Saturday, November 29, 2014

Winter Camping with Kids Part Two (no tent!!)

Hopefully you saw yesterday's post on winter camping with kids where Melissa Schulze from the blog, RockiesChick offered some advice on how to get the kids out this winter - and sleep in an honest to goodness tent!  If you missed it, here it is again:  A Guide to Winter Camping with Kids (in 10 easy steps.) 

Today, we'll talk about a different way to go camping in the cold-weather months using cabins, huts and wilderness hostels. (Cause this Mom does not tent when it's below zero.)

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 in 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

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 in the winter months.)   The trailhead is located 12 km west of Lake Louise so this is an easy weekend destination for Calgary families. 
Elk Lakes Cabin, Elk Lakes Provincial Park

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.  

Elk Lake, Elk Lakes Provincial Park
 For more information on this cabin, check out my previous stories: 

Playing in the snow outside the Elk Lakes Cabin

Other Alpine Club of Canada backcountry cabins worth checking out are the Wheeler Hut (the easiest to get to with only a 1.2km ski in) and the Wates Gibson Hut (for families with older children and teens.)  Note that for the Wates Gibson Hut, you have to spend a first night at the Mount Edith Cavell Hostel (skiing up the summer road that is closed in winter) and it is two long days of skiing to reach the hut.  That being said, I've done it and it's on the list as soon as our son is a bit older. 
The Tonquin Valley, home to the Wates Gibson Hut

 Winter Camping in Wilderness Hostels 

This is our second favourite way 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 with two more to be added this winter.  In total this winter, we will be staying at 5 different wilderness hostels.  

Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel in winter

Below are the wilderness hostels I recommend for families because of the private rooms and cabins that they offer.  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.

HI Kananaskis - Located below Kananaskis Village within close proximity to Nakiska Ski Hill, x-country trails, skating at the Village, and snowshoe trails.  3 private rooms sleep a total of 9 people.  The only wilderness hostel to have indoor plumbing!  (and a microwave)

Winter Camping at HI Kananaskis

Read more here:  

HI Mosquito Creek - Located on the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, approximately 20 min. from Lake Louise.  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.  Private cabin sleeps a total of 10 people with two bedrooms, its own kitchen and living area.

HI Mosquito Creek

Read more here:

HI Hilda Creek - Located on the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park within a 10 min. drive from the 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 more here:

HI Athabasca Falls - 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 more here:

HI Athabasca Falls

Other hostels worth checking out:
  • HI Rampart Creek - Rent a full dorm that sleeps 6 for your family.  Located on the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park.
  • HI Maligne Canyon - Rent a full dorm that sleeps 6 for your family.  Located in Jasper National Park.
  • HI Shunda Creek - Private rooms on site.  Located in Nordegg, Central Alberta (not an official wilderness hostel and has indoor plumbing with a hot tub on site.
  • HI Mount Edith Cavell - Mentioned above under backcountry huts, you'll have to ski 12km to reach this hostel in winter.  If you can get there though, you'll likely have the whole hostel to yourself (and it sleeps 32 people!)  Located in Jasper National Park.

Note that winter access to Hilda Creek and Mount Edith Cavell is by key lock system and they are not staffed in winter (or at any time for Hilda.)  You must books spots in advance and pick up a key from the Lake Louise or Jasper hostel.  No combination for the door = sleeping outside. 

Maligne Canyon, Jasper National Park

Our adventures in the next month take us to both HI Mosquito Creek and HI Rampart Creek and we are very excited to be winter camping again.  

Snowshoeing at Hilda Creek

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