Friday, August 30, 2013

Camping across British Columbia - Champion Lakes Provincial Park

The first question most people familiar with BC will ask - where the heck is Champion Lakes?  And it would be an excellent question.  I myself had never heard of this remote park in the Selkirk Mountains until just this summer.  We wanted to go camping at Surveyor's Lake near Fernie and couldn't find spots over our August vacation.  Therefore, I did an internet search for - lakes, no motor boats, BC.  The secluded Champion Lakes Provincial Park was the winning result.

No motor boats on these lakes

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Camping in Writing on Stone Provincial Park

I'd always wanted to visit Writing on Stone Provincial Park in the Southern Alberta Badlands so when I saw a group campground available for the August long weekend, I grabbed it.  We had originally been planning to visit Cypress Hills Provincial Park but group campground bookings start in February and there was stiff competition for the group sites in Cypress.  Sadly, I fear I will face more competition for Writing on Stone after this story too but  I like sharing my favourite places with all of you in hopes that your family will enjoy them as much as we have.

Hiking in Writing on Stone Provincial Park

Writing on Stone Provincial Park is located one and a half hours SE of Lethbridge on the United States border, just north of Montana.  The campground is located in a valley bottom beside the Milk River and is surrounded by an incredible landscape of hoodoos, coulees, and native rock paintings. The park has been nominated by Parks Canada as a World Heritage site and is a sacred place for many aboriginal peoples.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Annual Family Backcountry Trip - Worth Fighting For

You'll know from reading my blog that I'm a tad goal oriented.  Just a tad.  ;)  I fight to bring family and personal goals to pass, I plan hard, and I don't deal so well with failure.  One of our big goals each year is to do one family backcountry camping trip per summer.  We started the tradition when our son was one year old and 2013 was to be Noah's fourth trip.  This year proved to be extremely challenging though - and it had nothing to do with Noah's age or difficulties one would typically expect to encounter when heading into the backcountry with a four year old.

Family Backcountry Trip at the Point, Kananaskis

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Family-Friendly Summits in Jasper National Park

We've been trying to tackle some first summits this summer with our 4 year old son, starting with Tunnel Mountain in Banff National Park and the Bear's Hump in Waterton National Park.  It's all part of our Family-friendly First Summits Project that I talked about earlier this summer in Calgary's Child Magazine

Next in queue for peaks we wanted to summit were Whistler's Mountain and The Old Fort Point  in Jasper National Park so we packed up the trailer and headed north for a few nights to set up our base camp just outside the town of Jasper.  While technically not a summit, the Old Fort Point is still a lovely viewpoint that looks down over the entire Jasper townsite area and surrounding lakes.  Whistler's Mountain however is a real mountain and would be Noah's first big achievement.  To make it easier for him we would take the Jasper Tramway to a point just below the ridge top and then proceed to the summit from there.

Hiking in the High Alpine of Jasper National Park on Whistler's Mountain

Friday, August 09, 2013

Touring the Canadian Rockies on a Stand Up Paddle Board

We made lots of goals this summer and started a few projects.  To name a few, there's our First Summits Project - bagging first peaks with our 4 year old son Noah, there's our Camping Project - camping 40+ nights this summer across Alberta and British Columbia, and there's the Kids on Wheels mission that I've been pushing hard - encouraging all families to get out on bikes together with their children.

Of all our summer projects and goals, the one that has been most dear to my heart is my goal to SUP my way across the Canadian Rockies this summer.  I discovered the joy of stand up paddle boarding last August and it has quickly became a "not so secret" love affair that has driven most of our summer plans this year.  Every camping trip was planned with paddling in mind, we bought a tandem kayak for my husband and son, and I bought  a brand new board to replace the second hand one I purchased at the beginning of September last year.

People have asked me what it feels like to SUP.  To that, I have to say that it feels like you are balancing on water (which you are) and floating on clouds (often reflected in the water beneath you).  My favourite paddles are the ones where the water is calm and it feels like I'm skimming across a sheet of glass.  I love to float over mountain peaks that reflect in the water below me and I laugh as I chase loons, anticipating their eerie call when I get too close.

Below are some of the highlights from our summer thus far as we've made our way from Waterton Lakes National Park in the south to Jasper National Park in the north.

Skimming across a sheet of glass on Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park

Waterton Lakes National Park

We went to Waterton on the July long weekend and the highlight was going to be Cameron Lake, accessible to human powered boats only and one of the most beautiful lakes in the park.  Unfortunately it was closed due to road repairs en route to the lake and so we had to find other options.  Given that the park is called Waterton LAKES National Park, it wasn't hard to find other places to SUP and kayak.  We spent three glorious days paddling on Upper and Middle Lake, and even did a short stretch on the Waterton River.  We were blessed with calm water, no winds, and few motor boats on the lakes.  All in all perfection!

 "All non-motorized watercraft from outside of the park are prohibited from entering water bodies in Waterton Lakes National Park."

Paddling on Upper Waterton Lake
Paddling with my friend on Middle Waterton Lake

Banff National Park

We spent a week camping in Banff and Jasper National Parks in July with the goal of paddling every major lake in the parks.  While we didn't get to do a few on our list, we did tackle the following lakes in Banff:
  • Johnson Lake
  • Two Jack Lake
  • Vermillion Lakes and 40 Mile Creek
  • Lake Louise
  • Moraine Lake

Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park

I had wanted to SUP the beautiful Lake Minnewanka but the public boat launch was closed due to the spillway being open on the dam.  Walking to the next boat launch was a bit of a hike and we weren't up for the effort.  The town of Banff isn't exactly far from Calgary so we'll be back.

Johnson Lake

I also really wanted to paddle on Bow Lake and do a SUP/Hike combo trip to reach Bow Falls at the back of the lake.  Luck wasn't in our favour with this one though and the water was too rough both times we tried.  Waves and white caps are not typically your friend when trying to cross a mountain lake, with freezing cold glacial water, on a stand up paddle board.  Guaranteed we would have had a head wind one direction and I feared cross winds as well which are brutal on a board.

Moraine Lake - one of the big lakes on my list to paddle

Fortunately, the lakes we did get to paddle were some of the highest priority paddles on my list and I was thrilled to check off both Louise and Moraine.

Lake Louise, Banff National Park
Lake Louise and Mt. Victoria in the background - definitely a paddle to repeat!

Probably the most enjoyable paddle was the one we did from the first Vermillion Lake to the town of Banff on 40 Mile Creek.  There was a slight current on the creek but it wasn't terribly hard to paddle up stream to get back to our truck at the end. This was a great family paddle and I'd definitely repeat it again.

Vermillion Lakes with Mt. Rundle in the background
Paddling up 40 Mile Creek

Jasper National Park 

Two lakes stood out for us in Jasper that we had to paddle.  Pyramid Lake and Patricia Lake have always impressed me with their reflections of Pyramid Mountain and still calm water.  We knew we'd find loons if we paddled in the morning, and I wanted to paddle around the island on Pyramid Lake.

Paddling on Pyramid Lake, Jasper National Park
The bridge to the Pyramid Lake island (which I floated under on my belly)

Noah's favourite paddle was on Patricia Lake because of the warm water.  We found a secret little cove that you'd never know existed from the road, and let him play in the bath tub warm water.  He had a lot of fun, and yes, we did find loons.

Playing in the warm water of Patricia Lake

We paddled both lakes the same morning and stopped for  breakfast in between at the Pyramid Lake Resort.  This worked well and allowed us to get the best light, water, and conditions for paddling.

Loons on Patricia Lake

The third lake that I SUPed was Lake Annette near the Jasper Park Lodge.  It failed to impress but did have a nice beach area that was very popular.  While pretty, Lake Annette was just too busy for our taste.

Noah and I at Lake Annette

While it would have been nice to paddle Maligne Lake, it's quite a drive out there from the town of Jasper and we chose to give it a miss this time.  It was quite windy while we were in Jasper too so we only had a few good hours of paddling each morning.

Paddling when the water was calm in the morning

Yoho National Park

Yoho wasn't on the list for parks we planned to paddle in this summer but when we couldn't find a campsite near Lake Louise, we ended up camping across the border in British Columbia.  And since we were there anyway, we HAD to paddle Emerald Lake.  It was a beautiful lake to SUP with clear reflections in the water, loons, and absolutely nobody else on the water when we started.  We chose to arrive early before tearing down camp to beat the winds that always bothered us later in the day.  We were lucky and finished up our paddle just as the rain started to fall.  We managed to seize the best part of the day on this one!

Note for the 2024 season:
"Until March 31, 2025: All waterbodies are closed to watercraft and angling to prevent the spread of whirling disease. This closure is necessary to protect vulnerable fish populations and sensitive ecosystems from aquatic invasive species."

Paddling on Emerald Lake (which really is emerald coloured on a clear day)

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Banff to Jasper - Camping in the National Parks

Disclaimer:  This story was written about one of our first camping experiences in the national parks in 2013.  Since this trip, we have discovered many things to love about camping in both Banff and Jasper National Park.  Please read the story but then go to the bottom of the post for links to newer (and more up to date) stories before planning your trip to the Rockies.


Our family loves camping in the Canadian Rockies but has never done a lot of camping within the actual national park boundaries.  Maybe it seemed too touristy, maybe it's because the national parks are overcrowded in summer, or maybe it's just because it's easier to book campsites in provincial parks.  Whatever the reason, we decided to take a one week camping and paddling road trip this summer through Banff and Jasper National Parks - in the middle of the peak tourist travel season.  Were we crazy?

Yes!  Definitely crazy!  While I love and support our national parks, we discovered that camping in Banff National Park isn't really tailored for the local Southern Alberta population.   Those of us from Calgary tend to be weekend warriors.  We work all week and run out to the mountains on Friday night to find a campsite for the weekend after work.  While this works in the provincial parks of Alberta and BC, Banff National Park doesn't have enough campgrounds with reservable sites.  I have nothing to say but positive reviews for Jasper National Park (more to come on that in my next post), but Banff was a disappointment.  A big disappointment!

Vermillion Lakes, Banff National Park