Monday, May 26, 2014

Camping in the Alberta Badlands

This past weekend we traveled south to Dinosaur Provincial Park for our annual May camping trip.  With 12 families, this was our biggest Dinosaur trip yet and definitely one of the most fun. 

Hiking in Dinosaur Provincial Park

We always set up along the creek in the north loop because it's a wide open area and lets us camp as a group - without having to book an actual group site back in February!

Camping along the creek in Dinosaur Provincial Park

The kids also LOVE playing in the creek, despite the signs warning users to avoid swimming in it.  The water certainly doesn't look clean but so far nobody has gotten sick after any of our camping trips.  Fingers crossed. 

Playing in the creek at Dinosaur Provincial Park

Normally, we just let the kids dig in the mud, find toy dinosaurs that we hide for them, and play next to the creek.  This year though, the water was so high, there wasn't much sand beside the creek to play in.  Also, it was the hottest May Dinosaur trip we've ever had and this was by far the easiest way to cool the kids off.  It seriously felt like August and I can't imagine how hot Dinosaur really gets in mid-Summer!

Playing in the creek below our campsites
The other big attraction of Dinosaur is the hiking trails through the badlands.  Hoodoos, sand hills for climbing, and fun little interpretive trails make for an excellent day at camp!  And as an added bonus, you never have to get into your car as everything is within an easy walk from your campsite. 

Hiking in the Alberta Badlands
Family-friendly Hiking on the Badlands Trail
Fun for the Whole Family - Parents Included

For more information on hiking in Dinosaur Provincial Park, visit the story I wrote last year:  Hiking in Dinosaur Provincial Park

Hiking the Coulee Viewpoint Trail

New to us this year was the opportunity to bike the badlands while in Dinosaur Provincial Park.  We decided to try biking the Public Loop Road which is a shared road between cyclists, hikers, and motor vehicles.  Located right in the campground, it is the access road for three different hiking trails - all of which could be visited while on your bike ride.

Biking the Public Loop Road in Dinosaur

We biked the road early in the day and met maybe one vehicle the whole time we were on the road.  I biked it again later in the afternoon and didn't meet a single vehicle on that ride.  If riding with young children, try to choose quieter times of the day to ride the road and you will likely not have to worry about much traffic.

Biking Through the Badlands
The road was very gradual and good for a family ride
Hiking one of the trails along the Public Loop Road
Views like this made the ride absolutely spectacular!
For more information on biking and other activities you can do as a family in Dinosaur Provincial Park, visit the Park Website

For more information on camping in Dinosaur Provincial Park, read the story I wrote last year:  Camping in Dinosaur Provincial Park

Our Campsite along the creek

Final Tips on Camping in Dinosaur Provincial Park:

I've always wished that there were areas you could freely scramble, roam, and explore in this park without the constant signs asking you to stay on the trail.  Apparently, there ARE.

"Explore in the public "scramble zone" which is located inside the public loop road. This area is located east of the campground.  It's a great place to explore the badlands on your own."  (Taken from the Alberta Parks website)

Now I know what we're going to do next time we visit!

So much to explore in Dinosaur Provincial Park!

For more awesome family campgrounds in Southern Alberta, visit this link to Summer Planning: The Best Provincial Park Campgrounds in Southern Alberta

Monday, May 19, 2014

Family Camping Made Easy - Wilderness Games for Camp and the Trail

When it comes to outdoor play, children are generally pretty good at creating their own games and will surprise you with how little adult interaction they need to keep themselves occupied and engaged. A thicket of trees quickly transforms into a fortress or secret hide-out, a stick becomes a sword, and a creek with mud and rocks will entertain children all day!

Tigers and butterflies can hike all day

I still find though, that I like to have a few games in my back pocket for moments when the troops get bored, hikes get longer than expected, or energy levels start to drop on an outing. Never underestimate the power of a game of hide-and-seek to push tired hikers another 3km down the trail at the end of the day – long after your child has reached his last step.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Kids on Wheels - Pump Tracks and Mountain Bike Parks

We found ourselves driving through the mountain town of Fernie on our way home from a camping trip and I remembered that the town had a little dirt jump park I'd been curious about.  Our son was 4 then and still on his Strider balance bike but I was fairly confident he'd be able to handle a few bumps and fun obstacles on his bike.

First Pump Track Experience in Fernie, British Columbia

We stopped at the park for an hour or so and my son definitely took to the idea of circling the dirt track on his little orange bike.  He just needed a bit more courage to truly commit to the jumps and bigger bumps - courage that would come with practice.

Practice definitely makes perfect, and we've spent our summers touring bike parks and pump tracks across Alberta and British Columbia. This story gets updated annually each time we visit a new park.

Practice Makes Perfect!  Canmore Pump Track on a first pedal bike

And want to see a video of the whole pump track experience? Here's a video of my son's first time on the Canmore Pump Track when he was 5 years old.


Getting Started on a Pump Track

At what age can kids start to use pump tracks?  Any age - if they are on a balance bike.  I really would not recommend taking a bike with training wheels on one of these courses!  My son was 4 when he first tried the one in Fernie on a balance bike, but he could have easily motored around when he was younger.  Below is a photo of my friend's son on the pump track in Radium Hotsprings - and he's 2 years old!

Radium Hotsprings Pump and Jump

Are there any special precautions to take?  Yes.  Below are some things to take into consideration:

  • Try your first experience with younger children at a quieter time such as mid-week.

  • Stay clear of faster, older riders when taking young tykes to a pump track.  If the track is too busy, come back another day or time. 

  • Helmets are absolutely vital!  And I'd recommend bike gloves, long pants and a long shirt at first when learning. 

  • Start off on a smaller pump track - and move up! The jumps can come later.

  • Invest in a full-face helmet and some extra padding (elbow and knee pads) for older kids that are doing jumps.
Playing at the Radium Hotsprings Pump Track


Where to find pump tracks and bike parks in the Canadian Rockies

Canmore Millennium Park

This park is conveniently located on the riverside bike paths in Canmore and is perfect for the little ones. There are two pump tracks side by side so younger kids can always play on one while older kids play on the other one.

Millennium Park Pump Track, Canmore
And when you're ready to take it to the next level, the Canmore Benchlands Skills Park should offer a nice transition to more advanced mountain biking:
“The Benchlands Skills Park rocks serious fun jump lines for ‘ALL levels’ of riders including transfer options and full flow from jumps to pumps."

Benchlands Skills Park, Canmore

The Banff Bike Park

The park is located in the Banff Recreation Grounds at Sundance Road and Cave Ave.  It features a small pump track but otherwise is mostly designed for older children and teens with jumps, big hills and wooden bike park features from teeter totters to ramps.

Families with smaller children might want to check out the park for a bit when in Banff, and then hit the playground, conveniently located beside the bike park.

Banff Bike Park
Small pump track in the Banff Bike Park

Chestermere Bike Park

We first visited this park in 2015 and it moved to the very TOP of the list for best bike parks and pump tracks that we'd visited at that time.  Truly, one of the BEST bike parks we've seen in Western Canada. (Though Fish Creek would now offer some good competition in the Calgary area)

Riding the pump track at the Chestermere Bike Park

This park near Calgary features a large pump track, a second loop with wooden features and a teeter totter, and a jump park.  There are features and loops for all abilities and even adults or older teens will find this park to be a challenge.

To see photos and to read more about this incredible park, visit the City of Chestermere's website.

Riding the easy jumps in the Chestermere Bike Park

Fish Creek Mountain Bike Skills Park, Calgary 

Brand new to Calgary for summer 2016, this bike park is my son's new favourite park and he likes it much better than the one in Chestermere above. It's definitely a challenging park and it offers plenty of terrain for the more advanced rider.

The park is located at Bow Bottom Trail and 153 Ave SE.  It gets very busy on weekends so less experience riders will want to go early in the morning before the park gets too busy.

The advanced pump track at the Fish Creek Bike Park

The park has two pump track circuits with plenty of rollers for jumping (one easier and shorter in distance.) It also has an amazing skills loop that offers an introduction to single track mountain biking. The skills loop teaches kids to be confident on their bikes, to use their gears, and offers progressions for the more advanced rider. Try the rock gardens if you think you're good on a bike. :)

For more on this park, please follow this link to "Time to Ride." It explains how to ride a pump track Vs. a skills loop.

Riding on a section of the skills loop

Fernie Dirt Jump Park, British Columbia

This park is located beside the Aquatic Centre in the town of Fernie, British Columbia.  Located 3.5 hours from Calgary, Fernie is a great destination for a weekend biking trip and there are a lot of great family-friendly bike trails nearby.  You can read my Fernie biking story here: The Best Family Bike Trails in Fernie, BC.

Fernie Bike Park
The Fernie bike park is a bit more challenging than some of the others such as the Millennium Park one in Canmore.  While there is a small pump track, most of the park is set up as a jump park.There are adult sized jumps and, the beautiful flow that you'd find in Canmore is missing from this section. To do a full loop of the jump park requires being able to bike back up to the top again after riding down.

Moving up to the bigger jumps (age 8)

One thing I especially LOVE about the Fernie bike park is the practice mountain bike loop hidden in the trees behind the park. Ride it a few times, and it should pretty much teach your kids everything they'll need to know before they hit the trails with you.  You can find the practice loops on Trail Forks.(You'll see three different segments for practice loops on Trail Forks.)

Wooden feature on the practice loop behind the bike park

The Radium Hot Springs Pump and Jump, British Columbia

Located 3 hours from Calgary, this town is another great destination for a weekend away and is located on the border of Kootenay National Park.  The pump track is located in Sinclair Creek and is accessible by short bike ride or hike along the gravel Sinclair Creek pathway.

First Visit to the Radium Hotsprings Pump Track

The Sinclair Creek Trail is great for family bike rides and extends a trip to the pump track if you bike the creek trail to the bike park and back.  Information is found on the Sinclair Creek Pathway here along with a map of the trail. 

Read more about biking in the Radium Hot Springs - Invermere area here: Kids on Wheels: Biking the Columbia Valley.

Fall Riding on the Radium Hotsprings Pump Track
Biking the Sinclair Creek Pathway to reach the bike park

And, if you're spending the weekend or longer in the Columbia Valley, we've just discovered a NEW Pump Track in the town of Invermere, 15 minutes south of Radium Hotsprings.  The Mount Nelson Athletic Park in Invermere has a pump track, skate park and playground.  It is located on 14th Street near 15th Avenue and is a fun place to spend an hour.  While it is smaller than the Radium Hotsprings Pump Track, it's handy if you're staying in Invermere.

The Invermere Pump Track
Skate Park in the Mount Nelson Athletic Park

Crowsnest Pass Bike Park in Blairmore, Alberta

The Crowsnest Pass Bike Park just might be the best one we found in 2014! Not only does it have the sweet flow that we love about Millennium Park in Canmore but it has the jumps and progressions that we love about Fernie.  There's something for every age and ability of rider here.

Crowsnest Pass Bike Park
Working on his skills at the Crowsnest Pass Bike Park

And, Crowsnest Pass is on the way to Fernie!

Great place to stop en route to Fernie!

 Wasa Lake Provincial Park Bike Park, British Columbia

This is one of the more challenging bike parks that we've visited but what sets it apart is that it has a dirt half pipe. Personally, I'd choose dirt over concrete any day for a half pipe! (softer landing and less band-aids required)

Wasa Lake Half Pipe

Technically you have to be camped at this provincial park to use the bike park, but nobody is going to notice (or care) if you park at Campers Beach and bike into camp to use the bike park.

This park is best suited for kids ages 8+ and does have a fair bit of sand and tricky terrain to navigate.  If you have elbow and knee pads, pull them out for this park.

Wasa Lake Half Pipe and Bike Park

For more information on Wasa Lake, read my story:  Camping Across British Columbia - Wasa Lake.

Pump track at Wasa Lake

Hinton Mountain Bike Park, Alberta

This was one of our newest favourite bike parks that we found in 2016. It is one of the largest parks of its kind in Canada and has something for all skill levels.

Playing in the Skills Park

There is a small pump track, a very large skills area with wooden ramps and features, and then a big jump park with different sizes of jumps.

This was a super cool trail feature in the skills park

What stood out most for me though was that there are mountain bike trails on site as well so that you can go out for a ride after playing in the park. Each trail is well signed and graded (beginner, intermediate, or advanced.) The intermediate/advanced trails have technical trail features on them with options to ride around.

Riding in the jump park

We didn't get to spend too much time here as we were just passing through and it had recently rained (making trails muddy) but we'll be back!!

Riding a boardwalk section on an intermediate trail from the bike park

Kelowna Mountain Bike Skills Park, British Columbia

Families on vacation in the Okanagan in British Columbia will want to check out this amazing bike park that we just discovered. It's located along the Mission Creek Greenway so you can access it either by riding to the park or by driving straight here. We drove to the park but would like to check out the paths through the Greenway next time.

Pump track with jumps and ramps in the background

At this park you'll find a pump track, jump park section, and a wooden structure with ramps to ride off of.

Playing on the ramps

Rosemont Bike Park, Nelson, British Columbia (NEW for 2017)

 "Epic" would describe this park well. And I'd highly suggest elbow and knee padding for the kids (possibly a full face helmet.)

Different endings to choose from as you ride down the course at the Rosemont Bike Park

This park has a nice pump track but it would be very dangerous to just play around on it without starting at the very top of the park and riding down. Older riders bike up a steep course to ride down one of several mountain bike trails, ending at the pump track (which they circle before finishing.) If you have young children wanting to just play on the pump track, make sure no older kids are riding down from above.

Flowy downhill riding at the Rosemont Bike Park in Nelson

This park is basically a miniature "downhill mountain bike park" as you'd see at a ski resort. (without a chairlift.) Ride up, choose your path, and bike down. Repeat multiple times.

There are many different technical trail features, wooden features, and paths to choose from. (all rated by beginner, intermediate, or advanced.)

Intermediate course at the Rosemont Bike Park in Nelson

There is also a really fun skate park beside the mountain bike park. My son enjoyed riding on both.

Rosemont Skate Park, Nelson

Castlegar Mountain Bike Park, British Columbia (NEW for 2017)

Located in Millennium Park, this bike park will be the largest in the West Kootenay Region when it is completed. Right now, phase 1 and 2 are completed with phase 3 in progress.

Phase 1 - the pump track for beginner riders

Phase 1 consists of a large easy pump track. Phase 2 consists of jumps for the next progression of skills. Phase 3 jumps beyond that for the older rider. (and scared me, so I'm glad it was closed when we were there!)

Phase 2 - the Jump park

All in all, we loved this park, and it was totally deserted when we were there!! After, we moved on to the ponds located in the park for a cooling down.

Playing in the riverside ponds in Millennium Park, Castlegar

A visit here almost made me want to move to Castlegar so that we could go biking and swimming in this great park all summer long.

A great bike park with no crowds

Want to visit more bike parks in the West Kootenays: Check out this great resource - West Kootenay Skate Parks and Bike Skill Parks. This resource lists everything in the area and we'll try to visit more of the parks next summer.

Bike parks are great fun for kids! See how many you can find this summer!

It should be noted that ALL of the pump tracks and bike parks above are FREE to use.  Donations are always welcome to the organizations that have made the parks, but there is no fee required to use them.