June 18, 2019

Mountain Bike Rides Close to Home

Fun rides in or near Calgary
Mountain biker riding the trails in Nose Hill Park, Calgary
Mountain biking in Nose Hill Park, Calgary Cody Johnston

There is a constant lure that exists in mountain biking—a directional pull to discover new trails in distant locations, far from the silhouette of the Rockies and familiar singletrack features that I’ve ridden hundreds of times. For me, cheating on Canadian winter to pedal in the warm sun and red rock of the Arizona desert, or escaping the ice and mud of spring to ride shadowy green rainforest on B.C.’s West Coast are things I always dream about —experiences I’m grateful to enjoy from time to time.

Washing less-familiar colours of dirt from my bike after returning to Alberta, I realize that perhaps some of the best (and easily accessible) mountain biking is an hour or less from Calgary. As wonderful as new biking destinations can be, we ‘locals’ have some of the sweetest trails anywhere, even year-round.

As autumn cools the air and things turn to white, here are some of my favourite trails for strong beginners and experienced riders alike. Whether the ground is grey and dusty, tacky-black, or a peppered concoction of dirt, ice, and snow (try a fat bike or studded tires), these trails only get better each time I ride them.

Jumpingpound Loop- Sibbald Valley, Kananaskis

(April-October, winter fat biking).

Working as bike instructor, I probably know every corner, root, rock and mud puddle on this looped trail. Split in half, the south side of the loop is quite easy, with few elevation changes—no lung-busting climbs. But the northern side defines old-school Kananaskis Country biking—meaning a relentless climb that leaves your legs and lungs burning, followed by a quick singletrack descent. In winter, parts of this trail seems all but forgotten, making for a challenging pedal on a peaceful day with a layer of light, fresh snow.

Merlin’s View via Bragging Rights - West Bragg Creek, Kananaskis

(May – October, winter fat biking)

In West Bragg Creek, Calgary’s ‘go-to’ trail network, Merlin’s View, can now be considered an old favourite – this trail never disappoints riders. Bragging Rights introduces you to some roots and rocks, connecting to the start of Merlin’s View. A steady switchback climb pays off with a beautiful (and well-timed) rest stop that overlooks the mountains. Things point downhill after the first banked corner, where easy-to-ride berms, fast singletrack, and some twisty surprises from clever trail-builders bring plenty of smiles.

Select trails in West Bragg are packed and groomed for bikes in winter, making them both ridable and less technical. The Greater Bragg Creek Trails Association (GBCTA) makes it all possible. I encourage everyone to donate some time to their trail-building and maintenance days during the season. There is much to learn from behind the shovel.

Pneuma to 7-27 – Station Flats, Kananaskis

(May – October)

Pneuma is a quintessential K-Country climb that tests my fitness each year—in other words, a constant reminder that I’m slow. This trail also provides access to many downhill-oriented trails (Race of Spades, Moosepackers), and the machine-built ‘flow’ trail called 7-27. This trail has swooping corners and plenty of jumps, but don’t let the word jump scare you. All of the trail features are ‘roll-able’, meaning you can keep your tires on the ground and still enjoy the rollercoaster ride. If going uphill on a bike sounds as palatable as scarfing liver and onions for mid-ride snack, shuttling to the top is also possible.

Nose Hill Park – Calgary NW

(Year-round biking and fat biking)

The panoramic grassland of Nose Hill Park in Northwest Calgary is probably responsible for countless new mountain bikers to the sport – myself included. I hold a fondness for the accessible singletrack that traces the sloped perimeter of the park, with long climbs and zippy descents on true dirt singletrack. As fall and winter approach, a full moon ride gives a surreal experience where snow resembles a lunar surface. The snaking singletrack offers many surprises, including deer huddled in secret alcoves of deciduous trees, Wile E. Coyotes trotting across the rolling prairie, downtown skyscrapers poking above the south-eastern horizon, and the ever-present Rockies calling me westward. Riding with or against the wind on Nose Hill, I always know I’m home in Alberta.

Other notable places

High Mountain Trail – Easy doubletrack, spectacular views in Canmore area

Fish Creek Bike Skills Park – shred some berms with the family

B-Line Bike Park – Calgary NE - Learn new skills riding indoors (when it’s too muddy or -30C)