Biking Tunnel Bench Loop, Banff With Kids

by - Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Tunnel Bench Loop is a scenic, moderate-level single track mountain biking trail in Banff. While most of the trail is rolling and fairly easy, there are a few bigger hills and lots of tree roots to challenge novice riders. I recommend this trail to bigger kids on a (minimum) 20" bike with gears and some mountain biking experience as it's hard to get over the roots and up the hills on a 16" bike. My kids (5 & 6 years old) have top of the line lightweight 16" bikes, but still had to walk sections due to the bumps, hills and exposure (see details below).

Tunnel Bench Loop At A Glance

Difficulty Rating: Moderate (Blue). My kids found this trail harder than Water Tower as it's rootier, longer, and has exposure.

Distance: 9.7 km loop (opportunities for experienced riders to extend their ride by adding on The Toe - rated black).

Elevation Gain: 124 m gain and 124 m loss. Rolling terrain - no long climbs, but younger kids/less experienced mountain bikers may have to walk a few hills.

Trail surface/type: Mostly dirt single track. A few sections have gravel and parts of Teddy Bear's Picnic are partially paved (reverting to dirt trail). Some fun bermed corners on the Coastline section.

Recommended Direction: We rode the trail counterclockwise so we could visit the Hoodoos Lookout first and do the easiest section last (see below for details).

Chariot Friendly? NO. This is a single track trail that is quite narrow in sections. While a single Chariot could fit on the trail, it would likely tip over in many spots as the trail is quite rooty.

Parking: Hoodoos Lookout Parking Lot (E on map) OR 502 Tunnel Mountain Drive (550 m past Douglas Fir Resort - the first lot on your right when driving up from town). See Parks Canada's Map here.

Trail Description

We parked at the first parking lot past Douglas Fir Resort and went counter clockwise (away from the resort).

Follow the blue markers to stay on Tunnel Loop

Following are descriptions of each section of the Tunnel Bench Loop Trail (going clockwise from parking near Douglas Fir Resort):

1. Hoodoo - Rolling terrain, lots of tree roots, fantastic views of Mount Rundle, the Bow Valley and the Hoodoos from the various lookouts! Be sure to stop at the red chairs for a picture! Watch for vehicle traffic around viewpoint parking lots. *Note that the Hoodoo section of the trail is NOT the same as Hoodoos Trail (green)! FOLLOW THE BLUE TRAIL MARKERS TO DON'S BYPASS.*

Tunnel Bench Loop, Banff
Tunnel Bench Loop Trail Marker
Red Chairs on Tunnel Bench Loop (Mount Rundle)
Tunnel Bench Loop, Banff
Tunnel Bench Loop, Banff
Tunnel Bench Loop, Banff
Viewpoint
Viewpoint
Viewpoint

2. Don's Bypass - Single track through the trees. Has one hill younger kids may have to walk.
Trail Marker
3. Teddy Bear's Picnic - This was the easiest section, but the kids still had to walk their bikes up one hill. Mostly in the trees here.
Teddy Bear's Picnic
4. Coastline - The most exciting part!! Coastline flows around the north side of Tunnel Mountain and has great views of Cascade Mountain, the Water Tower and Hoodoos. There is considerable exposure over the hoodoos, so advise kids to stay away from the edge and/or walk their bikes if they are gawking at the view instead of where they're going. At one stop along the way (there are a few little pullouts/viewpoints to let others pass), we stood on a slight overhang and my youngest said "If we jump, it'll all fall down." Stay away from the edge! Parts of the trail have been moved back recently to keep up with erosion.
Coastline Trail Marker
Caution! Steep cliffs ahead!
Looking across at the Water Tower
Coastline
Walking a sketchy bit
Standing above the hoodoos!
Tunnel Mountain Bench Loop
Peering into the abyss

Coming up to the road crossing where we will get on to the Spine section


5. Spine - The spine takes you through trees and a small clearing, across the mountain's backbone, to the south side of the mountain. You will soon see come approach Tunnel Mountain Campground. This section was quite easy, but not very scenic.

6. Tunnel Bench Loop joins up with Tunnel Mountain Campground Loop. Continue south on the flat, gravel path (rated easy/green). Cross the road to rejoin Tunnel Bench Loop until you reach your car!

Easy peasey Tunnel Campground Loop

Tips For Riding Tunnel Bench Loop With Kids

No helmet, no ride!

If you are short on time, ride the Hoodoo section of the trail as it is moderate, has lots of viewpoints and places to rest, and easy parking. 

Assign trail buddies. Make sure that every rider has a trail buddy and stays with him/her. Ideally, there should be one adult carrying bear spray with each child or group of children. Since our kids ride at different speeds, my husband rides with one and I with other and we each have our own bear spray. We like Frontiersman bear spray from MEC.

Pack plenty of snacks and water. Mountain biking burns a lot of calories! 

Always bring a first aid kit complete with tweezers (for bee stings/slivers) and polysporin. The spray stuff (Polysporin to go) is amazing as it has topical anaesthetic in it to take the ouch away. 

A promise of treats goes a long way to keeping little riders happy. I call it encouragement rather than bribery. ;) Think Cow's Ice Cream, the candy store (Banff Sweet Shoppe), The Fudgery, Welch's Chocolate Shop. Banff also has a Dairy Queen in Cascade Mall and McDonald's on Banff Avenue (McFlurry - yum!).

Choose age & level appropriate trails. Blue trails may be fine for some 6 year olds, while some 9 year olds (or adults!) may find them too tough. Start with a short intermediate (blue) trail, or section of one before trying longer intermediate trails.


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