Going with the Flow

July 2022

Music Festivals and Mountain Biking in the Wild West

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highlights from an epic 6000km road trip From Thunder Bay to the Kootenay mountains
Story by Michelle McChristie, Photos by Darren McChristie

After two years of lockdowns, shut downs, cancellations, and restrictions, a lot of us are ready for a road trip. The best road trips combine the activities we love the most, like live music, outdoor adventure, and local food—some of the things we sorely missed during the pandemic. 

This year, the mountains were calling so a trip west, bookended by two of Canada’s largest music festivals, fit the bill. We kicked off the two-and-a-half-week adventure at the 47th Winnipeg Folk Festival in Birds Hill Park, explored the Rocky and Columbia Mountains, and then stopped at the 43rd Calgary Folk Festival before making our way back home.

With our truck newly outfitted Tacoma and GoFast Camper, we packed our camping gear, mountain bikes, and standup paddleboards. The plan was simple: enjoy some live music and festival food, check out some mountain towns, soak up some sun, and get in as much mountain biking and paddleboarding as possible. 

Stage 1

The 2022 Winnipeg Folk Festival

Epic is a fitting description for this folk festival. The sprawling setting at Birds Hill Provincial Park includes eight stages that feature performances and workshops throughout the day and two stages that feature performances at night.

This year, organizers carefully curated a diverse and impressive lineup of performers that included Kurt Vile & The Violators, Judy Collins, Jerry Harrison and Adrian Belew (who played the Talking Heads album Remain In Light), Japanese Breakfast, Chicano Batman, Sudan Archives, and Portugal. The Man. A common theme during onstage banter was Air Canada’s subpar services that caused some band members to miss or almost miss their gigs or play with borrowed instruments or clothing. The airline jabs were like a passing cloud—that every musician was elated to be back on stage was the sunshine that beamed over the audience.

The festival attracted 74,000 music-lovers making it the second best attended festival in its history. Like the music, the weather in Winnipeg was hot with temperatures in the low to mid 30s.

Although it’s hard to pick a favourite at a festival with so much talent, Portugal. The Man was a definite highlight. Things weren’t looking good for the band when their drummer had to fly home unexpectedly for a family emergency, but their drum technician stepped up to avoid having to cancel the show. They might have had to adjust their set list and there were a couple of false starts and awkward endings, but it’s doubtful that anyone in the audience cared. Their honesty, integrity and overall music prowess made them even more endearing. We listened to their music all the way to the mountains, savouring the memory of their performance.

Portugal. The Man performs on the main stage at the 2022 Winnipeg Folk Festival
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Stage 2

The Prairies to the Selkirk Mountains

If you’re looking to break-up your drive to the Rockies, Saskatchewan’s Buffalo Pound Provincial Park is a great overnighter. The park is 20 minutes northeast of Moose Jaw and literally has something for everyone: a pool, mini-golf, beach, picnic area, and over 30 kilometers of well-marked and maintained mountain biking that maximize the vertical of the steep valleys that make up the park. After Buffalo Pound, it’s a manageable eight-hour drive to Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in Kananaskis Country, Alberta.

There are a tonne of hiking and mountain biking options in Kananaskis—upwards of 160 options for you to ponder during your drive as the topography gets increasingly rugged. If you’re looking for a good climb to stretch your legs, check out the Pocaterra Trail which has 1,028 metres of vertical. Be sure to stop along the way to take in the view, and watch out for the small drainage ditches while you cruise downhill.

Make no mistake that Alberta Parks’ signage about “bear country” and maintaining a clean campsite to avoid attracting bears are 100% legit. At Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, the beach and trails to the lake were closed due to bear activity and, just as we were leaving, we saw a grizzly wandering through a vacant campsite. Needless to say, the unsuspecting camper at the adjacent site was a little alarmed when we mentioned the nearby prowler.

 If you have a four-wheel drive vehicle, take the quieter route to the East Kootenays via Highway 40 (Forest Trunk Road). Although this route includes gravel roads through a forest management area, it offers exceptional views of the mountains and wildlife (not sure if the cows grazing along the hillsides classify as wildlife but there are a lot, so keep your eyes peeled). 

Highway 40 leads to the picturesque mountain town of Fernie, British Columbia—home to a provincial park, mountain resort, and some exceptional mountain biking. It’s a cyclist’s dream come true because the park and campground are a bikeable distance to town (mmm, burgers and craft beer) and adjacent to a network of mountain bike trails. At the resort, Mr. Berms makes for a smooth descent downhill while Top Gun’s high-speed berms and rollers will make you feel like a kid again. Yes, it is possible to have this much fun on two wheels!

If you didn’t plan ahead to reserve a campsite, keep in mind that B.C. parks have a few sites available on a first come, first served basis. If you arrive before 11 am, you’ll probably get lucky and if you are camping in a tent, you can likely snag a walk-in site.

From Fernie, it’s just under four hours to Nelson—another cool mountain town that has it all. The downtown seems big for the population of about 11,000 people—it’s packed with eclectic shops and restaurants. 

Kokanee Creek Provincial Park is about 20 kilometers past Nelson and has a sandy beach on the West Arm of Kootenay Lake. Nestled in the Selkirk Mountains, it’s hard to imagine a more beautiful setting. You can give your legs a break and hit the water via SUP, kayak, or canoe—all of which are available for rent from Kokanee Creek Paddle Sports near the main beach.


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Stage 3

The Monashees to the Rockies

A stone’s throw from Nelson, is Rossland which is revered as one of the founding bike destinations in B.C. and referred to as the “Mountain Bike Capital of Canada” by Explore Magazine. Compared to Fernie and Nelson, Rossland is a sleepy little town (population 3,700) but that just means there are fewer distractions from mountain biking. The sole campground is the Rossland Lions Community Campground—it does not offer much beyond basic campsites and showers, but its location is very convenient. 

TrailForks lists 187 mountain bike trails in the Rossland area—an overwhelming number! Intermediate riders will enjoy the Larch Ridge trails and Pilgrim and Gold Digger at Red Mountain. All are easy to access and offer gentle climbs and fast and flowy downhills. 

Continuing northwest, SilverStar Mountain Resort is located about 22 kilometres from Vernon—Kelowna’s quiet little sister. The resort offers overnight camping in its parking lot making it easy for you to get first tracks (ok, not really a thing for downhill mountain biking but why not seize the day?). 

SilverStar is Canada’s second largest bike park (Whistler being the largest) and has over 139 kilometres of trails. The family-friendly bike park attracts a wide range of riders and, like Fernie Alpine Resort, it’s pretty common to see parents shredding alongside their kids, much like ski season. Challenger is a great run that offers some optional intermediate features while Super Star will make you feel like the trail’s namesake with its flowy berms and table tops.

SilverStar makes for a good turning point for a tour of the mountains and there are a few “don’t miss” spots along the return trip east. Definitely stop in Revelstoke, it’s a hip town two hours away that offers multiple campgrounds and a lively arts and culture scene. The municipal campground, Williamson Lake, has a sweet little swimming hole that is popular with locals but you’ll compromise privacy for the convenient location.

Revelstoke is home to over 150 kilometres of mountain bike trails, including the bike park at the ski resort. Frisbee Ridge is an epic 34-kilometre out and back trail that boasts a 360 degree view at the top (check-in with locals regarding the snow line) while the resort has Fifty Six Twenty—a 13-kilometre downhill that is pure flow. It’s worth staying an extra day or two in Revelstoke because the town has an inviting and relaxing vibe with plenty of outdoor patios in the very walkable downtown.

Although at this point you could book it to Calgary, that would mean missing out on some fantastic riding in Golden, about 150 kilometres away. Like the aforementioned towns, TrailForks lights up with 129 mountain bike trails. The signage to and along the trails is excellent as is the riding. The scenic Wapati Ridge and nearby Tonight Tequila (part of the Moonraker network) make the detour worth it. 

Stage 4

Calgary Folk Music Festival

With the mountains fading in the rearview mirror, it’s important to have something to look forward to when heading east. Luckily, the Calgary Folk Music Festival takes place two weeks after the festival in Winnipeg. The location in Prince’s Island Park is a spectacular urban park is next to the Bow River and is an easy walk from the heart of the city.

The park has ample shade trees and a very cool playground for kids. Although the Calgary Folk Festival attracts over 52,000 people over four days, it wasn’t crowded at any of the stages we checked out on Saturday.

The afternoon workshops featuring performers, such as PIQSIQ, Tanika Charkes, Clea Anaïs, Bryson Waind, and Balaklava Blues, were amazing. It’s always a treat to see musicians who’ve never met share stories and energy but the pinnacle of every workshop is the jam. The day culminated with Spoon’s headlining performance. They came out with their guns blazing, played a string of fan favourites and songs from their latest release Lucifer on the Sofa, and didn’t let up until they wrapped up their encore. Frontman Britt Daniel and keyboardist/guitarist Alex Fischel stole the show with their boundless energy. Spoon was tight and fans were left satiated.

Like the Winnipeg Folk Festival, the organizers of the Calgary Folk Music Festival have perfected the art of a musically-infused fun summer weekend. Their events are family friendly, they attract a perfect blend of world-renowned and up-and-coming artists, offer food and drinks to satisfy every type of appetite, and take place in relaxing, natural settings. If you haven’t been to these events, add them to your bucket list!

Spoon performs on the main stage at the 2022 Calgary Folk Music Festival

Photo Gallery

Highlights of the trip