Now Playing

Following the BMX Bike Trail to British Columbia

An extreme sports enthusiast takes a Canadian road trip to the next level.


BMXer Matty Aquizap backflips off a rope swing at Joffre Lakes.

(1 of 6)


British Columbia’s Shannon Falls.

(2 of 6)

The McBarge, a floating former McDonald’s restaurant, sits abandoned in British Columbia’s Burrard Inlet.

(3 of 6)

John Tillman bikes Orcas Island Skatepark in the San Juan Islands, Washington.

(4 of 6)


The view from a mountain top in Olympic National Park, Washington.

(5 of 6)

Brian Barnhart's route.

(6 of 6)


When Santa Cruz–based photographer Brian Barnhart learned that his work would be featured in an art show in Vancouver, his first move could have been to buy a plane ticket to Canada. But for this bicycle motocross fanatic, that would have been too boring. Instead, he used the exhibit as an excuse to round up a big group of friends and hit BMX trails and skate parks on the long route from Santa Cruz to Vancouver, and even a bit beyond. “With BMX, it’s always about finding new spots to ride,” he says. “It really got me into traveling and experiencing new places.”

Barnhart and a friend started in Santa Cruz, cruised to Redding to pick up a buddy, then steered north to Oregon, stopping in Ashland and Corvallis to ride trails. “Most of the time we were driving five hours at the longest,” he says. “We tried to keep it pretty short so we weren’t spending grueling hours in the van.” In Portland they reunited with people from around the country whom they’d met through BMX. The group, now about 15, turned the backyard of a friend into a campground for the night and in the morning drove to a local swimming hole, High Rocks, where they jumped from—you guessed it—really high rocks into the water.

From Portland it was on to Vancouver, where Barnhart biked and skated the city’s trails and parks, including Hastings, one of the city’s biggest, with its Italian garden, race course, parkour space, beach-volleyball courts, bike-friendly greenways, and skate park.

After Vancouver and the art show, Barnhart and his crew drove up to Horseshoe Bay, where they upped the stakes on their cliff jumping by climbing 40 feet to take the plunge. “I’ve jumped off a bunch of cliffs into rivers or lakes, but never into an ocean,” Barnhart says. “You can taste it and feel it when you hit the water. It was such a beautiful spot.”

Next up was Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, near Pemberton, British Columbia, which has a series of three turquoise lakes that are fed by glacier runoff. By the time the group hit the second lake, they were hot enough to climb a rope swing and jump into the frigid water, which was in the 40s. “You can see the water running off of the glacier and into the lake,” Barnhart says. “I’d never seen anything like that before.”

After Pemberton, it was time to head back south. The caravan moved to the coast, stopping at beaches, doing a little surfing, and camping in the forest. At one of the last major stops, Olympic National Park, one friend drove the rest of them—and their bikes—to the top of a peak. “It was a 17-mile hill bomb,” Barnhart says. “We were going as fast as you can down a mountain on a bike.” 

Distance: 2,200 miles
Time: two weeks
Money spent: about $300
Accommodations: Camping in state parks and friends’ backyards
Provisions: Barnhart, a vegan, packed his own food (vegan options can be hard to find on the road) and cooked it on a camp stove.
Necessities: a converted cargo van, sleeping bags, surfboards, skateboards, and BMX bikes.


Originally published in the December issue of San Francisco

Have feedback? Email us at
Email Elise Craig at
Follow us on Twitter @sanfranmag

Follow Elise Craig on Twitter @e_craig