Monday, July 28, 2014

Experiencing Awesome in Jasper National Park

Every time we make the trek north to Jasper National Park we try to stop and see something new as a family.   Last year we took the Jasper Tramway up to the top of Whistler's Mountain and it was one of the most amazing experiences we've ever had as a family in the park. The story is here at Family-friendly Summits in Jasper National Park.

Experiencing Awesome in Jasper National Park - Whistler's Summit

This year, we wanted to check out the awesome bike paths in Jasper that loop the townsite, surrounding lakes and campgrounds to form a family-friendly trail network of easy pathways.  We headed up for the July long weekend and while it was rainy for the first part of our visit, the sun finally came out so that we could check most of the bike paths off our list.  That story is here at The Best Family Bike Trails in Jasper

Experiencing Awesome in Jasper National Park - Biking along the Athabasca River

Our July long weekend camping trip this year wrapped up on Canada Day and it was one of those perfect days in the mountains with barely a cloud in the sky.  There was no way we could drive home via the incredible Icefields Parkway from Jasper to Lake Louise without stopping to do a hike.  We'd also been hearing great things about the all new Glacier Skywalk tour at the Columbia Icefield Centre.

We decided to do my favourite all time Jasper hike to Wilcox Pass and figured we'd still have time to do the Skywalk Tour afterward since the hiking trailhead was only 3km away from the Icefield Centre.

Experiencing Awesome in Jasper National Park - Wilcox Pass Hike

It was a proud day for us to be able to get our 5 year old son up the Wilcox Pass Trail because it meant Noah had reached a new milestone in hiking;  He could now do "real" hikes!  The Wilcox Pass hike is one that tourists come from far and wide to tackle.  Groups of fit adult hikers do this trail without children in tow and it's not just a cute little family hike.  Wilcox Pass is a premier destination in Jasper and one of the top 10 hikes in all of the Canadian Rockies.  And Noah did it!

Wilcox Pass with the Athabasca Glacier and Mt. Athabasca in the background
Wilcox Pass hike - Premier Destination in Jasper National Park

We didn't hike all the way to the pass which is 8km return, but we hiked about 2.5km until we reached a really good viewpoint across to the Athabasca Glacier, had snacks, and then ran down so we could go to the Icefield Centre for our Skywalk Tour.  All in all, it took us a couple of hours maybe and was very doable by a 5 year old child. 

Hiking up the Wilcox Pass Trail
Wilcox Pass - one of the easiest trails for accessing the high alpine in the Canadian Rockies!
And we saw sheep!!
Found the Red Chairs at Wilcox Pass! 
KEEN Ambassadors in Jasper

We finished our hike and thanks to Brewster Travel Canada, we already had complimentary tickets to go check out the nearby Glacier Skywalk.   We just had to go into the Columbia Icefield Centre and pick up our tickets.   We anticipated epic crowds being that it was Canada Day on our visit, but we were pleasantly surprised with how efficient the whole experience was.  We stopped in at the Icefield Centre, stood in line for maybe 10 minutes to get tickets, switched over to the Glacier Skywalk line up for the bus ride, and within another 10 minutes were sitting on our tour bus.  The bus ride was a short 5 minutes and within no time at all we were off the bus and heading for our tour.

Experiencing Awesome in Jasper National Park - The Glacier Skywalk Tour
The Skywalk Observation Platform with Mt. Athabasca in the background

The Glacier Skywalk is a glass sidewalk and viewing platform high above the Icefield valley bottom.  The Brewster Travel Canada describes their tour better than I ever could so I've copied there description  below from their website:

"The Glacier Skywalk is an experience like no other: a perfect balance of breathtaking views, interpretive story-telling and adrenaline-pumping excitement. Start by taking your time to explore a cliff-edge walkway that is filled with nature-inspired interpretive exhibits. Look down and you’ll see hints from life thousands of years ago. Look up and you’ll see the most stunning alpine and glacial vistas. Look around and you’ll discover one of the most unique ecosystems in the world; a place where it’s so hard to survive that adaptation never stops.
The grand finale to this experience is a glass-floored observation platform 918 feet (280 metres) over spectacular glacier-formed valleys and rushing waterfalls."
Walking along the sidewalk  to the viewing platform
Busy day at the Glacier Skywalk

The tour is reasonably priced at $24.95 per person and offers a fun way to take a break while driving the Icefields Parkway.  It's a 3 hour drive between Lake Louise and Jasper on the Parkway and every child I know loves to take rest stops while driving that distance.  Children's tickets are only $12.50 for the tour and kids 5 and under are free.

Checking out the valley bottom below the glass sidewalk

The tour itself only takes about an hour including the bus ride to and from the viewing platform, time to walk around on the glass sidewalk and take lots of photos.  It's the perfect amount of time for a rest stop while driving the Parkway and if you're planning to spend a longer amount of time at the Icefield Centre  there are other tours that can be taken as well.

Walking on the glass sidewalk
Noah thought it was pretty cool - No Fear!

The best companion tour with the Glacier Skywalk would be the Glacier Adventure where you get to take a big snow coach bus out onto the Athabasca Glacier to walk around on the ice.  It's an incredible experience and offers families the rare chance to walk on a glacier.  The tour is more pricy at $49.95 for adults but it's completely worth it and you can bundle tours together to make it more affordable.

Experiencing Awesome in Jasper National Park - The Athabasca Glacier Adventure

To see the BEST that Banff and Jasper National Parks have to offer, consider taking the Ultimate Explorer Tour.  This tour includes tickets to the Glacier Skywalk, the Glacier Adventure on the Athabasca Glacier, the Banff Gondola, and the Banff Lake Cruise on Lake Minnewanka.  We have now completed the full tour after having visited the Skywalk.  My previous stories can be seen here at Playing Tourist in Banff National Park and Tots on Ice - A Foundation for Mountaineering.

Banff Gondola and hike up Sulphur Mt.

The Ultimate Explorer Tour is only $109.95 per adult and $54.95 per child with kids 5 and under free.  And you don't have to do all four tours in the same day.  It's an ideal way to spend a weekend from your base camp in Banff since the Banff Gondola and Lake Cruise can both be done in a day while staying overnight in Banff.  The Athabasca Glacier and Skywalk Tours meanwhile, can both be done as a day trip to the Icefield Centre from Banff.

Devil's Gap as seen from the Banff Lake Cruise

We've done all four tours now and I highly recommend all of them for local families as well as for families on vacation in the Rockies.  And if you have out of town guests that you want to take to Banff or Jasper, these tours provide a great way to show off some of the best scenery you will find in our national parks!

Experiencing Awesome in Jasper National Park - You could be here!

Visit the Brewsters Travel Canada website for more information on their tours.  Visit the official Jasper National Park tourism website for more information on what to do or where to stay in the park.  And finally, find more information on the Brewster website on the Icefields Parkway and surrounding area.

Driving the Icefields Parkway

Disclaimer:  Complimentary tickets were provided for the Glacier Skywalk Tour but as always, all opinions  are my own and I wasn't compensated in any other way for this story.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Best Family Bike Trails in Jasper

We're working our way across the Canadian Rockies on our bikes this summer from Waterton Lakes National Park in the far south to Jasper National Park in the north.  And while we're certainly not biking between parks on the highways, we are camping in each park and spending as much time on our bikes as possible while there.  The mission:  To bike every beginner bike trail in the mountain parks.  Why?  Because I have a five year old that LOVES biking and we're enjoying the fact we can still keep up to him and bike as a family before he quickly starts out-riding us. 

Biking along the Athabasca River in Jasper

We spent the July long weekend camping in Jasper this summer and spent a long day on our bikes looping the best beginner family trails the park has to offer near the townsite of Jasper.  What we loved about biking in Jasper was the way we could bike from our campsite to popular hiking trails, hop off our bikes, tag a short summit, and bike back to camp.  We were also able to bike from our campsite at Wapiti off the Hwy 93 all the way out to the Jasper Park Lodge and surrounding beaches.

Beautiful scenery along the Jasper bike trails

For an overview of where we biked in one day of easy riding around Jasper, check out the map below with trails highlighted orange:

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Five Years of Family Backpacking Trips!

We’ve been doing annual backcountry trips as a family since my son was a year old and while it isn’t always easy to bring kids on our outings, it’s definitely worth the extra effort required!

Year one:  Elbow Lake, Kananaskis - Noah age one in the backcountry

In my newest story for Campers Village, you can find out what five suggestions I have for families wanting to see how much fun backpacking together can be!

Year two:  Little Yoho Valley - Noah age two in the backcountry

To read the story, visit the Campers Village website to read my story, How to make a family backpacking Trip Great.  Those following my blog regularly won't be surprised to find out that number one is to bring friends!  Always bring friends.

Year three:  The Point, Kananaskis - Noah age three in the backcountry

For further inspiration, check out these other stories I've written recently for Campers Village:

Trail Tested Snacks for Summer Adventure

Easy Overnight Paddle Trips for the Whole Family (with lots of local suggestions)

Three Steps to Getting a Good Night Sleep in a Tent

Year four:  Back at the Point again in Kananaskis - Noah age four in the backcountry

And from my own blog, check out these stories:

Family Camping Made Easy - Backcountry Adventures (with lots of local suggestions on where to camp in the Rockies.)

So You Love the Outdoors but Don't want to Camp (with lots of local suggestions on how to get into the backcountry in the Rockies - without tenting it.)

Year five:  Overnight Paddle Trip on the Red Deer River - Noah age five in the "backcountry"

This Year's Backcountry Trip

This year's trip wasn't exactly "backcountry" in the sense that there was a road leading to our campground beside the river.  However, we paddled to camp and hence had no vehicle at the campground.  We slept in a tent instead of our comfy trailer and we were at least 10km from our nearest truck.  Backcountry enough for me! 

Not to mention we narrowly missed a huge storm cell that rocked the area (following our river I might add) that was crazy enough to warrant tornado warnings!! Thank God my cell phone had died and I had no idea what was happening around the area Saturday night.

This year's backcountry trip on the Red Deer River

For information on the paddle route we took last weekend, visit the Alberta Parks website for Dinosaur Provincial Park.  We camped at Emerson Bridge Friday night after setting up our shuttle and camped at Steveville Saturday night.  We then paddled to Dinosaur Provincial Park Sunday where we'd left a vehicle conveniently parked beside the cafe and ice cream shop.

Another photo from this past weekend's trip down the Red Deer River
27 km paddled on day one - On a stand up paddle board!!

The map here says it is 30 km from Emerson to Dinosaur.  It lies!  It was 27 km on day one alone.  Add another 10 km or so on day two and it was a tad longer than I had signed up for.  Never the less, we made it. (and avoided the big storm that was strong enough to knock over a cement dinosaur in Drumheller nearby!)

Final shot from last weekend's Red Deer River Trip

We'll get a second shot in the backcountry this September when we head into Shadow Lake Lodge for a couple nights as a family.  And it is 100% my kind of backcountry!  Hike in and then sleep in a cozy cabin with meals prepared for me.  Princess backpacking at its finest!!  There are plenty more ideas like that in my last story mentioned above on loving the outdoors but not wanting to camp.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Family-friendly Biking on Calgary's Bow River Pathway

I’ve always known the Bow River Pathway to be a popular commuter route for cyclists heading downtown to work. Beyond that, I was curious if one of Calgary’s most popular pathways would be suitable for a leisurely family bike ride, or if my five year old son would get knocked over by faster cyclists.

Biking downtown on the Bow River Pathway

The City of Calgary has the most extensive urban pathway and bikeway network in North America with close to 800 km of pathways that connect communities, parks and natural areas across the four corners of the city. We decided to start exploring the pathways close to home this summer as a family and we’ve currently worked our way from Shouldice Park in the far northwest corner of Calgary down to Pearce Estate Park in the southeast, a distance of approximately 15 km.

Biking in SE Calgary along the Bow River Pathway

Monday, July 21, 2014

How to Choose a Quality Kids' Bike

In my last bike story, Investing in a Lightweight Kids' Bike, I talked about my son's progress over the last year on his Spawn Cycles 16" Banshee.  I wrote about how he can now bike upwards of 16.5 km at five years old and how he loves to spend his days in bike parks learning the skills he'll need on mountain bike trails.

Just another day on his Spawn Banshee

Over the last month I've been talking with other parents who've also chosen Spawn bikes for their children and every one of them came up with the same three reasons for choosing a quality Spawn Bike.

One - Quality Bikes are Lightweight

For why this one is so important, read my last story, Investing in a Lightweight Kids' Bike - Your Child is Worth it.  My friend Coleen says it best in her top reason for choosing Spawn bikes for her three children:
"100% Weight Weight Weight – we wanted our kids to enjoy mountain bike riding like we do and to have success biking longer distances and uphills without having the struggle of trying to ride on a bike that was more than 1/2 their weight and that they would have to walk up 99% of the hills."
Coleen's son on the Spawn Savage 1.0 in Fernie

Friday, July 18, 2014

Investing in a Lightweight Kids' Bike - Your Child is Worth It!

When Noah got his first 16" Spawn Cycles bike a year ago, I didn't know a single other parent who had  chosen this kind of bike for their child.  Most of my friends had children on balance bikes and from there were moving up to a generic pedal bike from Walmart or ToysRus.  Now a year later, I get emails and texts weekly from friends and acquaintances telling me that they have just bought their child a first pedal bike - and have chosen a Spawn bike just like Noah's.  Meanwhile, I also see moms come out to my Junior Biker Gang events that I run in Calgary with their three and four year olds - often on their first pedal bike ever, and often on a Spawn bike.  One by one, most of my friends are choosing to invest in a Spawn bike and it feels like my outdoor playgroup community should practically be sponsored by Spawn Cycles.