Great Parks North
Heading north from Missoula, Montana, we’ll follow the Great Parks North Route all the way to Jasper, Alberta. While the entire route is spectacular, the crown jewels are Glacier National Park in the U.S. and, in Canada, Waterton Lakes, Kootenay, Banff, and Jasper national parks.
After departing Adventure Cycling’s hometown, we’ll pass through the Seeley-Swan Valley en route to Glacier, where we’ll ascend the engineering and scenic marvel of Going-to-the-Sun Road, considered a bucket-list ride for cyclists the world over. We’ll proceed north, crossing into Alberta then enter British Columbia, visiting the ski town of Fernie, then follow the upper Columbia River to the magic waters of Radium Hot Springs. Soon, we’ll roll onto the Icefields Parkway, where we’ll marvel at the beautiful glacial streams and lakes, and at the massive icefields flanking the roadway.
"That was one of the best trips of any kind I've had in a while."
Day 1. Missoula, Montana, 0 miles
Gathering in the afternoon, we'll begin getting acquainted with our leaders and with one another. We'll hold an orientation meeting followed by our first group meal together, after which you may consider rolling down to Missoula's lively riverfront to see what's kickin'.
Day 2. Missoula, Shakedown Ride, 25 miles
Today we'll enjoy a shakedown ride around Missoula to make sure our bikes and gear are all ready for the road ahead. We'll also take time to visit Adventure Cycling headquarters.
Day 3. Missoula to Seeley Lake, 58 miles
Today's ride takes us along the Big Blackfoot River, made famous in Norman Maclean's coming-of-age novella A River Runs Through It. At Clearwater Junction, we'll veer north onto State Route 83 and zip past lovely Salmon Lake before reaching Seeley Lake, which is both the name of the town and the lake the community sits alongside.
Day 4. Seeley Lake to Swan Lake, 56 miles
As we continue northbound through the Seeley-Swan Valley, the heavy forest cover of species like western larch and Douglas fir will open occasionally, allowing glimpses of the lofty Swan Range to the east and the mighty Mission Mountains to the west.
Day 5. Swan Lake to Apgar, 68 miles
Today we'll visit Bigfork, a picturesque place sitting at the mouth of the Swan River on the northwest shore of Flathead Lake, the largest freshwater lake in the U.S. west of the Mississippi. We'll also hit Columbia Falls and Hungry Horse before entering Glacier National Park at West Glacier and proceeding to our overnight destination, Apgar Campground. It's located at the lower end of marvelous Lake McDonald, whose still waters reflect images of the snow-clad peaks rising above its upper, northern end. There are definitely no fast food restaurants situated along the shore of Lake McDonald -- so if you're craving a Big Mac, you'll have to whip up your own tonight.
Day 6. Apgar, Layover Day, 0 miles
Glacier National Park is a stunning location to spend some extra time. We'll take a day off the bike today for you to spend some time exploring. You'll have the opportunity to spend the day as you wish -- consider jumping on a Red Bus, enjoy the Apgar Visitor Center, or spend some time on Lake McDonald!
Day 7. Apgar to St. Mary, 48 miles
Today's ride is one for the ages. We'll head out early to ensure that everyone gets to the summit of Going-to-the-Sun Road, 6,646-foot Logan Pass, prior to the 11:00 AM cutoff time (certain stretches of the road are closed to cyclists between 11:00 AM and 4:00 PM during the heart of summer). From the visitor center at the pass, we can set our bicycles aside and take a hike to the Hidden Lake Overlook or another nearby destination, where we'll probably have opportunities to enjoy the antics of snow-white Rocky Mountain goats. After soaking up the alpine splendor, we'll continue along our way to St. Mary, sitting at the eastern boundary of Glacier where the park road meets U.S. 89.
Day 8. St. Mary to Waterton Townsite Campground, Alberta, 48 miles
Today, north of Babb, Montana, we'll veer northwest onto State Route 17, the Chief Mountain Highway, which we'll follow to the border with Alberta. Over here on the eastern Rocky Mountain Front, compared to the west side, there's more wind and fewer trees to stop it, so don't be surprised to find yourself cursing a headwind, praising a tailwind, or trying to remain upright in a side wind. The Waterton Townsite Campground in Waterton Lakes National Park is where we'll pitch our tents for the night. Time permitting, we can have a look inside the historic Prince of Wales Hotel, overlooking the shimmering waters of massive Upper Waterton Lake and the American mountain peaks at the lake's southern end.
Day 9. Waterton Townsite Campground to Blairmore, 67 miles
Today's riding dishes up no major climbs as we wend our way from Waterton Lakes National Park to Blairmore by way of Pincher Creek, where the common Chinook winds (they've been known to top 110 mph) have resulted in the development of wind farms in the area, and spinning wind turbines on the horizon are a common sight. In Blairmore we'll set up temporary residence at the Lost Lemon Campground, whose name harkens to the legend of the Lost Lemon Mine -- a mystery mine with a backstory that comes in many versions but all with this similar conclusion: a bounty of lost gold lies hidden somewhere in the area along the eastern slope of the Canadian Rockies.
Day 10. Blairmore to Fernie, British Columbia, 43 miles
Today we'll crest Crowsnest Pass and enter British Columbia, then drop into Sparwood along a section of highway that's also used for the Canadian segment of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Temporarily bearing south, we'll settle in at the recreational hotspot of Fernie, where we'll stay not one but two nights at the poetically named Raging Elk Hostel. It's located less than a mile from the Fernie Aquatic Centre and about five miles from the Fernie Mountain Resort.
Day 11. Fernie, Layover Day, 0 miles
The Fernie area is home to some of the best mountain biking trails in the Canadian Rockies, so if you're up for it, you can rent a different kind of bicycle than you've become accustomed to and give some of the trails a try. Alternatively, if your bum is ready for a rest, you can tackle the trails by foot -- or not at all, as Fernie's pubs and eateries also offer plenty of diversions to fill a day.
Day 12. Fernie to Fort Steele, 60 miles
From Fernie we'll ride southwest to Elko, then make a 90-degree turn and head northwest toward Fort Steele, a living-history heritage town. In Fort Steele, you'll have an opportunity to check out all the events and activities this old gold rush town has to offer, including live street theater, museum displays, and livestock demonstrations, all against the backdrop of the Rocky and Purcell mountains. You can even ride on a 100-year-old steam train!
Day 13. Fort Steele to Canal Flats, 41 miles
Today we'll spin along the Kootenay River to Canal Flats, situated at the southern end of Columbia Lake, source of the Columbia River -- yes, the same Columbia River that ends in Astoria, Oregon. In 1889, a canal was constructed to connect the Kootenay River to the Columbia, but only two ships ever made the crossing. The second was too big for the lock, and the canal had to be blasted to get it through. You can find the remnants of the canal near the Tilley Memorial Park (formerly Canal Flats Provincial Park).
Day 14. Canal Flats to Radium Hot Springs, 41 miles
Getting sore after nearly two weeks on the road? Never fear, today's ride will give you plenty of time to enjoy the healing waters at Radium Hot Springs, the gateway to Kootenay National Park. We'll overnight at the Canyon RV Resort where we can gear up to gear down, as tomorrow we'll begin our climb into a string of Canadian gems, otherwise known as national parks. In fact, we'll be in national park lands for the remainder of our ride to Jasper.
Day 15. Radium Hot Springs to Vermilion Crossing, 40 miles
Today's ride takes place in Kootenay National Park, a 540-square-mile preserve set aside in 1920 to protect hanging glaciers, pristine forests, and limestone canyons. Also hidden away in the park's nooks and crannies are ancient pictographs, and paint pots that the Kootenai Indians utilized to decorate themselves and their skin lodges. After making the climb up Sinclair Pass early on, we'll descend to the Kootenay River, which we'll follow to Vermilion Crossing. There a special treat awaits: an indoor meal and overnight at the Kootenay Park Lodge, originally known as Vermilion River Camp when the Canadian Pacific Railway opened it in 1923.
Day 16. Vermilion Crossing to Lake Louise, Alberta, 44 miles
From Vermilion Crossing, we'll probe deeper into the heart of the Canadian Rockies, crossing the Great Divide and entering Alberta's Banff National Park at Vermilion Pass. We're headed for the tent campground at Banff's Lake Louise, both a townsite and a spectacular lake that were named after Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria and wife of a Governor General of Canada. Among the attractions in this stunning setting of emerald-green waters, ragged mountain peaks, and rivers of ice is the iconic Chateau Lake Louise hotel, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Day 17. Lake Louise, Layover Day, 0 miles
Today is another day to do as you please. Go hiking to look for bears and moose, paddle a canoe, or curl up with a good book.
Day 18. Lake Louise to Rampart Creek Campground, 60 miles
Due to the lack of services along our upcoming route, we'll stock up on food for the next two days before leaving Lake Louise. Then we'll tackle the big climb over Bow Pass, elevation 6,787 feet, as we continue on our way north. We'll pass Saskatchewan River Crossing and proceed for a few miles to Rampart Creek Campground, still within the protected confines of Banff National Park, a world of waterfalls, lakes, and cascades colored with glacial silt.
Day 19. Rampart Creek to Honeymoon Lake Campground, 56 miles
The ride up and over Sunwapta Pass will take us into Jasper National Park and past the remarkable Columbia Icefield, the largest icefield in all of the North American Rockies. Its last major advance took place during the "Little Ice Age" of around AD 1200 to 1800; it's believed that the Athabasca Glacier -- one of the Columbia's eight primary glaciers, and the one you can tour in a giant-wheeled snowcoach -- peaked around 1800, then receded and advanced again until about 1840, when it began a period of recession that continues today. We'll camp at tranquil Honeymoon Lake, enjoying our penultimate night on the trail.
Day 20. Honeymoon Lake to Jasper, 31 miles
Our final day of riding is relatively short and lacking in big climbs, and with the fitness you've attained by this time in the tour, it will feel like a rest day. It also means we'll have plenty of time to look around the alpine village of Jasper and prepare for our celebration dinner. Jasper's information center, built in 1913 of native timber and cobblestone, is a Canadian National Historic Site. Newer and higher tech is the Jasper SkyTram, which whisks visitors to the top of the Rockies in just seven minutes. It's the longest and highest aerial tramway in the country.
Days 20-21. Jasper to Missoula, Montana, Shuttle, 0 miles
In the morning, we'll load up our bikes and gear and start our shuttle back to Missoula. We'll complete the 12+ hour shuttle over two days, camping along the way. You may choose to skip the shuttle and depart from Jasper, but make your plans early as there are limited comercial shuttle options from Jasper to major Canadian airports in Edmonton, Calgary, or Vancouver. At the conclusion of our shuttle, we'll end in the familiar city of Missoula, reminiscing of the great adventure we just had.
Know before you go
Special COVID-19 Requirements
This tour spends time in Canada. Please visit our Guided Tours During COVID-19 page for additional information and requirements for participating on this tour.
End of Tour Information
The last two days of this tour include a shuttle from Jasper back to Missoula. Participants may choose to depart directly from Jasper, but would need to secure their own shuttle to get where they need to. The shuttle to Missoula will not be able to drop off participants along the way.