Author Topic: Which Way Is Best  (Read 3815 times)

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Offline Marci

Which Way Is Best
« on: January 10, 2011, 01:07:24 pm »
This summer I want to bike a cicular route from Fernie, Canada to White Fish, Montana and back to Fernie....most of the route is on Adventure Cycling Map "Fernie, BC to Missoula, MT- Great Parks North Section 2."  The problem is, I don't which way is the best to ride.  Should I start from Fernie to Coleman or should I start from Fernie and head to Baynes Lake?  Any advice would be appreciated.  Marci

Offline rvklassen

Re: Which Way Is Best
« Reply #1 on: January 10, 2011, 02:17:49 pm »
Since it's a circle, the wind and the elevation gain aren't really significant factors.   You get them coming or going.

Were I in your place, I would look at the elevation profile, and then consider the steepest sections.  Taken together with the map, you can see whether you have lots of switchbacks on those sections.   Anything steep with switchbacks is more fun up than down.  Nicer to have long, less steep (and therefore straight) downhills so you can just let it go and enjoy.  On the uphill the switchbacks at least give you a sense of progress.

There may be other considerations, such as where you'll plan to overnight.  If the entire loop is estimated to take N + 1/2 days, you have a totally different set of overnight locations if you are going clockwise vs. counter clockwise.  And if there's a stretch where you have a full day's ride between overnight locations, you might be able to hit the start of that stretch in the afternoon/evening in one direction where you would arrive at noon (but have to stop anyhow) in the other direction.

Offline valygrl

Re: Which Way Is Best
« Reply #2 on: January 10, 2011, 05:22:34 pm »
I did the that circle (as part of a bigger route) counterclockwise a few years ago, and I recommend clockwise, Fernie to Coleman. 


1) There's a wind farm at Pincher Creek, wind is from the West.  Boy oh boy, is it windy here.  Would have been really fun as a tailwind.  As a headwind, well, there was some crying.

2) Going to the Sun Road - I rode it the other way, but someone on another forum who's opinion I value greatly says the best way to ride this is East to West, due to sunlight / view conditions.  There's also a daily road closure to bikes on the West side, so do read up on that and follow the rules.  On the other hand, that West wind was happening here too, and you'll have it as headwind if you take this advice, but I think it's not as consistent / consistently strong here as around Pincher Creek.  You might want to check me on this one, though.

Hope this helps at all.  Either way, it's a great ride.  Don't miss the pie at the Park Cafe in St. Mary - seriously.


  • Guest
Re: Which Way Is Best
« Reply #3 on: January 11, 2011, 01:27:46 pm »
Just did the loop in June of '09 with one detour.  GTS was not fully open, so we had to go around the edge of the park to the W. Glacier entrance.  However, the following day we did get to ride up the west side to Logan Pass and back down again.  (In ’99 I climbed the west side and descended the east side.)  We started in Whitefish and went clockwise.  I agree with Valygrl for the reasons she notes and others, including...

1.  Leaving Waterton Village heading towards the U.S., the climbing on Chief Mountain Highway (MT 17) will be more forgiving.  You will have climbing for sure, but it will be easier. (I have done it both directions.)  The trade off is that you will almost certainly have a stiff headwind from the junction of MT 17 & U.S. 89 to St. Mary, but it's relatively flat.

2.  West to East on GTS Road is also wider.  Also...there is an ongoing rehab project, which I think is mostly on the west side.  You may encounter unpaved sections depending on when you go.  I prefer descending unpaved roads to climbing them.  Check the park's official web site for details and potential road closures.  The bike restrictions noted could be important.  Going west to east, you must reach Logan Pass by 11 a.m. or risk a fine.  East to west, you can ride the road between St. Mary, over Logan Pass to Sprague Creek Campground at any time.  You cannot go west of Sprague Creek between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.  Sprague creek is a nice, small campground on the lake with $5 hiker/biker spots, and it's within walking distance of Lake McDonald Lodge (which also has a camp store and a bar that allows you to take drinks down to the lake), so it makes a great place to stop for the day.

3.  There is an unpaved section between W. Glacier and Columbia Falls.  (Follow the map's advice and take this route instead of U.S. 2.)  It's predominantly downhill going clockwise, which should makes things easier.

Here is a link to some photos of our recent trip:

Send me a private message if you would like more details about what we encountered.

Offline jamawani

Re: Which Way Is Best
« Reply #4 on: January 11, 2011, 02:24:41 pm »
Clockwise again.

The winds on Hwy 3 from Crowsnest to Pincher Creek can really be horrible heading west.
That's why they have so many wind farms in the region.

As for Going to the Sun - if you start out fairly early heading east to west (7ish), you can easily reach Logan Pass by mid-morning.  Thus, you will have the sun illuminating the mountain peaks in front of you.  Plus the westerly winds usually do not act up until after noon - any light breeze will be welcomed on the climb.

On the east side, I prefer camping at Rising Sun rather than St Mary.  Rising Sun is small, has hiker/biker campsites, has a store and restaurant and pay showers, and has some lovely lakeside areas across the road.  St Mary is a giant parking lot.  On the west side, Sprague Creek does have the nearby amenities and the lake, but you hear traffic until late at night and early in the morning.  Avalanche has hiker biker sites, you can take the shuttle to Lake MacDonald Lodge in two minutes.  Plus there's the wonderful trail to Avalanche Lake.

On the detour section (avoiding US 2) west of the park, you can camp right on the banks of the Flathead River at the bridge on the east side - north of the road.  Since it is bear country, you should hang all food and toiletries.  How?  Just walk up on the bridge, tie it to a railing post, and drop it over the side 8 to 10 feet.  Easy.  (Make sure your knot is tight if you drop it over the river - or play it safe and drop it over the bank - just in case.)

Offline Marci

Re: Which Way Is Best
« Reply #5 on: January 15, 2011, 02:29:26 pm »
Thanks to everyone who replied......clockwise it is!!!