Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Best Family Bike Trails in Fernie, British Columbia

We've been biking our way across Alberta and British Columbia this summer and definitely had to include a trip to the small mountain town of Fernie.  Located 3.5 hours south of Calgary, Fernie is most well known as a winter ski destination and until last year I'd never thought much about visiting in summer.  That all changed though when we discovered the amazing camping offered at nearby Surveyor's Lake in Kikomun Creek Provincial Park

This year we decided to check out the bike trails in Fernie while camped at Surveyor's Lake and we will definitely be returning next year!  We budgeted one day for biking this year but it wasn't enough by a long shot!

Biking in Fernie

Starting off at the Fernie Dirt Jump Park

This should be your first stop in Fernie if you are serious about introducing the kids to the sport of mountain biking and want to build up some necessary skills for the surrounding trails.  Even if mountain biking isn't really your style of biking, this park is FUN and kids love it!! Friends who visit it for the first time usually tell me they couldn't get the kids to leave for hours. 

Playing at the Fernie Dirt Jump Park

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Ten Awesome Things to do with Kids in Waterton Lakes National Park

I've been writing about Waterton Lakes National Park for three years now and it seems like I always have a new photo to share, a new family-friendly activity to promote, or something awesome I want to tell you all about. This year is no different.

Biking the Kootenai Brown Trail in Waterton

I just wrote a story last week about paddling in Waterton Lakes National Park but there is so much more to do beyond boating - and I know that the majority of families to visit the park will likely not be spending too much time on the glacial cold water.

Hiking on the Waterton Springs Interpretive Trail

Below are the top ten things we've found to be awesome for families in Waterton, and the activities we go back every year to do:

One - Hike the Red Rock Canyon

We always take a trip out to hike and play in the Red Rock Canyon.  If you get an early start you'll avoid the worst of the tourist traffic and you'll often see bears along the road on the Red Rock Canyon Parkway while driving out.

Traveling around deep water in the canyon

Hike later in the season if you really want to play in the canyon when the water isn't as deep.  And wear good waterproof sandals with grip (Keen Sandals for example are the awesome.)  For more photos of hiking in the canyon, read the story I wrote last year:  Camping in Waterton Lakes National Park.

Always fun hiking in the canyon


Two - Swim and Paddle in Cameron or Emerald Bay on Upper Waterton Lake


Cameron and Emerald Bay are both protected areas popular with families wanting to swim or play around in the glacial cold water of Upper Waterton Lake in town.  Despite the water temperature, you will always see lots of people playing around in it.  For more on paddling and playing in the Waterton Lakes, read my story on Paddling in Waterton Lakes National Park.

Hot day in Cameron Bay

Three - Play in the Waterton River at the Hay Barn Day Use Area

Fact, all kids love to play in rivers.  And the Waterton River has an easy access point at the Hay Barn Day Use area just outside of town.  Bring a picnic lunch and head out there for the day to get away from crowds in town.

Playing in the river at the Hay Barn Day Use Area 

Four - Canoe or paddle on Cameron Lake

The Waterton Lakes can get very windy and extreme caution is required when paddling on them.  Cameron Lake however is a safer bet for families and you can even rent a canoe or paddle boat here.

Family Paddling on Cameron Lake

Head out to Cameron Lake along the Akamina Parkway for the day and if you're lucky you'll see a bear on your drive out.  Last time we were at the lake we saw a bear right in the parking lot too! For more photos of paddling on Cameron Lake, read my recent story, Paddling in Waterton Lakes National Park.

Kayaking on Cameron Lake

Five - Hike to Crandell Lake

This beautiful lake is reached from the Crandell Campground and the hike is 4km return.  It can also be reached via a trailhead on the Akamina Parkway and then it is 2.4km return.  Both ways are scenic and an easy hike for young children.  With a car shuttle you could do the hike one-way starting from the Parkway for less height gain.

Hiking to Crandell Lake from the Crandell Campground
Hugging Bear Grass at Crandell Lake

We did the hike for the first time this year and we would happily do it again.   We might even camp here in the future at the backcountry campground.  For more information on hiking in Waterton, visit the Waterton Lakes NP Website.

Crandell Lake
Playing at Crandell Lake

Six - Hike the Bear's Hump

This is a classic hike in Waterton and gives you the best views of the park in a short family-friendly distance.  It is 2.8km return with 200 metres of height gain.  The trail is quite steep so I recommend starting early in the morning when it's cooler outside.  You'll also have better luck at finding a parking space in the small lot outside the visitor centre as well if you go early.

Bear's Hump Hike in Waterton

For more information on hiking in the park, visit the Waterton Lakes NP website

Looking down on Upper Waterton Lake from the top of the Bear's Hump

Seven - Hike in the Nature Reserve at the Waterton Springs Campground

We always camp at the Waterton Springs Campground and this hike is a summer highlight every year for us.   You can do the hike as well even if you are not camping here.  And it's often windy so bring a kite with you.

Taking advantage of the wind on the Waterton Springs Hiking Trail

For more photos of this hike, view the story I wrote last year:  Camping in Waterton Lakes National Park

Hiking in the Nature Reserve at  the Waterton Springs Campground
Evening on the Waterton Springs Hiking Trail

Eight - Bike the Kootenai Brown Trail

The Kootenai Brown Trail is the only paved bike trail in Waterton so it's the ideal choice for families who want to do a short bike tour through this beautiful park.

Biking the Kootenai Brown Bike Path

The bike path starts at the park gates outside the Waterton townsite and parking can be found at the closest day use area to the gates.  From there, it's a 6.9km ride to the edge of town near the Waterton Lakes Info. Centre and Prince of Whales Hotel.  Either bike the trail out and back or send an adult back for the vehicle while you play near the boat dock on Middle Waterton Lake.

Biking in Waterton

The trail is hilly and children may have to walk some of the bigger hills.   Other than that, it's an easy ride and you are well separated from the nearby highway. To continue past the end of the trail into town just follow the big hill down past the Visitor Info Centre and bike on the sidewalk if riding with kids.  The sidewalk is narrow though so you may have to walk your bikes if it is busy with pedestrian traffic.

For more information on biking in Waterton, visit the Waterton Lakes NP Website

Biking in Waterton on the Kootenai Brown Trail

Nine - Bike or Walk the Townsite Trail

The Townsite trail is a 3.2km loop with little elevation gain to speak of.  Much of the loop parallels the Upper Waterton Lakeshore and it's easy to take a quick detour on main street for ice-cream.  Watch out for pedestrian traffic but other than that, bike trails don't get easier than this.

Biking on the Townsite Trail
This trail is lovely for a walk after dinner as well if staying in town and children will enjoy playing in the cold lake.

Playing in Upper Waterton Lake beside the Townsite Trail
Biking the Townsite Trail

Ten - Visit the Town Playground and Splash Park

Waterton is one of the few mountain towns I can think of that has a splash park.   Maybe the only one in a National Park.   It sits beside an awesome playground and on a hot day the kids will likely be happier here than on any of the hiking trails in the area.

The Waterton Splash Park
Part of the playground in downtown Waterton

For more fun suggestions for things to do and see in Waterton, check out a previous story I wrote called Family Fun in Waterton Lakes National Park.  There is always something awesome to do in Waterton and you could stay a week without running out of places to visit.  We still find new things to do every year we visit.

Hiking in the Nature Reserve at Waterton Springs

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Paddling in Waterton Lakes National Park

We've been going to Waterton Lakes National Park in Southern Alberta every summer for the past few years and we're always finding something new and awesome to do.  This year we spent a lot of time on the water and I finally got to SUP Cameron Lake.

Paddling on Cameron Lake

We spent two days paddling on the three Waterton Lakes and were blessed with hot sunny weather.  We also had strong winds that we used in our favour to do downwinder paddles with car/bike shuttles.

Kayaking down wind on Upper Waterton Lake

Paddle One - Lower Waterton Lake

We decided to paddle a short stretch of the Waterton River from the Hay Barn Day Use Area across the Lower Waterton Lake, down a short channel that is likely part of the river again, and then take out at the Maskinonge Day Use Area beyond the park gates.  Find a good map here.

Kids playing at the Hay Barn Day Use Area on the Waterton River

In an ideal world, we would have put our boats in at the Marquis Hole Day Use Area so that we could be on the river longer.  The road however is in need of big repairs at the time being and there is a big gate preventing you from reaching the river here. We did try.

Surfing across Lower Waterton Lake

The wind was very much in our favour this day and we experienced one crazy downwinder paddle!  We were practically surfing on our boards and the whole trip took  around an hour.  When paddling in Waterton it pays to take note of wind direction and to always paddle with the wind.  Shuttles are easy to set up with a second vehicle or bike and especially if doing a section of the river, you'll have to figure out a shuttle.

Paddling past the park gates towards the Maskinonge Day Use Area

We were paddling with another family so it was easy to leave a second vehicle at the Maskinonge Day Use Area.  We easily pulled out near the bridge and it was very effortless to climb up to the picnic area from the river here.

Paddling down the River towards the Maskinonge

Paddle Two - Middle Waterton Lake to Upper Waterton Lake 

For our second paddle on the Waterton Lakes we chose to put in on Middle Waterton Lake and travel through the Bosporus to Upper Waterton Lake.

Paddling  below the Prince of Whales Hotel on Middle Lake

There's a small gap called the Bosporus that connects the two lakes and the water was deep enough to paddle through - even on a SUP.  Motor boats even travel through here so as long as you watch out for the markers, you'll do fine.

Paddling through to Upper Waterton Lake
Heading through the gap at the Bosporus

We paddled across a short stretch of the Upper Lake, the biggest of the three lakes, down to the town campground and took out here near Cameron Bay. The wind was again in our favour and it was a quick easy paddle.  Note that normally to paddle down wind, you'd be paddling the other direction but for some strange reason,  we were able to paddle south on this particular day towards the US border.  Normally the wind blows you north in Waterton, the same direction as in our previous day of paddling. 

Paddling on Upper Waterton Lake away from the Prince of Whales Hotel

Once we got to the campground, my husband got on his bike and  rode back to our truck at the Middle Lake boat launch.  It was a quick ride and he was back in no time.   Meanwhile, Noah and I went for ice cream in town and hit the playground.

Paddling on Upper Waterton Lake towards Cameron Bay

Paddle Three - Cameron Lake 

We took a break from paddling on the windy Waterton Lakes and drove out to Cameron Lake on the Akamina Parkway expecting to have a mellow calm day on the water.  As luck would have it though, it was just as windy out there and we had to drive out twice before we found the calm conditions we were after. 

Paddling on Cameron Lake
Cameron Lake is the classic family paddling option in Waterton.  It is usually less windy,  there are no motor boats (unlike Middle and Upper Waterton Lake,) and there are even boat rentals on site.  Don't expect to find SUP or kayak rentals, but you can rent a canoe or paddle boat. 

Beautiful Cameron Lake on a calm day

For us, the most interesting thing about paddling on Cameron Lake on this trip was checking out the snow at the far end of the lake.   We felt like we were paddling in Alaska or something with glaciers hanging over the water.

Snow on the far side of Cameron Lake in July
Alaska or Waterton??
Flip flops, water and snow.
Does this not look like a huge glacier above us?
I wouldn't expect to find snow on the slopes above Cameron Lake past July but it's a beautiful paddle all summer long, snow or not.

Family Paddling on Cameron Lake

Paddle Four - Sunset Tour on Upper Waterton Lake

The final paddle we did this trip was just a short sunset tour on Upper Waterton Lake from our campsite in town.  The water was calm and we even let Noah try out his own kayak for the first time in the protected Cameron Bay.

Sunset tour on upper Waterton Lake
Paddling on Upper Waterton Lake at Sunset

Families wanting to paddle will also find a protected spot in Emerald Bay at the other end of the Waterton townsite.  Note that the water in the lakes here is glacial cold and every precaution should be taken to protect oneself from falling in.  Noah was wearing a short wet suit for this paddle and the water was very calm.

First SUP family paddle on Upper Waterton Lake
Noah's First Solo Paddle in his own boat
Learning to Kayak in Cameron Bay
Cameron Bay is a good place to practice paddling

Other Great Paddles - Middle Waterton Lake to the Hay Barn Day Use Area

Last year we paddled from one of the day use areas on Middle Waterton Lake to the Hay Barn Day Use area.  We got to do a short section on the Waterton River as well where it flows out of the Middle Lake.  We could have continued all the way to the Lower Lake on the river (as we did this year) but it's a long paddle across the Middle Waterton Lake and we had very little wind this day to push us.

Paddling across the Middle Waterton Lake
Kids playing at the Hay Barn Day Use Area on the Waterton River

Other Great Paddles - Upper Waterton Lake towards the US border

We did this one last year as well from Cameron Bay in town towards the United States border.  It's an out and back paddle so look for calm conditions because any wind that blows you out will be against you on the way back.  There are also motor boats to deal with so make sure the thought of paddling with bigger boats doesn't scare you.  It's not usually a problem if you stick close to shore.

Beautiful paddling on Upper Waterton Lake in Cameron Bay
The Upper Waterton Lake is great for kayaking

Family Paddling in Emerald Bay

We didn't paddle here this year but it is a great place to paddle as a family in protected waters.  You'll see lots of children here learning to kayak or just playing in the cold water.

SUPing in Emerald Bay on Upper Waterton Lake
Family and dog friendly Emerald Bay

For more information on boating and paddling in Waterton Lakes National Park, visit the Parks Canada website or the My Waterton website

Upper Waterton Lake

To read my previous stories on Waterton, visit these links:

Family Fun in Waterton Lakes National Park

Camping in Waterton Lakes National Park

Waterton Lakes National Park - in Winter (a whole different experience!)

Looking down on Upper Waterton Lake from the Bear's Hump