Cycling in Banff – Bow Valley Parkway to Johnston Creek Falls

Do we warn them that a storm is coming? And there is no possibility that they can reach Lake Louise tonight and still be dry.Roadside Trouble

Finishing a gorgeous day biking from the Town of Banff we came upon two cyclists on the side of the road. But one of the bikes was flipped upside down with all her gear laying next to it. This was a new bike and her back wheel was wobbling.


The Road from Banff

Earlier that day, our ride started along Vermillion Lakes Road with the water reflecting the peaks and sky above. The Bow Valley Parkway was our route to the hike at the Johnston Creek Falls. Drivers along the roadway were generally pretty good about giving us space in the spots where there wasn’t a shoulder allowing us to relax and enjoy the scenery all along the route.

Our destination was the trailhead 16 miles away. Thick pine forests were broken up by fields of wildflowers blooming among scorched trees from a fire sometime ago. The parkway undulated with hills as we gradually climbed westward, slowly rising higher into the Canadian Rockies. Being on mountain bikes made the riding slow with fat tires and heavy frames. It gave us the chance to really appreciate the gorgeous surroundings.

Johnston Creek Falls

The waterfall hike starts with a mild incline along a well-worn path switching to catwalks attached to the limestone cliffs rising above the creek. The lower falls can be viewed through a small tunnel opening onto a platform close enough to feel the mist from the falls.

The trail moves back into the forest on the way to the upper falls before emerging at another catwalk that takes you to an overlook at the bottom of the falls. The trail continues up a more strenuous section to reach the platform at the top of the falls. The beautiful 30 meter cascade is worth that extra push to the top.

We skipped the trail extension to the Ink Pots partly since we had just experienced Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone but mainly due to the long ride back to Banff. After refueling with ice cream, we were back on the bikes.

Heading Home

The trip back was quicker with the elevation drop to the Town of Banff. The downhills had us spinning madly in high gear to max out our speed. At one point, we topped out at 33 mph.

As we came swooping around a corner a number of cars were stopped along the roadside — the giveaway that wildlife is somewhere nearby and tourists will be gawking.

Hit the brakes!

I spotted a huge rack of antlers belonging to an elk foraging near the edge of the trees. A Park Ranger was stopping the cars to make sure that no one would approach the bull while snapping pics. She waved us on – though we kept to the far side of the road hoping the elk would ignore us as we rolled on by.

Tired and feeling hunger coming on, we decided to keep our photo stops to a minimum and keep pressing on. Wildflower WhiteOnce we got back out onto the Trans Canada Highway the sky eastward was turning dark. Very dark. We still had 6 miles to go!

Pedal. Pedal. Pedal.

That storm looks like it will be a drenching.

Pedal. Pedal. Pedal.

Getting closer.

As we approached the Vermillion Lakes near the edge of town, that’s when we spotted them.

Distressed cyclists on the side of the road. Cycling etiquette demands, yes demands, that we stop to offer assistance. If you don’t, bad bike karma will follow you when you most need good karma.

Their First Cycling Tour

The two college-age women were just setting out on a 10-day cycling trip in the Canadian Rockies. Their first foray into cycle touring, they had been planning it for months. Unfortunately, they got a late start departing from Banff. It was already 5 pm. Not a deal breaker since it stays light past 10 pm in the summer. But they were just 1 mile out of town and already one of the bikes had a wobble in it’s back wheel.

I was able to determine that the wheel itself was true and the wobble was simply a cheap tire that wouldn’t seat perfectly even in the rim. It was going to be annoying but not dangerous to ride. Relieved, they repacked the bike to get out on the road.

Their tour plan called for arriving in Lake Louis that first night so they were determined that they must keep on schedule. At my age, I would have opted for staying one more night in Banff and getting up with the sun – and with dry gear – making for a more enjoyable trip.

Our First Cycling Tour

Years ago we did our first bicycle tour departing from Manchester, England and doing a loop through Wales. The trip was the brainchild of our new roommate Brison. It was to be the kick off for our semester of study abroad at the Manchester Business School.

Naive and woefully unprepared for the rigors of cycling in the mountains for a week, at least Joel and I had thought to buy rain gear. Thank goodness we did because it rained the entire first day on the road. Our departure was similarly delayed while we finished up errands in town, getting us completely drenched before we had even reached the city limits. Brison had been teasing me for packing a small travel hair dryer … until he needed it to dry out his only pair of shoes that first night. Our clothes and packs never completely dried out on that trip even with sunny days for the duration. Looking back, we could easily have delayed a day with no harm done and dry gear as a reward.

Throughout the trip, we had all sorts of unanticipated setbacks that called for changing the original plans. By the time we reached LLangollen in Wales, Brison had to leave Joel and me behind to save his own trip (and our friendship) since our legs were too sore to continue without a rest day. Reunited with Brison after we rested and hopped a train, our further misadventures of pre-internet travel have given us some of our most treasured cycling memories. From knocking on doors trying to find a B&B that would take us in to running out of cash when the international ATM network was down for days.


Fast forward 20 years, the trip plan for our roadside riders called for reaching Lake Louise on Day 1 so Lake Louise it had to be!

We wished them luck as they rolled westward, knowing this could end up being one of the worst days of their friendship or the start of the best adventure they will ever have together.