Saturday, November 29, 2014

Winter Camping with Kids (no tent!!)

I know some of you love camping year round and you'll pitch your tent anywhere (even if you have to dig out your campsite.) This mom needs a few key comforts if I'm going to go camping any later than October. I require some form of heat (even a wood stove works,) and I need four solid walls around me.

This is how I camp in winter

Winter Camping in Backcountry Huts and Cabins

I'll talk about a few different ways to winter camp in comfort through this story but this is by far my favourite option because you'll be in the backcountry, sleeping in total warmth and comfort, without breaking the bank!

The Elizabeth Parker Hut, Yoho National Park

Winter Cabin Camping at Lake O'Hara, Yoho National Park

The Elizabeth Parker Hut (photo above) is the most popular of the Alpine Club of Canada huts. Summer users need to enter a lottery in order to get prime spots in the cabin.  Winter is still a busy time at the hut, but it’s slightly easier to get spots.  Go mid-week and you can usually find a few beds in the colder months.  If you’re lucky, you might even snag spots on a weekend!   

Winter at the Elizabeth Parker Hut, Lake O'Hara

The hut is located in the beautiful Lake O’Hara region and winter access is accomplished via an 11 km x-country ski on the summer road (which is closed to vehicles in the winter months.)   The trailhead is located 12 km west of Lake Louise so this is an easy weekend destination for Calgary families. 

The hut sleeps 20 people in winter, and you can try to book the whole thing for yourself and a handful of other families.

 Read about our previous trips here: 

Elk Lakes Cabin, Elk Lakes Provincial Park

Winter Cabin Camping in Elk Lakes Provincial Park, BC

The second cabin I recommend for families is the Elk Lakes Cabin, also maintained by the Alpine Club of Canada.  The cabin is reached via Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in Kananaskis and can be accessed on x-country skis or snowshoes following the PLPP ski trail to Elk Pass.

Snowshoeing into the cabin with a sled and a ski bike

This is the only ACC hut that can be reached on a trail that is groomed and track-set for the first half of the journey.  The total trip distance is 9 km with the final 4.5 kms heading across the BC border and down a power line to the hut.  

This hut sleeps 14 people and we usually try to book the entire thing for ourselves and a few other families.

Lower Elk Lake, Elk Lakes Provincial Park

 Read about our previous trips here: 

Playing in the snow outside the Elk Lakes Cabin

Winter Cabin Camping in Waterton Lakes National Park 

The Alpine Club maintains an old warden cabin along the road to Cameron Lake in Waterton Lakes National Park. This small cabin has been converted into a sweet little backcountry hut for 8 people.

The Cameron Lake Cabin is reached via a short 2 km x-country ski or hike along the Cameron Lake Road (closed to traffic in the winter.)

Cameron Lake Cabin 

Note that the cabin is currently only accessible via a 15 km ski in for the 2019 season as a result of a road closure from a recent wildfire. More information here.

Read about our previous trips here: 

Skiing the Cameron Lake Road to the Cabin

Winter Cabin Camping at Rogers Pass, Glacier National Park, BC 

The A.O. Wheeler Hut is an extremely easy backcountry hut to reach with a short 45 minute x-country ski or hike in. You'll follow a summer road (closed to traffic in the winter) that is completely flat once you climb up the first hill.

Once at the hut, we love playing in the snow, building a backcountry luge track for sleds, and we hike or ski a short distance up the valley until we reach avalanche terrain (which doesn't take long.) 

And as with the others, this hut is maintained by the Alpine Club of Canada. 

Winter at the A.O. Wheeler Hut in Rogers Pass

This hut sleeps 24 people but we like booking the full thing with a group of other families. It's a fun place to visit early season as well (November is awesome) where it already feels very much like winter!

 Read about our previous trips here: 

Winter wonderland at the Wheeler Hut in November

Winter Cabin Camping in Cypress Hills Provincial Park, Southern Alberta

Cypress Hills Provincial Park has many backcountry huts and many are quite easy to access throughout the winter on either x-country skis or snowshoes as you follow summer roads closed to traffic in the winter.

Some of the camping cabins are also accessible by vehicle year round as well if you'd prefer to be located in a front country campground, not having to ski or hike in.

You can read all about the different options here for backcountry or front country winter camping on the Cypress Hills Provincial Park website.

Know that these huts are not maintained by the Alpine Club of Canada, and are a bit more "simple" in nature than an ACC hut. You'll likely have to bring your own water in with you (or plan to boil snow,) and you'll usually have to bring your own stove in as well. The huts have dishes, but do not have an actual stove. Other than that they are pretty similar to an ACC hut.

Backcountry cabin in Cypress Hills Provincial Park

These huts tend to be quite small so the good news is that you won't have to share them with anybody other than your own family or the friends you choose to invite with you.

Read about our previous trips here:

Hiking in to our backcountry hut on closed summer roads

 Winter Camping in Wilderness Hostels 

This is one of our other favourite ways to camp in winter.  Hostelling International maintains several wilderness hostels across Alberta and BC that have private rooms or cabins for families.  We have stayed at many of them, and have even found one that's easy to rent as a private booking (renting out the entire hostel for only 6 people!)

Wilderness hostels usually have drive-up access but you'll appreciate a sled to haul your gear down the snowy path to your cabin at several of them. Bathrooms are usually outside in the form of outhouses and you won't find WiFi at too many hostels (or cell coverage for that matter.)

Most hostels do have kitchens though (with refrigerators and stoves,) and there's always some form of heat.

Rooms usually come with bunk beds and you'll be sharing kitchen/living space at most hostels.

Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel in winter

Below are the wilderness hostels I recommend for families in winter.  Links are provided for each hostel and the links go to the Hostelling International website for more information.  I've also listed stories below that I've written on each hostel so that you can see more photos and get an idea of what your trip would be like.

Paradise at the Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel

Winter Hostelling in Kananaskis 

The HI Kananaskis Wilderness hostel is located below Kananaskis Village within close proximity to the Nakiska Ski Hill, x-country trails, skating at the Village, and snowshoe trails.  The hostel has four private rooms for families and then two larger dorm rooms separated by gender.  

This is a pretty comfortable hostel and is the only wilderness hostel to have indoor plumbing!  (and a microwave)

Winter Camping at HI Kananaskis

 Read about our previous trips here: 

HI Kananaskis Hostel

Winter Hostelling in Banff National Park

The HI Castle Mountain wilderness hostel is conveniently located halfway between the Town of Banff and the Village of Lake Louise. It's honestly about 20 minutes from either destination. Plan a trip here for a few days and you'll have no shortage of places to explore. There are also great cross country ski trails right outside the door of the hostel, and you're less than a 10 minute drive away from the Johnston Canyon hiking trail.

This hostel has no private rooms but it has separate dorm rooms for men and women so you should feel safe staying here with children (as long as you have a parent matching the gender of each of your children.) For me, this means I could never stay here solo with my son. As a family trip though, it works when my husband joins us for a weekend.

Note children must be 6 years of age or older to share the communal dorm rooms. Alternately, book the whole hostel for six families and age doesn't matter. We've done this before and it was a lot of fun.

HI Castle Mountain Hostel 

Read about our previous trips here: 

Skiing out the door of the Castle Mountain Hostel 

Winter Hostelling on the Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park 

The HI Mosquito Creek Wilderness Hostel  is located on the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, approximately 20 min. from Lake Louise.  It is close to downhill and x-country skiing, snowshoeing, and skating at Lake Louise.  Families can also snowshoe along Mosquito Creek and through the campground next door.  The private cabin sleeps a total of 10 people with two bedrooms, its own kitchen and living area.

HI Mosquito Creek

 Read about our previous trips here: 

Spring at the Mosquito Creek Hostel, Banff National Park 

The HI Rampart Creek Wilderness Hostel is located on the Icefields Parkway near Saskatchewan River Crossing. It is roughly an hour north of Lake Louise (so maybe plan for a long weekend.) The hostel has no private rooms but each dorm room only sleeps 6 people so just ask to book an entire dorm room if you don't want to share. Otherwise, children must be over the age of six in order to share dorm rooms.

This hostel is very similar to Mosquito Creek except that the main cabin is much smaller. There is a decent sized communal kitchen, but the living room is very small (so plan a spring trip here and hope it's warm enough to play outside a lot!)

HI Rampart Creek Hostel

 Read about our previous trips here: 

Dorm room cabin at the Rampart Creek Hostel

The HI Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel  is located on the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park within a 10 min. drive from the Columbia Icefields Centre.  This hostel requires full winter camping knowledge and you will likely be boiling snow for water if the creek is frozen over.  The experience is much the same as staying at a backcountry Alpine Club hut except that you are within 500 metres from the highway.  (Make sure you know where the hostel is because you'll never see it from the road in winter.)  There are two cabins on site and the sleeping cabin sleeps 6, so rent the full hostel.

HI Hilda Creek

 Read about our previous trips here: 

Glorious snow above the Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel

Winter Hostelling in Jasper National Park 

The HI Athabasca Falls Wilderness Hostel is located in Jasper National Park across the road from Athabasca Falls, approximately half an hour outside the town of Jasper.  X-country ski trails are located across the road and the Marmot Basin Ski Resort is nearby. Snowshoe trails are plentiful and skating can be found on several lakes close to town.  There is a sleeping cabin with two private rooms (duplex style) and each room sleeps 6.

 Read about our previous trips here: 

HI Athabasca Falls

The HI Maligne Canyon Wilderness Hostel is also located near the Town of Jasper, but is on the other side of the town off the Maligne Lake Road. The hostel is located across the road from the popular Maligne Canyon trailhead and is a 15 minute drive from town.

This hostel doesn't have private rooms, but similar to Rampart Creek, sleeps up to 6 people per dorm room. Book an entire dorm room if you have young children.

I also suggest staying here closer to spring when temperatures are warm outside because the main communal cabin is very small. There is no separate living area, just a small kitchen area with a couple of small tables. If it's cold outside, you'll be sharing this cabin with all of the other hostel guests or you'll  be stuck hanging out inside your sleeping cabin.

HI Maligne Canyon Wilderness Hostel 

Read about our previous trips here: 

Maligne Canyon frozen ice walk 

Winter Camping in Yurts and Glamping Tents

One of my favourite resorts in the Canadian Rockies has a cute little yurt that you can book year round, and it makes staying here much more affordable. They've also built a glamping tent (with more to be built soon.)

Mount Engadine Lodge in Kananaskis is located in beautiful Spray Valley Provincial Park, and is a very short distance away from fabulous snowshoeing, x-country skiing, or winter hiking. You can pretty much hike or ski right out the front door of the lodge in fact!

Yurt camping at Mount Engadine Lodge

Options for accommodations include staying in the main lodge (which won't feel much like camping,) or staying in either their yurt or newly built glamping tent.

The yurt sleeps 4 people in bunk beds and has a small heater in it so you won't freeze on a cold winter night. All meals are included with your stay including afternoon tea for an all inclusive price of $150 per person per night. Stay on a Saturday night and you can still spend two full days playing in the mountains as well!

Learn more about staying in the yurt here. (link to the Mount Engadine website)

And for that romantic weekend away without the kids, check out their new glamping tents for a more "elevated" camping experience. And heck, bring the kids if you want. Each tent comfortably sleeps two people, but there is a pull out couch if you want to bring the children.

Snowshoeing across the meadow below Mount Engadine Lodge

Read about our previous trips here: 

Gorgeous scenery near Mount Engadine Lodge

Friday, November 21, 2014

Top Ten Christmas Gifts for Snowy Winter Fun

Christmas is coming and it's time to share a new Christmas Gift Guide with you once again.  This year, I have decided to focus on gifts that you and your children can enjoy in the snow.  I'm all about getting outside to create snowy winter memories and learning to embrace the long cold season here.

Check out my top ten gift ideas for snowy winter fun, and make sure you go to the bottom to see the giveaways!

Get out in the snow this winter with great Christmas gifts!

1.  Polar Stroller Skis

Get outside this winter with skis for your stroller or Chariot.  Polar Stroller is a new Calgary-based company and is in full winter-fun mode!  Check out their website and read all about them here:  Introducing:  Polar Stroller - Skis for Strollers & Chariots

2.  Strider Ski Attachment 

Most families with toddlers or preschoolers will know about this 12" starter bike designed for kids aged 18 months to 5 years old. If you truly haven't heard of this pre-bike that's ridden without pedals, visit the Strider Bike Canada website to take a look around.

While most children will outgrow their Strider bike well before they turn 5, my son still loves his little balance bike! He has definitely progressed to a regular bike but he still uses his Strider bike in winter because of the ski attachment we got to go with it.

We have used our Strider ski bike on toboggan hills, in the backcountry, on groomed x-country ski trails, and on snowshoe trails.  We've even used it on icy city sidewalks.  It's been a lot of fun and we'll be sad when our son is too big to use it anymore.  At 5.5 he barely fits but he's still cruising down hills on it and having a blast.  

Backcountry Skiing on the Strider Ski Bike

3.   Stiga Snow-Kick Scooter with Skis

Stiga Snow-kick
This is one of those toys that I saw on line and immediately knew we HAD to have!    The Stiga Snow-Kick is a scooter with skis!  How cool is that?!  I imagine my son riding it down the trail out of a hut this winter, riding it down a snowy trail from a backcountry lake, or even flying down sledding hills in the city.


4.  The Snow Show (original book from Carolyn Fisher)  

Ever wonder how snow is made?  Or try to explain it to your child and realize you actually have no idea?!  Calgary-based Author, Carolyn Fisher, has solved the question for us with a great children's book that's been met with amazing reviews.

"Tune in as Chef Kelvin and the rest of the Snow Show gang
investigate evaporation, condensation, and precipitation -
all while cooking up the crispiest, lightest, fluffiest batch of snow
ever to fall from the sky!"

For more info or to buy one of Carolyn's books, check out her website or visit your favourite bookseller.

 5.   A New Sled 

If you only buy one Christmas present this year for the kids, you won't go wrong with a new sled.  (providing you have snow to use it on of course.)  Kids LOVE sleds and would happily try a new one (or two) out every year.  

We always get our sleds from Costco but you can find a great selection at most outdoor stores.

Shop Amazon for A new sled! (sleds get cracked, broken, etc. and there are so many cool varieties to buy as a Christmas gift.!)

Last year's new Christmas sled

6.  A Pair of Snowshoes

All Out Kids Gear has a great collection of snowshoes and when you shop from this company you're supporting a local Alberta business and family!

My 11 year old has the MSR Shift Kids Snowshoes and has been using them for several years now.

Snowshoeing is fun and an affordable way to have fun in winter

7.  Sno-Toys and Sno-Art 

There is a whole line of Sno products from paint and crayons to brick makers for building igloos, snow forts and snow castles.  I've been looking at this company's innovative products for a while now and am excited that we'll get to try some of them this winter.  Check this link  to see a variety of sno toys and art products. (Amazon affiliate link.)

8.  Snow Skates for the Sledding Hill

Snow Skates are a lot of fun on the sledding hill and add some variety along with a sled or other toys you might bring. They are very popular as well so it's a great way to impress the friends.

Follow the link above to order one from (affiliate link.)

9.  A Pair of Skates

My top pick for single blade skates for beginners is the adjustable skates that last a couple of years (or at least through the whole season!) - and you can pick them up at most sport stores.

Also for kids learning to skate, check out the Skateez Youth Skate Training Aids (little wings that strap on to the single blade skates.)

Learning to skate in double blade skates

10.  A Pair of Stonz Baby or Toddler Booties

This one is for that Mom-to-be on your Christmas list, the new mom, or maybe even for yourself if you have a baby or toddler at home who struggles with cold feet in the winter.  Stonz Wear Booties are cute and toasty warm for the winter months.  

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Stonz Outerwear for Kids (And a Giveaway!!)

We had a lot of crazy winter adventures last year that included hiking at -30 C (as a family with a 4 and a half year old,) snowshoeing 11 km into a backcountry cabin (again as a family over a very chilly weekend,) and playing outside in winter gear for what had to have been six months.  In those six months, my son never once had cold feet!  He also never had cold hands on even the most frigid of days.

Enjoying winter in Stonz Mittz

The reason my son was warm all winter is because we finally found a kids' outerwear company that is absolutely brilliant at keeping cold away from little fingers and toes.  Stonz Wear is much more than baby booties and I highly recommend checking the company out for your toddler, preschooler, or school-aged child.

What does Stonz Wear sell?


Stonz Booties - for the little kids

The Stonz company is most known for their baby booties.  These booties fit children from newborns through two and a half year olds.  They look and feel like sleeping bags for your feet and can be paired with the Stonz Sherpa-fleece linerz for cold days romping around in the snow.

Stonz Booties - in the snow

The booties come in the coolest designs from pirates to rocket ships to pretty pink butterflies.  To see all of the different styles and colors, visit the Stonz website and look at baby booties, or toddler booties.   For more on how they are made, for washing instructions, and all the other useful stuff, click on the pair of booties that you like on the Stonz website.  All of the features complete with a video and reviews can be found here (and if you'd like to win a pair to put under the Christmas tree this year, go to the end of this blog post for the opportunity!!)

Stonz Booties for the little ones

Stonz Winter Bootz - for the bigger kids

The best option for lightweight kids' winter boots on the market:   Once your child grows out of their booties, it's time to move on to the Stonz winter boots and I would like to challenge you to find a pair of lighter weight kids' boots on the market.  The Stonz  winter bootz weigh between 0.28 kg and 0.8 kg per pair, which is less than 2 pounds per pair at the largest size.  The smaller ones weigh less than a pound.  And that's for two boots!  Again, as I said, I challenge you to find a lighter pair of winter boots!

Hiking in Stonz Winter Bootz - and it was -30 Celsius on this day

Stonz Winter Bootz are WARM:  As I mentioned in the first paragraph, my son hiked in temperatures down to -30 C last winter, he spent four hours outside hiking into a backcountry cabin, and he spent a lot of time outside in cold temperatures.  His feet were always warm.  The Stonz bootz are rated to -50 C and I'm inclined to believe that might just be accurate. (I have no desire to test them at that temperature though!)

Snowshoeing in Stonz Winter Boots and Mittz

Other reasons to invest in a pair of Stonz Winter Boots:
  • They are easy to put on.  My son still struggles with his fine motor skills and can barely put on a pair of Boggs without help (and they are supposedly the easiest pair of boots ever for a kid to put on and take off without help.)  He can however, put on his Stonz boots by himself - and get them off again.  That counts for a lot in my world!!
  • They have warm liners inside that can be taken out for fast drying
  • They are comfortable.  My son never once complained of sore feet.
  • They perform well in mud, on ice, and in all kinds of conditions from late fall through early spring
  • They stay on!  Ask any mom and this is a #1 priority with a toddler boot.  Nobody wants to find their child running around the playground in his or her sock feet because their boot fell off (yet again.)  This never happened to us with the Stonz bootz  thanks to the adjustable drawstring at the top, and buckle near the bottom.
  • They are waterproof.  We played in a lot of soft soupy snow and I don't recall my son ever having wet feet. 

Mud, Snow, Ice - all good!

For more information on the Stonz Winter Bootz, visit the Stonz website.  The bootz come in sizes ranging from toddler size 5 up to size 13, and then from youth size 1 up to size 8. For all details on the boots, materials used, sizing, and to see a video or look at reviews, click on the pair of boots you are interested in on the Stonz website.

Stonz Winter Bootz

Stonz Mittz for babies, toddlers, and older children

The final Stonz Wear product that we are in love with is the Stonz Mittz. We talk a lot about choosing the best pair of mittens or gloves in my outdoor playgroup community and I can tell you what parents are looking for.
  • We want mittens or gloves that will stay on!  (and that our young toddlers can not pull off by themselves.)
  • For the older kids going to school, we want gloves that they can put on and take off by themselves.
  • We need them to be warm!  And waterproof.  
  • We need them to keep snow out!  Any mitten that lets snow get into a child's coat and touch their skin has failed.
  • Kids must be able to actually use their hands when wearing the gloves or mittens.  They can't be walking around like penguins with their arms out to the side saying, "help me."  We want them to be able to climb a slide, to play in the snow (while using their hands,) to help us shovel, and to even eat a granola bar while out on a winter hike.
In all of the areas above, Stonz Mittz excel!!

Playing in the snow in his Stonz Mittz

Why I love the design of the Stonz Mittz so much:  I love that the Stonz Mittz fit on over the child's coat.  Snow can't get to the skin if there is no gap between gloves and coat.  They don't fit underneath and they don't just come up to the child's wrist.  We call those mittens "going shopping mittens" because that's all we wear them for.  To play outside in the snow, you need real mittens or gloves that fit over the coat and go well up the child's arms!

Would you let your kid do this in short little fleece mittens?

I also love how the Stonz Mittz stay on the child's hands thanks to TWO adjustable straps on them.  If you cinch both straps tight, there's no way these mittz are coming off.

Two adjustable straps per glove keep these Mittz tightened

The final cool things about the Mittz is this - they have a soft fleece patch on the thumb for wiping runny noses.  Tell me that isn't extremely useful in winter!  And oh yeah, they come in a bunch of cool colors too.

Blue gloves - bad.  Pink Mittz - awesome!  (guess which child was warmer?)

For more information on the Stonz Mittz, visit the Stonz website where you'll find a complete list of all mittz from infant sizing (no thumbs) all the way up to youth sizing (4-8 years old.)  Again, for specifics on sizing, materials, to see a video, and to read reviews, click on the pair of mittz that you are interested in.  And note to shoppers, they fit big!  My soon to be six year old is still wearing the mittz for kids ages 2-4 (and they fit well.)

Another look at the awesome pink Stonz Mittz for families with girls

Snowshoeing in the Stonz Mittz last week

Why am I telling you about Stonz Wear?

I love this company, I love that they are Canadian, and we plan to wear the Stonz bootz and mittz for another winter in our family.  We were sold last winter on the quality and I won't go back to any other pair of boots or mittens for my son.

THE GIVEAWAY:  Win a pair of Stonz Booties for your baby or toddler

Stonz Wear has generously offered to give away one pair of booties to one lucky reader.  Please enter the contest below if you are interested.  The winner can choose their preferred color and size of booties.  Note, the giveaway is just for the booties though, and not the Bootz or mittz.  Bootz and mittz can be ordered on line though and would make great Christmas gifts.  :)

The contest is open to all residents of Canada and the US.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer:  Stonz Wear has provided me with gear for this review.  I was not compensated in any other way.  All words and opinions are my own.