Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Winter Hiking in the Elbow Valley

Last weekend my husband was out of town skiing and I was left with a decision - stay home and mope that he'd abandoned us to go have fun on his own, or continue with Sacred Saturday per norm as a mother-son duo.  For those not familiar with our Saturday ritual, we try to get outside as a family every Saturday for fun  adventures from skiing or snowshoeing in winter to camping and hiking in summer.  We leave cooking, cleaning, shopping and chores to another day (often Sunday afternoons) and we practice a philosophy of doing "nothing that we have to do." 

Practicing Sacred Saturday in the Elbow Valley

 If we were going to head out to the mountains without Dad, I knew we needed to abandon the idea of skiing because there's no way I can pull my 40+ lb child in a sled behind me while I ski.  Kudos to all moms out there strong enough to do this.  I am not one of them.   I also knew we had to find something short, fun, and relatively easy for a preschooler's little feet.  (or bring a toboggan - which I am able to pull on flat sections at least)  The final thing I had to find was another family to come with us since I believe kids will always have more fun with a friend. 

Happy children hiking beside the Elbow River
Always bring a friend

Everything aligned and we found another family that we adore spending the day with.  Our children play well together and would motivate each other nicely on the trail.  We then chose a fun trail for them featuring a playground, bridges, and a river - three guaranteed highlights for any hiking trip with kids.  For trail, we chose the Paddy's Flat Interpretive trail in the Elbow Valley region of Kananaskis.  It takes under an hour from Calgary to drive to the Elbow Valley near the town of Bragg Creek, and the Paddy's Flat Campground is easily found between the Allen Bill Pond Day Use Area and the Elbow Falls Day Use Area on Hwy 66. 

Hiking beside the river on the Paddy's Flat Interpretive Trail below Loop A
Great friends make for a great day

In winter the campground is closed so reaching the interpretive trail requires a short hike through Loops A-C on paved campground roads.  I chose to pull my son on his sled along the roads realizing that this wouldn't be the most exciting part of the hike and that I wanted him to save his energy for the real trail.  Our friends pulled their daughters in a Chariot with ski attachment which worked well through the campground.  (Note that for the actual hiking trail, a sled is better and much easier to pull.) The playground is located in Loop C, across from the trailhead to the hiking trail. It took us about half an hour to reach the playground and it made for a nice lunch spot complete with picnic table. 

The Playground at the  Paddy's Flat Campground

The snow was well packed down so we had no problems walking around the campground or on the hiking trail by the river.  While I had brought snowshoes with me, I soon took them off upon realizing it was actually more work hiking in them.  The most useful addition to our winter boots would actually have been a pair of icers, yak tracks or micro spikes for the ice.  Should you choose to do this trail after it has snowed recently, you may still wish to bring snowshoes and appreciate them greatly.

Hiking along the packed campground roads

To reach the hiking trail from the playground, follow the signed trail down towards the river.  At the first slight junction,  it is best to head left towards Loop A if you have small children.  You will know you've gone right by mistake towards Loop E if you reach a sketchy hill leading down to the river and realize you can't make it without micro spikes and that there's no way you could pull a Chariot or sled down it.  The trail is eroding and the hill is not fun in any season.  If you go left at the first junction, you will reach the river on a gentle trail and cross at least three little bridges.  The trail then follows the river for as long as you want to play and explore.  Should you choose to tackle the short scary hill going back up to the campground at the far end below Loop E, you will be able to make a 2.2 km loop and return to the playground.  If you want to hike further, you can follow the Riverview hiking trail from Loop E and hike parallel the highway for an additional 4km.  It's an easy flat trail and recommended for older children that can do 8km return in addition to the short walk through the campground. 

Hiking on the upper part of the loop connecting campground loops A and E
One of the steep hills we chose to tackle on a direct path back to Loop A

We had a magical time exploring the trail along the river, crossing all the little bridges, and even making snow angels.  I would recommend this trail to anybody with children and we will definitely make this an annual winter hike. Hopefully this spring we'll camp at the Paddy's Flat Campground and get to enjoy some early season hiking in the area.  The Riverview hiking trail would be great for kids on balance bikes and I know my son would be able to do the full return trip.

Playing Hide and Seek in the trees

Snow Angel

Exploring along the river

Do you have a favourite winter hike for the kids in Kananaskis?  I'd love to hear about it. 
For information on other great hikes you can do with the kids this winter check out the recent post I did titled, How to Choose a Winter Hiking Trail.  It talks about a couple of other trails we really like, Troll Falls and Heart Creek.


  1. Love this! We're off all next week for reading week and just off 22x, so this would be a lovely day very close to home too. Do you think it'd be ok to bring our dog out there? (We're normally @ Glenmore park, weaselhead)

    1. Very dog friendly. And nobody would care if your dog was on or off leash. Love Weaselhead.

  2. Definitely like your "Sacred Saturday" idea and glad that you kept it going.

    1. Thanks Andy. I'd go mad if I stayed in the city all weekend so husband or no, off we go to play. :)

  3. Thanks so much for this post - my kids are 3 and 5 and I'd like us to start getting more adventurous and spend more time outside, especially in winter. This looks like a great start - hope to try it out this Sunday - the weather is looking beautiful.

    1. It is a perfect start! Bring a sled for the younger one in case he/she gets tired and have fun! Let me know how it goes. :)

  4. We'll definitely bring a sled and I'll let you know how we get on! Thanks for a very inspiring blog. We moved to Calgary a few years ago, but have had small children ever since, so it's great to have a summary of kid-friendly outings to start getting more acquainted with our not-so-new-anymore (!!) home province.

  5. Just back from our excursion and we had such a good time! There were a few tricky icy patches, and a few, ahem, words with the kids about walking and not just riding in the sled the whole way, but everything else was just perfect. What a fantastic, beautiful location and it was great for the kids to see the river upstream of where it flows into our local reservoir and know that it provides our drinking water at home. We only saw 1 pair of snowshoers on the trail. Our dog was in 7th heaven. Thanks so much for the recommendation.

    1. Glad you had a great time and that it wasn't busy out there. That's what I love about Kananaskis the most, peace and quiet. :)