What a difference three years and $2 million makes! Completed in 2013, the 4.4 km stretch of paved pathway that allows cyclists to ride from the Travel Alberta Information Centre in Canmore westward into Banff National Park has really improved the overall Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail riding experience.
When we rode the Legacy Trail in 2011, safe access from Canmore was a real problem. Now there are several great options for safe access:
- Pay to ride (your bike rides free, subject to space availability) the ROAM bus from any one of seven other stops in Canmore and disembark at the Legacy Trail stop right across from the Visitor Centre. You might prefer to ride the ROAM bus all the way to Banff and then ride your bike back to Canmore (it’s an easier, slightly downhill ride from Banff to Canmore as compared to the slightly uphill, generally into the wind ride from Canmore to Banff);
- Ride your bike along Canmore’s extensive pathway system to the start of the Legacy Trail; or
- Transport your bike via private vehicle to the large parking lot at the Visitor Centre and leave your motorized wheels there while you ride the Legacy Trail.
The 4.4 km stretch from the Visitor Centre to the eastern boundary of Banff National Park is pleasantly removed from the TransCanada Highway, gently curving through evergreen forest and ensuring a nice warm-up before you’re faced with riding up the steepest hill on the trail (about 25 meters elevation gain).
Once inside Banff National Park, the Legacy Trail parallels the eastbound lanes of TransCanada Highway. Except for a one km stretch just before Banff (the result of 2013 flood damage, and currently under repair), a concrete barrier separates the Legacy Trail from the highway where trucks and cars go rushing past.
In addition to watching for oncoming cyclists, it’s worth making an effort to take in your surroundings. Some of the scenic highlights of the ride include Mount Rundle, Cascade Mountain, hoodoos (on the far side of the highway) and seasonal wildflowers. If your timing is lucky, you may even get the chance to race a train. The trains slow down to about 25 kph just before making a big turn near the Lake Minnewanka exit, so you have a good chance of keeping up (or even gaining) for a bit!!
If you need to stop for a snack or bathroom break, the Valleyview Day Use area is at roughly the mid-point between the Visitor Centre in Canmore and the Legacy Trail gate in Banff.
We waited to stop for a snack after we rode across the electrified mats that count how many riders enter/exit the Legacy Trail at the Banff end of the path..
And then we played an extended game of bicycle leap-frog all the way back to Canmore (i.e. we took turns riding ahead and then stopping to photograph the overtaking ride as they rolled past). Top speed on the return ride was 44 kph!!
We rode on mountain bikes, but pumped up our tires for an easier ride on pavement. Most people who ride the Legacy Trail are on road bikes. Some trail users ride skateboards or rollerblades.
Our riding distance = 55 km (from Three Sisters development to Banff, return)
NOTE: One way from the Canmore Visitor Centre to Banff townsite is just over 20 km. A full trail description and downloadable map are available from this Parks Canada webpage. A one-way ride is possible thanks to the Canmore-Banff Regional ROAM bus (see above).
Elevation gain = minimal
Riding time = 2.5 hrs return (would probably faster on a road bike)
And if you’re wondering what’s next for the Legacy Trail, we’re looking forward to a further extension to the Canmore Nordic Centre, which has an expected completion date some time in 2015.