The West Kootenay region is no stranger to mountain biking. In fact, some would say this is where the sport really kicked into gear. Although born in California, mountain biking as we know it today had two main testing grounds in Canada: the North Shore of Vancouver and the West Kootenays. It was the 1990s and enthusiasts weren’t satisfied riding logging roads. Instead, they’d dig tracks through the trees, build wooden jumps using fallen lumber and create elaborate skinny rails four metres off the ground and balance their bikes along them.
It was around this time that Castlegar resident Dave Sutton first discovered the sport. In 1994, at the age of 13, he’d chase the older kids around the rough trails near his home on his Giant hardtail. Today, he’s the driving force behind mountain biking development in the city. He helped establish the Castlegar Mountain Bike Society, which eventually merged with the Castlegar Parks and Trails Society, an organization that has raised close to $400,000 in the past five years for trail building and maintenance in the area. Sutton, his core crew of volunteers and his pup Mallory have quietly been putting Castlegar on the map in the mountain bike world since 2013.
“It can’t be stressed enough what Dave has done for the community here,” says Adam Pomery, the co-owner of the Cycology bike shop in Castlegar. “It’s funny because Nelson and Rossland are so well known to mountain bikers and yet Dave and the Society are creating trails that are as good and in some cases better than what you’ll find in those places….And in a way we like that because people get here and they’re like, ‘Whoa! I didn’t know about this!’ We always exceed expectations.”
One trail that definitely stands out as a showpiece is “Merry Go Round.” Part of the Merry Creek network, which now includes four trails of varying difficulty, “Merry Go Round” features the “Cliff Hanger,” a 20-metre-long bridge structure that hangs off an 18-metre-high sheer rock face over the forest floor. Although ominous sounding, the bridge is wide and easy to ride. Dave hand-built it by hauling in cement, expansion bolts and six heavy metal brackets and then went through ten rechargeable batteries on his cordless hammer drill to get it all in place. Adam Pomery remembers when Justin Dexter, an officer with Recreation Sites and Trails BC, came to inspect the trail and “he took one look at that feature and said, ‘What the —- is that? This is the best trail building structure I’ve ever seen in my life!’”
“Merry Go Round” is one of the easier rides in the area but for those who like things a bit more extreme, the nearby Crazy Mary offers gap jumps and huge features situated on a singletrack that’s so wide and buttery smooth you’d think it was machine built — but in fact it was done all by hand thanks to Dave and the CMBS volunteers.
On the other side of Castlegar, you’ll find two trails off Rialto Road that will also test your mettle. Grandliforium is an eight-kilometre test piece that features everything from A-frames and gap jumps to rock roll downs, bridges, drops and skinnies. The nearby Awakener Trail is slightly shorter at 5.5 kilometres but that much harder and includes a skinny rail system five metres above the ground. It’s definitely a no fall zone and something only extremely good mountain bikers should tackle.
If you’re a beginner to mountain biking, the great news is Castlegar boasts the largest bike park in the Kootenays. “It’s over three acres and it has everything from dirt jumps and a flow track to a pump track and a lumber drop in,” says Adam Pomery. And because it’s located in Millenium Park near downtown Castlegar, it’s very easy to access.
Here is a rundown of the top mountain bike trails in Castlegar and how to access them.
Merry Creek Trails
This network includes the easy Merry Creek Loop, the intermediate Merry Go Round and Hail Merry trails as well as the much harder Crazy Merry trail. To access them, follow Highway 3 west from Castlegar and at the top of the first rise out of the city, keep an eye out for the Merry Creek Forest Service Road on your right. Take this and drive about two kilometres to the parking area. The uptracks and the Merry Creek Loop begin here.
Rialto Road Trails
From downtown follow Columbia Avenue over the Castlegar-Robson bridge and turn left on Broadwater Road. Keep driving past the Hugh Keenleyside dam and keep a lookout on the right for the Rialto Forest Service Road. Turn right onto it and drive 12 kilometres to the drop for both trails. For those who want to bike up, note there are early access points for Awakener at six kilometres.
Castlegar Bike Park
Conveniently located near downtown in Millenium Park, the Castlegar Bike Park is the largest of its kind in the entire Kootenay region. For more about what you can find there, read our article here.