|Great Parks North
Jasper, AB to Missoula, MT
2 Map Set (751.5 mi.)
| GPS | Overview
Great Parks North Overview Image
|1. Jasper, AB to Fernie, BC (373 mi.)||Detail
Great Parks North Section 1 Detail Image
|2. Fernie, BC to Missoula, MT (378.5 mi.)||Detail
Great Parks North Section 2 Detail Image
|Great Parks South
Steamboat Springs, CO to Durango, CO
2 Map Set (695.0 mi.)
| GPS | Overview
Great Parks South Overview Image
|1. Steamboat Springs, CO to Poncha Springs, CO (389 mi.)||Detail
Great Parks South Section 1 Detail Image
|2. Poncha Springs, CO to Durango, CO (306 mi.)||Detail
Great Parks South Section 2 Detail Image
These two separate routes traverse the Rocky Mountain national parks of Canada and the U.S. When combined with TransAmerica Trail sections 4, 5, and 6, it is a continuous route from Jasper, Alberta, to Durango, Colorado. Below, you'll find details on both the North and South routes.
Following the spine of the northern Rocky Mountains, this route ambles through some of the most sublime (and accessible) mountain scenery found in Canada and the continental United States.
Even in the height of summer, cyclists must be prepared for cold nights and occasional snow in the higher elevations. The Canadian parks, with their wide road shoulders, provide excellent cycling conditions, though motorized traffic during the tourist season is heavy. Towns outside the parks, such as Fernie, British Columbia, offer information and ample opportunities for the off-road cycling enthusiast. Fascinating side trips abound for natural and geological sightseeing, which include aerial trams, hiking onto glaciers, and whitewater rafting. So, allow extra time beyond bicycling for these activities.
The route begins in Jasper, Alberta, a busy tourist center in the heart of Jasper National Park, one of the five Canadian Parks the route traverses. You will be amazed by the scenery: glacial lakes, dramatic waterfalls, piercingly steep mountains covered with glaciers, and a tremendous variety of wildlife; you will stop frequent just to marvel at the beauty. Be sure to ride cautiously among the tourists in recreational vehicles. As you head south, over several passes through the parks, take the time to go to Lake Louise and Banff, which both offer a wide variety of tourist services and charm. After 230 miles of amazing vistas, you'll leave Kootenay National Park and descend steeply into the town of Radium Hot Springs. Stop for an enjoyable soak in the soothing hot mineral pools. From Radium Hot Springs southward to Elko, the western side of the Rockies offers gentler cycling following the Columbia and Kootenay river systems. At Elko, the route turns east over the Continental Divide through a series of small mining communities. You'll see the prairies begin on the eastern slope and traverse the foothills through Waterton Lakes National Park, another mountain jewel of the Canadian Parks. The border crossing into the United States at Chief Mountain is only open from mid-May through mid-September, and then you're in Glacier National Park in Montana, crossing the Divide back to the western side on the spectacular Going-to-the-Sun Road. You'll find no major climbs or descents after leaving the park, and the route mainly follows river valleys bracketed by mountain ranges all the way into Missoula.
This route, entirely in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, offers challenging biking, including riding on Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved road in the continental United States, located in Rocky Mountain National Park. Eleven miles of it are above treeline.
The cyclist is rewarded by a continuous setting of dramatic mountain scenery, national forests, parks, monuments, and many climbs and descents over passes. Off-road mountain-biking opportunities abound at the various ski hills along the route, which offer singletrack riding on quiet forest trails, serviced by bustling tourist villages.
The route begins in northern Colorado in the ski town of Steamboat Springs. After a gut-busting climb out of Steamboat Springs to Rabbit Ears Pass and Muddy Pass, you'll find open grazing land and national forest lands heading to Granby, near the southern entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. Traffic can be heavy approaching the park and throughout the park, and you'll spend many hours climbing and descending Trail Ridge Road. From Estes Park to Georgetown, this area is the playground for Denver, the surrounding communities on the Front Range and also much of the nation. Communities from Keystone to Breckenridge have become major year-round tourist destinations, so be prepared for traffic and recreational vehicles. There is a very good paved trail system in Summit County. South of Fairplay, the route becomes rural and traverses the high, open land of South Park. After crossing Trout Creek Pass, the route drops into the Arkansas River Valley near Buena Vista. The western slope of the Colorado Rocky Mountains is old mining country, from Salida all the way into Durango. Around Dolores, the mountains give way to the dry, open Four Corners region, highlighted by Mesa Verde National Park. Durango is the southern terminus of the historic Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, the only remaining regularly scheduled narrow-gauge passenger train.
Photo by Chuck Haney
The Great Parks North terrain is a series of climbs and descents over passes into various river valleys. In the southern part of the route, you'll stay in the valleys and experience rolling terrain. The route crosses the Continental Divide three times.
On Great Parks South, you will cross eleven mountain passes, and six of these will be over the Continental Divide. The highest point on the route is at 12,183 feet in Rocky Mountain National Park. The route follows a few river valleys, but for the most part you will be either climbing or descending.
This route should be ridden from early summer to mid-fall. Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park is usually closed until early to mid June and has limited hours for cyclists which is noted on the map. Snow can occur at any time during the summer in the Rocky Mountains so be prepared with cold weather gear. Due to changing local conditions, it is difficult to predict any major wind patterns.
Jasper can be reached by rail service from Edmonton, Alberta. Along the entire length of the route, small towns at regular intervals provide ample services, but plan ahead due to crowded tourist conditions, especially in the Canadian Park System and in Glacier National Park. Reservations at both hostels and campgrounds are recommended. For off-road bicycling and primitive camping, a water purifier is necessary.
This route can be ridden from early summer to mid-fall. Trail Ridge Road is closed between October and June. Snow can occur at any time during the summer in the Rocky Mountains. Altitude sickness can slow you down, so preparation for the high altitude is important. Arriving a few days before your trip begins is a good way to acclimate.
In Colorado, high-altitude services from campground water to grocery stores can shut down early in the autumn depending on weather. A water purifier is recommended. Due to high levels of tourist activity in the summer, reservations for accommodations and campgrounds are recommended.
Great Parks North and South may be connected into one route by adding TransAmerica Trail Sections 4, 5, and 6.
Some campgrounds will charge a cyclist traveling by himself less if they have hiker/biker sites, but often they will charge the price of a regular tent site, and that can easily be $10-$20/night. The maps list churches that have opened their doors to cyclists, but they aren't all that closely spaced. If you're friendly and ask around, you can often get yourself invited to camp in a yard. In the U.S. our routes go through national forests (moreso in the west) and you are allowed to camp anywhere on national forest land as long as you "pack it in, pack it out." Many city parks are free to camp in.
You may also wish to sign up with Warmshowers, a reciprocal hospitality site for bicycle travelers, for other overnight options.