One of Audubon’s Yellow rumped Warblers keeps an eye out over the trail . . .
The tires of my e-bike spun over the black asphalt as a robin’s song spiralled through the warm spring air.
Ahead, I spotted a pile of poo – large, hairy, sausage-shaped droppings.
. . . A Parks Canada employee was stopped nearby. I braked my bike to ask . . .
“Do you think this is coyote scat? Or maybe wolf?”
Many wild creatures transit the Bow Valley Parkway in Banff National Park. The 48-kilometer, two-lane road stretches from the TransCanada exit near Fireside west to Lake Louise. Starting in 2023, a three-year pilot project will see the Bow Valley Parkway’s 17-kilometer eastern section closed to vehicle traffic from May 1 to June 25 and September 1 to 30. I was out to revel in the luxury of a major road devoted to bike riders and wildlife.
The pilot project arises after the pandemic resulted in road closures to minimize crowding at Johnston Canyon’s busy trails. Cyclists appreciated the socially-distanced recreation. In 2021, Parks Canada solicited feedback on a proposed cycling experience from the public, special interest groups, various organizations, and local government. More than 2,200 individuals commented, and various meetings were held. Cyclists wanted a safer and more enjoyable experience; people with limited mobility, or those wanting vehicle access to the parkway or trailheads along the route, had concerns about the closure.
The result was the pilot project that I was benefitting from. I’d risen before dawn in Calgary, loaded my bike into my vehicle, and after a quick unpacking, was enjoying my early morning adventure. As I peered down at the scat baking in the early morning sun, the Parks Canada employee sensed she had a canid fan. She confirmed the scat was that of a wolf, and was likely from the pack that roams along the Bow Valley Parkway.
I’d see many more wolf droppings as I pedalled along. There were even signs warning of salamanders and frogs crossing the road. It was satisfying to think this transportation corridor was also a multi-species route. Too often, I see the world though a human or motorist’s perspective.
It was only the second day of the trail opening but I encountered a steady stream of midweek cyclists. Some were racing by, their strong, spandex-clad muscles churning out a rapid transit of mountain landscapes. Others like me, we’re taking a more leisurely approach, stopping to grab a photo of mule deer grazing in the ditch or listening to the spring song of warblers and robins. I’d count 27 species of birds on my outing and it was blissful not to have bird calls drowned out by automobile noise.
There are several picnic areas along the parkway including Fireside (at the east end), Muleshoe, and Sawback, as well as the intensively-used area around Johnston Canyon, so the cycle can turn into a multi-hour trip. Parks Canada encourages cyclists to park in Banff at the train station parking lot and cycle six kilometers to the parkway. You can also park at Johnston Canyon and add a hike to the waterfalls before or after cycling. This parking lot can be busy so come early in the morning or start later in the afternoon.
I had the benefit of an e-bike to conquer the mountainous road. For the most part, the road is relatively flat but there are some steep hills to climb and fast downhills to manage. The elevation gain is 771 meters over the 24-kilometer trail from Banff.
The Bow Valley Parkway is only open to cyclists from 8am to 8pm to avoid wildlife disturbances or encounters but you should carry bear spray anytime of the day and be aware of your surroundings. On my first ride on the road during the pandemic years I cycled around the corner to find a black bear grazing in roadsides bushes. I stopped a respectful distance away while I readied my bear spray and waited for more cyclists so we could speed by in a large group. The bear never moved.
I was relieved I didn’t see a bear on my four-hour amble. Although I did see many wolf droppings, I didn’t see a wolf either. But that was fine with me. Knowing Parks Canada is managing this ecologically significant corridor for human and wildlife users made the journey even sweeter.