World’s longest off-pavement route now winds through one of Canada’s most wild river valleys
Adventure Cycling’s Great Divide Canada section of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR) — the longest off-pavement route in the world — now officially includes 114 miles of virgin riding through British Columbia’s Flathead and Wigwam River valleys.
“This scenic area is called the ‘Serengeti of North America’ by biologists for its unrivaled wildlife populations; the Flathead Valley is the last major valley in southern Canada to be completely uninhabited,” said Carla Majernik, Adventure Cycling’s routes and mapping director. “The new routing fits perfectly with the spirit of the rest of the route — challenging and remote.”
The new routing begins in Sparwood, British Columbia, and heads southeast through the Canadian Rocky Mountains into the Upper Flathead River Valley, then loops its way northwest to the Wigwam River and back south toward the U.S. border. This change increases the Great Divide Canada map length by 39 miles. The original routing south of Sparwood to the border has been retained as an alternate. A detailed description of the new routing can be read on Adventure Cycling’s website.
With the Canadian section, the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route now spans 2,747-miles from Banff, Alberta, to Antelope Wells, New Mexico, at the Mexican border.
Tour Divide race organizer Matthew Lee originally proposed the routing change and, last year, worked tirelessly piecing together jeep roads and game trails to bring the Canadian leg of the race through the Flathead Valley. “Tour Divide racers are truly champions for the Great Divide Route and for bicycle travel,” said Lee. “They may run the route at break-neck speed, but their hope is to inspire others to ride part, or all of it, at their own pace and experience the jaw-dropping natural beauty this route has to offer.” The Tour Divide is an annual, self-contained mountain bike race that runs the full length of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, starting in Banff. It kicks off this year on June 11.
The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route is incredibly popular with non-racers. Over the last 3 years, Adventure Cycling Association reports selling an average of 2,300 map sections per year to bicycle travelers of all levels of ambition.
Cyclists looking to experience the route and mountain-bike travel can simply pick a scenic stretch and go ride — Adventure Cycling’s detailed maps for the route make finding your way easy. The new maps for the Canadian section of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route are also now available at Adventure Cycling’s online store: http://www.adventurecycling.org/store.
Given the Great Divide’s popularity, the reroute through Canada’s Flathead Valley could have enormous impacts on the region: positioning this remote valley as an important destination for bicycle travelers.
Sliced in two by the international border, the valley’s southern half lays in Montana, where Glacier National Park extends down to the Flathead River; here it’s known as the North Fork Flathead Valley. Accessible only by many miles of rough dirt road, it’s not only remote — but untamed — and many experts consider it the most ecologically intact and wildlife-rich valley in the Lower Forty-Eight. In the British Columbia half of the valley, the eastern mountains rise to the Continental Divide and the border of Waterton Lakes National Park.
“Finding these wild places is getting ever harder, and finding wild places that can be explored by bicycle is harder still. Canada’s Flathead Valley is such a place.” Said Aaron Teasdale, writer/photographer and former deputy editor of Adventure Cyclist magazine.
But, like so many remaining unspoiled landscapes, its fate has at times been imperiled. In the last few years, the battle over its future has been hard fought with politicians and mining executives in British Columbia proposing the creation of coal bed methane wells and open-pit coalmines in the area, and their opponents, including Montana’s governor and other leading figures and organizations in the United States and Canada (such as Wildsight and Flathead Wild), proposing instead that Waterton-Glacier Peace Park be expanded to protect a large portion of the valley.
Conservationists scored a major victory in February 2010 when the British Columbia Premier banned all mining and energy extraction in the valley.
According to their website, Flathead Wild is now working to create a national park in the lower one-third of British Columbia’s Flathead River Valley and a Wildlife Management Area in the rest of the valley and adjoining habitat.
“Wildsight and the Flathead Wild team are excited about the re-route of The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route through the Flathead and Wigwam River Valleys. These are two important and spectacular trans-boundary watersheds that will provide travelers with an unparalleled wilderness experience,” said Casey Brennan, program manager for Wildsight. “The Flathead River Valley is the last uninhabited low elevation valley in southern Canada and a perfect setting for self propelled eco-tourism opportunities.” Wildsight is a Canadian non-governmental organization that works for healthy human communities and healthy wild spaces in Canada’s Columbia and Rocky Mountains ecoregions. You can visit www.flatheadwild.ca to learn about Flathead Wild’s efforts to permanently protect and connect the Flathead. To learn more about Wildsight, visit www.wildsight.ca.
Adventure Cycling’s membership magazine, Adventure Cyclist, has published several pieces on cycling in the Flathead Valley over the last five years. For more inspiration or for a vicarious travel experience, you can download the PDF versions of these stories from these links: “Return to the Wildest Valley” (June 2009);
“Ten Top Tours in North America” (January 2009); “The Wildest Valley” (September 2005).
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Adventure Cycling Association is the premier bicycle travel organization in North America with over 44,000 members. A nonprofit organization, its mission is to inspire people of all ages to travel by bicycle. It produces routes and maps for cycling in North America, organizes more than 40 tours annually, and publishes the best bicycle travel information anywhere, including Adventure Cyclist magazine and The Cyclists’ Yellow Pages online. With more than 40,000 meticulously mapped miles in the Adventure Cycling Route Network, Adventure Cycling gives cyclists the tools and confidence to create their own bike travel adventures. Contact the office at (800) 755-BIKE (2453), email@example.com, or visit www.adventurecycling.org