Cycle The Great Divide Route - Banff, Canada To Whitefish, Montana

Ride The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route  -  Banff, Canada To Whitefish, Montana

The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR) is the longest off-pavement bicycle route in the world.  The GDMBR is Adventure Cycling Association’s (ACA) premier dirt cycling route, stretching about 2700 miles from the North in Banff, Canada to the South in Antelope Wells, New Mexico along the Mexican border.  The epic route is defined by the word "remote" and is known for long wilderness sections without supplies or resources. The entire route is basically dirt-road and mountain-pass riding with some singletrack and double track miles.  Pavement sections exists to link and connect the dirt roads and trails. In total, it has over 200,000 feet of elevation gain.  Many journey the entire length during a season but with time constraints, picking and choosing the most scenic sections can be rewarding. 

For the Banff To Whitefish Section - riders can cover the miles in 4-10 days depending on your riding style and the weather.  There are many highlights along the way that might slow you down, starting with the town of Banff.  Escaping this quaint town is sometimes hard but once you start to pedal south, the scenic expansive views of the Canadian Rockies await around every corner and over ever hill to keep you going south.  Here are some things you have to look forward to:

  • Spray Lake will offer the first of many of these amazing views.  
  • Elk Pass will be the first challenging climb and the picnic table at the top will be a welcome sight for all riders - enjoy your efforts with a peaceful and scenic view!  
  • The Flathead Valley Route is a long remote and wild section with both open scenic views and animal encounters.
  • Descending from Whitefish Pass to the North Fork Road will be your first peek  at Glacier National Park and it is all but a peek - the views are endless and will take your breath away - prepare to go slow and take it all in!  Then enjoy the Park views along the North Fork Road Section.
  • Red Meadows - this mountain pass with a small, high alpine, pristine lake is hard to pass without stopping to enjoy.

Some Resupply/Accommodations Options Along Route:

  • Engadine Lodge - located South End of Spray Lake just off Smith-Dorrien Road - offers B&B and meals - reservations required.
  • Bolton Camp Store and Grill - located just north of Elk Pass - offers resupply, meals at the grill, and camping 
  • Tobermory Forest Service Cabin - south of Elk Pass - first come first serve cabin with cots and wood stove
  • Elkford - first real town to resupply and get a hot meal - camping and hotels available
  • Sparwood - last town to resupply before heading in to the Flathead Valley - resupply, meals and lodging all here.  If you are taking the Fernie Alternate Route, you will have opportunities to resupply in Fernie and remember to hit the Dairy Bar before you hit the US. 
  • Butts Patrol Cabin - this forest service cabin is located about halfway down the Flathead Valley Route before the turn to ascend Cabin Pass and has bunks, picnic table and wood stove for use - first come first serve.
  • Eureka - first town to resupply after crossing into the US - resupply, meals and lodging all available here.
  • HA Brewery - brewery located right off the GDR on Graves Creek Road - hours of operation are limited so plan your visit if interested.
  • Polebridge Mercantile - located 6 miles off route but worth it - continue south on North Fork Road before turning right onto Red Meadows Road - limited resupply, meals if open and lodging.  Some of the best baked goods on the route.
  • Whitefish - resupply, meals and lodging available

 

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Location

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Latitude: 51.164602 Longitude: -115.55819 Elevation: 4593 ft
the best travel advice comes from the people who live here
Cricket Butler

Route Directions

Banff, Canada To Whitefish, Montana – 356 Miles

The route can be ridden North to South or South to North.  The best time of the year to ride the route is late June (may have snow to hike through on high mountain passes) through September.  The route is very scenic passing through the Canadian Rockies and Whitefish Range.  The route follows a large animal migration route so be prepared for multiple animal encounters – practice proper food storage and methods to deter encounters.  Weather can change at anytime and rather quickly – be prepared for freezing conditions, rain, snow or hotter dry temps.

Most start from the north in Banff and ride South.  You leave Banff along a double track trail not far from the Banff Springs Hotel and ride along Spray River South .  You will pass through several smaller outposts or towns for resupply opportunities.  Once you arrive in Sparwood, there are 2 route options.  The Fernie Alternate is a milder option with more pavement and resupply and service opportunities.  The Flathead Valley Route through Corbin is rougher terrain and more remote with no services until Eureka in the US.  Be sure you are fully prepared for either route you choose.  Crossing the border at Roosville to the US, you have 105 miles to Whitefish.  Some who are looking for a shorter option to explore the Great Divide Route may take a shuttle from Whitefish to Roosville and ride back to Whitefish via the Great Divide Route - this is a great way to give backpacking a try before planning for a more extensive, self-supported adventure.

Logistics:

Maps: ACA Route Maps (paper or GPS) www.adventurecycling.org

Airports: Calgary, Canada (shuttle to Banff from airport) OR Kalispell, Montana (Whitefish Bike Retreat shuttles)

Places To Stay: – to start or end your journey

Banff – YWCA Hotel (closest to northern terminus of GDMBR) http://ywcabanff.ca/hotel/

Whitefish – Whitefish Bike Retreat (services and information support) www.whitefishbikeretreat.com

Whitefish Bike Retreat – Whitefish, Montana - Shuttles And Accommodations (Banff shuttles to any points along the GDMBR), bikepacking bags for rent or sale, mountain bike rentals, Lodging and Camping, information support about route, parking for vehicles while out riding, shipping bike and gear

Route Length

356 Miles

Comments

Hi Cricket, Are there more options to stay (where I can keep my bike in my room and have a place to put all the parts in the Original position again, as I fly in from the Netherlands on Calgary) which are close to the starting point of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route? The Y seems nice, but I'm not sure if you're allowed to your bike close at hand.

Rob van Beurden, 6/13/2016

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