Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The BEST Spring Bike Rides in Kananaskis

Spring is here and it's our favourite time to bike as a family.  Trails are still muddy and wet but many highways and campground roads in Kananaskis are clear, dry, AND free of all traffic!  Now is the time to enjoy safe road rides with the kids The roads are ours!

Balance Biking the Beaver Flats Trail, Elbow Valley

Here are the best family road rides for spring - FREE of all traffic:

Bow Valley Provincial Park Campground Loop

Park at the Middle Lake day use area and bike around on the quiet paved campground roads. They are open to vehicles as of early May but they are very quiet. Cars will also be driving very slowly and will give cyclists plenty of space. Go before the campground opens and you'll have empty roads because there's a winter gate just past Middle Lake.

Note for 2020, the campground doesn't open until June 1st, but the roads are already open for the season.

Balance Biking the Roads through Bow Valley Provincial Park

We like to bike to the Elk Flats Group Campground where you can have a picnic (as long as the campground isn't open yet for the season.) We then continue on to the Many Springs Trailhead (bring a bike lock if you want to go for a short hike,) and then we head down to the river. From there we return through the campground (which is delightful when it's still closed for the season.)

There are also two playgrounds, one at the Elk Flats Group Campground and another one in the main campground that you'll bike through on your return.

Elk Flats Playground

See the map of the park here. (Note you'll always be on the roads for biking because the trails are closed to bikes.)

Finally there is a paved bike trail that connects the Visitor Centre near the Highway 1X with the camp store. We like to bike around the campground from Middle Lake and then hop on the bike trail at the end to extend our ride. We return to Middle Lake on the road. This can all be done in a big loop of 12km.

If you're planning to visit with small children, read the story I wrote after our first spring visit to this park:  The Bow Valley Biker Gang.

Bow Valley Campground paved bike trail 

The Elbow Valley and Highway 66

Highway riding with kids was never so easy!  Drive out to Bragg Creek to highway 66.  Park above the Elbow Falls Day Use Area on the side of the highway at the winter gate which doesn't open until May 15th. Until then, the highway and surrounding campgrounds are wide open for cyclists - and CLOSED to all cars.  Wahoo!

Biking Hwy 66 in the Elbow Valley

We like to bike the highway to the Beaver Flats Campground.  From here we bike around the campground and take a hike on the Beaver Flats hiking trail.  It's a cute little trail, balance bike and Chariot friendly, and the kids will have a blast exploring the beaver ponds. 

Bring sand toys, pails, and shovels to play at the ponds with if you have small kids.  You can either bike back on the highway or hike back along the Beaver Flats trail.  The trail takes you back to within 500m of your car.  (note, the trail is technically a pedestrian trail, so I wouldn't go ripping down it on mountain bikes.)

Balance Biking the Beaver Flats Trail
Playing in the Beaver Ponds on the Beaver Flats Trail

Paddy's Flat Campground, Elbow Valley

Here's another Elbow Valley campground that's fun to bike around before it opens on May 15th.  Park at the closed Paddy's Flat Campground gate along the side of Hwy 66.  From there, bike down into the campground and head for the playground or the river.  There's a fun interpretive trail that follows the river and is fun for kids to bike.  Again, it is a hiking trail so take it easy on the adult bikes!  Or walk.

Note for 2020, the campground won't be opening until June 1st so you'll have lots of time to explore this campground on bikes.

Balance Biking the Paddy's Flat Interpretive Trail
Playing beside the river on the Paddy's Flat Trail

Highway 40 West of Longview to Cat Creek Falls

Drive south to Longview and head west on Highway 541. Park at the winter gate at Highwood Junction where the road meets up with Highway 40. The highway climbs  to Highwood Pass and then descends to Peter Lougheed Provincial Park (though you aren't going that far.)

The highway opens to vehicles on June 15th every year so you have plenty of time to enjoy this ride.

Ride as far as you get, returning when the kids get tired. You'll have some very big hills in both directions so save energy for the return ride. We like to ride as far as the Cat Creek day use area where we then hike in to see the falls.

You can reach the falls and back in approximately 10km. The hike itself is only 2km return.

Read more about this adventure here: Biking to Cat Creek on Highway 40

Spring Biking on Highway 40

More Great Rides

The trails along the river in Canmore are fabulous by May and June and offer families some easy pathways to ride.  For more information, read this story I wrote:   The Best Family Bike Trails in Canmore

Biking the Canmore River Pathways

Also check out my other story on the Best Family Bike Trails in Kananaskis for plenty of great mountain biking options.  Troll Falls is a family favourite along with the trail to Watridge Lake.  These trails should all be in condition by early to mid June most years.

Biking to Troll Falls, Kananaskis

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Raising Tough Kids - Hilda Creek Wilderness Trip

When you think of spring, do you associate it with flowers, planting your garden, or rain showers and rubber boots splashing in puddles?  I wish I could link all of the above to the spring season in the Canadian Rockies but alas, we're still getting weekly (daily) snow storms.  For us, spring means that the weather has finally warmed up enough that we can take the kids into the backcountry again after a long winter of staying in resorts, hotels, and front country hostels.  And while we LOVE resorts (don't get me wrong,) we also really love wilderness and backcountry trips where we have to travel sans automobile to get to our sleep destination for the night.

Spring in the Canadian Rockies

A week ago, you hopefully read about our trip into the Elk Lakes Cabin in British Columbia in my first story on Raising Tough Kids.  Elk Lakes was the ultimate in difficult winter (spring?) family journeys with a grueling 11km ski/snowshoe required to reach the cabin.  Last weekend we did our second wilderness trip of the spring season and it was just a tad easier.  We only had to snowshoe about 500 metres to reach our two cabins.  And yeah, maybe we should have done this trip first as prep for the harder one.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Where to Spend Easter in Kananaskis and Banff

Ever dream of skiing with the Easter Bunny?  Want to hunt for Easter eggs on a ski hill?  Or think it would be cool to have Easter Brunch on top of a mountain?  These are just some of the many things you can do in Kananaskis and Banff this Easter from a base camp in Calgary, Canmore, or the town of Banff itself.

Here is my Easter Activity Round up for 2014:

Go to Mount Norquay for their Annual Easter Brunch and Easter Egg Hunt

This is a fun one!  Celebrate on Easter Sunday with brunch and an Easter egg hunt for the kids at  Banff's Mount Norquay Ski Resort.  The brunch is only $17 for adults and teens over 14, with children under 6 free. The Easter egg hunt is free for all kids.  For more information visit Mount Norquay's website.  While at Norquay, make sure you check out their awesome Tube Park.  It can't be beat for super family fun!

Mount Norquay Tube Park

Spend Easter Weekend at Sunshine Village

Sunshine Village Ski Resort is celebrating Easter on both Saturday and Sunday, April 19-20th with church services, an Easter Bunny on site, and Easter egg hunts.  For more information, visit the Sunshine Village website.  While you're planning your trip to Sunshine Village, consider participating in one of their new Historical Snowshoe and Fondue Tours.  There may still be room in some of the Easter Learn to Ski/Ride Camps as well for children 6+ years of age.  And, there's a special Steeps Camp for teens 13+ .

Sunshine Village Gondola Ride

Find the Easter Bunny at Calgary's Closest Mountain, Nakiska Mountain Resort

The Easter Bunny will be at Nakiska all weekend from Good Friday through Easter Sunday, hopping around and hiding eggs for the children to find.  Balloon artists and live music will also be featured on Saturday and Sunday.  For more information, visit the Nakiska website.  Want to spend the weekend at Kananaskis Village?  Check the Delta Kananaskis Lodge for availabilities.  They always have a LOT of fun activities planned over Easter for their Easter Egg-Stravaganza!  This year there will be a giant Easter egg hunt, petting zoo, and a special visit from the Easter Bunny.

Skiing at Nakiska Mountain Resort

Spend the weekend in Banff with the Easter Bunny

Yes, the Easter Bunny is visiting Banff this year so don't worry about leaving home for the weekend.  The Bunny will find your kids.  Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts have room specials at the Buffalo Mountain Lodge in Banff, and the Deer Lodge at Lake Louise.  For a bit more per night, you can even cross into Yoho National Park and stay at the fabulous Emerald Lake Lodge for Easter.  Each resort will feature different activities along with decadent breakfast buffets, visits from the Easter Bunny and Easter egg hunts.

Beautiful Emerald Lake Lodge

Have Easter Brunch on top of Sulphur Mountain

The Banff Gondola will be doing a special Easter Brunch on April 20th.  Gondola tickets are included in the brunch package and you'll be dining at the upper gondola terminal overlooking beautiful downtown Banff. From there, you can do a short hike to the top of Sulphur Mountain.  To read my recent gondola story, visit  Playing Tourist in Banff Without the Crowds

Banff Gondola Visit

Celebrate Easter in Luxury at the Fairmont Banff Springs

You know you've always dreamed of staying at the Fairmont Banff Springs, our "castle" in the Rockies.  So, here's your chance!  The Resort has a bunch of super fun activities planned for Easter from Easter basket making to Easter egg decorating, scavenger hunts, family movie nights, and more.  And you know the Sunday Easter Brunch is going to be amazing!  I've only ever had brunch once at a Fairmont Resort, but the memory lives vibrant and yummy in my brain!  For special vacation offers, visit the Fairmont Banff Springs website. 

High above the Fairmont Banff Springs on Tunnel Mountain

Visit the Easter Bunny at Lake Louise

My, the Easter Bunny will be busy hopping around Banff!  He will make appearances at the Lake Louise Ski Resort all weekend from April 18th through the 20th passing out chocolate eggs.  If you're really lucky, you might even get the opportunity to take a run down the Tube Park with the Bunny himself! For more information, visit the Lake Louise website.

Scenic Lake Louise

Happy Easter (in advance!)   Did I miss anything?  Leave a comment with your favourite place to spend Easter in the Canadian Rockies.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Raising Tough Kids - Our Annual Winter Backpacking Trip

This story is titled "Raising Tough Kids" because that's certainly what it feels like we're doing!  We (and friends) took six kids between the ages of 2 and 6 into the backcountry for two nights, in winter, with temperatures dropping down below -15C (5F), and made the kids travel 11km to the Elk Lakes Cabin where we'd stay in Elk Lakes Provincial Park.  That's almost 7 miles and it was a long distance for a four year old to ski!  Yet, that's exactly what happened.  We had one four year old girl ski the whole distance in and out by herself, on her own skis, with no towing or other assistance.  The other four year old girl required a bit of towing but she also made it in by herself on her own skis.  The six year old boy in our group skied in by himself as well and my five year old son rode his ski bike to the cabin and out, mixed with a bit of snowshoeing.  Tough Kids Indeed!

Final Race to the Cabin on Skis and Snowshoes

We did let the 2 and 3 year olds ride in sleds to reach the cabin but once we got to the cabin, everybody had to do the day tour to the closest lake on their own.  No sleds were used to complete the tour and the kids skied or snowshoed 2-3km round trip to the Lower Elk Lake (including the 2 year old!)  Tough Kids - yep!

Day Touring from the Cabin

So, why are we trying to raise tough kids?  I don't know if that's the goal, but mostly, we want to raise kids that can keep up.  In our group of friends, we all believe in taking our kids with us as much of the time as possible on our adventures and there are only so many ways to get a kid into the backcountry in winter.  And most of the four and five year olds are honestly just getting too heavy to pull anymore!  Add the fact that most of our kids WANT to be active.  They don't want to be carried, they don't want to ride in sleds... They want to participate on their own little legs.  So we let them.

Skiing in Elk Lakes Provincial Park
Snowshoeing on the Lower Elk Lake

The important thing for me when it come to difficult trips like this is to focus on my child's abilities and interests rather than trying to push my own agenda as a parent.  On this particular trip, our family was the only one in the group to choose snowshoeing as our means of transportation.  And, it would have been very easy to have forced Noah to ski  - because everybody else was.  It would have been easy to feel stupid for snowshoeing when it was actually "suggested" that snowshoeing was slow, boring, and not the best way to travel.  And I'm pretty sure the bike was mocked at the trailhead.  BUT, Noah got the last word there!   He kicked our butts (and everybody else's butts) to the parking lot at the end of the trip.

Noah showing some skiers how it's done on the descent from Elk Pass heading out
Elk Pass on a Strider Ski Bike
Daddy towing the bike on the flats

I "try" to follow these principals when planning BIG family trips:

One - Forget the others, where is MY child at?  Will he be able to hike/ski/bike.... that distance?   And if not, how should we proceed.  On this trip, we knew our son could not ski or even hike the whole distance to the cabin on his own.  So, we brought his bike with a tow rope and got to the cabin in our own creative way.  It was certainly unorthodox to be riding a bike on the official cross country ski trails of Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, but it worked. And as soon as we crossed Elk Pass into British Columbia, we were very happy to be on snowshoes as we entered backcountry terrain. 

Trying to get over the first big hill on the way in
Noah riding his bike down a hill on the Peter Lougheed Ski Trails

Two - Forget how I want to travel, how would my CHILD want to travel.  Honestly I would have preferred to ski on our backpacking trip.  But, I know my son is better on snowshoes.   This was especially evident on the long slog out over Elk Pass - I knew we'd want snowshoes then for the whole family!  And honestly, while it was hard on this trip to be the only family on snowshoes when everybody else was skiing, you do what you have to do for YOUR family.  Competition is just silly in the backcountry.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race - Snowshoeing worked just fine!
Snowshoeing to the Lower Elk Lake from the cabin

Three - I will NOT push my child past his abilities.  I believe in encouraging my child to live up to his potential.  I set big goals for him, and many could even accuse me of riding him pretty hard on trips to reach the potential I see in him.  BUT, choosing a trip where you'll have to scream at your child the vast majority of the time because it's just too hard for him is not cool!   I've learned that the hard way.  On this particular trip we tried to figure out what would be the most fun way to get to the cabin.  For Noah, bike = fun.  So it was a no-brainer. 

Playing on his bike at the cabin
Skiing down Elk Pass to the cabin

Four - Adventure has to be FUN for kids in the moment.  At least most of the time.  I don't believe kids have the same ability that we do to spend hours slogging, toiling, and suffering - knowing that they'll be happy afterwards for what they achieved.  Gratification has to be much more instant for kids!  There were definitely moments on our trip that were not fun (climbing the pass on the way out was NOT fun.)  BUT, there were fun moments spread out over the whole trip in and out.  Every hill that Noah  got to fly down on his bike was fun, and made the challenging moments worth it.

Noah flew down this hill so fast, it took, me a good 5 minutes to catch up to him - running!
Getting ready to ski down the power line to the cabin

Five - Be realistic and have back up plans.  What will you do if your child can't make it the whole way to the campground, cabin, lake, etc.?  What will you do if your child needs help on a trip?  It's all well and good to say "my child should be able to do this" but what if he or she is having an off day and can't?  For us on this trip, we pulled a sled with us.  We brought snowshoes.  And, we had the bike.  We had a lot of options.  We even had a tow rope for the bike.  We knew Noah would reach the cabin one way or another.  And in the challenging moments, we played games such as Eye Spy, counted to 100 (which takes a while for a 5 year old) or played simple mind games such as listing off food or animals that start with each letter of the alphabet.  That got us over the pass!

Sled, Snowshoes, Bike - lotsa options!

We had a great trip and while it was challenging at times, we were prepared, we followed the motto of "slow and steady," and we tried our hardest to not make it a race.  We did what worked for our child, for his pace, and for his abilities.

Making our way to the cabin

Some of the Fun Moments at the Cabin


Teaching the Kids to play Cards
Playing in the Snow outside the Cabin
Day Touring to the Lower Lake
Making Snow Angels and Doing Snow Yoga at the Lower Lake
Playing Tag on the Lower Lake
Snowshoeing around the area
Sledding outside the Cabin
AND, playing on the bike

For more information on the Alpine Club of Canada's Elk Lakes Cabin, visit the link to the ACC website.

The Elk Lakes Cabin
Looking down at our wet clothes drying from the loft
Reading stories in the loft

Read about our previous adventures here:

Spring Adventures in Elk Lakes Provincial Park

Winter Glamping - Not or the Faint of Heart

More Card Games in the Cabin
A Real Mountain Papa

For information on Noah's ski bike, go to the Strider website or the Alberta Balance Bikes website. Below, is Noah's best descent on the way down.



What is your secret when planning BIG trips with kids?