Words and photos by Sam Egan
Within the context of the exceptionally flexible seasonality of mountain biking, the chairlift-accessed bike park season is a short one at best. So, if all you know about mountain biking in Invermere is the Panorama Bike Park, you may be surprised at what the lower reaches of the steep peaks that enthrone the Columbia Valley have to offer, right up until winter arrives with its heavy blanket of snow.
Whether your visit’s timing to the Invermere area just doesn’t line up with Panorama’s operating season, or you’re looking for something different in your riding experience than the Bike Park has to offer, you’ll find plenty of mileage to treat any bicycle you’ve brought along with you; downhill to cross country and plenty for your trail bike in-between.
Dropping some significant vertical from the resort heading towards Invermere, you’ll pass a local classic singletrack route by the moniker of No Respect. Descriptors like “technical” and “old school” are apt for this unsanctioned trail, and some route-finding skills may be required to navigate the flagging tape.
Not for the masses or the faint of heart, No Respect is also the starting link to the 2014 Single Track Six Trail which spans about 24km to Wilmer Lake, just outside the community of Wilmer to the northeast. Reports of this unsanctioned trail weren’t great, and having been duped by similar endeavours gone wrong on Hornby Island, the next destination was instead the more popular and well-rounded trail network of Pano’s foothills; just down Toby Creek road based out of the Lillian Lake Recreation Site.
This is a great place to set up camp and sample the surrounding trails, with the main Lillian Lake trailhead just across the road where you can tackle anything from beginner loops to technical black single track, with plenty of intermediate options linking everything up. There’s also a connector to The Kloosifier’s parking lot, another popular fast and flowy intermediate cross country loop that accesses big views of the canyon, and Invermere.
The terrain from the trailhead starts pretty mellow, but the rolling acreage between foothills and the deep Toby Creek canyon quickly wrinkles into a series of gullies interspersed with plenty of protruding rock, where trail surface is expertly sculpted into the lay of the land for an interesting and fun ride through the woods.
The network is managed by the Columbia Valley Cycling Society and the signage is as good as it gets; complete with recommended routes broken down by ability level and route distance, and directional signage along the way that would make it tough to get lost.
The Johnson is one of the more popular routes which more-or-less tours the perimeter of the trail network, offering some great flowing single track and links to just about every other trail in the Lillian Lake roster. The Johnson will lead you about as close as any sane person would want to get to the canyon walls, featuring tremendous views that will leave you weighing wheelies and flow for photo ops and long moments of peaceful reflection.
Once you’ve gotten your fill of what the canyon trails of Lillian Lake and The Kloosifier have to offer, pick your route back to your staging point with plenty of time before sunset, as the light fades quickly behind Invermere’s imposing mantle.
Once you’ve packed up your bikes and are ready for post-ride libations, Invermere has some excellent local options whether you prefer the caffeinated, or carbonated route. Kicking Horse Coffee, contrary to popular opinion which often associates the popular BC coffee with Kicking Horse Resort in Golden, is in fact actually based out of this west Kootenay mecca. It’s even better fresh from the source, and a steaming cup will thaw you out before or after your ride.
Just across the road is your local carbonated beverage provider of note. Arrowhead Brewing Company has you covered with a full tasting room, and cold off-sales if a tailgate destination is in order.
It’s not hard to find an incredible view to take in the last light of the day in the Columbia Valley, and if you happen to visit in autumn, Invermere features the Kootenay’s famous Golden Larch in hordes beneath its towering peaks.
Just across the Columbia River from Invermere is the more downhill and all-mountain oriented Mt. Swansea, where the Columbia Valley Cycling Society also manages a network of shuttle or pedal-accessed trails. Sitting at about the same higher elevation of Panorama’s trails but tempered to some degree by the river valley’s climate, they offer a longer season than the Bike Park but aren’t as forgiving as the lower Lillian Lake area. Check out the full trail roster for Invermere and the surrounding Columbia Valley here, and add this Kootenay gem on the warm side of the Rockies to the itinerary of your next mountain bike trip!