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.

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?

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Snowshoe and Ski Vacations for the Whole Family

A few weeks ago I made my way out to the mountains for the day with one of my favorite outdoor companions, my five year old son.   Our destination was nearby Sunshine Village in Banff.   
Sunshine Village Gondola - Ready for Adventure!

Five years ago (or less), it would have been fair to refer to Sunshine Village as a ski resort, and the majority of their clientele still visit on skis.  Things are changing though and some of us are choosing to visit with other outdoor pursuits in mind.  We’re going up the gondola to the Upper Village with snowshoes in hand, we’re leaving our skis at home, and some folks are even travelling with yoga mats tucked under their arms.  Sunshine Village Resort is expanding their programs with the ultimate goal that every member of the outdoor community be able to find something meaningful and fun to do while visiting for the day (or longer…)

Snowshoeing at Sunshine Village  - that's me in pink (photo courtesy of Sunshine village)

For Noah and I, Sunshine Village gave us the perfect opportunity to spend a fun day together while pursuing different sports at a level we could each enjoy.  While Noah was checked into a child care and ski school program for the day, I participated in the Historic Snowshoe and Fondue Tour.

Noah's Day
My Day (photo courtesy of Sunshine village)

And with that introduction, the full story as published yesterday for Snowshoe Magazine, proceeds to introduce other new programs that Sunshine Village has added to their offerings this spring - including overnight yoga and ski retreats!! (next on the list of things to try.)

Snowshoeing Sunshine Meadows (photo courtesy of Sunshine village)

While I do love skiing, downhill skiing is something I have to do in moderation due to restrictions on this well seasoned body of mine.   I am so glad that ski hills are starting to offer more variety for their guests with everything from snowshoe tours to yoga classes and on-hill lodging where you can spend the day relaxing with a good book.  My family is going to be visiting resorts like Sunshine Village every winter but that doesn't mean each member of our family has to do the same thing each time we visit.  As long as we meet up for a hot chocolate at the end of the day and go home with happy smiles on our faces, I will be a well pleased mom.

Snowshoeing at Sunshine Village - Absolute Paradise!!

To read the full story, go to Snowshoe and Ski Vacations for the Whole Family at Snowshoe Magazine.

To read last year's story when I went snowshoeing at Sunshine Village, visit the link to Move Over Skis - Hello Snowshoes.  Last year's tour was done with White Mountain Adventures, the same company that runs the tours for Sunshine Village's Snowshoe and Fondue Tour.  There's lots of good photos in last year's story that I hope you will check out if you want to see what the experience is all about.

Finally, for information on any of Sunshine Village's programs, visit their website at Ski Banff.

Big Thanks To Sunshine Village for making our day possible and for providing me use of several of the photos in this story. 

Disclaimer:  I participated in the Snowshoe and Fondue Tour as part of a media visit.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.