Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Camping in Dinosaur Provincial Park

Last weekend we did something rare for our family - we went camping outside the mountain parks!  Instead of heading west from Calgary ,we traveled to Dinosaur Provincial Park located near the town of Brooks in Southern Alberta. 

Dinosaur Provincial Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site  because of the high concentration of dinosaur fossils found from 35 different species.  The park is located in the heart of Alberta's Badlands along with the town of  Drumheller, home to the world famous Royal Tyrrell Museum.

If you're planning a trip to Alberta and you have dinosaur fans in your family, you'll definitely want to take a driving tour on the Dinosaur Trail starting with the museum and canyons of Drumheller.

Dinosaur Provincial Park (Photo:  Cam Schaus)

 We didn't visit Drumheller this time but headed straight south to Dinosaur for two nights of fabulous camping.  I'm going to go as far as to actually say that Dinosaur Provincial Park just might be the best family campground in Alberta.  Bold statement I know.  Here's why I think it's so wonderful though:

Highlights of Camping in Dinosaur Provincial Park 

Playing in the creek

It is a fantastic place for kids to play and ours spent hours down there digging in the sand, playing in mud puddles, and wading in the shallow creek. 

Getting in the creek involves getting muddy so make sure you bring lots of spare clothing for the kids. 

There were signs further down warning against actual swimming in the creek but I think playing along the edge of it or jumping in the mud would be fine. 

Our sites above our little beach

Squishy mud!


Dinosaur Themed playground

When the kids get tired of playing in the mud (or you run out of clothes for them after they've fallen in for the umpteenth time) you can head over to the nearby playground.  It was located across the creek from our campsites with access via a bridge.  It had a lot of fun features including a mini dinosaur climbing wall and slide.

Climbing the dinosaur

Awesome family hiking

We did two hikes while we were there on the Coulee Viewpoint Trail and the Badlands Trail.  They were very interesting trails and allowed us to get up close to hoodoos and other fascinating scenery typical of the Badlands. 

Each of the hikes was under 2km and I'm happy to report that we saw no snakes.  Before starting out on any hiking trail in the park it's a good idea to read the literature provided when you check in so that you can teach your kids safe hiking practices for a place that has rattlesnakes, black widow spiders, and scorpions. 

Small kids will also need close parental supervision on the Coulee Trail due to some very steep drop-offs.  My son near gave us a heart attack when he went running towards the edge of one such drop-off.  A good rule of thumb should always be that you are within an arm's reach of small kids when hiking in unfamiliar terrain. 

The Badlands Trail had no drop-offs and might make for a safer option if you are at all concerned.  It was also a lot easier with less height gain, no stairs, and no scrambling along the top of the coulee.  The only thing to watch out for on the Badlands Trail is the Cacti found everywhere off the main trail.

Hoodoos on the Badlands Trail
Scenery in the Badlands
Stairs on the Coulee Trail

Running towards a huge drop-off on the Coulee Trail (eek)

Additional family activities

While we didn't join any group tours or even look through the visitor centre, there were plenty of other activities for families with school aged children wanting to add an educational component to the trip. 

Check the website when you make your reservation if you want to sign up for a guided hike in the Nature Reserve, a bus tour, or a family program.  There was also an amphitheater located close to our campsites which I imagine would be used in the summer season for nightly programs.  Programming was at a minimum since we visited the park outside of tourist season.

Though we didn't go on an official dinosaur bone dig, we did hide a bunch of plastic dinosaurs in the bank below our campsites.  It took the kids over an hour to dig them all out - and I still think we left one or two.  

They felt like brave explorers digging for buried treasure. 

Digging for treasure
My favourite activity was trying to teach my son to jump in the creek.  Blowing bubbles was another weekend favourite and should you forget bubble mix, the store on site sells lots of it.  They also sell tons of dinosaur themed toys including the plastic ones we hid for the kids.



More information

To make a booking for Dinosaur Provincial Park, visit the Reserve Alberta Parks website.  Online bookings are permitted 90 days in advance of your day of travel. 

There is also a group campground in the park that you can book through the website.  Group campsites can be booked in advance outside the 90 day window so book early if you want one. 

The park also introduces comfort camping this season in luxurious camping cabins located along the Red Deer River. 

View above the visitor centre (Photo:  Cam Schaus)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Spring adventures in Jasper

We took our annual May long weekend trip to Jasper  in the Northern Rocky Mountains and rather than stay at an expensive hotel, we chose to check out the Athabasca Falls Wilderness Hostel.  What an awesome surprise it was!

Arriving at the hostel Friday night

The hostel has shared sleeping cabins and one private cabin that is divided like a duplex into two bedrooms.  Each of the private rooms has a double bed and bunk beds to sleep six people.  We stayed in the private cabin which was warm, clean, and had linen provided.  If we had stayed at any of the other commercial cabins or bungalows in Jasper we would have been paying upwards of $200/night.  Hostelling International by comparison only charges $60/night for a private room.  The down side of choosing a hostel instead of a commercial hotel? - hmnnn, can't think of one really.  In addition to the sleeping cabins, there was a large communal cabin with a kitchen big enough for multiple groups.  We only had breakfast there each morning but it was cozy with a fireplace and living room area perfect for sharing a cup of coffee with fellow travelers.  In the evenings, our son played outside so we didn't really interact with the other guests much at all but they were very pleasant from the brief conversations we had.

The communal cabin at the Athabasca Hostel

We love camping and each time we stay at a hostel, we tell our son that we are sleeping in a camping house.  Indeed, the Athabasca Falls Hostel was very much like a camping experience.  The water was pumped from a well and brought in for filtering.  There was no indoor plumbing and bathrooms were located outside in the form of wooden outhouses.  There was however electricity and heat which made for a nice glamping experience.  In the evenings after our son had gone to bed we sat outside our cabin on the porch and played cards, shared a bottle of wine and enjoyed the fresh mountain air.  That was the part that felt most like camping and that I think I most enjoyed of the whole experience.  If you'd like to actually enjoy the communal cabin and sit around the fireplace in the evening, I'd recommend bringing baby monitors with you so that you can keep an ear on your sleeping tykes.  We hadn't thought of this so we stayed within close proximity to our cabin.

Our half of the private cabin

While you're in Jasper, you'll want to do some exploring and we've spent enough time there to have our favourite hiking trails, places to visit and restaurants that we wouldn't skip visiting.  Here are some of our favourite things to do with kids near the town of Jasper:

Hot Spring Soaking

Miette Hotsprings is the hottest hotsprings in the Canadian Rockies and in our opinion is the best of the commercial pools hands down over Banff and Radium.  We didn't visit this time because it takes approximately 45 minutes to reach the hotsprings which are located 60km east of town. 


The Centennial Park Playground might just be the best playground in Alberta.  It's centrally located in the town of Jasper with giant slides, many opportunities for climbing, a sand box, a bouldering area, and a unique area featuring slides and a tunnel built into a hillside.  There are picnic tables and bathrooms on site so you can bring your lunch and have a picnic.

View of the playground with sand box to the left
How awesome is this place?


The largest lake and possibly most scenic near Jasper is Maligne Lake but it takes about an hour to drive there from the town so we skipped the trip this year. We took our son out there last year and he had a great time hiking the shoreline trail as well as throwing rocks in the lake. For something closer to town this year, we chose Patricia and Pyramid Lake.  Both lakes have easy access to the shore - perfect for throwing rocks and there are canoe rentals nearby.  Pyramid Lake also has an island that we enjoy with a large bridge leading to it.  We got to watch a loon swim under the bridge on this visit and that was one of the coolest things I've seen in the mountains.

Orchids near Patricia Lake

Patricia Lake

Pyramid Lake


Our favourite hike is the Old Fort Point trail.  We don't do the full loop but just take the stairs and steep hill straight up to the viewpoint.  It's the best view you'll find looking down over the town and surrounding lakes without having to fork out the $31 per adult to take the sky tram up Whistler's Mountain.  The trail up is steep with 130m of height gain but the good news is that since it goes straight up, you'll be on top in half an hour.  Smaller children might find it too tiring to hike on their own but most kids 5 and up would have no problems.  Read my last story:  The PiggyBack Rider saves the day, to see how we got our three year old up the trail. 

Noah and I on top of the Old Fort Point Trail

Daddy and Noah hiking down the trail using the PiggyBack Rider

The other hike we enjoy is Maligne Canyon.  Lots of bridges, waterfalls, rock slabs to climb on, and the loop around the first four bridges is under 2km.  I don't know any child who wouldn't find it an interesting place to explore.  Parks Canada has done a good job as well of ensuring your children won't fall into the canyon.  Fencing is plentiful!

One of the bridges over Maligne Canyon


A visit to Jasper isn't complete without a visit to Athabasca  Falls, conveniently located across the road from the Hostel.  These falls are magnificent and it's a short walk to the different viewing areas - perfect for small legs.  Again, Parks Canada has done a great job at protecting children from falling in as long as you don't let them climb up on the railings.


Our favourite place to eat  is the Jasper Brewing Company.  What parent doesn't like a family friendly brewery?  They make all their own beer on site and the facility is divided into a restaurant and bar.  Kids of course are welcome in the restaurant only.  We go here every time we visit Jasper.  The service is fabulous and this time our waiter went above and beyond in an effort to find me something I'd like as I usually prefer wine to beer. 

If you want something above pub food, the L&W Restaurant is a family favourite.  Arrive early in summer because every family seems to know of the place.  Though it is a Greek restaurant, their pizza and pasta are to die for.  I highly recommend the baked lasagna.  Many a backpacking trip has ended here purely for the lasagna.

I want to thank Hostelling International, Canada for the complimentary stay at the Athabasca Falls Hostel while we were in Jasper.  Hosteling International has been very supportive of our family's adventures and I can honestly recommend stays at any of their facilities with your family.

Other great hostels to check out with your family:

  • Mosquito Creek, Banff National Park (private cabin with two bedrooms)
  • Kananaskis, Located at Ribbon Creek (three private rooms)
  • Hilda Creek, Banff National Park (you'll have to book the whole hostel but it only sleeps 6 so that's not hard to do)
  • Shunda Creek, Nordegg (private room)


What would you recommend families visit or do while in Jasper?

Have you had a great hostelling experience with your family?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The PiggyBack Rider saves the day

The PiggyBack Rider won't give you the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound but if you've ever tried hiking with a toddler or preschooler, the freedom this simple child carrier provides might make you feel like you can hike faster than a speeding bullet.  It will certainly make your child feel like Superman or Superwoman as they ride high up in the air racing along a trail they were moments earlier dragging their feet on. 

The PiggyBack Rider in use

 What is the PiggyBack Rider?  It's a lightweight child carrier designed specifically for toddlers and preschoolers two and a half years of age and up.  It can carry kids weighing up to 60 lbs (27kgs).  It's a God-send for us because our son at three years already weighs 40lbs and has outgrown his Baby Backpack Carrier that we've been using the last couple of years.  We've dialed back our adventures significantly but still, we occasionally want to hike something that is longer than 3km and our son tires out on steep hills.  Thanks to the PiggyBack Rider we are able to go out on any hike of reasonable length, knowing we have a backup plan.  Our goal is always that our son will walk but in the event he starts to get miserable, whiny and grumpy - up he goes on Daddy's back and we continue along the trail until he's had a bit of a rest and can hike some more.

Not your average flat walk along a creek

The PiggyBack Rider features a shoulder-strap mounted bar with a safety tether for ensuring Junior doesn't fall off your back.  The child stands on the bar rather than sitting on your shoulders or in a backpack.  Kids love the height advantage and bonding time with Mom or Dad.  My son wraps his arms around Dad and the two of them hike along the trail with those chubby little arms encircling Daddy in a nice cozy hug.  While the pack is very simple and you won't be carrying anything else in it other than your child, this also means it's light - a plus when your child weighs more than 40lbs.  The Rider also comes with its own little carrying bag so when it's not in use you can either stow it in a second backpack that a second parent or older sibling is carrying, or you can just carry it across your body with the straps designed for that.  You won't even know you're carrying it.  On many of our hikes, my husband carries it the whole time slung across his shoulders and we feel secure in knowing it's along - just in case.

You can barely even tell that my husband is carrying the PiggyBack Rider right now in this urban hiking photo

Think of the PiggyBack rider as part of your emergency kit.  Granted, the most expensive part of your emergency kit at roughly $100, but still - fairly important in salvaging a walk, hike, or journey around town.  I'd say that 99% of the time, we pack our emergency kit on trips and never use it.  I'm still glad we  bring it because you just never know.  Our emergency kit could save somebody's life.  The PiggyBack Rider though it likely won't actually save a life, is an integral part of our kit.  We bring it along and 60% of the time (perhaps more) it doesn't get used.  This makes me happy though.  I mean, do you really want an excuse to use your first-aid kit?  I'd rather bring it home unopened.  It's the same with the Rider.  We hope that our son will be walking most or all of the time.  However, kids are unpredictable and there is no book out there than can teach you how to know when your child will have a good hiking day Vs. a bad hiking day.  If there is, somebody please send it my way!!

A good hiking day thanks to the PiggyBack Rider

 We've used our PiggyBack Rider around town and out in the mountains on short easy flat little walks.  It worked well but I wanted to really test it before I could honestly recommend it to you.  Last weekend we finally had the opportunity.  We were in Jasper and wanted to hike up to the Old Fort Point.  If you know the viewpoint, you are aware of how steep the trail is.  Most adults are winded while making their way up (I know I am).  It's a beautiful, short little hike though so we wanted to do it.  My husband put our son in the PiggyBack Rider and off they climbed.  Up, up, and then more up as we reached a small cliff band at the top.  I think it's possible to go around but honestly, where's the fun in that?  Never did my son come close to falling off the bar, never was there a moment of danger, and both Dad and Son felt secure the whole time.  I thought maybe the Rider would be best used while walking around Disney Land or the Zoo but it is perfectly suited for short rugged hikes too - something very important to us.

Climbing up to the Old Fort Point Lookout in Jasper

The view we got in Jasper last weekend thanks to the PiggyBack Rider

Now, I should mention that you don't have to be mountain folk to get a PiggyBack Rider.  It would work super well if you were touring a city on vacation, exploring your local zoo or theme park, or taking a walk around the pathways in your town.  Anytime your child needs a five minute break you can pull out the Rider and continue right on going.  We use our Chariot a lot and I was honestly uncertain how much we'd use the PiggyBack Rider in the city because we've always loved our Chariot so much.  I'm learning though that most toddlers and preschoolers either don't want to ride in a stroller anymore or else if you bring it, they won't get out and walk!  We've stopped bringing our stroller when we go out because it's just an invitation to be lazy and sit down the whole time.  If my son knows he can just ride in his comfy stroller, there's no way he's walking.  Meanwhile, I have friends who can't bring a stroller because their 3 or 4 year old would think they were a baby.  Either way, the PiggyBack Rider is a good alternative.

Out for a walk around our neighborhood shortly after receiving the PiggyBack Rider

If you are thinking of getting a PiggyBack Rider there a few things you will want to consider:
  • You will need a second parent, friend, or older sibling along to help carry things on your outing.  The PiggyBack Rider doesn't have room for carrying water, snacks, or other gear.  You could put a few things in the bag that's used to hold the Rider, but not much more than a few granola bars or a light jacket.  For us, this isn't a problem because we are always together as a family.  My husband carries the boy and I carry the rest of the gear for our outing.
  • You'll also want a second person along to help get your child onto the bar and strapped in.  After using the Rider for a while I'm sure you'd get familiar with  the product enough to do it all by yourself but we find it's easier with two.  My husband also likes having me right behind him on the trail in case my son's feet slip off the bar and I can make quick adjustments.
  • The PiggyBack Rider doesn't have the waist support that a normal backpack has.  You will feel the weight of your child on your shoulders if you go out for a long hike.  It's best used for ten-fifteen minute periods while your child rests or else for short hikes.  That being said, it's not meant to be a full child carrier.  You wouldn't put a three or four year old in it for a two hour hike and expect them to ride the whole time.
  • If your child wants up and down every two minutes, it would honestly just be simpler to put them on your shoulders and give them an original piggyback ride rather than strapping them onto the PiggyBack Rider.  Otherwise, if your child is content to ride for at least ten-fifteen minutes at a time, the Rider works well.  Some kids will need time to adjust to the PiggyBack Rider as well.  Our son had to use it a good five times before he figured out that it was pretty cool and he wanted to be using it rather than having Daddy just carry him in his arms.  Therefore, I recommend starting on short walks around your neighborhood first rather than taking it on a vacation right off the bat where you'll need your child to be comfortable with it.
Our son is very comfortable with the PiggyBack Rider now and asks to use it with excitement.

For more information about the PiggyBack Rider, visit the official website.  
If you live in Canada and would like to order one, please visit the Adventure Gear Canada Website.

We were given a PiggyBack Rider to use and review but all comments, opinions and suggestions in this story are my own along with those of my husband who has been the true user of the Rider along with my son.

If you are a member of my Outdoor Adventures Playgroup and would like to try out our PiggyBack Rider, let me know and I will bring it for you to demo on a Friday morning.

Freedom on the trails

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Family Camping Made Easy - Backcountry adventures

This is the final story in my Family Camping Made Easy Series and I thought I'd tackle something a little different - backcountry camping.  It seemed intimidating when we set off on our first family backcountry trip when our son was just one year old, but we quickly discovered that it was a lot of fun. 

It doesn't have to be a crazy epic adventure and there are ways for the most novice of families to get out into the wild with very little gear necessary.  I'm going to outline the various styles of backcountry camping below with some practical suggestions for those traveling with small children.  I'll also list our favourite places in the Canadian Rockies to get into the wild with your kids. 

Backcountry Adventures in the Canadian Rockies

Backpacking Trips

Backpacking Trips are hard with children under three because you need to carry the child and your gear.  If you have only one small child and a very strong partner, you can do it with one person carrying the child and one person carrying everything else.  We haven't attempted this as it just seems difficult.  If you have a baby that fits in a front carrier you could technically carry your child and a backpack at the same time.  Again, we didn't try this.  We chose backcountry trips we could do with a Chariot when our son was too young to hike in by himself.  (see the section below on biking and Chariot trips)

This year marks the first year that we will be able to do a normal backpacking trip with all three of us walking.  The key is to choose a destination that is within your child's walking ability.  We've chosen a campground for this summer's backpacking adventure that is a 3km hike.  With our son walking, it will allow both my husband and I to carry a backpack. 

Local suggestions:

Our Campsite at Laughing Falls (and nobody fell in the river, yay)
Backpacking with friends in the Yoho Valley

Walk-in Tent Campgrounds

For families a little less ambitious, there are many walk-in campgrounds where you only have to walk 500 metres to reach the campground.  You can make multiple trips to haul in your gear and some places even provide wagons.  Lake O'Hara is accessed by a bus that drops you right at the campground with your bags.  This is family camping for those wanting more solitude than your average campground provides.  You won't be listening to car stereos or partiers all night long at walk-in sites.

Local Suggestions:
  • Lake O'Hara, Yoho National Park (bus and campground reservations must be made three months in advance and don't delay on that booking or you won't get a spot!)

  • Takakkaw Falls, Yoho National Park (wagons provided for the short hike in.  Have a back-up plan in mind if trying to get a spot here on a weekend because it's first come first serve camping)

  • Mount Sarrail, Kananaskis (walk-in tenting in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, no reservations required)
Takakkaw Falls
Lake O'Hara

Canoe trips

This is a super easy way to get into the backcountry without having to carry anything.  If you are at all worried about your paddling abilities, choose a calm lake and paddle close to shore.  It's strongly suggested if you have small children that you get out at least a couple times before the big trip so the concept of sitting still in a canoe isn't a foreign concept.  You don't want Junior to try and jump overboard in the middle of a lake or fast moving river.  Going with another family is a good idea for novice paddlers as well.  There's always strength in numbers.

Riverside camping doesn't get better than this!

Something we are thinking about doing this summer is a canoe/hike combo trip. If you go with another family, you can have two adults canoe in with all the gear while the other adults hike in with the kids.  Switch it up on the way out so everybody has a chance to hike and canoe.  We like this idea because then we'll have a canoe at camp for the rest day and we can take short trips out on the lake with the kids who might not have a long attention span for riding in the boat.

Local Suggestions:

  • The Point Campground, Kananaskis (you can either hike or paddle to your campground and since it's on a point, it's pretty easy to find your campground.  It's also a short paddle and easy for beginners.)

  • Jewel Bay Campground, Kananskis (another paddle or hike destination with a short paddle across Barrier Dam)

  • Lake Minnewanka, LM 8 Campground, Banff (Hike, bike, or paddle to this campground, 8km from the trailhead)
Life jackets for everybody and mini-lawn chairs to keep the kids in place (Photo:  M. Mcdonald)

Edits for 2017:

We've done a lot of overnight paddling trips since I originally wrote this story. Check out the stories below for more suggestions on where to camp overnight with kids by boat.

How to fit 7 people in a Canoe - Backcountry Adventures in Kananaskis 

The Annual Family Backcountry Trip - Worth Fighting For

Easy Overnight Paddling Trips for the Whole Family 

Paddling and Camping on the Columbia River with Kids   

Paddling the Alberta Badlands 

Easy paddling on the Red Deer River


Don't have a tent, sleeping bags, a backcountry stove or anything for camping but still want to feel like you're camping?  This is the option for you!  We started hostelling with our son when he was one because it gave us a dry roof over our heads, a cozy place to stay, and yet felt like we were close to nature. 

Hostelling International has wilderness hostels spread out all over the Rockies and many of them are very family friendly.  I've written stories on many of our stays so far. You don't need anything when you go to a hostel other than your personal items and food.  The kitchens are fully stocked and linen is provided for the beds.  The parking lot is also conveniently located within 500 metres of all wilderness hostels.

HI Hilda Creek Hostel

Family Friendly Wilderness Hostels:

  • Mosquito Creek, Banff National Park (private cabin with two bedrooms)

  • Kananaskis, Located at Ribbon Creek (four private rooms)

  • Hilda Creek, Banff National Park (you'll have to book the whole hostel but it only sleeps 6 so that's not hard to do. Bring your own bedding or sleeping bags)

  • Athabasca Falls, Jasper National Park (there are two private rooms for families)

 And here are a couple of stories to read:

Autumn Camping at Mosquito Creek, HI Mosquito Creek Hostel 

Moving on to Big Adventures - and the kids get to come! (HI Hilda Creek Hostel)

HI Mosquito Creek

Backcountry cabins

Another easy solution for families with limited backcountry knowledge - the Alpine Club of Canada has backcountry huts and cabins scattered all over the Rockies and several of them are family-friendly.  You'll need a sleeping bag but other than that, the kitchens are stocked and sleeping mattresses are provided. 

The Elizabeth Parker Hut at Lake O'Hara is even accessed by a bus that takes you within half a kilometre of the hut.  The crux of the whole trip is usually getting a spot in the popular huts for summer.  Members of the Alpine Club that have paid for an upgraded membership can make bookings up to a year in advance.  Otherwise, they can book 60 days in advance.  Non members can only book 30 days in advance -  hence why it's hard to get a reservation.   If you want to stay at Lake O'Hara you actually have to enter a lottery to earn the privilege of booking a spot.  It's that popular in summer!  You can still stay there without an advance booking but you'll likely have to stay mid-week or in the off-season (June or September).

The Elizabeth Parker Hut, Lake O'Hara

Note that in ACC huts there are no private bedrooms so you'll have to share a common room with other hut users.  We've often found this challenging and my husband swears he isn't doing it again each time we go.  Consider going to a smaller hut and renting the whole facility.  The Elk Lakes Cabin is a good choice for this.

The best huts for families:
  • The Elizabeth Parker Hut, Yoho National Park (500 metres from where the bus drops you off at Lake O'Hara)

  • The Wheeler Hut, Glacier National Park (One of the only huts that you can drive up to in summer)

  • Stanley Mitchell Hut, Yoho National Park (10km hike on a good trail from Takakkaw Falls)

  • Elk Lakes Cabin, Elk Lakes Provincial Park (You can either drive to the cabin in summer, a very very long drive, or you can hike in from Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in Kananaskis.  It's a 9km hike on a good trail that's chariot friendly)
Elk Lakes Cabin, BC
Edits for 2017:

Below are a few stories on our recent summer trips into ACC cabins:

 Backcountry Cabin Camping with Kids - Elk Lakes Cabin, BC  

Summer Backpacking Trip to the Asulkan Cabin, Rogers Pass  

Backpacking in the Bugaboos (and our first family glacier traverse) - Conrad Kain Hut 

Summer at the Asulkan Cabin, Rogers Pass


Backpacking with a bike or Chariot

This has got to be one of our favourite ways to access the backcountry.  We've taken two backpacking trips now with the Chariot and what a fabulous way of transporting a child and gear!  Many trails are bike and Chariot friendly which allows you to carry gear instead of tired toddlers.  You can also strap gear to both the bike or Chariot. 

We took the Chariot into Laughing Falls last summer in Yoho National Park and while I can't exactly promote it as a stroller-friendly trail, we managed.  We did however, have to repair the broken Chariot before heading out with a tent peg so probably best leave the Chariot at home.  Always check park guidelines before bringing your bike on a trail.  Some trails are designated as multi-use trails whereas others strictly prohibit the use of bikes.  Chariots and strollers usually fall outside any rules and regulations - yay for us!

Loading the Chariots for the trip to Laughing Falls

Local Bike and Chariot friendly Trails:
  • Elbow Lake, Kananaskis (1.3 km from Elbow Pass day use area)

  • Mt. Romulus or Big Elbow Campground, Kananaskis (These campgrounds are on the 43km Elbow Loop that starts from the Little Elbow day use area.  I wouldn't do the full loop pulling kids or pushing a Chariot but you could do an overnight trip into either of these campgrounds.  Romulus is 12km in and Big Elbow is 8km in. )

  • Mt. Rundle Campground, Sp6, Banff (6km from the Bow Falls Trailhead on the Spray River Loop)

  • Cascade Bridge, Cr6, Banff (6km from the trailhead at Lake Minnewanka on the Cascade Fire road)
Creek crossing on the Big Elbow Trail

I didn't go into a lot of detail on specific campgrounds so if you are planning a backcountry trip and need detailed trail information, please send me a message.  I'd love to help you plan out your family vacation. 

If you are just joining us in the series on Family Camping Made Easy, you can click on the links below to see the other topics already covered:  Warm sleepers are happy sleepers, Baby adventuresPreschool adventuresBathing in the woods,  and Siestas for the junior camper.

Have a favourite backcountry destinations?  I'd love to hear about it.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Family Camping Made Easy - Siestas for the junior camper

If you are just joining us in the series on Family Camping Made Easy, you can click on the links below to see the other topics already covered:  Warm sleepers are happy sleepers, Baby adventuresPreschool adventures, and Bathing in the woods.

Today I want to discuss another topic related to babies, toddlers, and preschoolers - the mid day siesta.
How do you work around your child's daily routine if he or she still desperately needs a nap?  Do you just abandon the idea of napping while camping and give the kid a grace day?  What if your child goes crazy without a nap and is unbearable to be around?

My son was relatively easy to deal with when it came to napping.  When he was young, he'd nap anywhere and everywhere.  We could go sit in a park and he would nap curled up between my legs.  As he got older, he'd nap in the car, in the child carrier or in the Chariot. 

The key was to go for a walk or a drive and there was his nap.  We took a vacation to Hawaii and never once returned to the condo in 10 days for a mid-day nap.  My son would just nap en route to the next beach or destination.  He was extremely easy to travel with.  Even today, Noah doesn't nap in his bed.  He will play, scream, cry, or quietly read until you finally open the bedroom door.  However, he will fall asleep on a 5 minute drive to the grocery store - something that brings its own problems!

This child could sleep anywhere!

If your child is like mine, napping isn't an issue for you.  Go for a walk, take a drive to a nearby lake, go for ice-cream or hunt down a local coffee shop and your child will be in lullaby land.  Note, that it's a good idea to bring books along in the car to read while you wait for Sleeping Beauty to wake up.

Passed out on one of our hikes

If you child has to be in his own bed to nap however, camping and traveling are going to be a little trickier for you.  Below are a few suggestions for the child that must physically lie down to sleep:

One - If your tent isn't too hot or you have a trailer, just put your child down for their nap as you would at home.  Give them a few books to read while they fall asleep or let them watch one of their favourite shows on a portable DVD player.  You can also try napping with them (what parent doesn't wish they could take more naps?).  If you plan to have your child nap in your tent, choose a shady spot so that your tent won't catch that full mid-day sun.

Two - Invest in a PeaPod by Kidco.  This small portable tent folds up in a small bag so you can easily take it with you to the lake, allowing your youngest child to nap while older children play.  Everybody in the family will appreciate this instead of being stuck at the campsite while your baby sleeps.  You can buy PeaPods in different sizes so that even toddlers can use them.  Don't have a PeaPod? - use a Pack&Play.  Refer to my story, Baby Adventures for more information on the PeaPod and Pack&Play while camping.

Napping in a PeaPod (Photo:  G. Duncan)

If napping isn't going to work because your child has to be in his or her own bed try to at least give them some quiet time.  Last summer when we'd start to suspect our son was about to lose it, we'd put him in the tent with a video for half an hour.  Bonus - sometimes they will actually fall asleep.  If not, at least they rested and had some down time.  The other thing that worked well for us was reading books.  For more suggestions on the topic of down time, read  one of my earlier stories in this Camping Series, Preschool Adventures.  

In a pinch, naps can happen anywhere.  How creative are you?  That's the question.

They're in the shade and looking pretty comfortable to me.

For more reading on napping, check out Lindsey's story, The Dreaded Nap:  how to have an outside life and a well-rested child.  Her advice pretty much follows mine with suggestions such as drive while drowsy (the child - not you), nap around, and practice sleep walking (you walk, your child sleeps).

Erica with Crag Mama also has a great story on napping, Creating a Cragbaby - Sleepy time solutions, that reminds us to know when to call it a day (especially important on day hikes or days at the crag climbing).  I especially like the photo of Crag Daddy in the story showing us how important it is for parents to take naps too.  :)


Other suggestions from the community:

Mine have always just napped on mom or dad's back (though my 3 yr old doesn't nap anymore). Actually, that's both my at-home and in-wilderness strategy. My 1 year old gets 80% of her naps in the wrap as we're wandering around outside (and the other 20% in the bike trailer). So camping isn't really a change in that regard. (Erin)

Bring a baby monitor so you can monitor them while you are out reading or knitting. (Lia)

For downtime, we like to journal. Even before they could write actual words, we would purposefully scribble, color etc in our write in the rain books. Also, naps are so important--so don't push toddlers too far without one. You'll be sorry. (Jennifer)

I'm was always up for lying down beside them to "keep them company"  (Jen)


What's the most creative napping solution you've found in the outdoors?  How important are naps in your family?


Next in the series on Family Camping Made Easy:  Backcountry Adventures