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 cross-country ski to the Cascade Bridge spanning the Cascade River, approximately 6.3 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 8.8 km from the Cascade Bridge.
All told that makes it 15.8 km one way to the ranger cabin from the parking lot. 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.
The Cascade Fire Road is a wonderful trail for cross-country skiing. It offers occasional mountain and meadow views plus easy entrance to the back-country. 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
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, so you can turn around at any time.
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.
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Useful information for cross-country skiing the Cascade Fire Road
Distance: 6.3 km one way to Cascade River Bridge and 15.1 km one way to the Stoney Creek Cabin.
Elevation gain/loss to Cascade Bridge: +135 m/-60m
Elevation gain/loss to Stoney Creek Cabin: +250m/-85m
Time needed: 2 – 3 hours to the bridge; 5 – 6.5 hours to the cabin
Permit: Parking and cross-country skiing are free but you do need a Parks Canada pass to stop in Banff National Park. It’s $10.50 per adult though you can buy a family pass good for a year for $145.25 – and that gets you into 27 National Parks and 77 National Historic Sites.
Trail reports: Check the trail reports on the Banff National Park website before you go. I would also suggest looking at the Skier Roger site as it gets updated daily by cross-country skiers.
Common sense: Please follow Leave No Trace principles and let someone know where you are going and when you’re due back.
Description of cross-country skiing the Cascade Fire Road
The Cascade Fire Road is exactly that – a fire road from the Lake Minnewanka parking lot that is double track with a skate skiing lane as far as the Cascade River Bridge. It’s single track-set to Stoney Creek Cabin.
The Cascade Fire Road 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.
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 km up the road one way. Then you’ve got a long day on your hands.
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 on the Cascade Fire Road is either flat or on gently rolling hills.
The trail is skied by both classic 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.
Cascade Fire Road from the bridge to Stoney Creek Ranger Cabin
Total mileage from the Cascade River Bridge to Stoney Creek: 17.6 km return!!!
The 8.8 km section of cross-country skiing from the bridge to the Stoney Creek Ranger Cabin is gently rolling and easy skiing – but it’s 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 at Lake Minnewanka.
What to take cross-country skiing on the Cascade Fire Road
It was -24 °C on one occasion that I cross-country skied the Cascade Fire Road. You don’t want to have anything go wrong when it’s like that – especially if you’re skiing to the Stoney Creek Cabin. Be sure to pack the following in addition to the 10 essentials. I’d also recommend aGarmin InReach Mini 2 in case you ever had an emergency.
On the access road to the Cascade Fire Road 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.
Getting to the Cascade Fire Road trailhead
To reach the Lake Minnewanka Road drive east from Banff under the Trans-Canada Highway. Continue approximately 10 km up a winding road to reach the Lake Minnewanka Day-use area. I would consider snow tires a necessity.
Location map of the Cascade Fire Road cross-country skiing