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Best time for a bicysle tour?

McKees Rocks, PA
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Best time for a bicysle tour?

I'm considering touring the Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper by bicycle. Can anyone give me a good target month with a balance of low crowds and decent weather?

I understand the August is the warmest but pretty crowded so I am guessing that is out. As far as weather, a couple of wet days are OK. A few cold days are OK but even one wet cold day would be no fun at all.

If is i dry, I find riding in 4-7C somewhat tolerable, with above 10C far more pleasant. If it is going to be wet then above 10C is the comfort zone for me.

We do plan to take rooms so we will be in a nice warm place at night so cold evenings won't be an issue.

Edited: 5:37 pm, December 22, 2012
Amsterdam, The...
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1. Re: Best time for a bicysle tour?

I'd say just before or just after the summer holiday season. That would be somewhere between 20 - 30 june or straight after Labor Day weekend ( 31.8-02.09)

Jasper, Canada
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2. Re: Best time for a bicysle tour?

If you plan to do this over a couple or several days and "take rooms", you'll want to research the options. There are a few cabin accommodations on the Bow Valley Parkway between Banff and Lake Louise; Baker Creek has a restaurant on site. On the Icefields Parkway from Lake Louise to Jasper, other than a few wilderness hostels along the way (and you have to bring your own groceries), there are only four accommodations... Num-ti-jah Lodge at Bow Lake (~35 km north of LL), The Crossing "Resort" at Saskatchewan Crossing (approx. 150 or 160 km south of Jasper), Glacierview Inn at the Columbia Icefields (103 km south of Jasper), and Sunwapta Falls Lodge, 55 km south of Jasper. There are also quite a few campgrounds, but these are open mainly from late June through early September, so if you do the trip outside these dates, they won't be an option.

Temperatures can and do fall below your comfort ranges, especially at higher elevations. I'll send a note to bring this thread to Vancouverite67's attention... she sent me a link last year to a long-distance biking "randonneur" event that went from Kamloops to Jasper to Lake Louise and beyond sometime last summer (I don't remember when), and they were dealing with snow and all sorts of nastiness during that event.

It's not as likely or as common to get really cold and even snowy weather in the summer months (July and August), but it does happen sometimes. One Canada Day (July 1) many years ago, I woke up to 6 inches of snow here in the town of Jasper. A couple of years ago, I got "snowed out" on a backpacking trip in mid-July... we were up at higher elevation and had to head home early due to a foot of snowfall. It was 3C and snow was falling in Jasper (low elevation) the next day, but it didn't accumulate here (but did, on higher sections of the parkway, which has two stretches at almost 7000 feet). One year a few years earlier, we had snowfall on the August long weekend - although it was just a very rainy few days in town, up on the peaks and various backcountry hiking areas, there was 18 inches of snowfall.

In Jasper townsite, normal overnight lows in the summer are around 7 or 8C. It is usually colder, the higher you go. So expect cool evenings and chilly mornings.

Weather-wise, your best bet is July or August, but as already mentioned, anytime from mid-June to mid-September would work. June tends to be rainier than September though.

In regards to crowds - the Bow Valley Parkway (from Banff to Lake Louise) and the Icefields Parkway (from LL to Jasper) are both scenic park drives rather than through highways, so do not have the volume of traffic you would find on highway #1 (the Trans-Canada from Banff to LL), or #16 (the TCH through Jasper NP) even in peak tourist season. They have slower speed limits (I believe it's 60 km/hr on the Bow Valley Parkway, and mostly 90 km/hr on the Icefields Parkway).

If you are doing the ride from south to north, be aware that there are some sizeable climbs - at Bow Summit, where you climb almost 2000 feet from Lake Louise, and then approaching the Columbia Icefields, the stretch from the "Big Bend" to Sunwapta Pass climbs something like 1400 feet in about 10 or 12 miles.

Vancouver, Canada
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3. Re: Best time for a bicysle tour?

Thanks krp - Ah yes, the notorious Rocky Mountain 1200. I remember chatting with you at the time and you were commenting on how miserable the weather was in Jasper during that event last summer. Would you believe mid-July? They have notoriously bad luck with the weather on that event and always seem to pick a stretch of days where the weather is horrible.

Here's the home page for that event (which draws riders from around the world). Click on "Stories" to get the actual reports of conditions for the riders.

www.randonneurs.bc.ca/rockymountain1200/

Spinnaker - here's the bad news: you just can't guarantee that you are going to choose a time when the weather will be good. It might be gorgeous, you never know. But if cold, wet days are a killer for you, then you need to either have a plan B in place or be prepared to tough it out if you are going to chance it. I would wager that your best odds are from mid-July through to early September.

seattle
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4. Re: Best time for a bicysle tour?

In regards to crowds. I do tours there multiple times each summer. In comparison to some US parks such as Zion, yosemite or Yellowstone, the 'crowds' in the rockies will be mostly at Lk Louise, downtown Banff and the Icefield ctr. Just driving along the parkway I think you will be pleasantly surprised. I'd plan this for July or August and wouldn't worry too much as long as its not a holiday weekend in Canada.

McKees Rocks, PA
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5. Re: Best time for a bicysle tour?

Wow thanks for all of the details!

Maybe I will consider August or late August. I have heard it is a mad house in town that time of year but I guess it is not that bad?

Would it be better to ride from Jasper to Banff climbing wise? We have some steep hills around here but not near as long as the some of the roads in the northwest. Plus we are at a fairly low altitude here is Pittsburgh.

I think the highest altitude I have ridden to date is the Selkirk loop and I think New Denver is only something like 790 meters. Though I had no issues at all except for maybe one or two hills.

So I'm not sure how I would do at the higher elevations.

McKees Rocks, PA
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6. Re: Best time for a bicysle tour?

The hostels, do they provide sheets and blankets or do you need to bring a sleeping bag?

It has been my experience that sleeping bags are forbidden due to the spread of bed bugs but I have never stayed at a wilderness hostel.

Oh and do they have microwaves or just gas or wood stoves? Just that sometimes a microwave meal is so much easier. I hate to cook especially when on vacation. Even when I camp I try to find places near restaurants. :)

Vancouver, Canada
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7. Re: Best time for a bicysle tour?

spinnaker - any further advice here notwithstanding, I think you could go ahead and email the contacts posted in that link I provided in post 3. Nice bunch of people and I don't think they'd mind providing assistance to a fellow cyclist. You may find detailed route information posted as well, which may be of assistance.

seattle
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8. Re: Best time for a bicysle tour?

There is a pretty common booklet you can buy. Bicycling the Canadian Rockies. There is really only one really steep upgrade on the parkway which would the Big Bend, but you do climb over a few summitts so yes its hilly but not terrible. If I find a link to the bicycle guide I'll post it or pm you.

Jasper, Canada
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9. Re: Best time for a bicysle tour?

The wilderness hostels are part of the Hostelling International organization:

hihostels.ca/1084/…

I think most of them have electricity, but don't know about microwaves. Ditto for the sleeping linens arrangements; you'd have to check the details on their website. (For what it's worth, when my kids were involved in Girl Guides and stayed at some of the hostels, if I remember correclty, I think they took their own sleeping bags.)

Much as we are willing to help you - we can answer your questions about locations and possible logistics, and offer links that are hopefully useful, none of the regulars here are cyclists, so can't really help you on that subject. I am sure there must be cycling websites and forums where these sorts of details and logistics are discussed. Perhaps, as suggested, someone at the BC Randonneurs link that V67 provided (thank you!) can help.

My husband is a cyclist and it has long been one of his goals to do this entire ride (he rides on the parkway regularly in the summer but usually only goes to Athabasca Falls and back, about 60 km, and has occasionally done both metric and imperial "century" rides (100 km or 162 km/100 miles)) When he does, I'll also be heading down the highway in our vehicle, as a support.

If you want to have a look at the routes on topographic maps, you can find them here: atlas.nrcan.gc.ca/site/english/maps/topo/mapo These can show you all the details such as elevation, elevation gains etc.

Regarding elevations, the town of Banff is at 1400 metres, the village of Lake Louise a bit higher (around 1500 to 1600m). The town of Jasper is at almost 1200 metres. I don't know which direction has the least elevation gain and most drop, but as I mentioned, there are also certain very large hills to consider.

Something else to think about - there are companies that offer this ride as a tour itinerary, with vehicle and logistics support.

Hull
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10. Re: Best time for a bicysle tour?

We've been here before;

tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowTopic-g154911-i221-k43…

The general conclusions were;

1 You need to be used to cycling at altitude,

2 Because of the dearth of services and consequently the need to be self sufficient (food, water) some kind of support is essential, as krp observes.

You need to do this at at a 'busy' time if you aren't having support as the only way to get help is from passing traffic....

Strongly suggest you look Google Earth for an idea of the Big Bend, if attempting South- north. Either way, you should bear (!) in mind the wind chill on the IP can be very debilitating to a cyclist- without shelter.

A detailed plan is essential; including punctures/other mechanical issues.