High Rockies trail Part 3; Sparrowhawk to Buller

by Bob Truman on June 24, 2017

in Bike, High Rockies trail

Post image for High Rockies trail Part 3; Sparrowhawk to Buller

What a magnificent biking trail! You could spend a good portion of your summer weekends checking out the different sections. I’ve only covered about 27K(plus 2.4K of access trails), and that’s not even half of it’s full length of 80K.

I biked two sections of it last year and posted about them here Part 1, The first 9K of the High Rockies

and Part 2, Goat Pond to Spurling Creek.

About 800 metres into the ride, you’ll cross this bridge over Sparrowhawk creek.

I don’t know if die-hard mountain bikers would enjoy this trail because it’s relatively easy, but for sissy mountain bikers like me, it’s fantastic. The only significant challenge I encountered on this section were numerous steep dipsy-doodles where, if taken at speed, would give you quite a jolt, but that was easy to avoid by slowing down and simply getting off the seat for a second or two. 

Spray lake was visible for a good portion of this bike ride on the High Rockies trail

The section I biked today has a net elevation gain of about 120 metres, but with numerous ups and downs, the total ascent was at least double that. 

The trail starts out at Sparrowhawk day use area, with a trailhead and sign right in the parking lot. After crossing the road(the Smith-Dorrien), you bike on the Sparrowhawk Tarns trail for 750 metres with a significant elevation gain. 

High Rockies trail

At 750 metres and an elevation gain of 65 metres, you’ll come to an intersection with two benches where you can relax and catch your breath. From here,  you have 3 choices: left is the High Rockies trail north, middle is the hiking trail to Sparrowhawk Tarns, and right is the High Rockies trail south, which was my route.

High Rockies trail map

Spying on you from a nearby tree is an Alberta Parks trail camera. Ostensibly the camera is for observing wildlife, but I can’t fathom any wildlife coming near this busy intersection, except, perhaps an opportunistic Whiskey Jack, looking for handouts from hikers, which is totally illegal.

I ended at Buller Mountain

For the next 10K you will experience a wide variety of trail features and conditions: Pleasant up and down biking through thick forest with welcome shade on a hot day. Magnificent scenery while crossing wide, rocky avalanche terrain. A grassy trail on an old fire road. Burnt timber from a recent fire. Numerous creeks and bridges. 

Moss Campion, which only grows at high elevations, brightens the landscape alongside the High Rockies trail

As I was nearing the Buller Pass trailhead, I spotted the next section of the High Rockies trail as it continues its southward route. It is only shown as proposed trail on the map, but it looked ready to go, and there were no signs indicating that it wasn’t open. 

Cruising through burnt timber on the High Rockies trail

I then did something I thought I’d never do: bike on the Smith-Dorrien. I’m not fond of eating dust, but I took a chance and rode back to Sparrowhawk on the gravel road. It was my lucky day, I didn’t encounter one vehicle in either direction. It only took me 27 minutes to cover 8.5K, whereas the High Rockies trail took me well over an hour of moving time. 

Flowers and spectacular scenery along the High Rockies trail

As usual in the summer, the Smith-Dorrien is at its washboard worst. I’m sure it took a year off the life of my car. It was a lot easier with the bike to find a reasonably smooth lane, but a few places shook my teeth even so. 

The first junction where you can go three possible directions. Can you spot the trail camera?

Of the 27K of trail which I’ve now biked, I would consider only one short section of it to be challenging. A 2K section of the trail between Driftwood and Spurling Creek has lots of loose rock, and plenty of steep hills. 

I’ve yet to fill in one gap, the 6.3K between Spurling creek and Sparrowhawk. 

When I pulled my bike out of the trunk at the start, my front tire was completely flat. I pumped it up and it was holding air, so I hoped for the best. I had to pump it up one more time along the trail. Probably a slow leak which I will have to get fixed. 

When complete, the High Rockies will be the longest continuous trail anywhere in Kananaskis, starting from the Goat Creek parking lot just outside Canmore all the way to Elk Pass.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sheila June 29, 2017 at 3:06 pm

Hi! I was searching up current trail conditions, for hiking, on Sparrowhawk Tarns and came across this. I had no idea you could bike out there. I’m a beginner and am looking for new places to explore. Thanks!!

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2 Larry June 25, 2017 at 11:35 am

What you guys missed!

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