Friday, April 29, 2016

Gotta Do THIS - May Edition (with Giveaway)

Following up on the success of April's edition of Gotta do THIS, I am thrilled to be publishing my second edition of this monthly newsletter and family fun guide. This month I am focusing on activities and events across Kananaskis, Banff, and Southern Alberta. I want to give you some fun ideas for how to celebrate Mother's Day and offer suggestions for families still looking for something to do over the May long weekend. I am also featuring one getaway destination for those wanting to travel a little further and it's time to start thinking about that summer vacation!

Time is too precious to spend every weekend in the city doing chores and yard work. Plan a fun family-friendly day trip or getaway this month and celebrate spring!

It's Spring! Time to Get Out and Explore!! (photo: Nihahi Ridge hike)

Rockies Family Adventures Gotta Do THIS - May Edition


1. Attend the Banff Centre Children's Festival 

The annual Banff Centre Children's Festival is taking place on Saturday, May 21st. Journey into a magical world of contemporary creativity by attending this single-day celebration featuring free and $5 ticketed shows and activities for all ages.

"With a colourful lineup of over 20 free or low-cost arts activities and live shows including theatre, music, dance, circus, and puppetry, The Banff Centre Children’s Festival encourages both the young and young-at-heart to discover and enjoy the arts"

Free activities will include mountain films, circus school, family dance, contemporary art workshops, bouncy castles, climbing, swimming, face painting, a family singalong, and an activity by the Canmore Geoscience Centre.

Ticketed performances will include the Kif-Kif Sisters (circus/comedy,) Dan Zanes (music,) The Floating Mouse (pupetry,) and Cas Public (dance.)

For information on ticketed shows and all free activities, please follow this link to The Banff Centre Children's Festival

2. Purchase your Epic Summer Pass for Unlimited Adventures with your Family

Brewster Travel Canada is offering you and your family the opportunity of a lifetime to try all of their attractions this summer with unlimited access to the Banff Gondola, Banff Lake Cruise on Lake Minnewanka, The Glacier Skywalk and Glacier Adventure at the Columbia Icefields Centre, along with the Maligne Lake Boat Cruise in Jasper. The Epic Summer Pass pays for itself in three visits to any of the five attractions above. The more you go, the more you save.

Banff Gondola (photo: Banff Lake Louise Tourism / Paul Zizka Photography)

The best part about this pass is that it's only available to Alberta Residents!
"Let’s reconnect with everything that makes Alberta amazing: our families, our friends and, of course, our mountains. An epic summer isn’t beyond our reach — it’s right in our backyard."
The Epic Summer Pass makes a great present for Mother's Day with the Banff Lake cruise scheduled to open on May 6th. The Banff gondola will also be open on May 1st. Treat mom to brunch in Banff followed by a boat cruise and a gondola ride to the top of Sulphur Mountain.

Hiking on top of the world on Sulphur Mountain

The summer pass also makes a great gift for the children to celebrate the end of a successful school year. My son loved the Glacier Adventure on the big snow coach bus when we last took the tour and he thought the glass sidewalk was pretty cool too! We usually ride the gondola in Banff a couple of times a year and the upper terminal building is currently undergoing a 26 million dollar renovation. (I can't wait to see it when it's finished!)

Please follow this link to read more about the gondola upper terminal building renovations. (Note that there will be construction and limited services available while renovations are being completed early summer.)

Glacier Adventure on the Athabasca Glacier

GIVEAWAY - Enter to win two adult epic summer passes and two children's epic summer passes for you and your family. See the rafflecopter giveaway box at the end of this story to enter. The giveaway is open to all Alberta residents.

Glacier Skywalk with Mt. Athabasca in the background

For more information on the Epic Summer Pass, please visit the Epic Made Easy page for Brewster Travel Canada.

Lake Minnewanka - Destination for the Banff Lake Cruise (photo: Banff Lake Louise Tourism / Paul Zizka Photography)

3. Finalize your Summer Vacation Plans

What are you doing for your summer vacation this year? Now is definitely the time to lock in those plans and make any reservations that need to be made. Campgrounds are starting to fill up through the entire summer and I just realized that I missed booking spots on the Lake O'Hara bus for yet another year. :(

Fortunately, it's not too late to make plans for an amazing summer vacation that the kids will be talking about for years to come. Take your family on a 6 day backcountry tour through Waterton Lakes National Park - on horseback! The Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies Organization still has openings in their three camps this upcoming August. It is recommended that children be at least eight years old and that you have some experience on a horse. That being said though, nobody is turned away for being too "green" and this club would love to teach your family to ride this summer.

The "Best Vacation of Your Life!"

Spend your days in the saddle touring backcountry Waterton Lakes National Park followed by evenings in camp with four course meals, nightly entertainment, and authentic teepees to sleep in.

For more information, follow this link to my previous story: Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies (The Best Vacation of Your Life!)

Western Living at its finest!

4. Spend Mother's Day in the Mountains

Mother's Day is coming up on May 8th and you don't have to break the bank to show mom that she's special. Here are 5 cost-friendly suggestions for celebrating Mother's Day this year:

  1. Take mom skiing for free at Sunshine Village (more details here)

  2. Go biking in Banff or Canmore and take mom out for lunch (or better yet, pack a picnic lunch and have lunch beside the Bow River in one of Banff or Canmore's many parks

  3. Visit Johnson Lake for a short hike, a picnic, and even a refreshing dip if it's warm enough at Banff's only beach. This is also a great lake for taking the canoe out on for a first paddle of the season

  4. Climb a mountain and bring a gourmet picnic spread for the top. Tunnel Mountain is in great shape right now and with less than 300 metres of height gain, most children can climb this one! (more on hiking in Banff here)

  5. Go camping in Bow Valley Provincial Park for easy access to Kananaskis, Canmore, and Banff. And don't worry if you haven't made reservations yet because Willow Rock Campground is first come first serve.
Biking in Banff on the Legacy Trail

Check out these links for more inspiration:

Best Day Trips and Picnic Sites

Spring and Fall Hiking

The Best Spring Bike Rides in Kananaskis

The Best Family Bike Trails in Kananaskis

The Best Family Bike Trails in Canmore

The Best Family Bike Trails in Banff National Park

Hiking in Kananaskis (Prairie View Lookout)


5. Launch the Camping Season for the May long Weekend

Want to go camping for the May long weekend but haven't made a reservation yet? Cypress Hills Provincial Park in Southern Alberta is your best bet! This is a gorgeous place to go camping and there are still several campsites with availability for the long weekend. While looking on the AB Parks Reservation site I also noticed that there is still one site available at Little Bow (grab it now!) and that there are several other campgrounds that also have availability depending on how far you want to drive.

For more on Cypress Hills, follow this link to Our New Favourite Alberta Camping Destination.

Camping in Cypress Hills Provincial Park

 Other great campgrounds to check out for early season camping:


To check for availability, visit the AB Parks Reservation site.

Spring Camping in Bow Valley Provincial Park

Additional Reading:

Summer Planning - The Best Provincial Park Campgrounds in Southern Alberta

Camping in Kananaskis - The Elbow Valley

What to Do When You've Dropped the Ball on Reservations

Spring Camping in the Elbow Valley

6. Sign the Kids Up For Their First Mountain Bike Race

Sign the kids up for their first cross-country mountain bike race on Friday, May 20th for only $5 per rider. Sign up on the spot without pre-registration and choose from four levels for children of all abilities. Run bikes are allowed as well in the beginner level.
"Are you under 16 years of age and interested in trying Cross-Country mountain bike racing?? The Trailblazers Youth Racing Series was made for you! Come on out for a fun-filled, action packed mountain bike event. Never raced before? No problem! From “Little Rippers” through to “Dialed”, there’s a race category for everyone."
 For more information, follow this link to the Cyclemeisters website. You can also sign up for the race on Facebook.

Other races are being scheduled for the summer including one on June 9th.

Sign the Kids up for a fun Bike Race this Month

7. Get the Boats Out for an Easy Spring Paddle in Kananaskis or Banff

May seems early for paddling but the ice is gone, the days are long, and that spring sun feels really good on the skin. Below are my top picks for spring canoeing, kayaking, or even stand up paddleboarding with links to stories I've written.

The Kananaskis River (Starting and ending at Seebe, you can paddle upstream as far as you want and then float back down after stopping on dozens of gravel bars to throw rocks in the river. This is a great choice for those not wanting to set up a shuttle)

Paddling on the Kananaskis River

The Bow River (Starting approximately 6 km west of the Town of Banff, this short two hour paddle is pretty relaxed and you'll end up in downtown Banff with little effort. Largely a float, this trip is great for wildlife spotting and makes for a good half-day activity in Banff)

Floating down the Bow River towards the Town of Banff

Vermillion Lakes and 40 Mile Creek  (We love paddling from the Banff Canoe Club dock up Echo Creek to 40 Mile Creek and into the first Vermillion Lake and then gently paddling back down the creeks to our vehicle. Alternately, it's often easier to find parking along Vermillion Lakes Drive but it can be trickier to find the entrance to the creek. The paddle on the creeks is easy with little flow and is great for novice paddlers.)

Canoeing across the First Vermilion Lake

8. Hit the Open Highway on Your Bikes

In the April edition of "Gotta Do This" I wrote about biking Highway 66 in the Elbow Valley from Elbow Falls before the road opens to traffic on May 15th.

I still recommend biking in the Elbow Valley but I have other suggestions for you as well if you want to hit the highways and roads before they open to traffic.

Biking on Highway 66, Elbow Valley

Closed Roads, Highways and Campgrounds for Spring Biking:

1. Highway 66, Elbow Valley (Park at Elbow Falls and bike as far as you want. A good turn around spot with kids is the Beaver Flats Campground where you can hike on the Beaver Flats Interpretive Trail) - Highway opens for traffic on May 15th

Easy Riding on highway 66, Elbow Valley

2. Highway 40, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park (drive out past Kananaskis Village and go as far as you can on hwy 40. Park at the winter gate and bike towards Highwood Pass. You won't get all the way there with kids as it's a long uphill ride of 17 km in length (one way,) but you can ride as far as you want and turn around at any point. You'll still get some good views and enjoy riding on Canada's highest public road) - Highway opens for traffic on June 15th

Biking Hwy 40 towards Highwood Pass (photo: J. Douglas)

3. Highway 40 from Highwood Junction (you can also bike highway 40 from the far side, starting near Longview, for a more gradual ride. You'd still have to climb to reach the pass but you can ride to the Cat Creek Day Use Area and back in roughly 9 km return. Note that it is still not a flat ride from this end and you will have a few big hills to contend with. (On the final hill back down to the winter gate at the end of our ride, my speed reached 40 km/hour without braking so needless to say it was not a fun first kilometre starting out.)

Biking on Highway 40 near Highwood Junction

From the day use area, there's a lovely set of waterfalls you can hike to. Either follow the hiking trail (you'll see a steep trail going up the hillside opposite the day use area on your right hand side, just after the vehicle bridge) or look for the old gravel road and follow it on your bikes. (To find the old gravel road, look for it just before you cross the highway bridge off in the grass to your right. The hiking trail starts on the far side of this bridge.)

Biking the old road to the Cat Creek Falls

We chose to bike the old road rather than hike on the official trail. There's just one creek crossing you'll have to do if you follow the old road (where you'll leave your bikes) once you see the hiking trail on the opposite side of the bank. - Highway opens for traffic on June 15th

Cat Creek Falls, Kananaskis

4. Highway 546 west of Sandy McNabb Campground, Sheep River Provincial Park (another great spring ride that starts down south near Turner Valley, bike from the road closure towards Sheep River Falls or as far as you get since it's 16 km one way to the falls, and return when the kids start to get tired) - Highway opens for traffic on May 15th

Biking and Longboarding down Hwy 546  (photo: Jordanna Kersbergen @Alyartistry )

5. Paddy's Flat Campground, Elbow Valley (Park at the gate above the Paddy's Flat campground and bike the closed campground roads. Bike down to the river and hike or bike the Paddy's Flat Interpretive Trail from where you can also hop on to the Riverview Trail. There is a fun little playground down near the river as well) - Campground opens on May 15th

 For more on road closures in Kananaskis, visit the Alberta Parks website.

Biking along the Paddy's Flat Interpretive Trail

9. Climb a Mountain - Top Picks for May

I have two top picks for families wanting to get out and climb a mountain this month.

Prairie View Trail to Barrier Lake Lookout - This great Kananaskis hike is an early season favourite and is 100% snow and ice free. The ridge is beautiful if you choose to stop here, and from there, the views only get better as you hike up to some big rocks (fun to scramble on) and then go further to the fire lookout house.

To read my trip report from last fall, read First Summits - Barrier Lake Lookout

Looking out over Barrier Lake from the ridge on the Prairie View Trail

Nihahi RidgeHike to the end of the official hiking trail in an easy 5 km round trip distance. Continue further as far as you feel comfortable for some easy scrambling. The brave and adventurous can scramble up a small cliff band to reach the ridge for some pretty spectacular views. Going further to the South Summit is for experienced climbers and scramblers only. (though we hope to try it with our son this summer)

To read my trip report from last summer, read First Summits - Nihahi Ridge, Kananaskis

Note, this trailhead is only accessible after May 15th.

Easy hiking on the Nihahi Ridge  Trail

Don't forget that Prairie Mountain - featured last month in Gotta do THIS - April Edition, is another good early season summit and still an excellent choice for May.

Prairie Mountain, Elbow Valley

Ten - Take a Road Trip North to Jasper National Park

I plan to feature one road trip each month so this month I thought I'd choose Jasper National Park. Spring is my favourite time to visit Jasper before the tourists descend on this small town in summer. The bike trails are dry and Jasper has a fantastic trail network.

There are also some lovely early season hikes that we enjoy such as the Old Fort Point Trail. Finally, you can't go wrong with a trip to Miette Hot Springs or just walking around town, visiting the Bear's Paw Bakery for goodies, or stopping in at the Banff Brewing Company for dinner and drinks (and yes, they take kids.)

Spring Biking in Jasper

To read previous stories I've written about Jasper, check out the links below:

Spring Adventures in Jasper

The Best Family Bike Trails in Jasper

Experiencing Awesome in Jasper National Park

Family-friendly Summits in Jasper National Park

Where to Camp in the National Parks of Alberta

Please visit the Jasper Tourism Website as well if planning a trip.

Our annual hike on the Old Fort Point Trail in Jasper

Giveaway - Win A Family Set of Four Epic Summer Passes 

Win two adult epic summer passes and two children's epic summer passes so you and your family can visit all of Brewster Canada's attractions this summer.

This contest is open to Alberta Residents only. The contest opens on Friday, April 29th and closes on Monday May 9th at 12:00am (mountain daylight time)

Please enter with the rafflecopter giveaway below. A random winner will be chosen on May 9th and notified immediately. If I do not hear back from the winner by the end of the day, I will choose a new winner on May 10th. This will continue until I have successfully reached a winner.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This Month's Sponsors

A big thank you to this month's sponsors of Gotta Do THIS: Brewster Travel Canada, The Banff Centre, and Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies.

Interested in sponsoring and being featured in a future edition of Gotta Do THIS? Contact me and I'd love to chat.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies (The Best Vacation of your Life)

This is the first time I'll be doing a full feature on horseback travel and I've chosen the company that I want to promote carefully. The passion and commitment to excellence from the Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies won me over within minutes of chatting with the group president.

I know that most of you do your backcountry travel on foot, but I hope you'll continue reading because I want to make sure my website covers ALL topics related to getting outside as a family in the Canadian Rockies. We have a rich cowboy heritage in North America and it's important to teach our children about our country's roots, history, and culture.

Spend your days in the saddle and your nights in a traditional teepee

Teachers know that the best way to bring culture or history to life is to take children on field trips, to expose them to experiences with hands on learning, and to allow them the opportunity to use their five senses as they explore. The Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies offers 6 day backcountry tours in August each summer - allowing your family a "bucket list opportunity" to experience life on the trail, to sleep in an authentic Native American teepee, to spend evenings around a campfire singing traditional folk songs every child should learn, and to unplug from all electronics!

Watch this video below and find out how you can "unplug from our electronic society and plug in to peace and quiet" on a tour across beautiful Waterton Lakes National Park this summer.



Logistics of the 6 Day Tour with Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies 

The Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies is a non-profit organization. They do not own horses, they do not own a ranch, and they are not limited to using the same trails every year. This club is run by volunteers and passionate folks wanting to keep their club alive after 92 years of offering summer backcountry tours on horseback.

Each year, the Trail Riders choose a local outfitter to guide their summer tours and to supply horses. They also choose a new location for their backcountry tours or choose new trails if operating out of the same national park. They always run their rides in one of our beautiful national parks and they try (when possible) to offer a backcountry campsite that you will stay at for the duration of your tour. Rides are always done as day trips, returning to the same camp at night so that you can enjoy not having to pack up every morning. Guests find this to be more relaxing, and have the chance to take rest days as well if they want a quiet day spent at camp.

Backcountry Trail Riding in Alberta's National Parks

This year, the Trail Riders will be running three 6-day backcountry tours out of Waterton Lakes National Park along with day trips for the first time. The format will be a little different this year in that the base camp will be set up in a front country (road accessible) location just outside the national park. Guests will be transported to trailheads throughout the park each morning for six hour rides in backcountry Waterton Lakes National Park. While it would be nice to be camped in the backcountry, Waterton Lakes is not a big enough park to accommodate this and guests wouldn't be able to tour all of the best locations. By transporting guests to trailheads, you will get to see the very BEST of Waterton on horseback.

 I looked at the trails that will be covered on this year's rides and it would take my family two to three days to hike in and out of some destinations. Traveling by horseback means you can cover up to 20 km in a day! Quick math and 20 km x 5 full days of riding and you'd be covering up to 100 km of backcountry Waterton Lakes National Park during your tour.

Don't want to spend 5 full days riding? No worries! As mentioned earlier, you can always take a rest day if your muscles start to get sore, and there is also an opportunity to take a break mid-week with a scenic boat cruise on Upper Waterton Lake.

For more information on the 6-day tour and rides covered during your week, please go to the Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies website.  

Ride into this year's vacation post card

Questions You May Have about a Tour with the Trail Riders

What is the recommended age for children coming on your backcountry trips in order for them to fully enjoy the trip?

We recommend that children be at least eight years old and have some camping/horse experience. Ideally, 12 is best.  Safety is our number one priority.  Every single child must be able to ride and control their own horse. We do not allow towing kids with a halter.  If you can follow instructions to control your horse, then you can come. If the child doesn’t listen to instructions, age doesn’t matter. It all comes down to safety. You must be able to ride a horse. (And this applies to seniors too as they age and need to retire.)  Bottom line – can you ride and control your horse?

Do families need to have a ratio of supervising parents per children? 

We like to have one parent (or grandparent) per one or two children. If you have more than two children, you should have a second parent or supervising adult. We have a lot of grandparents who like to bring their grand kids on our tours.

What is supplied on your tours to keep children safe?

We supply the horse, the saddle and all other gear for your ride. You must bring your own helmet though as we don’t supply helmets and we require children to have one.

Scenic Riding across the Canadian Rockies

Is there an emergency plan in case something happens on a trip?

The head guide is responsible for all safety issues and carries a first aid kit. This year we are camped in a front country location so a rescue could easily be made from camp. On rides, a guide would quickly be back in cell coverage at a fast ride in order to get a helicopter for an emergency. It should be noted that having to evacuate somebody has happened only a handful of times in the history of the club.

Is there a backup plan in case of inclement weather or do trips/daily rides run rain or shine?

We put on our rain slickers and continue rain or shine. Out of 40 rides I have personally been on, maybe 5 days have been cancelled due to inclement weather. We only cancel rides because of bad slippery trails when you can’t go on muddy trails in the rain. It’s about the horses, not the people in this case.  If we had to spend a day in camp due to poor weather, we'd play games, chill, sing songs, tell stories, and pass the time. And note that this year, other options are available in Waterton with the front country location of camp so you could do something else and take a break from riding for a day.

Do you need previous experience with horseback riding to go on one of your tours?

We welcome novice riders but we suggest that every rider “brush up” on their riding skills before attending a ride. Proper posture and comfort is important. You Must be able to handle the horse while trotting.  If you don’t want to trot or are a total beginner,you can ride at the front of the line behind the guide where you are going to be moving at a dead walk. We always use a quality outfitter that has beginner-friendly (dude-able) horses trained for novice riders.  The outfitter matches the rider with their horse, watches you ride and will change horses as need be to ensure you have the best match for your week.

Luxury Riding Tours in the Canadian Rockies

Would families have their own private tent/teepee? Is all overnight gear provided? 

Where possible, riders select their own teepee/tent mates, particularly with families or friends wishing to be together. Riders are responsible for their own personal gear but tents/teepees are provided along with sleeping mattresses and cots.  Teepees hold 2 people so a family of four would get two teepees or could crowd into one. You could easily fit four people in a teepee if you slept on the ground rather than using the cots.

 Can you accommodate food allergies or diet requests?

Hearty four course meals are served by our expert camp cooks.Where possible we try to accommodate special diets but if you have a severe life-threatening allergy, you should probably not come on one of these tours because it would be too dangerous for you.

Are clients responsible for grooming and saddling their own horse?

The horses are handled and cared for by the staff. Clients don’t have to do anything. This is a luxury trip.

What activities are provided at camp to entertain my family? 

When available, a musician provides music for singing, dancing and entertainment in the “Doughnut tent.” Horseshoes, games, and crib are other popular games. Ideally you should come to the tent and join in the sing songs each night. Square dancing is another highlight of our evening entertainment.

Teach your children to square dance this summer after a day of backcountry horseback riding

Are there opportunities to shower at camp?

We’ve always had hot water at camp. Showers are new as of 8-9 years ago with guests encouraged to limit their showers to once or twice a week.

How long are the riding days?

We travel at a steady walk for roughly 2 hours before having a pit stop to stretch, have snacks, and go to the bathroom. Then we ride another hour to two hours before we stop for lunch.  The most we ride in a day is 6 hours and we can cover up to 20 kms.

What are the major highlights for families or reasons to try an overnight horseback trip? 

People come on trail rides to get into the backcountry without having to walk and without having to carry their gear. You can’t take helicopters into the national parks so you either ride a horse or backpack. The average person walking down the street can’t backpack due to lack of gear, expertise, fitness, or ability.  Horseback riding is easier for the average person. Most people can trail ride.

Note that people are coming to see the country side, not to ride a horse. The horse is just a mode of transportation. Real "horse people" think we are too wussy. This is a luxury riding tour and we move at a walk, guests don't have to saddle or groom their horse, and you won't be galloping across the country side.

Our tours are great for grandparents bonding with grand kids and parents bonding with their children because you’re together 24/7 with no electronics and no distractions. We won't allow you to bring video games, electronic gadgets, phones, I-pads, etc. This is your chance to get reacquainted with your family. We bring marriages together and bring families back together.

Your summer vacation could look like this...

Why should people choose your company over the dozens of other outfitters out there? 

Because we go to a different place every year. Guest ranches don’t move. Repeat customers wouldn’t find it appealing. We have been operating our tours for 93 years. These tours are planned out of experience and our motto is "if it ain't broke, don’t fix it."

This is a luxury trip. We take city slickers into the backcountry and spoil you rotten. If you don’t want to be spoiled, pick a different tour.  This is not roughing it.

Finally, We offer a base camp experience without having to pack up and move each day. This is different from many backcountry tours where you will move between camps all  week long.

We've created the slogan: "The Best Vacation of your life!" because it happens time and time again where our clients tell us they've had the" best vacation ever" after a week with us.

Can your children walk 20 km in a day? A horse can!

For more information on the club's 6-day Tours, and their day tours in Waterton Lakes National Park this summer, please visit the Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies website.

Disclaimer: This story has been sponsored by the Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies. The interview was conducted with Stuart Watkins, Group President. Words in the introduction are my own. I am pleased to offer my personal support to this great organization and to publicly endorse them as a great option for your family's summer vacation.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Family Paddling on the Kananaskis River

If you've ever checked out the rapids between the Widow Maker day use area and the Canoe Meadows day use area along Highway 40 in Kananaskis you wouldn't say this was a particularly family-friendly stretch of river. Rafting companies like to guide clients down this stretch of the Kananaskis river and it's not exactly something you'd send your 7 year old down alone in his own little boat. (and don't worry - we didn't!)

Fortunately, we discovered a safe calm stretch of the Kananaskis River that's as family-friendly as it gets for river paddling. We felt completely safe sending our son down the river in his own kayak and I was very comfortable on my stand up paddleboard. The river was so calm we actually spent most of our time paddling UP stream.

Family-friendly paddling on the Kananaskis River

Where to Put in for Paddling the Kananaskis River with Kids

Park at the dam at Seebe along Hwy 1X just past the Willow Rock Campground in Bow Valley Provincial Park. Highway 1X is the first exit you will come to after you pass the Hwy 40 turnoff (coming from Calgary on the TransCanada Hwy,) and it is the same exit you'd take if going to Exshaw. You'll know you've reached the dam because you'll cross over the Bow River and will see a very small reservoir to your right. This is where you park.

From the reservoir, you have three options. Paddle around the small reservoir as a short practice session, paddle up stream on the Bow River (though you might not get very far,) or paddle up stream on the Kananaskis River - our focus here.

The start and end of your paddle at the Seebe Reservoir

Paddling Up Stream on the Kananaskis River

While the Bow River is big and wide, the Kananaskis River is much more narrow, making it ideal for paddling as a family. You won't get separated from one another or feel intimidated when you are in the middle of the river far from a bank. We were never more than a few paddle strokes away from a river bank at any given time and there were huge gravel banks to pull up at every twenty metres at most. We didn't get very far because my son kept wanting to pull over to the side to throw rocks and play - another reason to take the kids here. (You could spend two hours here and never paddle more than 500 metres.)

Gravel banks in abundance for the kids to stop and play

Note if you are going to paddle on the Kananaskis River that the flow rate is highly dependent on whether TransAlta has their nearby Barrier plant on or off, and whether water is being released from the Barrier Dam upstream. You can check the schedule for the Barrier Dam here to find out when TransAlta turns their plant on and off for the day.  It also shows flow rates. We chose to arrive at the Seebe Reservoir around 1:00pm so that the Kananaskis river would have had plenty of time to fill up without having a fresh flow from a morning release.

There was virtually no flow at all on the section we did from the Seebe Reservoir and it was actually harder paddling into the wind going down stream. Water was unfortunately a bit shallow so we had to be careful with rock islands (especially a concern on my board.) My son grounded his kayak a couple of times as well (not really a concern though in the ankle deep water where he got stranded.)

If I can paddle a stand up paddleboard both up and down stream you know it's a slow moving river!

We didn't get very far on the river before it became too shallow and narrow. At this point we were more than happy to turn around though since it was my son's first time out for the season and his arms were tired.

Easy paddling on the Kananaskis River

Family-friendly Paddling on the Kananaskis River

Children with previous paddling experience should have no problems in their own boat on this section of river. We let our son use a child-sized sit-on-top beach kayak because he has done a lot of kayaking and knows how to steer to reach a bank, knows how to keep the bow of the kayak going straight, and has the balance to stay afloat on calm stretches of water without going for a swim.

Family-friendly paddling on the Kananaskis River

If you have younger children or enjoy paddling together, you could certainly use a canoe or tandem kayaks. We chose to each paddle our own vessel though and it was a lot of fun.

Pack a picnic lunch for one of the gravel banks, load the boat with sand toys, and head out for a pleasant half day outing on the Kananaskis River! 

Paddling down the Kananaskis River

Safety Notes

The Kananaskis River is glacial in temperature. Go prepared. I wore neoprene booties on my board and my son was wearing long underwear under his rain pants (despite the temperature of 20+ degrees this day.) I also made my son wear a rain jacket just in case he fell in.

Starting him Young
Fortunately, you are never very far from the parking area should somebody fall in. There are also plenty of opportunities for pulling boats over to change clothes. Pack extra dry clothing in the boat in a dry bag and you'll be fine.


Bonus Reading and Resources

Paddling the Bow River in Banff with Kids

Paddling and Camping on the Columbia River with Kids

 Easy Overnight Paddling Trips for the Whole Family

Paddling in Waterton Lakes National Park

Family Canoeing and Kayaking in the Canadian Rockies

Touring the Canadian Rockies on a Stand Up Paddle Board

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Alberta Comfort Camping Destination Guide

I admire people who continue tenting as a family and who actually enjoy sleeping on the ground. It's natural, it's "real" and it's authentic. Unfortunately, the older I get, the less I appreciate the whole "authentic" camping experience and the more I long for comfort in the outdoors.

Comfort Camping in Banff National Park (photo: Parks Canada/ Paul Zizka Photography)

One style of camping that has grown on me over the last few years has been comfort camping. We've camped in canvas wall tents in late September, warm as can be while it dropped below zero at night, enjoyed yurt camping in the middle of winter while enjoying decadent 5-star cuisine, and have enjoyed countless nights in backcountry cabins year round when there was no way I was pitching my tent in the snow!

We've tried tipi camping (which was super cool,) have camped in remote wilderness hostels where we were the only people for miles around, and have discovered cabins that would be awesome to bike into.

It's a big world when you start exploring and sometimes a bit of comfort means you'll get out there to explore more! It means you'll go camping year round, that you'll try backcountry camping, or that you'll find ways to introduce camping to friends and family members who may not be entirely convinced on the whole experience yet. Check out the suggestions below and choose one for your family this year.

Canvas Wall Tents

If you still want to sleep in a tent but would rather sleep off the ground, canvas wall tents can be a great comfort option. Alberta Parks and Parks Canada both offer options here along with Sundance Lodges in Kananaskis.

Sundance Lodges

Located near Kananaskis Village, this family-run business prides themselves on attracting repeat visitors and groups year after year. Owner Sheryl Green says:

"We've been open for 25 years this summer and decided early on that the "family" was our target market. It's been great to see young children grow up and come back to camp with their families."
Canvas wall tents at Sundance Lodges, Kananaskis 

Families can camp in tipis, canvas wall tents called trapper's tents, or can make use of Sundance Lodges' unserviced tenting and RV campsites. Each trapper's tent includes a double bed with two single beds for a capacity of four people. The beds have foam mattresses on them so you just have to bring your sleeping bags and you're set to go. The trapper's tents also have a small kerosene heater and lantern (fuel supplied,) a picnic table outside, and a fire pit with a half grill.

You'll still spend most of your time outside, you'll be cooking outside, and you'll be steps away from great hiking and biking trails. The only big difference with this style of camping is that you get to sleep off the ground in a real bed, and you'll have a heater for chilly evenings or mornings. Trapper's tents are also much cozier in the rain, making Sundance Lodges a great place to come for those spring camping trips.

Please visit the Sundance Lodges website for more information on camping in a trapper's tent.

AND READ ABOUT OUR EXPERIENCE staying in a trapper's tent here:
Moms' Comfort Camping Adventure at Sundance Lodges. 

Parks Canada oTENTiks

Families can choose to camp in a canvas wall tent called an oTENTik in both Banff and Jasper National Park. (options available in BC as well) Each tent includes three beds and can accommodate up to six people. We enjoyed a weekend in an oTENTik at the Two Jack Lakeside campground in Banff and it was extremely comfortable. We got to enjoy a premier lakeside campsite while we sat next to our fire looking out over the water. The cabin had a small propane heater in it so we were toasty warm despite camping in late September over a chilly weekend.

Camping in style at Two Jack Lakeside, Banff National Park

I have now been spoiled and would never think of camping in a normal tent again in the early spring or late fall. Comfort camping is definitely the way to go and I can only imagine how comfortable one of these tent cabins would be in the middle of summer as well. OTENTiks are ideal for families with small children needing a bit more comfort and make for a lovely way to introduce non-campers to outdoor living!

Note that with oTENTiks, all cooking and eating must be done outside of the unit. You must also bring all of your camping gear. The only thing provided is the mattresses that you will sleep on and the heater in your unit. If you want something with more amenities, read further to learn about Alberta Parks walled tents which come equipped with cooking supplies and fridges.

For more information on oTENTik camping in Banff or Jasper National Park please visit the Parks Canada website.

AND READ ABOUT OUR EXPERIENCE camping in an oTENTik in Banff here:
Comfort Camping in Banff National Park - the Experience.

Inside a Parks Canada oTENTik (Photo: Parks Canada / Paul Zizka Photography)

Alberta Parks Wall Tents

There are several provincial parks in Southern Alberta that offer comfort camping including Dinosaur, Writing on Stone, and Wyndham-Carseland Provincial Parks. Each of these parks has a handful of walled tents for families wanting to sleep off the ground or in extra warmth. Dinosaur Provincial Park has 7 units, Writing on Stone Provincial Park has 3 units, and  Wyndham-Carseland Provincial Park has 4 units. Each unit sleeps four people and includes the following:

  • Electric heater, fan, lights, electrical outlets

  • Cooking supplies and dishes with a small fridge, table and chairs

  • One queen-sized bed and a double futon (pillows and bedding provided)

  • A deck with furniture

  • A barbecue with propane

  • Fire pit

  • Picnic table on site
Comfort Camping in Dinosaur Provincial Park (Photo: Alberta Parks)

Note that there are no stoves inside of the wall tents and you have to cook outside using the barbecue provided. You may eat inside however which is a nice perk compared to the Parks Canada o'TENTiks.

For more information on comfort camping in Alberta provincial parks, visit this link to the Alberta Parks website.

Comfort Camping in Dinosaur Provincial Park (photo: AB Parks Ambassador Kelsy Nielson)

Mount Engadine Lodge Glamping Tents, Spray Valley Provincial Park, Kananaskis

Mount Engadine Lodge, located in the Spray Valley of Kananaskis in Alberta, has recently built several canvas tents, raised off the ground for comfort, and heated with a propane fireplace.

Each tent has a heated bathroom inside the tent (with running water, flush toilet, and a shower!) The tents also come equipped with a king sized bed (which can be split into two twin beds as well.) Finally, there is a pull out sofa  if you are traveling with children and need an extra bed.

Glamping Tents at Mount Engadine Lodge

Mount Engadine Lodge raises the bar further on comfort camping by providing all of your meals while at the lodge. Spend your day hiking, skiing, or biking, and then show up in the afternoon for tea, a charcuterie board, and dessert. Later, a 3-course dinner is included followed by a hot breakfast the next morning and a packed lunch to go.

Comfort camping at Mount Engadine Lodge

And when you're not hanging out in your tent, you're more than welcome to spend your time in the main lodge by the fireplace reading a book or playing a game with endless cups of coffee or a nice glass of wine.

This is camping with none of the work and all of the enjoyment!

Visit the Mount Engadine Lodge website for more information.

 Mount Engadine Lodge Glamping Experience (expect decadence!)

Comfort Camping at Mount Engadine Lodge

Yurt Camping

Wall tents not quite "glampy" enough for you? Check out the assortment of yurt camping options in Alberta then and get a true taste of luxury camping!


Mount Engadine Lodge Yurt, Spray Valley Provincial Park, Kananaskis

Mount Engadine Lodge is a front country lodge with a backcountry feeling. Located in the remote Spray Valley Provincial Park, you can drive up to the front door of this lodge from where it is a 3 minute walk through the woods to the property yurt.

Yurt-Camping at Mount Engadine Lodge, Kananaskis

A stay at the yurt (along with all stays at the lodge) includes all meals (breakfast, a packed lunch for your day's adventures, afternoon tea, and a decadent dinner,) with a side course of wildlife sightings in the meadow below.

The yurt sleeps four in bunk beds and includes warm duvet blankets in the summer. Inquire directly with the lodge regarding other bedding that you should bring. Other than the beds, there is nothing in the yurt aside from a small table (and a portable heater in winter.) Rustic nature of the yurt aside though, you won't notice the sparse amenities once you step inside the main lodge and taste the food. On our recent visit this past winter we slept in the yurt but spent the rest of our time in the main lodge. We had a lovely visit and I'm already planning another winter trip next year.

The cost for staying in the yurt is $125 per person per night but this includes all of your meals and children receive a discounted rate. A two night stay is also not required (something that's rare with luxury accommodations) so you can go out for a Saturday night and still enjoy two days exploring in Kananaskis.

Visit the Mount Engadine Lodge website for more information.

AND READ ABOUT OUR EXPERIENCE yurt camping at Mount Engadine Lodge here:
Yurt Camping in Kananaskis at Mount Engadine Lodge.

Summer at Mount Engadine Lodge

Alberta Parks Yurts

There are yurts in both Pigeon Lake Provincial Park and in Miquelon Lake Provincial Park. They are larger than the Mount Engadine Lodge yurt and include more amenities but you'll have to do your own cooking so it's a trade off. Pigeon Lake Provincial Park has eight yurts that can accommodate 4, 6, or 8 people. Miquelon Lake Provincial Park has four yurts that can accommodate 6 people.

Yurt Camping at Pigeon Lake Provincial Park (photo: Alberta Parks)

The Yurts include the following:

  •  An electric heater, lights and electrical outlets

  •  Cooking supplies and dishes with a small fridge, table and chairs

  •  Bunk Beds and Futons for 4, 6, or 8 people (depending on the size of the yurt)

  • A deck with gas barbecue

  • A fire pit

  • A picnic table
Yurt camping is easy and you just need to bring your bedding, food, and a camp stove (for outdoor cooking only) if you wish. Lawn chairs and flash lights are also recommended.

For more information on yurt comfort camping in our provincial parks please the Alberta Parks website.

Yurt Camping with Alberta Parks (photo: AB Parks Ambassador Kelsy Nielson)

Tipi Camping

Who isn't curious about camping in a tipi or hasn't wondered what it would be like to camp in the same traditional method as our ancestors (long before four-season nylon tents!) Fortunately there are a few places that will allow you the opportunity to experience tipi camping this summer.

Tipi Camping at Sundance Lodges, Kananaskis

Mentioned earlier under "Wall Tents," Sundance Lodges in Kananaskis also offers visitors a chance to spend the night in a Sioux Canvas Tipi. Small tipis sleep two people in a double bed, and large tipis sleep four people with one double bed and two single beds.

Each tipi includes wood-frame beds with mattresses (bring your own bedding,) along with a small kerosene lantern and heater (fuel provided.) Outside your tipi you will find a picnic table and fire pit with half grill for cooking.

For more information on tipi camping, visit the Sundance Lodges website.

Tipi Camping at Sundance Lodges, Kananaskis (photo: Sundance Lodges)

Tipi Camping in Waterton Lakes National Park

Waterton Lakes is the only national park to offer tipi camping in Alberta. And what a view you'll get from your site! 5 Tipis are located in the Crandell Mountain Campground on the scenic Red Rock Parkway.

Tipi Camping at Crandell Mountain is a natural experience so bring everything you would normally bring for camping. There are no beds inside these tipis and you will be cooking/living outside as you would with tenting. The only big difference with tipi camping (as compared to regular tenting) is the extremely cool opportunity to sleep in a traditional tipi.

For more information on tipi camping at Crandell Mountain, visit the Waterton Lakes National Park website.

Please note that this campground is closed for the 2019 camping season following the Kenow Wildfire.

Tipi Camping in Waterton Lakes National Park (photo: Parks Canada)

Cabin Camping

Moving up from wall tents to yurts and tipis, we arrive at cabin camping - the ultimate in luxury camping and a small step away from renting a house at your favourite lake or park. Below are four of the best options within Alberta Provincial Parks.

The Nest lodge at Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park

The Nest sleeps 10 people and features a full kitchen, private bedrooms, and indoor plumbing. This is as luxurious as it gets for camping.

For more information on the amenities included, visit the Alberta Parks website.

The Nest Lodge at Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park

Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park Cabins

Another great option in Northern Alberta, Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park offers visitors the chance to sleep in one of five lake front cabins on Lac La Biche Lake. Enjoy your own private deck from your home on Alberta's only island provincial park. (And worth noting, these cabins are open in winter too!)

The cabins sleep 8 people and feature a full kitchen. For more information, visit the Alberta Parks Website.

Island Camping in Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park

Cypress Hills Provincial Park Cabins - with new cabins as of 2018 

Open year round, Cypress Hills Provincial Park has 13 cabins, some in backcountry locations, and others located in regular campgrounds.

We  hiked into the Tom Trott Hut one winter and it would be great for an early season biking weekend. The huts come complete with bunk beds and mattresses, kitchen tables and chairs, and include basic cooking supplies. Bring your own camp stove, sleeping bags, and drinking water.

Camping in a hut is a great way to get out with the family early season when it's too chilly for tenting. These huts are in great locations near hiking and biking trails and provide comfort for those who like to camp before the May long weekend or later into September. And if you visit the backcountry huts before the highways open in spring, you could have the cool experience of bike-packing into them. (on our list for sure!)

Backcountry Huts in Cypress Hills Provincial Park

Overview of the huts:

Elkwater Cabins - 5 cabins located in the Elkwater Campground (drive in access.) Each sleeps 3 people

Firerock Cabins - 5 cabins located in the Firerock Campground (drive in access.)Each sleeps 4 people

Graburn Hut - backcountry tut, sleeps 4 people and is accessible by vehicle in the summer only

Medicine Lodge - backcountry hut, sleeps 6 people and is accessible by vehicle in the summer only

Reesor Lake Hut - backcountry tut, sleeps 4 people and is accessible by vehicle in the summer only

Spruce Coulee Hut - backcountry hut, sleeps 6 people and is accessible by vehicle in the summer only

Tom Trott Hut - backcountry hut, sleeps 6 people and is accessible by vehicle in the summer only

For more information on these huts, visit the Cypress Hills Provincial Park website.

AND READ ABOUT OUR EXPERIENCE camping at the Tom Trott Hut here:
Winter Fun in Cypress Hills Provincial Park, Alberta.

Many of the huts are accessible by biking or hiking

Castle Provincial Park Cabins on Beaver Mines Lake 

New as of the 2018 season, check out the cabin camping in the new Castle Provincial Park on Beaver Mines Lake. You'll be camped right at the trailhead for the gorgeous Table Mountain Hike and there are lots of recreational activities available in this park from hiking to fishing or paddling on the lake.

There are 5 cabins, each sleeping 4 people.

Cabins feature:

  • One single over single bunk bed and one queen bed, all with mattresses

  • Solar lighting, no plug-ins

  • Wood burning stove (in main room)

  • Broom and dust pan

  • Fire pit and picnic table outside 

For more information visit the Castle Provincial Park website

Hiking in Castle Provincial Park 

Backcountry Cabins, Huts, and Shelters

Want to get off the beaten path and venture into the backcountry - without a tent? There are several options here from simple Parks Canada shelters (bring everything but the tent) to more comfortable backcountry cabins with the Alpine Club of Canada where you'll have kitchen facilities.

Backcountry shelters in Banff National Park

There are two backcountry shelters in Banff National Park. Both are extremely rustic and basically just give you a roof over your head. You'll find wooden platforms to sleep on, a couple of tables with benches, and a wood stove. That's it. However, if it's cool outside, it's much more comfortable to sleep in one of these shelters with your wood stove than it is to sleep in a tent and kids love these shelters.

We hiked into the Egypt Lake shelter last fall and enjoyed having a warm cabin to spend time in when we were hanging out a camp. Meanwhile the folks in the campground had to cook, eat, hang out, and spend every minute outside - while temperatures hovered near zero in the morning and evening.

Find out more here on the Bryant Creek shelter (en route to Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park in BC,) and the Egypt Lake shelter (located above the Sunshine Village ski resort in a beautiful location.) And for those looking at staying in a shelter, consider booking all 12 spots with another family. They are not big and you'll feel more comfortable sharing the space with friends.

AND READ ABOUT OUR EXPERIENCE staying at the Egypt Lake Shelter here:
fall backpacking trip to the Egypt Lake shelter .

The Egypt Lake Shelter, Banff National Park

Alpine Club of Canada Backcountry Cabins and Huts

The Alpine Club of Canada maintains and operates over twenty backcountry cabins in the Canadian Rockies. Some require mountaineering access or serious rock climbing abilities for the approach, but others are accessible via easy hiking trails. A couple of the huts in BC are even vehicle accessible in summer.

Follow this link for a complete list of Alpine Club of Canada huts and cabins and to find out what amenities are included in each cabin. Most facilities have mattresses for sleeping on, kitchens with basic cooking supplies, propane lights and stoves. Bring a sleeping bag and food, and you are almost good to go minus a few other small items.

Elizabeth Parker Hut, Lake O'Hara

Recommended huts for families across the Alberta and BC Rockies:

- links will take you to stories I have written on staying at each hut

The A.O. Wheeler Hut - vehicle accessible in summer from Glacier National Park, BC

Elk Lakes Cabin - vehicle accessible from Elk Lakes Provincial Park in BC or via a family-friendly hiking trail in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Alberta
Stanley Mitchell Hut - accessible via an easy hiking trail in Yoho National Park, BC

Elizabeth Parker Hut - accessible via Parks Canada bus to Lake O'Hara, Yoho National Park, BC and then a 5 minute walk

Stanley Mitchell Hut, Yoho National Park

And for families traveling with older children, take a look at these huts which offer a more challenging approach.

Bow Hut - accessible via a steep hiking trail in Banff National Park. Located along the Icefields Parkway and one of the only mountaineering huts accessible without a glacier traverse (recommended for strong hikers ages 8-10+ as there is one hard move crossing a large boulder over a chasm)

Asulkan Cabin - accessible from Glacier National Park, BC via a steep hiking trail (recommended for strong hikers ages 8+)

Conrad Kain Hut - accessible from Bugaboo Provincial Park, BC via a steep climber access trail.One ladder must be climbed en route, bolted to a cliff, and there are a few other narrow sections with hand lines to hold on to (recommended for strong hikers ages 8-10+)

Read more here: Family Backcountry Cabin Camping in the Canadian Rockies 

Asulkan Cabin, Glacier National Park

Wilderness Hostels

Hostelling International Canada maintains 10 wilderness hostels across the Canadian Rockies. Each hostel is unique with varying levels of comfort.

At HI Castle Mountain or HI Kananaskis you will find microwaves, indoor plumbing, and showers.

Meanwhile at HI Hilda Creek you will find your own private cabin with no hostel manager on site and a backcountry experience waiting for you.

Some hostels have private rooms, and others require children to be 6+ years old so that they can share dorm rooms with other guests.

A full list of all ten wilderness hostels can be found here.

HI Athabasca Falls Wilderness Hostel

Some of our favourite wilderness hostels for families are below:

HI Kananaskis - The hostel has 3 private rooms which sleep three people comfortably. Indoor plumbing and electricity

HI Mosquito Creek, Banff - The hostel has a private cabin for families with two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a common area. (Rustic hostel with no indoor plumbing. Pit toilets located outside)

HI Athabasca Falls, Jasper - The hostel has 2 private rooms for families located in cabins away from the main building. Each private room sleeps 5-6 people. Cooking is done in a common shared cabin. (Rustic hostel with no indoor plumbing. Pit toilets located outside)

HI Hilda Creek, Banff - This is a small hostel which only sleeps 6 people. Rent the whole hostel and enjoy your own private wilderness retreat. Note that his hostel is very rustic. Backcountry experience is required and there is no hostel manager on site

HI Hilda Creek in September

Read about some of our hosteling adventures here:

Hilda Creek - Moving on to Big Adventures - and the kids get to come along!

Mosquito Creek -  Autumn Camping at Mosquito Creek

Athabasca Falls - Spring Adventures in Jasper

Kananaskis - How to Plan a Kananaskis Biking Weekend 

And to read about our winter hosteling adventures, check out this story:

Winter Camping with Kids (no tent!!!)

HI Mosquito Creek

Additional Inspiration

For more inspiration, check out these stories on a couple of backcountry lodges we have stayed at in the Canadian Rockies. While they carry a big price tag, the experience is unparalleled.

Shadow Lake Lodge, Banff - Family Backpacking In Banff National Park - No Tent Required 

Sundance Lodge, Banff (under new ownership of the Banff Trail Riders) - Backpacking in Style - no tent, no sleeping bags, and no cooking!

Shadow Lake Lodge, Banff National Park

Special thanks to the Alpine Club of Canada, Hosteling International, Sundance Lodges, and Mount Engadine Lodge, and Parks Canada for helping us with accommodations for this guide.