Switchbacks & scenery in Cranbrook’s Community Forest
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Written and photographed by Chris Istace
With our rental bikes loaded on the back of our SUV, we headed out from Kootenay Mountain Works bike shop eager to take on the Community Forest everyone was raving about in Cranbrook. As we neared Cranbrook, we turned north from the city towards the Eager Hill trailhead. We were immediately greeted with a sun-kissed hillside of blooming wildflowers and the scent of Ponderosa pine.
As we got our helmets on and readied ourselves, we couldn’t wait to head out on the trails, so we snuck ahead until Ryan Hamilton pedaled up to us coming from the Fraggle Rock trailhead. He most likely rode his daughter’s favourite trail –“Ewok and Roll” and then the “Chewbacca Rocka” connector to meet up with us.
We find out Ryan would be guiding us on the brand new R2Dtour trail. Yep, the locals must love their Star Wars because all the trails in the Eager Hill section of the Community Forest are inspired by the classic movie.
The R2Dtour biking trail is a new addition to the 200 kms of maintained trails in the Cranbrook area.
Pedaling further along the trails, we cruised the carefully planned switchbacks and contours. Ryan, who was involved in the building of R2Dtour in the fall of 2017 as president of the WildHorse Cycle Club, says they are thrilled with how well the MTB trails in the area make use of the topography.
The Heidout is the perfect spot to refuel with beer and food at the end of a day on the trails.
Bikes loaded up, it was time for some post-ride après in downtown Cranbrook at Heidout Restaurant and Brewhouse. Home of talented Red Seal chefs and locally-owned Fisher Peak brewing, we were in for a food and drink treat. With a selection of ales to radlers and Jaeger Hunter Schnitzel to Avacado Quinoa salad, everyone was happy and content. It got pretty quiet as we attacked our meals with a ravenous appetite brought on by our vigorous ride.
Fisher Peak brewing crafts a nice selection of beers and food that features locally sourced foods whenever possible.
As we chatted about the local community forest biking trails, I was surprised to learn that in the 2,000 hectares of protected parkland there is roughly 200 kilometres of maintained trails.
“The community forest is so special because it is so close to town. It has a variety of environments that you ride through. There are grassland sections, marshy sections, mossy sections, and forested sections,” Ryan said.
Ryan says the best way for newcomers to experience the trails is by joining the weekly club rides that start at the College of the Rockies upper parking lot. Ladies night is 7 p.m. Tuesdays, and co-ed nights happen on Thursdays at 7 p.m.
Janice Strong, a local hiking guide and guide book author, loves the Cranbrook area for the diverse landscapes, from mountains to meadows.
Now it was time to experience the other summer way to visit the forest – by foot. This time we explored the Sylvan Lake region of the community forest with local hiking expert, photographer and guidebook author Janice Strong.
Our hike began at the Lower Baker Road Trailhead and we set out on the Meander Trail. I instantly saw the diversity of the Community Forest. Our bike ride on Eager Hill was rolling open meadows with towering Ponderosa pine, while this section led us through dense Douglas fir, tall grassy meadows and marshland with lakes.
This contrasting landscape is the reason she loves the area.
Cranbrook’s landscape is dominated by Fisher Peak and the Steeples Mountain range.
“The scenery around Cranbrook is a big draw for me, with the dramatic looking Fisher Peak and the Steeples Mountain range of the adjacent Rockies. The eco-diversity of the local environments, open grasslands with a fantastic burst of wildflowers in spring and Douglas fir and pine forests, offer a different landscape to explore. While several ponds and wetlands near Cranbrook add variety,” she said.
As I walked along the trails enjoying the forest, we came upon Alkali Lake. It was alive with shorebirds and you could just picture relaxing into a state of meditation in the early evening as the ducks and songbirds went about their ways.
It only took me one short visit to fall in love with the forest. The passion the locals have for this area is obvious in how well the trails are laid out. It’s no wonder the parkland is now into its third decade since becoming a protected area.
The only thing missing on this trip was just a bit more time. But I’ll be back because I have to see those stunning bitterroot and arrow-leafed balsam spring wildflower blooms again.
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