Slicing through a wild and rugged valley between Canmore and Banff, the Goat Creek Trail – a 17 km, multi-use backcountry gem that’s part of The Great Trail– has been on my radar for years. Not surprisingly, given its width and gentle grade, it’s an ideal family-friendly adventure.
Text and photos by Andrew Penner
Throughout the summer and fall months one of the most popular ways to experience this trail (and the many breathtaking views!) is via mountain bike. Stopping numerous times to snack, slurp, and smell the wildflowers, it was an awesome adventure my boys, Nelson and Nicholas will not soon forget!
The Goat Creek Trail punches through the wilderness in the pristine valley between Mount Rundle and Sulphur Mountain. The trail is best completed starting in Canmore at the trailhead, which is located approximately 9 km from the townsite up the Spray Lakes Road.
The majority of the trail goes downhill from there – literally! If you can find your way to the Canmore Nordic Center you are heading the right way to the trailhead. Continue for a few more kilometers up the twisty gravel road and you will find the parking lot on the right. You can’t miss it!
Start cycling down the path and you will find the sign marking the official start of the trail. There is a map, travel tips, and some information about this awesome trail. Much of the trail was damaged during the flood of 2013. However, new bridges have been constructed and the trail is well marked throughout. However, this is a backcountry trail so go prepared! Bring plenty of water, food, bear spray, a tire pump, rain gear (you never know!) and a first-aid kit.
Nicholas and Nelson loved the relatively easy downhill ride on this wide trail. If you start in Banff, much of the trail will be uphill and it’s significantly more difficult. Depending on your fitness level, you’ll want to allow two to three hours for the one way trip. Many people arrange for a car shuttle or park a second vehicle at the trailhead near the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. That way a ride is waiting when you complete the trip. Another option is to do an out-and-back trip (full day) or take the paved Legacy Trail back to Canmore for a complete, full-day loop. If you need a shuttle back to Canmore, you can also try the Roam Bus or the Hike n’ Bike shuttle. There will be nominal fees to use these services but they can make life easy if you can’t arrange for your own ride.
The beautiful Rocky Mountain views are non-stop on the trail. And we took plenty of breaks to soak them in! Much of the trail cruises along Goat Creek and winds through pristine spruce and pine, incorporating a number of bridges and creek crossings along the way.
The Goat Creek Trail hugs the Rundle Mountain Range and boasts 360 meters of elevation loss (or gain) between the trailheads. However, due to the gentle grades, this trip is geared for beginner and intermediate riders.
I rode a fat-tire mountain bike, which handled the terrain, including the mud holes, like a dream! If you need to rent a bike, like me, Rebound Cycle in Canmore is the place to go.
Along the way you are bound to encounter a few other cyclists. However, unlike the paved Legacy Trail, which skirts the Trans Canada Highway, you won’t fight much traffic! (But watch for plenty of hikers near the Banff end of the trail.) Notice how well prepared these cyclists are. Remember: this is backcountry!
The views are awesome on this trail. Make sure you bring your camera to record the adventure. And, of course, share your photos and tag Trans Canada Trail, #thegreattrail.
Make sure you stop at the many bridges to explore Goat Creek and the Spray River. These make for great lunch spots and photo ops!
We had an awesome backcountry mountain biking experience on the Goat Creek Trail. Something tells me we’ll be using this trail many more times in the years to come. Hopefully you will too!
Andrew Penner is freelance writer and photographer based in Calgary. You can find him on Facebook.