20160617-18: Pedal Spray Lakes West

Spray Lakes West
Crunchy gravel, wide road, tons of fun.

We rode towards the hotel that looked like a castle. The thin air felt like it was strangling me. My heart was beating out of my chest, and every big gasp of air sent only a trickle of oxygen to my lungs.

I kicked my pedal and rode over a small dirt mount, diving into the mouth of the Divide. It was a pleasant drop into the trail, a large gravely road with thick forests on either side of it as it cut into the backwoods of Canada. We walked our bikes through rocky spots and plunged into forests, moving from single track trail to wide open dirt roads.

The Canadian terrain is absolutely beautiful with its majestic skies, and mountains that make skyscrapers look wimpy. It was beautiful and evil… It was the Tour Divide and I rode straight into its lair.

– from Scott Thigpen, Trail Magic and the Art of Soft Pedaling, Day 1: The Mouth of the Dragon

If I harbored any expectations, they were exceeded. Maybe it was J’s pleasant company, the sugary processed food-induced high, new views of familiar mountains, the thrill of a path never before taken. Or maybe it was the fact that it was largely flat – for mountain country – and I (marginally) felt a modicum of aptitude at this biking thing.

Banff townsite to Turbulent Creek along the very first 50k of the Tour Divide (or Great Divide Mountain Bike route) – just a warm-up for those doing the whole 4400km to New Mexico! – and back the next day. We chose to start our weekend early, Friday to Saturday, so as to have Sunday free (Father’s Day for J,  glacier skills practice day for me).

Tour Divide route first 50k
Route overview, red dot showing our start point at the Banff Springs Hotel, and following the orange and red lines South.

The variety of the trail made it enjoyable. Roughly, I mentally divided it up into segments. Goat creek (orange line), Goat pond powerline (red line), Spray Lakes West (orange line). Easy peasy!

Goat Creek Trail (Orange Line):

  • 10km largely flat on packed multi-use trail behind the Banff Springs Hotel. Busy with equestrians, skateboarders, families on rental bikes, casual hikers, runners.
  • 10km gradual sustained grade on wide trail with some rocks. Those going north sport wide grins; those going south grimace it out.
Banff National Park
Starting at the Banff Springs Hotel, into the “mouth of the dragon” on Goat Creek Trail towards Banff National Park boundary

Goat Pond Powerline (Red Line):

  • 12km rolling on grass, packed dirt double track, rocks, and a surprise section of boardwalk that was childishly fun!
Spray Lakes West
Leaving Banff N.P. boundary into Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park. More uphill along Goat Pond powerline and connecting to Spray Lakes West at the Three Sisters dam


Three Sisters Dam, at the Spray Lakes West junction.
Three Sisters Dam, at the Spray Lakes West junction.

Spray Lakes West (Orange Line):

  • Onto Spray Lakes West road, open to vehicular traffic for several km’s for access to the (busy) west shore campgrounds
  • Spray Lakes West becomes West Side Trail, a gravel “road” that is closed to motorized vehicles.

This was my favorite part, nearly 20km of flat riding along open views of the shining blue reservoir and its rocky peaks. A man and his son, who were maybe camping nearby, were the only other people we saw in this deliciously solitary back-of-the-lake.

Mount Turbulent
Continuing south to our final destination, Turbulent Creek bridge
Crossing over Canyon Dam, Mount Nestor in the background right. At this junction you can take the Spray River Fire Road 39k back to Banff.


Spray Lakes West
A lovely sunny clearing, then headed back into forest singletrack.
Turbulent Creek falls, looking towards Mount Shark.
Turbulent Creek falls, looking towards Mount Shark.
Cool frosty night and a cloudy morning that brought light rain.
Cool frosty night and a cloudy morning that brought light rain.
Mount Turner and Mount Morrison, I believe.
Spray Valley Provincial Park
The end of the reservoir; animal prints in the soft beach and evening light over Spray Valley Provincial Park.





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