Lifting away from the launch pad in a helicopter, the small town of Revelstoke, British Columbia appeared. Within moments the scope of our view had expanded exponentially; now the once large town was merely an outpost surrounded a backdrop of immense, wild mountains. And then we ascended into the smoke.
Our visibility was quickly reduced to just silhouettes of nearby ridges. An unsettling feeling gnawed at my dad and I, memories of horror movies with a unfortunate mixture of fog and aircraft coming to mind. After a few more minutes, we emerged triumphantly from the clouds into an alpine wonderland beyond what I had ever seen. Hundreds of feet below, glaciers sprawled out into high valleys, jagged peaks threatened to tear holes in the sky, and azure alpine lakes lay burdened by massive icebergs.
Then, on a ten square foot landing site perched atop the exposed ridge of Mount Cartier, the pilot eased the helicopter down. We grabbed the bikes off the skid-mounted rack, and we waved goodbye to the pilot as he flew back into the smoke. On the other side of the valley, snow-capped mountains we hadn’t glimpsed before watched over the town of Revelstoke — the town that was still somewhere below — like sentinels.
Revelstoke: a Mountain Biking Town on the Rise
It wouldn’t be far from the truth to claim that Revelstoke is British Columbia’s (and quite possibly Canada’s) best-kept secret. This is partially due to the reality that world-class mountain biking can be found out the wazoo in Canada’s Pacific province, with destinations like Whistler, Squamish, the South Chilcotins, Fernie, and Golden seemingly being mentioned in every other sentence when the topic of mountain biking comes up. But in addition, news of this diverse destination rarely manages to make it out of the province.
In reality, Revelstoke has all the hallmarks of a great destination and more. First, they’ve managed to jam three bike shops into the small downtown area. Regarding the trails, three main local systems contain some of the best XC and downhill riding in British Columbia’s interior, and numerous high alpine peaks and basins feature steep, loose, and gnarly trails. After the ride, excellent restaurants and breweries await in town to make up riders’ calorie deficits. Lastly, two national parks are only a short drive away for an action-packed rest day.
Navigating such a comprehensive destination can be tricky; to make your stay on the “Big Eddy” a little smoother, here’s a guide to the best the town has to offer.
(A Few of) Revelstoke’s Epic Rides
Simply put, heli-biking Mount Cartier should be on every mountain biker’s bucket list. To start, the exhilarating helicopter ride into the Selkirk Mountains alone would be worth the time. But then riders are treated to a 7,500ft. (you read it correctly) decent in 9 miles from barren tundra through dry coniferous forests to moist trail below.
In the tundra, your steering skills will be put to the test with several thousand feet of steep mountainside looming to the narrow trail’s side. Once you traverse a ridge and drop into the trees, massive rock obstacles will give way to incredibly steep, dusty pitches. After a short but grueling gut-punch of a climb, the ride will finish with some of the fastest, flowy and smooth trail you’ll ever get a chance to ride your knobbies on.
Despite the hardships involved, peak bagging by bike still holds a spot deep in my heart. There’s nothing quite like it. It’s one thing to go on a mountain bike ride to have a great time; it’s a whole other animal to have an ultimate mission, a goal, to work to. Joss Mountain is no different; in fact, it’s one of the best summits you can ride worldwide.
Yes, there is almost 4,000 feet of climbing to get to the top, and a good chunk of it is hike-a-bike through heavy bear country up a dizzying number of switchbacks. However, once you cross the treeline, all that suffering is put into perspective. A massive alpine wonderland complete with lakes nosed in by steep cliffs, massive snowbanks reminding visitors of the dominant season, and views encompassing the vastness of the Monashee Mountains with unfold in front of your eyes.
The cherry on top is that after high-fiving at the top, you’ll realize all that unrideable climbing is in fact raw, gnarly descending. All you’ll need to do is open up that suspension and shred!
If an exclusively downhill shuttle run in the backcountry is more your speed, the Martha Creek Trail is more than qualified to oblige. After catching a ride to the top of the mountain, you’ll be immediately put to the test with technical rock gardens studding the path toward the valley below.
After spinning through the picturesque meadows in the shadow of looming mountains, a technical jaunt through old growth forest leads to the wide-open, high speed, brake pad-disintegrating flow of the middle section of the trail. Soak it up while you can, though, because the lower section adds yet another layer to the descent’s myriad of trail types.
Soon rock gardens and root webs, daunting, low-speed, and awkward, will challenge your drained body. Ladder bridges will provide a respite from the difficult going in some places, but often they serve as yet another obstacle. By the end, this 6-mile. 5,000ft. descent will leave you exhausted and begging for go.
Keystone-Standard Basin is the ride that put Revelstoke on the radar, and for good reason. Riding up the dirt road to the trailhead, riders are confronted by unparalleled isolation. Even the dirt road entrance is far from anything. Cell service? Funny joke.
Riding the trail, a punchy climb out of the forest and into alpine meadows will eventually lead to the high point of the trail in the alpine. From there the trail winds down toward the adjacent valley, a valley completely removed from human contact besides the occasional fellow explorer and a cabin that is being reclaimed by the forest. If you hunger for more, a faint trail is supposed to wind up a nearby peak. I’ve heard it’s a great extension to explore for an all-day ride.
Revelstoke’s local trails
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Smashed a fair few miles with @jt_thompsett this weekend including this mega alpine ride ? ???????????? . . . . . . . . #LovesBackWheel #TeamFocus #FocusSam #Revelstoke #RideBeyond #ExploreBC #ExploreCanada #FrisbyRidge #BanffNationalPark #Canada #GoPro #MTB #RideFox #Mountain #Bike #Enduro
Frisby Ridge‘s flowy alpine singletrack effortlessly blurs the line between local and epic. On one hand, it is a short and easy drive from town to this purpose-built wonderland. On the other, it provides miles of stunning alpine riding.
It may be a stiff 2,700 foot climb to the top, but you’ll be rewarded around every corner. You might see a bear (as there are many in the area). Maybe you’ll get a chance to cool down in a snow bank closer to the top. Or you might just session the slickrock of the middle section. Even if you do none of those things, at least you’ll be able to blast back down the sculpted trail!
Be aware that this is Revelstoke’s most popular trail. On any given day, there will be a lot of people there. It is best to go early or late to get the best riding experience.
If you’re looking for a low-key day on some of the best mountain bike trails around, Mount MacPherson is the place to go. Within this little system, a trail to suit any rider can be found. For those looking for pure high speed flow, Flowdown’s wide turns and numerous rollers are hard to beat. Similarly, technical steeps are easy to find on Chair and Sex on the Beach. And trials fanatics should look out for Root Canal, a slow speed jaunt through a labyrinth of root webs.
The area’s best trail (in my humble opinion) is TNT. A perfect ballet between technical riding and flow, it provides a safe environment for riders of any skill level to progress. Beginners might be trying to ride it while advanced bike handlers will be looking for bigger and better ways to send the trail’s root jumps and rock rolls.
An outsider might look at Revelstoke’s trails and point out the lack of any lift-serviced bike park as a huge disadvantage. However, a further search will certainly uncover Boulder Mountain as an adequate substitute. A quick shuttle to the top of this network will give gravity-junkies many options to quench their thirst for downhill. Whatever trail they choose, they’ll be met by big jumps, massive drops, gnarly technical sections, and loose turns.
Where to Eat and Drink
It’s not hard to tell that this classic restaurant is focused on casual fun. Great service, a menu full of delicious picks, a bar, and TVs that often play mountain biking events make this an ideal spot for a night to remember. If you’re not Canadian, this is also a great place to get antiquated with the country’s most famous delicacy: poutine.
The only other thing that is absolutely necessary for a mountain biking town besides amazing trails is good beer. Luckily, Mount Begbie Brewing Company offers almost every type imaginable and is a short ride away from the Revelstoke Campground.
With accommodation for non-dairy, gluten-free, vegan diets, The Modern Bakeshop & Cafe is the best place for anyone to get their early morning fix of coffee and breakfast before heading off on a long ride in the mountains.
Revelstoke bike shops
Skookum Cycle & Ski’s friendly staff will be willing to talk to you about your bike, your hometown, or your trip any time. While you’re there, be sure to grab some Revelstoke-themed jerseys, a couple extra parts for your upcoming rides, and a quick tuneup to make sure your time in Revelstoke is, well, full of stoke.
If you still want a high quality experience without the hassle of downtown Revelstoke, Flowt Bikes & Skis is right for you. Although it’s perfect for a pit stop, the knowledgeable staff will be able to help whether you need to change some brake pads or you fork is blown up.
Maintaining a bike during a trip can be expensive. At Tantrum Ride Company, the staff will able to ease your pain by providing quality service at reasonable prices.
Your turn: Did we miss any of Revelstoke’s best eats, trails, or drinks? Leave a comment down below!