Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Winter camping in Kananaskis

If you saw the title and thought, wow, winter camping with a toddler!, let me clarify that we were not sleeping outside.  We spent the weekend camping with friends and their two children at the Kananaskis Wilderness Hostel at Ribbon Creek. 

Normally I wouldn't call it "camping", but my son thinks that any overnight trip to the mountains is a camping trip.  We referred to the hostel as a camping house for his benefit.  We did attempt to make the experience at least a little reminiscent of camping and made use of the fire pit outside the hostel to create a nice little bonfire for the kids.

Our winter campfire

The Kananaskis Hostel is labeled as a wilderness hostel but the word "wilderness" is up for debate in my mind.  It is certainly the most cushy wilderness experience that I've ever had.  The hostel had electricity, running water, indoor plumbing, showers, a microwave and a telephone.  There was even cell coverage so you could keep up with facebook and e-mails from your smart phone.  The HI Canada website does a good job of describing the balance between the  rustic and  the comfortable :

Located west of Calgary, Kananaskis Country is an all-season recreation area on the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies. The HI-Kananaskis Wilderness Hostel is close to over 60 mountain biking, hiking and cross-country ski trails. Kananaskis Country is known for its plethora of mountain activities by day, while the Kananaskis Hostel is renowned for its relaxing rustic atmosphere by night.  This is an ideal hostel experience for those who enjoy hot showers and clean indoor facilities as part of their "Rustic" atmosphere adventure. Get out of the city and get back to nature! 

Here are some photos I took of the hostel.

The Girl  Guide Trex Group we shared the hostel with on Friday night. 
The hostel's large kitchen area
One of the three private bedrooms

The living room area of the hostel (with wood fireplace)

Hostelling International Canada has ten wilderness hostels in the Canadian Rockies.  Nine of them are in Alberta (Kananaskis, Banff and Jasper) with the 10th located in Yoho National Park, BC.  To date I've stayed in eight of the wilderness hostels and my son has already been to three of them including the Kananaskis Hostel.  

We've always been grateful for the abundance of hostels located throughout the Rockies and have used them as base camps for hiking, skiing, and backcountry adventures.  My husband and I fell in love at the Whiskey Jack Hostel in Yoho, hiked by the light of a full moon on Parker Ridge from the Hilda Creek Hostel in Banff, and skied up to the Edith Cavel Hostel in Jasper twice as part of our journey into the Tonquin Valley.  Now we are adding our son to our hosteling adventures.

Our experience at the Kananaskis Hostel was very different from our last two family trips.  We loved our family stay at both the Hilda Creek and Mosquito Creek Hostels in Banff because of the remoteness of each location.  We felt like we were in the backcountry when we stayed at these hostels and even had to make a short hike into Hilda Creek.  

It was only ten minutes at most but when are carrying gear for a family that includes a play pen, booster seat and toys along with your giant cooler of food and duffels of clothing, ten minutes is enough.  Even Mosquito Creek is set far enough back from the highway that we needed to use sleds to haul our gear in this winter.  

Arriving at the Kananaskis hostel though, we realized we'd be able to park the truck and casually walk up to the front door of the hostel.   From the living room you could look out the window and easily monitor the ski traffic going into the Ribbon Creek parking lot or watch guests come and go.

These photos should give you a better idea of the differences between our hosteling experiences.

HI Kananaskis (notice the car parked beside the door and the power lines top left)
HI Mosquito Creek (much more rustic feeling and snowy!)

Hiking in to Mosquito Creek (no parking lot in sight)
This is what you experience when you go for a hike from HI Hilda Creek.  It doesn't get more remote than this!

Kananaskis is a paradise for cross country skiing, alpine resort skiing at nearby Nakiska, biking, hiking, horseback riding and paddling or rafting.  The cross country ski trails are great when there is enough snow and you can easily make the distance to lovely Troll Falls, just 2km from Kananaskis Hostel.     The hostel is also conveniently located near Kananaskis Village.  

We skied up to the Village with the kids to go skating while staying at the hostel.  There's also a toboggan hill, walking and snowshoe trails as well as playground at the Village.

Skating at the Village 

Skiing to Troll Falls on the Ribbon Creek Trails

Troll Falls

The Kananaskis hostel might not be one of the more rustic hostels, but getting away for a weekend in the mountains with children can be challenging so I think it's perfectly justifiable to seek out a location that has a few modern comforts (or a parking lot beside the door as you're hauling in your tenth load of gear).

Overall, we've found that traveling with kids changes the whole "day trip" idea of exploring the mountains.  You start to appreciate having a base camp so that you don't have to drive for an hour just to do a 4km hike.  The Kananaskis Hostel is the perfect jumping off point for a myriad of family adventures. Add the comfort features and it would be the idea place for most families looking for a soft wilderness adventure. 

Want to stay at the HI Kananaskis?  Here are a few more details regarding the hostel and amenities:

Most hostels can't accommodate children in the common dorm rooms but the HI Kananaskis has three private rooms for families.  Each room features a double bed with a single bunk over top.  There's also a mattress stored under the bed for a second child to sleep on.  The private rooms are conveniently located in the same hallway if you are planning a multi-family trip (or have a large family and need more than one room).  There's also a private bathroom for the three rooms located in the same hallway.

The HI Kananaskis is located within an hour's drive of Calgary so you can easily get there after work.  (When we stayed at Mosquito Creek we didn't arrive until it was dark and nearing bedtime for the kids.)


  1. Beautiful pics. It looks like a fun and gorgeous place! I absolutely love the penguin!!

  2. Thank you for the updates and reviews of the areas you are exploring. We are new to the area and are really liking your recommendations for outdoor family activities. We spent the last four days out at Mosquito Creek with our 5 month old and two year old and had an absolute blast in the super comfy accomodations and huge snow to play in. Can't wait to try the Kananaskis Hostel now too.

    1. Glad you liked mosquito Creek Alexia. I'm sure you'll like the HI Kananaskis too. Our friends fit two playpens side by side in their private room.