Where to Cross Country Ski: The Cascade Fire Road near Banff

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Where to cross country ski if you’re in the Banff area? How about the easy Cascade Fire Road?

You’d think it was the Christmas season with the number of cross country skiers out on the Cascade Fire Road yesterday. Or perhaps it was just the perfect combination of safe driving conditions, blue skies, sunshine and great snow that packed the parking lot to overflowing.

"The start of the cross country ski trail"

The start of the cross country ski trail

Whatever it was we joined the throngs of skiers for a great day out in the Banff area mountains.

The Cascade Fire Road is exactly that – a fire road from the Lake Minnewanka parking lot that doubles as a track set cross country ski trail in the winter. It gets great early season snow and it’s one of the first in the area to be track set.

"A couple of happy skiers"

A couple of happy skiers

The Cascade Fire Road is an easy cross country ski unless you elect to ski out and back to the warden’s cabin – and that’s 15 kilometers up the road one way. Then you’ve got a long day on your hands. Otherwise there is only one major hill near the beginning of the trail but it’s gradual and swiftly dispatched. The rest of the trail is either flat or offers gently rolling hills.

"Reaching the top of the only hill of any significance"

Reaching the top of the only hill of any significance

The trail is skied by both regular cross country skiers and those on skate skies. There were one heck of a lot of fit bodies that blew by me yesterday.

"Beautiful mountain river"

Beautiful mountain river

"Small loop right after the bridge"

Small loop right after the bridge

"Fresh snow low on the mountain"

"Skies don't get much bluer than this"

Skies don’t get much bluer than this

"By early afternoon the shadows are lengthening"

By early afternoon the shadows are lengthening

"Tree in woods with beautiful shadow"

"The home stretch back to the car"

The home stretch back to the car

"mountain close-up"

Mountain close-up

On the access road to the trailhead you almost always spot wildlife. Yesterday was no exception. We saw elk and big horned sheep going in and coming out.

"Who needs a car wash when you've got a mountain goat?"

Who needs a car wash when you’ve got a big horned sheep?

"Elk soaking up the rays"

Elk soaking up the rays

The Cascade Fire Road is a wonderful trail. It offers occasional mountain and meadow views plus easy entrance to the back-country. The trailhead is accessed via the Lake Minnewanka Road. And it’s perfect for an hour or a day – because it’s an out and back ski you can turn around at any time.

"A cold looking Lake Minnewanka"

The trailhead is beside the cold looking Lake Minnewanka

To reach the Lake Minnewanka Road drive east from Banff under the Trans-Canada Highway. Then it’s about 10 kilometers up a winding road where I would consider snow tires a necessity. Parking and skiing are free but you do need a Parks Canada pass to be in Banff National Park. It’s $9.80 per adult though you can buy a family pass good for a year for $136.40 – and that gets you into 27 National Parks and 77 National Historic Sites.

Where to you like to cross country ski? Have you tried the Cascade Fire Road near Banff?

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Leigh McAdam

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