Cycling in West Canada
Cycling in between the impressive Rocky Mountains, surrounded by clear blue lakes and stunning landscapes. A cycling trip in Western Canada is unforgettable! Read our tips in this blog if you are also planning a cycling vacation in British Colombia or Alberta in Canada!
Roads to Movement in Canada
Below you can find an overview of where we slept in our tent or which Warmshowers hosts we could go to. Just zoom out on the map below to see all the places.
Number of days cycled: 12
Total distance traveled: 651km
Long distance cycling routes in Canada
Our flight from Europe arrived in Vancouver. Since we had to wait for new bike parts, we decided to take the train to Jasper to cycle the iconic Icefields Parkway from there. After Banff, we cycled south and crossed the border into the USA on the Great Mountain Divide (GDMBR). Below is a short overview of the most common cycling routes in Canada:
Icefields Parkway: One of the most famous roads in the world and also one of the most beautiful ones! Popular among tourists traveling by RV but definitely don't let this stop you from going there by bike. The road is definitely safe enough to bike there. In this instagram post we give more info about our cycling route from Jasper to Banff.
Great Divide Mountain Bike Route: The longest unpaved bike route in North America, also known as the Tour Divide. A race is held every year in June. This 4,000-plus mile cycling route starts in Jasper and takes you all the way down to the border with Mexico. We make an attempt to bike bits of this route and start in Banff. Up to Elkford, we continued to follow the route. Wildfires, floods and climbs that were too steep caused us to leave the route sooner and bike into the USA via the highway. They use a (paying) app which can be very handy if you plan to stay on the route most of the time, as well you can buy comprehensive leaflets for all segments.
Trans Canada Trail: A 28,000 km bicycle route that takes you across Canada. On this website you can find more information and buy folders for each section.
Vancouver Island: We visited this Island by car because of bike breakdown and how glad we are to have seen it. Initially we wanted to follow this bikepacking route + this link gives a lot more possibilities. Find tips on our favourite spots in Vancouver Island on our Instagram Post.
Sleeping in Canada
British Colombia and Alberta are known for their great outdoor activities. Whether you want to bike, hike, kayak.... there is something to do for everyone. Because there are so many outdoor activities to enjoy, camping is not an issue here. There is no shortage of campsites but in high season, traveling in Canada is so popular and campsites fill up quickly. Often campsites are reserved months in advance.
As a cyclist it is often not an option to book a campsite months before. We take our trip day by day and most of the times in the afternoon we don't know where we want to camp that same evening. Fortunately, this doesn't have to be a problem because many campsites allow multiple tents in one spot. Consequently, we shared a spot with other people an awful lot. It was a great way to meet people. As a result, we only paid for our own campsite twice, that was at Honeymoon Lake and Jonas Creek Campground which have a hiker/biker site for only 5CAD per person.
Budget in Canada
In Canada, you pay with Canadian dollars
€1 = 1.30 CAD (Aug. '22)
Average budget in Canada that we spent:
Groceries in the supermarket: €15 per day (for the 2 of us together)
Price for a coffee: €3.5 to €5
Price for poutine: €10 to €15, you should definitely try this dish! Similar to a french fry stew and the good news is that there are veggie and even vegan versions.
Price for a pint: €5 to €8
Prices for camping range from €5 pp to €45 for a spot. So prices vary widely depending on how popular the campsite is. Bring cash to pay for these campsites!
In high season, you'll quickly pay CAD120 to 250 per night in a hotel. For this you often get little more than a simple hotel room. We found a nice BnB on Vancouver Island very last minute for CAD120 and for the rest we camped all the time.
Road Conditions in Canada
Biking on the Icefields Parkway was a dream, the views are insane and the good road surface and wide shoulder make it feel very safe to bike. The traffic passing are mostly tourists, so big trailers and RVs will encourage you on the road. They keep enough distance and adjust their speed so we have only positive experiences.
From Banff we followed the Great Divide, an unpaved route and a challenge of a different way for us. The stretch from Banff to Elkford was definitely doable. The "hike a bike" sections were not too bad and we didn't have to push the bikes too often. A standard touring bike will definitely not suffice if you want to add the Great Divide into your trip, you will be pushing more than biking.
From Elkford to the USA border, we followed the Highway due to wildfires, which generally felt safe. Relatively wide shoulders and friendly traffic, at times slightly busier in terms of trucks. Be careful though, there's a lot of crap (metal, glass, sharp pieces) along the road so a decent set of tires like our Schwalbe MTB Marathon Plus are not a luxury if you don't wish to patch a tire every day.
Wildlife in Canada
What we were stressing out about beforehand, and sometimes dreaming about, was the wildlife factor when biking in Canada. You can't avoid it, there will come a time when you are confronted with a large animal that suddenly appears on your path. Along the way we encountered elks, bears (4 grizzlies and 3 black ones), lynx, deer and all sorts of small wildlife in Canada. We are not park rangers or specialists, but we can give some tips from our own experience:
"Carry bear spray and know how to use it." - You will read this a lot, and rightly so. You can buy bear spray practically anywhere, take the time beforehand to watch videos on how to use it.
Respect nature and wildlife, you are in their territory and not the other way around.
If possible, bike with two or more together. You rarely read about duo attacks, they almost always happen when someone travels/lives solo.
No matter how cute bears look, always be alert. Take plenty of distance before grabbing your camera, you don't want it to be your last photo.
Make plenty of noise! We have a bear bell on our bikes, talk/sing in areas with lots of wildlife, and sometimes even play music through some speakers. They don't want to see you any more than you want to see them, if a bear hears you coming it will back off 99% of the time.
Never cook too close to your tent, place all food and toiletries in a bear box (if not possible hang it from a tree or place it at least 100 meters from your tent). Take some quarters with you, in some places you pay to use a bearbox.
Clean up after your stuff while camping, not doing so is a danger to others!!
Never go to the bathroom alone at night, bring a flashlight and make noise. Black bears in particular are opportunists when the sun goes down.
Moose with cubs can come out very aggressive, keep your distance!
If a black bear attacks, make yourself big, make noise and "fight back". If a grizzly attacks, play dead! (Luckily this did not happen and you rarely hear about this).
If a bear is eating some berries along the road, look first if it is curious, make yourself known and quietly keep on cycling on the other side of the road.
The closest encounter we had was 5 meters away from a large grizzly. Pretty scary, but by having read up enough in advance, this situation never became dangerous.
Food and drinks in Canada
To be honest, we were a bit surprised by the prices in Canada. In general, we found the prices around 20 to 30% more expensive compared to Europe. Especially things like plant-based yogurt/milk, tofu and other healthy things that are very affordable here are at least twice as expensive. Our daily budget is okay, but we had to look around very good and honestly really save money on the good stuff.
Save On Foods: A great store and in our opinion the best to do some bulk shopping. Granola bars, nuts, instant meals etc. Ask for a loyalty card, that way you get some extra discounts.
You can shop package-free in several supermarkets, very handy for stocking up on things like beans/lentils/nuts. In the Save On Foods, they always had a relatively good deal.
Whole Foods: We bought soy milk powder here. Not very cheap, but handy for breakfast while camping. They sell a lot of organic products and healthy stuff, but it's a very expensive store.
Stock up on plenty of food before you start cycling the Icefields Parkway. You'll be best of to do this in Jasper (or Banff if you start in reverse). Along the way they have small convenience stores which are crazy expensive. For 2 bananas, 1 orange juice and a bag of sandwiches we paid CAD12.
Climate in West-Canada
From frost on the tent to 35 degrees Celsius, we experienced it all. We cycled in Western Canada in July and August and the temperatures were tremendously diverse, as were the other weather conditions.
In Vancouver, you have a favourable maritime climate during Summer. It can rain quite a lot, but generally they have an enjoyable summer with nice temperatures. It's also called Raincouver, though that's more addressed to their Winter time.
On Vancouver Island you have to deal with a tropical climate and high humidity.
In the Rocky Mountains, we went from freezing to 30 degrees in less than two days. Be prepared and bring clothing for every season, even in Summer. In high altitude, you can even experience snow in Summer.
A good raincoat is essential in Canada!
We started cycling the Rockies in early August, but would recommend leaving two to four weeks earlier if you want to bike south.
Cycling holiday in West-Canada: Our tips and tricks!
Want to cycle in Canada but don't want to do this alone? No big deal! Backroads is a company that offers cycling tours. We met some groups and everyone loved it. This could be a solution for many solo cyclists dreaming of a first cycling holiday in Canada.
Great Divide: Start from Banff and not Jasper! The Jasper - Banff route is fairly new and every cyclist we talked to about this route would advise against it. In addition, the Icefields Parkway is too beautiful to miss.
The views on the Icefields Parkway are best when traveling north to south.
Check forest fires: Use the Adventure Cycling Association App
In Jasper area, they have more hiker/biker campsites than closer to Banff. Also, camping is a little cheaper north than south.
Most campsites have some sort of a covered (though open windows) area where you can take shelter after a long day.
Want to stay in Vancouver? We found Kitsilano to be a very nice part of town. Many restaurants and stores nearby.
A day trip from Vancouver to Whistler is very convenient to arrange locally and so worth it!
From Vancouver you can take a ferry to Bowen Island. The Mount Gardner Loop is a nice 10 to 12km hike!
Need new outdoor equipment? In Vancouver you will find plenty of outdoor stores, at the MEC you can find a lot of good brands.
If you want to travel a bit by train, you can easily do so with VIA Rail. We took 'the Canadian' from Vancouver to Jasper. It cost around CAD200 per person and the 19hour ride treats you to some insane views.
Wild camping is basically allowed in Canada, but not in National and Provincial Parks. In other places it has to be marked if it is not allowed. We found that there was quite a bit of private ground + cycled mostly through the parks making wild camping on this route difficult.
Are you leaving Canada overland in Roosville? Just before the border with Eureka (USA), there is a duty-free shop where you can exchange Canadian Dollars into American Dollars.