Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Thanksgiving at Lake Lillian in the Columbia Valley

We welcomed in another season of paddling and mountain biking in the Columbia Valley this past Easter, and we returned this Thanksgiving to say goodbye to our bikes and boats for another six months.  Noah and I still use our bikes to commute to school and back but we don't have any more mountain bike trips planned until next spring, and the boats are definitely drying out until warmer weather returns.

Paddling on Lake Lillian, Invermere

We usually drive north to visit family for Canadian Thanksgiving in October but this year we thought it fitting to return to the Radium Hotsprings and Invermere area across the border in BC for one final "play-cation" this fall.  We had started the season here at Easter, and wanted to wrap up the "warm weather season" with some of the same friends we'd biked and paddled with in April.  

Monday, October 20, 2014

Family Camping Made Easy - Always Bring Friends

I haven't written a whole lot about our camping adventures this summer because most of the time we spent our days biking or paddling rather than hanging out at camp.  Our campsites were often "basecamps" for these day trips away from camp and we'd play hard from morning to late afternoon, trying to do as many fun things as we could at each destination.

A typical day "camping"

While we didn't spend a ton of time at each campsite this summer, we still enjoyed camping with friends where our hours at camp were always a lot of fun.  The kids would run wild around the campground, the adults would enjoy afternoon "happy hour," and we'd often cook meals together or hold margarita parties with Mexican Fiesta dinners. We even had a disco dance party one afternoon before the evening meal.

Crazy Afternoons at Camp
Margarita Parties were always a hit!  (with juice for the kids)
Nothing like a camp disco dance party.  YMCA! 

We even celebrated one birthday while camping and had a very special pinata for the birthday girl (me) - who, is still working her way through all the bottles contained inside the pinata!

Celebrating Birthdays at Camp

Below are some of the other highlights from a summer of camping with a great group of friends:

Party Central in the Hammock

Apparently, you can fit 6 kids in a hammock
The hammock was always the best toy at camp

Great Memories on the Water

Evening Paddling on Lower Kananaskis Lake
Red Deer River Overnight Trip
Learning to kayak at Surveyor's Lake, BC

And More Great Memories IN the Water


Always the highlight of camping in Dinosaur Provincial Park
Playing in the creek at the Canyon Campground in Kananaskis

Teaching the Kids to Play Cards

Rainy Day Fun Playing Cards

Hiking with Friends

Hiking in Waterton in July
Wonder what they're talking about...

S'mores and Campfires

And Spending Time with Friends

Camp Friends are the Best Friends

Thanks to all who joined us for our camping trips this summer and we're looking forward to more great trips next year! Now, let it snow!

Great campgrounds always have a beach!

See you at the campground next summer!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Comfort Camping in Banff National Park - The Experience!

Earlier this summer I wrote a story about comfort camping in Banff and it's been extremely popular which makes me think a lot of you don't really like traditional tenting all that much.  And I don't blame you one bit.  We bought a trailer a couple years ago and I have not looked back.  For those without trailers though,  what are you going to do when autumn arrives and it drops below zero at night in the mountains?  You have two choices at this time of year:  Stop camping and stay at hotels, OR stay in a cozy cabin and call it "comfort camping."

Comfort Camping in Banff National Park

We recently had the opportunity to stay in one of the new o'TENTiks in Banff at Two Jack Lake and it was a great way to stay warm on a cool weekend.  Friday night was drizzly with light rain but we slept dry and toasty inside our tent-cabin which included a very warm heater.  (in fact, we had to turn it down the next night so that we could actually sleep under our blankets we'd brought.)

Home away from home in Banff National Park

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Mountain Biking the Tunnel Bench Loop in Banff - WITH KIDS

If you would have told me a few years ago that I'd be mountain biking on the Tunnel Mountain Bench in Banff, I would have said you were crazy. Add WITH a 5 year old child, and I'd have laughed at you.

You see, the Tunnel Mountain area of Banff has some pretty challenging mountain biking trails that I will probably never be able to ride.  I had no idea that there was a lovely little green loop on the bench or that the blue loop was actually pretty good for novice bikers.

Riding the Tunnel Bench Loop in Banff

Earlier this summer, we picked up the "Biking Trails in the Banff Area" brochure from the Banff Info. Centre and I quickly decided that I wanted to bike all of the easy green trails in the little pamphlet this summer, as a family.  And we've done pretty good!  Check out the story I wrote earlier this summer on the Best Family Bike Trails in Banff National Park

Biking on the Tunnel Mountain Bench in Banff

We'd biked most of the green trails this summer but had failed to complete the one I most wanted to do - The Tunnel Bench Loop.  Mostly because it wasn't actually a green trail.  It's rated as a solid blue (intermediate) and is really not something you do on a tiny bike with 16" wheels.  Regardless, I wanted to at least give it a shot this summer.

See the full Tunnel Bench Loop on Trail Forks. It includes the following trails:
- Coastline
- Teddy Bear's Picnic
- The Spine 

It also includes a section of the Bow Falls-Hoodoo Trail

Easy section of the Tunnel Bench Loop

It took two attempts before we finally finished our junior version of the Tunnel Bench Loop, described below.

Biking the Tunnel Bench Loop - The Family Version

First, Start at the Hoodoos Lookout on Tunnel Mountain Drive.  It is marked with a letter E on the biking map.  (downloadable here)

Biking along Tunnel Mountain Drive

Second, Start biking the Tunnel Bench Loop in a clockwise direction heading Towards Surprise Corner.  It will be marked as #13.  This is a fairly easy section of the trail and doable by novice bikers.  There is only one mildly scary hill that could be walked.  (I walked it earlier this summer when we tried the trail.)

The hardest hill on the Tunnel Bench Loop along Tunnel Mountain Drive

Next, Bike parallel Tunnel Mountain Drive until you reach the Banff Hostel and cross the road at this point to get on the green Tunnel Campground Loop trail.  You'll be crossing at the far end of the Tunnel Mountain Campground. 

Easy section of the Tunnel Bench Loop near the Banff Hostel

Tunnel Bench Loop behind the campground
Bike through the far end of the Tunnel Campground on the easy Tunnel Campground Loop and here you can make a choice. 

Continue the loop on the green trail, or try sections of the blue trail (The Spine) that you'll find paralleling you through the trees. 

This is a great opportunity to actually try an intermediate trail because you can hop back and forth between the two whenever you want.  We even found one section that resembled a pump track.  Our son was in Heaven!!

And if you complete the Tunnel Campground Loop you can easily get back to where you started from by crossing the main road in front of the campground.
Easy hills and riding on the Tunnel Campground Loop

Why We LOVE this Bike Loop so much:

We loved biking the Tunnel Bench Loop and the Tunnel Campground Loop because we could do sections of each and mix and match our ride.  When Noah got tired it was super easy to switch over to an easier bit of the trail for a rest. 

And if one of us adults wanted more of a challenge, it was easy to add on an extension loop and meet up later on down the trail.

There are so many trails on the bench, I know we'll be exploring them for the next several years and we'll just keep adding on more and more blue sections each time we visit Banff.

Tunnel Bench Loop with Mt. Rundle in the background

Next year we plan to finish the full loop, including the narrow section above the Cascade River that Noah is definitely not ready for yet. I also hope we get to try out trail #11 to Surprise Corner, The Bow Falls - Hoodoos Trail. However, we start small and bit by bit we're finishing this loop.  We've biked about 50% of it now and thanks to the green campground loop, we can just keep working our way around the circle and adding to the blue part each time.

For more on Biking in Banff, visit my previous story on the Best Family Bike Trails in Banff.

For more on the Complete Tunnel Bench Loop together with the Bow Falls - Hoodoo Trail, read Tour de Banff - The Ultimate Family Mountain Bike Tour. - written for 2016

Mountain Biking in Banff
See you on the trails

Monday, October 06, 2014

Moving on To Big Adventures - and the Kids Get to Come Along!

I've enjoyed the past 5 years of baby adventures, the toddler hikes, chariot backpacking trips, and ski trips with the trusty pulk.  However, I am VERY glad to also be moving on to bigger and grander things!  Such as this hiking trip below:

Hiking along Parker Ridge, Banff National Park

This is one of my favourite photos above from a recent backcountry hiking trip along one of Canada's most beautiful highways, the Icefields Parkway. The Parkway connects the Village of Lake Louise in Banff National Park with neighboring Jasper National Park, and you don't need to worry about choosing the best hike in the area - because they're all amazing!

Incredible Scenery in Backcountry Banff National Park

When I look  at the photo above I feel like we're in the Himalayas of Nepal.  And I've been to Nepal so I'm not just basing this on photographs or movies I've seen.  We honestly could be on some remote pass in the Himalayas in this photo.  And we only had to drive a couple hours to get here! 

Noah usually gets to bring a friend on his big adventures

Noah almost always gets to bring a friend along on his big adventures (hence the mention of kids plural in the title of this story)  and most of the time they come with happy spirits like the sweet girl in the photo above.

Mountain Buddies - for life I hope


Hiking Parker Ridge

Want to get the views above with your own family?  Good news!  It's super easy.  And the hike is really very short if you just hit the ridge and go back down. Park at the trailhead for Parker Ridge on the Icefields Parkway, just before the Icefields Centre where they do snow coach tours on the Athabasca Glacier (which you should totally do if in the area.)  The route description and trailhead is found here at the following link for the Parks Canada website.

Easy Hike up the Parker Ridge Trail

The ridge trail is super short at only 2.7 km one way and with only 250 metres of elevation gain.  My son did the hike by himself when he was 3 so it was easy peasy as a 5 year old.  The trail is also well switch-backed so you aren't slogging up a steep hill or anything.

Early winter snow on the hiking trail to Parker Ridge

Once you get to the top of the ridge, you will get views down to the Saskatchewan Glacier and over to the Hilda Horn and Mount Athabasca.  The best views of the glacier are down the ridge to the left.  Meanwhile, we went right and headed off trail in the direction of the Hilda Glacier.

The kids heading off to the right along the ridge top
Mount Athabasca is seen to the right of us in this photo

Hiking Parker Ridge to the Hilda Glacier

I love hiking up the Parker Ridge trail but the scenery really gets spectacular as you go further towards Mount Athabasca in the Jasper direction (to the right along the ridge top.)  From here, it is wide open backcountry hiking with no real trail.  Ramble anywhere you want and enjoy the solitude.

Mount Athabasca looms over us in the background (and I climbed that back in the day!)
Parker Ridge stretching out behind us as we hike

If you hike far enough (I'd say approximately 2-3 km), you'll reach great viewing of the Hilda Glacier and you'll be in the high alpine well above tree line the whole time.  AND this hike seriously isn't described anywhere that I've ever seen!  Really!

Mount Athabasca (left) and the Hilda Horn (right) in the background
The Hilda Glacier starting to show up at far left below Mt. Athabasca
My Backcountry Explorers heading towards the Hilda Glacier

We stopped often for candy, breaks, and to take photos.  Eventually we got close to the moraines surrounding the Hilda Glacier and the kids had fun climbing them.  We considered going to the toe of the glacier to touch it but as you can see from the photo above, it's a loooong way away.  And the kids were getting tired.

Climbing the Moraines below the Hilda Glacier
Walking on the Glacier Moraines
Tired but happy
Our Happy Family
The view we hiked to get of the Hilda Glacier
I am Strong, I am Mighty!

Hiking from the Hilda Glacier to the Hilda Creek Hostel

At this point you're probably wondering where to now?  And we certainly weren't going back the whole way we just came from.  This was a traverse from A to B, and now it was time to finish up the hike and get back to our end point, the Hilda Creek Hostel (and lodging for the weekend.)

Creek crossing on the way back out
Back at our Hostel to rest (or play)

I didn't really take many photos of the final section as you can see above.  We pretty much just descended the moraines, found a trail along the creek, and followed it right down to the hostel pictured above.  For a description of the hike from the hostel to the glacier, check out this one that I found on the Alberta Wow website. It doesn't mention going further to Parker Ridge but it's all open country once you get up there so it's pretty hard to get lost.

Paradise at the Hilda Creek Hostel


Putting the Shuttle Together

The easiest way to do this shuttle and whole traverse is to stay at the Hilda Creek Hostel.  From the hostel you have a cozy base camp for your adventure and you end the hike right at your door.  From the hostel, just drive or walk up the road to the Parker Ridge trailhead (a 10 minute walk) and then go get your car later on if you chose to drive as we did. And we figure the whole traverse plus hike up Parker Ridge was about 7km one way.

Parker Ridge as seen from the Icefields Parkway
Mount Athabasca, the Hilda Glacier, and the Hilda Horn as seen from the highway

Want to stay at the Hilda Creek Hostel?

Your response here should be "heck ya" because it's truly our favourite hostel in the collection of wilderness hostels run by Hostelling International.  We stay here at least a couple of times a year and it's awesome in every season! 

The view from the hostel deck at sunrise

For more information on the Hilda Creek Hostel and to make a reservation, visit the Hostelling International Website.  (link goes straight to HI Hilda Creek.) The hostel sleeps 6 so we usually just book the whole hostel and go with another family.  One of the bunks is a double bed as well so you could fit 7 people if an adult and small child shared a bed.

To read a couple stories on our past winter stays at Hilda Creek (and to see photos of the hostel covered in snow,) follow the links below to these stories:

Raising Tough Kids - Hilda Creek Wilderness Trip

Spring Adventures on Alberta's Icefields Parkway

This is what Hilda Creek will look like next time we visit!