A quick glance at Trailforks is all it takes to realize the size and scope of Edmonton’s greenspace. The Capital City of the Province of Alberta is cut in two by the North Saskatchewan River, and with it, enjoys the largest urban greenspace out of any city in North America.
Where there is greenspace, there is mountain biking, and with a stretch of urban parkland that is 22 times the size of NYC’s Central Park, there is no shortage of green in which to go searching for a ribbon of dirt.
Cataloguing the vast amount of mountain bike trails within the City of Edmonton relies on defining what singletrack truly means, because depending on who you ask, Edmonton is home to anywhere from 150 to 600 km of trails.
If your definition of trail includes gravel multi-use and double-track, it probably strays closer to the latter, but if you only want to count singletrack dirt, the number is likely closer to the lower, yet still impressive 150 km.
Now I know what you’re probably thinking… A number closer to the low-end is still a pretty ridiculously large amount of riding. That can’t be possible!
But it is.
While 150 kilometres might still include a few subpar-at-best segments of trail, I can confidently say there are close to 100 km of mountain bike trail worth riding in Edmonton.
If your skepticism of the volume of trails has been addressed, you may still have some centered around the quality of said riding.
Isn’t Edmonton a prairie city? Sure, there are probably trails, but they can’t possibly be fun… You need mountains to have a good time on a mountain bike.
Quality is subjective, but with the right expectations, you’d have a hard time going for a mountain bike ride within the city and not having a good time.
What exactly are those expectations you ask?
Well, if your bike of choice has suspension travel that would feel at home during an enduro race, you prefer to shuttle your rides, or your idea of riding is thousands of feet of uninterrupted drop, you’ll probably have to temper your expectations.
But for those willing to pedal in search of fun, flowy, rooty (and if you know the locals-only secret trails, at times even techy) trails are in for a treat.
From the downtown core, a 5-minute pedal will deposit you into a piece of proper singletrack. One second, you’ll be rolling a ribbon of dirt parallel to rush hour traffic, the next, you’ll find yourself in forest so dense, you’d never know you were right in the middle of an urban jungle.
Finally, one last bit of skepticism you’re probably holding onto revolves around elevation. How can a prairie city have mountain biking? Sure, there might be some trails that are fun, but flat riding can only be so good. Real mountain biking needs big elevation.
While I’d never suggest you should pick Edmonton over Squamish, Revelstoke, or Whistler when it comes time to plan a mountain bike trip, I would challenge anybody who thinks you can’t mountain bike without mountains.
The banks of the North Saskatchewan river offer up to 150 metres of elevation from bottom to top - not a lot, thus my comment about enduro bikes earlier, but because of that, trail builders have become creative with the landscape, eeking out every bit of winding, climbing, and descending possible.
If you’re out on your mountain bike in Edmonton, you can expect a high average speed, with plenty of short, steep, and challenging climbs and descents. The faster you ride, the more enjoyable it becomes.
Have fitness? You’ll have fun! Lacking in that category? You might be in for a steep, slow-moving surprise.
Still sounds like I’m pulling your chain? Find somebody who raced the Edmonton Canada Cup XCO race from 2009-2011 - the only National Level MTB race in Canada to take place entirely in the core of a city.
The relentless ascents and short, dramatic descents had many elite racers - the same racers who attended events in Canmore, Mont St. Anne, Bear Mountain, and more - exclaiming that it might just have been the hardest course on the calendar.
So if you find yourself in Edmonton, bring a mountain bike. You might just be pleasantly surprised.
Words & Photos: Evan Wishloff