Now for my favorite ride: Jasper to Banff
Sure, I am biased, but this run is one of the best. To quote from Bicycle Alberta by Gail Helgason and John Dodd:
For the cyclist, Banff National Park has everything.... Cyclists all over the world talk about Canada's most famous bicycle route -- the Icefield Parkway from Banff to Jasper. Day trips, overnighters, camping, non-camping, it's all here amid often-staggering mountain beauty, from hot springs to castellated peaks.... Banff is busier, more crowded than Alberta's two other national mountain parks. It's Canada's oldest and most famous national park (est. in 1885).
In another place, they say,
The Icefield Parkway between Lake Louise and Jasper is surely the most stunning cycling route in Canada and certainly among the best on the whole continent. Bikecentennial selected it for the U.S. organization's first international bike route.... The parkway is such a varied route. Something new appears every few kilometers: turquoise-colored lakes, castellated mountains and snow-capped summits, glacial valleys, waterfalls, wildlife, and tumbling rivers. More than 100 glaciers are visible from the highway.... Few other places provide such a close and varied glimpse of wildlife: mule deer, elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, coyote, bear, osprey, herons, beaver, muskrat, chipmunks.... Since the cyclist sees and feels more than the motorist, the route is rewarding even if you've driven it many times.... Seventeen campgrounds are located along the route between Banff and Jasper. Eight hostels are conveniently spaced for cyclists, plus five privately-operated hotels, inns or sets of cabins, not counting [accommodation in] Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper.
You will find that in both July and August there are many cyclists on this route. The ride is good from the middle of May to the end of September. Some like to ride earlier or later, but the chance of snow increases. The best month is September because the traffic drops off and the weather is generally drier than June or July. June is great because of the long evenings. It will stay light until 10 pm.
Avoid riding during the middle of June. There are hundreds of runners and their support vehicles crowding the road during the Banff to Jasper International Relay Race. Check with Parks Canada for the date of their running.
In July and August, the RVs dominate the road. Most of the drivers are courteous although some are inexperienced at handling their behemoths after driving their Camry all year long. At the top of some passes on the West side of the road, you may find patches of snow in July and August. I once came over the hill and found six Airstreams parked on the shoulder and in the main driving lane. They had spotted a patch of snow about 6 feet across and had to stop to look at it. They could easily have caused a serious accident. Some tourists will also stop for any animal -- even chipmunks on the side hills.
Almost all the shoulders are about 6 feet wide on the main highway. But to be seen, wear bright clothing. Be sure to bring a sweater for under your windbreaker. Hypothermia may set in going down some of the steep hills. Alberta weather is unpredictable. I have encounter snow or drizzle/sleet in the middle of July and have also roasted along the road.
Ride in single file on the righthand side of the road on the shoulder. Although the road is quiet at night, don't ride after dark. The animals are out at night. There are a lot of animals (even grizzlies) especially in the early morning or late afternoon. Going up-hill, in the late afternoon, I have been fooled by the creaking metal guardrails as they contract in the waning sun. They sound just like the growl of a bear -- but that just increases your adrenalin for getting up the hill.
I like to ride from Jasper to Banff because the prevailing winds are from the North so there is a little push from the back. The ride up to the Columbia Icefields (natural glaciers) from either side is steep. Since hot air rises and cold air drops, you will always face a headwind going up the Icefields no matter which direction you take. The ride down has many sharp curves as well as the inevitable slow motorhome. So your brakes had better be good. This is one part of the main road where there is a very narrow/almost non-existent shoulder.
Some have been exhausted by the ride (from the north) up the Bow pass; but even though I am over 60, I have stormed up that hill in all my glory and passed every other bike in sight whether I was riding a single or tandem. From Bow Pass to Banff is almost entirely downhill. Big trucks (tandem tractor units) are banned from the parkway from Jasper to Lake Louise.
Between Banff and Lake Louise townsite there are two roads: #1 highway where the speed limit is 90 kmh (but most drive 100 to 110 kmh) and #1A where the speed limit is 60 kmh. The #1 highway has 6-foot shoulders which narrow down to 2 feet where there is a passing lane. The #1A has no shoulders but much less traffic. There are a couple of tough hills on #1A, but it is still pretty much downhill to just short of Banff where you join the #1.
Altogether the trip is 290 km and makes a good two-day trip or a leisurely 3-day trip.
- Jasper to Sunwapta (56 km)
- Sunwapta to Columbia Icefields (48 km) (there is a lodge here, but book in advance)
- Icefields to Saskatchewan River Crossing (50 km)
- SRC to Bow Lake (top of Bow Pass) (40 km)
- Bow Lk to Lake Louise (39 km)
- LL to Banff (57 km)
Jasper to Banff
The Yellowhead highway #16 is an East-West road going through Jasper. You can stay in Jasper overnight and begin your ride in the morning. You can also stay in nearby towns along the Yellowhead (just outside the Jasper National Park) at a slightly reduced cost in accommodation; but there is the problem of getting to Jasper. Some have made their base in Banff and used a sag-wagon to ferry them up to Jasper. When the day's ride is over, the sag-wagon picks them up and carts them back to base where a hot shower awaits them. The following day they get ferried to the spot where they finished their ride the previous day.
If you start from Jasper after noon, you will not reach the icefield until after six, so an early start is recommended.
Click on one of the mini-maps below to see a description of the ride section by section