There’s nothing quite as thrilling as cycling down a steep mountain trail, but mountain biking can also take you to remote, peaceful places where you can connect with nature and enjoy the great outdoors. For us, mountain biking is a family affair, so at least once every summer we head to the foothills of the Canadian Rockies to cycle in William A. Switzer Provincial Park. Just 13 miles northwest of Hinton on Hwy 40, the park has 624 square miles of rolling foothills, meadows, lakes and forests. It’s also got some great mountain bike trails and it’s a real thrill to ride the classic single track at the Hinton Nordic Centre where triathletes train for the cycling part of their competitions.
There’s more than mountain biking to do here, though. We decided to spend a few days exploring the place. After we set up camp, we took the short hike to Athabasca Lookout. From a height of 5,200 feet, the panoramic view of the front ranges of the Canadian Rockies and the beautiful Solomon Valley is absolutely breathtaking.
Picking up a Family Adventure Pack at the Visitor Centre, we joined an interpreter for a guided hike that took us to more spectacular viewpoints. The wildflowers were in bloom and we were all on our bellies, taking dozens of close-up photos.
After a bbq supper at our campsite, we went to the amphitheatre for an entertaining and interesting presentation about wildlife in the park. We learned there are 30 different kinds of mammals here and more than 150 bird species. And it’s true that your chances of spotting animals like elk and mule deer are best at dusk. Just after sunset, we saw a doe and two youngsters come out of the forest to drink at the water’s edge.
The next morning, my brother arrived with his boat to take the kids water skiing at Jarvis Lake. Which left me lots of time to head for Jarvis Creek with my fly rod and catch a nice-sized brook trout. Tomorrow, we’ll rent a canoe and paddle the easy course that connects Blue Lake to Cache Lake. Interpretive signs, which can be viewed from the water, provide information about habitats, fish and wildlife. This route is an easy paddle for beginners and children. Someday, as a family we’d like to paddle the longer more challenging route that goes through all five lakes. The kids should be old enough in a couple of years. Meanwhile, we’ll be back to bike until they’re ready.