Tuesday, October 06, 2015

September on Bikes

Looking through my photo album from September and 90% of the photos were taken with us on bikes. Guess it's fair to say we did a lot of riding this past month. And I got a new bike! I'm now the proud owner of a Norco Charger Mountain Bike and it's a pretty smooth ride! For the first time in my life, I have a bike with disc brakes and I'm learning to squeeze lightly!

My NEW bike!

This story is going to be heavy on photos, light on text - which is good if you don't like reading. Mostly, I just wanted to share some of our highlights from the past month (which has been really quiet on my blog.)

September Long Weekend Biking

September started with a cold rainy weekend and a cancelled trip to Waterton Lakes National Park. We traded our campsite for a warm cozy condo in Radium Hot Springs and decided to go biking in the sunny Columbia Valley instead. And while it wasn't very sunny (and still rainy,) it was at least warmer than Waterton would have been. And we did still manage to spend a lot of time on our bikes.

Spending the September long weekend on our bikes in the Columbia Valley

The best thing to come of the September long weekend was that we discovered a new place to go mountain biking in the Columbia Valley. We drove down to Fairmont and checked out the mysterious "Spirit Trail" that we'd heard about during the summer. The verdict: Must spend more time biking here and figuring out the trail system. Good thing I was planning on returning the following weekend!

Easy riding in Fairmont on the Spirit Trail

Girls Bike Day in Banff

Quite possibly the best bike ride I had this entire summer was on the Water Tower Trail in Banff with my girlfriends. We were on our way to the Columbia Valley for the weekend (two weekends in a row for me)  but decided to go biking in Banff Friday afternoon en route.

Biking the Water Tower Trail in Banff
I'd tried this bike ride with my son and husband earlier in July and Noah was not a "fan." We rode the trail a bit differently this time though as an out and back ride and skipped hiking down the stairs to Cascade Ponds. This meant we got to enjoy all the downhill sections on our way back to Johnson Lake and it was a lot of fun. 

Relaxing at Johnson Lake after our ride

Girls Weekend in Invermere

We headed straight from Banff to Invermere to spend the weekend and I took the girls back to the Spirit Trail in Fairmont since I'd been so intrigued by the area the weekend before. It was a lot more fun with the girls (my son really doesn't like riding uphill - of which there was plenty) and I feel like I know the area a little bit more now. I'll have to go back next year again before I can offer up a full trail report. And if somebody finds a map of the trails in the Fairmont area - please let me know!!

Fun single track on the Spirit Trail in Fairmont
Twisty flowy riding in Fairmont
Riding the Spirit Trail in the Columbia Valley

Jasper Bike Weekend

Our weekend to Jasper was a last minute trip that just came together for us towards the beginning of the month and we were thrilled to get to do some biking in this area. The favourite trail hands down was the Pyramid Lake Trail which lost 100+ metres of height gain from the lake back to town. We rode it one way with our son (who thought it was the best trail ever) and almost drove back up for a second ride down. (Yay Grandma who offered us her shuttle services this weekend.)

Autumn Riding in Jasper on the Pyramid Lake Trail

I also got out for a 15+ km bike ride with my husband while Grandma stayed back at our cabin with Noah for some late afternoon rest time. And it was glorious!! We looped the whole Jasper townsite area on the easy/intermediate trail system and I got to finally ride the Big Horn Alley Trail I'd wanted to do last year. It was super fun downhill riding on a twisty flowy trail.

Last photo on my old bike in Jasper (where I bought my new bike)

Biking around Calgary

We also did a lot of biking around Calgary and the photos below are my favourite ones from our rides.

Biking around Bowmont Park after school
Evening riding on the Paskapoo Slopes
Afternoon Biking on Nose Hill
First time biking my favourite trail on Nose Hill (thanks for the pick up at the bottom Daddy!)

I hope you have enjoyed September. I still have one final story to share from our annual fall backpacking trip. Watch for that one!

Friday, October 02, 2015

Autumn Adventure Weekend in Jasper

October is here and I haven't written at all about our September adventures yet. For that I apologize and promise to catch up eventually. To start things off I want to share one of our favourite trips this past month that we all thoroughly enjoyed.

Jasper at the Pine Bungalows

We were invited to spend a weekend in Jasper and to stay at the Pine Bungalows property which will soon be celebrating their 80th anniversary as an established bungalow camp in Jasper National Park. 80 years is something pretty special and we definitely wanted to go find out what makes this place so amazing that people keep coming back after this many years.

What we discovered in our stay at the Pine Bungalows was a property that has changed very little in the past 50+ years. I am positive that minor renovations have taken place since 1942 when the first 50 cabins were available for rent, and if not, these cabins are looking mighty fine for their age! Age aside though, the cabins retain their glorious rustic nature that they would have had when built and still do not include phones, televisions or other modern technologies. Yes, there are lights, there is indoor plumbing, and there are small kitchens in some of the cabins, but that's as fancy as it gets unless you want to upgrade to a river front cabin where you'll also get a fire place.

Simple cabins at the Pine Bungalows in Jasper

We stayed in a two bedroom bungalow and it was perfect for my husband and I, our son, and Grandma who decided to tag along. We cooked breakfasts in our own cabin, made lunches to go, and chose to eat out in the Jasper townsite for dinner so that we could visit the Jasper Brewing Company (which is a must visit when in Jasper!)

It was a chilly weekend in Jasper so we didn't spend a lot of time sitting outside our cabin, but had the weather have been a bit warmer, we would have built a fire and made use of our picnic table provided for us right outside our door. Fire wood was available for purchase at the front desk and all cabins come with their own steel fire box (that one could barbecue on too.)

Two Bedroom Bungalows in Jasper

Autumn Biking in Jasper

We chose to bring our bikes with us to Jasper and I'm so glad we did! From the Pine Bungalows, we could easily access the Jasper trail system and do a 15+ km loop right out the front door of our cabin. We were happy that my mom had come along because we took advantage of some time later in the afternoon on Saturday to sneak off as a couple while she shared some quiet time in our bungalow with our son. We rode through the town of Jasper, over to the Old Fort Point area, around to the Jasper Park Lodge, and back to our bungalows in a beautiful loop that took us an hour and a half. Next time we go, we'll definitely do the same loop again and our son would have loved the easy trails.

Awesome fall biking in Jasper

We also drove up to Pyramid Lake and biked back into town on the Pyramid Lake Trail with our son and have decided that this is the best bike trail in all of Jasper (as long as you ride it downhill.) With 100+ m of height loss on the trail, it was fast, flowy, and FUN! And thanks to Grandma coming along again, she happily dropped us off at the lake and then met us down below in town with our truck. Note to self - always bring a shuttle driver along who doesn't mind dropping you off at trail heads.

Biking the Pyramid Lake Trail in Jasper

Autumn Hiking in Jasper

We only had two days to spend in Jasper but we made the most of our time and managed to get out for our annual trip up to the Old Fort Point viewpoint overlooking the town. We have been hiking this short little trail with our son for the past four years since he was 2 years old and we've taken the same photo every year. Now it's a tradition and we'd happily drive the 5+ hours to Jasper to continue the annual ritual.

Old Fort Point Viewpoint in Jasper
Every hike calls for at least one fun pose

Hot Springs!

When we woke up Saturday morning it was very cool and overcast so I begged my husband to drive us out to Miette Hot Springs for a quick soak before biking. Normally he complains about the drive which takes two hours round trip from the town of Jasper but I guess he was feeling charitable this weekend because he agreed to let us visit the springs. Yay!

I love Miette Hot Springs because they are some of the hottest in the Rockies and I grew up visiting this place as a child. Noah missed the swimming pool with slide and diving board that he gets to play in at Radium Hot Springs though so I guess they have become his favourite springs. On the bright side, at least they are closer to Calgary.

Miette Hot springs, Jasper National Park


For More Information on Jasper, please visit the Jasper Tourism website.

For more on biking in Jasper, please read my previous story: The Best Family Bike Trails in Jasper.

Hiking along the Athabasca River outside our cabin at the Pine Bungalows

To reserve your own cabin at the Pine Bungalows next spring or summer (they open on May 6, 2016), please visit their website.

Bungalow style camping since the 1940s

Additional Reading on Our Adventures in Jasper National Park

Family-friendly Summits in Jasper National Park

Experiencing Awesome in Jasper

Spring Adventures in Jasper

Winter Road Trip to Jasper National Park 

Jasper has an Ice Cave - For Real 

Winter Escape to Jasper National Park

The Wildest Winter Canyon Hike in the Canadian Rockies

See you next spring Jasper!

Disclaimer:  Our stay at the Pine Bungalows was graciously provided for this story. As always, all opinions and words are my own.

Monday, September 28, 2015

3 Steps to a Simple Fall Bucket List

September is one of my favorite months of the year, and it’s not because the kids go back to school (though that certainly gives one cause to celebrate as well.) For me, September is all about new chances, fresh starts, and opportunity for change. Call it a “second January” if you will, because a new school year calls for updated goals, resolutions, and plans for success.

We’ve already made some big modifications in our household with a change of schools to launch the new season, and my 6 year old is having to adjust to full-day school now that he’s in grade one. With more time in school, comes less time for playing outside, less time for friends, and less time spent with family. Fortunately, I’ve come up with an easy system to ensure we continue to spend quality time together as a family to protect our outdoor time, and to help us make the most of our weekends. I call it “the monthly bucket list.”

Simplify with Monthly Bucket Lists

Here’s how I create a monthly bucket list

First, grab a piece of paper or a piece of colorful construction paper and draw a bingo or tic-tac-toe grid. The number of lines in your grid is up to you, but I suggest starting small to begin with. After you get used to creating bucket lists (or perhaps if it’s a big month with lots of exciting things to do), you can expand your grid to include more boxes.

Second, connect all the lines so that you have a page full of boxes. A simple tic-tac-toe grid for example, would have nine boxes.

Third, fill each box with something you want to do together as a family this month. This is your bucket list. Don’t worry if you didn’t start right at the beginning of the month. You can always draw a bigger grid and cover all the Fall months in one big bucket list.

Bike rides are a must for autumn bucket lists

Create an autumn bucket list for October

Now, I know that September is almost finished, but you can create your own bucket list for October. To see some suggestions I have for autumn bucket lists and to read my full story, please follow this link to the original piece I wrote, 3 Steps to a Simple Fall Bucket List.

The story has recently been published and sponsored by BonBon Break during their September theme: "Simplify."

Bonbon Break

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

How to Spend all Winter in the Canadian Rockies for less than $200

How's this for a good deal - Spend the whole winter skiing, snowshoeing, or exploring in the Canadian Rockies with unlimited overnight stays at the Hostelling International wilderness properties for less than $200 per person! That's right - unlimited! You could spend every single night in the mountains this winter between November and May for less than the cost of one night at a fancy resort. All you have to do is buy a wilderness season's pass.

Stay here all winter?!  Yes Please! (Photo: HI-Rampart Creek)

HI Wilderness Season's Passes - how it works

Unlimited Stays at the HI Wilderness Hostels from November 1, 2015 through May 31, 2016!  (weekends included)

Stay at 9 different wilderness hostels in Kananaskis, Banff and Jasper National Parks (note that the Whiskey Jack Hostel in Yoho National Park is not open between November and May.)

Free stays at HI-Nordegg (Sunday to Thursday) with 20% discounts on weekend stays

20% discounts at HI-Jasper (any day) and 20% discounts at HI-Lake Louise, HI-Banff, and HI-Fernie (Sunday to Thursday)

The Fine Print:
"As part of its mission, Hostelling International provides safe, comfortable and affordable accommodation to travellers. The Wilderness Season's Pass is intended for outdoor enthusiasts who wish to explore and experience winter in the Alberta Parks to its fullest extent. This pass is not valid for accommodation of seasonal workers or individuals working in the area."
Get Lost this Winter at HI-Hilda Creek

How much does it cost?

Steps away from HI-Maligne Canyon, Jasper

EARLY BIRD HI-Member Rate: $189 (including tax)
Regular HI-Member Rate: $229 (including tax)

Early Bird rates are available from September 1, 2015 through October 31, 2015 and can be purchased through Central Reservations at 1-866-762-4122

The Fine Print:
"All Wilderness Season's Pass holders must be HI Members (HI-Membership is available for purchase at any hostel or via phone 1-866-762-4122)"




How this works for families

The pass is valid towards shared dorm room accommodation only. Technically this means kids must be 6+ years old to make use of a pass or to stay with you at a wilderness hostel.  Younger children are not allowed in shared dorm rooms and must stay in private rooms available at several hostels.

BUT, before you dismiss the idea of getting a pass because you have younger children, consider the following:

1.  The wilderness pass is great for moms and dads who plan to get out for some solo adults-only ski trips this winter.

Girls Ski Weekend at HI-Castle Mountain

2.  Many hostels have small co-ed dorm rooms that sleep as few as 6 people. Others are larger and sleep 12 people.  Either way, grab another family or two, book an entire dorm room, and it doesn't matter if your kids are under 6 years old.

Just make sure if you are doing this that you explain yourself very clearly to Central Booking!  You'll want to make sure they understand there are children under 6, and that you want to reserve a full dorm room (that is not shared.)  Also, plan to have one person call in to book all of the 6-12  beds.  Don't call in individually - which would be super confusing!!

Also, don't be afraid to ask for the direct phone number for the hostel you want to stay at and contact that manager directly to explain your family or group's needs.

Family Weekend at HI-Mosquito Creek

3.   HI-Hilda Creek only sleeps 6 people total (in the whole hostel!!)  Book all 6 beds and you have just booked an entire hostel for your family or group - and thus it won't matter how old the kids are. Just know that Hilda Creek is the equivalent to staying at a backcountry wilderness cabin and that winter camping skills are required.  Read more here at Raising Tough Kids - Hilda Creek Wilderness Trip

Can I just move in here for the winter?? (Photo:  HI-Hilda Creek)

Inspiration and Extra Reading

Rampart Creek:  Our New Favourite Wilderness Hostel

Playing in snow caves outside HI-Rampart Creek

Winter Paradise at Mosquito Creek

Five Reasons to Take your Family to Mosquito Creek this Winter

This could be you this winter at HI Mosquito Creek

Winter Camping in Style

Beyond Lake Louise Where the Real Magic Begins

A ten minute walk from HI-Mosquito Creek

Winter Camping in Kananaskis 

Christmas in Kananaskis 

Winter camping at HI-Kananaskis

Raising Tough Kids - Hilda Creek Wilderness Trip

Easter at the BEST Wilderness Hostel in the Canadian Rockies

Playing around at HI-Hilda Creek

Winter Escape to Jasper National Park

Winter Road Trip to Jasper National Park

Hiking doesn't get much better than this near HI-Maligne Canyon in Jasper

For more information on purchasing a wilderness season's pass with Hostelling International, please visit their website.

Disclaimer:  I will be partnering with Hostelling International for another winter to help them promote their great accommodations. We have stayed at their wilderness hostels close to 15 times now as a family in the winter season over the past few years. Needless to say, we love these properties and know them well. As always, all words in this story are my own unless otherwise quoted from Hostelling International's website and I wasn't paid to write this piece.


Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Summer Highlights 2015 in Photos

September is here and I'm a little bit sad that our summer vacation is over already. While I like the fresh new start that another school year brings, I will miss my little adventure buddy while he spends his days in the classroom instead of playing with me all day long. 

I've written about most of our "big" adventures this summer but many of the highlights come from the smaller outings, from our two week camping trip across BC, and from the simple little trips we did close to home. 

Most of our summer highlights involved water

The Summer we all fell in love with Jumping

I have a crazy child and I'd definitely say his BIG summer highlight was jumping off of every "safe" platform he could find. This was the summer where he discovered how fun diving boards could be (he probably did at least 50 jumps in various pools) and where we realized that a beach was only fun if there was a raft, dock, or some kind of platform for launching oneself off of.  Noah also jumped off his first bridge (a dozen times) and will be begging for more next summer.

Noah's first bridge jump in the Okanagan this August

Fortunately, our whole family thinks jumping into water is a pretty fun pastime and we made it a weekly priority to find something to jump off of.

I'd never jumped off of a diving board until this summer

Splash parks are for the whole family

This is one of my favourite summer photos below because it shows how much fun we really did have playing together as a family.

The best way to cool off after a hot bike ride

One Word - Wibit!!!!

What's a wibit?  Only the best water park ever!  And the Okanagan has two of them (one in Penticton and one in Kelowna.)
Climbing up the inflatable Wibit tower to jump or slide off
Full upper body workout trying to climb this wall

Noah has fallen in love with these Wibit Aqua Parks and  I'm impressed with the workout you get from playing on one! (I was sore for three days after one hour on the park in Penticton.) Seriously, if you could get a membership to use a Wibit park a few days a week, I don't think you'd need to go to a gym.

Big Daddy jumps on bouncy pillow.  Small child goes flying.  Great fun for all!
He almost did a flip this time!

Skateparks are Rad!

Noah discovered just how awesome skateparks can be this summer. Forget bike parks made of dirt because this summer it was all about concrete ramps and bowls.

Every day trip involved a visit to at least one skatepark

Mini Golf could be played daily

Thank God for our annual passes to Winsport's Canada Olympic Park in Calgary.  Our passes included as much mini golf as we could ever play and we certainly took advantage of this perk.  I haven't actually found a way to tell Noah yet that the golf course has now closed for the season.

Such a simple activity but so much fun!!!

We got to feed Kangaroos this summer

We payed a visit to the Kangaroo Creek Farm while in the Okanagan in August. This was an incredible experience for us to feed and pet kangaroos, hold babies, and interact with a bunch of fun animals we'd normally look at through bars at the zoo.

Eating right out of my hand!
Baby Kangaroo!  It doesn't get cuter than that!

A Summer of First Scrambles

On the more adventurous side of things, we introduced Noah to scrambling this summer and took him up a few peaks that required a helmet and a short length of rope.  He did his first exposed down climb on Polar Peak in Fernie and he almost tagged the summit of Mt. Yamnuska in the Bow Valley near Calgary. He also made it pretty far towards reaching the South Summit on Nihahi Ridge in Kananaskis.  (links to the three stories are in the titles above.)

Down climbing on Polar Peak, Fernie

Through these adventures we discovered that Noah definitely loves scrambling and rock climbing.  Now if we could just find more chair lifts to get us to tree line without having to do the boring hike up...

Scrambling on Mt. Yamnuska

The Big Bike Ride - up to 30 km!

I'm always curious to see what Noah's new "limit" will be by the end of another bike season. This year I was thrilled to see him bike all the way from our house on the outskirts of the city to downtown for ice-cream in a big 30 km ride (motivated heavily by the promise of a c-train ride home.)

The big bike ride and the train ride home

Graduating to Downhill Biking

Noah took mountain bike lessons at Winsport's Canada Olympic Park and by the end of the summer he was able to ride some of the intermediate runs at the park.

We learned that downhill riding is quite a bit different from cross country riding and Noah likes it better because he doesn't have to ride uphill at all!  Meanwhile, I myself am sticking to easier terrain and am leaving the downhill riding to my boys.


Noah's First Solo River Run

This highlight may not go under the category of "smartest parenting moves" but never the less, we are extremely proud of Noah for running his first river in a small sit on top kayak through class I rapids on the Elk River in Fernie. He did exceptionally well at steering and only toppled over on the last set of rapids (moments before I fell off my board and injured my knee for a good month.)

Noah and I paddling the Elk River in Fernie together

Noah has since decided he will return to the bow of our tandem kayak for the rest of the summer but he did try out his boat on a few lakes afterwards.

Lake Paddling in August in the Columbia Valley

Other Summer Paddling Highlights

Overnight Paddling and Camping Trip on the Columbia River (story here)

Camping on the Columbia River

My first kayak run down the Bow River

Girls Night Out - on the river

First time Paddling the Bow River from Banff to Canmore

Banff to Canmore on the Bow River

It was an adventure-filled summer and we managed to get out camping for 33 nights.  Not as many nights as last year but we still have one more trip planned for the end of September. Now it's on to winter planning and another great season of outdoor family fun.

And it's a Wrap!  Summer 2015 was Awesome