Thursday, July 26, 2012

Peter Lougheed Provincial Park for Families

We'd always avoided camping in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park (PLPP) before in the middle of summer because of its popularity but I was on a mission to find out why the park was so popular with families and why it was so hard to get a reservation in the park. 

I wanted to know why people would have their calendars circled in red way back in April - Book Boulton Creek Campground TODAY!

Children playing on the beach of Lower Kananaskis Lake
We didn't have a reservation for our recent trip, but we did manage to grab the last spot in the park when we pulled in at 2pm Friday afternoon to the Lower Lake Campground. (which wasn't reservable when we stayed here.)  - note that as of 2018 this campground takes advanced reservations.

From our beautiful campground right on the Lower Kananaskis Lake, we were able to explore the park in its glory from bike trails to hiking trails and I definitely understand  more clearly now just why the park is such a popular weekend destination for families.

The view from the Peter Lougheed Visitor Centre

We'd already hiked most of the popular trails in PLPP but the short family trails were all new to us so we  tried to cover as many of them last weekend as we could.  Each one was less than 5 km in total distance so we found it easy to do at least one or two per day. 

We started Friday with the Rockwall Trail outside the Visitor Centre.  (this is where those without kids say, "there's a hiking trail beside the visitor centre?")   It's a 0.5km loop, paved, very flat, easy, and actually - not all that scenic.  However, the view from the Visitor Centre below is stunning so at least stop there and enjoy the view from the balcony to the meadow out back.  We didn't see any bears but apparently they like this spot so if you're lucky you might see one. 

Easy riding on the High Rockies Paved Bike Trail

On Saturday we headed off for a half day of adventuring on our bicycles, pulling our son in his Chariot behind us.  If you visit PLPP in winter, you'd never know it but 12km of the ski trails are actually paved for summer biking along the High Rockies Trail.  

You can bike all the way from the Mount Sarrail Walk-In Campground at the South tip of the Lower Lake all the way to the Visitor Centre passing the Lower Lake, Boulton Creek, and Elkwood Campgrounds en route.  The trails are quite hilly so young children may struggle at times.

The beach on Lower Kananaskis Lake below William Watson Lodge

We rode our bikes down to the William Watson Lodge, an incredible facility for those with disabilities.  This is a great place to access the Lower Lake beach and the 3.5km Lower Lake Hiking Trail.  We had great intentions of doing this hike until we saw how cool the beach was and ended up playing there for an hour instead.  The photos say it best.

Endless hiking along the Lower Lakeshore
Does hiking get any better than this?
We got back on our bikes after throwing countless numbers of rocks in the lake and rode back to the Elkwood Campground to hike the Marl Lake Interpretive Trail

I have to confess that I love interpretive trails and it's not for the scenery but for those simple little numbered signs that you can use as motivation.  "Ok, you found number one, let's run and find number two now."  It's a great way to encourage tired feet on further.  As an added bonus, the Marl Lake trail was really pretty.  I was pleasantly surprised. 

I wasn't really expecting much but I'm glad we did it and we'll do it again for sure.  It's a 1.5 km loop and fully Chariot friendly should you have small children.

Marl Lake
We headed back to our campground for a brief rest before heading out on our final adventure of the day - The Boulton Creek Interpretive Trail.  

We could have ridden our bikes to the Boulton Bridge Day Use Area but we were tired and drove.  The hike was roughly 5 km in distance and would be great as a Chariot hike. It isn't paved, has some steep hills, and is more rugged than the other hikes but it's wide and smooth enough for a Chariot. 

Otherwise, if I were camping at Boulton Creek and wanted to stretch my legs, I'd do this hike again.

The Boulton Creek Hiking Trail

We still managed to make it out for a short canoe ride in the evening on the Lower Lake, hit the camp playground (most of the campgrounds here have great playgrounds), and explore the campground's paved roads with my son on his balance bike. 

Paved roads in a campground are a huge bonus for young children learning to ride bikes and I really appreciate that about Peter Lougheed's Campgrounds.  We were also able to take my son out for a short ride on the paved Lakeside Trail on Sunday which ran right through our campground.  Any campground that allows for family bike riding is going to be popular - guaranteed!

We didn't quite find time to visit the amphitheaters but the park boasts fabulous shows nightly at 8pm that give entertaining performances about the park's wildlife, flowers, and habitat.  I've heard that the evening shows in PLPP are some of the best in Kananaskis. 

 Further Reading:

Camping in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

The Best Place to Bike and Camp in Kananaskis - Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

The Best Family Campground in Kananaskis

Biking in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

Camping in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in Kananaskis has always been a premier year-round destination for us.   It has some of the best cross-country ski trails near Calgary and there are few trails in the park we haven't explored in summer.  We've backpacked across the park, climbed its mountains, paddled Upper Kananaskis Lake, and explored the most remote corners that few visitors to the park ever see.

Lower Kananaskis Lake

We went out this past weekend with the goal of finding out why this park is so incredibly popular with families.  We wanted to know why you had to book 90 days to the day, first thing in the morning, and be religious about it in order to get a reservation for the Boulton Creek or Elkwood Campground.  We explored the bike trails,  conquered the interpretive trails, sought out playgrounds, threw rocks in the Lower Lake and even went for a short canoe ride.

Hiking around Marl Lake

Trying to find a campsite!

We were a little naive heading out Friday with no reservation, assuming we'd easily find a campsite.  We knew we'd never get into Boulton Creek or Elkwood but we thought we'd have no problems getting one of the 100+ sites at Lower Lake.  Along with the smaller Interlakes Campground, there are 150 campsites that don't take reservations in PLPP and we aimed to grab one. (note, as of 2018 Lower Lake now takes reservations as well.)

The first sign that maybe we were in trouble was upon entering the park when we saw a sign saying all campgrounds were full.  The optimistic person I am, I thought maybe they hadn't updated the sign yet since it was early in the afternoon and campsites had to be vacated by 2pm.  We drove to the Visitor Centre and they confirmed our fears that yes, we'd most likely find no free campsites in the park.  We began the unpleasant task of driving towards the Lower Lake to find out first hand if this was true.  We chose loop B with trailers behind us choosing A and C - let the games begin!  Who would find a spot?  Would anybody?

Driving around the loop we were frustrated by the amount of sites clearly claimed earlier in the week - a lawn chair here, a tent hastily thrown up there.  The Drop and Go Game has become quite a problem in local campgrounds here with locals driving out earlier in the week, paying for a site, and going back home until the weekend. 

It makes it almost impossible for those rule-abiding campers like us to actually find a site.  Park rules prohibit such behavior but campground attendants have to catch you in the act to really do much and can't touch your private property once you've paid for a site.  Fail to show up by the time your renewal payment is due though and expect to find your tent shoved into the trees by the site's new occupants - and this is actually encouraged by Park Staff. 

Surprisingly, we did find a free site near the end of our loop and I'm pretty sure it was the only vacant site in the whole park after talking to other campers who had been trying as early as Wednesday to find a site.  Apparently, spending a night in overflow is common practice as you wait for a site to clear the next morning.  Thank God we didn't have to go that route.

Our campsite at Lower Lake

I find it sad that it's so hard to be spontaneous about camping.  The days of making a last minute decision to go camping, packing up Friday after work and driving out to a nearby campground are gone.  We're generally pretty good about making reservations but you get tired of planning out every weekend of summer back in April.  We left a few holes in our calendar on purpose so that we could play things by ear.  I hate to think that next summer we might actually have to book a campsite in advance for every weekend - just in case we want to go out.

If you are available to go camping mid-week or are ok with shoulder season camping (Spring/Fall), you'll have fewer problems getting a site.  Also, If you are willing to seek out more remote campgrounds or places off the beaten path, you'll find something for sure.  Guaranteed though, if you want to camp where all the other families are camping (usually for good reason,) start with a reservation and plan ahead!

Happy Camping Moments

I'd also love to hear from you if you know of a great local campground within a two hour drive of Calgary that's actually easy to get into without a reservation.

Continue on to part two of this story:  Peter Lougheed Provincial Park for Families
In the next post I'll cover the interpretive trails, biking trails and best ways to explore the park as a family.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"Hike" is not a four letter word

I've heard that you should never use the word "hike" when you go out for an adventure with your children.  I've seen it suggested that you use words like "expedition," or "journey" - even "a big wild adventure," but never "hike."

Personally, I don't quite get that idea.  My three year old loves hiking and gets so excited when I say we are going for a hike that he drives me crazy jumping up and down and running in circles.  It's come to the point where I don't actually tell him what we are doing until I'm packing the last bag and about ready to load the car.  I wrote another story on How To Survive a Toddler Hike last month but thought I'd revisit the idea of enjoyable family hiking with some simple games and fun activities you can try on the trail. 

Hiking is fun!

One - Trail Snacking

Not sure this can be called a game but I try to feed my son constantly while hiking.  Every time he starts to whine, complain, or even whimper, I pull out another mini-muffin, another granola bar, a bag of crackers or even corn pops.  Yes, that's right, I said corn pops.  I don't buy into the idea that hiking food has to be healthy.  If the food is fun, the hike will be fun.  And you can quote me on that!  You can determine for your own family what would be considered "fun."  If your child thinks carrot sticks are fun I'm super jealous.  When I go on a big climbing trip I've been known to bring pop tarts, candy, chocolate and pringles in my pack and if you are doing a 3-5km hike with preschoolers, it's the equivalent of a big climbing trip for them.  Their feet are small and they need some motivation on those hills you might not exactly consider a mountain. 

Now, please don't get me wrong and think I allow my son to eat junk food on a daily basis.  I'm talking about treats here and I hope most people can see the difference.  As well, I would never suggest that if your child's feet are sore that you just stuff another cookie in his or her mouth and push them onward.  I'm assuming most families will be able to discern the difference between gentle persuasion to hike a little further Vs. cruelty when a child has clearly reached his or her limit. 

Not such a bad snack option

Two - Trail Football

We created this game today and it saved our butts on the way back out as we had to climb back up the hills we'd run down at the beginning.  My son wanted to bring his little football along that Grandma had bought him yesterday.  I couldn't see any reason not to allow this so along came the ball.  It was just a small toy and super soft so I wasn't worried that anybody would get hit in the head with it and start crying.  Every time we got to a big hill, my son would throw it up ahead of him and then run to catch it.  On the downhill sections, he'd throw it and watch it go tumbling down the hill.  He'd again run after it squealing with delight.  If you have older children you could play catch on the trail, passing the ball back and forth amongst your family members.

Catch me if you can

Three - Trail Singing

We've entertained the troops with endless verses of "The ants go marching" and "Old McDonald's farm" on more than one long hike.  Pick silly songs and let the kids think up verses to distract them from tedious moments on the hike (usually the return to the car).  "Down by the bay" is another good song where older children will have to use their creativity to think of another animal doing something silly - down by the bay. The Ultimate Camp Resource website has an amazing list of camp songs complete with lyrics if it's been a while since you've sung "Alice the Camel" or "Going on a Bear Hunt." 

Butterflies flying down the trail

Four - Trail Car Races

I got this idea from Helen Olsson in her new book "The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids."  Helen suggests bringing toy trucks and cars for each small child on the hike so that they can race their vehicles down the hills.  I thought this was a very creative idea and if you're like me, you probably have sand toys and miniature trucks, diggers, cars, etc. living in your car ready to pull out at a moment's notice.  If your child is carrying their own little backpack, they can even carry their own toy cars and trucks.  Brilliant!  Thanks Helen for that one.  If you haven't checked out her book yet, I can't recommend it enough.  She has a whole chapter on Outdoor Recreation with a section titled "Top Ten Ways to Keep Kids Trucking Down the Trail."  It's worth buying the book just to read that section.  I know it gave me some new ideas.  Helen blogs at Mad Dog Mom so check out her fabulous information for families there. 

Sand toys should come everywhere

Five - Trail Running

Now, I'm not talking about long distance running in spandex shorts here.  I'm just talking about trail games that will get your children running, playing, and interacting with their friends that hopefully you've brought along.  I've said before that if you bring a friend for your child, you've basically given him or her a superman cape.  Games like Hide and Seek, Tag and Follow the Leader are perfect diversions for the hiking trail.  I've watched older kids playing Hide and Seek  before and seen how much fun they were having when they'd run ahead, hide behind a tree, and then jump out at Mom and Dad coming up behind. 

One word of caution about these games is that you need to be pretty sure your children will be safe if they're running ahead or hiding in the bush.  It's always a good idea to enforce a buddy system where children have to hike with a partner at all times and if there is any threat of bears or cougars in the area, you'll want to hike in a tight group.  Follow the Leader and Tag will still work as long as the adults take turns running right behind and don't let the kids out of sight.  Hide and Seek though should be done at your discretion and might be a good game for urban hikes where you are fairly confident your child won't run into a wild animal on the trail.

Follow the Leader

Happy Hiking and please let me know what games you play with your children on the trails.  

Friday, July 13, 2012

Canadian Rockies Family Super Guide

I get a lot of e-mail requests from tourists, new Calgarians, and even local families looking for trail suggestions, hiking ideas for their family, Chariot-friendly trails, backpacking ideas, and general travel information for the Canadian Rockies.  I don't mind answering the e-mails I get and I love connecting with my readers but I thought, wouldn't it be cool if there was somewhere on my website where all of that information could be found in one easy spot?

Now there is.  I've created three separate pages on my blog that should help you make the most out of your summer in Calgary, Kananaskis and the surrounding National Parks. The pages are located at the top of my website and appear as tabs.  You can go to them anytime you want for quick information.  You can also click on the titles below that are linked to the pages.

The Best Day Trips and Picnic Sites

On this page you will find my top 20 favourite places to have a picnic in Kananaskis as well as information on Kananaskis Village, which in my opinion is the one of the best places to visit on a day trip from Calgary.  The Village has it all including a playground and ice cream for the kids, coffee for Mom and Dad (and Grandma), a central pond with toddler climbing wall, paved stroller-friendly walking trails, paved bike trails and multi-use natural trails for mountain biking, hiking or cross country skiing in winter.  In winter there's also a skating rink and toboggan hill. 

You'll also find my top three recommended spots to take a dip or at least pull out the sand toys.  Quarry Lake, Cascade Ponds, and Johnston Lake are all great destinations on hot days for a picnic and some beach time.  You'll find kids floating around in inflatable boats, toddlers with their sand toys playing beside the water, and locals sunbathing in bikinis.  (Something for everybody)

Cascade Ponds, Banff

The Best Toddler and Preschooler Hikes

It should be no surprise to those who follow our family adventures that we are passionate about baby, toddler and preschool adventures.  That's just where we are in life right now.  Most of the inquiries I get are also from families wanting information on hikes appropriate for small feet.  This new page on my blog will give you all the information you need to get the 5 and under crowd active, engaged, and exploring this summer.  Parents of school-aged kids will still find useful information on this page too.  Many of the hikes I've recommended for small children will be challenging and several of them will require parental assistance if you want to complete the full hike.  Older children will obviously find these trips enjoyable and much easier.  Many of the hikes are classics that every child, young or old, must have on their bucket list.  In fact, adults will want several of them on their list too even if they don't have kids.

You'll also find information on Chariot-Hiking and Backpacking, sports where I've often felt like I've been a pioneer here.  I've taken our Chariot places where I'm positive few other Chariots have ever been and it has been pushed to its limits.  When I started taking our Chariot out to the mountains, I had no book or reference guide.  I just forged my way on trails I figured would work.  Sometimes they did and other times they did not.  Rest assured, I've only mentioned hikes that have worked and that were fun.

Cat Creek Falls, Kananaskis

Calgary Urban Hikes

This third page lists many of our favourite hikes that you can do with your family without even leaving the city limits.  Many of them are so pristine, natural, and quiet that you would never know you were still in the city.  I'm still adding to the page so if I've missed your favourite urban hike, please let me know and I'll make sure to include it.

I included photos of each hike and tried to capture as many different seasons as I could for each one because it is quite feasible to hike year round in Calgary.  The hikes look so different in each season as well that you'll want to repeat them often. 

Twelve Mile Coulee Hike, Tuscany, NW Calgary


Not stand-alone pages, these posts I've written on camping are full of practical information for that first or twentieth camping trip with your family.  I'm especially proud of the story on backcountry adventures because it provides you with all the information necessary to get off the beaten path with your family in the Canadian Rockies.  I've given you ways to camp using a Chariot, bike, canoe or horse.  I've given suggestions for backcountry cabins, hostels, and my favourite campgrounds.  Every one of the backcountry campgrounds listed is one I plan to visit with my own son. 

Family Camping Made Easy - Warm Sleepers and Happy Sleepers 


Family Camping Made Easy - Baby Adventures 


Family Camping Made Easy - Preschool Adventures


Family Camping Made Easy - Bathing in the Woods


Family Camping Made Easy - Siestas for the Junior Camper


Family Camping Made Easy - Backcountry Adventures


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Family Fun in Waterton Lakes National Park

We had the opportunity to visit Waterton Lakes National Park this summer when friends invited us to camp with them over the July long weekend.  It was our first visit to this amazing place as a family and I wasn't entirely sure what we would find to do that was child-friendly.  In the past we always visited Waterton to scramble the local mountains and hike spectacular trails that are way beyond the ability of most children.  

Was I ever blown away when I started doing some research by how family-friendly Waterton Lakes National Park really is!  Below is the run down for those planning on visiting this summer or in the future.  If it isn't on your agenda, a visit to Waterton with your children should go on the bucket list for sure.

Basic Facts

Waterton Lakes National Park is located 271km South West of Calgary and 80km North of St. Mary, Montana.  That means it is accessible for Canadians and Americans alike.  Waterton was Canada's fourth National Park and is the smallest in the Canadian Rockies at only 505 square kilometres.  Waterton is also part of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, created as a symbol of peace and good will between Canada and the United States. 

Upper Waterton Lake looking South to Glacier National Park, Montana

Thursday, July 05, 2012

When sickness enters the camp

Last weekend we headed to the mountains for another camping trip, third week in a row and on a roll!  The packing was easy, we almost had it down to an art, and we were all in good spirits.  That is, until the Friday night puke fest began.

Our sick camper

Our three year old decided to bathe our tent in vomit three times Friday night.  Blankets, pillows, pajamas - covered!  We got through the night as best we could by putting on new pjs (thank God we brought a couple pairs), tossing out anything that was truly beyond cleaning with wet wipes, and creating new pillows out of jackets and sweaters.  We brought a dish basin and garbage bags into the tent for the night and got used to jumping at the first cough.  Needless to say nobody got a lot of sleep. 

Saturday morning saw one more episode with vomit and two bouts of diarrhea (fortunately all outside the tent).  It was at this point that I seriously started to wonder if we'd have enough spare clothes for a long weekend.  In one morning, we'd already gone through two pairs of pants and were on to the third, and last, pair.  I tend to over-pack on clothing for my child but this was stretching it a bit.

It's at this point, where most families would pack up and go home.  Am I wrong?  We hesitated though because we hadn't visited Waterton National Park since before Noah was born.  We were excited about this trip and really wanted to stay.  Our son was also in remarkably good spirits.  We have seriously never seen him so well behaved, happy, and content when camping.  He wanted to hang out in the hammock for hours on end and even fared well on a small hike we did.  We also had no more issues from about 10:00am on.  It seemed like it had passed.

Does this look like a sick kid?

We had a fabulous day hiking, riding our bikes, touring the town of Waterton, and playing at the campsite.  You never would have known that Noah was sick.  We took precautions of course - My husband was not about to carry him in a child carrier where he could potentially end up with vomit in his hair.  We kept it simple with Chariot-friendly activities such as biking and walking, and packed spare clothes everywhere we went.

Riding around town

Saturday night however - more vomit.  And again, in the tent.  We were shocked.  We honestly thought it had passed.  We tossed out yet another blanket (we bring lots!) and had to bundle Noah in a fleece bunting suit since he had no more pajamas.  Thank goodness I had thought to pack that suit. We also pulled out the emergency blanket we carry in the truck.  Yay for being prepared!  I always pack an entire duffel bag full of warm coats, rain gear, winter clothing, hats, etc. - just in case.

The rest of the night passed uneventfully and Sunday was blissful.  We did more touring, went for another family hike, and again thanked our lucky stars that Noah showed no signs of being sick.  He wasn't hungry but that just made the camping even easier.  He was content to spend dinner time lounging in the hammock with some crackers.

Exploring Red Rock Canyon - and again, he looks pretty cheerful.

Sunday night we thought we might get a reprieve. At least we sure hoped we would as we were seriously running low on extra blankets and warm clothing.  It wasn't the case though as we arrived for bed to find the tent pee-soaked from a pull-up that had overflowed.  Puke, poo, and now pee!  We'd need serious garbage bags to get everything back to the city in!  Noah spent the night in fleece pants and his winter jacket, my husband had to put clothing down on top of his wet thermarest mattress, and we had to borrow pink princess pull-ups from our friends since we were now out, having anticipated one pull-up per night. 

Packing up the tent Monday morning I noticed all the vomit stains on everything and the wet patches that hadn't dried yet.  I can't believe we managed to sleep in this tent for three nights.  We get an award for that, right?

We brought garbage bags and pillow cases home filled with clothes and blankets I really just wanted to burn.  By Wednesday, everything was clean, dry, and restored to its pre-camping smell - ready for the next trip! 

A few things we learned from this trip:
  • Always bring more pull-ups, diapers, or pairs of underwear for the kids than you think you'll need. 
  • Always bring a pair of pajamas per night of your trip for the kids.
  • Bring a spare sleeping bag and at least a couple spare blankets with you on trips longer than a night.
  • Pack lots of spare clothing for the kids in the event they get sick or just decide to play in the mud.
  • Bring garbage bags to transport dirty laundry home.  
  • I don't like doing laundry at camp but it wouldn't hurt to bring some soap along, a rope to hang wet clothes, and a dozen clothes pins.
  • If you have a spare thermarest or even just foam mattress, bring it.
  • Spare pillow cases would have been nice this trip.
Kids get sick without warning, they have accidents in their sleep - even after they've been potty trained, they play in the mud and get dirty, they fall down, they get wet.  We will be over-packing for years to come.  This time, it saved the weekend.  

Why we toughed it out.

Have you gone camping and had a child get sick?  How did you deal with it?