Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Night Rise, a Celebration of Winter at the Banff Gondola

Night rise is a beautiful celebration of winter, magic, wonder, and our beautiful Rocky Mountains. Created in partnership with the Stoney Nakoda Nation, their spoken word and authentic music bring life and a feeling of connection to this new event at the Banff Gondola.

Words to live by at Night Rise, Banff Gondola

A Whole New Way to Experience the Summit of Sulphur Mountain after Sunset 

I've visited the Banff Gondola many times, and have both hiked up Sulphur Mountain and ridden the gondola to the summit in every season of the year. Always on the search for something "new" though, I jumped when I found out that there was a new nighttime event happening at the gondola, one that would be unlike anything I'd ever experienced.

Night Rise gave me the opportunity to stand on top of a mountain, at night, in winter!! (Something I never thought I'd get the chance to do without a lot of discomfort, cold, and just a touch of suffering.)

Night Rise is a magical event in Banff this winter

I then received a second opportunity to return with my family so that my son got to stand on top of a mountain, again at night, and in winter! (On a very cold night I must admit.)

Standing on top of Sulphur Mountain, we were able to look down on the glowing lights of Banff below us, we danced and twirled through swirling magical lights on the outdoor observation deck, and we watched the trees light up with pulsing light and music along the boardwalk.

Even the gondola ride was a new experience with traditional spoken word and story telling from the Stoney Nakoda Nation, soothing, calming, and welcoming. The gondola ride provided a transition where we got to greet the night, welcome the darkness, and prepare for the wonder waiting for us on the mountain.

Winter on top of a mountain is pretty cool in Banff!

Looking down on the Town of Banff from the top of Sulphur Mountain

And watch the fun little video below for a glimpse of what to expect at Night Rise!

What to Expect from the Night Rise Experience 

First of all, this is a ticketed event and you can't just hike up Sulphur Mountain at night to experience Night Rise. The observation decks and upper terminal building are only open to those who have purchased tickets for Night Rise.

Second, this is a family event and would appeal to children of all ages. It's also a great event for people of all mobility and fitness levels because the gondola removes all effort involved in reaching the summit of Sulphur Mountain. Then when you reach the summit, there are elevators inside the building, benches everywhere for resting on, and windows on every level in case it's cold outside and you want to watch the light displays from the warmth of the building.

One of the viewing platforms lit up with interactive lights for Night Rise 

Night Rise at the Banff Gondola

The exhibit is spread out over four stations inside and outside the gondola building. "At these stations, visitors lounge among twinkling snowflake lights, walk atop interactive projections and explore like never before." - Banff Gondola

The event begins the second you step inside the gondola and ends when you reach the ground again, with spoken word, lights, and an interactive experience providing entertainment on the ride up and down.

Winter on top of a mountain in Banff

Diamond Dust, one of the magical indoor stations at Night Rise

Magical Diamond Dust at Night Rise

And watch the fun little video below for a glimpse of what to expect at Night Rise!

Everything you need to know about attending the event 

Tickets can be purchased online through the Banff Gondola website and the event runs through March 12th, 2022. 

Dinner packages can also be added on when you buy your tickets. Night Rise does not include food unless you add on a reservation for one of the two restaurants at the top of the mountain. The Sky Bistro would be my recommendation for a romantic meal with your partner and if you choose this addition, you'll enjoy both an appetizer and entrée at the beautiful Sky Bistro Restaurant on top of Sulphur Mountain. 

The Northern Lights Alpine Kitchen is a great family-friendly option where you'll be treated to a full buffet meal on top of Sulphur Mountain.

If you choose to purchase a dinner option, you can either eat first and then tour the Night Rise stations, or you can do your tour first and eat after. Everything is self directed and there is no "one way" to experience Night Rise. 

Come play outside in Banff on top of Sulphur Mountain

Other tips for visiting Night Rise 

  • The gondola cabins are not heated so make sure you dress warmly with a winter coat, perhaps ski pants for the children, along with mittens and toques. You'll also be outside for at least half an hour if you want to fully experience the interactive lights from the two viewing decks.

  • You won't need winter boots, but you'll still need shoes that are suitable for walking around outside and that have a bit of traction in case it's slippery outside. Don't wear high heel dress shoes is what I'm saying in a nut shell!

  • This is not a "fancy" event. Warmth is more of a priority so leave the dress and heels at home. Even if you're going to be dining at the Sky Bistro you do not need dress pants, a suit, or a dress. This is mountain chic fashion so wear your nicest down coat.

  • A relaxed tour of the Night Rise stations including the ride up and down will take 90 minutes to two hours. If you want to extend your time on top of Sulphur Mountain I recommend purchasing a dinner package. 

  • Masks are required inside the gondola building at all times and recommended outside on the viewing platforms if you are in close proximity to other guests.

  • Night Rise includes moving and colored lights in case that should be a concern for you or a family member.

  • By order of the Government of Alberta, proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 PCR or rapid test result within 72 hours of your visit is required to visit the Banff Gondola.

Twirling around in the interactive lights at Night Rise

Dancing on top of a mountain at night in Banff

Background and more Information on Night Rise 

Night Rise was created by the Montreal-based multimedia studio Moment Factory, and I especially appreciated their collaboration with the Stoney Nakoda Nations who contributed authentic spoken word and an original soundscape.

Key messages I took away from the experience were that the sky is not the limit, that we can listen with all of our senses, and that there is a deep feeling of peacefulness that comes from being connected to the land and to our history. 

For more information, photos, and videos, explore Night Rise on the Banff Gondola website for more information.

Celebrate Winter at the Banff Gondola

Disclaimer: Our visits to Night Rise were hosted but as always, all opinions and words here are my own. 


Wednesday, January 05, 2022

2022 Campsite Reservation Guide for Alberta and BC

Here we go again! We're still making plans for ski getaways and now it's time to start thinking about the summer camping season as well. Ready or not, it's time to pull out that calendar and to start planning for the May long weekend - and beyond.

Summer will be here again before we know it! Time to start planning

National Park Reservations 

National Park campsites can be booked online for the entire 2022 camping season beginning in January and February this year. (which is a change from last year when you couldn't make reservations until April.)

Reservations will open in January and February for visits between April 2022 and March 2023.

And unlike with provincial parks, there is no 90 day or three month window. You can book any site for a stay during the entire camping season once reservations go live. 

Below is the reservation launch schedule for national parks near Calgary:

Banff National Park - Wednesday, January 26th, 8am MST! (and backcountry campground reservations can be made as of January 28th at 8am.)

Jasper National Park -  Monday, January 31st, 8am MST! (and backcountry campground reservations can be made as of February 2nd, also at 8am!)

Waterton Lakes National Park - Tuesday, January 25th, 8am MST!

Kootenay National Park, BC  - Monday, January 24th, 8am MST! (and backcountry campground reservations can be made as of January 28th at 8am.)

Yoho National Park, BC - Monday, January 24th, 8am MST! (and backcountry campground reservations can be made as of January 28th at 8am.)

Mount Revelstoke National Park, BC - Wednesday, January 19th, 8am PST! (backcountry campground reservations can be made on the same day.)

Glacier National Park, BC - Wednesday, January 19th, 8am PST! (backcountry campground reservations can be made on the same day.)

Soon! We'll be camping in the sunshine again soon.

Special Reservations for Lake O'Hara in Yoho National Park: 

Backcountry Campsites at Lake O'Hara 
can be reserved online for the entire summer season as well starting on Thursday, February 3rd, at 8am MST!

*Note that reserving spots on the bus to Lake O'Hara for just a day has gone to a lottery system. You can enter the lottery between March 1 - March 30, 2022. More information on the lottery will be found here on the Lake O'Hara website. - To enter the lottery, follow the link above from a computer. It won't work from your phone without a lot of searching.

Special Reservations for Shuttles to Moraine Lake and Lake Louise:

Reservable shuttles to Moraine Lake and the Lake Louise lakeshore will be online again for this summer.  Reservations can be made starting in the spring of 2022 for the entire summer.

As of now, the date is still TBD so watch the Banff NP website.

For full information on reservations in all parks:

Visit the Parks Canada website. You can also visit individual parks from this link to read up on the campgrounds.

We love camping in the national parks!

Making a Reservation on the Parks Canada website

As of 2021, Parks Canada has gone with a queue system for campsite bookings. I suspect they will repeat this system again for 2022 because it kept their website from crashing.

The basic process for booking sites is as follows:
  1. Log in to your Parks Canada account on the day that you can book sites for your chosen park BEFORE 8AM. 

  2. You will be placed in the queue and given a random number. You won't know what number you have until 8am when they shuffle everybody in the queue. You may be number 50, you may be number 5000. It is 100% random. 

  3. It does NOT matter if you join the queue at 7:30 or at 7:59. There is no rhyme or reason for your place in the queue.

  4. Make sure you have at least one to two hours of free time to make your bookings. If you have to work, try to find somebody else who has free time that morning to make your bookings for you. If you end up with a high number in the queue, you may be waiting for over an hour to get on the website to make your bookings.

  5. You can not choose your campsite before joining the queue. You can try, but everything will be shuffled at 8am and so anything you had done before this time will be lost. You should still know which sites you are trying to book, but have it written beside you on a piece of paper.

  6. You won't have much time to make your bookings (especially if you have multiple bookings to make.) Make sure your credit card information is handy and know what you're trying to book before you log on to the website.

  7. Most people try to get more than one number in the queue to increase their odds at getting a good number. This is only possible though if you have more than one computer/laptop in the house. You can not just open multiple tabs in the same browser. Every browser shares the same number in the queue. 

    You can however open different browsers on the same computer to get more than one number in the queue. (Example, log in with both Chrome and Safari.) 

    Note, if you do get multiple numbers in the queue, please go with your best number and then close all other browsers so that those numbers can be released to other people trying to book. 

  8. Make sure you're actively monitoring your browser as your number counts down!! If you miss your time to book your campsites, you'll have to join the queue again and you'll be at the back of the line. 
Reservations may be stressful at the time, but worth it come summer!

Other Tips for Getting the Site you Want!

  • You will want to book campsites the day that the reservation system opens for each park and at 8am sharp if planning on camping on weekends during the summer season. There will be more flexibility if camping mid-week or in the spring/fall months.

  • Tag team with friends to get sites you really want (especially if you are looking for sites side by side.)

    Make sure you exchange all booking info. with your friends ahead of time because you can't hold more than one permit in your name for the same date/campground. If booking for friends, you'll want their full name and address. You'll also want to know the size of their trailer or tent along with how many people they will have on their site. (And if you are booking for friends who haven't committed yet, you can change the name on a campsite permit before you show up.)

  • There are still several first come first serve campgrounds in the national parks if you don't get a site.

  • Consider private campgrounds if you can't get into a national park campground or choose provincial park campgrounds just outside the national park.

    For example, in Waterton, you can camp at nearby Beauvais Lake Provincial Park. For Banff, we like camping outside the park gates at the Bow Valley  Campground. There are many private campgrounds in the Radium Hot Springs area if you can't get into Redstreak as well.

  • Make sure there is a fire pit on the site that you are reserving. Some sites in Banff and Jasper do not allow fires.


The Bow Valley Campground is an excellent choice near Banff National Park 

Alberta Provincial Park Reservations

BIG CHANGES have happened here so read carefully!

Starting January 11, 2022 Alberta Parks online reservations on Reserve.AlbertaParks.ca will now be a year-round service. 

There is still a 90-day booking policy for regular campsites and backcountry campsites, but there is no more "opening date" for reservations. Simply count back 90 days from when you wish to begin camping, and mark that date on your calendar. Example: If you want to camp over the May Long weekend, arriving on Friday, May 20th, you would want to make your booking at 9am on February 19th! 

Also note that comfort camping can be booked 180 days in advance! That means that on January 11th you'll already be able to book these sites up to mid-July!! 

How it works in a nutshell: Beginning at 9:00 am on January 11th, individual and backcountry campsites can be booked, in campgrounds that are open, up to April 11th (90-days in advance) and comfort camping can be booked up to mid-July (180-days in advance.)

Wake up to gorgeous views in Alberta Provincial Parks 

Group camping areas can also be booked 180 days in advance starting on January 12th! This means you'll be able to start looking for group sites for arrival dates through mid-July on the 12th, depending on each campground's opening and closing dates. 

Why the changes? "Having the start of reservations differ according to each campground’s season opening date and the advance booking window (90 or 180 days) will help reduce the volume of online users and promote fair opportunity and access for all Albertans." - Alberta Parks 

Online bookings open at 9 am for each launch and can be made at the Alberta Parks reservation site

** And note that Alberta Parks has also gone to the queue system so you may have to wait to get onto the parks reservation website in the morning.

Group camping at Twin Lakes, Crimson Lake Provincial Park

Special Tips:

  • Follow many of the same tips as per national park bookings above. Tag team with friends (especially for group bookings) and pay very close attention to those 90 or 180 day windows!

  • Make sure everything is in your calendar with reminders! I even put reminders beside my computer, my coffee pot, and my bed the night before making a campsite reservation so that I don't accidentally forget.

  • If you don't get the site that you want, there are plenty of first come first serve campgrounds. Many campgrounds also have a small number of  FCFS campsites. A Full List of FCFS Campgrounds can be found here.

  • Consider booking a group site if you have at least 5 families coming with you. You'll get your own private campground or group area and will have lots of room for the kids to run around and play.

    Note that most group sites do not have power or services for RVs so you'll have to either bring generators or camp off the grid as we do. Most group sites can be booked with a payment for 5 units but some require payment for 10 units so make sure you check the details before reserving a site. Full info. on group camping can be found here.

Spring Camping in Dinosaur Provincial Park

Important Links:

Alberta Parks Online Reservation Information

Comfort Camping in AB Parks  

Backcountry Reservations


Peter Lougheed Provincial Park is a beautiful place to camp in Kananaskis 

British Columbia Provincial Park Reservations

As in 2020 and 2021, BC Parks anticipates a spring timeline for accepting 2022 reservations for all reservation offerings (including group sites/picnic shelters).

"BC Parks is committed to providing parks users advance notice prior to opening reservations for any offerings or parks. Updates will be posted on bcparks.ca, BC Parks’ social media (Facebook and Instagram) and through government news releases." - BC Parks 

Beach life at Kokanee Creek Provincial Park, West Kootenays

In previous years, bookings could be made 4 months in advance. Last year it was changed to 2 months, and BC residents were given priority. For 2022 it's anybody's guess as to what the procedure will be. 

Long weekend camping will most likely stay the same (read below:)

NOTE RE LONG WEEKENDS: If you want to camp in a BC provincial park over a long weekend, you must make your reservation for all nights of the long weekend.

You can NOT plan to show up on the Saturday (even if in the middle of a road trip where you're traveling outside the normal weekend period.) You must be able to camp in the park Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night of the long weekend, and you must show up on the Friday night! You can not book for Friday, planning to show up on Saturday (or hoping to cancel the Friday later.)

Follow this link for more information on operating and reservable dates for each park.

Following is the  full Covid policies for the 2021 camping season. The new policies for 2022 have not been released yet.


Camping at Surveyor's Lake in Kikomun Creek Provincial Park

Other Suggested Reading 

Camping Super Guide - This is a quick guide to all of my popular camping stories for easy reference and reading. I add to this page regularly.

Notable stories to check out:

How to Choose a Good Campsite (Family Camping Made Easy) 


Monday, December 20, 2021

Ski out your Cabin Door at Baker Creek Mountain Resort in Banff

My family recently had the opportunity to spend a weekend at Baker Creek Mountain Resort near Lake Louise for some amazing "ski out your cabin door" fun in a beautiful winter wonderland setting.

Baker Creek Mountain Resort is one of twelve incredible properties with the Charming Inns & Small Hotels of Alberta and from my personal experience, adventure awaits just outside your door at each one of their inns or resorts.

Baker Creek Mountain Resort near Lake Louise, Alberta

An Authentic Rocky Mountain Experience at Baker Creek Mountain Resort

Baker Creek Mountain Resort is located along the Highway 1A in Banff National Park just 20 minutes east of Lake Louise. The resort has cozy cabins and suites, most with kitchenettes and all with fireplaces (including wood burning fireplaces in the cabins.) The largest cabins fit up to 5 people.

A stay at Baker Creek gives you an authentic Rocky Mountain experience, tucked away in a pristine wilderness setting off the beaten tourist path. We also appreciated the "intimate" nature of this cozy resort with only 16 suites & beautiful log cabins. It was a far cry from a loud ski hotel one might find in a busy mountain town.

Creekside firepits at Baker Creek Mountain Resort (firewood included)

Amenities at the property include a fitness centre, steam room, sauna, ice skating rink, and outdoor firepits along the creek.  There is also a café on site with basic food and beverage supplies in case you've forgotten anything (from marshmallows to a bottle of wine.)

My family stayed in a deluxe one bedroom suite in one of the lodge buildings. We thoroughly enjoyed our fireplace which provided heat to our room and warmed us up from an afternoon on the ski trails. We also loved having a separate bedroom (rather than the standard hotel room where the whole family sleeps in the same room) and our son was able to sleep on the pull out sofa.

The lodge that we stayed in with cozy suites, each one very much like a private cabin

Our kitchenette was just large enough for us to enjoy a simple breakfast each morning and we appreciated the amenities including a hot plate for cooking, fridge, microwave, coffee Bodum, and electric kettle. We were given fresh ground coffee when we checked in, and our fridge was stocked with coffee creamers. Our kitchen also had sugar, tea, and cooking supplies/dishes. 

We brought supplies with us to make lunches for our ski outings but chose to eat out for dinner each night. If that sounds like something you'd enjoy, there are several options for great dining at both Lake Louise and in the Town of Banff. Otherwise, should you choose to eat in your cabin, we discovered that the resort has outdoor barbecues on the property which would make it very easy to grill up some burgers or steaks for dinner.

A snowy winter evening at Baker Creek Mountain Resort near Lake Louise

Tips for planning an amazing stay at Baker Creek:

  • Bring slippers or thick fuzzy socks. The cabin floors can be chilly,

  • Bring a board game, fun card game, or crib board for cozy evenings in your cabin.

  • Bring your ice skates for the skating rink.

  • Bring your swim suits if you want to use the sauna.

  • Bring your indoor exercise clothes if you want to use the fitness centre.

  • Bring a sled if you have young children. You can pull them around the resort on the snowy pathways.

  • Bring roasting sticks and marshmallows for the outdoor firepits. I'd also recommend bringing travel mugs and hot chocolate to enjoy by the fire.

  • Bring your winter boots if you want to walk around the resort or play in the snow with the kids.

  • Download any movies you want to watch with the kids on an iPad before coming out. The WiFi at the resort is "basic" and certainly not high speed. - Which means you can unplug, leave the work behind in the city, and relax!

  • Pets are allowed at the resorts so you can bring Fido or Fluffy with you.

  • Our suite had a microwave but not a full oven (so maybe don't bring a frozen pizza for dinner - or at the very least, ask the resort if your cabin has a microwave or an oven)

A look at the inside of our cabin suite at Baker Creek

Ski Out Your Cabin Door at Baker Creek 

Baker Creek Mountain Resort grooms 10 kilometres of Nordic trails for cross-country skiing and all you have to do is walk across the road to access the trailhead. The first 3.5 km of trail is very flat and perfect for families with young children. Ski to the Protection Mountain Campground and back in an easy 7 km return trip outing before switching to your ice skates, relaxing in your cabin, or playing in the snow around the resort with your family.

For a longer ski, continue past Protection Mountain towards Castle Mountain Lookout, another 6.2 km past the campground for a round trip distance of 19 km. There are incredible views between Protection Mountain and Castle Mountain Lookout, and train lovers will get plenty of opportunities to watch trains go by as you ski alongside the tracks or traverse high above the river and the train tracks, with several great vantage points along the ski trail.

Skiing along the Highway 1A between Baker Creek and Castle Mountain Lookout

If you're fortunate to have a second vehicle, you can also set up a shuttle to ski one-way from Baker Creek back to Castle Junction, 15 km away (and 30 km round trip for adults wanting a long day tour from the resort.)

Gorgeous views can be seen from the Nordic Ski Trail from Baker Creek

To read more about the ski trails between Baker Creek and Castle Junction check out my recent story below.

All the Trains and Snowy Rockies Scenery!

Easy family-friendly skiing from Baker Creek Mountain Resort

Other Winter Activities to Enjoy from Baker Creek Mountain Resort

There is no shortage of adventure to be had while staying at Baker  Creek. Below are just some of the possibilities:

  • Visit Lake Louise for a day to skate on the lake, enjoy cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, participate in a guided dog sled tour, or even go on a horse drawn sleigh ride.

  • Visit the Lake Louise Ski Resort for downhill skiing, family tubing, a sightseeing chairlift ride, or a guided snowshoe tour.

  • Take a scenic drive along the Icefields Parkway towards the Columbia Icefields (winter tires required) where you'll see some of the most stunning scenery in Banff National Park.

  • Visit the Town of Banff for a day where opportunities are endless. Enjoy shopping, dining, a visit to the Banff Gondola, a soak in the Banff hot springs, cross-country skiing or hiking, or even fat biking with rentals available in town.

  • Enjoy some relaxing time at the resort, borrow a few hockey sticks and start up a casual game on the skating rink, or unwind with a hot chocolate and s'mores by one of the creekside firepits. 

  • Go snowshoeing near the resort. There are several trails nearby and the resort lends out complimentary snowshoes to its guests. 

  • Visit nearby Johnston Canyon, a winter wonderland of frozen ice where you'll see two large frozen waterfalls. Ice cleats or spikes highly recommended.

Cross country skiing under the cliffs of Castle Mountain near Baker Creek

A Unique and Special Stay Every Time with the Charming Inns of Alberta

The Charming Inns & Small Hotels of Alberta are a collection of 12 boutique independent inns and hotels found in locations across Alberta. The inn keepers of these properties work together to support each other and share resources. They stand out from the generic hotels you find when traveling that look as if they were cut out using a "hotel cookie cutter."

Baker Creek Mountain Resort is one of these unique properties where one stay will never be enough, and an annual trip is certainly guaranteed after you spend a couple of nights here.

Every Stay at a Charming Inns of Alberta Property is Unique and Distinctive

A quick glance at the Charming Inns of Alberta website introduces you to a wide range of experiences (because a stay at one of these properties is always more than just an overnight accommodation.) You'll find everything from honeymoon getaways to quick overnight escapes, mountain or wilderness retreats, private cabins, and spa vacations. Some of the properties are also pet friendly and many are very welcoming of children as well.

The common ground between each property is that you'll always find something distinctive, unique, and "local" in flavor. We've stayed at two other Charming Inn properties now, Mount Engadine Lodge in Kananaskis, and the Bear and Bison Inn in Canmore. At both properties it was very clear we were staying in the Rocky Mountains, and that atmosphere was present everywhere around each resort from the art work to the décor and even to the meals we ate. 

A Rocky Mountain Winter Wonderland at Baker Creek Mountain Resort

Mount Engadine Resort allows you the unique experience of staying in a winterized glamping tent where "camping" gets a whole lot more decadent with indoor plumbing, comfortable king sized beds, and fireplaces in each cabin. All meals are included at the resort including afternoon tea, a charcuterie board, and dessert for each group. You'll also feast on a delicious three course dinner, a two course breakfast the next day, and a packed lunch for the trails.

Pets are welcome at Mount Engadine, and you'll find a wide assortment of rooms in addition to the glamping tents including cabins, suites, and cozy lodge rooms. There's truly something for everyone. And kids are always more than welcome here as well.

For couples looking for a romantic getaway close to shopping and a wide variety of find dining options, look no further than the Bear and Bison Inn in Canmore. Each comfortable suite includes breakfast in your room the next morning, and I loved our room so much I was ready to move in permanently. 

From your basecamp in Canmore, you're close to winter hiking or snowshoeing trails, the Canmore Nordic Centre for XC skiing, The Town of Banff to the west, and the incredible wilderness playground of Kananaskis just up the Spray Lakes Road.

Glamping Tents at Mount Engadine Lodge, Kananaskis 

Visit Baker Creek Mountain Resort during the Lake Louise to Banff Loppet

If you time your visit to Baker Creek right, you can also ski the special Lake Louise to Banff Loppet Course. The section from the Lake Louise Campground to Baker Creek Mountain Resort only gets groomed for the loppet in January each year, and so you can only ski between Lake Louise and Baker Creek during this time.

Visit the link above to register for the loppet, being held virtually between January 17th - 30th for 2022. Unlike with most loppet races, a virtual loppet lets you ski the course any day you want during the two week period above. Ski whenever you want without having to compete with a large group of other skiers on the same day. Or, choose to just ski the course recreationally without focusing on competing at all.

The distance from Lake Louise to Baker Creek during the loppet is 20.7 km. Total distance to Castle Junction is around 34 km one way.

Last year we set up a shuttle with friends and skied from Lake Louise to Castle Mountain Lookout. It was an incredible experience.

Skiing the Lake Louise to Banff Loppet Course in January 

Give the Gift of a Getaway with a Charming Inns Gift Card

The Charming Inns of Alberta has gift cards available for their properties and the best part is that one gift card allows for 12 different getaway options. Buy a gift card for a special person in your life and let them choose whether they want a mountain getaway, a romantic spa weekend, or a wilderness stay.

Family members, friends, and even coworkers can be difficult to shop for, but this is truly a gift that's meaningful, simple to buy, and guaranteed to please any recipient! 

Gift cards are great for corporate incentives, anniversaries, birthdays, wedding gifts or any special occasion. - And there's still time to buy a gift card for Christmas!

Visit the Charming Inns of Alberta website for more information on ordering gift cards. They can be mailed or emailed to the recipient.

Give the Gift of a Getaway this Winter!

Disclaimer: Our stay at Baker Creek Mountain Resort was hosted in partnership with the Charming Inns of Alberta. All words and opinions are my own and I wasn't compensated beyond the stay.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Cross-country Skiing along the Highway 1A in Banff: Baker Creek to Castle Junction

This has become an extremely popular cross-country ski tail and most of it is very scenic and beginner-friendly. You'll parallel the Highway 1A the entire time on a groomed ski trail from Baker Creek Mountain Resort near Lake Louise, ending at Castle Junction approximately 15 km away.

One of the amazing viewpoints as you ski under the cliffs of Castle Mountain along the 1A

Below I've broken the trail down into popular distances that local skiers enjoy including my personal favourite, a one way traverse from Baker Creek to Castle Junction with a shuttle where the trail trends downhill at a gradual angle other than a few short hills that you'll climb up and over.

Below is my modified copy of the Parks Canada map that I've marked up for easy reference. Note however that Parks Canada lists the 5 km section from Castle Mountain Lookout to Castle Junction as green or "easy." This is not true. This is the only section of the trail that is actually intermediate with several short hills and one steep descent towards Castle Junction at the end where you'll have to control your speed on a twisty trail through tight trees.

The middle 6.4 km section between Protection Mountain Campground and Castle Mountain Lookout could be rated as green, as it is quite beginner friendly. 

Baker Creek to Castle Junction along the Highway 1A

Skiing from Castle Lookout to Baker Creek Return (Easy/low intermediate)

If you're just skiing out and back, I recommend starting at the lookout in the middle and skiing to Baker Creek and back. This is your best bet for having a groomed trackset trail to ski as well. The section from the lookout to Castle Junction is not groomed as often.

You can always turn around early as well around the Protection Mountain Campground. After the campground it's not as scenic for the final 3.5 km to Baker Creek.

From Castle Mountain Lookout, the trail is generally easy heading towards Baker Creek. There's one steep hill out of the parking lot but honestly you just have to take your skis off at the bottom anyway to cross the highway, so walk the hill if you don't want to ski down it. (I never ski up it at the end of the trip.)

High above the Bow River between Castle Lookout and Protection Mountain

Once you're on the other side of the highway from the lookout parking lot, the trail is relatively flat other than the double humps you'll climb up and over. Each one is gentle enough that you can usually stay in the tracks going both up and down.

Turn around at Protection Mountain after 6.2 km or continue the final 3.5 km to Baker Creek where you can have lunch in the red chairs outside the resort beside the creek. There is also a café at Baker Creek where you can grab snacks, lunch, and coffee to go. (Bring your mask if you plan to go inside.)

The 6.2 km section from the Lookout to Protection Mountain is the prettiest part of the whole trail.

This is the beginning of the trail from the Castle Mountain Lookout (flat and very beginner-friendly)

Parking Directions:

Follow this link to find the Castle Lookout parking lot on Google Maps.

Note you are not parking right at Castle Junction where you turn off from the TransCanada Highway. You must turn off the highway at the Castle Mountain Chalets and then turn left on the Highway 1A, heading towards Lake Louise.

You'll see a sign for the Castle Lookout parking lot on your right if coming from Castle Junction.

Skiing high above the Bow River between Castle Mountain Lookout and Protection Mountain

Trail Reports: 

Follow this link to the Banff National Park Trail Reports page. 

The "Tunnel" a 1 km long flat section between Protection Mountain and the Lookout

Ski Directions:

From Castle Lookout, jump on the ski trail that starts right from the parking lot and head west towards Lake Louise. Within 5 minutes you'll come to a short steep hill. Walk it if you have to because you're just crossing the highway.

The trail continues on the other side of the road. The trail starts off flat as you wind your way through the trees until you start to climb gradually until you're high above the river. This is where you'll go up and over two humps en route to the Protection Mountain Campground. Neither hill is especially big and you should be able to stay in the tracks.

The section above the river is the prettiest part of the trail and you'll get good views of trains going by.

The larger of the two humps you'll ski up and over
Train lovers will love this ski trail!

After you've descended the second hump, you'll arrive at the tunnel, a 1 km straight section that's 100% flat but often very pretty with snowy trees hanging over the trail. 

After coming out of the tunnel you ski alongside the railway tracks for the final bit until you reach the road crossing for the Protection Mountain Campground.

Skiing through the snowy tunnel 

The Tunnel between Castle Lookout and Protection Mountain

Easy flat skiing along the train tracks between Baker Creek and Protection Mountain

Cross the highway to enter the campground and then follow the trail to the Baker Creek Mountain Resort skiing beside a powerline for the final 2.5 km.

You'll end up on the other side of the highway from the resort at a parking lot (which you should use if you're starting at Baker Creek.) Cross the road if you want to visit the resort or have lunch there.

The first part of the trail from Baker Creek follows beside a powerline and is very beginner-friendly

Follow this link to download a map of the winter trails in the Lake Louise area.

Distance from Castle Lookout to Protection Mountain Campground - 6.2 km one way

Distance from the campground to Baker Creek - 3.5 km one way

And if you're starting at Baker Creek, follow this link on Google Maps to see the Baker Creek Ski parking lot. Do not park at the resort itself if you are not an overnight guest.

Easy beginner-friendly skiing between Castle Lookout and Protection Mountain

Ski Traverse from Baker Creek to Castle Junction (Intermediate)

Most people don't ski the section between the Lookout to Castle Junction by itself because it isn't as pretty and you follow a powerline much of the way. This section also isn't groomed as often unfortunately.

As a one-way traverse though when you have good conditions, it's a lot of fun. Start at Baker Creek to take advantage of the height loss as you ski down river. 

If you're up for the full 30 km round trip distance, start at Castle Junction and climb on your way out for a more relaxed ski back.

Skiing under the powerline between the Lookout and Castle Junction 

Before setting up a shuttle, you'll want to ensure the section from the Castle Lookout to Castle Junction is groomed and trackset before you plan to do the full traverse. Do not trust the Parks Canada trail report on this. The photo below is from our most recent trip. The Parks Canada website said the trail had been recently trackset within the last few days (but unfortunately it had not seen a snowmobile yet this season even for preliminary packing.)

Our recent ski from the Lookout to Castle Junction was full on backcountry ski touring and thankfully somebody had gone ahead of us the day before or we would not have known where to go because there are very few to no signs on the entire 1A ski traverse.

If you want an up to date trail report, call the Castle Mountain Chalets because they take care of the grooming between the junction and the lookout. Note they are having problems with their grooming equipment this year for 2021-22, so grooming may be more infrequent.

On the other side, Baker Creek Mountain Resort does the grooming between their property and the Lookout.

Make sure the Lookout - Castle Junction section is groomed before you head out!

Parking Directions:

You'll either be parking at Baker Creek Mountain Resort or you'll be parking at Castle Junction across from the gas station where there is a parking lot.

Follow this link to Google Maps to find the Baker Creek Ski parking lot.

Follow this link to Google Maps to find the Castle Junction parking lot

Following a skier tracked trail between Castle Lookout and Castle Junction

Trail Reports: 

Check the recent grooming report for Banff and Lake Louise here. As the season goes on, the grooming reports for the 1A Trails will be more accurate and reliable.

Skiing under the powerline towards Castle Junction on an ungroomed trail

Ski Directions: 

From the Baker Creek Skiers Parking lot (across the road and just east of the resort) follow the trail as described above for the Castle Mountain Lookout to Baker Creek trip. 

You'll follow the powerline until you reach the Protection Mountain Campground, cross the highway, ski along the railway tracks until you reach the tree tunnel, ski through the tunnel of trees, ski up and over the two humps, and then make your way through the forest to Castle Lookout (on the other side of the highway.)

From the lookout, ski around the back of the parking lot and take the trail that continues heading east towards Castle Junction. - and this is a great place to turn around if the trail has not been groomed and there are no tracks to follow.

The trail from the lookout to the junction mostly follows a powerline climbing up and down over several small hills. You then make your way down a steep hill that twists and turns through fairly tight trees. Don't be scared to walk this section if it's icy or not in good condition! (It's better than hitting a tree.)

At the bottom of the steep hill the trail finishes off with about a kilometre of easy flat skiing as you parallel the road (other than one final hill that you'll steeply climb.) 

Castle Junction at the end of the Baker Creek to Castle ski traverse 

Follow this link to download a map of the winter trails in the Lake Louise area.

Distance from Castle Lookout to Castle Junction - 5 km one way

Full distance from Baker Creek to Castle Junction - 14.7 km one way

Skiing along the Highway 1A between Baker Creek and Castle Junction

Stay Overnight at Baker Creek Mountain Resort 

Stay overnight for easy access to the trails along the 1A at the Baker Creek Mountain ResortThe resort has cozy cabins and suites, most with kitchenettes and all with fireplaces (including wood burning fireplaces in the cabins.) The largest cabins fit up to 5 people.

By staying at Baker Creek, you'll also be very close to either the trails at Lake Louise or the trails near the Town of Banff. 

Best of all though, if you choose to ski from Baker Creek without driving, it's an easy 19.4 km round trip ski to the Lookout and back. Adults with young children can even take turns skiing from the resort while the other adult plays with the kids in the giant snow banks around the cabins.

A snowy winter evening at Baker Creek Mountain Resort near Lake Louise

Ski the 1A Traverse during the Lake Louise to Banff Loppet 

If you time your ski day right, you can also ski the special Lake Louise to Banff Loppet Course. The section from the Lake Louise Campground to Baker Creek Mountain Resort only gets groomed for the loppet and so you can only ski between Lake Louise and Baker Creek during this time.

Visit the link above to register for the loppet, being held virtually between January 17th - 30th for 2022. Unlike with most loppet races, a virtual loppet lets you ski the course any day you want during the two week period above. Ski whenever you want without having to compete with a large group of other skiers on the same day. Or, choose to just ski the course recreationally without focusing on competing at all.

The distance from Lake Louise to Baker Creek during the loppet is 20.7 km. Total distance to Castle Junction is around 34 km one way.

Last year we set up a shuttle with friends and skied from Lake Louise to Castle Mountain Lookout. It was an incredible experience.

Skiing the Lake Louise Loppet Course between Lake Louise and Baker Creek

Final Notes on this Ski Traverse

This trail is dog-friendly as long as your pooch is on leash and well behaved.

This is a ski trail and is not a multi-use hiking, snowshoeing, or fat biking trail. If you want to go for a winter hike or bike ride, please consult the Parks Canada website where it lists the best trails for each sport.

Parts of the trail are double trackset, but much of it is only single trackset. Cooperation is required if you meet another group coming towards you. Nobody really has the right of way on a flat single tracked trail so be kind.

This trail is groomed for classic skiing, not skate skiing. If you want to skate ski go to Lake Louise where you can skate on the Moraine Lake Road or the Divide Trails.

There is very little signage on this trail. As long as it's been freshly groomed and trackset you'll have no problems following the trail. Early season however (or after a large dump of snow) it could be challenging to know where to go at times.

There is no official shuttle or bus service for this trail. If you only want to ski one-way, you'll have to set up a shuttle with friends. 

And finally as a reminder, Parks Canada is not responsible for grooming this trail so their website may not always be accurate for conditions. Baker Creek Mountain Resort and Castle Mountain Chalets share the grooming.

Join Cross-country Skiing YYC on Facebook to participate in great conservations about skiing the local trails in Kananaskis and Banff. It's also a great place to get trip reports from other skiers who may have skied trails like the 1A Traverse in the last day or two.