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.


  1. I guess we missed reserving the lake O'Hara bus too then. Darn! Ill have to put it on the calendar for next year. As always, your tips are great!

  2. Thanks for all this amazing info! Looking forward to adventures!

  3. wow! what a list.... would love to win the raffle too! going to be a busy summer!

  4. Fantastic article! Thanks for the great ideas!

  5. Love the tips in the article, but especially "Get the Boats Out for an Easy Spring Paddle in Kananaskis or Banff." Would be great fun to try this with kids!

  6. As for the Brewster attractions, I'd love to try The Glacier Adventure!

  7. I need someone to slip my husband the Mothers Day ideas. Maybe I'll plan a family hike for myself. 300m sounds doable for my little guy as long as we take lots of breaks and lots of bribes.
    Great list Tanya.

  8. I want a family hike for mothers day. Now who's going to hint that to my husband?

  9. You have great ideas, can't wait to try some

  10. Thanks for the good ideas. I would love to try the Minnewanka boat trip. Something different for us.

  11. I really think my daughter would LOVE the 6 day trail ride vacation! (I would, too!)

  12. It's amazing all the activities available to us. Can't wait to try some new things this spring.

  13. Great post...definitely sharing this. I'm looking forward to visiting the Icefields Parkway and the sky walk for the first time.

  14. This is wonderful. I want to do everything! Thank you for rounding this up in a post!

  15. What an awesome giveaway!

  16. All these years and I've never been up the Banff Gondola. Thanks for the post.

  17. Would love to do the Banff Gondola with the kids.

  18. I just found this blog, and I love it! So many great adventure ideas!

  19. Booked camping at 3 national parks this summer so looking forward to exploring Banff and Jasper this summer. Thanks for all the great tips and family outdoor adventure ideas!! Such a great resource.

  20. We have many of these on our list already, starting with Mother's Day in Banff and hopefully a couple paddles that weekend too!

  21. Lots of these on our summer to do list. Kids are 6 & 8 - Looking forward to our many adventures!

  22. Nothing like getting the whole family outside. Thanks for all your suggestions.

  23. The attraction we would try this summer would be the skywalk thing - that's about the only thing we haven't done yet! Fantastic giveaway, thanks for the chance!

  24. I would like to do the skywalk with the kids. Would be a nice trip on our staycation.

  25. What a great way to celebrate the outdoors with family in our own backyard!

  26. We'd love to try them all! We are so in love with the mountains and any excuse to go back there, I'll take!!!

  27. We'd love to try all of them, such a great way to capture the beauty of the Rockies! Thanks for another epic list of adventures Tanya!

  28. We would love to win passes for the gondola! ❤️

  29. Awesome trip ideas! Hope to get away to the mountains this summer.

  30. Maligne Lake cruise would be my first choice! This weekend looks to be a full adventure of camping, hiking, biking in the mountains.

  31. Would love to win this as I know we're staying close to home this summer. Carolyn

  32. This is great! Thank you so much for such wonderful ideas - can't wait to get outside and explore :)

  33. I can't wait to explore cat creek falls again!

  34. Lots of great ideas ... Thanks Tanya!

  35. Biking on highways sounds fun!

  36. great ideas