Friday, February 19, 2016

It's Still Winter at Lake Louise

For the second year in a row, it's February and I'm looking out my window to see spring like conditions in my backyard. The snow is melting rapidly and the grass is even starting to turn green. In February!! Conditions are no better in the mountains where you have to travel 2+ hours to find snow worth skiing or ice to skate on. Lakes are starting to melt and even the biggest lakes have a slush layer on top that prevents people from skiing or hiking across them.

Thank goodness for Lake Louise and the Icefields Parkway though! While it's a bit of a drive from Calgary to head out to Louise for a day of skiing with the kids (four hours round trip from Calgary,) it's still very doable to drive out for a weekend of winter fun and you'll easily reach your destination after work Friday.

Our home away from home at the HI Mosquito Creek Wilderness Hostel near Lake Louise

We recently had the fun opportunity to spend a weekend at a wilderness hostel on the Icefields Parkway approximately 20 minutes from Lake Louise. HI Mosquito Creek is one of our favourite wilderness hostels and is definitely the most family-friendly in Hostelling International's Canadian collection.

With a private cabin on site, we stayed in complete comfort with another family for the weekend. We each had our own bedroom (with sleeping for 5 people) and we had our own kitchen that we didn't have to share with other hostel users. Bathrooms were located outside (so perhaps that's not as cozy or comfortable) but other than that, it was a lovely facility that gave us a taste of winter camping in a  magical snowy setting.

Our Winter Wonderland at the Mosquito Creek Wilderness Hostel

For complete information on the Mosquito Creek Hostel, please visit the Hostelling International website or read my previous stories:

Five Reasons to Take your Family To Mosquito Creek this Winter

Winter Paradise at Mosquito Creek

Winter Camping - in Style

Beyond Lake Louise where the Real Ice Magic Begins

Winter Camping with Kids - Warmer than you Think 

The Family Cabin at Mosquito Creek with snow caves outside the door

Highlights from our recent trip to Mosquito Creek

Playing in the Snow outside the Hostel

The kids could have spent the whole weekend just playing outside of our cabin. Forget skiing, hiking, or driving anywhere - mostly they just wanted to build snow caves and forts. They found great amusement in jumping off of the wood pile and playing in tunnels built by previous families. This is a great spot to come and just hang out with the kids for a weekend.

Playing on the Wood Pile outside the Mosquito Creek Hostel
Hours of entertainment outside in the waist deep snow at Mosquito Creek

Hiking up Mosquito Creek to see the frozen waterfalls

If you cross the highway, you can hike up the creek opposite the hostel in search of some beautiful frozen waterfalls. It's a 2 km hike round trip at most and super easy. Just don't forget your snowshoes because the snow is deep. And make sure the creek is frozen if you're going to cross it on snow bridges.

Mosquito Creek Waterfalls (a five minute walk from the hostel)

Cross country skiing at Lake Louise

We've been enjoying ski trails close to Calgary since November but with the warmer weather we're having, Lake Louise is your best option for cross country skiing at the moment.  For our ski day, we first set up a car shuttle with one vehicle parked at Lake Louise and one parked at the Village below beside the old Train Station. Then we skied the Fairview Loop, a section of the Moraine Lake Road, and the lower half of the Tramline Trail in the downward direction for a big 9 km outing with our son and his two friends. The conditions were awesome and we were so happy to see good snow! It's definitely still a winter wonderland at Lake Louise (even if you can go biking in Calgary right now on the clear pathways.)

Skiing the Fairview Trail at Lake Louise
Easy skiing on the Fairview Trail, Lake Louise
The Scenic Bridge on the Tramline Trail at Lake Louise

Skiing across Bow Lake on the Icefields Parkway

I've always wanted to try skiing across Bow Lake on the beautiful Icefields Parkway so this seemed as good a chance as any. It was perhaps 6 km round trip across the lake to the very back and we followed tracks created by backcountry skiers heading up to the Bow Hut. We had thoughts of trying to ski up to the Bow Glacier Falls but turned around when the trail through the trees became too steep. We also came across an avalanche path in the trees and hadn't come prepared for that! (Not to mention, kids + avalanche terrain do not mix.)

Skiing across Bow Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff

Skiing across the lake was relatively easy until it became a bit slushy towards the middle. We also encountered gale forced winds near the back. Fortunately we were prepared with tow ropes for the kids and they proved to be invaluable with the wind.

Skiing at the back of Bow Lake, Banff National Park

If you are going to ski or hike across Bow Lake, make sure you stay in the middle of the lake (away from avalanche slide paths) and that you stop when you reach the trees at the end of the lake. The lake itself is safe (as long as it's frozen of course.)

Bow Lake - One of my favourite places in Banff National Park
Easy Introduction to Backcountry Skiing on Bow Lake, Banff

Seeing the Ice Sculptures at Lake Louise

We stopped off at Lake Louise on our way home to quickly run up to the lake and view the ice sculptures created during the recent Ice Magic Festival. My son also wanted to see the ice castle on the lake. Next time we head out there, we have to bring our skates so that we can skate around the ice castle.

Ice Sculptures at Lake Louise (this was my favourite)
Looking through a Window on the Ice Castle at Lake Louise

Reservations for the HI Mosquito Creek Hostel

To book spots in the private cabin at Mosquito Creek, contact Hostelling International and ask to book both private rooms. It is possible to just book one room in the cabin but I think you'd feel uncomfortable sharing such tight living quarters with strangers. It's nicer to have your own space when you have the kids with you.

Please note that you can book rooms a year in advance so you're going to to want to make your reservation now for next winter. The private cabin is extremely popular so don't plan on making a reservation next January. 

Playing on the huge snow bank beside the highway next to the hostel
Driving the Scenic Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park

The Mosquito Creek Hostel is also a great place to stay in spring, summer, or fall for hiking, biking, or exploring along the Icefields Parkway. It's a step up from camping in terms of comfort and you'll appreciate a bit of extra warmth if you want to travel to Lake Louise in early spring or late fall.

Mosquito Creek in Winter

Disclaimer: Our stay at Mosquito Creek was graciously provided for us by Hostelling International. As always, all words and opinions our my own and I wasn't paid to write this story.

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