Thursday, January 08, 2015

Winter Wilderness Trips - The Method and the Madness

Want to guess how many winter wilderness trips we have planned over the next 4 months??  TEN!! And our son gets to come on six of the trips - which means we have to be really efficient at packing, preparing, and organizing.

Below is a quick preview of where we'll be exploring this winter with tips on how to prepare for your own winter wilderness adventures.

The First Wilderness Trip - Mosquito Creek Wilderness Hostel

This trip is already finished now but I'm still counting it towards our ten trips since it happened just before Christmas and involved two nights spent in a small cabin in Banff surrounded by snow.  We love the Mosquito Creek Wilderness Hostel and try to make an annual trip here every winter.  This year we reserved a full dorm room for 12 people and travelled with two other families.  We spent two days cross country skiing and snowshoeing and thoroughly enjoyed our time on the Icefields Parkway.

This is Mosquito Creek and there's no flying insects here!! Just Pure Beauty and snow!

More information (and photos) can be found here at Five Reasons to Take your Family to Mosquito Creek this Winter.

Playing in the snow outside the Mosquito Creek Hostel

Karen of the Play Outside Guide has also written a couple of stories about our trip:  How to Weather a Wilderness Hostel with Kids in Winter and Get Closer to Nature at Mosquito Creek Wilderness Hostel.

Mosquito Creek in Winter

The Next Nine Trips - Where We're Going This Winter

Our trips will be divided into front country outings at wilderness hostels, and backcountry trips at cabins or lodges that we'll ski or snowshoe into.  The Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel will be a combination of both front and backcountry since it's set so far off the highway you have to wear snowshoes to reach the cabins. It also has no running water so we'll have to use all of our winter camping skills for this trip!  Otherwise, the hostel trips are pretty easy and we don't expect to suffer too much.

Girls' Trip this weekend in Banff! 28 Girls, one wilderness hostel, and two days of x-country skiing at the Castle Mountain Wilderness Hostel.  This trip will be pretty comfortable with indoor plumbing and electricity.  Hardly "wilderness" but still set in the mountains far from the city.

Paradise Valley where we hope to be skiing at least one day this weekend

Girls' Snowshoe Trip to Skoki Lodge!! Skoki Lodge is an historic backcountry ski lodge in Banff dating back to 1930.  I'll be joining my girlfriend Alannah of The Campsite on this incredible two night tripAnd we certainly won't be suffering at this catered lodge!

Skoki Lodge, Banff National Park (I'll be here next week!!!)

Family Trip to Rampart Creek Wilderness Hostel in Banff.  We'll spend another weekend on the Icefields Parkway in Banff with two other families.  This time though, we'll stay at the Rampart Creek Wilderness Hostel.   We've never stayed here before so we are excited to explore another corner of paradise in Banff National Park.

Gotta Love the Icefields Parkway in winter!

February long weekend in Jasper!  We'll be spending three nights at the Maligne Canyon Wilderness Hostel in Jasper where we plan to spend lots of time exploring the frozen canyon on ice cleats.  We'll be joined by two other families and this is another new wilderness hostel for us.

Maligne Canyon, Jasper National Park

Dad's weekend out and backcountry ski trip to Roger's Pass.  This is my husband's weekend away and he's excited to be spending a couple nights at the Wheeler Hut in Glacier National Park, BC with some other friends.  Gotta let Dad out of the house occasionally for a solo trip or two!

We're also letting Dad have a second weekend away for some backcountry skiing at the Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel on the Icefields Parkway. 

Playing around at Hilda Creek

Family weekend in Kananaskis.  We like to spend a weekend at the Kananaskis Wilderness Hostel close to home once a winter.  We'll do that this spring and enjoy some downhill skiing at Nakiska next door.  The Kananaskis hostel is one of the more comfortable wilderness hostels with indoor plumbing and microwaves!  It's much more decadent than the other hostels we'll be staying at.

First trip to the Kananaskis Wilderness Hostel

Family weekend at the Hilda Creek Hostel!  The Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel is much more than just a ski hut!  It's also a fun family base camp where we'll spend Easter this year snowshoeing, building snow forts, and playing in the warm spring snow.  It's also borderline "Backcountry" and we expect to be boiling snow for drinking water and practicing many of our winter camping skills.

Our paradise at Hilda Creek

Lake O'Hara Family Backcountry Ski Trip!  We were supposed to do this one last weekend but it was way too cold!  So April it is and it better be warmer.  We'll be staying at the Elizabeth Parker Hut which is next to impossible to get space in.  Come April though there are a lot more spots available. It is an 11km ski in so it's going to be a big challenge for our six-year old son but we're up for it!  Let's hope he is too.

The Elizabeth Parker Hut, Lake O'Hara


Packing and Planning for Backcountry Winter Wilderness Trips

There is a LOT I could say about packing and planning for a winter wilderness trip.  And it very much depends on whether you are going into the backcountry or if you are staying in a front country wilderness hostel (that may even have indoor plumbing.)  90% of our trips this winter will be in the front country and will require a very different kind of packing.  Still, below are some tips that I've picked up over the past couple of years.

One - There is NO guarantee that your winter wilderness trips will happen!!  Be prepared to cancel last minute, to forfeit your booking reservation (up to 50% of your entire booking with the Alpine Club,) and to change plans last minute.  Already this winter, we've rescheduled for Rampart Creek and Lake O'Hara because the weather was too cold for both.  I also got sick right before Lake O'Hara.  Things happen and in winter, you have to expect that some trips just won't happen!  Plan for them but be prepared to stay home and huddle in front of the fireplace instead.

One of my favourite photos of us hauling our gear (and son) into a backcountry cabin

Two - Always go with friends.  Everything is more fun with friends in the backcountry or in the wilderness at any time of year.  In winter it's especially true though.  Cold temperatures make it hard to motivate the kids to get outside.  Add a couple of friends though and most kids can be tempted to get out for a quick hike or to build a snowman.

Kids at Mosquito Creek (they could have spent hours playing outside the hostel together)

Three - Pack a car bag.  This is the bag that will be handy and readily accessible the second you arrive at your hostel or parking lot.  Depending on the time of day this will definitely include head lamps!  I don't know how many times we have arrived at Mosquito Creek in the evening with all the headlamps packed away.  It's front country, but you have to park right off the highway and walk through the trees a couple hundred metres to reach the hostel (which is not fun in the dark while pulling all your gear to the cabin in a sled with no headlamp!)

Hauling gear out of Hilda Creek

The car bag should also include all mittens and hats.  Most wilderness hostels will require a short walk to reach the cabins and you'll be hauling all of your stuff in (often by sled.)  You'll want your outerwear handy rather than packed away.

The hike required to get back to the highway from the Hilda Creek Hostel

Four - Travel with a large hockey bag for Wilderness Hostels.  My husband gets angry with me when I pack everything for our weekend into 10 tiny bags and backpacks.  Many of the hostels we stay at require a short walk and to reach Hilda Creek you'll even need snowshoes to cross the 500 metres from parking lot to cabins.  This is near impossible and a huge pain in the butt if you pack everything in tiny bags requiring a zillion trips from the car.  Pack everything in big hockey bags, throw them on sleds,  and pull them to the front door. 

Our gear outside the Hilda Creek Hostel

Five - Bring toys, games, movies, etc. for the hours spent indoors.  You are not going to be outside skiing, snowshoeing, and making snowmen all day and night long.  The kids will spend hours inside the hostel or cabin (especially if it's cold outside.) We love books and take turns reading stories to the kids.  Card games like Uno are also popular along with movies on a tablet or portable DVD player. 

Coloring at the Mosquito Creek Hostel after skiing all day

Additional Resources and Reading

Winter Camping With Kids (No Tent!!)  - This story covers many of the wilderness hostels in the Rockies that you can stay at in winter as a family along with backcountry cabins that you can snowshoe or ski into. In the story are dozens of links to other stories I've written on the topic.

Good luck and see you in the wilderness this winter! 


  1. I always love reading your blog and adding ideas to my list of things I can't wait to try with my family when our kids are a bit older. Till then I will keep learning, dreaming, and reading your blog. Thanks.

  2. Thanks Jill. You're going to have a big list, lol.