The Horseshoe Loop
is a classic Canmore loop on the 'sunny side' of the valley, so it tends to come in first in the season. It features older, narrow singletrack with roots, rocks and close trees.
However, in recent years, new trail development has added some great offshoots that beg to be added in! Top Down Stash (G9)
and Let It Roll aka LeBen have added some excellent additional elevation, a challenging climb, a steep, very fast descent and some high-speed bermy sections to significantly increase the difficulty and fun factors of this route.
There are lots of trails throughout this area. If you're new here, take a moment to get the lay of the land; the trail follows the side of the mountain out, then back. Keep the mountain on your left shoulder on the way out and on your right shoulder on the way back and you won't get too messed up; taking a wrong trail offshoot can generally be fixed by locating where you are in relation to the valley and the mountain to get you home, with or without a map or GPS. That said, the MTB Project mobile app
can be very helpful for navigation.
Start from the Cougar Creek parking lot. Cross to the other side of the creek and follow the creek bed up until the obvious trail into the woods. Two or three options exist to get up, choose any as they all link up again. Continue taking uphill options until you are on the upper leg of the Horseshoe Loop
trail. This will take you uphill with a few light technical challenges to a plateau with a lesser-traveled left trail branching off.
Ride over the small logs you have to cross to get on the left trail and begin a challenging climb for some time. Follow this to the top to some side slope riding. Watch on the right for an uphill trail that dead-ends at a 30-degree, 10m long rock slab. This is fun and rideable, hike-a-bike up it - or else skip and follow the trail. Eventually turn downhill, over two fun rock drops that are akin, but smaller than, the big one previously mentioned and eventually T-junction with the upper Horseshoe Loop
. Turn left, climb it for 200 metres to the junction where you turned off the main trail and continue straight instead of left this time.
XC and slight downhill riding leads to a T junction - turn left out to the large Grotto Mountain ravine crossing.
Ride down the ravine and up the other side and you'll be on the G8
. Ride down 100m and take the left-trending trail - this will lead you on the upper leg of the G8
. Some fun fast uphill leads to a meadow, then into a poplar forest - watch for the turn to the left.
This unmarked turn begins taking you up 20 minutes of non-stop, no-rest climbing to the start of Top Down Stash (G9)
. Rest at the view on top, get your juice back, then start the fast, sometimes steep and scary, descent. At the bottom, there's a decaying log to hop and a trail junction - turn left.
Keep the pedal to the metal and push through the short xc section - this will help with the techy sidewall challenge - then you're back into the downhill. You'll have a sharp switchback to the right, then another 180-degree turn to the left, then another couple hundred metres to an open slope on your right. At this point, watch for a left-trending drop back into the woods and a ravine, which is fantastic high-speed berms that are much better than the old-school beeline variation.
At the bottom of the berms begins the climb back up to Grotto ravine. There's quite a few cross trails, ignore them and stay on the main trail that's leading you on a consistent long uphill.
Go down to the bottom of the ravine and ensure you're ready to climb in granny - this is a very technical climb up but can be done if you have the legs, lungs and balance!
At the top, take the main trail that heads into the woods, stay straight past the right-hand trail junction and follow this trail downhill. A fast, old-school descent meets a right-hand junction that you should ignore and zigzag through the trees to continue the descent to the bottom of another ravine with a short hard climb out - hit it fast and be ready to shift down quick!
50m past the top, take the trail that trends right and climb back up. Stay on the main trail, it will lead you uphill and xc through some rooty terrain and eventually to a 30-metre long boardwalk.
Cross the boardwalk and the short hill that follows, through the shallow ravine and stop to take stock. The area is very trail braided, but you'll see a rooty trail to the left that leads uphill - follow this, it is Let It Roll aka LeBen.
You'll know you are on track when you pass the handmade wooden sign with a picture of a dog that says "LeBen." Ride past or over a couple of balancy features - then pick up speed as the trail turns DH and gets bermy.
Eventually, the trail reaches the bottom of the DH section and an easily missed trail junction - when you have to start pedaling for 15 metres while the trail veers left, you're probably there. Follow the trail description in Let It Roll aka LeBen to get back to the parking lot from here.