The triple threat of snowmobiling in Athabasca

Here are three trails you’ll want to try when snowmobiling in Alberta’s scenic Athabasca area

by Kirsten Armleder

Two snowmobiles riding down the trail in Athabasca.
Marianne McGee from Travel Alberta sampled the snowmobile trails in Athabasca during the club’s 2013 media ride. photo courtesy Athabasca River Runners

Urban-dwelling snowmobilers looking to escape the confines of Alberta’s capital city might want to check out Athabasca this winter. This town, which is located less than two hours north of Edmonton, is home to approximately 300 kilometres of groomed trails and a strong, healthy club to look after it all.

The Athabasca River Runners’ trail system is located west of town, and whether this is your first visit to Athabasca or not, be sure to check out these three popular routes:

Bilsky Loop

Probably one of the most scenic routes on the trail system is the 45-kilometre Bilsky Loop. Named after the club’s current president and co-founder, Dave Bilsky, the Bilsky Loop traverses rolling hills, boreal forest and river valleys. It also takes in a section of the Trans-Canadian Snowmobile Trail (TCT). Along the way, riders can stop at Bilsky’s private cabin or the club’s Kuzyk Warmup Cabin where there are picnic tables, a washroom, a firepit and firewood.

Getting there: Riders can stage at the Forfar Community Hall. From the town of Athabasca, travel west on Highway 2 for 14.7 kilometres, and then turn left on Highway 812. After 9.6 kilometres, turn right on Township Road 654 and follow the gravel road for 1.7 kilometres. The Hall is on the left.

Driving distance: 26 kilometres (about 20 minutes from Athabasca) 

Parking: There is ample room to park and the parking lot is plowed regularly.

Spotted Horse Lake

For a good day trip, riders can head out to Spotted Horse Lake. This is the farthest trail north on the club’s trail system and it is a 34-kilometre ride one way. Fifteen kilometres into the ride, there is a rest area at September Lake and another one on the island at Spotted Horse Lake. From there, riders can retrace their tracks or take the new Trapper’s Trail and loop back to the staging area.

Getting there: Staging is at the #10 Staging Area, which is located west of Baptiste Lake at the end of Township Road 670.

Driving distance: 24 kilometres (about 20 minutes from Athabasca)

Parking: The #10 Staging Area is smaller than the one at the Forfar Community Hall, but finding a place to park shouldn’t be a problem. It is also plowed regularly.

Banana Lake Trail

The Banana Lake Trail has fewer rolling hills than other routes on the trail system, but it takes in a longer section of the TCT, as well as the area’s dense aspen, pine and spruce mixed forest.

“It’s quite a long ride,” said Bilsky.

There is a fire pit and picnic tables at Banana Lake. From there, riders can go back the same way or choose one of several possible circle loops on the way back.

Getting there: Staging is at either the Forfar Community Hall or the #10 Staging Area (see above for directions).

The Buzz >> 

“It’s a really nice ride to go all the way out to Spotted Horse Lake and back, but before, you just had to go there and ride the same trail back. So to try and eliminate as much two-way traffic as possible and give people more a scenic loop, we developed a new trail. We’re just getting that one done and it’s opening up this year.” — Lynn Olson, treasurer for the Athabasca River Runners 

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