Highwood Pass, located in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, is not just any ordinary cycling route. This 34-kilometer out-and-back paved ride, stretching from the north winter gate to Highwood Pass, offers an exhilarating and challenging experience for cycling enthusiasts. As Canada's highest paved road, sitting at an impressive elevation of 2,206 meters above sea level, it promises breathtaking views, remarkable uphill climbs, and a thrilling ride back to your starting point. However, it's important to remember that the road is closed for a significant portion of the year due to heavy snowfall and wildlife migration. With careful planning and an adventurous spirit, cycling Highwood Pass becomes an unforgettable road cycling adventure.
The Challenging Uphill Climb: The journey begins at the north winter gate, where cyclists embark on a 17-kilometer uphill climb, gaining a total elevation of approximately 635 meters. The initial stretch offers a gradual ascent, with 3 small recovery dips along the way (remembering these will be little uphill pushes on the way home), allowing riders to warm up their legs and enjoy the surrounding mountain vistas. As you pedal through the pristine wilderness, keep in mind that the weather can change rapidly in the mountains, so it's essential to be prepared with appropriate clothing and gear.
As you approach the final 2 kilometers, the road becomes steeper, presenting the most challenging part of the ride. The incline demands perseverance and mental fortitude, but the sense of achievement upon reaching the summit is unparalleled. Take a moment to catch your breath, marvel at the panoramic views of the rugged peaks and sprawling valleys, and appreciate the awe-inspiring beauty of the Canadian Rockies.
Wildlife Encounters: Highwood Pass is not only a haven for cyclists but also an important wildlife corridor. The road closure during the winter months facilitates the migration of various species, ensuring their safety and minimizing human interference. As you pedal along, keep your eyes peeled for glimpses of wildlife such as elk, bighorn sheep, and even the occasional black bear. Remember to maintain a respectful distance and never approach or disturb the animals. Observing these majestic creatures in their natural habitat adds an element of wonder to the cycling experience.
The Ride Back: After conquering the challenging uphill climb, the return journey provides an opportunity to revel in the thrill of a speedy descent. With gravity on your side, the ride back to your starting point is a joyous and exhilarating experience. Admire the scenic landscapes that seemed like an uphill battle just moments ago as you effortlessly glide down the mountain. However, it's crucial to exercise caution and control your speed, as the road can be winding and there may be other cyclists, wildlife or Alberta Parks vehicles sharing the route.
Tips for a Memorable Adventure:
Assess Your Fitness Level. Cycling Highwood Pass requires a good level of physical fitness due to the challenging uphill climb and the overall distance of the ride. Before embarking on this adventure, make sure you are adequately prepared and have trained to build the necessary endurance.
Plan your ride during the period before the road opens to vehicles on June 15th. This way, you can fully enjoy the tranquil surroundings without the presence of cars or motorcycles. Please remember the fact that cyclist are allowed is a privilege that could be revoked if abused so respect the wildlife and pack out everything you brought with you. The outhouses at the trailheads along the way are locked as the area officially is ‘closed’ and are not serviced until the 15th of June so bring a your own toilet paper and baggy & shovel should nature call…
Check weather forecasts and dress in layers to accommodate changing conditions. Remember that mountain weather can be unpredictable, so it's wise to bring a waterproof jacket and warm clothing.
Carry essential safety equipment, including a helmet, repair kit, spare tubes, and a pump. Additionally, bring plenty of water and energy snacks to stay hydrated and fueled throughout the ride.
Respect wildlife and their habitat. Observe from a distance and refrain from littering or leaving any trace of your presence.
Inform a friend or family member about your cycling plans, including your expected route and estimated return time, for safety purposes.
Cycling Highwood Pass is an adventure that showcases the beauty and challenges of Canada's highest paved road. The breathtaking scenery, the sense of accomplishment on reaching the summit, and the thrilling descent all combine to create a truly memorable experience.
*Note: Starting at the North Gate to Highwood is the most popular route because of the proximity to Calgary but it is ‘short’ and steep. You can also bike from the South gate coming from Longview which a longer distance (32.5 KM to Highwood pass) but a gentler climb as the vert is stretched out, it’s a total distance of approximately 75 KM as an out and back. The 3rd option is to go gate to gate which would require some logistics with a car drop/ride to one end or the other and would be a total cycling distance of 50 KM, you could start & finish in either direction but would require quite a bit of driving as you’re not ending at your start point. The last option for the ambitious, cycling enthusiasts would be a 100km roundtrip ride from gate to gate and back starting in whichever direction you prefer and I have no advice one this one because I value my sanity ;).