You leave the busy town of Banff behind and hit the gravel in approximately one mile from the start- as soon as you get to the Goat Creek Trail. Immediately, things become calm, quiet and serene. The trail follows the beautiful Spray River and Goat Creek, and is wide and relatively smooth with some roots and rocks which are easy to navigate. Even in the peak summer season, trail use was very light- we saw only a handful of other friendly bikers on this nearly 20-mile stretch of trail.
Spray Lakes Road/Trail is a beautiful but steep gravel decent into Canmore. There will be cars sharing the road with you, but the scenery of the lakes is outstanding and we saw some big horn sheep along the road here.
In the route provided we did NOT direct riders into the Canmore Nordic Canter in order to make a clean loop route, but when we were out there, we DID explore about 8 miles going out and back on the Banff Trail. We would certainly recommend it if you have the time!!! The Nordic Center's easy biking trails are perfect for gravel bikes and it is free for bikers to enter during the summer! Trails were relatively flat and smooth, and as you get deeper into the park, there are some lovely but slightly more rugged double track. Trails were not crowded and the forrest and mountain scenery was spectacular.
This route has a 50/50 gravel to pavement ratio, but nearly all of the pavement is dedicated bike path, so you are rarely with car traffic. The paved Banff-Legacy Trail, which takes you from Canmore back to Banff, parallels the highway, and in most cases you still have plenty of tress and nature to make it quite enjoyable.
Truth be told, we had some hopes that we could to this whole loop on dirt/gravel trails, but the Rundle Riverside trail, which we would have picked up from within the Nordic Center at the end of the Banff Trail, was just too rough of a mountain bike trail for our gravel bikes with 38c tires. And there was that scary sign about recent grizzly bear activity too! (Don't forget to bring your bear spray!)
Not necessarily a low, but Miles 13-22 of the Goat Creek Trail are generally uphill, and there were one or two steeper pitches with chunky gravel that we chose to hop off and walk up.
Do this incredibly scenic ride if you are in Banff or Canmore during the summer months. With 50% pavement, and not a terrible amount of elevation gain, this is a great route for a beginner/intermediate gravel rider.
We actually biked from our campground, Two Jacks Campground, but the route published here starts from the Wolf Street Parking lot in downtown Banff. There are many options for parking within Banff, most of which will require a payment.
When exiting the Goat Creek Trail and getting to Spray Lakes Road/Trail, there was a minor detour due to some construction, but it was well marked and very easy to navigate.
Bonus biking option: exploring easy trails in the Canmore Nordic Canter. (The Canmore Nordic Centre was originally constructed for the 1988 Winter Olympics. The cross-country skiing, biathlon and cross-country skiing part of the Nordic combined events were held there.) We went about 8 miles out and back on the Banff Trail, which was listed as "easy" on their trail map (linked here).
There are opportunities to stop and refuel. You start and end in the town of Banff where there are plenty of coffee shops, bathrooms and restaurants to choose from. (We had a great pre-ride coffee and gluten-free treat from the Wild Flour Bakery.) All of the Goat Creek Trail leading from Banff to Canmore is remote and without services, but by around mile 19, you arrive in Canmore where there is again, many food and drink options. We stopped in Canmore and had a delicious smoothie from Mountain Juice Cafe (which is right on the route and was perfect for cooling down on a hot summer day).