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Mountain biking in Fernie

Mountain Biking Road Trip: Rossland, Nelson and Fernie

The Kootenay region of south-east British Columbia is best known as the Powder Highway – a winter destination much-loved for its world-class resorts and serious snowfall. Come summer, however, mountain bikers crawl out the woodwork looking for a different type of power: brown powder.

In fact, this corner of B.C. has some of the finest trails around, with bike parks, flowy singletrack, X-C terrain, steep downhills and even an IMBA ‘epic’ on offer. Throw in the quaint towns, amazing scenery and ubiquitous breweries and you’ve got yourself one hell of a mountain biking road trip. The full Kootenay MTB tour would include the likes of:

  • Rossland
  • Nelson
  • Kaslo
  • Cranbrook
  • Fernie
  • Kimberley
  • Invermere and Panorama
  • Golden (including Kicking Horse Bike Park)
  • Revelstoke

During the summer of 2021, this was my intended itinerary. Yet the wildfires meant a delayed start, forcing me to scale back my trip to three of the big hitters: Rossland, Nelson and Fernie. Here’s what I found.

Rossland

You can’t talk about mountain biking in Rossland without mentioning the Seven Summits trail. Named an official epic by the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), and awarded 2007 ‘Trail of the Year’ by Bike magazine, it’s considered the crown jewel of Rossland’s trail network. It’s a big day out, spanning 30.4km (36km when combined with the Dewdney trail). It’s also physically demanding, with 1,035m of vertical gain and a high point of 2,194m.

If you’re eyeing up the Seven Summits trail, then I have a separate blog post detailing everything you need to know: Mountain Biking the Seven Summits Trail in Rossland. Alternatively, you could just shuttle the Dewdney trail, which is a fast 5.8km descent through the forest.

But Rossland’s not a one trick pony; there are plenty of other trails to choose from too. The Larch Ridge loop is a fun little introduction. You’ll also pass the parking lot on the highway if you’re coming from Vancouver or Kelowna, so you may as well stop for a pedal. You start with a bit of cross-country on the Larch Ridge trail, followed by a descent on the Monticola trail, finishing with an uphill back to your car along COG.

The Monte Christo – KC area is another riding area, conveniently located at the top of town. The trails feature a lot of flowy singletrack, but they don’t seem to link up very well (perhaps I was just doing it wrong). We did a few laps incorporating North Star, Milky Way (upper and lower), Techno Grind, Stardust and Cemetery. We also took the Green Door trail down to neighbouring Warfield, but the pedal back to Rossland was a bit of a slog, and not a particularly inspiring one at that. Milky Way was a highlight for me, and is described by Trailforks as ‘one of the funnest trails around.”

Other popular trails include SMD and Whiskey (in Malde Creek), plus the all trails over on Red Mountain.

Personal favourite trail in Rossland: Seven Summits combined with the Dewdney trail.

Person mountain biking along mountain ridge
The Seven Summits trail in early September

Where to stay in Rossland

The Rossland Lions Community Campground is a good base. You can ride to town and up to the Monte Christo area from here. It’s also right next to the skills park. I can recommend pitch number 10 as having a good amount of shade! The campground also has free showers.

For a cheaper option still, you could sleep in your vehicle at Nancy Greene Provincial Park, although you’ll have to drive to the trails from here. The camping is described as ‘parking lot style sites’, so it’s not the most attractive location. There are also some sneaky free camping spots along the 3B highway, in between Nancy Greene Provincial Park and Rossland.

If you’re looking for an actual roof over your head, you’ll find loads of accommodation at Red Mountain Resort.

Other info

It’s pretty much obligatory to finish the day at Rossland Beer company, which is also next to the Revolution Cycles bike shop.

Nelson

Just an hour from Rossland is Nelson, another major mountain biking destination. There’s some seriously sendy stuff here if you want it, such as Bedframe (on Morning Mountain) and Newtsac (on Nelson’s North Shore). Turnstyles and Lefty are machine groomed trails (both on Morning Mountain) which offer bike park style laps. Yes please.

For a big day on Morning Mountain, climb up the ascent trails (Bottom’s Up, Upper Bottoms, Fairly High and Very High) onto the West Giveout FSR. You can also shuttle to this point. Ride further up the FSR to join onto Power Slave, which can be quite loose and steep in parts. This flows into Bear’s Den, and a quick freewheel back down the FSR brings you to Mister Slave. This connects you to the lower trails, where you can choose between Turnstyles, Placenta Descenta and Illuminati. Placenta Descenta is quite chundery, whereas Illuminati is more varied. I would give Oil Can a miss.

Over on the Nelson’s North Shore, the vibe is more slab-tastic. You can pedal or shuttle up the Kokanee Glacier Road/Bradley Creek FSR. Goosebumps is pretty much the only intermediate option over here. Expect rocks faces and slabs.

That’s all we had time for, but there are other mountain biking areas in Nelson. Be aware that Mountain Station can be subject to trail closures due to active logging.

Personal favourite trail in Nelson: Turnstyles.

Where to stay in Nelson

Those camping have two options: Nelson City Campground and Kokanee Creek Provincial Park.

The benefit of Nelson City Campground is that it’s a short walk to town, which is great if you want to get stuck into Nelson’s food and drink scene. However, some of the pitches are crazy small, which is why you’ll be asked to provide your vehicle size when you make a reservation. If you end up with one of those dinky little sites, you’ll likely feel quite hemmed in.

Kokanee Creek, on the other hand, has normal sized pitches with fire rings. You can also saunter down to the lakeshore beach, and you’re a hop and a step from Nelson’s North Shore. But it’s a 20 minute drive into town, and even further to Morning Mountain.

For accommodation with four walls, check out the Adventure Hotel, plus all the offerings on AirBnB and VRBO.

Other info

Nelson is a lively town full of heritage buildings, independent stores, art galleries and restaurants. Most of the action takes place on historic Baker Street.

When riding, remember that you’re in grizzly bear country. There are plenty of signs on the trails reminding you to “make noise”.

Fernie

Fernie has a bike park and a whopping 378 trails to choose from. So, you’re going to have a good time in Fernie. We got to the bike park on the last day of the season, which was Labour Day in Canada. It feels a lot smaller and more jaded than bike parks such as Whistler and Sun Peaks. The Elk Chair can only take two bikes at a time and is incredibly slow. Unfortunately, the Timber Chair was also out of action, so we didn’t get to explore the whole resort. But nevertheless, it’s a great day out with trails for all abilities. Duff Dynasty is a fun green, while at the other end of the spectrum you’ve got super spicy Kodiak Karnage.

We spent the rest of the time riding Mount Fernie and Mount Fernie Provincial Park. This is partly because we could ride straight there from our campsite, and partly because we spoke to some locals who listed off all their favourite trails in Fernie – and they all happened to be in that area. They recommended: Project 9, Verboten, Eric’s Trip, Red Sonja, Slunt (S-Bomb) and Brokeback Ridge. We rode them all and can confirm that they’re all amazing. For the most part they were fast and flowy singletrack. Oddly, they didn’t really feel like black diamonds by B.C.’s standards. The exception is Verboten which is rocky and rooty.

A few things to note: some of the climb trails are seriously steep and require thighs of steel. Also, if you ride Eric’s Trip and Mic Mac you’ll have to ride along the Highway trail if you’re parked/staying in the provincial park.

There are tons of trails on the other side of the highway, with popular riding areas including Castle Mountain and Morrissey Ridge. The same locals told us that there has been a lot of logging up there, which they described as “depressing”. That’s another reason we gave it a miss this time round.

Mountain biking in Fernie
Mountain biking in Fernie

Where to stay in Fernie

Mount Fernie Provincial Park has a primo campsite with really nice pitches, fire rings and showers. You can also pay by card (if you haven’t reserved in advance) which I’ve not experienced before with BC Parks. You can ride straight from the trails from here, which is always handy.

Free camping can be found up at Michel Creek by the river. We stopped in for a look and there were a few fishing/hunting parties there. However, it’s quite far out of town. Fernie has a couple of hostels: the Raging Elk Hostel and HI Fernie Backpacker Hostel. As you’d expect from a ski town, there’s also a range of hotels and AirBnBs.

Other info

There is some serious wildlife in Fernie. You cannot leave anything out in your campsite that might even vaguely smell of food. You also have to be vigilant on the trails – it’s not uncommon to see a mamma Moose with a calf. Riders have been charged in the past. And yes, it’s grizzly bear country.

Personal favourite trail in Fernie: Project 9.

We explored Rossland, Nelson and Fernie over 11 days, which included driving from/back to North Vancouver. Of course, we only scratched the surface of the riding on offer. I can’t give you the insight that a local could – it’s just an overview of what we found and what we enjoyed/didn’t enjoy. Hopefully you find some of the information useful if you’re planning a mountain biking trip to the Kootenays.

I’m hoping to do more riding in the Kootenays, so if you have any more tips, please feel free to share them in the comments!

Mountain Biking the Seven Summits Trail in Rossland

Nestled in the heart of British Columbia’s West Kootenay region is Rossland, a little mountain town with international repute. Not only has it been called the mountain biking capital of Canada (a pretty ballsy statement, if you ask me), it’s also home to the Seven Summits trail. Named an official epic by the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), and awarded 2007 ‘Trail of the Year’ by Bike magazine, it’s considered the crown jewel of Rossland’s trail network.

In fact, Canada only has three IMBA epics, all of them located in British Columbia. This accolade is bestowed on trails that deliver a “true backcountry riding experience”. As the IMBA says, official epics are “immersive rides that are technically and physical challenging, beautiful to behold and worthy of celebration”. They must also be “demanding, majority singletrack trail experiences in a natural setting and at least 20 miles in length”.

I can confirm that the Seven Summits trail ticks all of those boxes.

It’s long, spanning 30.4km (36km when combined with the Dewdney trail). It’s demanding, with 1,035m of vertical gain and a high point of 2,194m. It’s 95% singletrack, slap bang in the middle of the Rossland range. And it’s challenging, taking the average Joe six hours or more to complete.

Those are the stats. But what’s it like to ride?

Rocky. Relentless. And really f*@king fun.

Person mountain biking along mountain ridge
The Seven Summits trail in early September

Trail report

I rode the Seven Summits on a glorious September day during a perfect weather window – no smoke, no rain and just the right temperature.

Confusingly, you don’t actually ‘summit’ seven different peaks. You do, however, pass by them in one way or another. This is a relief, because frankly, there’s quite enough climbing involved for any normal human being. For the most part, these climbs are 100% rideable if you have the legs. There are some steep sections and technical elements, but advanced riders with good fitness will stay on their bikes the entire time.

Person on mountain bike pedals along forest trail
On the first climb

I wish I could say that I breezed along with the endurance of a XC athlete, but that would be a lie. I played it tactically, setting a gentle pace and walking the steeper uphill sections. The first climb to the top of Mount Elgood is the worst, taking you from the highway to the highest point on the trail.

After about an hour I started to question my decision – was I going to be able to make it to the end? My apprehension wasn’t helped by a conversation I’d had with some locals the night before. After mentioning that I was doing the Seven Summits in the morning, I was met with groans and mutterings of “why, why are you doing that to yourself? I HOPE YOU LIKE ROCKS!”

Confidence-inspiring.

At the top of Mount Elgood, however, my faith was restored. The forest gives way to the sub-alpine, where the weary pedaller is treated to 360° views. The sky was clear and I could see right across the Rossland range to neighbouring Washington state. Then it was time for the first descent. Fast and flowy singletrack swept me quickly along the ridgeline. The terrain in this section isn’t technically difficult, the scenery is beautiful and a great big grin was plastered across my face.

Woman on top of mountain summit looks across the Rossland range
The top of Mount Elgood
360 degree views
Person on a mountain bike on a mountain ridge
The first descent

Tight, loose and lumpy

Soon enough my confidence was wavering once again as I reach a highly exposed and narrow section of the trail. This was the only time I had to walk on the descent – I just don’t have a head for heights. Even so, I was feeling buoyed by the sheer awesomeness of my surroundings. From what I’d sampled, the downhills were going to be seriously fun and cruisy.

Actually, the rest of the trail can’t really be described as ‘cruisy’. Fun, yes, but the technicality of the terrain steps up a notch later on. Those locals I’d met in the bar the night before weren’t joking about the rocks, either. At times it’s tight, loose and lumpy, although manageable for the intermediate rider. While the Seven Summits is rated as a black diamond, I suspect that’s mainly due to the physical demands of the trail. For B.C., it’s probably more of a blue with a black section here and there.

And demanding it most certainly is. I found the middle part of the trail especially hard-going, physically and mentally. At this stage you’re encased in the forest, and the climbs seem to come thick and fast. Sometimes I’d just be getting into the groove on a downhill when it was time to pedal again. I hauled myself up the last major ascent with the elation of someone who’s just summited Everest. I was assured that there’d be no more climbing thereafter. That information was misleading, as there were still a few short, punchy hills to tackle.

Woman in mountain biking gear stands on top of rocky mountain summit
At the top of the last ‘big’ climb

Thankfully, I wasn’t so exhausted that I couldn’t enjoy the final descent, which included the 6km Dewdney trail. And my god, what a descent it is. You begin in open grasslands, weave your way down through the forest and end up back at the highway. There are a few forest service roads to cross along the way, which proved useful for resting my hands.

An epic trail

I arrived in the parking lot smiling from ear to ear. I found the day challenging, but in a good way. Compared to somewhere like the Chilcotins, for example, the trail maintenance is superb. Despite being a backcountry experience, you can ride the length of the trail – no hike-a-bike needed. The landscape is spectacular and forever changing. You go from the forest, to the alpine, through a ski resort, past wildflowers, along grassy slopes and back into the forest once again.

Mountain biker pedals through an alpine meadow
Alpine meadows

And in my opinion, the riding is highly entertaining. It might not float everyone’s boat – it’s rocky and there are no features. But the swooping singletrack is so much fun, while the odd technical section keeps you on your toes. The final descent was probably the longest, fastest downhill I’ve ever experienced, and for me made the effort of the preceding six hours totally worth it.

In short, the Seven Summits is the total package.

Woman on mountain bike smiles at the camera.
Fun times on the Seven Summits trail

Mountain biking the Seven Summits trail – what you need to know

When to ride the Seven Summits

The trail is typically ridden from early July to early October when the first snow falls. The Kootenay Columbia Trails Society (KCTS) carries out annual maintenance before officially ‘opening’ the trail each summer. Take a look at their Facebook page for updates.

The route

The Seven Summits trail is officially 30.4km long, but 36km if you tag the Dewdney trail to the end (which is highly recommended). It is intended to be ridden from north to south. When going in this direction, it starts just behind the parking lot at the Nancy Green Summit/Strawberry Pass trailhead. Once on the trail, the route is well-marked, so there’s no point in me providing a detailed account. If in doubt, take a look at Trailforks. When you round Grey Mountain (which is part of Red Mountain Resort) then you’re about halfway.

The KCTS carry out extensive maintenance, so the entire thing is rideable.

Logistics

The Seven Summits trail is a point-to-point ride, so you’ll need two vehicles. Park one vehicle at the bottom of the Dewdney trail – this is where you’ll end. The parking lot is located on Highway 22, 12km south of Rossland. Pile into the second vehicle and head back towards Rossland, this time diverting up Highway 3B to the Nancy Green Summit/Strawberry Pass trailhead. This is where you’ll start your ride.

If you don’t have two vehicles, you can use a shuttle service.

Shuttle service

The Kootenay Gateway is an adventure centre in Rossland which offers a shuttle service for the Seven Summits trail. Reservations are required. Departure times are usually 7am or 8am. You meet outside the store in town (2118 Columbia Avenue) 15 minutes before departure and load your bike onto the trailer. You then follow the minibus in your own vehicle to the parking lot at the bottom of the Dewdney trail. Once you’ve parked, you hop in the minibus with all your gear and get transported to the starting point. That way, your car is waiting for you at the end of the day.

Food and water

Water sources along the trail are slim-to-none. Don’t expect to be able to refill your water bottles. You’ll need to carry a lot of water – and snacks!

Bears

Black bears are commonly sighted along the Seven Summits trail.

How long does it take?

How long is a piece of string? It’s impossible to answer this question. If you know how long you’d normally take to ride 36km with 1,035m of vertical gain at altitude, then you have your answer. Personally, it took me 6.5 hours and I stopped a lot for food, rest and photos. I also walked some sections of the climbs. I was the slowest person on the shuttle bus that day.

E-bikes?

E-bikes are not currently allowed on the Seven Summits trail. Having said that, there was someone on my shuttle with an e-bike, which is weird now I think about it…

Mountain biker pedals uphill with mountain vista in the background
Cardio is hardio

Exiting the trail

If you need to exit the trail for any reason, then there are two hiking trails between Mount Plewman and Grey Mountain, both of which lead to a parking lot on Highway 3B. The south-side road at Red Mountain Resort is your last option to leave the trail. After this, you have to see it through to the end.

Skill level

The Seven Summits is a black diamond trail, while the Dewdney trail is a blue square. Trailforks states that the Seven Summits is ‘not suitable for beginners, with the majority of riding falling between intermediate and advance levels’.

I agree that it’s definitely not suitable for beginners. At the time of riding, I was hovering around the intermediate level, able to clean some (but not all) black diamond trails in the Sea to Sky corridor. I was worried that the Seven Summits would be beyond my ability. As it turned out, I rode the entire thing from end to end, save one section which has a lot of exposure. However, that was due to my fear of heights rather than the difficulty of the trail.

While the first half of the trail is flowy singletrack, the second half does become tighter and more technical. There are no features. You won’t find any drops, jumps, woodwork or big berms. But what you will find is loose, rocky terrain. It’s hard to gauge whether someone is ‘good enough’ to ride the Seven Summits trail. If you’re comfortable on tech, then you’ll be in good standing.

Fitness level

As for fitness, well, it’s a big day out. 36km over a mountain range is obviously going to involve a serious amount of cardio. Trailforks describes the climbs as ‘lung bursting’, which is pretty accurate. They’re also relentless, the first one being four miles long. Although it’s then followed by a descent, it’s not long before you’re pedalling once again. That process is repeated over, and over, and over again. Physical and mental endurance is essential, as is a decent level of cardiovascular fitness. So long as you start early, you can take it at your own pace and walk sections of the climb where the grade becomes steep.

Toilets

There is a toilet near the start of the Nancy Green Summit/Strawberry Pass trailhead. Leave the parking lot and pedal through a relatively flat area of forest for a few minutes. You’ll then reach the ‘Booty’s’ backcountry shelter and outhouse – which is not stocked with toilet paper. This is the only facility on trail.

Backcountry cabin with two mountain bikes in the foreground
Booty’s cabin, which has an outhouse nearby

Other info

Did I mention the trail is rocky? Pinch flats are a real concern. Take spare inner tubes and the necessary bike tools. You’re in the backcountry, so you need to be self-sufficient. Phone service is patchy, so taking a satellite communication device is a good idea (along with the other 10 Essentials!)