Here's a GRAND Cycling tour: 7 RED Chairs with Vista Views in a 100km ride from Canmore's Grandview Chalet B&B. The first time we encountered Park Canada's "Red Chairs" was in Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland in 2014. After that, Park's Canada started placing them in strategic places throughout the national parks - generally near roads or popular trails - all with amazing views. Here's our own tour start and finish from our B&B in Canmore:
START: km 5: We met a few friends at the start of the paved cycling "Legacy Trail "in Canmore, and headed out on a cool, but Alberta-blue sky day.
#1. Valley View RED CHAIRS: Approx 9 km from the Legacy Trail start, and now in Banff National Park, you'll find a picnic site called Valley View, and it's pretty obvious why it was named that. Sit in the chairs and look across the Bow Valley and you see the north-facing subpeaks of Mt Rundle, which is a thrust sheet extending from the town of Banff all the way to Canmore. (15 km?). The fence in the foreground runs along the TransCanada HIghway to keep wildlife off the road, or perhaps to keep people away from the wildlife.
Approx 7.5km further along, there is an intersection on the pathway. At this point, turn right and ride safely under the highway to the Cascade Ponds picnic area. Unfortunately, the ponds are dry now. Previous to the 2013 flood event, a clay base prevented water from draining through the underlying alluvium, but the clays were swept away. Not sure when, or if the ponds will be back. However, this route gains you access to Minnewanka Road, which has a 50 kph speed limit for the cars, making it nice for road biking and it's a circular loop with spectacular views, as you'll see.
Bonus site: RED CHAIRS @ Johnson Lake, which is off the Minnewanka Road. We cycled down to Johnson Lake, but upon investigation realized to reach the red chairs you must hike to the far end of the lake. Since this is a bike trip - skip that! Enjoy the lake view ( & park's bathroom facilities) and ride back up the hill.
( Bonus if you add a hike to this extra Red Chair site :)
#2 Two Jack Lake Red Chairs: Continue along the Minnewanka Road to Two Jack Lake, approx 15 km from Valley View site. These chairs look south across the Lake with Mt Rundle in the background. Two Jack Lake lake is excellent for relaxed paddling and has a National Park campground. Its a favourite site for mountain sheep and don't be surprised if you see a wedding ceremony too along it's shores.
#3: Lake Minnewanka RED CHAIRS : A few kilometers past Two Jack Lake is the very large Lake Minnewanka, which is dammed for electrical power. The chairs are ideally situated on a vista point, just past the boat docks, providing a fantastic view of mountain peaks and water. Nearby, you can access boat tours up and down the lake, available throughout tourist season. There's a hiking/mountain biking trail on the north side of the lake (off limits to bikes and dogs July 10 to Sept 15 due to bear habitat). Special note: Ice cream usually available at the little café; if you like the soft variety. Eco friendly public toilets are here too.
Although there is no red chair, we cycled approx 12 km's to Vermillian Lakes for lunch spot. Continuing from Minnewanka road, ride back via Cascade Ponds, onto the Legacy Trail and into the town of Banff (a great number of food outlets exist if you didn't pack your lunch). Ride west a short distance out of Banff townsite to the most photographed Vermillian Lakes area. These large shallow waters offer perfect reflections of Mt Rundle, and some nice benches too.
#4: Mt Norquay RED CHAIRS: Now well fed and watered, you're ready to tackle the biggest hill in this tour. Norquay's Red Chairs are located approx 5 km up the paved road switchbacks enroute to Mt. Norquay ski hill, providing an outstanding view of Mt Rundle, the town of Banff and a myriad of other peaks. Stop at the vista car parking "pull out" to find the chairs. Big horn sheep often are grazing in this meadow too. If you wish to keep climbing, it's another kilometer to the ski hill. Total elevation to Mt Norquay ski hill approx 300m. Descent ride is pretty smooth and fun! ( Beware of texas gates at the bottom of the road; ride fast over 'em)
# 5 Cave & Basin RED CHAIRS: Cycling back into the Banff townsite, follow a bike/walking path along the Bow River, past the Banff Avenue car bridge to the new pedestrian bridge just downstream. Once over the bridge, turn right, back under Banff Avenue, and onto Cave Avenue. This is a pleasant cycle for 1.5 km to the historic Cave and Basin, where the next red chairs are situated. This historic site encompasses the original cave and hot springs around which Banff National Park was created in 1885 (Canada's First National park and Third in the world). Banff Park is now 6,641 km2, and connects with 3 other national parks, several provincial parks, and a few wilderness areas. Note: There is a nominal fee to tour the site, including the famous cave - or you can just take a picture of the Red Chairs from outside the original pool area. ( Pool is now closed and bricked/cemented over)
#6 Tunnel Mountain RED CHAIRS: Continue from the Cave and Basin, retrace your cycle tracks back over the pedestrian bridge, make your way through Banff and up the Tunnel Mountain road. At the top of the road, past the campground, watch for thethe Tunnel Mountain chairs. Again, they provide a beautifulview of the small mountain the road is named after, along with the Bow River and the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel.
#7 Hoodoo RED CHAIRS: Approx another km down the Tunnel Mtn road, another pullover gives access to a short walk pathway, bringing you to the Hoodoo red chair site. Hoodoos are formed from erosion of glacial deposits that extend from one side of the Bow Valley to the other, leaving prominent pinnacle features on the cliff sides of the Bow River. Note: The chairs were not placed to see the Hoodoos - best seen from the nearby hiking trail, or better yet a kayak:
From this point, it's a pretty easy cycle down the remainder of Tunnel Mountain road, leading back down to an intersection with the Legacy Trail and return to Canmore. Usually, there is a west wind blowing, so you get a nice tailwind back home to Canmore.
If you are staying at Grandview Chalet B&B in Canmore, the return trip is approximately 100km for this trip (including the side trips to Johnson and Vermillian Lakes). But it's pretty easy to tailor an easier trip (or harder).
There is a final set of red chairs at Grandview Chalet's backyard! Bring some cold beer, and treat yourself to a ride well done!