If you're like us, this shoulder season is getting really OLD and you want spring to arrive with green grass, buds on the trees, and running water. Ok, so maybe the last part was just me as I watch my paddleboard collect dust in the garage. But seriously, I'm tried of ice and snow. And so with Spring on our minds, we went in search of a change of scenery in Banff last weekend, hoping to find dry ground for hiking and biking.
|Tunnel Mountain Summit, Banff|
What we found was a mixture of fresh snow, compact snow and ice, mud, and dry forest trails. Not perfect but certainly something we could work with! In two days we logged approximately 10km as a family and came home refreshed, recharged, and alive. We were outside, we were in the mountains, and it was glorious!
|Spring Trail Conditions in Banff at Lake Minnewanka|
Our goal for the overnight trip was to launch into spring with new experiences that would build self confidence and remind little legs what hiking and biking were all about after a long winter of riding in sleds. We succeeded with a first time hike to Stewart Canyon at Lake Minnewanka, preschool-friendly mountain biking on the Fenland Trail in the Banff townsite, and the beginning of our journey towards first summits this summer as we reached the top of Tunnel Mountain on Earth Day.
|A Little Bouldering on the Stewart Canyon Trail|
Stewart Canyon was our first stop Sunday morning and while the trail was blanketed in fresh snow, it didn't make the hike difficult in any way. We were warned of icy sections by descending hikers but they have obviously never hiked much in spring before because the trail was fine. Absolutely fine! Our 4 year old did the whole 2km hike to the bridge over Stewart Canyon by himself with the occasional hand holding period on a steep hill.
This was one of those rare first hikes where you ask yourself why you haven't done it before. I was seriously baffled as to why we had never discovered this trail before. It's Chariot friendly, balance bike friendly in many sections (you'd just have to carry it up one rocky hill and along a narrow-ish traverse over the lake that's less than 0.5 km), and would be awesome on snowshoes with a sled for younger children. It was such a delightful little trail. And, there was a clear destination! We were hiking to a bridge! I find it very important to give children a bit of motivation in terms of knowing where they are going, what they will see, and how they will know they've reached their goal. In total I believe the trail was between 3-4km return from the parking lot at Lake Minnewanka to the bridge over Stewart Canyon and back. We plan to return with the balance bike this summer and then bring snowshoes next winter.
|The road you'll hike or ride through the Lake Minnewanka Day Use Area|
|Maybe not so balance bike friendly through this section|
Most people would have called a 3-4km hike with a preschooler a success and packed up to head home. We certainly were glad that our son was still capable of walking that far after a winter of being carried and pulled far too much! But yet, we still wanted to go for a bike ride and hadn't brought the balance bike on the hike with us. We drove into the town of Banff and parked downtown at Central Park. From there, we enjoyed a very pleasant (and dry) walk along the Bow River Pathway trail and our son got to ride his bike. We headed towards the Fenland Trail to see how muddy it would be and to perhaps reconnaissance it for a future trip on the balance bike. In the end, we hiked/rode the entire 2km Fenland loop for a grand total of 4km of bike riding.
|Riding on the Bow River Pathway in Banff|
The Fenland loop was a mixture of dry dirt and path mixed with compact snow and ice, and a lot of mud in a couple of places. Noah only fell once though off his bike so I'd call that a success. I also got a photo of the mud-covered child so that was MY success. We had a lovely bike ride and I was able to check the first mountain biking trail off my summer list that I've created for this year. Fenland was actually at the top of the list because I know it to be a very easy trail and knew my son would have zero problems on the flat dirt path. There are a few roots but mountain biking doesn't get any easier than this! Even I could do it.
|Biking the Fenland Trail in Banff|
|Biking along 40 Mile Creek on the Fenland Trail|
|The trail eventually got quite snowy but nothing we couldn't work with|
|The bridge over 40 Mile Creek|
7-8km logged for Sunday and the boy should have been exhausted! We still had one final adventure planned for him though - a surprise adventure. We hadn't told him that we'd actually planned to stay overnight in Banff and had booked a hotel room for the night. A hotel with a swimming pool!
|Rundlestone Lodge Swimming Pool in Banff|
|Our sweet hotel room|
We never get to actually stay overnight in Banff when we go out for weekend adventures so this was a huge blessing and we are extremely grateful to the Rundlestone Lodge for putting us up in an awesome loft suite. We swam, we ate in the new Bumper's Steakhouse on site, we slept without having to drive home first, and then we woke up ready for more adventures! My husband had to rush off to work Monday morning but Noah and I stuck around because it was Earth Day and I had big plans for this little dude. We were going to climb a mountain!
Along with my first mountain bike trails list, I've also started on a first summits list and Tunnel Mountain was at the top of the list for first peaks to bag. At under 300m of height gain it's the perfect climb for a four year old. Noah's been up Tunnel twice before but had to be carried both times so this would be his first self propelled walk up the Banff landmark because Daddy wasn't here and this Mom wasn't carrying a 4 year old! I feared that 300m would be a lot of height for a child who's been riding in sleds all winter but Noah rocked it and totally made it to the summit with little whining or complaining. He started to show signs of tiredness by the time we reached the ridge but by then many adults are starting to get tired as well so I wasn't too upset about that!
|A little off-trail rambling on the way up Tunnel|
|Making his way up Tunnel Mountain|
|Viewpoint on the way up|
My friend Jackie tagged along with us and took on the roll of trip photographer for Noah and I which was awesome. We enjoyed a short snack on the summit and then ran back down with the promise of pizza and french fries dangling in front of Noah. And he must have really wanted those fries because he pretty much dragged me down the mountain running faster than I could keep up. Good to know I have a trail runner on my hands because I also love to run down mountains.
|Tunnel Mountain Summit|
|Very Happy Child!|
We got one last bike ride in as we walked/rode to Boston Pizza for lunch on the main street and then we headed back home with full bellies and happy hearts. Noah was passed out in the car within 20 minutes and slept all the way home. I successfully tired him out - and for that I am glad. This, after-all is how Earth Day should be spent, running down mountains and looking out over the mountain town you love from the best little summit small feet can climb.
|The Summit Shot with the Tunnel Mountain Cairn|
Spring is on our doorstep and we are ready to jump into the season with many more first mountain bike rides, hikes, and summits. What will you do this spring to give yourself an energy shot and fuel up for summer?
For more information on the Rundlestone Lodge, please visit their website and check out the family-friendly suites they offer with lofts and kitchenettes. The Lodge is conveniently located next door to a playground and offers a fabulous swimming pool and hot tub. The pool also has a large shallow end that we appreciated. Bumper's Steakhouse is on site with a children's menu and breakfast starting as early as 6am. Dinner is also served early from 5pm which should appeal to most families. While I haven't stayed in Banff many times, I know that we will be using Rundlestone Lodge on our future trips and making it our adventure base camp when we return in November for the Banff Santa Claus Parade.
|Our hotel suite with wood burning fireplace|