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

I mentioned in an earlier story this summer, A revised look at summer 2013 in the Canadian Rockies, that we had a bad week of rain and flooding across Southern Alberta in late June.  As a result, every backcountry campground in Kananaskis was closed well into July.  EVERY one!  And Banff National Park wasn't looking pretty either! A vast majority of the backcountry bridges near the town of Banff were washed out during the flooding.  Trails were heavily affected everywhere and I couldn't honestly find a campground that would be feasible for our family or friends with young kids coming with us.

Trail damage and erosion in Kananaskis
We had actually planned two backcountry trips this summer, figuring that Noah was getting older and we were ready to challenge ourselves a bit more.  We were excited about the first one into the Quaite Valley in Kananaskis because all of the kids were going to be riding their bikes to camp while the adults hiked the gear in.  Unfortunately, the trip was planned for June 22nd - right in the middle of ALL the flooding.  Guess what happened to that trip?  CANCELLED. And the campground still isn't open mid August.

The next trip was to be equally special because we had booked an entire backcountry campground in Kananaskis for 7 families and were going to paddle into the Jewel Bay campground on Barrier Lake.  That campground did finally open - a week TOO late!  Nope, not bitter at all.  ;)

Jewel Bay Campground - after the flood

My husband suggested we try to re-book Jewel Bay for later in the summer but we really had no free weekends.  He wasn't willing to give up his September climbing trip (fair enough), and every weekend had something planned.  Friends suggested we just go car camping instead and make the best of it.  After all, we'd still be together and would have fun, right?  Well...

I already said I fight for our goals and so the only option was to find another backcountry campground and go on with the show as planned, the last weekend in July.  This was to be the fourth year of family backcountry camping and we couldn't just skip a year.

Fortunately, one campground did finally open in Kananaskis in time for our trip - and while it was the same campground we went to last year, at least we knew it was very family-friendly.  We would be able to paddle to camp as planned, other friends would be able to hike in, AND we got space in the campground thanks to the awesome help we got from Parks staff.

The Point Backcountry Campground, Kananaskis
Upper Kananaskis Lake

We ended up camping at the Point Backcountry Campground on Upper Kananaskis Lake and everything worked out really well in the end.  Parks staff had reserved a block of sites for us - in the event that Jewel Bay didn't open in time (Thank you Sarah, we love you!), we managed to keep a group of 6 families for the trip that still wanted to come, and I got to do my first SUP backpacking trip.  I was very excited to ride my stand up paddle board to camp and to cross another lake off my "to paddle" list.  We took our new double kayak for my husband and son, and managed to fit all of our gear into it for the night which was a huge success as our first overnight family kayak trip.

The Kayak's First Overnight Trip
Backpacking on a Paddle Board!
Camping with Friends is always WAY more fun!
The Point is an amazing family backcountry campground and I'm very happy that it opened just in time for our trip.  While we chose to paddle, most of the kids in our group hiked in with a group of the other moms and it was an easy 3 km hike.  For those of us in canoes, kayaks, (or me on my paddle board), it was an easy paddle provided you got an early start.  (It wasn't so easy for the group that started later in the day.) Upper Kananaskis Lake is like most lakes though and if you want calm water, you start early.  We had a great tail wind on the way in and it only took us 20 minutes to reach camp.  20 minutes to reach a backcountry campground, no hiking boots, and no blisters - I think I will be paddling to camp from now on!  I might never wear hiking boots again.

Paddling on Upper Kananaskis Lake
I'm still disappointed that we never got to go to a NEW backcountry campground this year but hey, beggars can't be choosers and at least we had a campground to go to.  Next year we'll try for Quaite Valley or Jewel Bay again, or set our sites higher yet since Noah will be another year older.  I know it's craziness, but I'm kind of thinking I'd like to try a real backpacking trip as a family next summer where you go for a few nights, move each night, and complete a loop or traverse.  Alternately, I know there will be an overnight paddling trip for sure and I'm wondering how hard it would be to bike into Lake Minnewanka's LM8 campground as a family.  These are the things that I think about as I fall asleep at night - planning out our future trips in my head. In the end, I'm sure there are worse things that could keep me up at night, right?

The Point at Sunrise
Morning Paddle on Mirror-Like Upper Kananaskis Lake

To read more about camping at the Point, read my story from last year's trip, How to Fit 7 People in a Canoe - Backcountry Adventures in Kananaskis.

For more suggestions on where to go backcountry camping as a family in the Canadian Rockies, read my previously published guide, Family Camping Made Easy - Backcountry Adventures.


  1. awesome...we were set to do aster, 3isle on Canada long weekend...obviously same closures you experienced.
    we got two trips in to Rockwall on either side of two closures of forest fire and grizzly's. finally September long we were at least able to get into the Forks as both 3isle and aster were fully booked but I love it in there. the point is a very unique and special place and you are very lucky to have staff block you off sites.
    cheers happy hiking

    1. Glad you got to get a few trips in this summer Evan. The Point is indeed a great place to go. And yes, we were lucky to have sites blocked off. I don't think this is something I would expect to happen all the time but I was in constant email contact with Parks staff pretty much every week at least, inquiring about Jewel Bay. They knew we were pretty determined to do our trip! We had also inquired about changing our reservation over to the Point and were told to hold off. It wouldn't have been good afterward if we were told to wait, and then it filled up on us. ;(