Northern BC BC Road Trip - Part 2
Words, photos, & video by Ben Haggar
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 halfway 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 Nechako 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.
Mr. PG welcoming you to town!
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 But let me tell you, those sentiments are well out of date.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 are more wedding shops than you can shake a stick at. So there's that.
Prince George sits right in the middle of the province and is the largest city and gateway to Northern BC
Downtown PG is right at the edge of the wilderness with trails galore
One of the top notch breweries in downtown PG.
The perfectly manicured berms on Otter Alley are what dreams are made of
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.
They like getting their tires off the ground here in PG and it's hard to find a trail without a jump or two. I'm okay with that.
The riding in PG is low angle but FAST
Glenn testing some of the fresh work on Otter Alley.
Pumptrack at the upper Pidherny parking lot.
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.
Pit Party: Great descent traversing University Hill with optional gaps and drops.
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 and Pidherny are a short drive northwest 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.
Otter Alley: Very well kept flow trail with buttery berms, mid sized gap jumps and doubles. Access from the Pidherny Ridge 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.
Cyclone: Fun twisty descent with a few small features and great corners. Keep the good times rolling and finish off with Tornado Alley and Twister.
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.
You don't want to slip off this bridge with carnivorous plants lurking just off the sides. True story (but they probably wouldn't eat people).
Local Clubs and Advocates
The Prince George Cycling Club is the main advocacy group that 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 hotels/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 town
Dinner: 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 Shops
Koops 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.
The crew at Ruckus Bikes can handle any fix including suspension tunes and rebuilds.
Pidherny trails director Devon Budd scoping lines for future development of the Pidherny Recreation Area.
The lightning strikes stayed away, but we didn't manage to outrun the rain.
Breweries - 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.
Farms and ranches dominate the landscape on the Interior Plateau from Burns Lake and east of Prince George.
Lots of windshield hitchhikers on this road trip.
Yup there's bugs
The Caribou Range starts to grow as you head east from Prince George.
Heading east at sunset
Dark and Stormy
The Caribou Mountains after a quick and intense rainstorm
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.
Valemount sits at the junction of the Caribou, Monashee and Rocky Mountain Ranges
The Gathering Tree was my go to for coffees, lunch and patio
Lots of cool shops to check out exploring the main strip in Valemount
Bike park? Yes please!
Tanner floating above the mountains
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.
Valemount boasts the best shuttle road in BC. The road is kept in immaculate shape by the local community forest operation.
There's not a lot of slab rock up here so these slabs were brought in by machine
270 degree berm into 'the craig' feature
Local crew enjoying the view mid way down The Craig
Looking south into the Monashee Mountains
Natural but not natural patio stone slabs on Stinger
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Sun rays through the clouds, buttery berms and no braking bumps - could Valemount be heaven on earth?
Ms Beeson dressed to match the scenery to a tea
Late evening whips on a fine summers eve, is there anything finer?
Late afternoon thunderstorms aren't uncommon in the Rockies
Late shuttle retrieval in the Valemount Bike Park
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 snowmelt from the road earlier and other forward thinking initiatives.
Accommodation and Food
Tourism Valemount has a comprehensive list of accommodation including 10 small hotels in town with B&B’s or Lodges as another classy option. There are some great RV parks and camping options within a short drive of Valemount with the Yellowhead Campground located closest to town. There are 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 park
Lunch: 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 Shops
Bikes 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 major work or a suspension fix, you’re going to have to drive to Jasper, PG, or Kamloops.
District Bikes - A little shop with big heart in beautiful Valemount, British Columbia, same owners as District Bikes in Kamloops.
Valemount's cranberry marsh and the Canoe Range
Fast flowy goodness on the Southern Traverse
Curtis ripping above Swift Creek
Named for a chief of the Shuswap People, Kinbasket Lake is 216 km long stretching south to Golden.
The newest edition to the Valemount network is a 20km blue / green loop here on Swift Mountain
Three Ranges Brewing
There's some darn good ales at the local Three Ranges Brewing
The imposing view of Mt. Robson - the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies
Mount 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!
A big thanks to Tourism Prince George and Tourism Valemount.
For more information on places to ride along the Yellowhead Highway visit Ride North.