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.

Hilda Creek - Snowshoes Access Required

Last weekend, we travelled the famed Icefields Parkway that connects Banff and Jasper National Parks to reach the Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel, located a short distance away from the Columbia Icefields Centre.  In summer, the Icefields Centre is the place to be if you want to board a giant snow bus for a tour on the Athabasca Glacier and the whole area is crawling with tourists!  You wouldn't need to worry about running out of gas, having engine trouble or experiencing an emergency of any kind.  (Somebody would be around to find you.)  Winter and early spring however is a completely different story.  There is nobody hanging out around the Icefields Centre at this time of year.  The large building is boarded up and drivers on the highway move along between Jasper and Banff without stopping.  Other than the occasional backcountry skiers visiting the area, you are completely on your own!

The sign that tells you there's a cabin somewhere off in the woods (far out of sight)

The first time we wanted to stay at the Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel, we received quite the "warning" on the phone when I made the booking.  We were told that we absolutely HAD to pack out all garbage, that there would be no hostel manager on site, that we might have to melt snow for drinking water if the creek was frozen solid, that there were no services or amenities for at least 100 kilometres, and that we would need solid backcountry experience!  We immediately responded with, "sign us up!"

Shoveling out the front door of the main cabin for "light"
Avalanche off the sleeping cabin during our stay
The climb up to the highway from the hostel

We LOVE the Hilda Creek Hostel and make it a priority to travel here at least once (or twice, maybe three times) a year for a few reasons:

Our Own Private Paradise!

The hostel only sleeps 6 so that means we can take one other family with us and reserve the whole hostel for ourselves!  I like sharing as much as the next person, but if you don't have to share, why would you?  Hilda is the only hostel that can so easily be reserved for a private booking; No other hostel I know of sleeps but 6 people!

Hanging out in the main cabin


Scenery Extraordinaire!

The Hilda Creek Hostel may be situated in the middle of nowhere, but the scenery is unparalleled!  Last year we took the kids on a hike to see the Athabasca Glacier and this year we took them up the moraines below the Hilda Glacier.  Getting to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier is easy - follow the summer road and hiking trail from the Icefields Centre.  Reaching the toe of the Hilda Glacier however requires significant backcountry experience in winter .  Fortunately, we had no aspirations of touching the Hilda Glacier; We just wanted to do a snowshoe tour out the door of our cabin.  Mission accomplished. 

Hiking out the door of the Hilda Creek Hostel
Hiking up the moraines below the Hilda Glacier
Raising  Tough Kids - AND Training Tough Parents
Climbing Moraines with the kids (aka, winter mountaineering)
Again, Training Tough Parents
The Fastest Way Down - Slide of course!
You could just hike along Hilda Creek for an "easier" trip


FUN in the SNOW!

The main reason we go to Hilda Creek in the winter - to have FUN in the snow.  April is still full on winter on the Icefields Parkway but the weather is a bit warmer and so it's our choice time of year to visit.

He does not care that it's April and it's still snowing.

Playing in the snow - kid paradise!
Sledding down the hill below the hostel - FUN every year!
Even the adults had fun with the snow!
Perhaps the adults had a little TOO much fun with the snow
Flips off the deck - what else do you do after dinner? 
Even the kids had fun jumping off the deck into the waist deep snow!

Honestly, for folks comfortable in the backcountry, Hilda Creek is absolute paradise!  We haul our gear to the cabins in sleds and it's close enough to the highway that we can bring everything from coolers of food to six packs of beer, jugs of water (if we were smart,) toys, skis for adults wanting to do turns off Hilda Ridge behind the hostel, and comfort items (you name it - your fav. pillow, the kids' fav. stuffies...)  Yes, there is no running water and it's pretty rustic, but it's also an incredible experience to spend the weekend living off the grid completely self sufficient.

Our Rustic Home at Hilda Creek
Packing everything out of the hostel

We are teaching our kids to appreciate things like clean drinking water that flows from a tap, indoor plumbing, lights that turn on with the flick of a switch and all the modern technology we have so handy at our fingertips from television to refrigerators and microwaves.  We had none of that at Hilda Creek and we survived just fine.  I'd say we did more than just survive.  We had fun.

Playing in the snow outside the hostel
To read last year's story on Hilda Creek and see our photos hiking to see the Athabasca Glacier, visit this link to my story in Snowshoe Magazine, Spring Adventures on Alberta's Icefields Parkway.

Athabasca Glacier Hike in Winter

Want to book your own trip to Hilda Creek?  Visit the Hostelling International Website for all the information you need.  The hostel is a great place to visit in summer as well and you can hike fabulous trails such as Parker Ridge and the Hilda Glacier Trail without ever getting in your car.  Within a 5 minute drive, you can reach the Columbia Icefields Centre to see the Athabasca Glacier or you can reach the Wilcox Pass trailhead.  These are all STELLAR hikes and absolutely unparalleled in the Rockies.  Photos below.

Hiking Parker Ridge in Summer right above the hostel
Hiking on the Athabasca Glacier with the Snow Coach Tour
Hiking Parker Ridge in Autumn
Wilcox Pass Hike with Mount Athabasca in the Background


Are you planning your trip yet?

Thanks as always to Hostelling International for assisting with our stay.  All opinions and thoughts are my own.


  1. That looks amazing! What a privilege to be able to access real wilderness like that - and it's great that you're taking advantage of it!

    1. Thanks Linda. It is amazing to be able to access wilderness with so little effort. We love our hostels!

  2. Great recap. The Canadian Rockies has so much to offer and I love that you put that out there.

  3. How far in advance do you recommend booking for this hostel?

    1. As far as you are able to. But I'm a planner so I'd say that for anything. If you can do it 6 months in advance, you'll feel safer in knowing you'll get a spot. Long weekends will fill up faster as will weekends in ski season (feb/march).

  4. Can you tell me how good the heating system is and are pots/dishes/cutlery already there? Lastly, is there an oven or only stove top cooking? Thanks!

  5. Thanks for the info. Have booked Hilda Creek hostel for a weekend next February and am looking forward to staying there already!

    1. So happy to hear that you've booked a trip to Hilda. Have a great trip! Let me know how it goes.

    2. I meant to ask how much avalanche risk is at Hilda Creek? I'll check with Parks Canada too but the more info the better!

      Thanks . . .

    3. There is no avalanche risk (to my knowledge) at the hostel itself or in the immediate area. We also hiked up towards the Hilda Glacier from a trail behind the bathrooms and felt it was safe. However, if you want to get on Parker or Hilda Ridge to do skiing or snowshoeing, there is avalanche danger.

  6. Anywhere above the hostel there is avalanche risk. It's lower risk until you get to steeper slopes, but certainly not no risk. Anyone who backcountry skis in that areas carries avy gear and wears beacons from the moment the leave the car or the hostel.

    I would not have done that hike towards the Hilda Glacier without avy gear & training. Just not worth the risk.

    Also, there is no wood stove, no loft and no oven. Just one three burner propane stove. The wood stove was taken out long ago, and the heat is via propane heaters in the kitchen building and in the bunkroom.

    1. Hi. I have gone through some of my comments and realize I may have responded at one point with a different cabin in mind. Obviously tired and thought I was responding to a different story. As you indicate, there is no oven, only hot plate type stoves, and yes, no loft. Any mention I had of a loft in comments would have referred to the Elk Lakes Cabin. I wrote another story about that cabin as well with a similar title of "raising tough kids." I think you would prefer this cabin in the future as it is a bit more "comfortable."

      In the future, it is always recommended to check with the actual website, in this case, Hostelling International, for best information possible. I would prefer to be a source of inspiration only and not a "guide book" if you would. As for avalanche danger, Parks Canada would be able to give you that information as well and they should be consulted for the most up to date conditions so that your family can be safe. I merely provide my "opinions" and again am not a guide book or a trained professional.

  7. Hi Tanya, I made the original 'anonymous' posts back in August and September (but certainly not the last one!). A group of us used my long held reservation and went to Hilda Creek this past weekend and had a WONDERFUL time. The weather was great, the scenery was great and having the hostel all to ourselves made the weekend so much more fun and enjoyable.

    I appreciate all the information you post on this website. It has helped my family and friends get out more winter and summer. Lastly, we enjoyed Hilda Creek so much that we've booked the whole hostel for another weekend later this year.

    1. Hi Gerrard. I'm happy that you loved Hilda Creek. We love it too and are back for Easter this year. We find it very rustic and it gives us a backcountry experience that is easy to achieve with young kids. Hope you have fun again later when you go.