Riding the Forestry Trunk Road in Alberta from Edson to Coleman.
About the FTR.
The FTR (Forestry Trunk Road) runs for 1000 kilometers along the foothills on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta.
More than 800 kms of the road is surfaced with gravel with the remainder paved. Newly laid gravel can be very unstable and therefore be difficult to negotiate on a motorbike.
In good weather the scenery along the FTR is outstanding, with views of the foothills and the Rocky Mountains. When the weather deteriorates road conditions can be extremely treacherous. There are many narrow twisting hilly sections with steep drop-offs and no safety barriers. Cell service is minimal and the usual wilderness precautions should be observed. (For this trip, I carried a Spot emergency locator and bear bangers and both of us carried bear spray. We always remained in sight of each other.)
Wildlife abounds in the area and bears, deer, sheep, moose and feral horses can be seen.
We left Rocky Mountain House in rain and thunderheads until we turned north on the Sunchild Road. Then we were under mixed cloud and sun as we rode north before stopping in Cynthia for coffee. Soon after we arrived in Edson in sunshine. Our camp was set up in the dry, which was great and we went to Tim’s. I bought a sandwich and Jason had coffee as he was planning on cooking when we went back to the campground. We chatted over coffee while the clouds rumbled. The weather forecast for Thursday was good but as we prepared to go to bed there was lightening and thunder.
I awoke around 6:00 a.m. and crawled out of my tent. It had rained over night and it had been noisy from the road, the town and the trains, so neither of us had a great nights sleep.
Jason cooked oatmeal for breakfast and I picked up my breakfast at Tim’s just outside the campground. After packing slightly damp gear, we went to Canadian Tire for Jason to buy a mantle for his lamp.
We then had a nice run down to Coalspur in the sunshine. This part of the route was paved as far as the Coal Valley mine entrance. The road for the last few kms had only just been laid and we waited at lights to be escorted through that section.
We made good progress on the gravel south of Coalspur and arrived in Nordegg about 11:30 a.m. where we bought gas and had coffee.
After a short break, we continued south and called in at Ram Falls.
The weather was reasonable and although there were lots of ominous looking clouds, we avoided any rain and it actually improved later.
There were a couple of stretches of new gravel, the worst to ride on being from the Caroline turn off for a few kms south and then north of the Sundre road. Both sections were fresh, deep and loose – like riding on marbles.
I pulled into the side part way along the second section for a break and dropped my bike over as I put my foot down in the ditch. Apparently my leg is not as long as I think it is!
Soon afterwards we arrived at Mountain Aire Lodge only to find it closed for flood repairs and completely fenced off. We carried on south looking for somewhere to camp and turned onto the Stud Creek road, just north of Burnt Timber, and found a roadside camp spot near the creek.
We set up our tents in the trees, lit a campfire and had our meal.
As it started to get dark we headed for our sleeping bags.
I woke at 6:00 a.m. and eventually crawled out of my tent at 7-ish. Jason was up a few minutes later and we lit a campfire and prepared breakfast. I had slept well in the peace of the back-country (bear spray and bear bangers at the ready).
It was a beautiful morning, with wispy clouds and blue skies. We packed up our gear and broke camp. Enjoying the warmth of the fire, we chatted about bikes, hunting and politics while drinking coffee, so we were a little later than expected setting off.
It was just before 10:00 a.m. when we continued south towards Canmore and the road was generally pretty good. The only dodgy spot really was a short stretch approaching Waiparous village, which had fresh gravel. It had been a dry and dusty ride but we were in Canmore well before noon and filled up with gas. While having lunch at Tim’s, we met three other DS riders – one on a 1200GS and two on Triumph Tigers. I gave them ADS stickers and brochures as we chatted about our plans and theirs and they left before us. We saw them later at Highwood House.
After lunch, we rode up passed the Three Sisters on the Smith Dorrien Trail toward Spray Lakes, only stopping at a side road that seemed to be a good spot for photos.
We chatted to a Dutch tourist couple who also took a photo for us.
After about half an hour, we continued south and shortly rejoined Hwy 40. The Smith Dorrien Trail is a nice wide gravel road in good shape and Hwy 40 was fast smooth asphalt all the way to Highwood House.
We had a coffee and another break while being buzzed by hummingbirds at the Highwood House feeders.
The other riders we had met in Canmore arrived and left while we were there. They waved goodbye and headed east toward Longview and we soon set off south towards Coleman 112 kms away. This was generally a very good ride but there were numerous patches of recent gravel that kept our attention. The scenery of course was fantastic but the twisting winding mountain road could be unforgiving to anyone being careless.
We stopped on one of the few straight sections where there was a nice view of the mountains further south.
The only exceptional incident was when a pick up truck came around a blind corner drifting sideways toward me, giving Jason and I some cause for concern. Jason told me later that being behind me he had at least had time to give the guy the finger!
In Coleman we bought gas and water and inquired about campgrounds and were recommended the provincial campground at Lundbreck Falls 20 kms east. Soon we were set up for the evening and chatting about our days adventure around the campfire.
It was a nice evening although windy and we felt no rush to get to bed early – eventually hitting the sack around midnight.
We were pleased to have successfully completed our ride of the FTR. Now we just had to ride home on the highway.
We started early after a reasonable nights sleep (despite the noise from the nearby Hwy and railroad). We packed up and made a quick tourist visit to the falls where a Filipino family invited me to join them for breakfast at one of the picnic benches.
Soon we were riding north on Hwy 22 – the Cowboy Trail. It was windy and cloudy but nice riding as far as Longview where we topped up with gas and had a coffee break.
There were black clouds forming north of us as Jason checked the forecast – not good! However, we rode through mixed cloud and sun as far as Cochrane where we stopped for lunch.
A few kms north of Cochrane ranchers herding cattle along the Hwy held us up – well it is the Cowboy Trail!
North of Black Diamond, I could see evil looking thunderheads forming to the N/E. As Jason and I would be splitting up near Sundre, I thought I would be heading into better weather to the west and it looked like Jason would be heading toward the intense weather when he turned east toward Olds.
However, the weather changed quickly and worsened as we rode through very heavy rain and hail. There was running water and deep puddles on the road in places. When we got to Cremona, Jason turned off the Hwy and stopped at the gas station. I followed and pulled in under the canopy. Jason said he was soaked and heading to the washroom to change and get his rain gear on. I was still dry, and as we would be splitting up soon anyway, I decided I would press on. As I left Cremona there was a river of muddy water flowing down the road by the gas station and the thunderstorms were extensive with only a sliver of clear sky barely visible way off to the east.
Soon I rode through Sundre in heavy rain with lightening cracking all around, but at least there was no more hail. I carried on through heavy rain all the way to my house and by then my fingers were cold and water had seeped through my jacket. I was glad to park my bike in the garage and head to the shower.
I have no complaints about the weather though as we had been very lucky to cover all of the FTR from Edson to Coleman with only a few very light showers. It had been a dusty but enjoyable ride and I was glad to have Jason for company.
There was memorable scenery throughout especially through Kananaskis and both our bikes performed flawlessly. The only slightly negative points on the entire trip were me letting my bike fall over, a semi trailer tractor unit blinding me with dust near Waiparous and the sideways drifting pick-up truck I mentioned earlier.
The new Shinko 804/805 tires I fitted before this trip were excellent. After a few highway kilometers they quietened down and felt great on asphalt and they were awesome overall on all but the very loose gravel (where it probably would have been easier on full knobbies) but generally I was very pleased with them. Jason was running on less aggressive Shinko 705’s and said they moved around a bit but that didn’t seem to slow him down at all.
All in all a great few days of riding.