The route is named after Kista Peak (centre) which forms an impressive vista for a camping location, and can be seen from many locations along the route. Kista Peak is a 2,576-metre (8,451-foot) mountain located in the North Saskatchewan River valley and is part of the Ram Range in the Canadian Rockies.
The Alberta (Canada) Bighorn Backcountry is an area covering more than 5,000 square kilometres (1.2 million acres) of public lands east of Banff and Jasper National Parks. The Stoney-Nakoda Nations have been using the area, particularly the nearby Kootenay Plains, for generations. This route is adjacent to Abraham Lake, Alberta’s largest reservoir, and is accessed from the Bighorn Dam which is less than 30 km west of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (Jasper extension), and less than 75 km east of the Icefields Parkway. The Icefields Parkway consistently ranks as one of the ten best paved routes in the world. As a weekend destination, the area is readily accessible to many folks in Alberta and British Columbia.
The mixed-use trails on this route have been developed and are maintained primarily for OHV use by the Bighorn Heritage ATV Society. However, the area is closed to OHV traffic between May 1 and June 30 each year. This closure represents an opportunity to quietly explore a very scenic area on well-maintained two-track. Riders exploring the area between July 1 and April 30 can expect to be sharing the trails with OHVs and/or snowmobiles.
While the route is presented as a simple loop, best ridden counter clockwise, there are numerous opportunities to extend the route or enjoy more challenging day rides. The route is entirely unpaved and has some chunky sections on the steeper pitches. The ATV group that maintains the trails are doing an excellent job mitigating OHV damage, and focused on a July 1 opening, so expect a few downed trees to deal with. Surface water (treatment required) is seasonally available in several locations.
Random camping sites are available in several locations, and identified on the RWGPS route file. A public lands camping pass is required. There are also developed drive-in campsites with pit toilets on the north side of the Bighorn Dam. As always, Leave No Trace!
If you’re looking for more bikepacking routes in the Rockies purchase Bikepacking in the Canadian Rockies.
All photos by K. Wirtanen or G. Stuart.