Legacy Trail – Canmore to Banff with Vermillion Lakes extension Out and Back

The Legacy Trail is part of The Great Trail (previously called the Trans Canada Trail). It is well marked and a dedicated pathway for non-motorized modes of travel between Banff and Canmore. The trail is used by Olympic calibre roller skiers, distance runners/walkers/wheel chair athletes and cyclists of all abilities. You will note the ‘Be Kind to Slower Cyclist’ signs along the route. This past year we have noticed the addition of Max 20 km/hr speed signs.

Ride Statistics

Ride Difficulty Rating – Beginner

Distance – 55.5 km (a shorter option at only 44 km is to exclude the Vermillion Lake extension and turnaround at Banff)

Estimated cycling time – 2.75 hours if you go all the way to Vermillion Lakes, 2 hours if not. Based on 20 km/hr cycling speed.

Elevation Gain – 318 m

Maximum Grade – 4.1 % uphill grade on the out trip at Km 5.7 , and 4.8% downhill grade on the return trip at Km 50.2. The location of these relatively steep but very short section grades is at the one and only chicane on this bike pathway.

Parking –

Park in Canmore at the Alberta Visitor Centre. From Calgary head west on the Trans Canada Highway, take exit 86 into Canmore. Just after you cross over the highway on the overpass, make a left turn directly into the Visitor Centre parking lot. The dedicated cyclist parking is adjacent to the Visitor Centre parking lot.

If the Legacy Trail dedicated parking lot is full, head into town and park at the Canmore Recreation Centre (hockey arenas/skate board park). Head south from the Visitor Centre on Hwy 1A, turn on 17 Street, keep right to stay on 17 Street, then turn towards the Canmore Collegiate High School onto 8 Ave. Just past the high school is a huge parking lot. Unload your bikes here, proceed back to the bike path that twins Hwy1A and head back to the start of the Legacy Trail. This adds about 300 m to your ride.

Points of Interest

  1. The town of Banff provides plenty of opportunity to stop for lunch or a coffee break. Our favourite coffee shop, The Whitebark, is along Banff Avenue and a favourite lunch spot is the Wildflour Bakery.
  2. At the turn around point, Vermillion Lakes docks provide opportunity for a rest by the water on hot days. This area is usually very quiet, even when Banff is buzzing with tourists.

Amenities:

There are bright and clean washrooms at the Alberta Visitor Centre which is at the start and end of this ride. There is also a bike tool stand at the Legacy Trail start.

There are pit toilets and a set of the famous Parks Canada ‘red chairs’ at km 9.4. Instagram worthy!

Banff town offers all amenities.

There are washrooms at Vermillion Lakes.

Comments from our test riders:
Beginner Road Cyclist – ‘A safe way to be introduced to road cycling.’

 Intermediate Road Cyclist – ‘Such a great ride with no worries about car traffic but plenty of cyclists/runners/walkers/roller skiiers to watch out for. ’

 Expert Road Cyclist – ‘Not challenging enough but gave me great access to other cyclealberta.ca Banff based rides like the Four Hills of Banff or the Canmore, Banff, Lake Louise rides’.

Friends stopping for a chat at Vermillion Lakes.

What to expect on this ride

Click here to access Park Canada Legacy Trail information

This ride is perfect for beginner road cyclists, in fact, this would be the best ride to try out a new bike or if you are new to road cycling. It is also a great ride to do in small groups especially if you are riding with others of various abilities. While riding here you will encounter many cyclists of all abilities so heed the warnings along the trail to respect slower cyclists and other pathway users. Use caution when overtaking slower riders and although it often feels safe to ride side by side, riding single file is recommended. This pathway has become more and more popular every year, so if you want to go high speed this may not be the best place for you to ride. Parks Canada recently posted 20 km/hr speed signs. Riding earlier or later in the day is best to beat the crowds….

The trail starts in Canmore at the dedicated Legacy Trail parking lot. On busy summer weekends this parking lot fills up early in the day, so parking at the Visitor Centre or even better, park at the Canmore Rec Centre and bypass even bothering to look for parking at the Legacy Trail parking lot.

As you ride west towards Banff you will almost always be fighting a head wind of varying degrees. Not to worry, your hard work will pay off with a very fast return trip. We have timed ourselves and on a windy day can cut about 10 minutes off our return trip quite easily.

The pathway is well design with gentle grades and curves. Two hazards to watch for are the occasional access gates that keep motor vehicles off the pathway and electric mats to keep wildlife off the highway. Keep an eye out for approaching cyclists when going through these gates as the pathway narrows. Of concern is the one and only curve which is well marked and located at the 5.7 km mark on the out trip. This curve is really only dangerous on the return trip when you have the wind at your back and it is tempting to pick up speed. This chicane is well marked with SLOW painted on the asphalt, signs and fences. Every year Parks Canada seems to add more warning signs. We have seen many experienced cyclist leave the pathway here and crash into the gravel escarpment. If you don’t believe me, ask any Banff or Canmore based paramedic how many call outs there are to this location. Make a mental note of this chicane on your out trip…and do slow down on your return.

The turn around point of this out and back ride is Vermillion Lakes. Vermillion Lakes is a little oasis of calm and serenity just outside of the very busy Banff townsite. You will often see artists with easels painting and wedding parties taking photos here. Take a moment to relax if you are so inclined. If not, make a quick U-turn and see how fast you can make your return trip back to Canmore.

Cyclist at the Canmore Legacy Trail trailhead. There is a bike tool station here.

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