So what do you do in Banff Canada when the weather has turned too warm to snowboard? You explore the local trails on a mountain bike!
Banff welcomed us to 20C degrees of pure sunshine when we arrived early May after leaving a frigid Frisco, Colorado 4 days earlier. We were actually pretty lucky as we got to ride Sunshine Village for 2 days before I jumped on a mountain bike. Sunshine Village is one of our favourite places to ride and this was our first trip back since we did a full snow season there in Banff in 2007/08.
After exploring as much of Sunshine Village as we could, satisfying our trip down memory lane, we decided to do some non-snow related activities on the 3rd day in town. This consisted of a morning where we both explored the Cave and Basin Historic Site and its surrounding boardwalks, and an afternoon where I decided to hit the local MTB trails for a few hours.
Mountain Bike Rental in Banff
I headed down to Snowtips-BacTrax on Bear St, where the Australian staff (surprise, surprise - I think 90% of the seasonal employment here in Banff consists of Aussies and Kiwis!) were super helpful getting me sorted on a bike and providing information on how best to spend 2 hours riding the local trails. I grabbed a 29 inch Norco dual suspension mountain bike with around 100mm of suspension. Not my preferred ride but definitely enough to give me an enjoyable 2 hours in the saddle.
Mountain Bike trails in Banff
From Bear St, I rode up Tunnel Mountain Rd and turned right into Tunnel Mountain Drive, before arriving at the start of my recommended loop, Star Wars - I was loving this place already! The ride up to the trailhead took me about 10 mins, with the climb being a nice way to warm up the legs which hadn't turned pedals for about 3 months.
I rode to the top of Star Wars and dropped in. Immediately I was welcomed with an easy platform ride, that led into some amazing pine forest. The trail was nice and smooth, with wooden berms, plenty of gentle drop-offs and other easy features. The trail was single track but lots of room so if you did run wide, it wasn't an issue. The downhill descent was flowing and I would classify it as a 'blue' run – steep enough to get some decent speed but not too steep that you felt you had to be always on the brakes. Overall a very enjoyable downhill blast that tested the limits of my skills, which had been in a winter hiatus for some time!
Here are some POV pictures from my descent down Star Wars.
The return route up to the top was via Return of the Jedi. The climb had some challenging sections that got me off the bike to push (my unfit state had a lot to do with this – I'd say normally you could ride all the way up). For most part it was a pretty easy climb, with amazing views out to the Bow River Valley below. There were some technical areas, with gully and ridge riding, which made the return journey quite enjoyable. I did the Star Wars / Return of the Jedi loop 3 time before taking the plunge and doing a lap of Topp Notch.
Topp Notch Mountain Bike Trail, Banff
Well if you want to be challenged, look no further than Topp Notch. This 'difficult' rated trail is definitely that, and apart from lots of pushing and panting, I ate it once hard when I didn't quite make it between some trees! You may think by that description, and by the blood running down my right shin, I didn't really enjoy it but nothing was further from the truth!
On this track the 29er and 100mm of travel were well and truly outclassed, and I really missed my 650B Trek Fuel EX9 that I had back home. In fact, I think something with a little more travel, say 140-160mm, would have been the ideal stead here. For example, a Trek Remedy, Rocky Mountain Altitude, Kona Process 153, or a Santa Cruz Bronson, to name a few, would have been great.
With so many tight switchbacks on steep descents, Topp Notch had me working overtime, as did the narrow passes through rocks and trees - it really tested my skills and the limits of my rental bike! Topp Notch involves quite a lot of climbing so be prepared to get the legs burning.
Once you get to the bottom, you'll hit a single-track T-junction on top of a ridge - apparently going right will take you back to Banff but with quite a bit of climbing. One of the locals I met on the trail suggested the best route was to go left, which takes you back to the base of Return of the Jedi, which is the route I took. So I climbed Return of the Jedi, jumped on Tunnel Mountain Drive and headed back to town.
Below is a video of some sections of the Topp Notch Mountain Bike Trail, finishing off with my little excursion over the 'bars when I clipped a tree!
A little advice on what time of the day to go - I went at around 3:00pm and Topp Notch was quite dark as it was sun sheltered from the surrounding mountain. The temperature was good but I had visibility issues in some sections. I'd suggest a mid-morning ride at that time of the year (early May) might be better.
I returned my bike after about 2.25 hours but was only charged for 2 hours – bike and helmet for $33 CAD. You can't get better bang-for-buck than that!
It was great to get my mountain bike fix after having had 6 months off the dirt trails (I did a fat bike snow ride 3 months earlier in Frisco but no dirt trails since leaving the Gold Coast 6 months earlier). And there was no better place to satisfy the fix than to ride in one of the most picturesque parts of the world, Banff!
Ever ridden in Banff and want to share your experience? Or do have some questions about the trails that I rode? If so, please leave a comment below!
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Mick is a lover of speed runs and hitting every feature on the mountain. Ex road bike and motocross racer with plans to dabble in mountain bike racing. Spends a lot of time looking at fast cars and bikes. Jen’s instagram model and selfie camera holder due to long arms. Sometimes an optometrist.