Rocky Mountain Cycling Interlude: Bighorn Sheep, Ragged Peaks and Turquoise Waters

One of several wild bighorn sheep at Lake Minnewanka. Banff National Park, Alberta  Aug. 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker
One of several wild bighorn sheep at Lake Minnewanka. Banff National Park, Alberta Aug. 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker. Lake Minnewanka 16 km. road circuit is just a short detour from Banff Legacy Bike Path between Canmore and Banff.

You don’t need to be a mountain biker to see mountain ranges up close, orange paintbrush mountain flowers or herds of wild bighorn sheep with their babies. We just returned from several great days of cycle-touring in the Canmore-Banff area, which is over 120 km. north of Calgary.

Banff Legacy Bike Path between Canmore and Banff. Alberta August 2011. Photo by J. Chong
Banff Legacy Bike Path between Canmore and Banff. Alberta August 2011. Photo by J. Chong

In  the past, we have toured the area by bike between Banff and Lake Louise, as well as on the Canadian Continental Divide near Field, British Columbia.  Within Lake Louise and Continental Divide, we have also cross-country skied and hiked at different times.  (Winter avalanche warnings are real.)  The first time was by car before we switched to self-propelled means.

Each trip has been a different experience with unexpected surprises.

This time, we wondered if we had encountered the next generation of bighorn sheep on bike, since we saw these same creatures over a decade ago in the same vicinity, Lake Minnewanka.  Except last time it was in the quiet winter stillness when we were safely protected in our car. There were no other tourists around us at that time.

A mature male bighorn sheep. Lake Minnewanka, Banff National Park. Alberta 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker
Mature male bighorn sheep. Lake Minnewanka, Banff National Park. Alberta Aug. 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

Bighorn sheep sighting is just a 10 km. detour off of the new 26-km.  Banff Legacy Bike Path between Canmore and Banff.  You must cycle over an electrified pavement section less than a few metres wide, without stopping as instructed by the sign, to make the turn-off.  The bike path just has a few electrified sections to keep the wildlife from tromping into the path.  Elk and deer are common in this area –even occasionally near the major highway which we did see last winter. Bears and bighorn sheep are also frequent this area but in abit more remote areas.

15 km. south of Canmore, Old Banff Coach Rd. (Highway 1A), Alberta. Aug. 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker
15 km. south of Canmore, Old Banff Coach Rd. (Highway 1A), Alberta. Aug. 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

In the Banff area and nearby, the Trans Canada highway cuts across major wildlife migration crossings. There are both built overpasses and underpasses for these wildlife migration paths and to protect humans.

Valleyview Park stopover halfway along Legacy Path. Banff National Park, Alberta Aug. 2011. Photo by J. Chong
Valleyview Park stopover halfway along Legacy Path. Banff National Park, Alberta Aug. 2011. Photo by J. Chong

During this past weekend, there was a cougar attack on a child at Barrier Lake over 40 kms. away from our area. Certain wooded areas in Lake Minnewanka are off-limits to hikers during these summer months because of bear attacks which have occurred several times in recent years.

Several Local Mountains Loom From Different Angles
Along the Legacy Path, there were several well-known mountains and rock formations  in view at a cyclist’s pace:  Castle Mountain, Sulphur Mountain, the Hoodoos, Mount Rundle (made of several mountains totalling 17 kms. across) and so on. Too bad we didn’t time our trips to see these mountains at sunset. But at least on bike, there’s time to position oneself for the best shots.

Lake Minnewanka, Banff National Park. Alberta Aug. 2011. Photo by J.Chong
Lake Minnewanka, Banff National Park. Alberta Aug. 2011. Photo by J.Chong

In Canmore, the Three Sisters Mountains were often in view, from different angles.

I’m sure I saw Ha Ling Peak since we did go cycling on various routes locally from different points in town. Ha Ling was named after a Chinese cook for the Canadian Pacific Railway who climbed the mountain twice in 1896, just to prove that he actually could do it. On the second time, he planted a larger flag at the summit for the townspeople of Canmore to see. It was named Chinaman’s Peak but renamed in 1997 to Ha Ling to remove the historic derogatory term of Chinaman.

Cycling on a bike path along an active rail line at sunset. Canmore, Alberta Aug. 2011. Photo by J. Chong
Cycling on a bike path along an active rail line at sunset. Canmore, Alberta Aug. 2011. Photo by J. Chong

Canmore now has become more established and upscale than we knew it over a decade ago.  For tourists it is less frenetic, less costly and more relaxed to stay here in the summer compared to Banff.  This year our trip coincided with their annual Folk Music Festival.

Bike ride on trail section shared with horseback riding group. Below Banff Springs Hotel. Aug. 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker
Bike ride on trail section shared with horseback riding group. Below Banff Springs Hotel. Aug. 2011. Photo by HJEH Becker

While cycling to our hotel at the northern edge of Canmore, a sharp high whistle pierced through the air above the buzz of moderate car traffic beside me. Suddenly I saw  a row of 6 tiny brown-grey pikas shoot out of their burrows from the road bank in a high-speed scamper to safety 3 metres on the other side of the embankment.  It was wild rodent action, all in perfect sychronicity within the blink of an eye.

With some headwinds and tailwinds to challenge and delight us on our bike trips, we look forward to more adventures ahead to the Canadian Rocky Mountain area.

Note:  The Canadian National Rocky Mountain Parks of: Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho are together as a continguous set of peaks, a  UNESCO designated World Heritage Site.   More photos of this trip and areas near by are here.

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9 Comments Add yours

  1. What a fantastic part of the world to cycle through! Beautiful photos. I see you had great weather. Many years ago – the late 1980s – a friend and I cycled from Jasper to Banff. It was July, but you’d never have known it. At the pass near the Athabasca glacier we got snowed on! Shivering and wet, we ditched the camping and splurged a night at a cabin. I think it was called Sunwapta, can’t recall exactly.
    Have you ever heard of the Kettle Valley cycling trail in BC? That’s one I want to do one day.

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    1. Jean says:

      There will be a blog post at velo-city 2012 global conference blog about the Kettle Valley bike rail trail in the Okanagan Valley -sometime early this fall. Article is ready, but we have important news within the next few weeks on cycling. It will be at this blog: http://www.velo-city2012blog.com . Yes, we had great weather. Your family would enjoy this bike ride between Banff and Canmore. Of course winter is great, even though it can get quite cold ie. -25 C degrees or colder.

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  2. timethief says:

    This was such a memory triggering post. I know and love the Banff and Canmore area.Your photos are so good that they capture all the visuals that prompted my memories of good times I’ve had there. The air quality and the colors of blue that the sky has in the mountains can’t be equalled. The turquoise lake shimmering in the sun — sigh. The rocky mountain sheep and the pikas, the birds and the fresh smelling air came to mind when you described your ride and made me feel nostalgic.

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    1. Jean says:

      It’s great to experience the Rockies in this area at different times the year. One season I have not experience this area is the autumn which one there will be time to do it. Creatures that I hope to see (from afar) one day, would be moose and long white hair mountain goat. I have to say that the pika are one little wild rodent, I had never seen before until I came to Alberta. Quite cute and in the city, they scamper around in areas on the ground if they know there’s food near by.

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  3. What a beautiful place to cycle around! The landscapes look absolutely breathtaking!! 🙂

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  4. Justina says:

    Beautiful landscape, nice photos!

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    1. Jean says:

      Thank you, though I’m not a photographer like you are. I just like to record what I see on bike trips around town and beyond.

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  5. Anita Mac says:

    Great shots. I am considering doing another cycling tour out that way – not sure if it will fit in this summer – but I know I will be back in the area. It is really such beautiful country!

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    1. Jean says:

      Maybe we can go for a coffee if I am around when you’re here. For hiking,you might be interested to know about skylinehikers organization:
      http://www.vancouversun.com/travel/Nothing+beats+holiday+among+Rocky+Mountain+peaks/6492136/story.html Check out the photo gallery in the org’s website.

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