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Biking The Highest Public Road in Canada

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I celebrated my birthday last week by taking the day off and heading with John to Kananaskis Country, Alberta. Our plan for the day was to cycle to Highwood Pass on the highest public road in Canada. We chose to do the more gradual route from the entrance closest to the community of Longview, accessible via a 45 minute drive from Calgary.

This bike ride has been on my wish list for several years. But I’ve always wanted to cycle to the pass during the narrow window when the road is snow free and cars aren’t allowed. There are three weeks at most in a year that you can do that. Starting June 15th cars are allowed.

If you’re not a cyclist – do put the drive on your must do list.

"The start of the road up to Highwood Pass"

The start of the road up to Highwood Pass

The ideal scenario for this bike ride would be a one way trip where you start at the gate nearest Longview, cycle 37 kilometers to Highwood Pass and then descend 17 kilometers on a road with a much steeper grade to the gate by King Creek. If you were climbing from the King Creek Trailhead, part of the road would be Category 1 – the steepest grade the bikers on the Tour de France climb.

"Looking up the High Rover Valley"

Looking up the High River Valley

Last year the road was closed once the floods hit. You can see the devastation in many places – but especially at this bridge which washed away. There is still some work happening but from a cyclist’s perspective, the roads are in amazing shape. The roads have been swept and are in better shape than the ones I see in Calgary.

"Washed out bridge from the floods of 2013"

Washed out bridge from the floods of 2013

The beauty of doing the bike ride before the cars are allowed on the road is the pure freedom of having the entire road to yourself. It’s absolute bliss.

The road has a wide shoulder so even if you cycle it from now through the summer, there’s never a problem with having enough room to feel safe.

"Scenery about 40 minutes into the bike ride"

Scenery about 40 minutes into the bike ride

"Mountains framing Highwood Pass in Alberta"

Mountains dominate the skyline – but notice there’s not a car to be seen

The grade on the road to Highwood Pass, coming from Longview, is generally gentle. There are plenty of occasions where you get a good ride down and it’s really not until you reach Peter Lougheed Park and the last four kilometers that the road steepens.

"Me at the summit of Highwood Pass"

Me at the summit of Highwood Pass

"John at the summit of Highwood Pass"

John at the summit of Highwood Pass

There are numerous Recreation Areas along the way – complete with washrooms and picnic tables. They make good rest stops.

The summit is notoriously windy though it wasn’t bad on the day we were there. Do bring warm clothing and rain gear as you top out at 2,206 meters (7,238 feet). The difference in temperature between your starting point and the pass is very noticeable.

"The final grade to the summit at Highwood Pass is 7%

The final grade to the summit is 7%

"A strong group of cyclists coming up from the other side starting at the King Creek Day Use area"

A strong group of cyclists coming up from the other side starting at the King Creek Day Use area

"The ride down is the reward - and what fun it is"

The ride down is the reward – and what fun it is

We both carried cans of bear spray as we had heard from others that they had seen grizzly bears up here in the past. We saw plenty of scat – and moose poop too, but the only animals we saw were the Rocky Mountain sheep.

"Rocky Mountain sheep blend right into the background"

Rocky Mountain sheep blend right into the background

"mountain sheep on Highwood Pass"

It wasn’t until John sped past the sheep that we even noticed them

"Threatening weather coming down from Highwood Pass"

The weather threatened on the way down but held off until we got back to the car

"The missing section of the bridge from above"

The missing section of the bridge from above

All told it took me 2¾ hours to cycle to the pass, with plenty of stops for photos and a few refueling stops. On the return it took us about 2 hours. We did cycle down the other side of the pass but didn’t go far as the grade is extreme for the first five kilometers and we had to be home by a certain time. That at least, was my excuse.

It’s a long way to drive between the two trailheads – over two hours, so shuttling cars doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Most people seem to ride to the summit from one of the starting points and return the same way. If you’re a very strong cyclist then you could ride up and down – a total distance of about 108 kilometers and a vertical gain of up to 1,267 meters (4,157 feet).

No matter how you do it, you will feel pretty darned pleased with yourself once you reach the pass.

Go prepared. Bring lots of water and food, warm clothing and consider carrying a can of bear spray.

Have you considered biking the highest public road in Canada?

Biking The Highest Public Road in CanadaHikeBikeTravel
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Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure - & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project - a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

More posts by Leigh

Join the discussion 50 Comments

  • Alouise says:

    Had no idea the highest public road in Canada was here in Alberta. Learn something new everyday. It looks beautiful, although I’d probably drive rather than cycle.

  • That is so cool that there is a window where you can bike with no cars. Is there a window when there is no cars and no grizzlies? Looks like a beautiful adventure in the Rockies.

    • @Ted I do not believe such a window exists but there not really that big a deal. It’s an exceptional way to see the Rockies and I need to go back to hike some of the great trails off the pass. Perhaps later this summer.

  • What incredible scenery for a bike ride! I might prefer to drive it as well though especially if there was a possibility of running in to bears!

    • @Lisa I figure if there were bears I’d blow my whistle and get out my bear spray. There are a surprising number of cyclists around so despite the empty looking pictures, it never seemed long before someone rolled into view – giving at least the illusion of safety in numbers. The beauty of a hard long up on a bike is you don’t give a damn about bears by the time you get to the top. You just want a break, a seat, food and a drink. T

  • Lauren says:

    That would be an incredible feeling – not only getting to make this ride to see the scenery, but to ride on a road temporarily closed off to the cars! I also love those sheep, they’re quite cute!

  • Sophie says:

    This sounds fantastic, even with the slight threat of bears. Seems a visit in Western Canada should be at least one month, with all the fab hikes and everything else.

    • @Sophie I think you’re right about taking a full month to enjoy the Rockies. Between BC and Alberta there is a lot of ground to cover. Bears are always going to be around, but I don’t often spend much time thinking of them. If there was steaming scat – that’s another thing altogether.

  • JodyR says:

    This looks amazing! What an exhilarating ride!

  • Happy Birthday! Glad you got your wish of taking this awesome ride. I love bike riding, but much more of a flat land biker. The scenery is amazing on this route — would love to see it by bike or by car. And just how cute are those sheep??

  • Mike says:

    What a gnarly ride, Leigh! That is so cool that you did that even more awesome having the highway all to yourselves. LOVED the picture of whomever that was sprawled out on the highway…that rocks! Hey, if you ever need a pace vehicle Phoenix and I are there for you, our friend! :)

    • @Mike That was my husband posing for me on the highway. He had a lot more juice left in his legs than I did. It’s a rare treat to get a highway all to yourself and the window is pretty darned small. It was a fun way to spend a birthday.

  • Happy birthday! The scenery makes the ride all the more enjoyable, but having the road to yourselves must have made it even better.

  • Jackie Smith says:

    Happy Birthday, Leigh! What a lovely place to celebrate the day. Not sure I’d tackle that one on a bike, but I am glad you did so that I could enjoy the photos!

  • that’s really cool that they allow a few weeks for bikers to use the road before allowing cars for the season!

  • noel says:

    Such beautiful country, I would love to visit and see some amazing wildlife from the area, thanks for the tour

  • jan says:

    I can see the attraction in going when you did. Such beautiful scenery and no need to watch out for cars – a surreal experience I would say.

  • Nancie says:

    Happy belated birthday. Awesome scenery, as usual. With all that beauty I’d be falling off the bike at regular intervals :) The sheep are too cute, but a grizzly…yikes!

  • Marcia says:

    What a wonderful way to celebrate, Leigh! Belated Happy Birthday.
    The scenery is gorgeous and that you’re able to ride this road when it’s free of cars is truly special treat. Thanks for taking us on this tour.

  • Mette says:

    Impressive feat. I’ve always heard that going down a mountain is the most dangerous part of a bike ride, so I can understand why you did not go far down the other side.

  • Charu says:

    Those are some really cool pix, esp. the one of you lying down on the road, Leigh!

  • Lucia says:

    Wow! This looks like the perfect bike trip!

  • Greg Prohl says:

    Hi Leigh, just caught this article where it was reprinted on Epochtimes website. Awesome post and photos, looks spectacular though I would likely do it in the car – not much of a mountain biker myself. Epochtimes recently contacted me offering to republish some of my articles, how has your experience been with them? Cheers.

    • @Greg Thanks for stopping by. I had to answer a lot of q’s about how I would like things to work with Epoch Times so agreed because of their reach and hopefully potential to bring me new readers. I’d also checked out some of the other bloggers who were working with them and was impressed with the caliber.

      • Greg Prohl says:

        Thanks for the quick reply, Leigh. I did the same, saw your article and a couple others of good quality and decided to give them a try for the same reasons, visibility basically. They just posted one of my articles on Hawaii.

      • @Greg It will be interesting to see if I get much in the way of traffic from them but quality back links always help.

  • Michal says:

    This was a really nice trip we do every year. Although I need to point out there are some mistakes in your article. The steepest grade on Tour de France is HC (not categ.1) and there is no segment with category 1 on this road, only a short segment with category 2.

  • Lester says:

    Great read! I would like to do this next year.Where do I go for “riding before the cars” opening times ?

    • @Lester June 15th is always the last day but you can check with the people at the Barrier Lake Information Centre by phoning 403-678-0760.

      • Lester says:

        Thanks for getting back so swiftly! Thanks for the number too! I will do as you suggest. As I ride my trainer in front of the t.v. I will plan the trip :) Did you guys park right in Longview and ride up from there?

      • @Lester You can drive quite a bit closer to gates that will be closed and start right there. If you google the area you will see the secondary roads. Watch for deer in the early morning.

  • Lester says:

    Thanks again :))

  • Steven McCollum says:

    Thank goodness I found this site. I am writing from Ohio in the good old US of A.. Myself and three other riders have made the commitment to ride from Fairbanks AK back to Ohio this summer. I am in the process of planning the trip and have made it as far as Banff. We are planning on traveling from Banff to Longview via the Kananaskis Trail Highway. We will be traveling through that area late June. Can you give many any information about the road overall or guide me to some place that I can get additional information about the area round Longview and south as far as bicycling goes.

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