The Banff Legacy Trail was completed in 2010 to commemorate the 125th Anniversary of Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. I am excited about this bicycle ride on a late September day with ideal summer weather and near peak fall color, by local definition. The paved, 26 KM (16.3 mile), paved trail begins at the east gate of Banff National Park near the entry kiosks, and ends at the Bow Valley Parkway west of the Town of Banff.
Trail information from websites or trail kiosks appear Courtesy of Parks Canada.
The Banff Legacy Trail is a multi-use, three season, paved path frequented by cyclists, runners, people on roller blades, rollers skiers, or folks just out for a hike, walk or stroll in the mountains. On this day, I will be cycling the full length of the Banff Legacy Trail. There is no official parking at the Banff National Park East Gate so I enter the park, drive into the u-turn just prior to the green water storage tank, then loop back to the Valleyview Picnic Area which stretches out beneath Mount Rundle, on the other side of the Bow Valley. Views are compromised by smoke from 22 forest fires burning simultaneously in Washington State. There is concern these fires may amalgamate into one massive burn. The smoke in the valley gives a mystical aura to long views.
I begin my solo ride by returning east about 4.5 KM (2.8 miles) to the Banff National Park East Gate so I can claim credit for riding the entire trail. Autumn foliage is brilliant and a wide variety of trailside shrubs and fescue create a dynamic, ever-changing, mosaic of color, form and function. It is complete frustration for a photographer who is inclined to dismount every short distance for another set of creative, nature pictures. I try to find a balance. It is not easy.
Just beyond the Banff National Park East Gate on the TransCanada Highway is the junction with the someday-to-be-completed link into Canmore, Alberta. It will provide better parking solutions, increase travel exposure in Canmore, and lengthen the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail course, as well as gaining access to substantial and awesome cycle path within Canmore.
My ride begins under perfect conditions. Even the normally robust, prevailing westerly wind through the Bow Valley is uncommonly gentle. The paved trail is relatively flat with an infrequent, character building hill climb or an exciting roller coaster dip. Net elevation gain over the 26 KM (16.3 mile) length of the trail is a paltry 30 m (100 ft) through some of the finest scenery on the planet.
The first major section links the Banff National Park East Gate with the Town of Banff.
Light smoke in the valley covers distant mountains in haze.
There are very few hills on the Banff Legacy Trail. The rise pictured below is near the beginning heading west and lifts the trail above the TransCanada Highway. This section of the Banff Legacy Trail is predominantly at road level beside the TransCanada Highway.
As I approach the Town of Banff, I ride beneath the true summit of Mount Rundle which always brings back fond memories of missions past.
The view to the west is into the face of formidable Cascade Mountain, famous for its prominent and permanent posture towering over the Town of Banff at the end of Banff Avenue. More great memories.
Mountain views are surrounded by predominantly yellow and orange Alberta fall color.
Periodically, there are information boards and maps to document progress. You are here!
The view back along the Bow Valley towards Canmore shows how the accumulation of smoke over distance blocks long views. There is no perceptible smell of smoke and close range vision is clear.
In addition to non-imposing fencing throughout Banff National Park, there are five electrically charged mats which prevent, or at least discourage, animals from gaining access to the Banff Legacy Trail and subsequently to busy roads. Cyclists, or anyone on wheels can safely pass over them without risk of shock. Pedestrians and pets take the alternative, adjacent gate.
Just past the Banff Avenue left turn onto Tunnel Mountain Road, where the Banff Rocky Mountain Resort resides, I ride past a monument, not previously noticed, in spite of the fact I have driven this section of road hundreds of times.
Into the Town of Banff, there is an awkward crossing of busy Banff Avenue. A narrow, roadside, bike lane is fairly clearly marked but if you happen to be squeezing yourself into a tight space when a large bus is passing, as I was, it is easy to miss a turn, as I did. Review the map and plan before taking the route through the Town of Banff. This section could be improved, in my humble opinion. I know Banff well so it is not an issue for me and I decide to navigate the less used streets to enjoy a leisurely lunch in the sun at the park near the Bow River Bridge.
The next leg is the ride out of the west end of the Town of Banff to Vermilion Lakes Scenic Drive. I expect this leg of the journey between the Town of Banff and the Bow Valley Parkway to be an amazing experience and I am not disappointed. The autumn views over Vermilion Lakes, to surrounding mountains, is always spectacular. I find it curious the road is not marked as a major section of the Banff Legacy Trail, or perhaps I was so distracted by the incredible scenery that I missed all the signs.
The Banff Legacy Trail continues past the end of the Vermilion Lakes Scenic Drive.
The Banff Legacy Trail gains gentle elevation past the end of the Vermilion Lakes Scenic Drive to a gate which, once again, brings the trail within close proximity to the TransCanada Highway.
It is only a short distance further to the final gate just before the Banff Legacy Trail terminates at the intersection with the Bow Valley Parkway. It is possible to continue west on the apron of this secondary highway, about 50 KM (31.0 miles) to Lake Louise.
My ride will turn around here, about 26 KM (16.3 miles) from the East Gate of Banff National Park. The elapsed time is higher than I expected, mainly because I have stopped so many times for far more photographs than could possibly be shown here. I make a solemn oath to myself to demonstrate improved discipline on the return trip.
That commitment lasts for about a kilometre. A drainage, from mountains to my left, directs water flow under the Banff Legacy Trail towards the Vermilion Lakes.
The views along the TransCanada Highway are spectacular as I cycle back towards the Vermilion Lakes Scenic Drive.
On the Vermilion Lakes Scenic Drive, a glance to my right reveals a pond hidden behind roadside shrubbery below road level. It will need to be photographed. What photographer, amateur or otherwise, could resist the short scramble down to this vision.
Views across the Vermilion Lakes deserve further attention.
After navigating my way through the Town of Banff, I arrive again at the electrified junction to Cascade Ponds, at the base of Cascade Mountain, and decide to cycle the short distance because it is a grand, beautiful and relaxing place.
The entrance sign for the Banff Legacy Trail at Cascade Ponds is a subtle prelude to a large and sunlit yellow-leaved tree, framed against the familiar form of mighty Cascade Mountain. Wow! The small, recreational park is a favorite gathering place to enjoy pristine beauty enshrined by magnificent mountain backgrounds.
Back at the Valleyview Picnic Area, it is good to get off the saddle. A walk to the view over the Bow Valley, with Mount Rundle on the far side, is no less hazy than it was at the beginning of the day but the lowering sun in late afternoon is creating dramatic and haunting images.
The Banff Legacy Trail is a sweet ride through breathtaking terrain within Banff National Park. My ride, with diversions, is about 60 KM (37.5 miles) on the day and is about twice the estimated, published, elapsed time of 3 hours. It could be done in less but perhaps it would be wise to take the time to thoroughly enjoy and absorb this incredible experience. The photographic opportunities and a leisurely lunch in Banff Townsite have lengthened my day’s endeavour. I have no regrets. To each their own.