Home Destinations e-Biking the Legacy Trail and Bow Valley Parkway (Canmore to Johnston Canyon)

e-Biking the Legacy Trail and Bow Valley Parkway (Canmore to Johnston Canyon)

by Karen Ung

For an amazing day in the mountains, bike from Canmore to Johnston Canyon on the Legacy Trail and Bow Valley Parkway. e-bikes make the 100 km round trip journey fun and fast.

Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail, Canmore Trailhead

Whether you’re towing a trailer, traveling a long distance, or just aren’t in the best shape and want to enjoy the views without overdoing it, e-bikes make it easy to cover a lot of ground quickly. Hills and headwinds pose no challenge, and with Wilderness Equipment Rentals long-range e-bikes, you can go up to 175 kilometres on a charge!

We recently took Wilderness Equipment Rentals’ long-range e-bikes for a spin, from Canmore to Johnston Canyon, and loved how easy it was. Mark, co-owner, got us set up with locks & keys, helmets, the correct seat height, directions to the Legacy Trail, and a loaner ScatBelt to keep bear spray handy (they have bike trailers and camping gear for rent too!). During our adventure, we saw FIVE bears, so we were glad we were prepared just in case.

Partnership & Affiliate Disclosure: Wilderness Equipment Rentals provided us with e-bike rentals for review purposes, but all words and opinions are my own. This post also includes affiliate links through which I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for buying my coffee!

Canmore to Johnston Canyon e-Biking Trip Report (104 km round trip)

Rainclouds couldn’t dampen our enthusiasm as we pulled up at Wilderness Equipment Rentals in Canmore. Whatever the weather, we’d enjoy the gorgeous Bow Valley scenery! And if it started pouring, we’d get coffee in Banff and hurry back. The e-bikes can go up to 30 kilometres per hour!

Before departing, we did a trial run in the parking lot. The pedal-assist kicks in quickly, so we started on the lowest level. By the time we got on the Legacy Trail, we were able to crank it up to medium, and we saw our first bear of the day, crossing the road near the Visitor Centre!

From the Canmore Visitor Centre to the town of Banff (20.6 km), it’s all pathway riding. Since it was a weekday with a yucky forecast, the typically-busy Legacy Trail was quiet. We enjoyed views of Cascade Mountain most of the way, and stopped for a snack at scenic Valleyview Day Use. There’s one hill after the day use area, which is no problem with e-bikes, but could be a bit hard for kids /parents towing kids on the way back.

Although the trail is along the highway, expect to see wildlife. On our ride, we saw a coyote loping along the railway tracks, and a black bear on the side of the road at the edge of town! Elk are commonly seen as well; use extra caution around moms and babies in spring/early summer, and around males in autumn (mating season).

After a tasty treat at Whitebark Café, we left the townsite behind and cruised down Vermilion Lakes Road. The water was like glass, making perfect reflections! At the dock, a woman painted while we took photos of Mount Rundle. It was hard to believe we’d already gone 32 kilometres!

With the weather cooperating, and even a bit of blue sky peeking through, we decided to push on to Johnston Canyon. Neither my friend, Chanelle, nor I were tired, and we “only” had another 20 km to go. This section would go a lot faster with no roads to cross, or cars to worry about (we went in mid June when the east side of the Bow Valley Parkway was closed to cars).

The Bow Valley Parkway begins easily and prettily, passing through a wooden archway, forest, remains of a forest fire, and meadow. When the highway splits, you do most of the elevation gain – and guess what, you get to climb it on the way back too! We almost felt bad zipping by people on road bikes, but couldn’t help smiling (a feeling you’ll have every time you ride an e-bike). Before the big hill, Parks Canada staff directed us to stay on the other side of the road to avoid a bear eating dandelions in the meadow. That was the THIRD bear of the day!

With pedal assist, we got up the hill without breaking a sweat, and realized we still hadn’t used one bar of battery thanks to the range extender. Pretty amazing!! The bad news was that all our photo and snack breaks were putting us behind schedule. With a cold wind blowing, we decided to skip Johnston Canyon (we’d both hiked it several times) and make another coffee stop in Banff on the way back to warm up. This said, if you’ve never been, Johnston Canyon is a must-see, so try not to stop too much on the way there so you have time to hike to Lower Falls (1.2 km one way).

Return on the south side of the hill you just climbed for spectacular views of the Bow Valley. There’s a wonderful viewpoint at a pullout (can’t miss it) at the top of the hill. While we snapped yet more pics, we chatted with a lovely couple from England who hadn’t seen a bear yet and we joked that they should’ve come with us because we’d seen three! To our surprise, less than 45 minutes later, we saw another black bear and a grizzly, to make a 5-bear-sightings day (a first for me)!

With the wind at our backs and rain threatening, we put the bikes in high gear for the return leg of the journey. We made it back right before closing time (even with a coffee stop in Banff!), 15 minutes before it started pouring. It was a fun and amazing day in the mountains and we can’t wait to go e-biking again!

Getting from Wilderness Equipment Rentals to the Legacy Trail Trailhead (5.3 km)

Gorgeous view of the Three Sisters from Cougar Creek

Go north on Elk Run Blvd, take your first left (Glacier Drive). At the end of Glacier Drive, take the bike path on the left. Follow the path downhill and over Cougar Creek bridge. At the next junction, take a left and take the underpass under the highway. At Falcon Crest Lodge, turn left on Kananaskis Way, then turn right and stay on the bike path along Bow Valley Trail. At some point, you’ll have to cross to the other side of the street. After the McDonald’s, you’ll see the trailhead for the Legacy Trail!

  • Distance: 5.3 km
  • Elevation Change: 17 m gain and 23 m loss
  • Route type: Mixed road and pathway riding (mostly pathway)
  • Notable stops: Cougar Creek Bridge for a great view of the The Three Sisters, Blondies Cafe, Eclipse Coffee Roasters, Canmore Visitor Centre
  • Washrooms: McDonald’s and the Visitor Centre are your last chance for flush toilets until you get to Banff

Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail at a Glance (20.6 km)

The Legacy Trail is a scenic paved bike trail that runs from Canmore to Banff. Be sure to close wildlife gates behind you to keep animals off the highway, and avoid stepping on the electrified rubber mats at the gates (you can ride right over them). If you are planning on biking the Bow Valley Parkway, you will have to ride on the side of the road through the town of Banff, north on Mount Norquay Road, and west on Vermilion Lakes Road (the Bow Valley Parkway begins at the end of Vermilion Lakes Road).

  • Distance: 20.6 km from Canmore to Marmot Crescent, Banff
  • Elevation change: 138 m gain, 63 m loss
  • Route type: paved path
  • Parking: Legacy Trail Parking Lot in Canmore
  • Notable stops: Valleyview Day Use Red Chairs and picnic area
  • Worthwhile detour: Cascade Ponds Day Use (take the underpass approx. 17 km from the trailhead) has a picnic area with fire pits, picnic shelters, and pretty walking trails

Banff to the Bow Valley Parkway (8.7 km)

The Legacy Trail pathway ends at Marmot Crescent, and resumes just past the Banff Train Station. To get to the Bow Valley Parkway, you have two options:

A) Ride on the side of Banff Avenue (bike lane) through downtown to Elk Street. Hang a right on Elk Street, go left on Railway Avenue past the Banff Train Station, cross Mount Norquay Drive and go north (right). After the Banff sign and Fenlands Trail parking lot, turn left on Vermilion Lakes Road.

B) Turn right on Marmot Crescent then left on Cougar Street (which becomes Squirrel Street), then hang a right on Elk Street, go left on Railway Avenue past the Banff Train Station, cross Mount Norquay Drive and go north (right). After the Banff sign and Fenlands Trail parking lot, turn left on Vermilion Lakes Road.

Option A is VERY busy, and has a lot of lights. B is the much quieter route if you don’t need/want to stop in the town of Banff.

  • Distance: 8.7 km
  • Elevation Change: n/a
  • Route type: 7.1 km road riding (includes 4.3 km on Vermilion Lakes Road which has a 30 km/hr speed limit) +1.6 km paved pathway

Notable Stops: Banff Town Sign, docks on Vermilion Lakes Road for postcard-perfect shots of Mount Rundle

Good snack spots in Banff: Whitebark Café at Banff Aspen Lodge, The Uprising Bake Shop and Espresso Bar, Evelyn’s Coffee Bar, and Tim Horton’s at the Banff Train Station

East Bow Valley Parkway at a Glance (17 km)

The east side of the Bow Valley Parkway (Johnston Canyon to Highway 1) is closed for cars from May 1 to June 25, and September 1-30, 2022-2025. It is no longer possible to park at the junction of Hwy 1 and 1A; Parks Canada recommends parking at Banff Trail Station. As of summer 2022, you can still park there all day for free.

  • Distance from Fireside Day Use to Johnston Canyon: 17 km
  • Elevation Change: 131 m gain, 90 m loss (You will climb about 80 m after the Bow Valley Parkway splits. Pace yourself!)
  • Parking: Banff Train Station Public Parking (see Banff to Bow Valley Parkway Directions above)
  • Notable stops: Backswamp Viewpoint, Hillsdale Meadow Viewpoint, Johnston Canyon, Black Swift Bistro at Johnston Canyon

Where to Rent e-Bikes

Wilderness Equipment Rentals is located on the east side of Canmore

Wilderness Equipment Rentals, a family-run business in Canmore, can provide you with standard and long-range e-bikes for all sizes (4’8″ – 6’6″ tall, and up to 330 pounds). The long-range ones can go up to 175 km and we believe it. With the range extender battery, we only used one bar to go 104 kilometres! Each e-bike rental includes helmet, bike lock, and baggage rack. Wanna bring your kids? They have bike trailers for rent!

Rent by the day or week, and get a 25% off group discount when you reserve more than six bikes.

More items to rent include from Wilderness Equipment Rentals include: Bear spray, camping gear, stand-up paddleboards, satellite communicators, battery-powered portable generators, and a Ford Bronco Sport. Book your gear now!

When to Go

The Legacy Trail and Bow Valley Parkway (east) are best ridden from mid to late May until October, conditions permitting. See the Banff National Park Trail Report for current conditions.

Note that the east side of the Bow Valley Parkway (Hwy 1A) is closed to cars from May 1 – June 25, and September 1-30, 2022-2025, so you can bike without cars! Furthermore, the road is closed to ALL traffic (walking, biking, driving) from 8 pm until 8 am from March 1 – June 25 each year.

Know Before You Go

A Parks Canada Discovery Pass / daily admission fee is required to stop in the national parks.

There are TONS of bears in the Bow Valley. On our bike ride, we saw FIVE bears (four black bears and one grizzly). Be bear aware, ride with a buddy / group, make noise often, give bears LOTS of space (3 bus lengths or 100 metres), and keep bear spray handy in a BearCozy (fits in your bike’s water bottle holder), or Scat Belt. If you are biking with kids, stay close to them. We do not recommend biking with your dog.

Do you need to brush up on bear safety? Read our 10 Bear Safety Tips before you go.

The weather can change quickly in the mountains. Be prepared for sun, cloud, rain, snow, and wind – all in the same day.

What to Bring

Bring a full water bottle or hydration backpack, snacks, mid-layer, waterproof/windproof layer, gloves, first aid kit, bike tube, bike tools, and portable bike pump. A bike pannier rack and pannier bags are handy if you don’t want to carry a backpack.

You should also carry The Ten Essentials including: water, extra food, a headlamp, GPS/compass and map of the area, bug spray (this one contains 20% icaridin and will repel ticks), sunscreen (this mineral one is safe for babies), and bear sprayWe recommend keeping bear spray in a BearCozy (fits in your bike’s water bottle holder), or Scat Belt (the latter is best if you’re renting e-bikes as not all the bikes have water bottle holders).

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