Mountain Excursions: Spring Biking in Kananaskis

Early Spring is an excellent time to go biking in Kananaskis on closed highways and campground roads. Many campgrounds don’t open until mid-May or later, and this allows children the chance to practice their riding on safe, gentle terrain free from traffic on city streets. Many campgrounds have playgrounds and hiking trails, which offer a nice diversion for the whole family. We enjoy riding our bikes through the deserted campground roads to the playground, having lunch and then continuing on our ride to do a short hike (either on foot or on bikes if the trail is easy enough). Here are some of my top suggestions for where to take your family on a bike outing this Spring.

Paddy’s Flat campground

This popular campground in the Elbow Valley doesn’t open until May 15 and is a great place for young children to ride their bikes. The paved roads through the campground have gradual hills that even a toddler on a balance bike can handle, and it’s always a fun adventure finding the playground. Head toward the river where the Paddy’s Flat Interpretive Trail awaits with secret sandy beaches, bridges and rocky outcrops. 

Note: This area was heavily hit by the flood last year, so obey all warning signs and stay back from loose soil at river banks. Parts of the trail may have been washed out and those familiar with the area will find it to be quite altered. If hiking with young children, you can always stick to the campground roads for a safe, worry-free outing. Elbow Valley is located past Bragg Creek off of Highway 66. The highway is closed at the Elbow Falls Day-Use Area until May 15 but the Paddy’s Flat campground is located five kilometres before the road closure. You won’t be able to drive past the closed campground gate, so just park along the side of Hwy 66 or in front of the gate for this outing.

Beaver Flats campground

This is one of our favorite Spring outings each year. The Beaver Flats campground is another Elbow Valley campground and is located approximately two kilometres west of the closed winter gate at the Elbow Falls Day-Use Area. From Paddy’s Flat, continue driving west on Hwy 66 until you reach the gate, which as previously mentioned, is closed until May 15. Park along the road beside the gate and from there, continue on bikes to reach the campground. It’s an easy, gradual ride on the closed highway and you’ll love the feeling of riding a wide open road with no cars to worry about. It just  might become a Spring highlight for your family too.

Once you reach the campground, you can bike the empty roads in search of the playground or you can go for a hike on the Beaver Flats Interpretive Trail. Children may even enjoy taking their bikes on the smooth dirt trail in search of beaver dams found along the creek. Bring sand toys and a change of clothes if you can because guaranteed, the kids will find places to get dirty and play in the creek.

As another option, you can hike/bike the Beaver Flats trail back to your vehicle, which will be located approximately half a kilometre past the far trailhead on this out-and-back trail. You can do it in reverse as well and start out on the Beaver Flats Trail. You’ll see the sign for it at the Beaver Lodge Day-Use Area as you ride your bikes past it on the highway. Note: This is not an official bike trail and you should make way for all hikers that you might encounter. I recommend letting small kids bike the trail but walking as adults to lessen your impact on the soft trail.

Elkwood campground

Moving on to another area of Kananaskis, this campground is located in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park (PLPP) off of Highway 40. You’ll drive down Hwy 40 past Kananaskis Village until you arrive at the winter gates that prevent you from carrying on toward Highwood Pass. Here you follow the sign for PLPP and drive until you see the Elkwood Campground sign. The campground doesn’t open until May 14 so here’s another opportunity to bike empty roads as a family, seek out playgrounds and look for the Marl Lake Interpretive Trail. The hike is a 1.5-kilometre loop and perfectly flat for the whole family. Park alongside the road outside the campground.

Canyon campground

Canyon is another campground in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park (PLPP). It’s a good option for later Spring biking as it doesn’t open until June 14. It has bigger hills than the other campgrounds listed so far, but the highlight of this campground is the Kananaskis Canyon Interpretive Trail at the bottom of the campground. It’s a short loop at less than a kilometre in distance, but it’s a magical place for kids with bridges, a long flight of stairs to get out of the canyon and a hidden pond at the bottom.

There’s also a beautiful playground in the big sunny meadow of Loop B, which we’ve found enjoyable early or late season. As with the other campgrounds, park outside the closed gate and bike in. Note: Snow might linger in this campground until June, so don’t rush this outing. Try the other campgrounds first if heading out in May.

Highwood Pass

This is not easy campground cruising, but an outing for families with older children and teens that can handle some steep hills and pedal with sustained energy. Hwy 40 is closed past the entrance to Peter Lougheed Provincial Park (PLPP) until June 15 each year. This gives cyclists a rare opportunity to bike to Highwood Pass and back in a heart-pounding 30-kilometre return trip ride. While this is going to be way too much for most families, you don’t have to go the whole way to the Pass. Ride as far as you have energy for, have lunch and enjoy the fact that you got to share an empty highway with nobody but other cyclists for a day.

Strong cycling families with younger children could also do this ride with a wagon or bike trailer for a nice Spring outing. It’s great training for bigger adventures you might have planned in the summer.

Park at the closed gate along the side of Hwy 40 for this trip and keep your eyes peeled for wildlife. Herds of big horned sheep are frequently sited here. Note: It is advised to carry bear spray with you as Highwood Pass is a popular area for grizzly bears in the summer.

Tanya loves hiking, camping, skiing and all things mountain-related. She is the author of the blog, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies, www.rockiesfamilyadventures.com, and the founder of Calgary Outdoor Playgroups on Facebook. More information about her playgroups can be found on her blog.

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