Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Our Favourite Family Hike in the Canadian Rockies - Ptarmigan Cirque

Ptarmigan Cirque is located above Highwood Pass on the highest paved road in Canada.  This gem of a hike in Kananaskis provides quick access into the alpine with only 200m of height gain.  Even toddlers and preschoolers should be able to complete the short 4.5 km loop and you'd be hard pressed to find an easier way to reach the high country of the Rockies.

Ptarmigan Cirque, Kananaskis

There's really no "best" time to do this hike because it's beautiful at any time of the year.  Go right now however and you'll be greeted by golden larches on your way up into the alpine bowl.  We arrived a week or two too early to see the larch trees at their peak and most of them were still green.  By now, the hike would be absolutely spectacular!  (in other words, go this weekend!)

Autumn at Ptarmigan Cirque - Larches just starting to turn golden

I'm still trying to figure out exactly how many families we had out for the hike two weeks ago but I'm estimating it was around 15.  We lead our small army of children up to the Cirque and I'm pretty sure it was  the most preschoolers the trail has ever seen at one time.  There were kids walking, others riding on parents' shoulders, and more in child carriers.  Somehow though they all made it up to the top and most went further to a pretty little waterfall where we met to have lunch.

Starting our hike to Ptarmigan Cirque

We met at the Highwood Meadows Day Use Area on Hwy 40 in Kananaskis.  From there we followed a short interpretive trail before crossing the highway and ascending the steep switch backed trail to the Cirque. If you find yourself out of breath on this section, take frequent rest breaks and carry on because the trail flattens out once you reach the cirque.  It's absolutely worth it to do whatever you have to, to get the kids (and yourself)  up the first challenging part.  At the top you'll find yourself in a meadow that looks like something straight out of a scene from the Sound of Music.  You just may find yourself wanting to dance across the meadow singing.

Starting out on the Interpretive Trail
Almost at the top of the switch backs
My son and I hiking to Ptarmigan Cirque (Photo:  J. Sollid)

The pace and mood picked up once we reached the top of the switch backs, and we made our way around the loop trail through the alpine cirque.  The trail is well signed so you don't have to worry about getting lost.  Alberta Parks is also very diligent about placing bear warnings on the trail when there have been sightings in the area.  In fact, the trail is often closed in summer to protect hikers from encountering bears.  Regardless of warnings (or lack there of), it's always a good idea to carry bear spray and travel in a tight group while hiking this trail.

Approaching the Cirque
Hiking towards the back of the Cirque
Now this is where the fun begins with scrambling and tons of rocks to play on!
Scrambling off trail to reach the waterfall at the back of the Cirque
At the back of the cirque, we left the loop trail and headed for a lovely little waterfall that we wanted to show the kids.  In all honesty, I think they found the climbing wall to be more interesting!

Lunch at the Waterfall
Climbing the wall next to the waterfall
Every child, big or small, had to give the big wall a go
Love this little climbing princess!
Ptarmigan Cirque is a good half day hike with kids but can definitely be extended into a full day outing depending on how much time your children want to spend scrambling boulders, exploring the cirque, picking berries, and running around.  Allow for plenty of time and bring lots of snacks.

Back on the trail and finishing the loop of the cirque
Lower waterfalls as you round the other side of the cirque
Nearing the end of the loop before we head back down to the trees
Back to the larches and forest
Leaving the Cirque on the well maintained forest trail
Tired little princess on her way back to the parking lot
For more information on the hike, visit the Alberta Parks website for trail information:

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Best Place to Bike and Camp in Kananaskis - Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

While there are many places to camp in Kananaskis, we've always loved Peter Lougheed Provincial Park for its hiking trails, bike paths, and lakes. 

You can start the day off with a peaceful paddle across Upper or Lower Kananaskis Lake chasing loons and looking for bald eagles, take a family hike on one of the many short interpretive trails, and then wrap up the day with a bike ride on one of the paved trails that wind their way through the park.

 You could even do a combo-trip and bike or paddle from your campground to a nearby hiking trail.  Most of the campgrounds in the park are located right on the paved bike paths and a few campgrounds even have water access right on the Lower Lake.  Intrigued yet?

Biking on the Lodgepole Bike Path, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

We wrapped up our 2013 Summer Camping Project with nights 40 and 41 at the Boulton Creek Campground.  In summer we may have chosen a campground on the water such as the Lower Lake Campground, but for September, we just wanted to be close to the bike paths and have power in case we needed to plug a heater in.  Our loop at Boulton Creek met that need with power and water at every site (read - NO generator noise), and it was a quick 5 minute bike ride (all downhill) to jump on the High Rockies Bike Trail heading towards the Elkwood Campground and Visitor Centre.

Biking around the Boulton Creek Campground in the morning

We did some hiking while camping at Boulton Creek last weekend but the highlight at camp was the biking. 

From our campground we jumped on the High Rockies Trail for a short late afternoon bike ride to Elkwood, 4.6km away. We arranged to have one of the dads in our group pick us up at the next campground because I suspected we would be doing a lot of downhill and we wanted to keep the ride short. 

While I've skied this trail in winter, I never fully realized before just how downhill it was!  It was absolutely glorious and I barely had to pedal as we coasted down the gentle trail.  We rode into Elkwood about 45 minutes later (preschool riding pace) and definitely knew we had to repeat the ride the next day.

Biking on the Wheeler Trail, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

That night we started to brainstorm how we would put our plan into action.  We decided to stick with the shuttle approach, riding downhill and getting picked up at the bottom.  After all, if you had a willing partner or friend able to pick you up at the end of a downhill bike ride, you'd  accept the offer right? Especially if you were planning on doing the bike ride with 4 year old kids!

Boulton Creek Campground

Sunday morning we packed up our trailers, moved to the Boulton Creek Trading Post for temporary parking, and then started riding towards the Elkwood Campground again.  A member of our group decided to play driver instead of biking, and met us at the Canyon Campground, approximately 8km away.

 It was a pretty sweet ride on the High Rockies Trail and 80% of it was downhill!  There were a couple steep hills that we prayed to God the kids wouldn't bite it on, but most of it was gradual, gentle, and offered pretty relaxed riding. 

We rode on an official paved bike path the whole time and enjoyed the forest surroundings with occasional mountain views and benches to stop at.  Family biking doesn't get much better than this!

Family Biking on the Wheeler Bike Trail, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

We now know we have found our favourite paved bike trails in Kananaskis and will definitely be back to camp and ride next summer. Next year we'll embrace the uphill sections on the Lakeside Bike Trail and do the full 12 km distance from the Lower Lake Campground to Canyon. 

For more information on camping in the park, read the story I wrote last summer:  Camping in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

For more information on hiking trails in the park, read the story I also wrote last summer:  Peter Lougheed Provincial Park for Families

Camping at Boulton Creek with Kids

To read my giant summary of all the best bike trails in Kananaskis, read this story:  The Best Family Bike Trails in Kananaskis.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Exploring the Columbia Valley Wetlands - By Boat, Bike, and Hike

It's always nice to plan an trip around a theme or central focal point, so for the September long weekend this year we set off to see how many different ways we could explore the Columbia Valley.  More specifically, we wanted to explore a section of our continent's longest continuous wetlands that stretch from the mouth of  Columbia Lake in Canal Flats to the small town of Donald on the Columbia River, some 194km away.

Paddling on the Columbia River

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Camping across British Columbia - Shuswap Lake

Here it is, the fourth destination on our whirl wind BC camping adventure this August.  We spent the final three nights of our trip camping at Herald Provincial Park on Shuswap Lake near Salmon Arm in Central BC.  It was off the beaten path and much quieter than Shuswap Lake Provincial Park (Scotch Creek) where most people would typically camp in this area.  We've stayed at Scotch Creek in the past and found it so big that we were eager to camp somewhere smaller that had sites right on the lake.  The site we chose at Herald was less than 5 metres from the public day use area and main beach, and backed on to the walking path that meanders through the campground.  We were pretty excited about this campsite and expected great things.

Paddling on Shuswap Lake

Friday, September 06, 2013

Mountain Family Meets Ocean on the Sunshine Coast

Still trying to catch up on our August vacation in British Columbia, here's part three - the Sunshine Coast!  We made our way from the Nelson area in the Kootenay Rockies (Champion Lakes camping trip) to the Okanagan for 5 nights.  From the Okanagan we headed west to Vancouver.  After driving through the suburbs and city of Vancouver (something that wasn't a lot of fun) and waiting 3 hours to get on a ferry (after paying a small fortune to get our trailer on it), we finally arrived on the Sunshine Coast as the sun was going down.

Playing on the beach at Roberts Creek Provincial Park

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Biking the Kettle Valley Railway Trail

One of the things we most wanted to do in the Okanagan on vacation this summer was to bike the Kettle Valley Railway (KVR) Trail.  Once a railway line, the KVR is now an amazing place to go biking and hiking on a converted rail bed that's part of the Trans Canada Trail in British Columbia.  We wanted to bike the Myra Canyon section so that we could see the restored wooden trestle bridges in Myra-Bellevue Provincial Park.  It turned out to the be the absolute highlight of the entire August vacation for me and the best bike ride I've ever done.  We got to bike over 15 restored wooden and steel trestle bridges as well as bike through 2 train tunnels.  When was the last time you got to ride your bike through a train tunnel carved out of a mountain?  Wicked cool!!

Biking on the Kettle Valley Railway Trail

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Vacation Wonderland in the Okanagan Valley

Fall may be here with leaves already turning yellow, but I still have a lot of summer fun to share with you as I try to catch up on our August adventures.  Of all the camping trips we did, our trip to the Okanagan Valley was definitely the most fun!  It was also the easiest one.  We weren't in bear country so we could leave many things from dish soap to spices out on our kitchen table, we had power so we could run lights in the trailer and charge our gadgets, and it was warm enough that we didn't have to bundle up in layers of  fleece or down.  (Yes, in the Canadian Rockies we often wear down coats even in the summer!)  We had a plethora of activities to keep us busy every day from paddling on Okanagan and Skaha Lakes to playing at one of the many sandy beaches. 

Beach fun in Kelowna at the Rotary Beach