Saturday, December 27, 2014

Top Ten Highlights of 2014

2014 was a big year for us as a family as we watched our son grow to become a very active member in our adventures.  Slowly I'm realizing that I'm needing less and less "adult days" as Noah gets stronger and more capable of joining us for the big stuff.

Already, Noah is biking the same trails I'd choose for my own rides, he accompanies us on all of our paddling trips, and he's keeping pace with me as we run down mountains.  On one trip, he beat me to the parking lot by a full half hour!  (And he's not even 6 years old.)  He also out-biked me on one ride this summer where I chose to walk a hill, and he did not!  I can not wait to see what next year brings.  (though I am a bit scared of being left behind.)

2014 was a BIG year for our Junior Adventurer

Top Ten Highlights of 2014

One - Dog Sledding in Kananaskis

We got the chance to go dog sledding as a family last January with Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours and by the end of the tour I wanted to buy a team of dogs and become a professional musher.  It was that fun!  Learning to drive a team of dogs while flying across a frozen lake should go on every winter bucket list.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Family X-Country Skiing at Lake Louise

There are a lot of great family x-country ski trails in the Rockies but we have a favourite trail we love most, and that we think is ideal for introducing kids to skiing. It's called the Tramline Trail and it is a 4.8 km trail that takes you from Lake Louise to the Bow River, and Village of Lake Louise, 195 metres below.

Skiing down the Tramline Trail at Lake Louise

Parks Canada describes the Tramline trail below: 

"This trail runs from valley bottom to Lake Louise at a steady 3% rise, following the old grade of the tramline that once connected the train station and the Chateau Lake Louise."

Reading that description, one would think this is not exactly the ideal beginner trail to do with kids.  However, do it in reverse from Lake Louise DOWN to the Village, arrange a car shuttle ahead of time with friends, and enjoy one of the easiest x-country ski trips to be found in the Rockies.

Why we love the Tramline Trail

One.  It's all downhill if done in the correct direction, but not so steep that you have to snow plow.  There's only one big hill that beginner skiers will need assistance on (or can walk) and then a minor hill near the end as you reach the Bow River.

Two.  It's great for teaching the kids to double pole - so bring the poles that you might not normally use

Three.  Kids will find the trail super easy for practicing their kick and glide.  It's amazing how much easier it is when there's a slight decline for 4.8km!

The Tramline Trail is great for improving ski skills

Four.  It is interesting, pretty, and you get to cross a lovely bridge on the lower section that is a favourite spot of mine for family ski photos (as long as your kids don't fall going down the short hill to the bridge.)

The Scenic bridge on the Lower Tramline section

Five.  You can shorten the trip by starting at the Moraine Lake Road trailhead.  This would shorten the trip by about 1.5 km.

Six.  Finally, to extend the trip, ski along the Bow River at the bottom of the Tramline Trail.  This is a 6.6 km loop around the Village and the Campgrounds.  It can also be shortened with mini-loops created.

Skiing along the Bow River near the Village of Lake Louise

Other Ski Trails in the Lake Louise Area

The Moraine Lake Road (ski as far as you want and go back the same way.  Not very exciting but good for practicing basic skills.  Slightly uphill the whole way until you turn around so not very good for kids practicing their kick and glide.)

The Fairview Loop (intermediate trail with some challenging sections and hills.  Best done as a loop with the Upper Tramline trail and a bit of the Moraine Lake Road for a 7.5 km loop.)

The Lake Louise Loop (you get to ski right on Lake Louise to the back of the lake and can return on a trail through the trees if you want.  Great with kids.  100% flat.  Return the same way for the easiest route on the lake.  The full loop is 4.1km)

The Great Divide (ski as far as you want and return the same way.  Not very exciting for kids as you'll be skiing on an old road, but it is ok for practicing basic skills.)

The Bow River Loop (Great with kids!  Ski a loop around the Village and Campgrounds along the Bow River.  Best done later in the season when there is enough snow though.  Full loop is 6.6km with shorter versions available)

Skiing the Bow River Loop (early snow conditions)

For more information on all trails mentioned visit the Parks Canada website.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Family Snowshoeing Super Guide

Let me know if any of the following questions on snowshoeing sound familiar:

Why should we take the kids snowshoeing when skiing is so much more fun?  (Right??)

Where is the best place to buy snowshoes for kids?

What should we look for when buying a pair of snowshoes?

At what age can children start to snowshoe?

Where does one go snowshoeing with kids?

Are there specific trails for snowshoeing or do you just head out anywhere into the wild?

Family Snowshoeing is FUN


Why should we take the kids snowshoeing when skiing is so much more fun?

Snowshoeing is extremely fun - when done right!

To answer this question, I direct you to the story I just wrote for Snowshoe Magazine which seeks to explain why snowshoeing is so much fun!  Yes, it is not skiing.  It is a different sport entirely.  But, if hiking isn't boring, why would it suddenly become boring just because you've added snow??

"Perhaps we should stop comparing snowshoeing to skiing and embrace it for what it is – a different sport with its own rewards and appeal."

Here is the full story to read:  Snowshoeing is Boring (and other myths I once believed.)

In the story for Snowshoe Magazine I cover the following topics:
  • How to hike with a sled (yes, there is a technique)

  • Why to always bring a sled

  • Games to play on snowshoes

  • Games to play on the trail to get you to your destination

  • How to make snowshoeing FUN with kids

  • How to choose a trail

  • What a snowshoe trail looks like Vs. a ski trail
Powder for the WIN on Snowshoes

Buying Snowshoes for the Family

There is no science in choosing snowshoes for kids.  Go down to Mountain Equipment COOP, Campers Village, or check out the selection online at All Out Kids Gear. Look at the weight limits on the snowshoes, and pick a pair that fits your child's current weight.  That's it.  Really!

Most kids are not out there doing hard core snowshoe climbs so you don't need to worry about choosing the most technical pair of snowshoes on the market.  Children will be tromping around in snowy meadows for the most part so as long as the snowshoes have crampons on them for ice and small hills, you're good.

Daddy snowshoes, Mama snowshoes, and Baby snowshoes

My son is currently wearing the MSR Shift Snowshoes for Kids. Read my review here.

Durable and Strong MSR Shift Snowshoes

You can also find more inspiration and trail suggestions in my story for Calgary's Child:  Snowshoeing:  Family-friendly, Affordable, and Easy

This is the kind of trail you will often find yourself on with kids

At what age can children start snowshoeing 

There is no set age that children will be ready for snowshoeing.  Basically, as soon as they can walk, they can snowshoe.  BUT, you'll want to start on packed trails.  Children 3+ should be able to handle some light powder.  By the age of 4-5, children should be able to tromp around in a field of fluffy snow and even help break trail for short sections.  Kids 6+ will probably enjoy helping with trail breaking and eagerly take up the challenge.

Breaking Trail (age 5)

If hiking with small children follow these tips for success:
  • Always bring a sled!

  • Take your normal summer hiking distance and chop it in half (maybe even more than half.)  In summer, my child can easily hike 12 km.  In winter, I'd start with 6 km. 

  • Use a Chariot with ski attachment or a ski pulk and hike on wider groomed trails (this is where ski trails actually work in your favour) - just stay off the ski tracks I beg!

  •  Bring a Strider ski bike for preschoolers and let them ski out.  They can snowshoe up the trail while you carry the bike (just strap it on to your backpack) and then ski out.  It's a LOT of fun.  And Brett at Run Bikes YYC can hook you up with skis for your Strider bike.

Chariots with ski attachments are great for the little ones
Ski Pulks are cozy and our preferred method of getting a single child into the backcountry
Carrying the Strider and a sled into the backcountry (both got used this day)
Skiing out on Strider Ski Bikes

The Top 5 Places to go Snowshoeing with Kids

1.  City golf courses.  City golf courses make great practice spots for learning to walk in snowshoes.  They are flat with the occasional hill and you can easily bring a sled with you in case your child tires out.  In Calgary, Confederation Park is our golf course of choice for winter snowshoeing.  Shaganappi Point has more grooming and folks there would not be as receptive to seeing snowshoers on their trails.

Snowshoeing at Confederation Park

2.  City natural areas and parks.  Go to your favourite natural area that you visit for summer hikes, and bring your snowshoes.  One of our favourites in Calgary is 12 Mile Coulee. To find others, follow this link to the City of Calgary's list of Parks and Natural Areas.

Snowshoeing in 12 Mile Coulee (helmet worn for the ice we hoped to play on)
Ice in 12 Mile Coulee (bring your skates)

3.  Campgrounds.  Most campgrounds are closed for the winter and are perfect for beginner snowshoers.  Hike on the campground roads for easy hiking and search for playgrounds.  Alternately, look for the summer hiking trails located in the campgrounds and hike those for a a bigger adventure.

Top picks near Calgary:

Hiking on the Paddy's Flat Trail

4.  Your favourite summer trail.  Try hiking your favourite summer trail and see how it looks with snow.  Just make sure to check with a visitor centre first or do a bit of research to make sure there is no avalanche danger.

Snowshoeing at Wedge Pond, Kananaskis

How to get started choosing a trail:

5.  Hike where you can't go in summer! Here's your chance to hike up a creek that is full of water in summer, hike across a beautiful lake that you'd have to hike around in summer, and explore those secret places off the beaten path. (Just make sure the water is frozen before you go hiking across a lake or up a creek!)

Personal favourites:
  • Bow Lake, Icefields Parkway (hike across the lake rather than following the trail)

  • Mosquito Creek, Icefields Parkway (follow the creek rather than the hiking trail)

  • Johnson Lake or Lake Minnewanka, Banff NP (hike across the lake rather than following the trail)

  • Jura Creek Canyon or Grotto Creek Canyon, Kananaskis

  • Anywhere along the Spray Lakes Road (see the Beginner Snowshoeing Guidebook for suggestions, link above under #4)

  • Wedge Pond, Kananaskis

  • Lake Louise (hike right across the lake)

  • Troll Falls, Kananaskis (you won't get to see a frozen waterfall in summer)

For information on the above areas, visit a local information centre or visit the appropriate Park website.

Also check out my winter hiking guide here. (It has links to all stories written of our favourite winter hikes.)

Yoga on Bow Lake - and you can't do this in summer!
Hiking up Mosquito Creek (no trail here in summer - just running water)
Jura Canyon (full of water in summer)

For route information on Jura Canyon, read the story I wrote last year.  You won't find this in many guide books!  Total local's secret.

Troll Falls in winter
Lake Minewanka, Banff
Ice in Grotto Canyon, Kananaskis

Graduating to Bigger Trails with Older Kids

Once the kids are able to hike 8+ km, bigger options open up.

We have three favourites here:

Chester Lake, Kananaskis
Rawson Lake, Kananaskis
Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park

See you on the trails and for one piece of final inspiration, check out this story I wrote for Snowshoe Magazine:  Raising the Next Generation...On Snowshoes.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Five Reasons to Take Your Family to Mosquito Creek this Winter

I could almost just post the photo below and say "this is why you should go to Mosquito Creek this winter!  Any questions?"

Snowshoeing along Mosquito Creek in winter

Scenery aside, I have five big reasons why you should plan a  family trip to the Mosquito Creek Wilderness Hostel in Banff National Park this winter:

One - Solitude!  

This photo below was taken outside the hostel on the Icefields Parkway.  In summer, this is a very busy highway that links Lake Louise with Jasper.  In winter, it is deserted.


Two - Private Cabin

There is a private cabin on site that sleeps two families or a group of 8-10 people.  And if you can't get into the private cabin, try asking about reserving a dorm room for your group.  You'll have to pay for all 12 beds but it guarantees a positive experience with young children not old enough to share a dorm room with strangers.

Our happy group at Mosquito Creek


Three - Great snowshoeing right outside your door

Head over to the campground next door and hike up the creek or cross the highway as we did this time and hike up the creek which leads to a set of beautiful frozen waterfalls. Note, to hike up the creek on the other side of the highway, it is very important that the creek be frozen!  You are not hiking on the main summer trail that goes up towards Molar Pass.  You are just following the creek bed towards a canyon.  We couldn't go very far (maybe half a km at most) because of open water.  So be careful please!

Hiking up Mosquito Creek
Mosquito Creek in winter
Kids on their ski bikes - riding over an ice bridge I might add!!

Four - Comfortable introduction to winter camping

The hostel has a warm cozy fireplace room, a kitchen stocked with the basic cooking supplies you'll need, AND two refrigerators.  There's no microwave or indoor plumbing, but you will have filtered water for drinking and washing dishes lest you fear having to boil and melt snow.  Winter camping doesn't get much comfier than this!

Roasting marshmallows in the fireside room

Five - Snow everywhere!!  

It doesn't matter how brown and dry it is in Calgary because there is always snow out at Mosquito Creek from November through April.  We come to the hostel and the kids spend hours playing in the snow, playing in snow quinzees at the campground next door, hiking around the area and sledding on little hills outside the hostel.  We even go snowshoeing in the dark before bed.

Playing outside the Mosquito Creek Hostel
Playing in Mosquito Creek
Ski-Biking along Mosquito Creek
Playing on snow piles along the highway
There's always snow for sledding

Additional Resources

Read about our past trips to Mosquito Creek and see more photos here:

Winter Paradise at Mosquito Creek

Winter Camping in Style

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Winter Camping with Kids (no tent!!)

I know some of you love camping year round and you'll pitch your tent anywhere (even if you have to dig out your campsite.) This mom needs a few key comforts if I'm going to go camping any later than October. I require some form of heat (even a wood stove works,) and I need four solid walls around me.

This is how I camp in winter

Winter Camping in Backcountry Huts and Cabins

I'll talk about a few different ways to winter camp in comfort through this story but this is by far my favourite option because you'll be in the backcountry, sleeping in total warmth and comfort, without breaking the bank!

The Elizabeth Parker Hut, Yoho National Park

Winter Cabin Camping at Lake O'Hara, Yoho National Park

The Elizabeth Parker Hut (photo above) is the most popular of the Alpine Club of Canada huts. Summer users need to enter a lottery in order to get prime spots in the cabin.  Winter is still a busy time at the hut, but it’s slightly easier to get spots.  Go mid-week and you can usually find a few beds in the colder months.  If you’re lucky, you might even snag spots on a weekend!   

Winter at the Elizabeth Parker Hut, Lake O'Hara

The hut is located in the beautiful Lake O’Hara region and winter access is accomplished via an 11 km x-country ski on the summer road (which is closed to vehicles in the winter months.)   The trailhead is located 12 km west of Lake Louise so this is an easy weekend destination for Calgary families. 

The hut sleeps 20 people in winter, and you can try to book the whole thing for yourself and a handful of other families.

 Read about our previous trips here: 

Elk Lakes Cabin, Elk Lakes Provincial Park

Winter Cabin Camping in Elk Lakes Provincial Park, BC

The second cabin I recommend for families is the Elk Lakes Cabin, also maintained by the Alpine Club of Canada.  The cabin is reached via Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in Kananaskis and can be accessed on x-country skis or snowshoes following the PLPP ski trail to Elk Pass.

Snowshoeing into the cabin with a sled and a ski bike

This is the only ACC hut that can be reached on a trail that is groomed and track-set for the first half of the journey.  The total trip distance is 9 km with the final 4.5 kms heading across the BC border and down a power line to the hut.  

This hut sleeps 14 people and we usually try to book the entire thing for ourselves and a few other families.

Lower Elk Lake, Elk Lakes Provincial Park

 Read about our previous trips here: 

Playing in the snow outside the Elk Lakes Cabin

Winter Cabin Camping in Waterton Lakes National Park 

The Alpine Club maintains an old warden cabin along the road to Cameron Lake in Waterton Lakes National Park. This small cabin has been converted into a sweet little backcountry hut for 8 people.

The Cameron Lake Cabin is reached via a short 2 km x-country ski or hike along the Cameron Lake Road (closed to traffic in the winter.)

Cameron Lake Cabin 

Note that the cabin is currently only accessible via a 15 km ski in for the 2019 season as a result of a road closure from a recent wildfire. More information here.

Read about our previous trips here: 

Skiing the Cameron Lake Road to the Cabin

Winter Cabin Camping at Rogers Pass, Glacier National Park, BC 

The A.O. Wheeler Hut is an extremely easy backcountry hut to reach with a short 45 minute x-country ski or hike in. You'll follow a summer road (closed to traffic in the winter) that is completely flat once you climb up the first hill.

Once at the hut, we love playing in the snow, building a backcountry luge track for sleds, and we hike or ski a short distance up the valley until we reach avalanche terrain (which doesn't take long.) 

And as with the others, this hut is maintained by the Alpine Club of Canada. 

Winter at the A.O. Wheeler Hut in Rogers Pass

This hut sleeps 24 people but we like booking the full thing with a group of other families. It's a fun place to visit early season as well (November is awesome) where it already feels very much like winter!

 Read about our previous trips here: 

Winter wonderland at the Wheeler Hut in November

Winter Cabin Camping in Cypress Hills Provincial Park, Southern Alberta

Cypress Hills Provincial Park has many backcountry huts and many are quite easy to access throughout the winter on either x-country skis or snowshoes as you follow summer roads closed to traffic in the winter.

Some of the camping cabins are also accessible by vehicle year round as well if you'd prefer to be located in a front country campground, not having to ski or hike in.

You can read all about the different options here for backcountry or front country winter camping on the Cypress Hills Provincial Park website.

Know that these huts are not maintained by the Alpine Club of Canada, and are a bit more "simple" in nature than an ACC hut. You'll likely have to bring your own water in with you (or plan to boil snow,) and you'll usually have to bring your own stove in as well. The huts have dishes, but do not have an actual stove. Other than that they are pretty similar to an ACC hut.

Backcountry cabin in Cypress Hills Provincial Park

These huts tend to be quite small so the good news is that you won't have to share them with anybody other than your own family or the friends you choose to invite with you.

Read about our previous trips here:

Hiking in to our backcountry hut on closed summer roads

 Winter Camping in Wilderness Hostels 

This is one of our other favourite ways to camp in winter.  Hostelling International maintains several wilderness hostels across Alberta and BC that have private rooms or cabins for families.  We have stayed at many of them, and have even found one that's easy to rent as a private booking (renting out the entire hostel for only 6 people!)

Wilderness hostels usually have drive-up access but you'll appreciate a sled to haul your gear down the snowy path to your cabin at several of them. Bathrooms are usually outside in the form of outhouses and you won't find WiFi at too many hostels (or cell coverage for that matter.)

Most hostels do have kitchens though (with refrigerators and stoves,) and there's always some form of heat.

Rooms usually come with bunk beds and you'll be sharing kitchen/living space at most hostels.

Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel in winter

Below are the wilderness hostels I recommend for families in winter.  Links are provided for each hostel and the links go to the Hostelling International website for more information.  I've also listed stories below that I've written on each hostel so that you can see more photos and get an idea of what your trip would be like.

Paradise at the Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel

Winter Hostelling in Kananaskis 

The HI Kananaskis Wilderness hostel is located below Kananaskis Village within close proximity to the Nakiska Ski Hill, x-country trails, skating at the Village, and snowshoe trails.  The hostel has four private rooms for families and then two larger dorm rooms separated by gender.  

This is a pretty comfortable hostel and is the only wilderness hostel to have indoor plumbing!  (and a microwave)

Winter Camping at HI Kananaskis

 Read about our previous trips here: 

HI Kananaskis Hostel

Winter Hostelling in Banff National Park

The HI Castle Mountain wilderness hostel is conveniently located halfway between the Town of Banff and the Village of Lake Louise. It's honestly about 20 minutes from either destination. Plan a trip here for a few days and you'll have no shortage of places to explore. There are also great cross country ski trails right outside the door of the hostel, and you're less than a 10 minute drive away from the Johnston Canyon hiking trail.

This hostel has no private rooms but it has separate dorm rooms for men and women so you should feel safe staying here with children (as long as you have a parent matching the gender of each of your children.) For me, this means I could never stay here solo with my son. As a family trip though, it works when my husband joins us for a weekend.

Note children must be 6 years of age or older to share the communal dorm rooms. Alternately, book the whole hostel for six families and age doesn't matter. We've done this before and it was a lot of fun.

HI Castle Mountain Hostel 

Read about our previous trips here: 

Skiing out the door of the Castle Mountain Hostel 

Winter Hostelling on the Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park 

The HI Mosquito Creek Wilderness Hostel  is located on the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, approximately 20 min. from Lake Louise.  It is close to downhill and x-country skiing, snowshoeing, and skating at Lake Louise.  Families can also snowshoe along Mosquito Creek and through the campground next door.  The private cabin sleeps a total of 10 people with two bedrooms, its own kitchen and living area.

HI Mosquito Creek

 Read about our previous trips here: 

Spring at the Mosquito Creek Hostel, Banff National Park 

The HI Rampart Creek Wilderness Hostel is located on the Icefields Parkway near Saskatchewan River Crossing. It is roughly an hour north of Lake Louise (so maybe plan for a long weekend.) The hostel has no private rooms but each dorm room only sleeps 6 people so just ask to book an entire dorm room if you don't want to share. Otherwise, children must be over the age of six in order to share dorm rooms.

This hostel is very similar to Mosquito Creek except that the main cabin is much smaller. There is a decent sized communal kitchen, but the living room is very small (so plan a spring trip here and hope it's warm enough to play outside a lot!)

HI Rampart Creek Hostel

 Read about our previous trips here: 

Dorm room cabin at the Rampart Creek Hostel

The HI Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel  is located on the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park within a 10 min. drive from the Columbia Icefields Centre.  This hostel requires full winter camping knowledge and you will likely be boiling snow for water if the creek is frozen over.  The experience is much the same as staying at a backcountry Alpine Club hut except that you are within 500 metres from the highway.  (Make sure you know where the hostel is because you'll never see it from the road in winter.)  There are two cabins on site and the sleeping cabin sleeps 6, so rent the full hostel.

HI Hilda Creek

 Read about our previous trips here: 

Glorious snow above the Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel

Winter Hostelling in Jasper National Park 

The HI Athabasca Falls Wilderness Hostel is located in Jasper National Park across the road from Athabasca Falls, approximately half an hour outside the town of Jasper.  X-country ski trails are located across the road and the Marmot Basin Ski Resort is nearby. Snowshoe trails are plentiful and skating can be found on several lakes close to town.  There is a sleeping cabin with two private rooms (duplex style) and each room sleeps 6.

 Read about our previous trips here: 

HI Athabasca Falls

The HI Maligne Canyon Wilderness Hostel is also located near the Town of Jasper, but is on the other side of the town off the Maligne Lake Road. The hostel is located across the road from the popular Maligne Canyon trailhead and is a 15 minute drive from town.

This hostel doesn't have private rooms, but similar to Rampart Creek, sleeps up to 6 people per dorm room. Book an entire dorm room if you have young children.

I also suggest staying here closer to spring when temperatures are warm outside because the main communal cabin is very small. There is no separate living area, just a small kitchen area with a couple of small tables. If it's cold outside, you'll be sharing this cabin with all of the other hostel guests or you'll  be stuck hanging out inside your sleeping cabin.

HI Maligne Canyon Wilderness Hostel 

Read about our previous trips here: 

Maligne Canyon frozen ice walk 

Winter Camping in Yurts and Glamping Tents

One of my favourite resorts in the Canadian Rockies has a cute little yurt that you can book year round, and it makes staying here much more affordable. They've also built a glamping tent (with more to be built soon.)

Mount Engadine Lodge in Kananaskis is located in beautiful Spray Valley Provincial Park, and is a very short distance away from fabulous snowshoeing, x-country skiing, or winter hiking. You can pretty much hike or ski right out the front door of the lodge in fact!

Yurt camping at Mount Engadine Lodge

Options for accommodations include staying in the main lodge (which won't feel much like camping,) or staying in either their yurt or newly built glamping tent.

The yurt sleeps 4 people in bunk beds and has a small heater in it so you won't freeze on a cold winter night. All meals are included with your stay including afternoon tea for an all inclusive price of $150 per person per night. Stay on a Saturday night and you can still spend two full days playing in the mountains as well!

Learn more about staying in the yurt here. (link to the Mount Engadine website)

And for that romantic weekend away without the kids, check out their new glamping tents for a more "elevated" camping experience. And heck, bring the kids if you want. Each tent comfortably sleeps two people, but there is a pull out couch if you want to bring the children.

Snowshoeing across the meadow below Mount Engadine Lodge

Read about our previous trips here: 

Gorgeous scenery near Mount Engadine Lodge