Monday, January 15, 2018

The BEST of Winter in the Canadian Rockies (Gotta do THIS!)

I hope you've enjoyed my "Gotta do THIS" posts over the past two years. A new year is here though, and it's time to move on to something fresh and slightly different.

The BEST of Winter in the Canadian Rockies!

I still plan to write about the BEST things to do across the Canadian Rockies, but I'm going to write seasonal posts instead of monthly posts, and anything new or special (upcoming events for example) will be shared on my Facebook page.

So, make sure you're following my facebook page, follow my instagram account to see what we're up to each week, and make sure you're subscribed to receive an email each time I publish a new post (so you don't miss anything) - right side bar, follow by email.

I also recommend saving this post (Pinterest is your friend here) so you can find it again next winter, because I plan to add to it anytime I discover something new and awesome.

The list below is in no particular order. All links go to stories I've already written on the subject, or to other websites that will help you.

Winter is AWESOME when you know where to go

The Best of Winter in the Canadian Rockies 

1. Go Skating on a Frozen Lake (The Banff Lake Tourism site has several suggestions)

2. Attend the Ice Magic Festival in Lake Louise at the end of January

3. Attend Fun Family-Friendly Events at Snow Days in Banff in January/February

Ice Magic Festival, Lake Louise

4. Hike a Frozen Canyon (Read my Winter Hiking Guide for all of our favourites)

5. Visit a Frozen Waterfall

6. Head North to Jasper National Park to Hike Frozen Maligne Canyon

Magical Troll Falls in Kananaskis

7. Go Backcountry Sled Hiking

8. Make a Snow Fort, Tunnel, or Quinzee

9. Discover how much Fun Winter Hiking is (Check out my winter hiking guide here.)

Winter hiking is a BLAST with kids!

10. Learn to Cross Country Ski at the Canmore Nordic Centre 

 - Read more here about our favourite cross country ski trails near Calgary.

11. Go Sledding at the Canmore Nordic Centre

12. Go Snowshoeing in Kananaskis (Check out my Family Snowshoeing Super Guide)

The Canmore Nordic Centre has the BEST Sledding Hill (and it's free)

13. Spend a Day on the Ski Slopes at Calgary's Closest Mountain, Nakiska Ski Area in Kananaskis

14. Visit one of the Ski Resort Tube Parks in or near Calgary

15. Plan a Family Downhill Ski Weekend

Tubing is a great family-friendly winter activity

16. Try Winter Camping

17. Spend a Night Winter Yurt Camping at Mount Engadine Lodge

18. Ski or Hike into a Backcountry Cabin

- My Camping Super Guide  has links to every story I've written on winter camping, cabin camping, and wilderness hostels in winter.

Winter Backcountry Cabin Camping is a very cool experience!

19. Skate on a Frozen River (In Banff, a skating oval is often cleared on the Bow River)

20. Plan a Trip to Invermere, BC, to Skate The World's Longest Skating Trail

21. Try Fat Biking at Nipika Mountain Resort near Radium Hot Springs, BC

Skating on the Lake Windermere Whiteway, Invermere, BC

22. Plan a Weekend Away Somewhere New

23. Head North to Visit the Edmonton Ice Castles

24. Explore the Northern Canadian Rockies on a Winter Road Trip to Jasper National Park

Snowshoeing in Jasper National Park 

25. Go Cross Country Skiing or Snowshoeing in West Bragg Creek Provincial Park near Calgary

26. Go Find the Fish Creek Provincial Park Ice Falls in Calgary

27. Spend the day skiing, tubing, or trying luge at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary

Cross country skiing at West Bragg Creek Provincial Recreation Area

28. Spend a Weekend at Lake Louise

29. Discover Yoho National Park and Magical Emerald Lake in Winter

30. Travel South to experience Winter in Waterton Lakes National Park

The Natural Bridge, Yoho National Park

31. Discover Why Calgarians LOVE Day Trips to Kananaskis Village.

32. Try Fat Biking at Kananaskis Village

33. Explore the Trails in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park (Check out this PDF document of Trails)

Fat biking at Kananaskis Village

34. Enjoy the BEST Family Winter Fun in Cypress Hills Provincial Park

35. Spend a Day in one of Alberta's Provincial Parks this Winter

36. Conquer the Calgary Triple Crown Ski Challenge 

Only in Cypress Hills Provincial Park can you skate around a campground!

37. Build a backcountry luge track, or try the luge hill in Cypress Hills Provincial Park 

38. Spend a weekend on the Remote Icefields Parkway

39. Spend a Weekend at Hilda Creek on the Icefields Parkway

The HI Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel in Banff National Park

40. Visit Panorama Mountain Resort in BC with Activities for Every Member of the Family

41. Ski or Hike into a Backcountry Lodge in Banff National Park.

42. Go Ski Tripping through the Kootenay Rockies.

Scenery you'll experience if you stay at Shadow Lake Backcountry Lodge

43. Visit Lake O'Hara with your Family and stay overnight at an Alpine Club of Canada Hut

44. Try Backcountry Ski Touring as a Family 

45. Experience Wild Mountain Lake Skating (The real deal, not groomed or cleared)

Backcountry Ski Touring at Boom Lake, Banff

And, more to come as we explore our mountain parks this winter

Friday, January 12, 2018

5 Reasons Families LOVE Visiting Troll Falls in the Winter

Troll Falls at Kananaskis Village just might be the best winter hike near Calgary for families. It's one of the easiest winter hiking options for our area, and is a guaranteed crowd pleaser for all ages. We've done this outing dozens of times, and have never had a bad day.

Magical Ice at Troll Falls, Kananaskis 

5 Reasons Families LOVE Visiting Troll Falls in the Winter 

1. It's a blessedly short hike

Everything doubles in winter, so what would take an hour in summer, could take two hours in winter. And what might feel like a cute little stroll in summer, feels like an epic adventure in winter. Right??

Troll Falls is blessedly short with less than a 4 km round trip distance if you start from the Stoney Trailhead near Kananaskis Village.

To find the trailhead, just turn off Highway 40 for Kananaskis Village, go straight at the junction with Nakiska (as if heading up to the ski hill,) and then take your first right into the Stoney Parking lot.

For more information, visit the Alberta Parks website

This gorgeous set of ice falls can be reached in less than 4 km round trip

2. The trail is EASY!

The trail is wide, almost always packed down from tons of foot traffic, and easy to tow sleds on. Check out the photo below for a good idea of what to expect from the trail.

And while some people bring snowshoes, I have never ever seen reason for them on this trail. It is always packed down and I can't even fathom the amount of snow we'd have to get overnight to justify bothering with snowshoes. Just wear good winter boots (and bring ice cleats if you think the trail might be icy.)

The easy peasy trail to Troll Falls 

3. The frozen waterfalls!! 

This is the real reason you're going, right? It's not just so you can go for a stroll through the woods.

The falls are also fun to climb on, to crawl behind, and to play around. (Though I'd suggest bringing spikes or ice cleats if you plan to get too adventurous!)

He tried to climb them but didn't get too far

4. There are a variety of ways to access the falls 

The trail is often groomed and track set for cross country skiing when there's been enough snow. And it's an easy ski. Otherwise, some folks prefer to snowshoe (though most of us just hike to the falls in our boots.)

We've used Strider balance bikes with a ski attachment on this trail too (which was a lot of fun) and you could bring those scooters with skis on them as well. And then there are sleds, which are always fun on the hills.

Finally, this is a very popular fat bike trail! (Check out my story on fat biking to Troll Falls as a family.)

However you get to Troll Falls, it's always a magical experience!

5. It's close to Kananaskis Village 

The trailhead is very close to Kananaskis Village where you can go after your hike for a coffee inside the Delta Lodge. There's also a skating pond at the Village, a playground, and other walking trails.

And you can use all of the main amenities at the Delta Lodge as a day visitor. (So you don't have to be staying overnight to skate on the pond or to go inside to the coffee shop.)

Troll Falls is also close to Nakiska for those of you with seasons passes. You know the hill will be getting icy by 1:00pm so why not plan to ski in the morning, have lunch, and then go for a short hike in the afternoon!

Ski Nakiska in the morning, and hike to Troll Falls in the afternoon

And Bonus number 6:  Troll Falls is close to Calgary for a day trip! Seriously, from the West edge of the city, you can make it to the trailhead in less than an hour!

Never a bad day at Troll Falls

Resources and Additional Reading

Hiking with Kids is More Fun when there's Snow! (Family Winter Hiking Guide)

This winter hiking guide has information on all of our other favourite winter hikes near Calgary along with our favourite ice walks.

Behind the Falls

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Fat Biking at Kananaskis Village with Kids

I had a dream. And yes, I have many dreams. This particular dream was a bit challenging though in that we didn't have the gear required to make it happen, and I wasn't sure how to get the necessary equipment.

How do you go fat biking if you don't have a fat bike?

The dream was to visit Troll Falls in Kananaskis this winter - on fat bikes. As a family. The challenge  however was that we don't own our own fat bikes, and hardly anybody rents youth fat bikes. Seriously, as of last winter, nobody was renting youth sized fat bikes in all of Calgary, Kananaskis, Canmore or Banff. (And I don't know too many people willing to lend theirs out for a day, though I suppose I never asked either.)

Enter Nomad Mobile Gear Rentals in Calgary for the win, and the problem solving solution! Nomad Gear rentals just purchased one 24" youth fat bike to add to their collection of rental bikes this winter, and they even deliver to your doorstep in Calgary!

Our fancy rental fat bikes, courtesy of Nomad Mobile Gear Rentals, Calgary

Renting Fat Bikes From Nomad Mobile Gear Rentals 

Nomad Mobile Gear Rentals delivers all of the equipment you could ever need for outdoor fun this winter, right to your door step. Heading out to go skiing, biking, or snowshoeing Saturday morning? No problem because they'll deliver the equipment Friday night at a time that is convenient for you. Then they'll come by your house again to pick up the gear Saturday night or Sunday morning, again at a mutually convenient time.

Sounds easy? Well it is. Just go to their website, choose the gear that you want to rent, put your order in online (without ever having to call anybody,) and everything is organized right from your computer. I received a few texts and calls to my cell phone as well as we chose times for drop off and pick up.

I found that renting from Mobile Gear Rentals was WAY easier than renting from one of the other stores in Calgary. I did not have to go downtown Friday during rush hour traffic to pick up the bikes, and my husband didn't have to figure out a way to get them on his way home from work. It was all so easy with the bikes showing up right at my house.

My beauty of a bike

And then I appreciated that we didn't have to rush home to ensure that we got the bikes back to a rental shop before closing hours Saturday (we've all been there, right?!)

Follow this link for a full list of winter gear rentals that you can get from Nomad Mobile Gear Rentals.

The only "challenge" still remaining is that Nomad Mobile Gear Rentals currently only has one youth fat bike, and it is a 24" bike. They don't have any 20" bikes (which is what my son needed last year,) and families wouldn't be able to order multiple bikes for each child in the family. It works if you only have one child though, or only have one kid who wants to try fat biking.

Other than that, a challenge for some folks would be that you'll need to be able to transport the bikes out to the trails in your own vehicle. (and these bikes are big!) Thank goodness we have a truck, so we could easily fit three bikes in the back of the truck for our drive out to the mountains.

Rental gear that will get you outside this winter

Fat Biking at Kananaskis Village 

We chose to go to Kananaskis Village to try fat biking as a family, because I know a couple of the groomed trails there are open to both cross country skiing and fat biking. And if you've ever tried fat biking, it's way easier on a groomed trail!!

We tried two different trails and discovered a few things about fat biking with kids in the process. (the day got better as we went on, and I'll put some general tips at the end of this story.)

You can't beat the scenery around Kananaskis Village

Fat Biking the Bill Milne Trail from the Kovach Day Use Area

The Bill Milne Trail is 9.7 km one way and there a variety of short sections that you can ski or bike. We first chose to bike from the Kovach Day Use Area towards the Golf Course, but didn't make it very far. We maybe biked a kilometre at the most before we had to turn around.

The trail was perfectly groomed, and had no tracks on it yet for skiing, so was ideal for fat biking. It was soft however (not that we were sinking in, but you could feel the resistance as you tried to pedal.) It was also slightly uphill (which on a fat bike, means "very" uphill.) 

I heard a joke the other day about how the trail is always uphill both ways when fat biking, and that was true for Bill Milne. We biked out (uphill,) and turned around to bike "what felt uphill" again. Somebody tell me how that works?!

Disclaimer: The AB Parks website has been updated to mention that the intended reason for fat biking on this trail is for accessing the Troll Falls Trail from Kananaskis Village. (Something I just discovered.) AB Parks does not actually "support" biking beyond the Kovach Day Use Area junction towards Wedge Pond.

If you want to bike this trail, I'd suggest stopping by a Visitor Centre, or waiting until it is not track set for skiing (which it was not when we rode it)

Early season riding on the Bill Milne Trail, Kananaskis Village

Fat Biking the Bill Milne Trail from Kananaskis Village

I realized that if we were going to have any success, we needed a lot more downhill riding on our bikes, and this was the steepest trail I could think of in the area, where we could ride it one way (mostly all downhill.)

We drove up to the Village, had lunch inside the Delta Lodge, and then we biked DOWN to Ribbon Creek, in what was a gloriously fun ride. My husband grabbed a coffee and then drove down to meet us (sacrificing his ride to keep the boy happy.) 

This was a lot of fun and honestly, we could have just done laps of this trail all day, and called it a success. And this way both of us adults could have taken turns too. And bonus, this section of the Bill Milne Trail is only 2.5 km in distance one way to the junction with the Kovach Day Use Area (where my husband met us with the truck.)

This trail is also an official multi-use trail for fat biking and cross country skiing.

Downhill biking on the Bill Milne Trail from Kananaskis Village

Fat Biking the Troll Falls Trail from the Stoney Trailhead 

The Troll Falls Trail is approximately 3 km round trip and is another shared trail with cross country skiers, hikers, and fat bikers. We initially dismissed this trail for our day's ride because it wasn't groomed, and looked pretty rough. Turns out it was sufficiently hard packed from foot traffic, and quite easy on a bike. We enjoyed it much more than the initial ride on the Bill Milne Trail.

There are definitely a few steep hills on this trail, but just as you would with summer riding, hop off and walk anytime you can't make it up a hill. And nothing was challenging on the way down.

Biking down from Troll Falls on the easy wide trail

Unfortunately because we saved this ride for last, we were getting crunched for time, and so skipped seeing the actual falls. We did bike a nice loop though (following the power line on our way out, and returning on the official Troll Falls trail)

We returned a week later on foot to see the falls and now I'm convinced that we need to rent bikes again, and return later in the season (when the trail is groomed) so that we can bike the Hay Meadows/Troll Falls loop, and bike right up to the falls!

Spectacular Troll Falls, fully accessible by fat bike, skis, or on foot

A Few Tips for Family Fat Biking

We've tried fat biking 4 times now as a family, and have learned a few things along the way.

  • Choose a warm day! It's just not as much fun when it's -30. And, yes, it was close to that temperature the day we chose to go biking at Kananaskis Village.

  • Don't worry about proper clothing, shoes, and gloves. Just wear your normal winter outerwear. We wear our normal winter boots, the same ones we'd wear for hiking or snowshoeing, we wear our normal winter mitts or gloves, the same ones we'd wear for skiing, and we even used our downhill ski helmets and goggles. My son wears light ski pants, and I chose to double layer with two pairs of fleece pants. (thinner and less bulky than my ski pants)

  • Start off on groomed trails. Troll Falls is a great beginner trail when it's been groomed (or when it's been sufficiently packed down.)

  • Take the distance your child can bike in the summer and divide by 4. My son can easily bike 20 km in summer, but can only do around 5 km on a fat bike.

  • Start with the easiest trail you can find. My son was riding the Troll Falls Trail on a balance bike at the age of 3! That made for a perfect fat bike trail.

Following a maintenance road from the Stoney Trailhead towards Troll Falls

Resources and Recommended Reading 

My long term goal is to write a family guide to fat biking in Kananaskis, but we have a few more trails to ride first.

In the meantime, here is a great resource for those of you wanting to get out and explore local trails with the kids:  Fat Biking in Kananaskis Country - Alberta Parks 

Fat biking is a great way to stay active through the winter season

Thanks to Nomad Mobile Gear Rentals for providing us with rental bikes for a day. It won't be the last time that we use your services. 

Monday, January 08, 2018

Top Ten Posts from 2017 - Did you miss any?

I like to go back and look at my most popular stories from the past year, to reflect, and to get an idea of what you'd like to read more about in the coming year.

Below are the most popular stories from 2017, purely based on the numbers and readership. I have not included any of the "Gotta do THIS" posts but have chosen to feature stand alone pieces only (also choosing to leave out posts with giveaways, or anything that was sponsored.)

Top Ten Posts from 2017

Top Ten Posts from 2017

One. 5 Tips for Getting a Campsite without a Reservation 

So, a long weekend is coming, the forecast actually calls for sun (and not snow,) but you have no reservation. What do you do??

What do you do if you’ve dropped the ball though and you haven’t made a single reservation yet for the summer? Or what if you’re just not that kind of person who likes to plan ahead? Is there anything out there for the spontaneous individual who wants to play things by ear, watch the weather forecast, and pack up Thursday or Friday without a reservation made six months ago?

5 Tips for Getting a Campsite without a Reservation 

Two. Tips and Tricks for Downhill Skiing with Kids

Every time we hit the ski hill as a family we learn something new or pick up a trick that would have made the day so much more easier, more enjoyable, and more fun. Each time we go skiing I feel a little more successful and I've decided that I'd like "More GOOD ski days" rather than just "more ski days."

Tips and Tricks for downhill skiing with kids

Three. Inja Nation! Calgary's Newest Adventure Park 

My family is what you'd call "weekend warriors." We live and work in Calgary but we escape the city most weekends, seeking out adventure in the nearby mountains. Some weekends however, it just isn't feasible to get away and we need to find an urban adventure to satisfy our inner warriors.

Inja Nation Indoor Adventure Park, Calgary

Four. Five Reasons for Families to Love Fernie Alpine Resort

It was Sunday afternoon and I knew we only had time for a couple more runs down the mountain before we had to jump in the car and head back home to Calgary. The challenge was deciding which runs we should finish off with...

Fernie is the hill that we never want to leave. It's the resort that always begs us to stay just a little longer, and that almost makes us think we should buy season passes next year, making the trek down into BC at least once a month.

Skiing at Fernie Alpine Resort, BC

Five. Calgary Spring Break Challenge - Can you Try Something New? 

I recently met a family at a climbing gym in Calgary and the mom told me about their goal of trying one new thing each month. This resonated with me because I also like to try new things on a regular basis. So far this year, I've tried fat biking and I returned to rock climbing after a ten year break.

What "new activity" could you try with your kids this March during spring break? And it could be as simple as visiting a new playground or trying a new hiking trail.

Spring Break Challenge - Try Something New

Six. Family Cross Country Ski Trips - Our Favourite Destinations Near Calgary 

Location and choice of trail are two of the biggest keys we've discovered for making cross country skiing easy, fun, and doable with kids.

We like to start from a warming hut, cabin, or lodge so that we start skiing with warm hands and fingers.

We like places that have a variety of trails (because you never know what kind of day your child is going to have until you're ON the trail.)

We also look for places where we can have a good Apr├Ęs Ski experience (somewhere to warm up in before driving home, a cozy spot to have a snack or even a cup of coffee, and a place kids can run around for a bit before climbing into the car.)

Our Favourite Cross Country Ski Trails near Calgary

Seven. Grotto Canyon Ice Walk  (5 Reasons we LOVE this Hike!)

I've written about most of our favourite ice hikes numerous times on this blog but have never actually sat down to write a dedicated story on Grotto Canyon (one of the best winter hikes in all of Kananaskis Country.) I think I always figured that everybody already knew about this hike and that I wouldn't be sharing anything "new" or "notable."

I was reminded last weekend of how amazing Grotto Canyon is, of how much fun kids have playing on the ice, and of why it really is a MUST hike winter trail near Calgary.

Icy winter fun in Grotto Canyon, Kananaskis

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

The May long weekend is fast approaching and some campgrounds across Canada have been accepting reservations for months already. Fortunately, the 90 day reservation window for provincial park bookings still puts us at the beginning of July so there is plenty of time to book sites for the prime summer months.

Knowing "when" to reserve a campsite is only half the battle though. One of the biggest challenges arises once you go to the reservation website and have to choose "which campsite" is going to be a GOOD campsite.

How to choose a good campsite - Family Camping Made Easy

Nine. Family Tube Park Review (Calgary, Kananaskis, Banff, and Lake Louise)

There are 4 different tube parks to visit between Calgary and Lake Louise, all located at family-friendly ski resorts. Each one is awesome and fun in its own way, with slight differences and advantages depending on your family's need for speed or desired thrill factor.

Family Tube Park Review for Calgary, Kananaskis, Banff, and Lake Louise

Ten. Whitney Lakes Provincial Park - One of Alberta's Best Kept Secrets!

Have you ever set out to visit to a new campground, secretly hoping that you wouldn't like it, and that you wouldn't need to return? That was Whitney Lakes Provincial Park for us. And the only reason I had hoped I wouldn't fall in love with this park - the 5+ hour drive to get here from Calgary.

Despite my best attempts not to fall in love with Whitney Lakes Provincial Park, a park located in the middle of absolutely nowhere in NE Alberta, the inevitable happened and we now have a new campground on our growing "favourite campgrounds" list.

Whitney Lake Provincial Park, Northern Alberta

Other Stories you Might have Missed (Author's personal favourites)

Check out my Top Ten Highlights of 2017 Post for other stories and adventures you may have missed.

Top Ten Highlights of 2017

And check out some of these stories below that you may have missed:

Easter at the Wheeler Hut, Rogers Pass

Campsite to River! Camping and Floating across Southern Alberta 

5 Easy Ways to Try Camping for the First Time 

Moms' Comfort Camping Adventure at Sundance Lodges 

Family Backcountry Cabin Camping in the Canadian Rockies 

How to Make Learning to Ski FUN (downhill skiing with kids)

Family Winter Getaways at Mount Engadine Lodge, Kananaskis 

Hiking with Kids is More Fun when there's Snow - Family Winter Hiking Guide