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 28, 2014

A Guide to Winter Camping With Kids (in 10 easy steps!)

In keeping with my November writing theme of learning to love winter and embrace the cold, I wanted to do a story on family winter camping.  I love getting into the wilderness and backcountry all year long and I can't sit inside for 6 months waiting for the snow to melt.  As you've figured out by now, we kind of like the white fluffy stuff too!  Snow means skiing and snowshoeing, sledding, snow angels, snow ball fights, skating,...AND winter camping.

Winter Camping at Elbow Lake (photo:  M. Schulze)

My definition of winter camping however, is perhaps not what one would typically refer to as "camping."  When I go into the backcountry or wilderness in the cold months from October through April, I stay in a hut, cabin, or hostel.  I'm a bit of a princess when it comes to tenting in the snow and I like to have four walls around me, a bed, and an indoor fireplace if I'm going to go camping in the winter.  I've done a ton of winter backpacking and I've spent many a night in the wilderness during the cold season - but I've never slept in a tent.

This is my idea of winter camping (Elk Lakes, Alpine Club of Canada Cabin)

Being that I am not a traditional winter camper, I figured I should call in some help on this story and get some real solid tips for you on how to camp in the snow with kids - in a real tent!  Honest to goodness camping and not the "glamping" that I like to do.  Fortunately, my new friend Melissa Schulze and author of the blog, Rockies Chick, has just completed a winter camping trip at Elbow Lake in Kananaskis.  She took her 4 year old daughter with her and they survived the night.  More than survived in fact, because they want to do it again!  So, I begged Melissa to share some tips with us on how to take children into the backcountry in winter. 

Heading into Elbow Lake with loaded down sleds

A Guide to Winter Camping with Kids - By Melissa Schulze

Camping at Elbow Lake (M. Schulze)
If a beautiful landscape covered in a white blanket of snow and sipping on hot chocolate around a fire while stargazing is something you would like to experience, then winter camping might be for you. If you are willing to brave the winter cold months and would like to try winter camping with your kids, do not fear.  There is a way!  Just remember that everything in the winter takes longer and that preparation is the key.

1.  Choose either a drive in campsite or a backcountry site that isn't too far from your car. This will put you at ease in the event things do not go as planned.

2.  Have an all season tent or if this is not possible, try to find shelter for your tent. You do not want the wind to enter your tent during the night. The temperature can drop dramatically with wind chill. Snow or rocks around your tent can act as a brilliant shelter.

3.  When setting your mattress and sleeping bag down, place an emergency blanket down at the bottom of the tent under your mattress.  This will act as an extra layer and can make a big difference.

4.  Once your tent is set up, look for a cooking space while you still have daylight left. If you are in the backcountry there is usually a designated location separated away from your sleeping area. Keep in mind that wind may pick up and cooking may become difficult. Find a space where you might have a bit of wind shelter. This can be harder to locate once the sun has gone down.

Camping at Elbow Lake (M. Schulze)
 5.  Before cooking, place your stove fuel canister in your jacket.  This might help get things warm enough to get started. The same thing goes for your lighters. It can be extremely hard to light your lighter once it is cold, not to mention how hard it can be to do so with frozen fingers. Make sure you also have waterproof matches.

 6.  If you start getting cold before the sun goes down, get moving, go for a walk, play a game, or do anything to get you moving. This might be a good time to explore the area, perhaps go snowshoeing, hiking, skiing or perhaps just build a fort.

 7.  Drink plenty of warm fluids. Hot chocolate, tea, soup, etc. Just make sure to slow down on consumption close to bedtime. A trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night can be challenging.

 8.  Once the night has set, the temperature will change fast. Build a fire and make sure everyone stays warm. If anything became wet during the day, such as socks or mittens, make sure to change into new dry ones.
Entertainment in the dark at camp (M. Schulze)

 9.  What to do with your kids once darkness has arrived at your campsite? Play ring toss with glow rings, play with glow in the dark toys, build your fire, tell stories and sing songs, sip on warm drinks and enjoy the company!

 10.  Before bedtime boil some water and place the water in Nalgene bottles or equivalent bottles, making sure they are tightly closed, and place the bottles at the bottom of your sleeping bags. You will not regret it as it will make you quite toasty for a great night spent in the cold outdoors.

Just remember, things like weather can change fast and be prepared for the worst.  Then, everyone should enjoy a wonderful night of winter camping!

To read Melissa's full story on her recent winter camping trip at Elbow Lake, go to her story:  An Introduction to Winter Camping

More Inspiration for Winter Camping

Despite the fact I enjoy sleeping in a cabin when I go winter camping, I have written a lot about the subject of cold weather camping lately.  Below are my recent stories should you want further inspiration on the subject.

Winter Camping and Backpacking Tips - Recent Story for Campers Village

Winter Backpacking and Ski Touring

Tips and Tricks for Cold-Weather Backpacking - Recent Story for Snowshoe Magazine

Our First Backpacking Trip to Elbow Lake

Raising Tough Kids - Our Annual Winter Backpacking Trip - Story I wrote last winter after our annual backcountry trip to Elk Lakes in BC (where we slept in an Alpine Club of Canada cabin.)

This is why we go winter camping

Winter Camping with Kids - Warmer than you Think - Story I wrote for Calgary's Child on using wilderness hostels for camping.

Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel, Banff National Park

Thanks Melissa for collaborating with me on this post. Follow Melissa on twitter and instagram @rockieschick22 and check out her blog at  Rockies Chick .

Monday, November 24, 2014

5 More Cool Things to do this Winter (for a total of 15 awesome ways to embrace the cold!)

A week ago I published the first 10 cool things I recommend you try this winter as a family.  It can be read here at:  My Personal Top 10 List of Cool Things to do this Winter.  As I was writing the story, I knew I was going to have to write a second (third, fourth...) story because there are a LOT of cool things to do in winter!  And if you live in Calgary, there are so many neat things you can do in the Rocky Mountains over the cold months.  So here are the next five cool things to do in winter.  Total now:  15 Super Awesome Things to do in Winter.

Embrace Winter and Learn to Love it!

Backcountry Sledding
1.  Go backcountry sled hiking.  Earlier this month we discovered a new way to enjoy the snow while out for a hike.  Bring a sled, hike up a trail to a backcountry lake or meadow, and slide back down the trail to the car.  I recommend finding a fairly wide trail and guiding the sled if there are young children on board.  Helmets would also be recommended if the trail is steep and lined with trees.

To safely "guide" a sled down a steep or narrow trail with children in it, let the sled go first and follow the sled down, while bringing the rope in tight. And you can use the rope to help steer the sled (photo below.)

If  you are lucky, you will even find a good sledding hill at your destination where you can play for an your before hiking back down.

Guiding a sled down a steep hill safely

For more on backcountry sledding and hiking, read my recent story:  November Hiking and Backcountry Sledding at Highwood Pass, Kananaskis.

2.  Try Winter Ski Biking.  Strider makes a ski attachment for their balance bikes and it's a super fun way to do some backcountry skiing this winter as a family with even the youngest child able to participate in the fun.  We attach our son's ski bike to a backpack, hike it up the trail, and then let him ski back down to the car on his bike.  He always beats us to the vehicle and we choose wide trails with little risk of hitting a tree.

Strider Ski biking in the backcountry

Watch this fun video from last weekend of my son descending from Elbow Lake in Kananaskis.  And here's another cool video from last winter descending the Elk Pass Ski Trail in Kananaskis on the ski bike. 

Towing the bike (and child) into a backcountry cabin last winter

Children can be towed on the bike as well (see the photo above) which makes for an innovative way of getting them into backcountry huts or cabins.

Who needs to hike when you have a ski bike and a rope?!

To win a pair of skis for your child's Strider bike, visit my Christmas Gift Guide where Run Bikes YYC is giving away a par of skis. 

3.  Make a snow fort, tunnel, or quinzee.  Many of our favourite times outside in winter have been spent playing in snow forts, crawling through snow tunnels or climbing around on various snow structures we've found on our travels.  We even built a snow fortress with tunnel in our backyard one winter and it was a fun way to spend time outside without going far.

Crawling out of a snow tunnel
Snow quinzee we found at a campground last winter
Kids will spend hours playing in and on a snow fort with a tunnel

4.  Roast Marshmallows in the Snow.  We love having winter marshmallow roasts when we stay at wilderness hostels.  And you don't have to travel far either.  Many of the parks in Calgary have fire pits and stoves for winter picnics and wiener roasts.

Roasting Marshmallows at the Kananaskis Wilderness Hostel

In Calgary you can plan a skating party and roast marshmallows at the same time at Carburn Park or Bowness Park.  We also love having outdoor picnics in Edworthy Park where there are stoves and fire pits with several playgrounds.

Roasting marshmallows at Edworthy Park

5.  Climb a Mountain. This is something on my list for us to do as a family this winter.  Many of the first summits we did this summer would be very doable with snowshoes or ice cleats in the winter months.  And in winter, you can bring a sled or ski bike for some of the "not so steep" downhill sections. 

Tunnel Mountain in Banff, Great hiking in all seasons

On the list to do is either Tunnel Mountain or Stoney Squaw Mountain, both in Banff. Noah has already climbed Tunnel Mountain so I know this little mountain is doable, and I last hiked up the Stoney Squaw trail when I was very pregnant (photo evidence below.)

Hiking up Stoney Squaw Mountain while very pregnant

For information on Banff hiking trails, visit the Parks Canada website or stop in at a visitor centre for winter hiking suggestions.

Come back next Monday for MORE suggestions as I bring us up to 20 fun ways to get outside this winter.

Ski Bike, Sled, Snowshoes and Snow = Fun Times

Haven't read the first 10 Cool things to do yet?  Read it now at My Personal Top Ten List of Cool Things to do this Winter.  

Continue on to read the next 10 Cool things to do this winter here:  10 More Cool things to do this Winter (for a total of 25 awesome ways to embrace the cold.)