Some mountain bike meccas have their “mecca” designation handed to them with ease. All of the elements are there for them: the ideal topography, a dedicated bunch of locals with a vision, and the freedom to ride in the aforementioned hills.
Jasper mountain bikers have never had it easy. The town is situated in the middle of a national park, which presents many obstacles on the road to becoming a mountain bike destination. Parks Canada, which was formed exactly 100 years ago in 1911, has never held mountain bikes in high esteem, shutting them out completely from vast areas of national park land. Jasper, however, is a living, breathing anomaly in the Parks world, with mountain bikers slowly carving out a niche for themselves in the middle of the Canadian Rockies.
Lacking the freedom to ride, but possessing all the other elements of mountain bike perfection, dedicated locals have taken it upon themselves to work with Parks to legitimize their love for knobby tires. In the last six years there has been significant gains made, establishing hundreds of kilometers of existing trails and fixing up many more kilometers of maze-like game trails. All of these trails work their way around the sprawling Jasper valley, climbing up onto vast benches that tuck up against towering, snow-capped peaks that stand guard over their quaint mountain town.
We came here late in the season, at a time when fall is precipitously teetering between the sudden onset of winter and a lingering autumn. Luck was on our side and we experienced the latter, complete with sun, crisp golden leaves and tacky dirt. Views of the valley exploded with contrasts, from splashes of golden foliage to deep green forests, to the azure blue of the Athabasca River and the fresh white mountain tops.
While the weather was a bit of a dice roll, the trails were anything but. We rose early every morning, fueled up with a breakfast wrap, stuffed sandwiches in packs and rode perfect singletrack all day, everyday.
The trails start right in town, with an extensive network of town paths, dirt tracks that wind through the valley that are accessible to everyone. These town trails seamlessly blend into singletrack that spreads out like so many root systems, leading us on a number of wilderness adventures over the four days of riding. We literally parked our car when we arrived, and the only time we rode pavement was going into town for breakfast and dinner. Otherwise we were on dirt all day, and for kilometers. If that doesn’t define mountain bike mecca, I am not sure what does.
Much of this amazing riding is thanks to a select group of dedicated Jasper locals, and the willingness and foresight of the National Park representatives. The irony of all of this amazing riding is that the Park does not want to promote it, in fear of this destination getting too popular to sustain itself, given the limited federal resources that Parks Canada is provided. The problem is the riding here is too good to stay under the radar for too long. So, if you go, don’t tell them I sent you, and enjoy yourself in the middle of some of Canada’s (and the World’s) most beautiful protected wilderness.