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.  We stopped at the park for an hour or so and Noah 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.

First Pump Track Experience in Fernie, British Columbia

Practice makes perfect but unfortunately for us, Calgary didn't have any pump track or mountain bike skills park that I knew of last summer.  I've since come to realize that there is a skills park and  at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary but without a mountain bike pass for COP, it's not exactly cheap to get out and practice on a regular basis. 


Practice Makes Perfect!  Canmore Pump Track this summer

It's now a new summer, Noah is a year older, and he's riding an incredible 16" Spawn Banshee pedal bike.  It was high time we try the whole pump track experience again!  And, I'd found us a track only 45 minutes from our house.  Canmore has the sweetest little pump track by the river and it's perfect for beginners working on their mountain biking skills.   We've already spent a couple afternoons at the track but I foresee many trips out to Canmore this summer when we're not camping.

The happiest biker ever at the Canmore Pump Track

Last summer I started a Junior Biker Gang through the Calgary Outdoor Playgroups program that I organize across the city and grew very passionate about getting "Kids On Wheels."  While this continues to be a large focus for me, I'd say that my passion has now expanded to include "Kids On Pump Tracks"  as well.  I see dirt everywhere I go and if we're driving anywhere new, I'm constantly scanning the horizon to see if there are mounds of dirt sticking up anywhere.  (not exaggerated in the slightest!) I do Google searches for "pump tracks" for every place we plan to camp or visit and if I could get my husband's permission on this, I'd actually tear up our pretty grass in the backyard - and build a pump track.  Yep, obsessed much?

Here's a video of Noah's first time on the Canmore Pump Track this spring - and if you really have no idea what a pump track is - the video will demonstrate much better than I could explain.


 

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!  Noah was 4 when he first tried the one in Fernie, 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.  We've yet to see a single other person on the Canmore pump track when we go out mid-week.  I imagine weekends would be a different story.

  • 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 one in Radium Hotsprings we visited this spring had some crazy jumps but it also had a couple of smaller tracks for the younger kids.

  • Invest in a full-face protection helmet and some light body armour for older kids that are doing jumps.  So far Noah's just doing the simple flow tracks and we haven't had to get better gear.  I imagine it will happen soon though.  Even knee pads would be a start.
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.  The Town of Canmore says this on their website: 
“Millennium Skills Park is the ‘flowdown’ of bike parks featuring a state of the art ‘super’ pump track that offers lines for every level of rider from beginner to expert and more lines than you can shake a broken chain at! Take a breather and hit the trees for some North Shore bro down and super skinnys that will get you prepped for Shore styles riding.”
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:
“Benchlands Skills Park rocks serious fun jump lines for ‘ALL levels’ of riders including transfer options and full flow from jumps to pumps. North Shore inspired logs and ladders flow around the site offering skills progression and option lines to challenge yourself comfortably.”

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 visited this park last summer in 2015 and it's moved to the very TOP of the list for best bike parks and pump tracks that we've visited.  Truly, the BEST bike park we've seen in Western Canada.

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 - Newly Added for 2016

 
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's public so anybody can use it and it's very busy on weekends. Less confident 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 


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.  Check back soon for a full report on family mountain biking in Fernie but in the meantime, you can find a map on the Fernie website for their town walking and biking trails.  The town bike trails are very family-friendly.  For camping, check out the very popular Surveyor's Lake Campground

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.  There are adult sized jumps and the beautiful flow that you'd find in Canmore is missing.  To do a full loop of the pump track requires being able to do small jumps at the very least (and while going down off the jump isn't hard, young riders will be challenged to get to the top of the hills after rounding the pump track.)

Jumps in the Fernie Bike Park
Lots to practice on in the Fernie Bike Park

One thing I do really LOVE though about the Fernie bike park is the "secret" mountain bike practice course behind it.  You won't see any signs for the course, but trust me - there's this child sized mountain bike trail behind the pump track in the trees that should pretty much teach your kid everything they'll need to know before they hit the trails with you.  I don't think the trail has a name but it's a loop so kids can keep doing it over and over all day.

Family mountain bike trail behind the bike park
Playing on a fun feature on the kids' mountain bike trail behind the bike park


The Radium Hot Springs Pump and Jump


 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. 

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 with fun exercise equipment.  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
Playground at Mount Nelson Athletic Park in Invermere
Skate Park in the Mount Nelson Athletic Park

Crowsnest Pass Bike Park in Blairmore


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 


This is one of the more challenging bike parks that we've visited but what sets it apart is that it has a half pipe made out of dirt.  Personally, I'd much rather my child play in a dirt half pipe than a concrete one found in a skate park.

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 (newly added for 2016)


This may be our newest favourite bike park. 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 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


Kelowna Mountain Bike Skills Park (Newly added for 2016)


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


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.

More bike parks across Canada and the United States can be found on the Bike Pirate website on their pages for Bike parks and Skill parks.



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