The Seven Summits Trail – An In-Depth Guide to a Truly Epic Experience!
I had ridden this trail twice before. Once in 2009 and again in 2016. The circumstances were very different each time and yet I didn’t feel fully satisfied by either experience. Both outings were good in their own right but I wasn’t, in either case, able to give the Seven Summits Trail the attention it deserved. Something was missing, so in 2019 I returned to better acquaint myself with this beautifully scenic and historic ride. The result is this Seven Summits Trail Guide—a guide that will give you enough practical and historical insight to enhance your appreciation of this truly epic trail!
“The 360-degree alpine views are spectacular, and the area’s historical significance is hard to ignore.”
The Seven Summits Trail is an International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) epic trail and the crown jewel of a spectacular network of trails near the city of Rossland, British Columbia. The 360-degree alpine views are spectacular, and the area’s historical significance is hard to ignore. As such, the trail deserves a rider’s full attention. Until 2019, I was unable to give it. On my first ride in 2009, I was new to the world of epic rides. My riding partner and I found the ride difficult to say the least. Instead of taking in the amazing scenery and documenting our experience, we were merely trying to survive.
Fast forward to 2016 and my experience was different, but in some ways, the same. This time I had returned to the Seven Summits for stage three of the Singletrack 6 race. I was a much fitter and more experienced rider, but “the race was on” as they say. Once on the trail, I had little time to take in my surroundings.
Back to basics
Now, with two hurried attempts under my belt, I decided to return in 2019 to ride the Seven Summits and give it the time and attention it deserved. My plan was to ride solo so that I could move along at my own pace. I wanted to document the trip in a way that would give those who haven’t ridden the trail a clear sense of why it is so special and what to expect.
If you plan to ride the Seven Summits and are looking for a place to stay, check out the RideSphere review of Rossland’s only campground, the Rossland Lions Community Campground
A trail through history
No in-depth Seven Summits trail guide would be complete without some historical perspective. Before we get into more practical details about the trail itself, it’s worth spending some time looking at the history of Rossland, and how that history is intertwined with the relatively new Seven Summits Trail.
Rossland’s original claim to fame was as a gold mining city in the late 19th century and since this period, trails, both old and new, have played an important part in the area’s history and development. From the old railbed trails that skirt the town, to Rossland’s early adoption of mountain bike trail building, trails are everywhere. The Dewdney is probably the most historically significant of them all and a portion of it is tied to the epic Seven Summits Trail. More than a hundred years ago, the Dewdney brought miners and settlers east from Canada’s west coast and was instrumental in the early development of Rossland and the surrounding area.
Rossland – the Golden City
Rossland, British Columbia was incorporated as a city in 1897, but it’s beginnings can be traced back to a gold strike made by a pair of prospectors in 1890. The strike set off a gold rush in the area and was the precursor to the Le Roi Mine, the area’s first major gold mine. The Le Roi was the first mine in the area to open, but it wasn’t long before others followed suit and Rossland became a hub of mining activity. These mines became famous the world over and as a result, Rossland grew into a major North American business centre, and one of the largest cities in western Canada. At its incorporation, Rossland had a population of approximately 7000 people, roughly double the population of the city today.
The gold strike of 1890, and the development that ensued thereafter can, at least in part, be attributed to the existence of the nearby Dewdney Trail. Predating the city of Rossland, this trail brought prospectors to the area in their search for gold.
The Dewdney Trail: epic in its own right
By the time it was completed in 1865, the Dewdney Trail stretched 440 miles (708km) through southern British Columbia from Fort Hope on the Fraser River, almost to present-day Cranbrook. The trail was commissioned to be four feet wide, with the middle two feet being serviceable for horses, wagons and people, among other things.
“Governor James Douglas hired a surveyor named Edgar Dewdney to build a trail from Fort Hope to the gold discoveries at Rock Creek.”
The impetus for the Dewdney was to open up an all-Canadian route through southern British Columbia. The hope was to keep miners from crossing into Canada from the United States. In the late 1850s, gold was discovered at Rock Creek, BC by two U.S. army dispatch riders who had been forced to detour into Canadian territory. At the time, Rock Creek was easier to access from the United States than from the west coast of Canada due to the lack of any established route through the southern part of the province. This allowed American miners to sneak across the border into the gold fields of Canada and return south without paying customs duties.
To remedy this, Governor James Douglas hired a surveyor named Edgar Dewdney to build a trail from Fort Hope to the gold discoveries at Rock Creek. This section is known as the original Dewdney Trail and was finished in 1861. At this point, the trail hadn’t yet reached the area where Rossland is today. The trail soon fell into disrepair as interest in the gold fields waned. When new gold finds were discovered east of Rock Creek, things turned around for the Dewdney. The trail was extended from Rock Creek to its final terminus, well past the Rossland area near Cranbrook, BC. It was finished in 1865 and this would be as far as it would ever go.
The Seven Summits and the Dewdney Trail
Today, the Crowsnest Highyway (Highway 3) has largely replaced the Dewdney Trail. The highway follows the path of the Dewdney route quite faithfully and replaces it in many instances. There are, however, some sections where the highway deviates from the original trail. Near the city of Rossland is one of those sections. This has allowed for the incorporation of a small part of the Dewdney into the larger Seven Summits route. Trail builders have even kept the original Dewdney trail name on the part of the Seven Summits route that connects the Seven Summits Trail (proper) to Highway 22.
The new Dewdney Trail (as it is named on Trailforks) only follows small sections of the original route. But sharing the name and sections of trail with the original keeps the spirit of this epic trail alive. This is an important nod to the past because after all, Rossland’s relationship with trails didn’t start with mountain biking; they’ve been a foundational part of the city’s history for over 150 years.
A world-class epic!
As mentioned earlier, I had planned to ride the Seven Summits alone. The trail is a point-to-point ride. With no access to a second vehicle, I made arrangements for a shuttle drop at the trailhead (shuttle details below).
Riding on the shuttle it became clear to me that this trail is something special. I thought maybe two or three others would be on the shuttle with me. To my surprise there were 12 people from all over North America. There were riders from Fernie, Cumberland and Vancouver— all great mountain biking locations themselves. This showed that even with all the great riding accessible to those people, they were willing and excited to make the trip to the Seven Summits. On top of that, there were two guys from Manitoba celebrating a birthday with this ride. And there was a group from the United States. People had come from far and wide to ride this legendary trail. The van was buzzing with excitement as we drove to the trailhead.
Note: distances and elevation gain/loss measurements can vary greatly depending on the recording method and device used. In order to keep things consistent, all distances and elevations used to describe the Seven Summits Trail are taken from Trailforks.
The name Seven Summits refers to seven summits of the Rossland mountain range that you pass on the trail. Much of the trail is in the alpine and so these peaks are visible as you ride.
The Seven Summits route described here is actually two different trails. There is the main Seven Summits Trail, which is 29km long with approximately 1300m of climbing, and there is the Dewdney Trail, which is an additional 6km with a negligible amount of climbing. Together they form a ride that is approximately 35km long. Those who live for the descent will be happy to know that the trail has a net elevation loss, with the trailhead being approximately 850m above the end.
“If I were to use one word to describe the nature of the trail’s terrain, it would be ‘rocky’.”
Trailforks rates the Seven Summits Trail portion of the route as advanced (black). In my opinion, this is likely due to the length and remoteness of the trail, not the technical difficulty. The majority of the trail is only moderately technical, with the odd advanced feature thrown in. If I were to use one word to describe the nature of the trail’s terrain, it would be ‘rocky’.
See the Trailforks map below for an overview of the Seven Summits and Dewdney Trails.
The Seven Summits Trail is uni-directional, meaning it should only be ridden in one direction. At each end of the trail there is a small parking lot. They are both easily visible from the highway and marked on Trailforks. The trailhead parking lot is located on Highway 3B approximately 19km north of Rossland, and in the parking lot there is a map kiosk with trail information. The end parking lot is located approximately 9km south of Rossland on Highway 22.
Because the trail is a point-to-point, you will either need to shuttle from one trailhead to the other, or ride from one parking lot to the other. I’m going to assume that the vast majority of people will choose to shuttle, so I’ll stick to providing detail on that.
The Mountain Shuttle
Self-shuttling is an easy option if you have access to two vehicles. But if you’re on your own, or in a group with only one vehicle, don’t despair! A company called Mountain Shuttle offers daily shuttle drop service for the Seven Summits Trail. The shuttle can be reserved online on the Mountain Shuttle website. I booked a last minute, mid-week spot on the shuttle the afternoon before I wanted to ride the trail, with no issues.
The shuttle connects with riders in the parking lot of the Rossland Museum & Discovery Centre at 8am. This meeting place is very close to Rossland at the intersection of Highways 22 and 3B. The parking lot is quite big and hard to miss. Once everyone has arrived at the parking lot, the bikes are loaded onto a trailer and the group convoys to the parking lot at the end of the Seven Summits to drop the vehicles. From there, riders load into the Mountain Shuttle van, which takes them to the trailhead.
Be prepared… not just for boy scouts!
The Seven Summits is long, remote, and for much of the ride, exposed. Riding experience and ability vary greatly from one rider to the next. Some may be able to complete the ride in a few hours with moderate perceived effort. For others, it will be an all-day epic, and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. As such, it is important to have an idea of what to expect and how to prepare.
Everyone is different, so I won’t presume to list everything you should carry with you on a ride like this, but there are other specific details worth mentioning. Knowing these things ahead of time will help you prepare accordingly.
Much of the ride is exposed. Save for most of the initial climb and final descent, you will be riding above the treeline. This leaves riders exposed to the sun and severe weather, and in mountain environments like this, the weather can change quickly.
Access to water along the trail is minimal. There are few creeks or other water sources along the Seven Summits Trail, so be sure to carry adequate water. At approximately the halfway point there is a marked natural spring. This can be a good opportunity to refill your water or cool down. However, I wouldn’t rely too heavily on it as you never know how these things will change over time.
Cell phone service along the trail is spotty. In the case of an emergency, it may be possible to call for help, but this shouldn’t be relied on either as reception is inconsistent.
A little rain? No problem
Another point worth noting is that the trail seems to hold up quite well to moisture. I was told before this ride that the area had received a lot of rain during the previous few days. Once on the trail, there was little evidence of heavy rain, save for the odd puddle near the beginning of the ride. This could be due to much of the trail consisting of rocky, sandy terrain and/or excellent sustainable trail building.
Beware the rocks!
The Seven Summits Trail is rocky. It’s worth knowing this in advance for three reasons.
First, this type of terrain can affect the toll the trail takes on your body. Because the terrain is consistently rough and rocky, the perceived effort can be higher here than on a smoother trail of similar length and elevation gain. It also means there is little time to rest while on your bike, even on the descents.
Second, it’s worth noting the rocky nature of the trail as it could have an effect on your tires. If you are riding tires with tubes, there is an increased chance of pinch flats as you bounce over and between all these rocks. In places, the rocks can also be sharp. Even if you are riding with tubeless tires, you aren’t off the hook; there is the potential for a torn sidewall.
Finally, because the trail is rocky, rough and long, it is also worth considering your choice of bike. Is it best to ride it on a hardtail or full suspension bike? I’ve ridden the Seven Summits on both and wholeheartedly recommend full suspension. I understand, however, that most riders don’t have a choice of bikes, and I wouldn’t try to dissuade anyone with a hardtail from riding the trail. It is certainly possible, if a little less comfortable.
Let’s get down to details
When I set out to ride the Seven Summits, I was planning to do it alone. Things don’t always go according to plan. In the parking lot, waiting for the shuttle, I ran into two other guys who were also planning to ride solo. We chatted and then boarded the shuttle. At the trailhead, the three of us went our separate ways and I prepared for a long ride on my own. My solitary ride didn’t last long however. I started leapfrogging one of the other solo riders and by the top of the first large climb, we had caught up to the third solo rider. From there on, we loosely rode together, stopping often to take in the scenery and chat with each other—usually about how much we were enjoying the ride!
“It was obvious from the comments and the looks on each of our faces that we loved every minute of it.”
Now I was no longer riding on my own as I had originally planned, but I was glad to have met up with these other solo riders. I was able to get a sense of just how much they enjoyed the ride, and what it meant to them to be riding it. From the well-graded climb, to the spectacular alpine views, to the mind-blowingly long descent, it was obvious from the comments and the looks on each of our faces that we loved every minute of it. By the time we finished the ride, we all had a profound sense of accomplishment.
This is a Seven Summits Trail Guide, so let’s take a closer look at the trail itself.
Ascend into the unknown
The Seven Summits Trail begins to tilt upward almost immediately from the start. There are a few forested, winding turns on relatively flat terrain near the beginning, but they are short-lived. The longest sustained climb on the ride is this initial effort. It is about 7.5km in length and ascends for approximately 600 vertical metres.
The climb is well graded with numerous switchbacks. There are steep sections along the way, but the switchbacks keep things at a manageable grade. I would say that the technical difficulty is moderate/intermediate with some advanced sections cropping up along the way. Many of the more difficult sections are the result of steeper grades combined with large rocks. Because of this, I would suggest trying to settle into a sustainable climbing rhythm whereby you can save a small amount of energy to power over the steeper, more technical sections.
A sign showing the elevation, and a spectacular viewpoint mark the top of the climb. It’s worth making the short walk up to the viewpoint. There is a view deep into the valley, and you will be able to look ahead to portions of the trail you will soon be riding. You will also get a glimpse at some of the awe-inspiring peaks you will pass on the next leg of the trail.
A tour through the alpine!
Once you reach the high point at the top of the initial climb, you embark on what is arguably the most spectacular section of the Seven Summits Trail. From this point you pass by the towering summits of the Rossland Range and have endless views into and across valleys, for as far as the eye can see. This is where the hard work you put in on the climb pays off, and it is worth stopping often to take in the scenery.
A rollercoaster of rock!
Two descents and two climbs greet you as you ride through this alpine section. On the descents, you will dip back into the trees, only to pop back out as you climb up again. Spectacular views of the surrounding peaks and valleys greet you each time you emerge from the trees. Along the way you will see signs of the nearby Red Mountain Resort such as chair lifts and the odd small building.
I would describe the terrain along this portion of the trail as rocky and rough. As with the climb, the trail is moderately technical but punctuated at times with more advanced sections. None of the terrain, on either the climbs or descents, is very steep. The switchbacks help flatten them out. Depending on your climbing ability and fitness, it may be worth saving a small amount of energy on the climbs to power over the odd steep and/or technical section of trail. I would also suggest taking at least a small break at the top of each climb, so you are fresh for the descents. The rocky terrain requires concentration. You never know when there might be a loose rock waiting to whisk your front tire away!
A short section of loose rock marks the top of the second and final climb. Some may find this section easier to navigate on foot. Amazing 360-degree views of the surrounding peaks and valleys await you at the top. This is part of your reward for enduring this far. The rest will come very shortly in the form of a massive descent!
A descent into history!
From the top of the final alpine climb it’s all downhill to the end parking lot, save for a few very short, punchy climbs. In total, the descent is approximately 15km long with an elevation loss of about 1200m. For the first 9km you are on the Seven Summits Trail, then onto the Dewdney Trail for the final 6km. The descent starts off with the familiar rough, rocky terrain. The difficulty is similar to that of the alpine rollercoaster you just completed. Eventually, you begin to descend into the trees and the nature of the trail changes somewhat. Roots begin to replace rocks and you move from alpine air and rocky terrain to the shaded, loamy confines of the forest.
Dropping into the Dewdney
Once you’re into the trees it won’t be long before you come across a gravel road. Continue straight across the road. On the other side, you will see a sign for the start of the Dewdney Trail.
Although the modern-day Dewdney Trail doesn’t follow the original one exactly, it still gives you a sense of the type of terrain and surroundings that the builders of the trail and the prospectors who followed would have had to deal with 150 years ago. Descending, I couldn’t help but compare riding this trail at high speed with a modern mountain bike under me, with having to make my way down by horse and wagon.
Overall the Dewdney Trail is fast and flowy with some rough sections here and there. There are few, if any, steep sections. This isn’t the time to let your guard down, however. If the strenuousness of the ride up to this point has taken its toll on you, it can be easy to let your mind wander and make a mistake. If you can fight off the fatigue, this section of trail is great fun. It is constant, fast descending — when you reach the parking lot at the end you will undoubtedly have a grin on your face!
It’s well worth the trip!
Riding the Seven Summits has been a highlight of each of the three summers I rode the trail. There are few trails out there with such spectacular views and high-quality alpine riding. It isn’t an easy trail, but overcoming all the challenges will surely leave you with an elevated sense of accomplishment. At the end of the trail, I’ve always been uplifted by the sense of pride and accomplishment shown by the people who conquer this epic trail. For me, that feeling combined with the history of Rossland and the Dewdney Trail make this ride something special and leaves little doubt as to why the Seven Summits attracts riders from all over the world. So, whether you live as close as Rossland, or on the other side of the globe, this world-class experience should definitely be on your list!
If you enjoyed this Seven Summits Trail Guide please leave a comment below. And don’t forget to sign up for the RideSphere newsletter to get the inside line on new blog posts, events and special offers!
The Kootenay Columbia Trails Society (KCTS) maintains both the Seven Summits and Dewdney Trails. For more information on the society, or to donate, visit their website here. For more information on the Rossland area you can visit the Tourism Rossland website here.
(1972) Frontier Guide to the Dewdney Trail: Salmo to Wildhorse. Frontier Publishing Ltd.
(1969) Frontier Guide to the Dewdney Trail: Hope to Rock Creek. Frontier Publishing Ltd.