The BC Trail

  • Distance

    745 Mi.

    (1,199 KM)
  • Days

    12

  • % Unpaved

    90%

  • % Singletrack

    12%

  • Difficulty (1-10)

    5

  • % Rideable (time)

    99%

  • Total Ascent

    46,663'

    (14,223 M)
  • High Point

    6,813'

    (2,077 M)
The BC Trail is a 1,200 kilometer traverse of southern British Columbia, starting in the Fraser Valley and ending in Fernie, on the Alberta border. Following decommissioned rail trails, gravel side roads, forest service roads, and singletrack, the BC Trail boasts some of the most spectacular views the province has to offer.
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The BC Trail traverses eastward across British Columbia’s southern border. The route starts in Cultus Lake, a stone’s throw from Vancouver — where BC’s segment of the Trans Canada Trail leaves suburban pathways for dirt — and ends in the small Rocky Mountain ski town of Fernie.

In the early ‘90s the BC Trail began as part of the Trans Canada Trail project as an effort to expand the already-popular Kettle Valley Rail Trail across the province, from Victoria to the Alberta border. While the KVR segment from Princeton to Midway remains among Canada’s most popular off-pavement bike tours, this longer route, which showcases the bulk of BC’s Trans Canada Trail, with the exclusion of the Vancouver Island section and the convoluted maze of suburban bike paths in the Fraser Valley, offers less-developed riding for the more adventurous rider. While decommissioned rail trails still make up the majority of the terrain, don’t be fooled, many of these sections are rough and are hard on gear and riders alike.

  • BC Epic 1000 Bikepacking Route
  • BC Epic 1000 Bikepacking Route
  • BC Trail, BC Epic 1000 Bikepacking Route
  • BC Trail, BC Epic 1000 Bikepacking Route
  • BC Trail, BC Epic 1000 Bikepacking Route

The BC Trail is arguably the best way to explore and visit the many breathtaking regions of British Columbia. The Coquihalla River Trail, Kettle Valley Rail Trail, and the Great Northern Rail Trail link some of the larger towns together, accompanied by scenic forest service roads and the occasional reminder that B.C is home to some technical, rocky singletrack. Popular destinations like the the Myra Canyon Trestles and old railroad tunnels are met alongside less travelled gems like Gray Creek Pass and elevated views of the Columbia River. The route mixes a healthy dose of frontcountry amenities with remote sections that require a bit more skill and planning.

As an added bonus, a self-supported bikepacking race, known as the BC Epic 1000, follows the BC Trail from Merritt to Fernie every June in true grand depart format. Lennard Pretorius of Kamloops, B.C first introduced the race in 2016 with only 7 of 14 riders finishing the route, and saw double the interest and a much higher completion rate in 2017. For riders looking for a surprisingly challenging bikepacking race, make sure to check out the links found in additional resources at the bottom of this page.

Route Development: The BC Trail is only a small portion of the government-organized, Trans Canada Trail (now rebranded as The Great Trail), which claims to be the world’s longest network of recreational trails, reaching 24,000km / 15,000mi in length. See The Great Trail website to learn more. Huge thanks to Skyler Des Roches for linking the BC Epic 1000 route together with the remainder of the BC Trail, especially on the western side of the route, and for his local knowledge which helped considerably in the development of the trail you see here. Another big thank-you to Lennard Pretorius for developing and organizing the BC Epic 1000, as it’s great to see more Canadian-based events available to riders. Lennard also provided incredibly detailed beta on the route, and was partly responsible for convincing me to ride the route.

Difficulty Rating: The BC Trail was assigned a 5 out of 10 based on the distance covered and the surprisingly harsh terrain the trails follow. Although the majority of the route is not technically difficult, there are some loose, sandy, and sections with repetitive washboard that can be hard on riders. The route has plenty of services, but there are a few remote sections along the trail that have limited bailout points, which could potentially force longer than anticipated days if a resupply is needed.

  • Highlights

  • Must Know

  • Camping

  • Food/H2O

    💧

  • Trail Notes

  • Travel on what were some of the most expensive rail roads in the world to build through some of most scenic regions of Central B.C.
  • Trestles and tunnels up to a kilometre long, will remind you of the significance of the railroad in Canadian history.
  • Grey Creek Pass is a 1,500m climb over 17km, only those who have reached the top recognize the significance of this small hurdle.
  • Ride high above the remote valleys that link some of the resupply points together, each day brings on a new challenge and new rewards.
  • Cross from valley to valley with fantastic views into the expanse of mountain ranges, rivers, and lakes beyond.
  • The Balfour Ferry across Kootenay Lake before taking on Grey Creek Pass, it’s free and offers fantastic views of local mountain ranges.
  • The BC Epic 1000 is a self-supported bikepacking race with a grand depart each June that follows the Trans BC from Merritt to Fernie.
  • Passing through several unique geographic regions and quirky towns that provide great resupply points along the way.
  • 30km of hard packed flowy singletrack between Cranbrook and Wardner via the Chief Isadore Trail.
  • Do not underestimate the terrain. Although the route follows a great portion of the Trans Canada Trail, now known as the Great Trail, most sections are incredibly rough and are slow going.
  • Cell service is limited and often non existent between towns which can sometimes be up to 8 hours of riding, bring a SPOT or similar communication device.
  • There are wild animals along the route including but not limited to cougars, black bears, grizzly bears, moose, elk, and llamas. Bear spray is strongly recommended.
  • Snow can stick around at higher elevations along the route like Grey Creek Pass and Farron Pass, these sections are usually clear by late June.
  • The best time to ride the route is late June to September due to snow, as mentioned above, and grizzly activity between Salmo and Nelson.
  • Navigating the BC Trail is not easy and a GPS is highly recommended, make sure you have extra batteries or some way to charge it.
  • There’s no shortage of campgrounds, motels, and recreation sites along the route, many of which are labeled on the route map. Most recreation sites are free or only $12 to use, those looking to save cash should take advantage of these options.
  • Some small towns close down early in the day, and will then offer no amenities even if they are listed on the route map. If you are forced to stealth camp, do so legally and away from people’s properties. And as always, #leavenotrace.
  • There are many resupply points along the route, including fantastic restaurants, dodgy gas stations, and premium level grocery stores.
  • I carried a breakfast and a dinner on me at all times incase I showed up late to a small town, this was crucial on more than one occasion and a good habit to get into.
  • Pack a water purification system of some kind, a pump or tabs, as there is plenty of mountain runoff and small lakes along the route. I did fine carrying a 1.18 litre Klean Kanteen on my downtube and a 750 ml bottle up front, topping them both up as needed.
  • You may end up staying in a remote location, far from any store, so be prepared for an impromptu backcountry campout. Do not store food in your tent or where you sleep.
  • The majority of the route is rough, chunky, and often very sandy. Plus sized tires or a suspension fork is not a bad idea to help absorb the washboard riddled trails. One of the primary reasons for grand depart riders to drop out is not being prepared for the constant chatter while riding long days. C, chamois cream and proper hygiene are essential for putting in over 150km days.
  • All rail grade? No not really. Expect some pushing, some steep descents, and substantial elevation gain each day.
  • It is best, if possible, to arrange a pickup at the end of the route but you can pack up your bike and take a greyhound bus if that is your only option.
  • Sign the Trans Canada Trail registers in Midway, the Gray Creek Store, and any others you come across, these are used to allocate funding and aid in trail stewardship efforts.

Additional Resources

Have any questions about the route? Miles completed the BC Epic 1000 portion of the route in 5 days, 10 hours during the 2017 Grand Depart and invites any questions to be posted below.

Terms of Use: As with each bikepacking route guide published on BIKEPACKING.com, should you choose to cycle this route, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road closures. While riding, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. BIKEPACKING.com LLC, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individual riders cycling or following this route.

  • http://www.leavenotraceexpeditions.com Zoran Vasić

    Thank you for this article.
    From Fernie this route could be extended to Banff matching TDR. I was researching that option since bus transportation from Vancouver BC to Banff AB is much cheaper than to Fernie BC. It will add additional 200km to the BC Trail.

  • Rob Grey

    nice writeup, and great photos! i couldn’t do the whole race this year, unfortunately, but was able to ride the first day to penticton, and it was a blast. truth about it not to be taken lightly, despite it being rail grade; washboard, loose, and sandy sections really wear on you after a day in the saddle. plus tires and/or suspension would definitely help, i had neither and wish i had something.

    also worth a mention is the heat, as it can get quite hot in the interior of bc depending on the time of year. water is your friend, there’s lots of it, top off your bottles regularly. also, watch for snakes sunning themselves on the trail, i saw several and almost hit a couple.

    one last thing: the pass at paleface mtn east of chilliwack lake can get quite grown in. last time i was up there the alders were… frustrating.

  • Cameron Dube

    Awesome write up and well done!

  • http://milesarbour.com Miles Arbour

    Thanks for the info Rob – will you take another shot at the full route next year?

  • http://milesarbour.com Miles Arbour

    Makes sense – we just didn’t want to extend it on a section none of us had ridden before, but maybe a quick overnighter could solve that…

  • http://milesarbour.com Miles Arbour

    Thanks Cam!

  • http://www.leavenotraceexpeditions.com Zoran Vasić

    I really appreciate your hard work to present this route to wider bikepacking community. Thank you again!

  • Simon Lewis

    I was trying to piece together a route myself using the old KVR maps and books and now I don’t have to! Thanks for this!

  • fauxpho

    Math doesn’t add up on the Grey Creek Pass highlight (“20km climb with grades averaging around 15%”).
    20km at 15% = 3000m = 9900ft climb. The climb is actually less than half that elevation gain (~4800ft).
    Doesn’t make it easy, and I’m sure there are painful 15% segments, but perhaps less daunting to those considering the route to know its more like 9.5% average over 10 miles.

  • http://milesarbour.com Miles Arbour

    The climb begins at around 940km and peaks at 960km, there are definitely some 15% grades and also some sections that are closer to 9.5%, as you stated. Either way, it’s long and steep and took me 3 hours to get up, mostly riding, but definitely some stretches of hiking.

  • fauxpho

    The road grade numbers are well-documented: 17km climb at 8.8% average and 16% maximum gradient. Since 15% arguably means mandatory hike-a-bike for a loaded rig, I think its worthwhile carefully distinguishing between average and maximum, which the (otherwise excellent) write-up confuses. As a reader, I’m simply suggesting a very short & simple edit would improve clarity about the scale of this obstacle.

  • http://milesarbour.com Miles Arbour

    I hear ya, we will update asap to make things more clear!

  • http://theRadavist.com Morgan Taylor

    We rode Gray Creek Pass on the second day of our three-month trip last year, while our bikes were still quite heavy with initial provisions, our last home-cooked meals in tupperware, and so on.

    The straight numbers: 17 km and 1500 metres of climbing from Gray Creek Store to the free camp spot just short of the summit. The climb took us 6 hours; we stopped to eat dinner on the way up, and pedaled the whole way on 24/36 granny gears.

    In hindsight this day was actually less challenging mentally than the next day into Kimberley and Cranbrook, where the net descent is still very bumpy and required more pedaling than you’d expect based on the profile.

    The other point worth mentioning is Gray Creek Pass is very remote and at 2000 metres elevation; it was early July and overnight temps dipped below freezing. Finding a suitable alpine tree to hang our food bag was challenging. All in all, I think Miles highlights this section because it truly is remote, and at the same time, wonderful.

  • http://milesarbour.com Miles Arbour

    Thanks Morgan! :)

  • Rob Grey

    just thought i’d pitch in my two cents. thanks for taking the time for the route description!

    as for next year, absolutely! but i’ll plan it out better and take off an appropriate amount of time so i’m able to finish, then enjoy fernie for a day or two while recovering.

    i was thinking about this route at work today, and all the sweet singletrack along the route. it’d be awesome to take a few weeks at a touring pace and ride all of the great trail systems along the way (and rehydrate at all the breweries in the adjacent towns). it’s really an embarrassment of riches in that regard: penticton and kelowna, rossland, kimberly, and fernie all have renown mtb trails. it could be a whole summer of marquee trails while touring a great dirt route through one of the most beautiful places around. it’s a great place to call home.

    now i’m just rambling…

  • http://milesarbour.com Miles Arbour

    Such a good point, and likely closer to what I would have done if track leaders didn’t peer pressure me into racing the route.. more to come on that.

  • http://www.offroute.ca Skyler

    Good point about the Paleface Pass. Going West to East, though, the stuff where it’s properly grown in is on the descent side. For me, it meant I could use gravity to just coast through the alder. It was like 30 minutes of deep forest bathing (i.e. getting repeatedly whipped in the face and arms by alder. Wear sunglasses.), but it didn’t slow progress in a notable way. The climb is also a bit brushy in places, but not so much that one can’t ride it – it mostly just affected the view (green tunnel). Bear spray is probably a wise accessory on such trails with poor visibility. All in all, a few hours of alder exfoliation with some great singletrack at the pass.

  • Rob Grey

    heh, yeah. i went for it even without a spot or registering with trackleaders. i guess i just wanted to see if i could keep a race pace going, even if i knew i’d be preemptively scratching in penticton. i hung with lennard until princeton, but he’s a beast…

  • Rob Grey

    agreed. i went east, then back west, and the return trip wasn’t the best. just wanted to throw a little caveat out there, for the people.

  • http://www.offroute.ca Skyler

    Another note, since it seems my warning waypoints didn’t come out on the map: On the KVR climb along the Coquihalla River, north of Hope, the route as mapped includes one wet-fording of the Coquihalla River. This will not be possible earlier in the season, at high water! To avoid wasting time, just don’t ever cross to the east side of the Coquihalla River. Where the GPS route briefly heads to the east bank, across a bridge, detour 5km kilometers on the highway shoulder.

    In late summer, the Coquihalla is relatively easily forded, and it’s nice to avoid even a few kilometers on a freeway.

  • lawdog

    “Must Know” part of the article says “There are wild animals along the route including but not limited to cougars, black bears, grizzly bears, moose, elk, and llamas. Bear spray is strongly recommended.” Really? Wild llamas?

  • http://milesarbour.com Miles Arbour

    They might have been behind a fence, but they definitely had a wild look in their eyes…

  • Biggermig

    Awesome write up! Thanks much for putting your time into this. Looking at train tickets to Vancouver, BC.