach the Lake Minnewanka Road drive east from Banff under the Trans-Canada Highway. Continue about 10 kilometres up a winding road. I would consider snow tires a necessity.

Parking and skiing are free but you do need a Parks Canada pass to be in Banff National Park. It’s $9.80 per adult though you can buy a family pass good for a year for $136.40 – and that gets you into 27 National Parks and 77 National Historic Sites.

Further reading on winter adventures in Alberta

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

Skiing the Cascade Fire Road, Banff National Park

 

 

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 28 Comments

  1. Hi Leigh, You have shown us another side to the Banff area. We were there in spring. These shots are beautiful and descriptive. Thanks Jan

  2. Hi Leigh, You have shown us another side to the Banff area. We were there in spring. These shots are beautiful and descriptive. Thanks Jan

  3. With every Banff post and spectacular photos you share(and no matter what season), you are making it so hard to resist a visit to one of the places I have longed to see. What a beautiful place to do cross country skiing. I love the contrast of all that snow and the blue skies.

  4. OK, now we’re talking. That whole downhill thing didn’t really work out for me, but these trails seem nice and flat. Even when I fall I shouldn’t slide more than 10 or 20 feet. I’m not sure I like the idea of running into wildlife out in the bush though. Even if their best attack is licking, I think I’d prefer to keep some distance between us.

  5. And that is why I love mountains! Wow those pictures are really spectacular especially the river and lake. I am in awe at every picture of yours I see.

  6. Very cool! Not often I see articles on cross country skiing. Outside Norway, that is. It’s the national sport here. Bigger than football. Everyone’s out on the trails whenever possible, even newborn babies pulled on a sledge behind their mum or dad.

    1. @Micheal You’ve got Rudolph on the brain already. They’re actually elk – the most photographed wildlife in North America so it’s hardly an original shot. Still I always get excited seeing them.

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