Monday, December 29, 2014

Top 10 Posts of 2014 - Did you miss any?

I like looking back at the year before I jump into the approaching new year.  It helps me reflect on what worked, and what did not work.  I can look back on trips we enjoyed and perhaps ones that were not as memorable.  I also like to look back on the posts that you most enjoyed reading.  This helps me know what you might like to see more of next year.  Therefore, I have looked up all the numbers, and below are the top ten most popular posts from 2014.

1.  Comfort Camping in Banff National Park

Imagine going camping with nothing but your sleeping bags, food, a stove and some dishes, maybe a lantern, add a couple lawn chairs, and of course your clothes.  The big thing missing though - the TENT.  Because it's taken care of for you.  And you won't be sleeping on the ground.  Instead, you'll be sleeping in complete luxury inside a heated, furnished A-frame cabin in real beds!  Welcome to comfort camping!! (read more...)

Comfort Camping in Banff National Park (photo:  Paul Zizka)

2.  Waterton Lakes National Park - In Winter (A Whole Different Experience)

We go camping in Waterton Lakes National Park every summer and it's one of our favourite places to visit near Calgary.  When we go in July, we are always able to go biking, hiking, paddling, and explore this lovely park full of wild flowers, waterfalls, and wildlife in abundance.  On the down side though, there is little solitude unless you go for a long day hike or overnight backpacking trip, the popular tourist places are crawling with people, and you'd be hard pressed to get a family photo without at least 5 other families in it.

Since we've always loved Waterton so much, we wondered what it would look like in winter.  With no tourists, very few people at all, (the town has about 40 permanent year-round residents), and very few amenities.  We decided to head down for a visit in January this year, one of the coldest months in the Rockies, and see what life is like in this sleepy winter town. (read more...)

Waterton Lakes in Winter

3.  The Best Family Campground in Kananaskis

What do you look for in a family-friendly campground?  Myself, I look for large campsites that border on a wide open meadow where children can run around and play.  I love it when we can camp right beside a playground and I especially love it when we're camped in a quiet loop that kids can bike around - if they are in sight the whole time it's a real bonus!  Add a hiking trail that's right in the campground (in our loop even,) and bike trails that start right from camp so that we don't have to drive to find adventure - and that's my definition of a GREAT family campground.

Let me introduce you to the Canyon Campground in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.  Chances are you've never heard of it because everybody seems to favour the much bigger Boulton Creek and Elkwood Campgrounds.  (read more...)

Canyon Campground, Kananaskis

4.  So,You Love the Outdoors But Don't Want to Camp...

Love hiking, biking, being outside and enjoying warm summer nights outside on your patio?  Hate (or strongly dislike ) camping though?  You aren't alone.  Not everybody likes camping and it doesn't mean you aren't outdoorsy or that you're soft.  I admit that I wasn't enthralled with the idea of camping for "fun" until it became a family activity.  Before that, it was just something we did when we needed a base camp for bigger and better adventures. 

Things have changed for me though and I can now say I LOVE camping.  But it comes down to discovering your style and preferences.  And sometimes that style means using a cabin, wilderness hostel or backcountry lodge. (read more...)

Comfort Camping at Shadow Lake Lodge

5.  Nakiska Mountain Resort - Raising the Bar in Family Excellence

Until recently, it had been over 5 years since I'd been at a ski resort.  My husband and I used to ski all the time in the Rockies until our son was born at the beginning of 2009.  After that, a combination of factors lead us to give up downhill skiing in favour of sports we thought would be more family-friendly.  Resort skiing seemed frightening and we weren't sure how to tackle a day at a ski hill with a baby or toddler in tow.  

Even as our son got older, he's almost 5 now, we thought maybe we'd wait a few years before introducing him to downhill skiing.  Neither my husband or I learned to ski until we were older and we just didn't see a hurry.  Hence, we focused on cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and other "easy" winter sports that we thought were safe and fun to do together. (read more...)

Nakiska Mountain Resort

6.  Small Feet, Big Land - Book Review

Our summer adventures are winding down and I'm finally taking some time to slow down, to catch up, and to share some very overdue adventure stories.  Today's adventure is a little different from what you'll normally read on my blog because for a pleasant change,  I'm not writing about my family and we're going beyond the Canadian Rockies.  In fact, we're traveling to Alaska today.

Today, I'd like to introduce you to Erin McKittrick and her family who live in the tiny village of Seldovia in Southcentral Alaska.  I've long been intrigued by this family ever since discovering Erin's blog, Ground Truth Trekking, and her incredible photography showcasing the realities of raising small children outside in a very big (and wild) land.
(read more...)

Small Feet, Big Land (photo:  Erin Mckittrick)

7.  My Personal Top 10 List of Cool Things to do this Winter

 Last month I was speaking at Campers Village on the topic of learning to embrace the cold and how to fall in love with winter.  It got me thinking about my favourite things to do in the cold months and so I made a top ten list of awesome things to do from November through March.  Below is my personal list of COOL things to do this winter.  I hope you'll join me in checking some of these things off your list over the next few months. (read more...)

Embrace the Cold!

8.  10 More Cool Things to do this Winter (for a total of 25 awesome ways to embrace the cold)

Originally, I published the first 10 cool things I recommend you try this winter as a family.  Then I published a follow up piece titled:  5 More Cool Things to do this Winter (for a total of 15 awesome ways to embrace the cold.)

And now, I bring you the third piece with ten more cool things to do this winter!  That's a grand total of 25 super awesome ways to get outside as a family this winter, to embrace the cold, and to learn to love winter. 
(read more...)

Winter is Awesome

9.  Jura Creek - the Best Winter Hike in Kananaskis

Best?  Really, the absolute best?... - Yes.  The very very absolute best, most fun for all ages hike in Kananaskis award goes to Jura Creek!

While there are other good hikes in Kananaskis that can be done in winter, Jura Creek is something special because it's a hike that can not really be done in summer.  The canyon through Jura Creek can only be tackled in winter when the water is well frozen under a layer of ice and snow.  (read more...)

Hiking Jura Creek

10.  Kids on Wheels - Pump Tracks and Mountain Bike Parks 

Last summer we found ourselves driving through the mountain town of Fernie on our way home from a camping trip and I remembered that the town had a little dirt jump park I'd been curious about.  Our son was 4 then and still on his Strider balance bike but I was fairly confident he'd be able to handle a few bumps and fun obstacles on his bike.  We stopped at the park for an hour or so and Noah definitely took to the idea of circling the dirt track on his little orange bike.  He just needed a bit more courage to truly commit to the jumps and bigger bumps - courage that would come with practice. 

It's now a new summer, Noah is a year older, and he's riding an incredible 16" Spawn Banshee pedal bike.  It was high time we try the whole pump track experience again!  And, I'd found us a track only 45 minutes from our house.  Canmore has the sweetest little pump track by the river and it's perfect for beginners working on their mountain biking skills.   We've already spent a couple afternoons at the track but I foresee many trips out to Canmore this summer when we're not camping. (read more...)

Canmore Pump Track

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.

Dog Sledding with Snowy Owl Tours

See the video here below and read the full story here.

Two - Trying SUP surfing in Mexico

I was bruised, battered, and sore the next day, but it was worth it!  I love stand up paddleboarding and could not resist trying SUP surfing while in Nuevo Vallarta last February.  Would I try it again?  Probably not.  But I do definitely want to do more SUP paddling on the ocean.  This body is too old for surfing though.  :)

Trying to SUP surf in Mexico

And on the topic of Mexico, our entire vacation to Nuevo Vallarta was definitely a highlight of 2014!  To see more photos, follow my links to see photos from the Kid's Adventure Park at Las Caletas where Noah got to try zip lining for the first time (he still says it's one of his favourite sports,) or photos from our fun at the Grand Marival Resort.  I highly recommend this resort for adventurous families.  The resort had stand up paddleboards to rent, sail boats, kayaks, and bikes that we could take out for tours around Nuevo Vallarta. They even had 20" kids' bikes.

Can not wait to go back to Mexico!

Three - Every moment spent on our bikes

It should come as no surprise that many of our happiest moments this past year were spent on our bikes.  It felt like every camping trip served as a base camp for the best bike trails from the Okanagan in British Columbia to the trails around Banff.

Biking the Kettle Valley Railway in Penticton, BC

Out of all the biking we did, the biggest highlights for me were the three days we spent riding the Kettle Valley Railway trails in the Okanagan, BC.  We biked from Penticton to Okanagan Falls for ice cream, we biked from Naramata to Penticton (stopping off at a winery en route,)  and we biked the Myra Canyon section which included biking over 18 trestle bridges and through two tunnels.

Mountain biking in the Okanagan

Noah would also add that he LOVES pump tracks!! (read more here)

The Canmore Pump Track was a fav. place to spend time this summer

Four - Discovering that Noah loves outdoor rock climbing

We'd tried indoor climbing and Noah was underwhelmed.  He was also scared and showed little interest for the sport.  Still, we thought we'd introduce him to outdoor climbing once, and see what happened.  The result, he LOVES it!  Go figure!  We were certainly shocked.  And pleased.

Learning to Climb (guess who gets a climbing helmet for his birthday this year?!)

Five - First overnight SUP river trip

It is extremely challenging to get kids into the backcountry or to do backpacking trips with little ones because they can't carry anything.  Meanwhile, they still need a sleeping bag, mattress, and other comfort items - that somebody has to carry for them!  Fortunately, we discovered that we love paddling, and that it's super easy to get everything to camp in a boat.  (unless your boat is a stand up paddleboard.)

Paddling down the Red Deer River to camp

Lucky for my girlfriend and I, our husbands supported us on our first overnight SUP river trip and carried all of our gear for us.  They also carried the kids when they weren't riding on our boards.  Yes, life is sweet sometimes.

To read more about our backcountry and paddle trips over the past five years as a family, read this story:  Five Years of Family Backpacking Trips. 

Our support boats and pack horses on the river

Six - Mount Norquay Via Ferrata (with a thousand exclamation marks!!!)

What to say, other than that it was freakin' awesome!! Would I do it again? Heck to the Yes!! Every day if I could!

Standing on top of Mount Norquay (after climbing it)

To read the full adventure and see the coolest photos, go to My First Via Ferrata Tour - and it was Awesome!! (and incidentally, this was my top #1 day of the entire year!!!)

Just hanging off the side of Mt. Norquay - no big deal.

Seven - BIG Summits with Noah

Earlier this year I started doing evening summit hikes with a great group of girls.  By the end of the summer I was doing the same hikes with my son!  How cool is it when your children get to the point where they can start doing the things you'd choose to do as a solo adult adventure?!  Pretty Cool!

First Big Summit:  Ha Ling Peak, Canmore

We tackled Ha Ling Peak in Canmore this past August as a family and discovered something about Noah.  He likes scrambling, and the steeper the better!  Yay!!! This bodes well for our family's future.  Later in the fall, we hiked into Shadow Lake Lodge for a weekend and managed to summit a peak on Copper Mountain.  Noah hiked and biked 28 km in the three day weekend and climbed 1500 metres.  To say we were proud was an understatement.  The best part, he liked it!  He actually likes climbing mountains!  Just like his Daddy.

To read the stories of our summits, follow the links in the previous paragraph for Ha Ling Peak and Copper Mountain.

Copper Mountain, Banff

We rounded off the season with one final hike up Prairie Mountain to give Noah three big summits this year.

Mighty Kids on Prairie Mountain


Eight - Teaching Noah to Kayak

It's surprising that Noah was not born in a tub of water because the kid is a total water baby!  He loves water!! Loves swimming, jumping off docks into lakes, playing in creeks, and riding in boats.  (and the more rapids the better)

First Kayak

We got Noah his own kayak for camping this summer and he's taken to it pretty well.  We're wondering if we can send him down an easy river in it next summer.  Maybe...

My paddling buddy

Nine -  Watching Noah learn to downhill ski

I gave up downhill skiing after Noah was born and as a family we decided to pursue x-country skiing instead.  Still, there was this "what if" question in my head.  What if Noah would really like downhill skiing?  What if we tried it...

We got Noah a cheap pair of skis, got him a pass to the local hill, and discovered pretty quickly that Noah did in fact, LOVE downhill skiing.  More than x-country skiing or snowshoeing - the kid definitely thinks this is the most fun!  So now Dad has a little ski buddy and I join occasionally on the easy runs.

Ski Buddy

Ten - Skating Season TWICE

Every November we head out to the mountains to go skating on lakes that have frozen over without becoming snow covered yet.  We call this "skating season" and there is often a one-week window (if that.)  This year, it happened twice!  It got very cold in November, snowed a bit, and hasn't snowed much since.  This has allowed some of the bigger lakes to freeze over in December without becoming snow covered.

Skating on the Ghost Reservoir

We enjoyed a beautiful winter solstice sunset skate on the Ghost Reservoir and I was thrilled to skate on this big wide open lake for the first time.  Sections were like glass and we saw lots of cool bubbles.

Skating over bubbles on the Ghost Reservoir

More to come on the Ghost skate in the new year.  :)

I hope you will keep following our adventures in 2015.  We have 10 wilderness trips planned this winter season alone and are very excited for big things over the next year.

Happy Holidays!

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.