Spirit, Soul & Vibe

We’re pretty sure the Greater Vancouver, Sunshine Coast, and Coast Mountains region is the center of the mountain bike universe. We might not be completely objective though… Squamish is home for this writer. Regardless of our bias, we’re looking forward to justifying such a bold statement. Sure, there are incredible riding spots all over the globe. We’ve even been fortunate enough to have ridden some, but every time we see the temperate rainforests, rivers, and mountains of southwestern British Columbia, our bias only grows.

It is difficult to define what makes this region so amazing beyond just the trails. Within this region, you’ll find the most populated, swankiest city in the province, but also the wild, volcanic, and unforgiving Coast Mountains. This is part of what makes this area so great. One minute: sipping a low-fat chai latte at a bustling café and discussing the stock market (disclaimer: we drink black coffee and we’re broke so investment debates are moot); the next minute: uncharted adventure, endless amazing trails, and a lifetime of shenanigans. Want convenience and city life? Got it. Want to live off the grid in solitude? Got that too.

BC boys Thomas Vanderham, Wade Simmons, Geoff Gulevich, Andreas Hestler and more give a brief overview of all this amazing region has to offer.

The trails of southwestern British Columbia have become something of fairytales. Sure, other regions have more reliable sunshine or greater elevation, but trails are the sum of their parts and the result here is magical. We could easily point visitors to the Sea to Sky corridor (i.e. Horseshoe Bay, Squamish, Whistler, and Pemberton), but the rad riding in this area has been thoroughly documented and is widely agreed upon. Instead, we’re pointing visitors towards a couple of less frequented zones that are unassuming, but equally as beautiful and have incredible trails to boot. The trails are preposterously fun, never seem to show any signs of wear, and rarely have we come across other riders beyond the odd parking lot salute.


Fraser Valley

On The Way

The Fraser Valley technically includes everything from the source of the mighty Fraser River to the ocean. For the sake of this article, we are going to consider the Fraser Valley as the eastern portion of the Lower Mainland all the way to the town of Hope. The Fraser Valley is essentially a giant floodplain and delta created by Canada’s 10th largest river, which drains over 85,000 square miles. This fertile region brings in around half of British Columbia’s annual agricultural revenue, even though it is a relatively small swatch of land. Beyond the farmer’s fields are amazing terrain, devoted builders, and rad trails, all of which make this valley such a treat to ride. 

Chilliwack advertises itself as “The Great Outside” and lives up to the expression. Outdoor adventure is around every corner. The white water paddling in this region is world class and thrill seekers can check out Chilliwack River Rafting if they’re up for an adrenaline filled day off the bike. Riding can be burly at times, but getting into a dingy and hanging on for dear life through the Chilliwack River Canyon is straight up wild. Don’t worry too much, as a friendly rescue kayaker is there just in case. For flat water undertakings there are numerous lakes and calmer rivers. The Fraser Valley is also world-famous for the amazing fishing. Sturgeon are North America’s largest fish species, can weigh in excess of 400 pounds, and can be caught right from shore. They’re absolute dinosaurs and a true thrill to land. Travelers looking to land such a lunker are better off leaving the collapsible rod at home and calling Steve the Sturgeon Hunter.

We like to give credit where it is due and in this case the FVMBA deserves plenty. This volunteer run organization has done an outstanding job of developing mountain biking in a spread out collection of trail networks. There are loops and lines scattered all over the valley, many large networks, and quite a few amazing events that all seem to operate cohesively thanks to this crew of very dedicated riding enthusiasts. 

Where To Ride

The town of Mission doesn’t have the mountain culture glitz or glamour like Whistler, but does have the mountains themselves, along with passionate riders to build on them. Bear and Red Mountains are literally across the street from each other, with a generally quiet parking area and awesome riding. On the other side of Hayward Lake is a third, equally rad zone known as the Woodlot. Each of the three areas has too many good trails to list, plus there are a few gems in each network that we like to lap over and over.

Woodlot is home to some trails that simply have to be experienced at least once in your life. - Photo by Cody Schlamp

Super Bear and Lorax are flowy options on Bear Mountain that have a few jumps big enough to spike adrenaline, but small enough to justify sending your first lap. The great thing about each of them is that even though there are some fairly sizable features, the ride-arounds are a blast for those with a little less jumping prowess or a little more common sense. Bigguns is a more natural, all-mountain trail that runs parallel to Lorax and is a great loop when ridden in succession.

Red Mountain, a literal stone’s throw from Bear, has a couple of our all-time favorites. Guns n’ Rotors is a former BC Cup downhill track – arguably the steepest and most technical at that time. There are a few technical spots that come to mind when we think of this track, the first one being a steep rock roll to rooted chicane… barely out of the start ramp. We have ridden this line each time we’ve visited, but we have been complete passengers and thankful for excellent mountain bike engineering on each occasion. Next, a short rock compression into a six foot rock drop. Same approach and outcome as above. Last, a left-to-right triple. We’ve seen it done, but we’ve also seen some impressive frame cases. Each time we’re here, we are convinced that it isn’t a big deal until we are standing on the takeoff… then we tuck our tails and usually double instead. Other than those three spots (all of which have ride arounds), the trail is largely natural and perfect for long-legged trail bikes and DH sleds. Putting a lap together smoothly is an achievement and worth the effort of pedaling up the road at least a few times. Mastodon begins nearby too, and is a similarly challenging two and a half mile all-mountain trail that begins with a few tight corners before heading straight down the fall line. Expect more West Coast loam (editor’s note: by loam we mean duff), rooted chutes, and rock rolls with the odd pedal stroke in between. Bear, Red, and the Woodlot are perfect examples of why weekend warriors from the Fraser Valley are mutant technical trail wizards.

Join Vital MTB contributor and test rider, Joel Harwood, for a lap down Vedder Mountain near Chilliwack, BC. Trails ridden include The Den, 2 Cents, Skidder/Hidden Pleasures, Terg Ferg, and Dilemma. Yeow!

On the other side of the Fraser are three more incredible riding spots. Sumas, Ledgeview, and Vedder Mountain are located between the cities of Abbotsford and Chilliwack. Like those near Mission, we still don’t understand how such amazing trails can exist without excessive traffic or trail degradation. While all three spots are outstanding, a weekend at Vedder was one of our highlights this year.

The Vedder Mountain area is not only an amazing mountain biking area, but motocross lovers should bring the two-smoke too. Beginning from Cultus Lake is a recently completed four mile climb trail called Kerry’d Away that accesses a few amazing descents, in addition to a number of shorter loops. Our favorite, called Black Forest Ham, is A-MA-ZING. Take a single ratchet pedal stroke at the trailhead and then prepare for some of the best west coast tech anywhere. Natural, steep, wild in places, and a few jumps and drops to allow your hands an instant of reprieve before the madness continues. Top to bottom it takes about five minutes – we wish it was five hours. Again… A-MA-ZING. While intermediate riders should probably avoid Black Forest Ham, everybody will love long descents beginning with The Den, along with trails like Skidder, Mongoloyd, and Electric Lettuce which are all a similar flavor as Black Forest Ham, just a little more forgiving.

 

Where To Stay

Golden Ears Provincial Park is one of BC’s largest provincial parks and is a very short drive to the trails near Mission. While visiting, guests can fish, hike, swim or paddle in Alouette Lake. It gets pretty busy here on weekends, so don’t forget to make a reservation. If we’re more focused on riding Sumas, Ledgeview, and Vedder, we usually choose to rent a vacation property. With Vedder being located right beside Cultus Lake – a popular weekend retreat – there is no shortage of great places for rent.

Where To Eat

The Fraser Valley is full of small communities and large cities. As such, guests can find just about anything they desire during a trip to this area. Before heading to Cultus Lake, check out the Shandhar Hut in Chilliwack. Authentic Indian food, reasonable prices, and the fact that it is healthy is a bonus. Vedder Mountain visitors will need to be a little more selective as it is a small distance off the beaten path and there aren’t too many restaurant options in the immediate area. Woody’s Jamaican Grill is a good option that combines comfort foods with traditional Jamaican cuisine. The jerk chicken poutine is a perfect meal after a ride. 


Sunshine Coast

On The Way

The Sunshine Coast is immediately northwest of metro Vancouver and opposite the Sea to Sky corridor, separated from the rest of the mainland by countless fjords and rugged terrain. This area can be easily accessed from Horseshoe Bay or Comox via ferry or by float plane. Self-propelled travelers can reach the Sunshine Coast via sea kayak, an amazing journey in its own right. If it isn’t obvious by now, we’re fans of spending a few days floating around the sea. Those in the same (figurative and literal) boat can travel along the Sea To Sky Marine Trail from Squamish or through the Discovery Islands and Desolation Sound from Vancouver Island. The former is straightforward. The latter is an ambitious journey, but an extremely beautiful and rewarding one at that.

The view of the Islands can't be missed, and the Sunshine Coast almost always lives up to its name. - Photo by Joel Harwood

Travelers arriving through Powell River should take the time to enjoy the town and surrounding natural beauty. It is a quaint community with great camping, excellent riding, and a few outstanding food options. Our first trip to Powell River was a few years back during the BC Bike Race, and we can still remember coming off the ferry from Comox and being greeted by the entire bike-mad town. Another cool outdoor adventure is the Powell River Canoe Route. This trip is one of BC’s best portage journeys and connects eight lakes over 35 miles. Whether it is for an extended stay or just checking out a few trails, this welcoming community shouldn’t be missed.

At the opposite end of the Sunshine Coast Highway, take the time to ride Sprockids Park, which is a five minute pedal from the Langdale ferry terminal. This is a great network of flowing XC and is in large part a result of Doug Detwiller's efforts and the legacy he has built in the area. He created Sprockids over twenty years ago, noting what a positive influence mountain biking can be for young people. How much of an influence? Just ask Dylan Dunkerton, Curtis Robinson, Kris Sneddon, and UCI Junior World Champion Holly Feniak. Doug is one of many great people on the Sunshine Coast who have their priorities in check. 

Where To Ride

The riding up and down the Sunshine Coast can be summed up simply: fast and fun. In general the trails seem to be a little less steep than the rest of the region, which means that riders needn’t worry about their speed getting away from them all the time and can instead begin their quest to carry as much of it as possible. This is pretty much how we approach every trail in the Roberts Creek B&K network. There are gigantic hucks here and there, but for the most part we tend to just line up whatever is in front and send it (editor’s note: this usually works, but has resulted in a few savage head slaps and the odd tomahawk). Just getting to the main trails is a riot. Guy’s Gulch (a connector trail) is basically an overgrown road, but the ruts, rollers, and huckability are off the charts. Mach Chicken is great example of what makes riding in this area so fun:

How fast?! Mach Chicken! Magnus Manson lets it rip on the Sunshine Coast.

The trail itself has corners that beg to be rallied wide open, has a few small jumps that allow expert riders to air into and out of the corners, and rollers for more timid riders who will still have a blast hitting the turns. This trail has been used for grassroots downhill racing and has a long standing reputation as a fan favorite. iTrail is a tighter, more technical alternative to the Mach Chicken trailhead, but for whatever reason we still giggle endlessly as we try to cuttie our way down. The B&K network can be looped, shuttled, or raced endlessly, which makes it one of our all-time favorite riding spots. Did we mention that it can be connected to Sprockids and eventually to the ferry terminal along an amazing point-to-point shred? Well, it can. 

Does it get any better than this? Coast Gravity Park always delivers. Join Finn Iles as he mobs down several of the trails.

We have always loved the Sunshine Coast, and with the relatively recent opening of the Coast Gravity Park and its ongoing development, our love has become a borderline obsession. CGP is ridiculously entertaining. Sure, it has less vertical and fewer trails than some of the competition. We don’t debate that, but we will debate that quality often beats quantity. Their motto of “by riders, for riders” rings true the moment that the rubber meets the dirt. Mr. Green is their beginner friendly trail, and while many intermediate and advanced riders may turn up their noses at the thought of riding a beginner trail, we’d like to challenge folks to give it a whirl. In a place where the beginner trails are awesome, it is a forgone conclusion that the expert trails are going to be mental.

Berm, jump, whale tale, hip, berm, berm, pump, blast! We dream of Coastal Cruise. - Photo by Brandon Turman

Coastal Cruise is basically an amazing dirt jump set for big bikes. It takes a few laps for expert riders to hit every roller, berm, and gap perfectly, but once it happens, the feeling is addictive. Flight Deck is much the same, and when linked with Coastal Cruise, it is our favorite jump line we’ve ever ridden… anywhere… ever. Every single trail at CGP is a blast, and it is clear that The Coastal Crew, Evan Young (a.k.a. Evan the Intern), Brendan Howey, and the crew of local diggers have built CGP with one thing in mind: fun. We think they nailed it. Once the shuttles quit for the day, head just beyond the bike park to explore more of Sechelt’s hand-built singletrack goodness. 

 

Where To Stay

The laid back atmosphere on the Sunshine Coast hasn’t happened by accident. Accommodation options range from beachside camping to five-star resorts, but notably absent are large hotel franchises. We feel that the Sunshine Coast’s effort to keep tourism development in check has resulted in a mellower, more appealing atmosphere that could be lost if expansion got out of hand. There are great camping options and we have spent many nights under the stars at either of the provincial parks. Porpoise Bay is the busier of the two, but has more amenities, a beach, and is kid friendly. We have also had fantastic experiences renting vacation properties from local owners and prefer this option during the rainy months. Our preferred location to set camp is Sechelt for the simple fact that this small town has everything in close proximity. Food, lodging, trails, and the water are all within a short distance of each other. 

Where To Eat

While grocery stores probably don’t qualify for ‘where to eat,’ we suggest heading to Clayton’s Heritage Market to pick up any necessities for a trip to the Sechelt area. It is located in the heart of town, is full of friendly locals, and has everything required for a stay on the Sunshine Coast. For coffee, breakfast, or a light lunch, head to Strait Coffee. Not only do they have the best espresso on the Sunshine Coast, every one of their blends is roasted in-house. For down to earth comfort food, the Gumboot Restaurant is located immediately across the road from the B&K trails in Roberts Creek. For a post-ride food binge, Lucky’s Smokehouse can’t be beat. Fortunately, they’re close to the wharf for a short post-dinner walk… the last time we ate there we are fairly certain that we ate more pulled pork than any single human should eat in a sitting. 

Incredible trails abound in this region, you just need to know where to look. Shawn Neer makes quick work of some rocky fun in Pemberton. - Photo by Brandon Turman

Additional Stops To Consider

As we said in the beginning, we were looking forward to making our case for this region as the center of the mountain bike universe. Truth is, if our case hasn’t been convincing it isn’t because we’re wrong, it’s because we can’t fit all of the radness into a single article. We couldn’t squeeze it into a leather-bound encyclopedia. There’s just too much. Too many trails, too many dedicated communities and advocacy groups, too many jaw-dropping features, and all of which are shoehorned into a few hundred square miles. Just get here, shred, rinse, and repeat.

  • Vancouver's North Shore - "Few places on earth have had as much impact on the MTB world as Vancouver’s North Shore mountains. From way back in the day it has been featured in countless freeride films and inspired trail builders and bikers around the world to replicate 'The Shore' style of riding. Only 45 minutes from the furthest outlying suburb of Metro Vancouver, the beautiful North Shore Mountains are a treasure to both residents and visitors of the region. 'The Shore' as it is affectionately referred to by the locals is the backyard playground to the region's 2.3 million residents and offers some of the best mountain biking experiences in BC."
  • Pemberton - "Mountain biking is one of the most popular summer activities in Pemberton, and the assortment of sensational downhill and cross-country trails have made the area a reputable place for advanced and expert riders. Events like the Nimby Fifty, one of the most challenging cross-country mountain bike races in the country, have helped build Pemberton’s reputation as one of B.C.’s premier destinations for mountain biking. Located just north of Whistler and a beautiful two and half hour drive from Vancouver, Pemberton & District is your gateway to adventure! From fresh food to epic riding, Pemberton has it all."
  • Squamish - "Squamish mountain biking serves up more than 100 kilometers of singletrack to satisfy every skill level, from gentle cruises in the estuary to hairball downhill descents on Diamond Head. The Crumpit Woods and Valleycliffe areas offer expansive networks of single track trails that take cross-country riders through the stream beds, woodlands and granite features of Squamish’s West Coast forest. The gradual slopes, original rail track and occasional technical descents of Alice Lake’s bike trails are perfect for first-timers, while the Squamish Valley’s dyke trails allow a scenic cruise for slow cyclists. A four-season feast for all abilities."
  • Whistler - While the Whistler Bike Park is no doubt an incredible experience with over 70 trails and 4,926 vertical feet to play on, there's so much more to this mecca in addition to the chairlift. "Imagine a place where you can give it your all and the riding options are endless. Picture an incredible variety of terrain to explore, from epic, high alpine, West Coast singletrack to arguably the world’s best mountain bike park. This rider’s paradise features bike-friendly accommodations with secure storage areas, and rental shops that stock the sweetest rides. Best of all, this place isn’t imaginary. It’s Whistler - and your epic ride is waiting for you. Whistler has hundreds of kilometres of trails, with a riding experience for the beginner to the most expert technical rider."

See More

Rad Rides, Eats & More is a Vital MTB series meant to provide you with intimate local knowledge of excellent mountain bike destinations. Stay tuned for more in the coming weeks as Vital's BC local contributor, Joel Harwood, dives deep into the woods and explores the many mountains of six British Columbia regions in partnership with Mountain Biking BC and Super, Natural British Columbia.

Title image: Curtis Robinson by Haruki 'Harookz' Noguchi at Coast Gravity Park

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