Friday, April 28, 2017

Gotta do THIS - May 2017 Edition

And we're back! This is my monthly list of cool outdoor things to do as a family in the Canadian Rockies, focused on Southern Alberta.  I also want to give you some fun ideas for how to celebrate Mother's Day and to offer suggestions for families still looking for something to do over the May long weekend. I am also featuring one getaway destination for those wanting to travel a little further.

Gotta do THIS - May 2017 Edition (photo: Prairie View Hike, Kananaskis)

I've added one new category to this month's edition as well on summer planning. I've featured one destination you may want to consider visiting this summer. (A favourite of mine!)

Time is too precious to spend every weekend in the city doing chores and yard work. Plan a fun family-friendly day trip or getaway this month and celebrate spring!



 

Gotta Do THIS - May 2017 Edition




1. Attend Calgary's First Ever "YYC Fit Health and Fitness Expo"

          - with Giveaway -



Sponsored Event with Giveaway for a family set of tickets. (details on how to win at the bottom of this post)


The first ever YYCfit Health and Fitness Expo launches on May 13th and 14th with more than 100 booths featuring Calgary’s most popular boutique fitness studios, martial arts, fitness apparel, adventure travel and healthy eats!

Families can enjoy the KIDfit Zone during the day which will include super hero training camps to get young ones moving as they learn skills from today’s most popular super heroes. Kids will also be given the opportunity to demo all sorts of different activities, and parents will have the ability to sign their kids up for classes on the spot!

Other things to look forward to:

Health and Fitness for the Whole Family
  • Strongman Competition run in conjunction with the Alberta Strongman Association

  • Two demo stages featuring displays and competitions including aerial yoga, hip hop dancing, boxing, powerlifting, and even a sword demonstration.

  • A seminar stage, (with a no-sales policy) that will be full of engaging and informative presentations and several panel discussions.

  • Special guests for the weekend including personal trainer and model Daniel Maguire, from the Bachelorette reality show as well as Emily Abbott, Crossfit Competitor recognized as the eighth fittest woman in the world.

  • Pedalheads Obstacle Course and Superhero Training Camp for the kids


For full information on location, tickets and hours of operation visit the YYC Fit Health and Fitness Expo website.

Coming to the KIDfit Zone….Superhero Training Camps!

2. Spend Mother's Day in the Mountains


Mother's Day is coming up on May 14th and you don't have to break the bank to show mom that she's special. Here are 5 cost-friendly suggestions for celebrating Mother's Day this year:

  1. Take mom for some FREE skiing for free at Sunshine Village (more details here)

  2. Go biking in Banff or Canmore and take mom out for lunch (or better yet, pack a picnic lunch and have lunch beside the Bow River in one of Banff or Canmore's many parks

  3. Visit Johnson Lake for a short hike, a picnic, and even a refreshing dip if it's warm enough at Banff's only beach. This is also a great lake for taking the canoe out on for a first paddle of the season

  4. Climb a mountain and bring a gourmet picnic spread for the top. Tunnel Mountain is a great choice and with less than 300 metres of height gain, most children can climb this one! (more on family-friendly activities to enjoy in Banff here)

  5. Go camping in Bow Valley Provincial Park for easy access to Kananaskis, Canmore, and Banff. And don't worry if you haven't made reservations yet because Willow Rock Campground offers first come first serve camping. (And it has lovely sites down in the trees near the Flowing Water hiking trail.)
Family Picnic in Bow Valley Provincial Park

3. Launch the Camping Season for the May long Weekend


Yes, I know it will snow and rain - both in the same day! Still, it's a tradition and you know you don't want to sit this one out.

Haven't made a reservation yet? Good news - there are still 30+ provincial park campgrounds in Alberta with space!

Camping at Gregg Lake in William A. Switzer Provincial Park (which has space over the May long!)


Some Campgrounds and Parks that we love (with space over the long weekend):

  • Cypress Hills Provincial Park (there are still a few spots available in the beautiful campgrounds of this park in Southern Alberta)

  • Gregg Lake, William A. Switzer Provincial Park (gorgeous park near Hinton Alberta, just outside Jasper National Park)

  • Little Bow Provincial Park (great location in Southern Alberta when the mountains are still too chilly. Still has 2 available campsites)

  • Many provincial parks in Central Alberta (including Pigeon Lake, Jarvis Bay, and Aspen Beach - Gull Lake)
Camping in Cypress Hills Provincial Park

For information on the campgrounds and parks above, please visit the Alberta Parks website and make reservations on the AB Parks Reservation site.

I've also written reviews for many of these campgrounds. Links can be found on my Camping Super Guide page.

Disclaimer: I am an Alberta Parks Ambassador and receive free camping. All reviews and opinions are my own.

Spring Camping in Bow Valley Provincial Park

4. Hit the Open Highway on Your Bikes


In the April edition of "Gotta Do This" I wrote about biking Highway 66 in the Elbow Valley from Elbow Falls before the road opens to traffic on May 15th (Something I still haven't done yet with my own family this year!)

I still recommend biking in the Elbow Valley but I have other suggestions for you as well if you want to hit the highways and roads before they open to traffic for the summer.

Biking on Highway 66, Elbow Valley

Closed Roads, Highways and Campgrounds for Spring Biking:

1. Highway 66, Elbow Valley - Park at Elbow Falls and bike as far as you want. A good turn around spot with kids is the Beaver Flats Campground, a very short mostly flat return ride, where you can hike on the Beaver Flats Interpretive Trail.  Highway opens for traffic on May 15th

Easy Riding on highway 66, Elbow Valley

2. Highway 40, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park - Drive out past Kananaskis Village and go as far as you can on hwy 40. Park at the winter gate and bike towards Highwood Pass. You won't get all the way there with kids as it's a long uphill ride of 17 km in length (one way,) but you can ride as far as you want and turn around at any point. You'll still get some good views and enjoy riding on Canada's highest public road.  Highway opens for traffic on June 15th

Biking Hwy 40 towards Highwood Pass (photo: J. Douglas)

3. Highway 40 from Highwood Junction - You can also bike highway 40 from the far side, starting near Longview, for a more gradual ride. You'd still have to climb to reach the pass but you can ride to the Cat Creek Day Use Area and back in roughly 9 km return. Note that it is still not a flat ride from this end and you will have a few big hills to contend with. (On the final hill back down to the winter gate at the end of our ride, my speed reached 40 km/hour without braking so needless to say it was not a fun first kilometre starting out.)

Biking on Highway 40 near Highwood Junction

From the Cat Creek Day Use Area, there's a lovely set of waterfalls you can hike to. Either follow the hiking trail (you'll see a steep trail going up the hillside opposite the day use area on your right hand side, just after the vehicle bridge) or look for the old gravel road and follow it on your bikes. (To find the old gravel road, look for it just before you cross the highway bridge off in the grass to your right. The hiking trail starts on the far side of this bridge.)

Biking the old road to the Cat Creek Falls

We chose to bike the old road rather than hike on the official trail. There's just one creek crossing you'll have to do if you follow the old road (where you'll leave your bikes) once you see the hiking trail on the opposite side of the bank.

Highway opens for traffic on June 15th


Cat Creek Falls, Kananaskis


4. Highway 546 west of Sandy McNabb Campground, Sheep River Provincial Park - Another great spring ride that starts down south near Turner Valley, bike from the road closure towards Sheep River Falls or as far as you get since it's 16 km one way to the falls, and return when the kids start to get tired.  Highway opens for traffic on May 15th


Biking and Longboarding down Hwy 546  (photo: J. Kersbergen)

5. Paddy's Flat Campground, Elbow Valley - Park at the gate above the Paddy's Flat campground and bike the closed campground roads. Bike down to the river and hike or bike the Paddy's Flat Interpretive Trail from where you can also hop on to the Riverview Trail. There is a fun little playground down near the river as well. Campground opens on May 15th

Biking along the Paddy's Flat Interpretive Trail

5. Climb a Mountain - May's Featured Hikes and Summits


I have two top picks in Kananaskis for families wanting to get out and climb a mountain this month.

Prairie View Trail to Barrier Lake Lookout - This great Kananaskis hike is an early season favourite with a beautiful ridge overlooking Barrier Lake. From there, the views only get better as you hike up to some big rocks (fun to scramble on) and then go further to the fire lookout house.

To read my trip report and summit report read First Summits - Barrier Lake Lookout

Looking out over Barrier Lake from the ridge on the Prairie View Trail

Nihahi RidgeHike to the end of the official hiking trail in an easy 5 km round trip distance. Continue further as far as you feel comfortable for some easy scrambling. The brave and adventurous can scramble up a small cliff band to reach the ridge for some pretty spectacular views. Going further to the South Summit is for experienced climbers and scramblers only (though we made it last spring with our 7 year old son on a short rope.)

To read my trip reports for this hike read First Summits - Nihahi Ridge, Kananaskis 

- and -

Family Hiking at the Next Level - Scrambles and Summits (Our journey to the South Summit of Nihahi Ridge)

Note, this trailhead is only accessible after May 15th.


Easy hiking on the Nihahi Ridge  Trail

Don't forget that Prairie Mountain - featured last month in Gotta do THIS - April Edition, is another good early season summit and still an excellent choice for May. (And we STILL haven't done this trail yet as a family for the 2017 season!! Shame shame...)

Hiking on Prairie Mountain, Elbow Valley

6. Road Trip Time!! This Month's Spring Feature - Jasper National Park


Spring is my favourite time to visit Jasper before the tourists descend on this small town in summer. The bike trails are dry and Jasper has a fantastic trail network.

There are also some lovely early season hikes that we enjoy such as the Old Fort Point Trail. Finally, you can't go wrong with a trip to Miette Hot Springs or just walking around town, visiting the Bear's Paw Bakery for goodies, or stopping in at the Banff Brewing Company for dinner and drinks (and yes, they take kids.)


Spring Biking in Jasper

For more information on family-friendly activities, sightseeing, and camping in Jasper, please read the following two stories:

Our Top Ten Favourite Things to do in Jasper   
 

Where to Camp in the National Parks of Alberta

Old Fort Point Lookout, Jasper


7. Summer Planning - May's Travel Feature: The Okanagan


Step out of your tent and hop on your bike at one of the many great campgrounds situated just a few feet away from the Kettle Valley Railway converted rail trail. Our campground this summer will literally be on top of the KVR and we're very excited about being so close to one of our favourite bike trails.

Biking the Kettle Valley Railway, Penticton, BC

Spend your mornings biking the KVR, hiking local trails, or even rock climbing at the Skaha Bluffs south of Penticton. Then spend your afternoons chilling at a local lake where you'll find some of the best beaches in British Columbia. Round off your day with a wine tour (or two or three... - many vineyards are very kid-friendly,) play some mini-golf, or try out a Wibit Aqua Course in either Kelowna or Penticton. There is no shortage of things to do in the Okanagan Valley.

Read about our favourite things to do between Kelowna and Penticton, all the way south to Osoyoos in my story: The Importance of Summer Vacations (and the BEST of the Okanagan)

You can also read my newest story on the Okanagan (with campground recommendations) in the May/June publication of Calgary's Child Magazine, available around the city right now. Here is web copy of the story: Family Vacations in BC's Okanagan Valley

Swim Bay in Peachland (Beach with zip line, rope swing, and diving boards!)

 

May Events to Note


The Banff Children's Festival - Saturday May 20th

Spring in Banff at Vermillion Lake


Other Recommended Reading


Gotta do THIS - April 2017 Edition

Gearing Up for Biking Season - with links to all of my spring biking stories

The Top Ten Spring Family Hikes in Kananaskis


Spring Biking in the Bow Valley  (campground roads are now open to traffic but you can still bike here on the quiet roads)

 

Giveaway- Enter to Win Tickets to the YYC Fit Health and Fitness Expo


The set of tickets includes two adult tickets and two children's tickets. The tickets are good for visiting the expo on Saturday or Sunday and can be picked up at Will Call at the event location.

The contest is open to all adults 18+ who would like to visit the festival as a family. Please make sure you will be able to attend the event either Saturday or Sunday before entering the contest.

Winner will be chosen Friday morning, May 5th and will be notified that day. I will contact the winner by email. If I don't hear back by the following Monday morning, I will choose another winner.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Purchasing a New Trailer (Family Camping Made Easy)

Our first trailer was a small hybrid unit that we purchased second hand with very limited experience or research. To back up the “lack of experience” we actually believed the couple selling the trailer when they said the soft floors were “completely fine.”

Our first trailer (light, easy to tow, and cozy)

The hybrid was ok for our first few years camping with a trailer and served as a great introduction to trailer camping. However, it had its downsides too. It took forever to set the beds and awning up when we got to camp and it had no storage space whatsoever. (Everything lived on the floor of our trailer and had to be moved out before we could sleep.) We also realized that "technically" you're not supposed to leave anything that resembles food or carries a smell inside a soft sided trailer when you're not around. (which means leaving nothing in the pantry and treating the trailer as a glorified tent.)

We’ve learned a lot since buying our first trailer and things were much different when we went shopping for our new, fully hard-sided, RV this spring.

The Massive Upgrade (and see the front and back storage doors!)


Know What You’re Looking For


I have long sworn that I’d never buy a gigantic toy hauler for our family’s next RV but I will never forget the first time I actually looked inside one of these spacious RVs at a dealership and realized that they give you an entire extra bedroom for the kids. I also discovered that you could fit a lot of bikes or boats inside without having to mount everything on top of the truck. At that moment I realized we needed to do some serious research before choosing our next trailer and that I wasn’t going to limit myself to what I had always thought of as sensible or practical.

And while we did not buy a toy hauler, we were glad we had at least taken a look at one one so that we could open our eyes to what our options were. Step one is to do your research and know what you’re looking for. You won’t know you actually want a toy hauler for example if you’ve never taken a look inside one! Visit RV shows, tour local dealerships, and take your time looking around.

Maybe this is what you want (or maybe not...) - You won't know till you do some research


Create your Masterpiece Shopping List


As you do your research and check out possible RVs, make a few lists to help narrow the search down.

The first list should include the necessary things you must have in your new RV. For example, it must have a bathroom (necessary for us because our first trailer was actually lacking in this area.)

Some things that were on our "must have" list when we bought our new trailer a month ago:

  • A bunk house with double over double bunk beds (something I didn’t know existed before we recently started shopping) - and now my son will be able to bring a friend camping!

  • An outdoor shower for those beach camping trips

  •  A bike door under the back bunk beds for storage (the bottom bunk lifts up to reveal a giant storage area with a door from the outside. Great for the toy bin, sports equipment, a kids' bike, lawn chairs, etc.)

  • Storage space under the front end of the trailer with access from both sides of the unit ( I had no idea you could store so much outdoor stuff under the trailer until we started looking around! We are now storing all outside gear including the barbecue, kitchen table, and RV matt in this front storage area.)

  • A bed for the parents that is always a bed! (No pull down bed, no murphy bed, no sofa that pulls out into a bed, and no slide out bedroom. We want to be able to pull into camp and go to bed with minimal effort!) - and it was the same with the bunk beds for our son. We wanted his bed to always be a bed as well and the kitchen table to remain a table at all times.

Other lists you might want to create would include “features we’d really like to have but could live without,” and the “dream wish list” of items you likely won’t get but that might become more important in the future as your family grows up. (an outside kitchen would fall under one of these categories for me.)

Tent Trailers, Fifth Wheels, Hybrids... - Lots of Choice! (each with its own advantages)

Join Online Camping Forums


It can be very helpful to seek out advice from friends with RVs and to ask two important questions:
“What do you love most about your current RV or model of trailer?” And “What would you change if you were to buy a new RV?”

I asked these two questions in an online group forum and built my entire shopping list around the answers. It was one of the best camping discussion I’ve ever had and I gained a lot of wisdom that helped us become more informed and educated when we went to purchase our new trailer.

I will never camp in anything that it not fully hard sided over the May long weekend ever again

Compare, Compare, Compare


Don’t just go to one dealership and fall in love with your first trailer.  Guaranteed, you’ll fall in love with a dozen more before you choose the right one for your family.

Every time you find one that you like, add the features that appeal to you to your shopping list until you know exactly what you want.

Still not sure what features you need in your next trailer or RV? A quick google search of “best RV features” should have you reading for hours on the subject. 

Our new trailer had to have an outdoor shower!!

Service and Warranty Facts


Before choosing an RV dealership to buy from, ask about the service policies of the dealership and about the manufacturer warranty for the RV you want to purchase. 

  • Avoid manufacturers that aren't good with accepting or approving warranty.

  • Find out where you’d have to take the RV to for warranty work to be done.

  • Avoid warranties that require returning the RV to the manufacturer in the US for repairs

Does size matter? Sometimes...

Did You Know…

 

  • Some slide outs prevent you from accessing the fridge or kitchen when the slide is in, or prevent you from accessing the full trailer (including the bathroom)

  • To avoid frustrations with pulling your new RV, take the weight your vehicle can pull and divide that weight in half. Aim for that number with your new RV weight.

  • Smooth flooring is easier to clean than textured flooring

  • LED lights last up to 20 years and require a lot less electricity than traditional RV lights. While they cost more up front, they will save you money in the long run

A good starting point is to walk around a campground, writing down names of trailers you like

Happy shopping and I'll have a story written soon about our first trip out with our new trailer. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Gearing up for Biking Season

The snow is melting in the mountains and bike season is around the corner. Our skis have been put away until next fall, the Thule has been taken off our car, and bikes have been tuned up for another great season of riding.

Now is the time to gear up for biking season and to take all of the necessary steps so that your family is ready to roll! While I definitely don't have all the answers (and honestly can't tell you how to fit 5 bikes and a chariot in your vehicle,) I've learned a few things over the years that should at least serve as inspiration.

Bike Season is here and we're excited!!


1. Bike Gloves! Our Favourite Brand (and worth every penny)

 

This story is not sponsored, but I really wanted to throw some love at All Out Kids Gear, a family run Alberta business, for introducing us to ZippyRooz and the best pair of kids' bike gloves we've ever owned. My son was given a pair of their half finger bike gloves last summer and we LOVE them.

Bike Gloves for the WIN

Bike gloves are great for climbing
The ZippyRooz gloves have more padding on the palms than the previous kids' bike gloves we got from MEC, and have finger loops to help kids pull their gloves off (without turning them inside out!) They are honestly the best style of bike gloves I've seen yet for kids on the market and are super stretchy so that I can easily get them on my son's hands. (unlike our previous ones where it was always a battle!)

The Zippy Rooz bike gloves come in fun colours and designs along with a full finger version that we'll have to check out for cooler weather next.

And when you're not biking, you can use them for rock climbing, scrambling, and hiking (I make my son wear bike gloves when running down mountains because I don't want him tearing up his skin if he falls down.)

And check out this review on the ZippyRooz Gloves from friends at Rascal Rides.



2. Go Lightweight and just say NO to Department Store Bikes


Regular readers of this blog will know that my son has never known a pair of training wheels or coaster brakes and that we went straight from a Strider balance bike to a 16" Spawn Banshee with hand brakes.

Our first pedal bike, a 16" Spawn Banshee (lightweight and built to last!)

I'm a firm believer in quality when it comes to kids' bikes and you can read some of my previous stories below:

Kids on Wheels - Choosing a Good Bike 

Investing in a Lightweight Kids' Bike - Your child is worth it!

How to Choose a Quality Kids' Bike 

Our second bike: The Spawn Savage 1.0 complete with gears and disc breaks

And I know that Spawn Bikes are not cheap but honestly, they come up second hand every week if you put an alert on Kijiji.

And until your child is ready for a pedal bike, visit our friends at Run Bikes YYC to shop for Strider balance bikes so that you can skip the training wheels and move directly to an amazing lightweight pedal bike, skipping on the latest Walmart special.

(Disclaimer, I have partnered with both Spawn Cycles and Run Bikes YYC to promote their bikes.)

We had so much fun with our orange Strider (and it's still sitting in my garage cause I can't bear to sell it)


3. Create (or join) a Junior Biker Gang 


If I have one accomplishment that I'm possibly most proud of as a outdoor loving parent in Calgary, it's for starting the first Junior Biker Gang in the city (that I know of anyway.) - don't tell me if a plethora of other groups existed before mine.

I started my Junior Biker Gang through the Calgary Outdoor Playgroup Community and it continues to this day with other leaders stepping in to take my place as current coordinators.

The beginning of the Calgary Junior Biker Gang (still going strong today!)

To read more about starting your own biker gang, check out this story I previously published: Kids on Wheels - How to Create your Own Junior Biker Gang.

You can also read about the trip that launched the biker gang here: The Bow Valley Biker  Gang.

Somehow my biker gang has all grown up!

And I don't run organized family "biker gang" events anymore but I definitely plan a lot of family rides around Calgary and in the mountains. If you want to get on my contact list for more information when we head out, send me an email.

Email me if you want to connect for family group rides

4. Make a List (a super fun list of all the trails you want to ride this summer)


I love lists (seriously, they cover my fridge and cupboards) and we make fresh ones for every month of the year, inspiring us to get outside as a family.

I encourage you to sit down as a family and to make a big list of the trails you most want to ride this summer. Put the list in an accessible place and have fun checking off the trails as you complete them.

Biking in Drumheller was the first ride on my list for this spring. CHECK!

For inspiration, here are some stories I've written on bike trails around the Canadian Rockies:

Alberta Bike Trails


The Best Spring Bike Rides in Kananaskis  


The Best Family Bike Trails in Canmore  

Gorgeous bike trails in Canmore


The Best Family Bike Trails in Banff National Park


Biking the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail  - With Kids


Tour de Banff - The Ultimate Family Bike Tour


Tour de Banff - The Ultimate Family Mountain Bike Loop


Beautiful Biking around Banff



The Best Family Bike Trails in Jasper

   
Easy single track riding in Jasper National Park
 

British Columbia Bike Trails 


Kids on Wheels - Nipika Mountain Resort


Biking the Columbia Valley

Awesome Biking in  the Columbia Valley on Deja View off the Old Coach Trail


The Best Family Bike Trails in Fernie, BC 


Biking the Kettle Valley Railway from Kelowna to Osoyoos
 

Biking the Kettle Valley Railway from Chute Lake to Penticton

5. Discover your local Bike Park 


I have yet to meet a child who wouldn't have fun at a bike park or pump track. When we visited our first pump track in Canmore, I knew it would become an obsession and a mission to visit every pump track we could find across Alberta and BC.

One of our favourite bike parks in Radium Hot Springs, BC

And while we certainly haven't visited all of the kids' bike parks across AB and BC yet, we are on our way!

Check out my huge resource guide below with information and photos on every bike park and pump track we've visited as a family.

Kids on Wheels - Pump Tracks and Mountain Bike Parks  

Calgary's newest bike park in Fish Creek Provincial Park
 

Inspiration and Recommended Reading



Campsite to Trail - the Best Campgrounds for Biking Families  (across Southern Alberta and BC)

Rad Biker Boys

Top 10 Family Bike Trails from Kananaskis to Banff - Calgary's Child Magazine


The Best Spring Bike Rides across Southern Alberta and BC - RV and Resort Magazine


10 Ways to Make Biking Fun for Kids - Active for Life



Protect your Head while Bicycling: 7 steps to properly fit a helmet -
Born to Be Adventurous 



Starting a Toddler on a Balance Bike - Tips and Tricks - Tales of a Mountain Mama


Just say NO to Training Wheels - Tales of a Mountain Mama


Spring is here and it's time to get the bikes out


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