Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 in Review and Top Ten Highlights

2015 was an amazing year filled with more adventures than I would have ever dreamed possible. It has been a year of discovery as well as we watched our son (soon to be 7 years old) rise to become a very competent member on our adventures. Long gone are the days where he had to stay home while we went out to do the "big stuff." He now out-bikes me, rips down hills I'd never ride, and is close to matching my pace at both hiking and skiing. I give it another month before he's ski touring with us as a family in the backcountry and I know that I will be relegated to shuttle driver next summer when my boys go mountain biking. Life is crazy but it is good and we wouldn't have it any other way.

Another Crazy Awesome Year of Adventures in the Canadian Rockies

2015 in Review

Backcountry and Wilderness Trips: We completed 13 wilderness and backcountry trips in cabins, huts, and hostels. We visited 2 new hostels we'd never been to before and we got to stay at a couple of very beautiful backcountry lodges as well.

We have two more trips planned to the Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel this coming year

Camping: We spent 33 nights camping between May and September across Alberta and British Columbia. Our longest trip took us across BC for two weeks in August and we hope to repeat it again this coming year.

Camping in Radium Hot Springs, BC

Scrambling and Climbing Mountains: We did 8 family scrambles and difficult hikes where we climbed to the top of a summit, tackled narrow ridge walks, and even played around with some fun exposure and easy roped scrambling. Noah is able to hike for 7 to 8 hours and can go at a pretty mean pace when the trail gets steep enough to be interesting for him. (Just don't take him on a gentle walk through the forest.)

Now this is a child who LOVES climbing mountains!!

Biking: Noah got a 20" Spawn Savage bike with gears and disc brakes, and we biked close to 30 new trails as a family. Noah has definitely discovered that he prefers downhill mountain biking to cross country biking and has no desire to climb hills. (at all!) He likes riding down the trails at Winsport's Canada Olympic Park in Calgary and likes kicking my butt on the trails next door on the Paskapoo Slopes (where he routinely has to wait at the bottom of hills for me to summon the courage to ride down.) Noah's longest bike ride this summer was 30 km in length and I can't wait to see how far he'll be able to ride next year!

My boys and my little downhill rider about to do his first run down Moose Mountain in Kananaskis

Paddling and other Adventures: We spent many days paddling, rock climbing, hiking, and all-out exploring around Alberta and British Columbia. Noah did his first solo river paddle in his own kayak down several sets of class I rapids on the Elk River in British Columbia, and we did an overnight trip down the Columbia River which was a lot of fun.

Noah and I paddling the Elk River in Fernie, BC

Swimming and Water: We did lots of swimming and jumping off of everything we could find from diving boards to docks and bridges. We all made our first bridge jump this year and I jumped off of a pirate ship because it seemed like a good idea until I got up on the plank and realized how freakin' high up I was! Noah has become quite the little fish and would happily spend every day swimming for at least an hour.

Bridge Jumping in the Okanagan

Snowshoeing and Skiing: We did many snowshoe adventures in the winter months between January and April and this was definitely Noah's preferred way to explore rather than venturing out on x-country skis. He loves downhill skiing and did well at it last winter, but preferred hiking to skiing the rest of the time.

Fortunately this season, I've gotten Noah out a ton to work on his cross country skiing over the past couple of months and he now loves the sport. This is good news for me since I love cross country skiing! Noah has already logged 60 km on his skis this winter and has improved more than I ever thought possible in two months! I expect it to be a fun winter for us as we get out do lots of snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and downhill skiing. (We might need a few more months to fit it all in!)

2015 took us to some EPIC places for snowshoeing!

Adult-only Trips: I got away for a couple of girls-only weekends, one last winter for skiing and one this past fall for mountain biking. Meanwhile, Mark (yes, my husband has a name) got away for a couple of backcountry ski weekends last winter and did a couple of climbing trips in the summer.

28 Girls in a Wilderness Hostel for a super fun ski weekend

Top Ten Highlights of 2015

One - Skiing across Boom Lake in Banff National Park with my girlfriends last January

A great day, beautiful scenery, and a fabulous time with three girls who showed me what it means to be "happy and carefree."  I owe the girls for this day because it was truly my number one day of the entire year.

Read more: 5 Days in the Mountains - With No Kids (WOW)

Skiing across beautiful Boom Lake in Banff National Park
The face of happiness!

Two - Snowshoeing across Shadow Lake in Banff National Park

Another beautiful lake and a lovely day spent as a family playing in a winter wonderland. And staying at the decadent Shadow Lake Lodge wasn't bad either!

Read more: Our Favourite Family-Friendly Backcountry Ski Lodge

Paradise in Banff National Park
Snowshoeing across majestic Shadow Lake

Three - A Week in Nuevo Vallarta Mexico

We went zip-lining, played in a river and launched ourselves off of natural rock waterslides, went on bike rides around Nuevo Vallarta, and went on a pirate ship tour. Noah tried boogie boarding, took his first banana boat ride, and got to go horseback riding on a beautiful beach. It was a week full of awesome adventures!

Read more: Our Favourite Family Adventure Destination: Mexico

We love zip-lining and adventure tours! Mexico, we'll be back!!

Four - Mother's Day Weekend at Nipika Mountain Resort

We got a fabulous opportunity to launch our summer of biking adventures at Nipika Mountain Resort just outside of Radium Hot Springs in British Columbia. We stayed in a quaint little cabin with good friends and spent two days mountain biking on the resort trails. This could become an annual tradition.

Read more: Kids on Wheels - Nipika Mountain Resort

Mountain Bike Weekend at Nipika Mountain Resort

Five - Yamnuska! Noah's First Big Scramble

We did so many great hikes and scrambles this summer that it was hard to pick a favourite. I chose Yamnuska though because it was Noah's first BIG climb that involved a rope and climbing helmet. He didn't make it all the way to the summit but we'll be back next year with more climbing gear. In the meantime, Noah did tag a bunch of other big summits including our 4 summit day in Canmore climbing Miner's Peak and the Three Humps.

Read more: First Summits - The Mighty Yamnuska (with a 6 year old) 

The Four Summit Day - Ha Ling Peak to Miner's Peak (and beyond)

First Summits: Polar Peak, Fernie Alpine Resort

First Summits: Nihahi Ridge, Kananaskis 

First Summits: Barrier Lake Lookout, Kananaskis

First Summits: Forget Me Not Ridge, Kananaskis

Scrambling up Yamnuska last spring

Six - Camping and Biking in the  Okanagan

We go to the Okanagan in British Columbia every summer and our big goal is to bike the restored Kettle Valley Railway (KVR) from Kelowna to Osoyoos. We tackled 3 new sections this summer and have one left! The final section will involve an overnight stay at Chute Lake but we'll be back for it soon.

Read more: Biking the Kettle Valley Railway from Kelowna to Osoyoos 

Biking on the KVR from Chute Lake to Naramata

Seven - Columbia River Overnight Paddling Trip

We paddled the Columbia River from Radium Hot Springs to Brisco over two days and camped overnight on the most incredible island. It was paradise and I can't wait to go back!

Read more: Paddling and Camping on the Columbia River with Kids

Our island on the Columbia River
SUPing my way down the Columbia River

Eight - Girls Mountain Bike Weekend in Invermere, British Columbia

I spent two days mountain biking with a supportive group of girls I am proud to call my friends. And there were hot springs! What else could you need for a perfect September weekend?

Read More: September on Bikes

Mountain Biking outside of Fairmont Hot Springs, BC
Natural Hot Springs in the Columbia Valley

Nine - Egypt Lake Backpacking Trip

We hiked 13 km into a backcountry shelter in Banff National Park this past September with another family and the kids hiked further than they'd ever hiked. We spent two nights camped at Egypt Lake and the larch trees were glorious. We all felt proud of our accomplishment at the end of the weekend and have gone on to plan some more big trips next summer.

Read more: Backcountry Banff with Kids - Egypt Lake

Our Cabin at Egypt Lake, Banff National Park
Healy Pass in all her splendor
My strong mighty hiker!

Ten - December Castle Mountain Hostel Trip in Banff National Park

I had to wrap up the top ten with this recent trip to a great hostel that is quickly becoming one of my favourites. We discovered a beautiful new ski trail in the Castle Mountain area that was a lot of fun and we hiked Johnston Canyon to see frozen waterfalls and crawl inside ice caves.  It was a great weekend and it launched another great winter of adventures to come in 2016.

Read more: Ice Caves and Frozen Waterfalls in Banff National Park

Skiing at Castle Mountain, Banff National Park
Exploring Ice Caves at Johnston Canyon, Banff
Hiking Johnston Canyon, Banff

2016 is going to be another great year and I hope you'll keep following our adventures. It's a new year and it's time to move onward and upward to bigger and even more awesome trips ahead!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Ice Caves and Frozen Waterfalls in Banff National Park

We got out for a pre-Christmas hike in Johnston Canyon and this beautiful hike did not disappoint. We crawled behind frozen waterfalls, explored hidden caves, and ventured off trail to find the secret gems of this popular tourist trail.

Follow me on a photo tour of Banff's best winter hiking trail!

Exploring Ice Caves in Banff National Park

Hiking the Catwalks to the Lower Falls in Johnston Canyon

It's a short 1.1 km walk to the Lower Falls from the Johnston Canyon Resort. The trail is relatively flat with a slight uphill grade and the going is easy. Most people can make it to the first set of waterfalls regardless of fitness or age and I've seen people do the short outing in everything from leather dress shoes to simple sneakers.

Kids love these catwalks
This fun section takes you under a big overhanging rock

The Lower Falls and the Cave

The Lower Falls are best seen by crawling through a small cave where you'll be met with the view below. And while the falls are beautiful all year long, I prefer them in winter when they are frozen with water flowing underneath and out into a pool at the bottom.

The Lower Falls of Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park
The viewing platform on the other side of the cave
Sliding down out of the cave
Popular Photo Opp in front of the frozen Lower Falls

Hiking to the Upper Falls

The hike to the Upper Falls is 2.7 km total from the parking lot and the trail starts to climb more steeply past the Lower Falls. Many people turn around at the Lower Falls, but the best is yet to come! (especially in winter)

We hiked about three quarters of the way to the Upper Falls and then started looking for footprints leading off of the main trail to the right, down into the creek. In summer it's harder to find the secret trail I was looking for but in winter it's pretty easy to see the wide packed trail heading down into the canyon. (for locals, it's not exactly a secret so the trail you are looking for is pretty well traveled)

We followed our side trail down into the canyon and the photos below show us playing on and behind a beautiful frozen waterfall.

Note that as of 2020 you can not hike down into the canyon. All photos in the canyon are from 2019 or earlier.

If you want to hike behind a frozen waterfall, visit Troll Falls in Kananaskis where you can hike to the Upper Falls and walk behind a frozen ice curtain.

Down in the canyon a short distance before the Upper Falls

These beautiful frozen waterfalls can't be seen from the main trail

We crawled behind the waterfall and discovered this super cool cave

My son and his friend playing in the cave behind the waterfall

The kids thought this ice cave was pretty cool!

Next year's family Christmas Card

The Upper Falls and More Exploring in the Canyon

Back on the main trail, we hiked for half a kilometre at most to reach the Upper Falls. The best photos though are again taken off of the main trail, down in the canyon.

Right before you reach the Upper Falls, you'll see another very well packed trail leading down to the creek. From here, you can follow the creek (if it's frozen) right up to the Upper Falls where hopefully you'll get to watch ice climbers in action.

Obviously if the creek is not frozen, exploring in the canyon would not be a smart idea and you should stick to the main trail. And as another note of caution, don't stand beside the Upper Falls for too long! Get your photos and get out of there. You'll see large blocks of ice around you on the ground and they definitely fell from above!

Standing in front of the Upper Falls of Johnston Canyon
The official viewing platform for the Upper Falls

Johnston Canyon is a great winter hike and at 5.4 km round trip, the hike is doable by most children ages four and up. For younger children, bring a child carrier because the hike is not stroller or sled friendly.

It's advised as well that you wear ice cleats or some kind of traction device for your boots as the path can get slippery. My family wears Kahtoola Micro Spikes

Kahtoola Micro Spikes let you walk straight up ice

Additional Reading

The Most Popular Hike in Banff - Without the Crowds

Johnston Canyon Hike (Banff Town website)

Guided Ice Walks in Johnston Canyon with Discover Banff Tours

Winter Wonderland in Johnston Canyon at the Upper Falls

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Ten Reasons to Spend Time at Kananaskis Village This Winter

We recently spent a weekend at the Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge and I was reminded of how much I LOVE Kananaskis Village. Whether you can afford to stay overnight or not matters little because most of our favourite things are accessible to day users (including the fancy pool and spa at the lodge!)

Below are our top ten favourite things to do in winter at Kananaskis Village as a day user or as a guest of the Pomeroy Lodge.

1. Go Skiing or Boarding at Nakiska Mountain Resort

Nakiska Resort is a great ski hill and is the one we feel most comfortable at as a family. Not only is it the closest hill to Calgary for day trips, it's also small and easy to navigate. Lift lines are generally short and the beginner learning area is free for all users. This is where my son learned to ski and we've enjoyed blending a few hours of skiing with an hour at the tube park. When we get tired of the crowds at the hill, we make our way down to Kananaskis Village for a cup of Starbucks coffee in the Lodge and some time spent in front of the fireplace relaxing.

Check out my newest ski story: Off to a Great Start at Nakiska Ski Resort

Nakiska Mountain Resort

2. Visit the Pomeroy Lodge for Brunch on Sundays (with access to the Summit Spa)

This is something that isn't really advertised anywhere, but the staff at the Summit Spa confirmed for me that Sunday brunch reservations include access to the lodge swimming pool, indoor/outdoor hot tub, and steam rooms  (my favourite one is infused with eucalyptus oil.)

To make a reservation, call the front desk at the lodge. (and it's always a good idea to verify spa and pool access in case policies should change at some point.)

Indoor/outdoor hot tub at the Pomeroy Lodge
Not a bad place to spend an hour or two at Kananaskis Village
The Lodge Swimming Pool

3. Go Shopping at Kananaskis Outfitters

Known primarily as an outfitter for tours and rentals, this small shop also carries an amazing collection of outdoor gear and clothing. So far this season I have found a new favourite pair of cross country ski pants at the store along with a new tuque that matches my light puffy jacket to perfection. Safe to say it is not wise for me to spend too much time at this store!

While you're at the shop, book a  moonlight snowshoe tour or rent a pair of cross country skis for the trails around the Village. They also rent fat bikes, skates, and pretty much anything you'd need to enjoy outdoor time in Kananaskis.

More info. can be found on the Kananaskis Outfitters website. They are located in the Kananaskis Village Centre, tucked in behind a gift shop.

Kananaskis Outfitters has everything to get you out on the trails

4. Go Skating on the Village Pond

The Village skating pond is groomed and ready to go for the season. It is located right beside Kananaskis Outfitters (where you can rent skates should you need) and is a fun little place for kids to skate. It's also a great spot for a small family hockey game with sticks permitted on the ice. For a real game though, there is also a hockey rink at the village so save the slap sticks for the rink please.

Skating on the Pond at Kananaskis Village

5. Go Cross country skiing on the Village Trails

There are approximately 12 km of trails in the immediate Village area, all groomed and track set. Descend to Ribbon Creek and you have another 20+ km of trails.

Our favourite short loop is the 3 km Terrace Loop which is relatively flat and great for beginner skiers. Once the kids can do this loop, try lengthening it with a climb up Kovach and Aspen to the meadow on the Aspen trail for a 6 km loop. There is a very exciting descent down to the village at the end on the Kovach Trail.

Easy skiing near Kananaskis Village

For another easy option, try skiing the Bill Milne Trail which is another great family-friendly option free of any large hills as long as you stay close to the highway. The best section with kids goes from Kovach Pond to the Mount Kidd RV Park. Set up a shuttle and ski it one way from Mount Kidd for an easy glide in the downhill direction.

All trails can be seen on this trail map

Learning to ski at Kananaskis Village

6. Go for a Hike and Explore the New Ribbon Creek Trail or Hike to Troll Falls

The hike to Troll Falls has long been a family favourite in the Kananaskis Village area. The hike is short at 3 km round trip and when there's enough snow you can even ski to the falls for those who prefer cross country skiing to hiking. One never needs snowshoes for this hike as the trail is always well packed down and easy to walk on. (note that if you are walking, please stay off of the ski tracks and move to the side if you see skiers coming down a hill towards you.)

Troll Falls in Winter

The other hike that I recommend is the trail up Ribbon Creek below the Village. This trail has been fixed since the flood and is great for snowshoeing. The ski trail climbs up above the creek but the hiking and fat biking trail follows the creek and travels through a winter wonderland of snow covered bridges.

Both trails can be seen on this trail map.

Skiing along the Hay Meadow Trail near Ribbon Creek and Troll Falls

7. Try a Full Moon Snowshoe Tour

Kananaskis Outfitters runs an evening snowshoe tour on nights where there is a full moon. It's a fun easy tour which includes snowshoe rentals and a chocolate fondue at the end. For full details and dates, visit the Kananaskis Outfitters website. The company also runs fat bike waterfall tours to Troll Falls along with numerous other guided winter tours.

Moonlight Snowshoe Tours at Kananaskis Outfitters

8. Go For Coffee at the Lodge and Hang out by the Fireplace

I feel like I've been living at Kananaskis Village because I've been hanging out at the lodge a LOT this winter.  I love the fireplace room inside the Lodge and it's a great place to warm up after skiing or snowshoeing. The new Market Cafe serves Starbucks Coffee along with delectable pastries, goodies, and light snacks. No matter where we go play in Kananaskis, we always stop off at the Village on the way home to grab a coffee and hang out by the fireplace in the lodge. There's also enough room for the kids to run around a bit (provided they aren't too wild) before the drive back to the city.

Hanging out by the fireplace in the Pomeroy Lodge at Kananaskis

9. Go Sledding in the Village

There is a small sledding hill at Kananaskis Village tucked back in beside the hockey rink and the playground. Combined with an hour or so on the skating rink, it's a great way to spend half a day at the village.

Sizing up the sledding hill at Kananaskis Village

10. Go for Dinner at the new Forte Restaurant

The lodge has undergone recent renovations and the new family restaurant is open.

"Forte Restaurant features a partial open kitchen with two wood-fire ovens used to prepare delicious handmade pizzas, roasted meats, fish & seasonal vegetables. It is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Reservations recommended for dinner. "

Combine your evening with some night-skating on the moonlit pond or a full moon snowshoe tour.

Dinner and a little moonlit skating at Kananaskis Village

For full information on the Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge, Kananaskis Village, and all amenities or services please visit the Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge website.

Disclaimer: This story was not paid for or sponsored. All words and opinions are my own.