A Canadian Rockies Ride

The Setting
  |  Gorp.com

Every inch of your Banff-to-Jasper route is in two of the prettiest of Canada's 34 national parks: Banff National Park and Jasper National Park. Plus, throughout your trip you'll have the Continental Divide on your left; the white-peaked Rockies which, while actually somewhat lower in elevation than much of the same chain in the United States, appear to be higher because this far north, the tree line (the elevation above which trees cannot grow) is lower. Many of the mountainsides are therefore bare, jagged-edged, and scree-sloped.

Now add to these sharp-sided beauties the scenic loveliness of blue meandering rivers, deep green coniferous forests in the broad valleys, and high-elevation turquoise- and emerald-colored lakes. Sprinkle in some massive glaciers (some actually close enough for easy hiking) and wild deer, elk, bear, mountain sheep, and goats that sometimes stop traffic when placidly crossing the road. You'll know you aren't in Kansas.

And the riding? In a word — superb. In most places the shoulders on major highways are as wide as a car lane. And when you're on narrower side roads you'll find that in general the motorists are a kinder, gentler sort than in the United States. Even the American drivers are nicer than at home; who could be in a bad mood when on vacation in a dazzling setting?

You will be doing some climbing — mostly long gradual pulls — when on the main roads. And I do mean long, like the extremely moderate 26-mile grind over Bow Summit (6,787 feet). Even on the Icefields Parkway (the 144 miles you'll be pedaling between Lake Louise and Jasper) there's one hump you won't forget: Sunwapta Pass (6,675 feet). You won't find it terribly tough unless you're a flatlander, for most of the eight-mile climb along the North Saskatchewan River is gradual. The final mile, however, takes you to the river's source — a glacier that I would guess at roughly the size of the moon. And just as cold. But anytime you decide to leave the main road up the valley at the base of the mountains you'll have steep climbs.

In short, any cyclist in moderately good shape can handle this route without difficulty, and those who wish harder workouts can engineer them into daily rides by veering up the canyons or setting a faster pace on the main drag. One reassuring note for when you're designing your tour here: It's all beautiful.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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