Note from the author: This episode of Local Flavors was produced in August 2020 when cases of Covid-19 were zero in the Northern Health Region. Despite this, every precaution from keeping distance, wearing face masks, and buckets of hand sanitizer were used to minimize risk. The towns in northern BC are small with limited medical resources and hospital facilities so I strongly encourage everyone to follow the current BC CDC travel recommendations and restrictions. If it's not safe to travel, please don't visit here putting the local communities at risk. I'm optimistic that we will be able to travel in BC this summer and I know we are all in need of a good long road trip and a change of scenery. Northern BC is a great place to start and I hope this episode will create some stoke and help out with those summer travel plans. Stay safe and enjoy mind shredding the north.
Welcome to part 2 of our Northern BC road trip. If you missed it, you can check out the first half visiting Terrace, Smithers, and Burns Lake here
. We’re picking things back up just over half way across the Yellowhead Highway (hwy 16) with Prince George and Valemount.
One of Valemount’s early residents was a Metis mountain guide named Pierre Bostonnais nicknamed Tete Jaune (Yellow Head) for his blonde hair and is the namesake for Highway 16. The Yellowhead highway cuts across central BC from the archipelago of Haida Gwaii to the Alberta boarder for 1073 km, so road tripping this epic route is a solid endeavour. But the nice part is that Prince George sits right in the centre of it all so if you’re strapped for time you can section it off by heading east to Valemount or west towards Terrace - both worthy road trip options in themselves.
Prince George and much of the Interior Plateau is the traditional territory of the Dene First Nation. The mountains around PG are a bit flatter with the geography sculpted by the Necheko and Fraser River systems carving out terraced valleys and sandier pine and spruce covered mountains. As we head east towards Valemount, the landscape changes dramatically with much taller and steeper snow capped peaks of the Caribou, Monashee and Rocky Mountains - more typical of the BC scenery were used to drooling over.
Ok, so about that elephant in the room… Prince George hasn’t historically had the best reputation as a desirable destination and being the largest city in northern BC, it’s not without its challenges. But let me tell you, thoses sentiments are well out of date. There is an ongoing revitalization of downtown which is spreading quickly with beautiful modern architecture, incredible restaurants and great breweries and distilleries to enjoy. The riding here is also top notch with a diverse range, large quantity and variety of trails to choose from. With new trail development, a well established cycling culture and a group of local riders dedicated to maintaining the three main riding areas in town, PG should be on your BC riding hit list. And if that’s not enough, for some reason there’s more wedding shops than you can shake a stick at. So there's that.
Getting to Prince George
On a map of BC, Prince George sits right in centre of the province and squarely in the cross hairs of highway 16 running east to west and highway 97 running north to south. The easy accessibility makes it not only the perfect pit stop, but also a worthy destination to occupy a few days on any road trip across the north or, it's an easy addition when checking out Kamloops and Williams Lake.
The Prince George Airport
(YXS) is serviced by three major airlines with daily flights from Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary and less frequent from smaller destinations.
For a different experience, PG is also on the Skeena rail line and a passenger train operated by VIA Rail
heads east to west with stops in all of the destinations covered in our road trip series. Note that due to Covid-19 the train schedule has been cut to only 1-2 departures per week so make sure you check schedules before planning this mode of transport.
Prince George gets a lot of rain with the most precipitation falling between June and August, but the sandier soil structure drains well for the most part. Summer temperatures are comfortable for riding in the low 20's (70°F) and trend towards the cooler side. Winters are dry and cold with temperatures averaging around -10°C (14°F). Most trails are ready to ride from April to November.
The Best Trails to Ride in PG
The riding here is generally low angle and fast with a penchant for jumps and woodwork across PG’s 3 major networks. University Hill
is, as you would expect, at the UNBC campus and utilizes the hillside descending from the paved access road. Along with the Cranbrook Hill
and Greenway/Forests for the World
zones, you could spend a full day in the area.
University HillKey trail - Pit Party
: Great descent traversing University Hill with optional gaps and drops.
Cranbrook HillKey trail - The Holey Trail
: Fun trail with loads of TTFs and small hits. Finish off with the steeper and more technical Ring of Fire
for a nearly 2.5 km descent or traverse back for a shorter lap with Holy Party Connector
back up to the Forests for the World area.Otway
are a short drive north west of downtown and separated by the Nechako River. Pidherny
is the only sanctioned riding area and holds some of PG’s best black diamond trails. It’s the site of major development plans including the recently completed Dirt Merchant-esque showpiece trail Project X
PidhernyKey trail - Otter Alley
: Very well kept flow trail with buttery berms, mid sized gap jumps and doubles. Access from the Pidherny Ridge Trail
.Key trail - 50 Shades
: A bit steeper than many of the Pidherny trails. Technical with some larger drops so it's best to check out the features instead of sending it blind. Same access as Otter Alley
but further east along the Ridge Trail
OtwayKey trail - Cyclone
: Fun twisty descent with a few small features and great corners. Keep the good times rolling and finish off with Tornado Alley
In recent years there have been land usage issues with Tabor Mountain
and despite their visibility on Trailforks, those trails are currently closed.
This really depends on what your focus is. It’s pretty safe to say that you can leave the big rig at home as the vast majority of the trails are pedal accessed. The style of riding here is fast with lots of berms and sizeable jumps so an enduro bike in the 150 -160 range would handle most of the classic trails handily. That being said there are a lot of great options for linking up bigger rides and connecting the different riding areas clocking some serious XC kms.
Local Clubs and Advocates The Prince George Cycling Club
is the main advocacy group which handles the 100% volunteer maintained trail network. Expansion plans are in the works for Pidherny including a larger parking area for the lower lot on the Pidherny FSR, expanding into a new ridge area on the west side of the main trail network and a potential camping area at the base of the mountain.
Accommodation and Food
PG is a University town and is a major hub in northern BC so there’s a wide array of accommodation
to choose from. Larger chain hotel/motels are centred around the downtown core while most RV parks and camping options are located south of town. Air B&B’s are a great option and offer stays close to the bike trails.
You won’t get bored with the culinary scene in PG. There are so many great options to choose from it's difficult to make a decision, but no matter what you choose, you're in for a treat with domestic and most international cuisines represented and any price point to suit.Breakfast: Ritual Coffee Bar
- Great coffee to get you going and a delicious plant based menu.Lunch: Zoe's Java House
- Gourmet Paninis and sandwiches, soups and chili. The Salted Cracker
- Variety soups and sandwiches with four locations in townDinner: Betulla Burning
- Wood fired pizzas and Italian dishes with great ambiance.Nancy O's
- Modern take on classic burgers, curries and more with high quality ingredients. They also stock 60+ beers and serve great cocktails.
Local Bike ShopsKoops Bike Shop
is the OG shop in town owned by the Koops’ for 46 years. Biggest selection of bikes and parts in the north.Cycle Logic
- classy full service bike shop. Join one of their weekly rides - Fridays at 6:45 at Otway and Tuesdays at 6:15 for road rides.District Bikes
- A little shop with big heart in beautiful Valemount, British Columbia, same owners as District Bikes in Kamloops.
The crew at Ruckus Bikes
can handle any fix including suspension tunes and rebuilds.
- PG is right in the centre of the Northern BC Ale Trail
with a vibrant scene consisting of Crossroads
and Trench Brewing
. Both offer up a wide selection of experimental and traditional beers. The latter also distills their own craft vodka seltzers. To extend the tour, hit up Northern Lights Estates Winery
!Hit the Links
- Check out one of PG’s 6 primo golf courses. The Aberdeen Glen
course has been nominated twice as the BCPGA facility of the year.Prince George mountain biking trails
If you were to draw the perfect mountain valley with a bright blue river running past lush farmland pressed up against mountains majestically growing to craggy summits studded with glaciers, you’d have a pretty accurate depiction of North Thompson Valley where Valemount quietly sits. This valley is also the intersection of the Monashee, Caribou, and Rocky Mountain Ranges and is the territory of the Simpcw. Part of the Shuswap Nation, their traditional territory covers aprox. 5 million hectares in the North Thompson region including Valemount.
The already stellar network of trails has been exponentially growing since 2014 and is slowly garnering attention as the mountain biking world begins to see past BC’s more established destinations. And rightly so. Valemount has an incredibly relaxed vibe, boasts the nicest shuttle road in BC due to an enviable partnership with the community forest and has some of the best jumps and flow trails I’ve ridden anywhere.
Getting to Valemount
From Prince George, Valemount is a shade over 3 hours drive east on Highway 16 just outside of the Alberta border. Continuing east on 16, Jasper is a short 1.5 hour drive and Edmonton is closer to 5 hours away. If you’re coming from the south, Kamloops is a 3.5 hours drive on highway 5 and Vancouver is 7 hours drive on the same route. The closest airport would be Prince George or Kamloops which aren’t very practical, so driving is definitely your best option.
Valemount sits 790m above sea level with a cold temperate climate. Winters are cold and snowy with excellent backcountry skiing and snowmobiling. The trails have good south west exposure and start thawing out in April. Summers are comfortable for riding with temperatures in the low 20’s (72°F) and a decent amount of precipitation every month of the year keeping the dirt nice and tacky. You can usually make it to the end of October before the snow settles back in for good.
The Best Trails to Ride in Valemount
This is a tough list to make because I loved every trail I rode here. My feelings are validated on Trailforks with nearly every trail rated 5 stars! Even the more forgotten trails like Inversion
and the pedalcentric flow trails off Southern Traverse
are a blast. The Valemount Bike Park
which is an easy pedal just north of town is both shuttle and pedal access. There is a beautiful climbing trail accessing the lower 2/3 of the park which is studded with stellar trails. You could pedal the road the rest of the way to the top but it is much better to shuttle on the very well maintained gravel road. Across Swift Creek to the west of the bike park is the newly expanded area of Swift Mountain
with a brand new 20km blue / green loop which is a great way to give your arms a break from the relentless shuttle laps. Key trail - High Roller
: I never understood why people could do lap after lap down A-line
. Now I get it with similar sentiments about High Roller
. Great A-Line
size jumps, buttery berms, and incredible views. Drops in from the very top of the shuttle road.Key trail - Turducken
: The name says it all - this trail has a bit of everything: Jumps, berms, drops, flow and a little bit of tech. The perfect sampler platter. Access from the bottom of High Roller
and The Craig
.Key trail - Andreas' DH
: The trail that started everything. This was the first bike trail in Valemount and provides a different character to the flow trails which populate most of the bike park. Despite its age, this rugged, rooty fall-line descent seems to re-loam itself each year with new duff and needles. Key trail - Northern / Southern Traverse
: This is a great fast and flowy 11km pedal loop gaining roughly 200m in elevation while traversing along both sides of Swift Creek. Probably best done clockwise so you finish at the bike park and can head up for a lap or two there.
If you’ve got space, there’s something here for any bike style or flavour. Just want to punch out shuttle after shuttle? Bring your DH big rig. Looking to pedal the buffed out climbing trail accessing most of the bike park and still want to send a bit of everything, bring a mid size enduro bike. There’s a great pedal loop when you combine the northern and southern traverses and there’s a brand new 20km blue / green loop on Swift Mountain for the XC. Or, spend a day ripping around the cranberry marsh trail and a lap out to Kinbasket Lake on the gravel grinder.
Local Clubs and Advocates
The Valemount Area Recreation and Development Association
(VARDA) is a year round organization taking care of the bike trails and snowmobile areas. Sledders make up the majority of the membership group and are self sustaining and financially buffer the mountain bike side. The club has about 200 bike members each year (not bad for a town of about 900) and travelling riders help bolster the trail maintenance fund by buying a membership. New trails are funded by grants from the Columbia Basin Trust, Simpcw First Nation, and the Northern Development Initiative Trust. The Valemount Community Forest
is also an important partner who no only maintains the shuttle road but also improves the area with selective cutting to help the snow melt from the road earlier and other forward thinking initiatives.
Accommodation and FoodTourism Valemount
has a comprehensive list of accommodation including 10 small hotels in town with B&B’s or Lodges as another classy option. There’s some great RV parks and camping options within a short drive of Valemount with the Yellowhead Campground
located closest to town. There's also some free camping options on Kinbasket Lake. Air B&B’s are limited so book ahead.
All restaurants are right in town and most close early so with lots of daylight riding hours, it’s easy to get caught out if you don't have dinner plans.Breakfast: Vale Coffee
- Valemount’s newest coffee shop conveniently located on the way to the bike parkLunch: The Gathering Tree
- Great eatery downtown with homemade sandwiches and wraps for breakfast or lunch. Also brews high quality coffee and has Italian sodas. Dinner: Glacier Fire
- Wood fired pizzeria beer on tap and right across from the brewery!Caribou Grill
- Upscale restaurant for a nice dinner out with wild game on the menu.
Local Bike ShopsBikes and Bites
is able to service minor to medium fixes and has a limited selection of parts. It’s best to come to Valemount prepared for some DIY with spares and tools. If you are in desperate need of of major work or a suspension fix, you’re going to have to drive to Jasper or PG.
Other TipsMount Robson Provincial Park
- This stunning park holds the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies (Mt. Robson). Some popular hikes are the multi-day trek to spectacular Berg Lake at the base of Robson or the more accessible yet equally impressive Emperor Falls - 15km from the parking area along the Berg Lake Trail. The area is busy in peak season and with limited facilities, reservations are recommended. Kinbasket Lake
- At 430 square kilometres, this lake is huge! There’s great fishing, swimming, paddling, and camping with impressive views of the surrounding peaks.Jasper / Icefields Parkway
- Jasper has a ton of great riding and if you have time and can tear yourself away from Valemount, it’s definitely worth a few days. The Icefields Parkway between Jasper and Banff is one of the most scenic drives in Canada and a must do!Valemount Bike Park mountain biking trails