Monday, July 28, 2014

Experiencing Awesome in Jasper National Park

Every time we make the trek north to Jasper National Park we try to stop and see something new as a family.   Last year we took the Jasper Tramway up to the top of Whistler's Mountain and it was one of the most amazing experiences we've ever had as a family in the park. The story is here at Family-friendly Summits in Jasper National Park.

Experiencing Awesome in Jasper National Park - Whistler's Summit

This year, we wanted to check out the awesome bike paths in Jasper that loop the townsite, surrounding lakes and campgrounds to form a family-friendly trail network of easy pathways.  We headed up for the July long weekend and while it was rainy for the first part of our visit, the sun finally came out so that we could check most of the bike paths off our list.  That story is here at The Best Family Bike Trails in Jasper

Experiencing Awesome in Jasper National Park - Biking along the Athabasca River

Our July long weekend camping trip this year wrapped up on Canada Day and it was one of those perfect days in the mountains with barely a cloud in the sky.  There was no way we could drive home via the incredible Icefields Parkway from Jasper to Lake Louise without stopping to do a hike.  We'd also been hearing great things about the all new Glacier Skywalk tour at the Columbia Icefield Centre.

We decided to do my favourite all time Jasper hike to Wilcox Pass and figured we'd still have time to do the Skywalk Tour afterward since the hiking trailhead was only 3km away from the Icefield Centre.

Experiencing Awesome in Jasper National Park - Wilcox Pass Hike

It was a proud day for us to be able to get our 5 year old son up the Wilcox Pass Trail because it meant Noah had reached a new milestone in hiking;  He could now do "real" hikes!  The Wilcox Pass hike is one that tourists come from far and wide to tackle.  Groups of fit adult hikers do this trail without children in tow and it's not just a cute little family hike.  Wilcox Pass is a premier destination in Jasper and one of the top 10 hikes in all of the Canadian Rockies.  And Noah did it!

Wilcox Pass with the Athabasca Glacier and Mt. Athabasca in the background
Wilcox Pass hike - Premier Destination in Jasper National Park

We didn't hike all the way to the pass which is 8km return, but we hiked about 2.5km until we reached a really good viewpoint across to the Athabasca Glacier, had snacks, and then ran down so we could go to the Icefield Centre for our Skywalk Tour.  All in all, it took us a couple of hours maybe and was very doable by a 5 year old child. 

Hiking up the Wilcox Pass Trail
Wilcox Pass - one of the easiest trails for accessing the high alpine in the Canadian Rockies!
And we saw sheep!!
Found the Red Chairs at Wilcox Pass! 
KEEN Ambassadors in Jasper

We finished our hike and thanks to Brewster Travel Canada, we already had complimentary tickets to go check out the nearby Glacier Skywalk.   We just had to go into the Columbia Icefield Centre and pick up our tickets.   We anticipated epic crowds being that it was Canada Day on our visit, but we were pleasantly surprised with how efficient the whole experience was.  We stopped in at the Icefield Centre, stood in line for maybe 10 minutes to get tickets, switched over to the Glacier Skywalk line up for the bus ride, and within another 10 minutes were sitting on our tour bus.  The bus ride was a short 5 minutes and within no time at all we were off the bus and heading for our tour.

Experiencing Awesome in Jasper National Park - The Glacier Skywalk Tour
The Skywalk Observation Platform with Mt. Athabasca in the background

The Glacier Skywalk is a glass sidewalk and viewing platform high above the Icefield valley bottom.  The Brewster Travel Canada describes their tour better than I ever could so I've copied there description  below from their website:

"The Glacier Skywalk is an experience like no other: a perfect balance of breathtaking views, interpretive story-telling and adrenaline-pumping excitement. Start by taking your time to explore a cliff-edge walkway that is filled with nature-inspired interpretive exhibits. Look down and you’ll see hints from life thousands of years ago. Look up and you’ll see the most stunning alpine and glacial vistas. Look around and you’ll discover one of the most unique ecosystems in the world; a place where it’s so hard to survive that adaptation never stops.
The grand finale to this experience is a glass-floored observation platform 918 feet (280 metres) over spectacular glacier-formed valleys and rushing waterfalls."
Walking along the sidewalk  to the viewing platform
Busy day at the Glacier Skywalk

The tour is reasonably priced at $24.95 per person and offers a fun way to take a break while driving the Icefields Parkway.  It's a 3 hour drive between Lake Louise and Jasper on the Parkway and every child I know loves to take rest stops while driving that distance.  Children's tickets are only $12.50 for the tour and kids 5 and under are free.

Checking out the valley bottom below the glass sidewalk

The tour itself only takes about an hour including the bus ride to and from the viewing platform, time to walk around on the glass sidewalk and take lots of photos.  It's the perfect amount of time for a rest stop while driving the Parkway and if you're planning to spend a longer amount of time at the Icefield Centre  there are other tours that can be taken as well.

Walking on the glass sidewalk
Noah thought it was pretty cool - No Fear!

The best companion tour with the Glacier Skywalk would be the Glacier Adventure where you get to take a big snow coach bus out onto the Athabasca Glacier to walk around on the ice.  It's an incredible experience and offers families the rare chance to walk on a glacier.  The tour is more pricy at $49.95 for adults but it's completely worth it and you can bundle tours together to make it more affordable.

Experiencing Awesome in Jasper National Park - The Athabasca Glacier Adventure

To see the BEST that Banff and Jasper National Parks have to offer, consider taking the Ultimate Explorer Tour.  This tour includes tickets to the Glacier Skywalk, the Glacier Adventure on the Athabasca Glacier, the Banff Gondola, and the Banff Lake Cruise on Lake Minnewanka.  We have now completed the full tour after having visited the Skywalk.  My previous stories can be seen here at Playing Tourist in Banff National Park and Tots on Ice - A Foundation for Mountaineering.

Banff Gondola and hike up Sulphur Mt.

The Ultimate Explorer Tour is only $109.95 per adult and $54.95 per child with kids 5 and under free.  And you don't have to do all four tours in the same day.  It's an ideal way to spend a weekend from your base camp in Banff since the Banff Gondola and Lake Cruise can both be done in a day while staying overnight in Banff.  The Athabasca Glacier and Skywalk Tours meanwhile, can both be done as a day trip to the Icefield Centre from Banff.

Devil's Gap as seen from the Banff Lake Cruise

We've done all four tours now and I highly recommend all of them for local families as well as for families on vacation in the Rockies.  And if you have out of town guests that you want to take to Banff or Jasper, these tours provide a great way to show off some of the best scenery you will find in our national parks!

Experiencing Awesome in Jasper National Park - You could be here!

Visit the Brewsters Travel Canada website for more information on their tours.  Visit the official Jasper National Park tourism website for more information on what to do or where to stay in the park.  And finally, find more information on the Brewster website on the Icefields Parkway and surrounding area.

Driving the Icefields Parkway

Disclaimer:  Complimentary tickets were provided for the Glacier Skywalk Tour but as always, all opinions  are my own and I wasn't compensated in any other way for this story.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Best Family Bike Trails in Jasper, Alberta

We're working our way across the Canadian Rockies on our bikes with a mission to bike every family-friendly trail in the mountain parks.

Biking along the Athabasca River in Jasper

We love camping in Jasper and spending long days on our bikes looping the best family trails the park has to offer near the town site. We've enjoyed camping at either Wapiti or Whistlers Campground, and hopping on our bikes right from our campsite on to popular trails.

Beautiful scenery along the Jasper bike trails

For an overview of where we like biking, check out our favourite trails below. This story gets updated annually so I'll always be adding new trails each summer (including progressively harder options as my son grows.)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Five Years of Family Backpacking Trips!

We’ve been doing annual backcountry trips as a family since my son was a year old and while it isn’t always easy to bring kids on our outings, it’s definitely worth the extra effort required!

Year one:  Elbow Lake, Kananaskis - Noah age one in the backcountry

In my newest story for Campers Village, you can find out what five suggestions I have for families wanting to see how much fun backpacking together can be!

Year two:  Little Yoho Valley - Noah age two in the backcountry

To read the story, visit the Campers Village website to read my story, How to make a family backpacking Trip Great.  Those following my blog regularly won't be surprised to find out that number one is to bring friends!  Always bring friends.

Year three:  The Point, Kananaskis - Noah age three in the backcountry

For further inspiration, check out these other stories I've written recently for Campers Village:

Trail Tested Snacks for Summer Adventure

Easy Overnight Paddle Trips for the Whole Family (with lots of local suggestions)

Three Steps to Getting a Good Night Sleep in a Tent

Year four:  Back at the Point again in Kananaskis - Noah age four in the backcountry

And from my own blog, check out these stories:

Family Camping Made Easy - Backcountry Adventures (with lots of local suggestions on where to camp in the Rockies.)

So You Love the Outdoors but Don't want to Camp (with lots of local suggestions on how to get into the backcountry in the Rockies - without tenting it.)

Year five:  Overnight Paddle Trip on the Red Deer River - Noah age five in the "backcountry"

This Year's Backcountry Trip

This year's trip wasn't exactly "backcountry" in the sense that there was a road leading to our campground beside the river.  However, we paddled to camp and hence had no vehicle at the campground.  We slept in a tent instead of our comfy trailer and we were at least 10km from our nearest truck.  Backcountry enough for me! 

Not to mention we narrowly missed a huge storm cell that rocked the area (following our river I might add) that was crazy enough to warrant tornado warnings!! Thank God my cell phone had died and I had no idea what was happening around the area Saturday night.

This year's backcountry trip on the Red Deer River

For information on the paddle route we took last weekend, visit the Alberta Parks website for Dinosaur Provincial Park.  We camped at Emerson Bridge Friday night after setting up our shuttle and camped at Steveville Saturday night.  We then paddled to Dinosaur Provincial Park Sunday where we'd left a vehicle conveniently parked beside the cafe and ice cream shop.

Another photo from this past weekend's trip down the Red Deer River
27 km paddled on day one - On a stand up paddle board!!

The map here says it is 30 km from Emerson to Dinosaur.  It lies!  It was 27 km on day one alone.  Add another 10 km or so on day two and it was a tad longer than I had signed up for.  Never the less, we made it. (and avoided the big storm that was strong enough to knock over a cement dinosaur in Drumheller nearby!)

Final shot from last weekend's Red Deer River Trip

We'll get a second shot in the backcountry this September when we head into Shadow Lake Lodge for a couple nights as a family.  And it is 100% my kind of backcountry!  Hike in and then sleep in a cozy cabin with meals prepared for me.  Princess backpacking at its finest!!  There are plenty more ideas like that in my last story mentioned above on loving the outdoors but not wanting to camp.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Family-friendly Biking on Calgary's Bow River Pathway

I’ve always known the Bow River Pathway to be a popular commuter route for cyclists heading downtown to work. Beyond that, I was curious if one of Calgary’s most popular pathways would be suitable for a leisurely family bike ride, or if my five year old son would get knocked over by faster cyclists.

Biking downtown on the Bow River Pathway

The City of Calgary has the most extensive urban pathway and bikeway network in North America with close to 800 km of pathways that connect communities, parks and natural areas across the four corners of the city. We decided to start exploring the pathways close to home this summer as a family and we’ve currently worked our way from Shouldice Park in the far northwest corner of Calgary down to Pearce Estate Park in the southeast, a distance of approximately 15 km.

Biking in SE Calgary along the Bow River Pathway

Monday, July 21, 2014

How to Choose a Quality Kids' Bike

In my last bike story, Investing in a Lightweight Kids' Bike, I talked about my son's progress over the last year on his Spawn Cycles 16" Banshee.  I wrote about how he can now bike upwards of 16.5 km at five years old and how he loves to spend his days in bike parks learning the skills he'll need on mountain bike trails.

Just another day on his Spawn Banshee

Over the last month I've been talking with other parents who've also chosen Spawn bikes for their children and every one of them came up with the same three reasons for choosing a quality Spawn Bike.

One - Quality Bikes are Lightweight

For why this one is so important, read my last story, Investing in a Lightweight Kids' Bike - Your Child is Worth it.  My friend Coleen says it best in her top reason for choosing Spawn bikes for her three children:
"100% Weight Weight Weight – we wanted our kids to enjoy mountain bike riding like we do and to have success biking longer distances and uphills without having the struggle of trying to ride on a bike that was more than 1/2 their weight and that they would have to walk up 99% of the hills."
Coleen's son on the Spawn Savage 1.0 in Fernie

Friday, July 18, 2014

Investing in a Lightweight Kids' Bike - Your Child is Worth It!

When Noah got his first 16" Spawn Cycles bike a year ago, I didn't know a single other parent who had  chosen this kind of bike for their child.  Most of my friends had children on balance bikes and from there were moving up to a generic pedal bike from Walmart or ToysRus.  Now a year later, I get emails and texts weekly from friends and acquaintances telling me that they have just bought their child a first pedal bike - and have chosen a Spawn bike just like Noah's.  Meanwhile, I also see moms come out to my Junior Biker Gang events that I run in Calgary with their three and four year olds - often on their first pedal bike ever, and often on a Spawn bike.  One by one, most of my friends are choosing to invest in a Spawn bike and it feels like my outdoor playgroup community should practically be sponsored by Spawn Cycles.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Rock Climbing With Kids in Kananaskis

I'm not sure I ever thought we'd be the family heading out to the crag on a Sunday afternoon with a child in tow, but that's exactly what happened a couple of weeks ago while camping in Kananaskis.  We needed something to do en route back to Calgary and thought, hey, why don't we head over to Wasootch Creek and get Noah and his friends up on the rock!

First Outdoor Climb at Wasootch Creek

Family Climbing History:

My son has taken some indoor climbing classes and my husband takes him to a gym a few times a year but that's it for Noah's previous climbing experience.  Up until his first day at Wasootch, he had never climbed outdoors and I was a little nervous that it would end up being a train wreck!  I envisioned tears, wailing, and a child frozen way up this cliff - unable to go up or down.  I was very wrong!  Noah LOVES outdoor climbing!  Much more than his mom (me) who has decided she prefers every other outdoor sport under the sun.  He is definitely Daddy's boy when it comes to climbing!

LOVING his first outdoor climbing experience!

Climbing at the Wasootch Slabs

To get to the Wasootch Slabs, we parked at the Wasootch Day Use Area and hiked a short ways up the creek until we reached the popular climbing area.   The Wasootch Slabs are very close to Kananaskis Village and it being a Sunday afternoon, were very busy.

Walking to the slabs in Wasootch Creek

Trying to Find a Route

We probably spent a good half hour (or more) walking around the slabs trying to find an easy place to let the kids climb.  Most of the easy routes were already claimed and the popular walls were crowded with groups or other families.  I definitely learned a few things about rock climbing on weekends.   Most importantly, go early if you need an easy route or wall!

The kids managed to entertain themselves while we searched out a wall for them to climb

We finally ended up way down at the D Slab which was a bit farther than we wanted to hike in, but at least our wall was empty and there was nobody climbing nearby to knock rocks down on our children.

On the downside, in an attempt to choose a super easy wall, we ended up picking an unofficial route for the kids that had no anchor point.   It was awesome in that the adults in our group could practically scramble it without ropes (meaning it was easy for two preschoolers), but we needed to do a fair bit of house cleaning before we would let the kids climb.  Our chosen route wasn't exactly what most climbers would be seeking out so it was very untouched and debris-covered.  We knocked down all of the loose rocks we could find and tried to make our "unofficial" route as clean and safe for the kids as possible. 

We used large trees at the top of our route as an anchor, put up our rope, and then finally got to let the kids climb about an hour after the time we arrived in the canyon. 

Getting ready for the first climb and testing the harness
First Climb

Outfitting the Kids to Climb

Being that this was the first time the kids had ever climbed outside, we didn't have official climbing helmets for them but we had our son wear his hockey helmet knowing it was at least tested for multiple impact.  Noah already has a great harness that we bought him for indoor climbing and the only other thing we needed was climbing shoes which we figure can wait.  For now, he climbs in his Keen Sandals.  (and rest assured, we will buy Noah a proper climbing helmet!  I promise.  So no need to leave comments below about the choice of helmet we used for this trip.)

The kids climbing in their KEEN shoes

Noah LOVES Outdoor Climbing

We were pretty shocked once Noah got up on the wall because he's never done exceptionally well at indoor climbing and I know from experience that outdoor climbing is harder.  Somehow though, Noah LOVES outdoor climbing and has none of the fear that he does inside.  Go figure!

The only challenge was in getting him to sit in his harness to come down.  I swear his fingers were glued to the wall and there was no way he was letting go of the rock to let us lower him.  Finally, my friend scrambled up to help him figure out the whole lowering process (which I promise, we did teach him in the gym) and after that, he quickly became a pro. at the whole thing!

We were very glad that we had chosen an easy route for the kids' first climb because there was a lot of adult scrambling up and down to help out the first few times.  By the end, Noah needed zero help on the wall and could be guided from the bottom, but it took a few attempts before that would work efficiently.

Finally figured out the whole lowering process

Lessons we learned from our first family rock climbing day


One - Go early to claim the easy routes!
Easy First Climb

Two - Bring a guide book with you so that you know approximately where in the crag you should be looking for family routes.  For this area, you want to buy Sport Climbs in the Canadian Rockies.

Three - Go as a group.  Multiple parents make the process much easier because the person belaying is hardly the best choice to hand out snacks to the kids waiting at the bottom!  Kids can also play together while waiting for their turn to climb (and waiting around, let's admit, isn't the most fun part of climbing.)  We had four adults and always had two on duty to help the child climbing, with the other two supervising the kids playing below or taking photos.

Four - Choose easy routes when kids are just learning and don't let them go too high until they know how to come down!  Sounds straight forward but my son just wanted to keep going higher, and higher, and higher - and THEN he figured out that he didn't know how to come down.  That was kind of a problem. 

Five - Choose a route that is easy for you, the adult!  The route we chose was more of a scramble than a climb and it made it easy to climb alongside the kids when they needed a hand here or there.

Dad giving a helping hand for lowering

We definitely plan to take Noah climbing again and I see a climbing helmet on the shopping list.

Learning to Climb!

Thursday, July 03, 2014

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.

Playing in the canyon below the Canyon 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. 

Canyon Campground, Kananaskis

If you camp in the B Loop at Canyon, you will be camped around the edges of a large open meadow.  The kids can bike through the meadow, play soccer, have water fights, or just run around and PLAY.  Oh yeah, and there's a playground in the middle of the meadow!! With a climbing rock.  Did I miss anything for the perfect campsite?

Trying to catch ground squirrels in the meadow
The playground and climbing rock in Loop B at Canyon
The giant meadow in Loop B at Canyon

The kids LOVED biking around the B Loop at the Canyon Campground which was quiet and safe for the most part.  We could see them almost the entire time they were biking the loop and the only thing we had to watch out for was bear traffic. 

And yes, this could be a major downfall for this campground if you're terrified of bears, but it does sit in the middle of a pretty popular animal corridor. We carried bear spray at all times and kept close tabs on the kids.

Biking around the Canyon Campground in Loop B

The other thing the kids loved about this campground was the Kananaskis Canyon Interpretive Trail that starts from just outside the B Loop. At 0.8km, it's a short easy hike and great for young children.


Playing by the pond on the Kananaskis Canyon Trail
Descending stairs on the Canyon Trail
Bridges and ponds on the Canyon Hiking Trail

The Kananaskis Canyon Trail
When do you want to camp at Canyon? 

Anytime is great, but take note that it does open later than some of the other campgrounds in Kananaskis.  It didn't open until June 13th this year and then it closes again on September 1st which is earlier than many campgrounds.  Mid-June is a great time to camp here as soon as it opens because Loop B is very sunny and warm for those cooler days in early summer.

What else should you know?

This campground does not accept reservations in advance.  It is therefore recommended that you arrive early if you want to find a spot.  Guaranteed after writing this story, I have just made it even harder. 

This campground is also small in size and only has 50 campsites, all of which are unserviced with no power.

What else can you do from this campground?


We LOVE biking so we drove up to the Boulton Creek Campground and biked one-way to Canyon Campground in the (mostly) down-hill direction. 

It was a super easy bike ride of approximately 9km on a paved forest trail and we parked beside the Boulton Creek Trading Post to start. 

Then we sent somebody back for the truck at the end.  Families with older children could easily bike to Boulton Creek and back but with a 5 year old, it was nice to do the ride with a shuttle.

Biking the paved Wheeler Trail in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

There are 12km of paved  bike trails that connect the campgrounds of Peter Lougheed Provincial Park and if you bike from Boulton Creek to Canyon, you will be doing a section of the High Rockies Trail. 

Biking the Lodgepole Trail in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park


The other big activity that you can do right from the Canyon Campground is paddling on the Lower Kananaskis Lake from the boat launch beside the campground. Being avid paddlers, we had to take our boats out for a couple tours on the lake while camping at Canyon.

Canoeing on the Lower Kananaskis Lake
Stand up paddleboarding on the Lower Kananaskis Lake

If you want to paddle but don't have a boat, you can contact Boulton Creek Rentals located beside the Boulton Creek Trading Post.  They rent out canoes and kayaks lakeside at the Lower Lake. Note, they also rent out bikes if you want to check out the paved paths or mountain bike trails nearby and aren't able to bring your bike with you.

Kayaking on the Lower Kananaskis Lake

We had a great time camping at Canyon late June and I highly recommend this campground to all families!  Just make sure you get a site in the wide open B Loop and go with friends for maximum FUN!