Tuesday, July 30, 2013

We Went for the Snowshoeing and Returned for the Mountain Biking

Last winter I spent the most amazing couple of days snowshoeing in Kananaskis, Alberta  while based out of the remote Mount Engadine Lodge.    It was an incredible weekend with soft fluffy powder deep enough to lose myself in coupled with the backcountry decadence I experienced at the lodge.   I immediately added the trip to my list of “things I MUST do again before I die” list and hoped I’d visit Mount Engadine Lodge again sooner than later.  Little did I know that the opportunity would present itself not even 4 months later and that I’d be back to try a completely different sport this time.  I went for the snowshoeing but returned for the mountain biking – and this time I brought the whole family with me!

Biking at Mt. Shark near Mount Engadine Lodge

Friday, July 26, 2013

Bike Pirate Book Review - A Guide to Mountain Bike Trails in Kananaskis Country

Our family has been trying to get more active with mountain biking this summer and if you're going to get into a new sport, you've gotta start with a good guide book!  I chose to get a copy of the new Bike Pirate book on Mountain Bike Trails in Kananaskis Country.  I figured with Kananaskis being closest to us in the mountains, we'd do most of our riding here.  Little did I know that a huge flood would come along and take out most of the park before we could really get our bikes out onto the trails!

Fortunately, May was especially good to us and we got to do lots of biking in Kananaskis before the flooding started in late June.   We did some easy trails in the Elbow Valley, spent a day in Bow Valley Provincial Park, biked to Troll Falls at Kananaskis Village, and explored the trails at Mt. Shark.  We even spent a day at the Canmore Nordic Centre which was a summer first for us.  Overall, we got a good taste of what's out there for families and became familiar with some of the easier trails around Kananaskis.  I know that the Bike Pirate guide book will continue to inspire us for years to come as we become more confident on the trails.   Also, trails are starting to open up again post-flood so there's hope that we will do more riding this summer and fall when we're not off travelling and camping. 

While the guide book is definitely aimed at the more experienced mountain biker, I've still been able to pull family-friendly suggestions from the book.  Some trails would be great if you only did a short section, rode out and back on an easier stretch, or if you did them as hike/bike combos with preschoolers on balance bikes.  One example is the Riverview Trail in the Elbow Valley.  It is rated as intermediate in the book but I know my child could do it on his run bike with few problems.  Noah already did the first section along the Paddy's Flat Interpretive Trail and it was a lot of fun!

Biking on the first section of the Riverview Trail, Elbow Valley

The best family-friendly idea I've taken from the book so far was the Watridge Lake trail at Mt. Shark.  While the book doesn't rank the Mt. Shark trails well (1 out of 5),  It had never occurred to me that we could go mountain biking as a family at Mt. Shark until I read this guide book for Kananaskis.  I understand that there would be little at Mt. Shark for the experienced rider looking for more exciting action, but for our family, the wide logging roads were perfect!!

Family Biking at Mt. Shark, Kananaskis

We also biked the Troll Falls trail mentioned in the book with our son on his balance bike and us running alongside.  Next year we'll ALL do it on pedal bikes!  No running or hiking.  It was a great family ride that combined wide ski trails, grassy roads, and a short narrow hiking trail to some beautiful falls. 

Biking and Hiking on the Ribbon Creek Trails to Troll Falls, Kananaskis

Thanks to the inspiration I've found through this new book, I've now started forming my ride wish list for next year and am excited to think of all the trails we will be able to do with Noah's new pedal bike that he got this summer. He was already tackling intermediate mountain biking trails in Jasper last week so I know he will rock many of the trails below next year!

So far, on next year's list:
  • The Bill Milne Bike Path at Kananaskis Village (paved)
  • Kananskis Village Mountain Bike Trails
  • Ribbon Creek (if the trail is restored after the flood)
  • Troll Falls ( with the pedal bike instead of the balance bike)
  • The Riverview Trail (rated as intermediate but I remember it as an easy trail last time I hiked it)
  • The Sulphur Springs loop (rated as advanced but, I'm determined to try it, even if I have to push my bike 70% of the time because it's one of my favourite hiking trails in the Elbow Valley)
  • The Ole Buck Loop
  • Powderface Creek and Prairie Creek (probably as out and back trips to make the trip shorter)

If you aren't familiar with these trails, then I encourage you to pick up a copy of the Kananaskis Bike Pirate book - and add them to your family riding list too!

Biking in Bow Valley Provincial Park this past April

More information about Bike Pirate

Peter Oprsal created the Bike Pirate website as a resource tool for people passionate about the sport of mountain biking while he was living in Canmore, Alberta.  He has since moved to Whistler, BC and is working at expanding the website's directory of trails.  Currently, one can find up to date information for trails across Alberta and British Columbia, as well as for popular trails south of the border in the United States. The website was a great find when I first discovered it because I didn't really know where to begin when I started taking Noah out to the mountains to go riding.  All I knew was that because of his balance bike, he was able to tackle trails that would be far more advanced than anything I could do.  The Bike Pirate website helped give me ideas to launch our adventures.

My Bike Pirate (our motto:  Yes, I can!  Cause I'm a Pirate!  A Mighty Strong Pirate!)


Final Thoughts on the Guide Book

While I think the guide book is perhaps a tad over my head in terms of the kinds of trails I aspire to ride, I still place great value in the inspiration that it offers.  My son is absolutely over the moon for biking and I suspect my husband will be tackling many of the trails in the book with Noah within the next few years. 

I would have loved to see a few more family-friendly trails in the book and was surprised to see both the Canmore Nordic Centre as well as Peter Lougheed Provincial Park (PLPP) missing from the book.  If I have one piece of constructive criticism, that would be it.  PLPP has many fabulous bike trails and I was looking forward to checking them off in the book after we had started some of them this year while camping out that way.  Also, as I discovered in June this year, the Canmore Nordic Centre is an amazing place for  biking and we plan to make annual visits to the park as a family.

Biking at the Canmore Nordic Centre

Overall, I admire Peter's vision with Bike Pirate and I'm grateful for having discovered both his website and guide books.  The website is especially useful right now as we search for accurate trail reports in Kananaskis since the June flooding.  Trail conditions are changing by the week and it's hard to keep up without a reliable source such as the Bike Pirate site. 

Biking in the Elbow Valley, Kananaskis

Disclaimer:  This book was given to me for review.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Favourite Summer Bike Trails and a Visit to the Fernie Skills Park

I have at least 10 stories waiting to be written - all related to biking, so I've combined all of the trail related posts into one story here, summarizing where we've been in our summer biking adventures.  If you've been following my Kids on Wheels series, you'll know that we are pretty serious about getting our whole family on wheels (myself included), that we've upgraded Noah's bike, enrolled him in bike classes, and want family biking to be front and center in our lives. 

Favourite Summer Trails With a Balance Bike

One -  Watridge Lake and Karst Spring, Mt. Shark Kananaskis

This is a 9km bike hike combo trip that we did while staying at Mount Engadine Lodge in June.  While the trail was closed for a while after the June flood, everything is open again, and you can access Mt. Shark trailhead from Canmore or Hwy 40 again.  We loved this easy mountain bike ride on an old logging road that was very family friendly.  We walked the steep hills and gave Noah the occasional push here and there.  We were extremely proud that Noah did the entire trip by himself to Watridge Lake and  back on his Strider balance bike.  I wasn't sure if he would be able to ride the whole 7.5km round trip without serious problems in motivation and energy but he did awesome and rocked it!  He even had the energy to run up to Karst Spring from the lake so that we could see the water gushing out of a hole in the ground and tumbling down in a thundering waterfall.  It was very cool to see and highly recommended with kids. We left the bikes at the lake for the short hike to the spring and back as it was very steep and NOT bike friendly on any kind of bike.

We definitely plan to repeat this trip next summer and Noah will be on his pedal bike for it.  Hopefully I'll have a new mountain bike by then too.  ;) 

Riding to Watridge Lake

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Camping in British Columbia: Kikomun Creek Provincial Park

We love the Alberta Rockies and tend to spend most of our time camping in the Alberta Parks but at least a few times each summer we like to hop across the border into British Columbia and explore new places.  We always find the best beaches when we head west, and this time we found something even more precious - TURTLES.  We camped at Surveyor's Lake in the Kootenay Rockies which is well known for it's high population of Western Painted Turtles, an animal on the list of "wildlife at risk" in British Columbia.  

The Western Painted  Turtle at Kikomun Creek Provincial Park

We hiked around Hidden Lake from our campground at Surveyor's Lake and saw dozens upon dozens of the painted turtles sunning themselves on logs around the shoreline.  The kids got very excited and it was a highlight of the trip for sure!  In fact, it was the major reason I had wanted to camp in this provincial park.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Pedalheads Bike Camps - The Inside Scoop

My son just finished a week of intensive bike camp through Pedalheads in Calgary.  We did our camp out of the Wildwood location which was the closest location to our house with space for early July.  For more background information on the Pedalheads bike camps, visit the story that I wrote last month:  Pedalheads Bike Camps - From Training Wheels to Trails.  

Noah learning to start on his bike - something he had rocked by the end of the week!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Camping in Red Lodge Provincial Park

While our family tries to get out and visit new campgrounds each year, it gets increasingly difficult when we keep finding favourite spots that we absolutely HAVE to revisit the next year.  We end up having to go camping every weekend in order to visit the beloved campgrounds from last summer and still find time to try out new ones.  It is therefore always a special treat when one of my friends visits a new campground for me, sends me photos, and a full review/write up.  I can then add the campground to my list for next year and know I'm in good hands, that it's been previewed for me, and kid approved.  

One of my friends and a member of the Calgary blogging community, Leslie Brooks, would like to share her family's adventures at Red Lodge Provincial Campground with you so please continue to her review below and leave a comment for Leslie to let her know if you plan to add it to your list of campgrounds to visit this or next summer.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Camping in Waterton Lakes National Park

We spent Canada Day weekend in Waterton Lakes National Park for the second year in a row, camping at the Waterton Springs Campground.  Waterton is one of those places where you really need to go for a week in order to see and do everything, but we tried to squeeze as much hiking and paddling into our short weekend as possible.  Unfortunately we didn't have time to go biking this year but we did hike our favourite three hiking trails and got out every day with our new kayak and SUP.

Summit of the Bear's Hump, Waterton Lakes National Park

Monday, July 08, 2013

The Best Camping Hammock - and a Giveaway!!!

We always bring lots of toys and sports equipment with us when we go camping from soccer balls to hockey sticks,  butterfly nets and  bikes.   Add a giant bucket of sand toys and vats of bubble mix, and our kids are generally well entertained.  Last summer we also added a hammock to the growing collection of items we would try to fit into our truck.  Little did we know, it would turn out to be the best camping investment ever and that the gaggle of kids we always camped with would spend hours in it each weekend!  Far more popular than the playground, outliving every other toy, and still there at the end of the day when the kids had tired from riding their bikes, the hammock was always  filled with at least 2-6 children.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Just Another Day in Paradise at Mount Engadine Lodge

This past winter we were blessed to be able to spend a night at Mount Engadine Lodge as part of my "research" for a story on snowshoeing in Kananaskis.  I discovered a few things that weekend.  One - Research is a lot more fun these days than it was in university!  Two - We HAD to return to Mount Engadine Lodge and while I wasn't sure how we would pull it off, I knew I had to try!  And Three - We had to bring our son with us the next time.  It just wasn't fair to leave him at home while we were living it up in paradise without him.

Just Another Day in Paradise at Mount Engadine Lodge

You've probably heard the saying, "we came for the skiing but returned for the hiking" before and this rings very true with Mount Engadine Lodge.  In our case, we went for the snowshoeing, but returned on Father's Day weekend for the biking.  We enjoyed two glorious days of family mountain biking in Canmore and Kananskis joined by a night of decadent luxury at the lodge.  It was truly one of the best weekends ever and I can't imagine how I'm going to top this experience for next Father's Day!  Just sayin - honey you may be disappointed next year.  ;(

Playing in the meadow outside the lodge

Mount Engadine Lodge is a front country lodge tucked away in the Smith-Dorrien Valley outside Canmore, Alberta.  The lodge backs onto a magnificent meadow with snowy mountain peaks, moose, and bears waiting to greet you outside the large picture windows of the main dining area.  There are few places so gloriously remote, wild, and awesome! While you can drive right up to the front door of the lodge, you will definitely feel as if you have been transported into the backcountry of Kananaskis or Banff during your stay with no cell coverage, wi-fi or other unnecessary distractions.

Mountain Bliss at Mount Engadine Lodge

We were pretty blown away when we walked into our private family cabin with two separate bedrooms, a bathroom with hot water and shower (something you wouldn't likely see in the backcountry) , and our very own deck looking out over the meadow.  We spent a lot of time in the afternoon soaking up the sun from our deck and I know without a doubt now, that our son is being magnificently spoiled.

The view from our deck
Playing with Daddy on our private deck
A view of our private cabin overlooking the meadow

We had a LOT of fun exploring the meadow as well.  We looked for frogs in the creek, discovered a secret beach, and had fun squishing through the soft grass. Afternoon tea was served from 3 to 5pm and we made sure to eat as much coffee cake as our bellies would hold.  We took turns on the rustic swing outside the lodge and had a thoroughly pleasant afternoon.

Frog!  How Cute is he?!
Exploring in the meadow
Our secret beach
Best swing ever!
Dinner was served in true backcountry lodge style with all of the guests sharing a table together.  We feasted on salmon wrapped in puff pastry - that even my four year old ate with enthusiasm, and had a great time bonding with the other guests who felt like family members by the time we left the next morning.  Evening at the lodge was a casual time of swapping stories and sharing drinks in the fireplace room with  the other guests and staff members.  With our son tucked safely in bed next door it was a time for us to relax and we loved that the staff chose to spend their evening down time with us rather than retreating to their own quarters.

Mount Engadine Lodge
 Breakfast was another decadent meal that fueled our day's mountain biking adventures and sent us on our way with glad bellies and hearts.  One night is never enough time at Mount Engadine Lodge but we were grateful to have even that amount of time in paradise and left with huge smiles our faces and promises to return again some day.

Finally saw a moose in the meadow right before leaving
Families wanting to make a day trip out of visiting Mount Engadine Lodge  before committing to an overnight stay can drop in anytime for afternoon tea from 3-5pm.  The cost is $13.60 per person which is reasonable given the amount of food served up and the atmosphere in which you get to enjoy your feast.  While there is no official discount for children, special consideration may be given to those that are particularly young. Reservations don't need to be made in advance but it is a good idea to call ahead if possible, and groups of 6+ people do need to give the lodge a head's up that they are going to be stopping in.

The Smith-Dorrien Valley outside the lodge

Dinner Reservations can also be made if you are camping in the area or spending the night in Canmore.  Reservations must be made 24 hours in advance and a price of $45 per person (plus tax and gratuities) is charged for the gourmet buffet style dinner including dessert.  Wildlife sightings over dinner are extremely common with the meadow referred to as the Serengeti of the Canadian Rockies by many guests.  Dinners at Mount Engadine are always a highlight of any stay at the lodge and visiting for at least a meal is something I highly recommend if you're looking for a romantic dinner to celebrate an anniversary or birthday.  For reservations, please call the lodge directly at 1-403-678-4080. 

Mount Engadine Lodge is also host to the Music in the Meadow concert series over the summer season where overnight and dinner guests get to enjoy an intimate concert by award winning local artists. More information can be found by following the link above. You can also check out the story that was recently featured in the Rocky Mountain Outlook newspaper.

Mount Engadine Lodge

For more information on the lodge, amenities, meals, and location, please visit the Mount Engadine Lodge Website directly. 

To read about our biking adventures, read this story:  We Went for the Snowshoeing and Returned for the Mountain Biking.

For a look at winter at Mount Engadine Lodge, please take a look at my last story, Escape to Snow Paradise, for Snowshoe Magazine along with the story on my blog here:  Paradise at Mount Engadine Lodge. 

For information on activities, tours, and recreation  in the Canmore Kananaskis area, visit the Tourism Canmore Kananaskis website to read my latest story:  Top 10 Things To Do As A Family In Canmore Kananaskis

Disclaimer:  Mount Engadine Lodge graciously sponsored our family's visit on this trip but as always, all thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

Top 10 Things To Do As A Family in Canmore Kananaskis

Summer is here and Canmore is a great jumping off point for family-friendly adventures in the Canadian Rockies from gentle walks with a stroller to single track mountain biking that will leave your teens screaming for more.  While the mountain town was definitely hit hard by the recent flooding, tourism is back on track and trails are slowly reopening. 

No place I'd rather be than in Kananaskis - my backyard and my mountain home

One of our favourite things to do together as a family in Canmore is to bike or hike along the Bow River. There are approximately 70km of maintained trails located inside the town boundaries and you’ll find the path along the river to be very pleasant for biking or walking as a family. 

Biking in Canmore

On hot days we love to head out to nearby Quarry Lake.  Bring your bathing suit with you because this is the town swimming hole and a very popular place on a hot day.  Quarry Lake has the best beach in the Bow Valley and children will happily spend hours splashing around in the lake and playing in the sand. 

Quarry Lake - Canmore's Local Beach

To read my full list of the top 10 things to do as a family in Canmore Kananaskis, please visit the Tourism Canmore Kananaskis website  to read my newly published story for them.  I covered everything from hiking to biking, road trips, sightseeing, horseback riding and swimming.  There is definitely something on the list for every member of your family and I learned a few new things myself while doing research for the story.  I had no idea for example that there were no trail fees for the Canmore Nordic Centre in place for the summer season.  I had been wanting to try biking or hiking there for years now but was always discouraged by the fact that I thought I'd have to pay to bike or hike.  Not true. 

The Nordic Centre is open and a great spot for family biking

Check out the story and let me know what you plan to do first this weekend.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Trekaroo Canada Calgary launch

It's no secret if you've been following my blog that our family loves to travel!  We try to get away as many weekends a year as possible and even if we aren't always staying at fancy resorts and lodges, we are perfectly happy camping or staying at a backcountry cabin far off in the wilderness of Kananaskis or Banff.  I try to share as many of our trips on this blog as possible because I want other families to enjoy the same experiences that we find so enjoyable.  I love sharing our photos and our family memories with you, my readers, family, and friends.                                                                                                                                                                     
Big news! Family review site Trekaroothe largest independent community of travel savvy parents in the nation, has expanded into Canada! Families are now be able to search Trekaroo's database for the inside scoop on Canadian attractions, lodging, restaurants, and tours. To celebrate, Trekaroo is kicking off their Canada launch with week-long coverage of four major Canadian cities: Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal. Vancouver launched in May, and Calgary’s following suit this week! Head over to Calgary Week for a week-long celebration of the city, including travel advice, lodging reviews, and a fabulous Calgary vacation giveaway!

Are you an expert on a Canadian destination? 

Trekaroo understands family travel, and knows that parents depend on expert advice from those in the know. The Trekaroo Canada Founders group is hard at work providing up-to-date, relevant family travel information for the following provinces: 

British Columbia

If you have experience traveling in these Canadian provinces, or if you're a Canadian expert on your home city, we need your reviews! Signing up as a Trekaroo member is easy and free, and once you do so, you can leave reviews to destinations, hotels, restaurants, and attractions you've visited. Reviews need only be a few lines long, but they assist fellow family travelers forever. 

Earn Canada Rewards! 

Because Trekaroo values the traveling community, and knows that no Trekaroo landing page would be complete without the inside scoop from experts, they're offering Trekaroo Canada Rewards. From now until funds run out, existing and new members can write 10 Canada reviews and get a $10 Amazon gift card. Think of this as a way to share useful information with fellow traveling parents while reaping a reward to boot!

Hurry though, because once the budget runs out, the offer ends. Learn more about Canada Rewards at Trekaroo! 

To visit my personal page with Trekaroo Canada and see where our family has been, visit my Trekaroo passport.