Road Ride: Sheep River Valley

One of my Q2 goals was to get out on our bikes more so going for a long ride on the weekends has seemed like the perfect way to take advantage of the amazing weather we’ve been having. We’ve been trying to find some new routes, so even though we had a late start to the day we decided to try a ride out of Turner Valley on Hwy. 546 as our long ride last Saturday.

We arrived in Turner Valley at about 1:30 pm and parked in the lot at the Community Centre. The route starts just south of there at the four-way stop near the Esso and Chuckwagon Cafe and is very easy to follow. Turn right (west) at the four-way stop and follow the road as it curves up the hill (it is signed for Kananaskis campgrounds). Then all you have to do is follow the highway as it winds towards the mountains.

The first part of the ride is through beautiful farm land. Because the end of the road is closed at this time of the year, traffic was pretty minimal and the road was quiet. There is lots of up and down, but nothing really major.

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The road enters Kananaskis country and after about 12 miles (20 km) ends at the winter gate at Sandy McNabb campground. The gate is closed until May 14 so we walked our bikes around it and continued on the closed road. There is parking at the gate but there weren’t very many cars and all we passed were a few walkers along the first km of the road before we basically had it to ourselves.

There was brand new pavement starting near the park boundary and it extended a few km past the gate before getting a little rougher. We stopped to take in the view at the overlook and enjoy the fact that we could ride wherever on the road.

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The road continues to get rougher as you travel further into the park. There are also several cattle guards to cross and lots of potholes to dodge. Around 19 miles we came to the steepest hill on the route and also the roughest. Unfortunately, we had to ride the hill at a snail’s pace to avoid the deteriorating pavement and loose gravel, so the uphill that immediately follows was rough as well. Luckily, once you’re at the top it isn’t too far to go until you reach Sheep River Falls and finally where we turned around at Bluerock Campground just a little bit further on. This whole time we only saw 5 other cyclists on the route and some researchers from the university – I guess one of the benefits of the terrible pavement is the quiet riding.

The turn off to Blueock Campground is at approximately 23 miles and a little clearing along the river offers beautiful views. You can continue another few km to Junction Creek (the official turn around point) but we decided we’d gone far enough and the road was already in really terrible shape that we didn’t need to experience the last little bit. We had our snack and enjoyed the sunshine above the river. Hard to believe that it is only April!

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Then it was time to retrace our route back to Turner Valley. The terrible hill is slightly less awful on the way down and overall the route is downhill. The pavement isn’t any better, but we made much better time even with a head wind.

We stopped briefly before leaving the park at Big Horn lookout, where there were indeed some big horn sheep on the side of the road as well as lovely mountain views.

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Then it was back into the open farmland for the rest of the ride, and the point where I felt things started to be a bit of a slog. I was tired (it was our longest ride to date) and the wind was making what should have been an easy ride very tiring. I was pretty happy when we finally rode into Turner Valley. We pulled into our parking space to find a group of the cyclists from earlier just on their way out. It turned out to be their lucky day – the set of car keys I’d picked up off the road while crossing a cattle guard unlocked their second vehicle. Jon drank my reward beer and I had a cream soda slurpie as my treat while we drove back to the city.

Overall, it was an interesting ride. I would definitely go back – but only while the road was still closed since I wouldn’t want to navigate that pavement with others on the road. I’m looking forward to getting out on our bikes again soon – but also heading out to explore in Kananaskis by foot. Bring on summer!

 

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