Alberta's Forestry Trunk Road (FTR) is the mini golf version of the Bolivian death road, the drops are just meters, not thousands of meters, no macho speeding bus drivers on the FTR, but watch for the macho speeding pickup truck drivers. The Forestry Trunk Road is nearly as challenging as its (very) distant Bolivian cousin, but the penalty for errors is much lower. Best of all, a ride on the FTR is only an hour or two from Alberta's major urban centers, not the 15,000 or so kilometers to Bolivia. Alberta adventurers can ride the FTR and sleep in their own bed. Or not, from end to end the FTR is over 1,000 kilometers of mostly gravel from Coleman to Grande Prairie, with plenty of campgrounds and nearby motels.
Much of the Forestry Trunk Road is unpaved, some bits are 'unimproved' meaning little if any road maintenance, especially in Winter. Paved are the 60 km Kananaskis Highway, between Peter Lougheed Park to Highway 1 (The Trans Canada Highway), and 350 kms of Highway 40 from the Luscar mine, just south of the Yellowhead highway, to Grande Prairie, and for those who must have gravel, there is a 170 km alternate unpaved section between Grande Cache and Highway 43, just east of Grande Prairie. The Forestry Trunk Road is also designated either Highway 734 or Highway 40, and can be found on any gas station map, or Google Maps.
The Forestry Trunk Road, from South to North, begins at Coleman (A) in the Crowsnest Pass. From Coleman it is about 160 km of maintained gravel to Peter Lougheed Park (B), where Highway 40 is paved and named Kananaskis Highway, about 80 km, wide and fairly straight to the Trans Canada (Highway 1). Awesome vistas make up for the boring road. To get back to the Forestry Trunk Road, take the first exit from the Trans Canada in either direction to Highway 1A, the old highway that parallels the Trans Canada, and head east on the 1A, when you have passed the Ghost Dam Reservoir, start watching for the next leg of the FTR.
The next 200 + km stretch from the 1A Highway (C) is found just east of Ghost Dam reservoir, to highway 11 by Nordegg (E), this is the best part of the Forestry Trunk Road. Plenty of tight curves and switchbacks. Many roads intersect the FTR between the 1A and Nordegg for getting on and off to Water Valley (Cremona), Sundre, Caroline or Rocky Mountain House, for gas, lodging, food, and pavement to back to civilization. About halfway up is (D) Mountain Aire Lodge beside the Red Deer River, a surprising resort/work camp in what should be the middle of nowhere, with all the amenities including gas. Farther towards Nordegg is Ram River Falls, a must stop for sightseeing.
From Nordegg it is about 110 kilometers north to the junction of highway 47 (F). This part of the FTR is nearly as nice as the part between 1A and Highway 11, but there is much more industrial activity here, logging, oil and gas wells, and mining mean plenty of logging trucks tractor trailers, road maintenance and high speed crew cabs. If you have plenty of gas left, stay on Highway 40 to Cadomin (G). A few kilometers up 47 is Robb and gas. Highway 47 is a paved 50 clicks to Edson and the Yellowhead highway. Just past Robb on Highway 47 is the gravel Hinton road, about 50 km to Hinton. More fun but longer, is Highway 40 from Highway 47 to Cadomin. The 50 km to Cadomin is unpaved but then Highway 40 is paved all the way to Grande Prairie.
Highway 40 from Cadomin to the Yellowhead is about 50 km (H). Hinton is just east of where Highway 40 crosses the Yellowhead, and the last place to get gas until Grande Cache a little over 100 km north. Just before Grande Cache, is the last part of the Forestry Trunk Road (I). This 167 km stretch is fairly straight and freshly graded gravel. It ends on Highway 43 about 50 km east of Grande Prairie (J).
Getting to the FTR
Coleman is about 160 km from Lethbridge, and about the same from the Montana border crossing at St. Mary. Alberta Highway 2 to Highway 3. In Coleman go north from Highway 3 to 28 Ave., and follow 28 Ave out of town, and it becomes Highway 40, the Forestry Trunk Road.
Between Calgary and Coleman the Forestry Trunk Road can be reached by going west from Highway 22 at Longview, and also on Township Road 532, near Chain Lakes.
From Calgary get there by going west on Highway 1 to Highway 40 (Peter Lougheed Highway) or Highway 1A to the Forestry Trunk Road just west of Highway 22, east of the Ghost Dam reservoir. The Forestry Trunk Road can also be reached from Highway 22 by taking the Water Valley road west, or west on Highway 27, Highway 54, Highway 752, or Highway 11 to Rocky Mountain House or Nordegg.
From Red Deer, west on Highway 11 to Rocky Mountain House, Nordegg, or south on Highway 22.
Edmonton Riders will have a long boring ride to either Highway 11, the Yellowhead to Highway 22 (to Drayton Valley), Edson (47 to Robb) or Hinton (40 to Cadomin), or Drayton Valley via Highway 39 west from Leduc - Calmar.
At Drayton Valley take Highway 620, to the Elk River Road. The Elk River Road is gravel and ends on the Forestry Trunk Road about midway between Robb and Nordegg. Alternatively, stay on Highway 620, called the the Sunchild Road on the other side of the Brazeau reservoir, and ride pavement all the way to Highway 11, Rocky Mountain House or Nordegg.
From Grande Prairie, Highway 40 south, or east on Highway 43 to the Forestry Trunk Road at Little Smoky.
When travelling in Alberta avoid stupid traffic and very boring Highway 2 by using Highway 2A, 22 or 21 between Calgary and Edmonton. If travelling to BC consider using Highway 3, way nicer than either Trans Canada route (Highway 1 or the Yellowhead).
Weather. As much as Albertans like to complain about it, I can say, having travelled from coast to coast, as well as from the Arctic Circle to the Atacama, you won't find better riding weather than Alberta in summer. Cool, clear and sunny is the norm. Rainstorms are usually short. Between June and the end of August, the high temperature is typically in the twenties. Nights are cool, as are the mornings, leave the mesh gear at home, pack some sweaters and leave the liner in your riding jacket. No crazy heat means you wear all the gear all the time in comfort. Don't be too surprised if you wake up to find a few centimeters of snow on the ground, especially if you are in the Calgary to Nordegg area. Don't fret, it will disappear by mid morning and can be safely ignored if you are off pavement. The secret to staying warm is layering your clothing, a set of long underwear bottoms, and a sweater or two to put on or remove will keep you toasty. Expect plenty of sunshine, watch out for the occasional violent but short lived thunderstorm.
Navigation. It is difficult to stay lost in Alberta, even if you don't know where you are. If you get the concept of the sun rising in the east and setting in the west you can leave the GPS at home. The FTR is generally the farthest west of the North-South roads this side of the mountains, so heading in an easterly direction will quickly land you in civilization, or if you are trying to find your way back to the FTR keep going West. Most of the other Alberta roads are laid out with T squares from North to South and East to West, backroad road signs will give you a clue as to orientation, numbered 'range roads' run north and south, 'township roads' run east and west, range roads count up from east to west and township roads from south to north so you don't even need a compass. Most intersections have road signs. If a road is a dead end, it will be indicated by a 'No Exit' sign. Maps showing the FTR include the ordinary gas station folding maps, free maps available from the Alberta Tourism Parks and Recreation, or auto club maps. If you are using a GPS with the ability to load maps, consider a topographic map rather than the highway map, for the additional information, such as elevations, locations of landmarks, ghost town sites etc..
Accommodation. Because the Forestry Trunk Road runs mostly through Crown Land, it is possible to camp just about anywhere. There are many designated provincial campsites, with various degrees of service, ranging from none, to hot water showers and electrical hookups in Peter Lougheed Park. For those adventurers who prefer to sleep in beds with roofs and running water, no part of the FTR is more than an hour or two from civilization in the form of a motel or hotel. The Provincial campgrounds fees are reasonable north of highway 11 and silly south of 11. Sites are self registration using envelopes and a drop box. Carry some checks or cash with an assortment of bills, Loonies and Toonies, in 2012 fees range from 11.00 to 25 for provincial campsites. For those willing to rough it, there are unserviced campgrounds, (actually they are closed, but easy to to get into with a bike) or just grab a stretch unoccupied creek side if you are on crown land.
The bike. Any bike and rider combination comfortable travelling on groomed gravel roads will work on the Forestry Trunk Road. I have taken a sport touring bike (an FJ1100) down the FTR, rental Buicks, worn out econo beaters as well as my 640 Adventure. I prefer the so called unimproved portions, as they tend to be hard packed, almost like pavement, but lumpier. The worst bits are the maintained gravel portions, as they are graded almost daily in the summer, which means piled up loose gravel that grabs the front wheel, and lurches it from side to side unless you are going ass pucker fast. Whatever, if you can ride gravel, you will have no problems with the FTR.
The happiest riders will be those with plenty of excellent suspension, and a fuel range of 300 plus kms. Decent range means no worries at all about fuel, however, with careful planning even a small 100 plus km tank with a supplemental gas can strapped on will do. It would be wise to pack some form of tire repair, but for the ill prepared and luckless, assistance is never far, as the FTR is well travelled by full of helpful Cowboys, Indians, Drillers and Loggers.
Stuff to see.
The Crownest Pass has a lot of interesting history, including the Frank Slide, where half a mountain fell off and buried a town in 1903. It still looks as if it happened yesterday.
Peter Lougheed Park and Kananaskis country offer a variety of the usual mountain outdoor activities, campgrounds and resorts, as an alternative to much busier Banff.
Canmore has some nice restaurants, it has become an overflow for Banff tourism, lots of hotels and motels and time shares.
The 1A Highway is the old highway between Calgary and Banff. Two lanes and a handful of posted curves between Highway 22 and Canmore have made it a favorite with all the Calgary boy racers with sport cars and sport bikes. Go on a Sunday to watch the fun.
Longview, Water Valley, Sundre, and Caroline are not too far off the Forestry Trunk Road and good alternatives for getting on or off the FTR besides the major access points mentioned above. All have gas, food, lodging and grocery stores. They are the heart of Alberta cowboy country, so if you are a vegetarian, best keep it to yourself.
Impromptu quad demolition derbies taking place at a location near you on the FTR.
Ram Falls, between Mountain Aire Lodge and Nordegg are worth a visit. A very short walk from the day use parking area.
Cadomin, like Nordegg is what is left of a coal mining town. There is a small store with a cafe, and a motel but no gas. If you have a few hours and are in excellent shape, consider hiking up to Cadomin Cave. This is a strenuous hike, but the rewards are worth it. The cave is near the top of a low mountain. No specialized climbing equipment is required, but you will need sturdy hiking boots or shoes, and good lungs. Getting there is like climbing all the stairs in the CN tower. The cave is used by bats for hibernation in Winter, there are no bats occupying the cave in Summer. The cave is closed between Labor Day and Victoria day, as disturbing the bats impairs their ability to hibernate. To go more than a few feet into the cave will require a good flashlight. If you don't like the cave, the top of the mountain is only a few meters above you. The view here is fantastic.
Between Cadomin and Hinton on Highway 40, near the Luscar mine site is a herd of Big Horn sheep that are always around the highway everytime I have gone through there, bring a camera.
From Cadomin take the road heading southwest to Mountain Park, a ghost town, but the only ghosts you will find are in the Mountain Park Cemetery, everything else is gone. This is still an active coal mining area. Nowadays, the coal mining is done by large machinery. The Mountain Park road runs alongside the coal mine road, only used by huge rock trucks that are too big for public roads.
Past Mountain Park the road is called the Cardinal River Divide road which takes you to the Cardinal River Divide (go figger), which is a continental divide between the river systems that flows into the Arctic Ocean via the Athabasca, Peace, and Mackenzie Rivers, and the river system that flows into the Hudson's Bay via the Sasakatchewan. From the divide south is a road that is not on any of my maps, but it is there and will take you back to the FTR about half way between Nordegg and Robb, along the way you will pass through the Alexis Band reserve.
Near Grande Cache they discovered a major Dinosaur trackway, preserved Dino tracks. Apparently the dinosaurs migrated north in the summer, the arctic was unfrozen and summer near 24 hour daylight meant lots of plant growth for hungry dinos. Unfortunately the tracks are located on a mine site and can't be visited. Stop in at the tourist information building for more information.