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


  1. We did ptarmigan cirque on July 2nd and most of the way was covered in snow, knee high and higher. Most of the people were turning back but we dicided to go on and found it very tiring (especially me as I am very heavy) and kids got exhausted so we anded up carrying them all the way down... Did you have any snow?

    Tanya, do you incidentally know a short (under 4 km) and fairly flat hike somewhere in Kananaskis? I damaged my knee and can't go uphill (and downhill is even worse) but still want to get out. I'd very grateful =)

    1. There was no snow when we did this hike. It's one of those hikes that you almost have to wait till late July for. Without snow, it was very easy. We did carry my son up until we reached the cirque and then back down on the steep upper portion. He knew the child carrier was in the car and so we couldn't get around it. He insisted he ride in it. (loves that thing even at 3 and seriously pushing the weight limit)

      Short hikes with little to no elevation gain in Kananaskis:
      Bow Valley Prov. Park - Many Springs Trail or Flowing Water Trail
      Elbow Valley - Riverview Trail/Paddy's Flats Interpretive Trail
      Bow Valley - Heart Creek
      Bow Valley - Grotto Canyon
      Highwood Pass area - Cat Creek
      Ribbon Creek - Troll Falls (a little elev. gain but not much)
      Banff - Fenland Loop

      Just check out my page on the best summer hikes with small kids for more info. They're all listed there. It's a tab at the top of the website.

  2. Oh, thanks Tanya, I've seen that page and more than once, but for some reason I thought they were more like the ptarmigan cirque, ah well, it's been a long day...