Monday, March 30, 2015

Spring Skiing at Nakiska Mountain Resort

Spring is here but the ski season isn't quite over yet.  Calgary's closest mountain, Nakiska Mountain Resort, is open until April 19th this year. With live entertainment, family activities, and warm weather, it's a great time to gather up the kids and head out for one last ski weekend (or two) of the season.

Spring Skiing at Nakiska Mountain Resort

Easter At Nakiska Mountain Resort

Easter is a fun time to come out to Nakiska for a day with games and activities for the whole family.  Join Telus Winter Sports School for the Nakiska Spring Olympics this Saturday and Sunday, April 4th and 5th.  Two sessions run from 11:30-12:30pm and from 1pm-2:30pm.   There are prizes to be won and all you have to do to register is to meet in front of the BBQ tent before one of the two sessions.
Spring Skiing at Nakiska

If relaxing is more your speed, there is also live music on the hill this weekend on Sunday, April 5th.  There will be a live DJ on the Finish Line Patio playing great music while you enjoy a drink on the patio while soaking up the warm spring sun.

Other Spring Promotions at Nakiska

There will also be a live DJ at Nakiska on both Saturday and Sunday, April 11th and 12th, and on the following Saturday, April 18th. This is great for families who may want to come out for the weekend to stay at the Delta Lodge at Kananaskis.

Spend the morning skiing, spend the afternoon hanging out in the sun on the patio, and then retreat to the lodge for dinner and some time at the hot tub and pool.

All special offers for the Delta Lodge can be found on their website if I've just given you a brilliant idea for a fun spring weekend away.

Plan Ahead for Next Year

The early bird sale for next year's season passes will begin in May with all information on pricing released at this time. For more information, visit the Nakiska website.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Summer Planning: Where to Camp in the National Parks of Alberta

My previous Alberta camping story on the best provincial park campgrounds in Southern Alberta has been immensely popular but it was missing the beautiful national park campgrounds along with one very sweet private campground we love outside of Waterton Lakes National Park.

Without further introduction, below are the best places to camp in (or near) Alberta's mountain parks.

Camping in Waterton Lakes National Park

Waterton Lakes National Park

Waterton Lakes has to be one of our favourite places to go camping and it's an easy drive of under 3 hours. Go for a long weekend and make sure to read the following stories as you plan out your trip:

Camping in Waterton Lakes National Park

Family Fun in Waterton Lakes National Park

Paddling in Waterton Lakes National Park

Ten Awesome Things to Do with Kids in Waterton Lakes National Park

Hiking at the Waterton Springs Campground

In Waterton, the main option for camping is at the Main Town Site Campground. From here you can bike or walk around the town, launch a canoe right from your campsite, and easily head over to the town splash park or playground.

Biking the Kootenai Brown Trail in Waterton Lakes National Park

Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park

This is our favourite place to camp in Banff National Park and probably the best campground located within an hour's drive from the Calgary city limits. The campground you want to stay at is called Two Jack Lakeside (not Two Jack Main) and it offers premier lakeside campsites for those on the ball early enough to book the best sites.

Paddling on Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park

What's to love about Two Jack Lakeside:

  • Lakeside camping

  • Walk-in tenting at lakeside sites

  • Warm heated bathrooms with showers

  • Comfort camping in O'TENTiks

  • Close to the town of Banff

  • Family-friendly paddling on Two Jack Lake
Canoeing on Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park

To read more on this campground, read my story:  Banff Campground Review - The Good, the Bad, and the Awesome.

For more information on Comfort Camping at Two Jack Lake, read Comfort Camping in Banff National Park  and Comfort Camping in Banff - the Experience.

The reservation date for booking sites in the national park is always in January for the whole summer. More information can be found here on the Parks Canada website.  

Lakeside site and O'TENTik at Two Jack Lake in Banff

Tunnel Mountain Campgrounds, Banff National Park

These aren't the most scenic, remote, or private of campgrounds.  What you're getting here though is convenience (camping right in the town of Banff,) serviced sites with power if you desire this amenity, and enough space for a large RV if that's what you bring camping.

There are three campgrounds on Tunnel Mountain, and The Village I campground is where tenters or families with small trailers will want to be.  It's the most natural of the campgrounds and you will not be camped on pavement.  At Village II you'll be camping on pavement but you'll also have power for your trailer or RV (great for chilly spring camping.)  Finally, the Tunnel Mountain Trailer campground is where you'll find space for a large RV with service at every site.

Lovely private sites surrounded by trees on all sides at Tunnel Village I

For our family, the main reason to camp on Tunnel Mountain is for the mountain biking. The Tunnel Campground loop goes around the three campgrounds and is a great intro to children wanting to learn to bike off pavement. It's a great family ride with compact gravel and dirt.  It's also wide enough for parents pulling Chariots.

Mountain biking on Tunnel Mountain, Banff

There are also dozens of other mountain bike trails on Tunnel Mountain for riders of all abilities.  We love the Tunnel Bench Loop and the Bow Falls- Hoodoos Trail.

I've written about biking in Banff here:   

The Best Family Bike Trails in Banff National Park

Mountain Biking the Tunnel Bench Loop in Banff with Kids.

Trying to conquer the Tunnel Bench Loop

For more information on camping at Tunnel Mountain, read my story: Our New Favourite Campground in Banff.

Reservations follow the same process as for Two Jack Lakeside above and can be made in January each year for the camping season.

The bike trails are why you camp on Tunnel Mountain in Banff

The Icefields Parkway, Banff and Jasper National Parks

There's no "one" campground here that is best.  All of the campgrounds along the scenic Icefields Parkway between Lake Louise and Jasper are awesome. They are primitive (so don't expect showers,) and most of them don't accept reservations (so aim for camping mid-week during summer peak season,) but this is premier camping in Banff with views to die for.

Scenery of the Athabasca Glacier from the Wilcox Pass Hiking Trail, Icefields Parkway

If I were to pick my favourite campground along this scenic highway, I would choose Mosquito Creek.  It's located close to Bow Lake for hiking and paddling, close to Bow Summit and Peyto Lake (for more hiking and classic views,) and it's only a half hour drive from Lake Louise.

Bow Lake on the Icefields Parkway

For more information on the Icefields Parkway, visit this link to the Jasper National Park website.   Information on camping can be viewed at the Banff National Park website or the Jasper NP website.

Hiking on Parker Ridge, Icefields Parkway

Top Attractions on the Icefields Parkway for Families:

The Majestic Icefields Parkway from the Bow Summit Lookout

Recommended Reading:

Experiencing Awesome in Jasper National Park

Our Top Ten Favourite Things to do in Jasper

Glacier Skywalk Tour in Jasper National Park

Jasper National Park

After exploring the Icefields Parkway, you should definitely continue on to the town of Jasper and camp nearby for a few nights at least.  Our favourite two campgrounds are the Wapiti Campground  and the Whistlers Campground because they are at the end of the Wapiti bike trail and we can bike to town and back from camp.

Whistlers Campground has become our top choice right now because of the Whistlers Campground Bike Trail that meanders through camp, connecting several play areas to one big playground.

Read more about biking in Jasper here: The Best Family Bike Trails in Jasper, Alberta.

Hiking up Whistler's Mountain in Jasper

Recommended reading to find out about our favourite things to do in Jasper:

Our Top Ten Favourite Things to do in Jasper

Experiencing Awesome in Jasper National Park

Family-friendly Summits in Jasper National Park

The Best Family Bike Trails in Jasper

Easy family mountain biking in Jasper

For more information on Jasper, visit the Tourism Jasper website.

Campsites in Jasper can be booked for the whole summer season in January each year.  More information is on the Parks Canada website.

My beautiful Jasper as seen from Whistler's Mountain

All information on booking these great campgrounds can be found HERE

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Most Popular Hike in Banff - Without the Crowds

I've said before that there must be photos of Banff's Johnston Canyon hiking trail on billboards across the world advertising the Canadian Rockies.  Come summer, you'd be hard pressed to get a photo on this popular trail without at least two dozen tourists in the shot, and you could be parking a mile down  the road in order to get near the place.

Hike Johnston Canyon in winter, spring or fall though and you'll find solitude in abundance, you'll get your quiet moments on the trail, and you might even have the whole place to yourself as we did last winter.  (of course it was -30C at the time, but we still had the trail to ourselves.)

I don't need to write much about Banff's number one hiking trail and a quick Google search will honestly tell you absolutely everything you need to know anyway.  I just want to share some photos, show you why this hike is awesome at this time of year, and maybe encourage you to hike the canyon NOW before the tourists and crowds arrive in another few months.

Catwalks, a Cave, and the Lower Waterfalls of Johnston Canyon


Hiking on the Johnston Canyon Catwalks
Hiking through the canyon en route to the Lower Falls
The Cave and the Lower Falls
Popular shot for photos on the bridge in front of the Lower Falls


Hiking to the Upper Falls


Ice appears everywhere as you reach the Upper Falls
The Upper Falls and ice climbers on them (photo taken from the canyon below the trail)

The BEST Part of the hike (going off trail into the canyon before the Upper Falls)

This one needs a disclaimer:  Do not walk on thin ice, do not go try to climb the falls without proper equipment, stick to official or at least unofficial trails that take you into the canyon, etc.  We found a lovely little side trail that took us down into the canyon right before the Upper Falls.  We played for a bit, enjoyed the view, and left again on the main trail.  We did not try to descend or hike down the canyon because that would be too dangerous (and dumb.)

Down in the canyon near the Upper Falls
The kids had a lot of fun playing down in the canyon
I love the Upper Falls as seen from down in the canyon
This was as far as we descended in the canyon - before returning on the main trail
This part of the trail was the highlight for us

The Hike Out

Another disclaimer:  Bring ice cleats or something for grip.  You'll notice them on our feet in the photo above.  I swear by micro spikes but my son wears yak trax which are much cheaper.  A small pair of yak trax is supposed to fit ladies with feet sized 6.5 - 10, but my son fits them and he isn't even a size 1 yet.   XS micro spikes are designed for kids with feet size 1 and bigger and that will be what my son gets for next winter.

This is what the trail looks like in spring when it's icy
This is how you'll descend the trail if you don't have ice cleats (be warned)
Looking down on the Lower Falls and the cave

And a fun video to end things off


For more information:

Visit the Town of Banff's website for detailed information on the trail.   It is 2.7 km one way to the Upper Falls but much shorter to the Lower Falls.  Most children aged 3+ should be able to make it to at least the Lower Falls and the cave with no difficulty.  

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Top 10 Spring Family Hikes in Kananaskis

I got the following email message a couple weeks ago:
"I am a mom of 4 kids. I really want to start family hiking - but am a complete novice.  Scared I might be eaten by a bear or fall into ice!!!  Have you written a post about getting kids and families started - best hikes to start with?"

Then last week I received this following message:
"I would like to take my 18 month old daughter out to the mountains this weekend and was hoping that you might have a trail suggestion or two.  Ideally within 1 hour or hour and a half drive."

While I did respond to both moms, I figure there are at least a few more of you with the same questions.  And since it's spring in the Rockies, I'm going to start with Spring Hiking.  I'm also going to focus on Kananaskis because it's close to Calgary with trails that lose their snow quickly in the warm spring sun.

Spring Hiking in the Bow Valley on the Flowing Water Trail

The Top Ten Spring Family Hikes in Kananaskis 

The First Five Hikes for Young Children

In my story, Spring Hiking with your Family in Kananaskis, I write about the following five hikes that are awesome for families with young children.
  • Beaver Flats Interpretive Trail, Elbow Valley

  • Paddy's Flat Interpretive Trail, Elbow Valley

  • Troll Falls, Kananaskis Valley 

  • Heart Creek, Kananaskis Valley

  • Widow Maker Trail, Kananaskis Valley 

Information on  those the trails can be found in the story above.

Playing on the Beaver Flats Trail, Elbow Valley

More Hikes in the Elbow Valley

The Fullerton Loop is the next little hike that comes to mind and it's the perfect next step for children that are able to hike a 5km loop.  The trailhead has a brand new start post-flood so if you've done this one before, you'll find the new trail starts across the highway from the Allen Bill Day Use Area.  Also, there is no more pond at this day use area.  The river has reclaimed the whole area.  It's still a fun little spot though for the kids to play by the river and for the family to have a picnic.

Resting on the Fullerton Loop, Elbow Valley
The next hike in the Elbow Valley that I LOVE in spring is the Prairie Mountain trail.  This one is great for the older kids because you'll be climbing 700 m to get to the summit.  There's no cute little creek on this one but the feeling of reaching a summit is incomparable.

Note the trail always has a lot of snow on the upper part of it until mid-May so be prepared with ice cleats if going early season.

Standing on the summit of Prairie Mountain, March 8th

For more information on this trail, please read the story I wrote last September, More First Summits:  Prairie Mountain, Kananaskis.   

Hiking down the summit ridge on Prairie Mountain

Hikes in the Bow Valley

I've written a lot about spring hiking and biking in the Bow Valley on the Flowing Water Interpretive Trail and the Many Springs Interpretive Trail.  Therefore, I refer you to those stories:

Hiking on the Many Springs Trail, Bow Valley Provincial Park
Biking the closed campground roads of Bow Valley Provincial Park in April

The final hike - Prairie View Trail, Kananaskis

This one isn't last for any reason other than that the link below leads you to many other hikes you can do with your family this spring.  You may not have noticed, but there is an entire page on my blog devoted to the topic of Spring/Fall Hiking. It's at the top of the website beside other tabs on best hikes, day trips, picnic sites, and city hikes.

Read more on this hike: First Summits - Yates Mountain and the Barrier Lake Lookout, Kananaskis

Barrier Lake from the Prairie View Trail, Kananaskis Valley

I hope I've given you tons of suggestions now.  There is life beyond Elbow Falls!  I promise.  So get out there and explore.  Happy Hiking!!

Rest Break on the Heart Creek Trail

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Shadow Lake Family-friendly Backcountry Ski Lodge

Shadow Lake is one of the most beautiful destinations in backcountry Banff National Park that is easily reached year round on the Redearth Creek Trail.  We set out a couple weeks ago to see just how "easy" it would be to get to this magical spot with a six year old child in winter.

Beautiful Shadow Lake, Backcountry Banff National Park

The photo above shows why we wanted to get here as a family for a weekend.  Scenery like this isn't found on any old  stroll or ski trip.  BUT, we worked our butts off to get these views.

Note: this story has been edited and updated for 2023.

It took us over 5 hours to get to this destination on foot

The Journey to Shadow Lake

I've written a few stories now on the theme of "raising tough kids" and this trip definitely falls under the category of pushing children to new limits, out of their comfort zones, and setting out to see just how far they can go.

In order to get to Shadow Lake, and to the backcountry lodge where we'd spend the weekend, we first had to ski or hike 14 km (9 miles) on a moderate trail abundant in big hills.   And while I'm sure many older kids could do this, my son had never skied more than 7 km.  And he's only 6 years old.

Hiking up the Redearth Creek Trail to Shadow Lake

How we managed to get to Shadow Lake:
  1. We hiked the first part of the Redearth Creek Trail that was the steepest while carrying skis and pulling ski boots in a sled (next time we'd carry all extra boots as the sled was a huge pain in the butt to pull.) We were also carrying snowshoes that we could use on our free day at the lodge for exploring around the lake.

  2. We skied the next 8 km while pulling our son with a tow rope. 

  3. Finally, we hiked the last 3 km from the junction to Shadow Lake Lodge at the end of the Redearth Creek Trail.  This section was not track set or even skier tracked and started off with a very steep icy hill.  We figured we might as well just switch back into hiking mode and allow our son to use different muscles for a bit.

Skiing along the Redearth Creek Trail en route to Shadow Lake

How other families get to Shadow Lake:

There are three basic options:  Ski, hike, or pull the kids in a chariot or pulk sled.  You do what works best for your family.  And in summer you can bike if the children are strong enough to do the hills on the way in.  We used our son's balance bike last September when we went in and he had a super fun ride out.

Nearing Shadow Lake Lodge after a very long ski and hike

On the way out from Shadow Lake, we basically repeated our steps from the way in.  We walked the top part, skied the middle, and walked the bottom part again.  Our son skied more on his own on the way out but he was still towed a lot too.  For the biggest hills, he had to ski between his dad's legs since he hasn't quite figured out how to do a snow plough on cross country skis yet.

Skiing around Shadow Lake on our free day at the lodge
Skiing out from Shadow Lake Lodge

Staying Overnight at Shadow Lake Lodge as a Family

I could easily post a dozen gorgeous photos of Shadow Lake and leave it at that.  However, there's more to Shadow Lake Lodge than scenery.

BIG Reasons for Families to LOVE Shadow Lake Lodge

Individual cabins - Each couple or family gets their own cabin to sleep in.  No other backcountry ski lodge offers this unless you pay extra (a lot extra.)  At Shadow Lake though, everybody gets a cabin rather than sharing a crowded lodge.

Cabins at Shadow Lake Lodge

Decadent food - The food at Shadow Lake Lodge is great (pork tenderloin, chicken, fresh vegetables, hearty soups, and breakfasts so big you'll be full most of the day.) 

Note the food may feel a bit "fancy" for some kids, so I would advise packing some emergency staples (even a small jar of PB and a package of wraps or bagels) if you have a picky eater. 

You can also make dietary requests when you book your stay, so don't feel shy to request basic chicken and beef or pork if you feel your child would reject seafood or other kinds of meat.

The Kitchen and the Fireside Cabins

The staff like kids - This is important.  You want kitchen staff that will help and go out of their way to make your child's stay happy.  At Shadow Lake, our son was able to get cookies any time he wanted instead of the more adult-focused desserts and he was always given a fresh glass of lemonade or juice.

We were also placed at a table with another family for the communal meals which we appreciated.

Little boys need lots of cookies after playing in the snow

Heated bathrooms with showers - I know it's backcountry and all but there's some comfort in knowing there is running water and showers - just in case. Evening bathroom runs are also more pleasant when the bathrooms have heat and lights.

The heated washrooms are right beside the kitchen cabin

The trail is well maintained and easy to follow - You'd be seriously hard pressed to get lost going into Shadow Lake Lodge.  It would be quite the challenge to get off the main snowmobile tracked trail.

I dare you to get lost on this well maintained trail

There's a lot of easy exploring to do from the lodge - We stayed at another backcountry ski lodge years ago as a family that was super easy to get to, but there was nothing to do once we arrived at the lodge.  No trails to explore, nowhere to really go.  

At Shadow Lake Lodge, it's a short hike or ski to the lake, and then you can cross the length of the lake in a very easy family-friendly outing. We brought snowshoes and winter boots with us, but it's an easy ski across the lake.

When we finished snowshoeing on the lake we came back to the lodge, played in the meadow and enjoyed afternoon tea.

Hiking along the creek from Shadow Lake Lodge
Taking a rest on the summer bridge at Shadow Lake

The lodge has snowshoes for guests to borrow - Families will want to bring small snowshoes for the kids but the lodge has a dozen or so pairs of adult snowshoes so that you can hike around on your rest day.  We appreciated this and it saved us bringing in three pairs of snowshoes.  Just remember to bring winter boots with you.

Snowshoeing across Shadow Lake, Banff National Park
Not many kids get to snowshoe in paradise like this
Daddy tracks, Mommy tracks, and Baby tracks

Want to visit Shadow Lake or stay at Shadow Lake Lodge?

All information on Shadow Lake Lodge can be found on their website at Shadow Lake Lodge.  

To be inspired for summer season at Shadow Lake, read the story I wrote here:  Backcountry Glamping at Shadow Lake Lodge

And read about autumn larch hiking here: Autumn Larch Hiking at Shadow Lake Backcountry Lodge.

Special thanks to Shadow Lake Lodge for supporting and arranging our stay at this amazing lodge.

Shadow Lake, the most beautiful lake in backcountry Banff