Lake Minnewanka has been called the best mountain biking trail in all of Banff National Park. Unlike the other trails within the park which are mostly fire roads, the trail which runs on the northern shore of Lake Minnewanka is all singletrack with great views throughout. This is an out-and-back type of trail which can be as long as 50km - way past Lake Minnewanka and into the Ghost Lakes area. However, I decided to ride 16km to the warden cabin and back since I was riding alone.
This trail is rated difficult/intermediate in terms of its aerobic/technical level.
Although we were into the first week of October, the temperatures during this day hovered around 20C - perfect for riding. Suprisingly enough, there were only a small handful of people at the trailhead and throughout the day, I must have enountered only 5 or 6 hikers in total. As for other mountain bikers, I only encountered 2 small groups coming from the opposite direction.
The first part of the trail is all uphill as it climbs up to a small hill and traverses its side. The traverse can be seen in the image to the left. As you can see, it leaves very little room for error.
This was certainly the crux of my day. Not only was the trail very steep with a painful 100m drop on one side but it was also covered in loose rocks of varying sizes. This made it very easy to lose traction and wipe out. Needless to say, I was so glad that I had serviced my disc brakes the day before. (Bled the cylinders and changed out all the brake pads with semi metallics.)
Once past the hill, the trail eventually made its way to lake level where it took on a rolling terrain for the rest of the ride. The trail was mostly hardpacked singletrack with some loose rock and washouts thrown in for good measure. The views were excellent with Lake Minnewanka on one side and the Paliser range of mountains on the other. Snow covered Mt. Inglismalde dominated the view across the lake while a snow covered Cascade mountain blocked the view to the west.
Here's the first checkpoint to the left. It's a sign indicating the trail to the Alymer lookout.
Here's another shot of the typical terrain encountered along the trail. You really couldn't ask for more.
The trail was packed and dry which led to a very fast ride. Some of the sharp turns could have been very dangerous in terms of collisions since you couldn't see the other side 'till the last moment. Luckily for me, that didn't happen since the only 2 groups I encountered were on flat terrain with good visibility.
Note to self : The next time I ride this trail, go with a partner who's willing to ride ahead of you. :)
Oh yeah, what would a ride be without a major wipeout. This time, I managed to lose control of my bike on some scattered scree as I hit it at over 20km/h. I made the mistake of braking too hard with my front tire as I was turning. This of course resulted in me sliding under my bike and scraping the skin off my right knee. Ouch !
One of the keys to mountain biking is to realize that speed can be your friend. Unfortunately, it's also human nature to hit the brakes when you encounter a hairy section. I'll learn some day... after I get some full body armour.
This was the one and only bridge that I encountered on the trail. I found it kind of humurous because it's so narrow that you have to cross it while you carry your bike alongside your body.
They say that the National Parks are underfunded. No shit ! The poor guys can only afford half of a bridge !
After passing a total of 3 background campgrounds, I finally made it to the warden cabin. This was approximately 16km from the trailhead and would signal the end of my ride.
For some reason, I envisioned the warden cabin as being a nice little cabin which was open to the public. I even pictured a park warden standing on the porch roasting some sausages on a Bar-B-Que with a beer in his hand. Unfortunately, none of this was true. The cabin was boarded up and looked like something from the Blair Witch Project.
Here's a view towards the trailhead from the "Dock" near the warden cabin. The dock consisted of a few tires with some chains and was quite distracting.
You know you've come a long way when you can't even see Cascade mountain anymore !
From this point, the trail continues for about 6km before you reach the end of Lake Minnewanka. From there, one can continue to the Ghost Lakes and even continue on further to a service road which is accessible by car for a possible point to point ride.
The trail beyond the Warden cabin apparently deteriorates to the point where it's washed out in places. I'd like to check it out for myself some time but this wasn't the day.
Oh yeah, here are some of the other obstacles I encountered on the way back. These animals stood their ground and decided not to give way until I was within spitting distance.
After arriving back at my car at around 5pm, I promptly made my way to Musashi in Canmore for some Beef Teriaki and spicy tuna rolls. To my dismay, they were closed for the Thanksgiving holiday. I ended up with a Big Mac combo instead. :(
So you're probably wondering... Did the ride live up to it's reputation ? The answer is simple. Hell yeah !