Photographs by H-JEH Becker
As mentioned in the last Banff Legacy Trail blog, this trail provides opportunities for all type, cycling skills, and age of cyclists to enjoy the wilderness along with hikers, in-line skaters and those with rollers on their skis using poles to propel them up hills. Traffic can become heavy along the trail to a point where one wishes that the trail were wider.
The feeling, the Banff Legacy Trail
There is a wonderful feeling cycling at 1,400 metres elevation. The air is clean and fresh. The mountains are majestic. Boredom is difficult to encounter. There is a sense of separation from daily life encounters. There is this luxury of one seeing these mountains within the mental reach of one’s mind, without the physical effort of actually climbing them.
There is a continuum of stunning views on both sides of the trail. Cycling provides time to enjoy and take in each view, to savour it, not rushing by in a car where a one second view may all to be had.
There are resting areas along the way and opportunities for stopping and taking photographs. There is not a shortage of subject matters from the mountains, the valley, the streams, trees, and flowers. Even a passing railway train propelled by 4 or 5 engines and camouflaged by some trees is a picture opportunity.
There is a sensation that the scenery is being enjoyed as if one is couch-surfing rather than cycling the trail. Now some cyclists, who use their bicycles infrequently, may not quite appreciate this feeling. Observing the enthusiasm of the young cyclists on the trail, 8, 10, 12 years old or so, cycling here cannot be that strenuous.
The start, the Banff Park East Gate
Over the length of this ride, the elevation gain is about 30 metres overall. However, one does need to climb about 135 metres along the way.
After leaving the Banff Park East Gate along this paved trail, one is quickly challenged with a climb. The vertical elevation change is about 30 metres. Now, I do not quite understand why there is this climb considering that families with very young children cycle here or pulling children on a trailer. Certainly, a less demanding, lower grade path could have been built alongside the highway ditch to the top of this incline. Coming from the west, the approach is much more doable. Nevertheless, a climb needs to be made on bike or by pushing it up the hill.
A rush, crossing a creek, a kid’s dream
Usually, when crossing a creek, the cycling solution is to span the creek with a bridge. Along the Legacy Trail, there is an old creek bed to cross. Instead of a bridge, the trail designers decided to drop the trail sharply into the old creek bed. Both the drop and the rise on the other side are steep, so steep that the speed picked up on the way down is sufficient to almost get a cyclist up to the crest on the other side without much pedaling, even in high gear. So, to ensure that the experience crossing this depression is more exiting, the trail designers added a couple of sharp curves on the way down into the design.
A pit stop in the wilderness
About 7 kilometres along the trail one comes upon civility with a stunning view of the mountains. Within a treed area, the Valleyview picnic area provides tables to stop, rest, enjoy the scenery, or share some food. Toilets are provided, as well.
One cannot get away from the mountain scenery
As one cycles towards Banff, one is always looking straight towards a mountain, while flanked by the two mountain ranges on each side. First it is Cascadia Mountain with a peak at 2998 metres and then it is Mount Norquay, the skiing mountain, with an elevation of 2522 metres.
At one point, the trail drops below the elevation of the highway, separated by a retaining wall.
Keeping elks and bears from cyclists
At the point where the Cascadia River crosses under the highway on the way to Lake Minnewanka, a set of gates appear. Sometimes when we are in wilderness areas, we forget that it is ranging grounds for elks, deer, mountain sheep, bears, and other creatures. Unfortunately, separation is required so that these creatures are not the victims of cars and trucks. So, these gates are intended to keep animals from entering the roadway. Hikers proceed through gates marked for them. Cyclists proceed through a gate with a mat on the ground. The warning signs indicate that cyclists should not stop on these electrified mats.
Lake Minnewanka or Banff
Cyclists have an option at this point. They can continue to the Town of Banff or do a circular cycle passing Lake Minnewanka and Two Jack Lake. Big horn sheep enjoy sitting along the side of the roadway by the lake. There is opportunity to take a tour boat down the long lake. The cycle is pleasant with lots of climbs and descends and places to stop and picnic or rest. One can tie up one’s bikes at a trailhead and share a walk with the sheep. This is cougar country.
Cyclists love separation
For most of the way, the Legacy Trail is set a few metres from the roadway. For some sections, the trail is closer. Separation may be by concrete barriers or by gravel strips. Passage over creeks is by separate bridges with sidewalls the height of cyclists blocking crosswinds.
On the way back to Calgary, there was a reminder that cycling on separated paths by highways is more pleasant than cycling on road shoulders no matter how wide they are. Certainly, the Trans-Canada Highway has wide shoulders with cycleable rumble strips. The maintenance of the shoulders for loose gravel is not bad. The shoulders also have pieces of rethread truck tires scattered about. With rethread tires comes steel pieces torn from the rubber through the tire separation process. These difficult to spot pieces are not cyclists’ friends, especially touring cyclists. As we ended out trip, we noticed that the front tire of my partner’s bicycle was flat. In the front tire there stuck such one of these steel pieces. Good thing that the tire casing held the air until we reached home. Who wants to fix a flat en route? Then, a day later, I noticed that front tire on my bicycle was now also flat. Two tires damaged by these steel pieces from cast-off rethread tire segments on the highway shoulders, just too much.
The waters of the Bow Rivers descends from the Bow Glacier north of Lake Louise down this valley past Banff, Canmore, and Calgary on its way to the Arctic Ocean. As in any valley in the Rockies, the wind tends to be predominately from the west. So, it is natural that the cycle to Banff may take more time and effort. One just needs to focus on the return cycle with the wind in the back and the cyclist’s body acting as a sail.
Mountain creeks, with their little water flow in summer, cross under the Legacy Trail. Their wide paths are littered with glacial tilt and stones. One can easily imagine the torrential flow of water down these creeks in the springtime during snow runoff.
Mother nature likes to take time as an artist and produce impressive works of art. So it is along this trail. Just before the hydroelectric plant by the Cascadia River, on the east side there is a stretch of inspiring hoodoos. Geological hoodoos are weathered rocks sculptured by the action of water, ice, and weather.
As the trail reaches the limits of the Town of Banff, another set of animal gates appears along with a sign indicating that animals may be present. Then a road crossing happens with stop signs on the trail and the side road. Finally, the separated trail ends at a bus turnaround at the town limit.
This blog will be presented in five parts and released a week apart starting with 2012-08-09.