For an awesome road ride, bike Sheep River Road from Sandy McNabb Campground to Sheep River Falls without cars until May 14th (the winter gate opens on May 15th).
The Sheep River Valley is one of the best places for spring road riding thanks to its gentle gradient (way easier than Highway 40) and early season conditions. When other mountain roads are snow covered, you can often bike here. We recommend going before May 14th so you can enjoy car-free road biking past the winter gate. Just watch for deer, bighorn sheep, and cows!
Starting at the winter gate near Sandy McNabb, the road climbs gently for two kilometres. After a short downhill section, the road curves to the right leaving the evergreens behind and bringing Bluerock Mountain into view. At the 3.3 kilometre mark, there’s a pullout on the left and some benches that would make a nice break spot or destination for young children.
Carrying on from the Sheep River viewpoint, the next couple kilometres are pretty easy. There’s a small climb followed by a flat section, then you gain about 75 metres over the next 1.5 kilometres. It’s all up, but isn’t crazy steep, so my kids (10 & 11 years old) managed just fine. This section of the road takes you past aspens and cliffs and offers occasional views of the Sheep River below.
At Bighorn Parking lot – a signed turnoff 7.5 km from the winter gate – there’s a 200 metre single track trail to beautiful Bighorn Sheep Lookout. We enjoyed lunch here while taking in the views of the Highwood Range and cliffs below. Interpretive signs provide some info about bighorn sheep and why this area is designated a wildlife sanctuary. We hope to see the eponymous sheep next time we visit!
If you’d like to go all the way to Sheep River Falls, I’ve heard there is one big hill but it isn’t too bad. Once you get there, it’s a short walk to the falls – bring a bike lock! My kids didn’t like the sound of a big hill, so we turned back at Bighorn Sheep Lookout and enjoyed a campfire dinner at Sandy Mc Nabb Day Use Area.
All in all, it was a great day! We found Sheep River Road a lot easier than Highway 40 (the north end is crazy steep and the Longview side to Cat Creek Falls has a couple big hills) and would do it again in a heartbeat for the awesome views.
Sheep River Road at a Glance
- 0 km Highway 546 Winter Gate (near Sandy McNabb Campground)
- 3.3 km Sheep River Viewpoint – look for unmarked pullout on left hand side of the road and park benches
- 7.5 km Bighorn Parking Lot (89 metres elevation gain) – take 200 metre Bighorn Sheep Lookout Trail to viewpoint
- 15 km Sheep River Falls (202 metres elevation gain/83 metres elevation loss from the winter gate)
For a longer ride, start in Turner Valley and follow Sunset Boulevard west. It turns into Highway 546; follow the signs to Sandy McNabb Campground. It’s about 35 kilometres to Sheep River Falls.
Navigate to Sandy McNabb Campground and park on the side of Highway 546 before turning in to the campground. Get Google Map directions here. Make sure you don’t block the gate or you could get towed. It’s approximately 1 hour 15 minutes from Calgary (1 hour 40 minutes from the north).
Know Before You Go
- The winter gate is closed until May 14th. From May 15 to November 30, expect to share the road with cars.
- Note that there are a few cattle guards across the road. I would advise young children or beginner cyclists to walk across them (pretty bumpy if you miss the flat sections).
- Pit toilets are available at Sandy McNabb Day Use, Bighorn, and Sheep River Falls. Bring your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
- There is no cell phone service in the Sheep River Valley. Pack the essentials, flat tire kit, and a first aid kit. More info below.
What to Bring
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Bring a full water bottle, snacks, midlayer, waterproof/windproof layer, first aid kit, bike tube – check size, bike tools, and portable bike pump. A bike pannier rack and pannier bags are handy if you don’t want to carry a backpack.
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