Thursday, June 23, 2016

Backcountry Cabin Camping with Kids (Elk Lakes Cabin, BC)

You like vehicle-accessed camping, you've mastered sleeping in a tent with the kids, enjoy eating and cooking outside, don't freak out at the thought of using a pit toilet, can handle a few bugs and creepy crawlies, don't mind getting dirty (and can survive without showering for a few days,) enjoy an easy hike as a family, and generally like being outside. Yes? Well then, read on...

Maybe you enjoy camping but don't enjoy some of the things that go along with the traditional "car camping" experience (loud neighbors who stay up late drinking and partying, generators that ruin your dinner time peace and quiet, crowded campgrounds where you feel like you're sharing a site with the trailer beside you...?)

Camping can look a lot like this... (photo: Elk Lakes Cabin)

If solitude is what you're after, backcountry camping could be the next step for your family. And, it's not as hard as it sounds! There's an easy peasy way to introduce the family to backcountry camping in complete comfort, with beds to sleep on, a propane stove to cook over (that you won't carry in with you,) and tables to eat at - inside if it's raining or cold out. Welcome to hut or cabin camping (yes for the tent purists - I'm calling it camping) and we have been doing this since our son was just a toddler.

Playing on the log pile outside the Elk Lakes Cabin, Elk Lakes Provincial Park, BC

Background Intro to Traditional Backcountry Camping

I enjoy the occasional backcountry camping trip where you follow a more traditional style of camping, setting up the tent beside a scenic alpine lake for a night or two, cooking outside over your backcountry stove, filtering water at a  nearby stream, hanging the food at night... (enough that we're going backcountry camping this weekend in fact)

Traditional Backcountry Camping (awesome when it's sunny)

Enjoyment of traditional backcountry camping aside, I can't get past the fears below to make it a regular occurrence.

Some of my fears:

The Elk Lakes cabin has a great fire pit
  • What if we get an entire day of rain and there's no way to dry our clothes out, no way to dry out soggy boots, no way to warm up (not many backcountry campgrounds here allow fires,) and no way to escape the rain (other than crawling in the tent to go to bed early.)

  • What if the bugs are honest to god horrible and there's no retreat or escape from them? (And you're already wearing ten layers of DEET?)

  • What do you do if your kids wake up at 6:30 am and it's still freezing cold outside, barely 5 degrees Celsius, and they want breakfast. Now. So ok, you feed them. Then what? Do you start your morning hike at 7:30am? It probably won't take ALL day to complete your day hike so do you really need to start that early? If not, what else do you do this early in the morning at camp?

  • What do you do when the sun goes down? Fortunately now the sun stays up till 10pm at least, but later in the season it will get  dark earlier. And if you tuck the kids into bed, what do you then do until you're ready for bed? Add rain if it's a wet evening and you don't feel like sitting in the tent for hours on end or factor in early or late season camping when the temperature plummets in the evening. Basically, what do you do to pass the time until you can go to bed??

Playing games inside the cozy Elk Lakes Cabin

Intro to Hut or Cabin Backcountry Camping 

Two weeks ago we hiked into the Alpine Club of Canada's Elk Lakes Backcountry Cabin and below is an inside glimpse into our comfortable, cozy weekend backcountry camping - with shelter from the elements.

The Elk Lakes Cabin, Elk Lakes Provincial Park, BC

The Hike in - It rained for three solid hours during our hike in! My group was moving fast because we were seriously drenched and the kids were starting to complain of wet hands and feet. Others in our party though spent upwards of five hours hiking in - again in the rain!

Arrived at the hut and soaking wet.

Honestly though, the hike in wasn't that bad. We knew we had a warm place to retreat to, we knew we'd eventually be tucked into our cozy warm cabin, and we had an end point in view. If we had have been tenting... ( I can't even imagine it!)

We got to the hut and everything had to hang to dry. The boots took over 12 hours to dry out and only finally started to dry once we'd stuffed newspaper in them to soak up the water. - now what would we have done in a regular backcountry campground with kids soaked to the bone, freezing cold, no fire pits, boots drenched...?

Not sure how you'd do this if you were tent camping...

Evening at the cabin - We played games, the kids played upstairs in the loft with toys they'd brought with them, we ate food that we were able to cook over propane stoves (and didn't have to use any of our own pots/pans/dishes, etc. - it was all supplied for us at the hut.)

We warmed up, we stayed dry, and we had a blast in our cozy cabin with the three other families who'd hiked in with us. Note if you want this experience of hanging out with your friends and don't want to risk sharing the hut with people you don't know - book the whole thing! The Elk Lakes Cabin only sleeps 14-15 people so it's pretty easy to book the entire cabin.

Playing outside the cabin in the evening

Bed time - We slept on cozy warm dry mattresses in the loft. Again, we didn't have to carry the mattresses in with us. All we brought in were our sleeping bags. It was warm, everybody slept reasonably well, and we were out of the rain.

Another thing I loved was that the kids could be upstairs sleeping while the adults played cards downstairs, chatting and enjoying a few nice beverages (we packed a LOT of beer in since we didn't have to bring stoves and dishes.)

The Loft (sleeping area and play room for the kids)

The next day at Elk Lakes - It rained off and on but it didn't bother us much. We went out and hiked to the Lower Lake, got wet, came back to the warm hut, and dried out again. Repeat later in the afternoon.

Heading out for a day hike to the Lower Lake (half an hour away and easy peasy to reach)

The "nature playground"
When the sun did come out, the kids enjoyed playing in the wood pile and built a nature playground out of it. This may have been the highlight for the children from the entire weekend. Otherwise, the kids were very content to play games in the hut, to learn a new dice game, and to play with their toys.

More beverages and good food were shared. And since we had less stuff to pack in compared with regular backcountry camping (no backcountry stove, no dishes, no mattresses,) we were able to bring more luxury items (think bacon and pancakes for breakfast or spaghetti and meat sauce for dinner made from real ingredients rather than just poured out of a "just add water" pouch.

The hike out - We cleaned the hut, left it cleaner than we found it (the golden rule,) and hiked out. We had sunshine (finally) for the return trip and made good time getting back out to the vehicles.

Hiking out via West Elk Pass

Cabin and Hut Camping for Novice Backcountry Campers

While backcountry tenting is totally feasible with kids, enjoyable much of the time, and certainly worth trying, we've found that cabin or hut camping increases the comfort level and makes the experience much more user-friendly for novice backcountry campers.

Cabins and huts make these trips possible when the weather is less than ideal. We would have cancelled our backcountry trip to Elk Lakes given the weather forecast were it not for the cabin we knew we'd have to sleep in.

Finally, you won't have to invest in backcountry gear for a hut trip. Get some simple sleeping bags (or honestly, bring sheets and blankets,) boil water if you don't have a filter, and borrow a backpack from a friend. Easy peasy.

Hut Camping with Friends


Cabin and Hut Camping with Babes and Tots

Hut or cabin camping is also great when you have wee little kids (babes and tots) and you're just not ready to go "hard core" on the backcountry experience just yet. Some huts are chariot-friendly for ease of access, (Elk Lakes is if you use the bike trail up and down the power line from Peter Lougheed Provincial Park,) and some huts even have vehicle access approaches (The A.O. wheeler Hut  mentioned below in this story has drive-in access in summer.)

You'll probably want to book the full cabin if bringing young children though and go with a sympathetic group who will understand if somebody starts crying in the middle of the night. Just assume that a group of single adults in their young 20s probably doesn't want to camp with your baby and preschooler in the same hut unless your kids sleep exceptionally well and won't be running around the hut screaming all evening.

You don't have to carry a lot when you stay at a backcountry hut or cabin


Bonus Photos from Elk Lakes 


Drenched kids about to enter the Elk Lakes Cabin to warm up
Hiking towards the Lower Elk Lake
Viewpoint over the Lower Elk Lake
Lower Lake Viewpoint
Playing by the river along the trail to the Upper Lake
Boardwalks on the West Elk Pass Trail
Picnic break on the hike out, back in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

Recommended Backcountry Cabins and Huts in the Canadian Rockies 

Elk Lakes Cabin, Elk Lakes Provincial Park (featured cabin in this story) - 9km hike from Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. Chariot friendly if you take the bike trail up and down the power line, Otherwise, hike the West Elk Pass Trail which is more scenic and enjoyable. Also enjoyable as a ski trip in winter.

Read about Elk Lakes in the winter here.

Elk Lakes Cabin in winter

Elizabeth Parker Hut, Yoho National Park  - Accessible by park bus and then a short 20 minute hike in. Sleeps 24 in summer. VERY popular. Lottery system in  place for the summer season. Consider making a booking for winter and ski in.

Read about the Elizabeth Parker Hut in winter here.

Family Camping at the Elizabeth Parker Hut

Stanley Mitchell Hut, Yoho National Park - 11km hike suitable for school aged children. Not chariot friendly. Sleeps 22 people.

Stanley Mitchell Hut

A.O. Wheeler Hut, Glacier National Park - Drive in access in summer. Short 2km hike or ski in winter. Sleeps 30 in summer (24 in winter.)

Read about the Wheeler Hut in winter here.

The Wheeler Hut in winter

Cameron Lake Cabin, Waterton Lakes National Park - Winter use only. Sleeps 8 people (super easy to book the whole cabin.) Short 2km ski or hike in.

Cameron Lake Cabin in winter

Read about the Cameron Lake Cabin in winter here.

For more information on booking an Alpine Club Hut, on purchasing a membership, pricing, and hut amenities, please visit the Alpine Club of Canada's website.

This story was not sponsored by the Alpine Club. All words are my own.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The 5 Best Waterside Campgrounds Near Calgary, Alberta

As a member of many camping and outdoor groups, I participate in a lot of conversations around where to find the best campgrounds, and usually the number one focus is water! Families are looking for waterside campgrounds where they can roll out of their tent and immediately launch their canoe without carrying or driving it to the lake. Families want to sit back at their campsite and watch the kids play in the lake - right in front of the tent. And families want to spend the day at a campground beach, chilling, and cooling off on hot summer days.

North America's Best Waterside Campgrounds

While lakeside campgrounds are not especially plentiful in the Canadian Rockies (shocking I know given how many lakes we have,) there are a few campgrounds that do stand out for water-based activities, swimming, and beach time. Below are my top 5 picks for BEST waterside campgrounds near Calgary. Some are mountain based and others are located further north in the Alberta prairies, south in the Alberta Badlands, or over the border in beautiful British Columbia.

Make sure you continue to the bottom of this story for suggestions on other awesome waterside campgrounds across North America as shared by members of my outdoor family blogging community.

Learning to kayak while camping lakeside

The 5 Best Waterside Campgrounds Near Calgary



One - Two Jack Lakeside, Banff National Park

Two Jack Lakeside has 64 reservable sites and is located only an hour outside Calgary. This extremely popular campground in Banff has no power sites for RVs so expect a natural camping experience.  Reservations can be made early in the season and are absolutely necessary if you want to camp here during the summer season.

Paddling on Two Jack Lake, Banff

What's to love about Two Jack Lakeside:

  • Lakeside camping with some sites right on the lakeshore (the walk in tenting sites are especially beautiful and close to the water)

  • Comfort Camping options (families can camp in wall tents called O'TENTiks)

  • Beautiful scenery on the lake! It's recommended that you rent a canoe or a couple of kayaks and bring them with you. (No rentals on site)

  • Premier camping in Banff National Park close to the Town of Banff

  • Easy access to hikes, lakes, and scenery along the Lake Minnewanka Loop Road where the campground is situated (read this following story to find out about what you can do in the Lake Minnewanka area)

Our last campsite at Two Jack Lakeside (Tent to Lake)

Special Notes: Some sites back onto the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive Road and are less ideal than the sites that back onto the lake. Also note that there is no beach and that the water is glacial in temperature.

If you can't get into this popular campground, try to get a site across the road at the Two Jack Main Campground. At least you'll be in the same area and you can still launch boats from the public day use area on Two Jack Lake.

For more on camping in Banff, read my story: The Banff Campground Review.

Lakeside Comfort Camping at Two Jack Lakeside


Two - Interlakes Campground, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

Interlakes Campground is the most challenging campground to get a site at in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park - for good reason. This beautiful campground is located right on the Lower Kananaskis Lake with approximately half of the 48 sites situated right next to the lakeshore. To get a site here in summer you'll have to come mid-week because reservations are not accepted in advance.

Canoeing across the Lower Lake in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

What's to love about camping in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park:

  • Regardless of which campground you get a site at, you can drive to great hiking trails, launch a canoe at two beautiful lakes, hike into prime backcountry campgrounds, and access paved bike trails great for the whole family.

  • There is a paved bike trail that connects most campgrounds in the park, connecting you with the Boulton Trading Post for snacks and ice-cream, playgrounds, trailheads, and lake shores for playing at.
Biking on the paved trails of Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

Special Notes: There is no beach in this mountain park and the water will be glacial in temperature should you decide to jump in.

Also, know that you are definitely camping in bear country here! It is not uncommon to see trails closed for bear activity or to see a bear walk through your campground. Children need to be supervised at all times and I wouldn't let them roam the campground alone. Make lots of noise when on trails, carry bear spray at all times, and keep a clean campsite.

Hiking in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

For more on camping in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park check out the following stories:

Peter Lougheed Provincial Park for Families 

Camping in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park 

The Best Place to Bike and Camp in Kananaskis 

Summer Planning: The Best Provincial Park Campgrounds in Southern Alberta 

The Best Family Campground in Kananaskis

Also worth considering is the Point Backcountry Campground. It's a short paddle to the campground (it took me 20 minutes on a stand up paddleboard) and the campground is unbelievably beautiful. Read more at The Annual Family Backpacking Trip. It can also be accessed in an easy 3 km hike.

Lakeside backcountry camping at the Point

Three - Crimson Lake Campground, Crimson Lake Provincial Park

There are many great lakeside campgrounds in Central Alberta but Crimson Lake is our favourite because there's more to do than just hanging out at the beach. There are bike trails, hiking options, and other fun things to do in the Rocky Mountain House area. This campground has 173 sites with power for RVs and all are reservable in advance which really helps families planning ahead.

Lakeside camping in Crimson Lake Provincial Park

Reasons to love Crimson Lake:

  • There is a beach with sand for the kids to play at and there is a great playground that's also built on its own small sandy play area.

  • There's a great walking/biking trail that circles the lake for when you tire of beach time

  • Groups can camp at the lakeside Twin Lakes Campground which has its own private dock and rocky beach area. It's the best group campground we've found in Alberta

  • There's fun mountain biking to be had between Rocky Mountain House and Crimson Lake

  • Families can visit the Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site for a day, and can even bike here on a well maintained trail

  • Fishing is great on both Crimson Lake and Twin Lake

  • Families with canoes or kayaks will enjoy peaceful paddling on nearby Twin Lake which doesn't have the big motor boats found on Crimson Lake. The more adventurous can also try paddling down the North Saskatchewan River from the National Historic Site back into Rocky Mountain House.

Biking around Crimson Lake Provincial Park

Special Notes: There are no actual lakeside camp sites at the Crimson Lake Campground. You will have to walk to the lake and to the beach. The closest you will get to camping right beside the lake is if you book the Twin Lakes Group Campground. Here, you can store your boats right on your own private beach and launch at will without transporting the canoe every time you want to go out.

To read more on this provincial park please check out this story: Crimson Lake Provincial Park - Hidden Gem in Alberta Campgrounds.

Lakeside camping at the Twin Lakes Group Campground

Four - Writing on Stone Campground, Writing on Stone Provincial Park

The Writing on Stone campground in Southern Alberta is a little different from the others featured so far in that you'll be camped on a river. There is a great beach with sand and families can float the river in tubes from one end of the campground to the other on a hot day. At higher water levels, there's also great canoeing and kayaking from this provincial park on the Milk River. We staged day trips on the river from the group campground in Writing on Stone and had a fabulous weekend.

There are 19 unserviced sites and 45 sites with power for RVs. There are also two group campgrounds and several comfort camping units. All sites accept reservations in advance.

Playing at the beach at the Writing on Stone Campground

Reasons to love Writing on Stone Provincial Park:

  •  Amazing hiking and camping in Alberta's badlands surrounded by hoodoos and funky rock formations!!

  • Awesome paddling on the Milk River from above the campground back to camp, or from camp down to the next bridge

  • Fun tubing and floating on the river through the campground

  • Writing on Stone Provincial Park is a National Historic Site and the valley contains the "largest concentration of First Nation petroglyphs (rock carvings) and pictographs (rock paintings) on the great plains of North America." - Read more here.

Hiking in Writing on Stone Provincial Park

Special Notes: Children should obviously be supervised closely when swimming in a river as there is a small current. Also, temperature here can be a concern in summer (think desert camping) so it's ideal to visit in spring or fall when it's a bit cooler.

Groups will enjoy the group campgrounds here. We like Site A for its large field, communal fire pit, and cook shelter. It's ideal for several families camping in the grassy field with room for trailers in the parking area out front.

Paddling on the Milk River in Writing on Stone Provincial Park

Five - Surveyors Lake, Kikomun Creek Provincial Park, British Columbia

Surveyors Lake in Kikomun Creek Provincial Park is our favourite lakeside campground within a 4 hour drive from Calgary. It is located just outside the mountain town of Fernie in British Columbia and is extremely popular! Plan to make a reservation well in advance if you want to get a site here in the summer. The campground has approximately 100 sites but note that there are no power sites here for RVs. If you don't like generator noise, it might not become your favourite campground because many people like to run their air conditioners on hot days here (and in summer, it is usually very hot in this park.)

Beach Time at Surveyors Lake

Reasons to love Surveyors Lake and Kikomun Creek Provincial Park:

  • Swimming and paddling with painted turtles in the peaceful Surveyors Lake (no motor boats permitted)

  • This park is located in a very arid, sunny part of the province - perfect for days at the beach

  • There is a gorgeous sandy beach at both the campground and at the day use area (with a dock for jumping off of at the day use beach)

  • There are boat rentals at Campers Beach (including paddle boats and stand up paddleboards)

  • There are great mountain bike trails around the campground

  • There are cabins available in this provincial park for those seeking a bit more comfort

  • Nearby Lake Koocanusa is great for motor boats and related water sports

  • You're near Fernie for fabulous mountain biking, hiking, and day tripping (There is a leisure centre with swimming pool, spray park, restaurants and shopping)

Painted Turtles in Kikomun Creek Provincial Park

Special Notes:  There are no lakeside camp sites. You will have to walk to the beach (even if it's only a two minute walk.) If you have boats, drive them to the day use beach to unload them. Then lock them up to a tree when done (but leave them there while camping for quick access.)

Also, try to avoid booking a site next to a "double site" because they get very noisy. Technically, they are designed for two families to share (think, one large site) but I've seen up to five families sharing one double site. (I may have tried this myself once...)

Biking around the Surveyors Lake Campground

For more on camping at Surveyors Lake, check out these stories I've written:

Camping in British Columbia: Kikomun Creek Provincial Park

 Another Great Camping Trip to Surveyors Lake, BC

Stand up paddling on Surveyors Lake

Other Great Waterside Campgrounds Across North America

Find Your Inner Glamper at Santa Barbara's El Capitan Canyon - Jennifer Fontaine

"Nestled between the picturesque Santa Barbara mountains and the vast Pacific Ocean, El Capitan Canyon offers families 300 acres of camping, cabineering and luxurious yurts perfect for adventure and relaxation."

Family Approved: Best Waterside Camping Campground location: Highland Lakes, Stanislaus National Forest, Northern California - Chasqui Mom

"Escape to the California Sierras, to Highland Lakes for a more rustic car-camping experience with the beauty of lakes and lovely mountain peaks."

Vancouver Island’s Best Seaside Campgrounds - Play Outside Guide

"Beautiful beaches, old growth forests, and charming towns await you on Vancouver Island. Camp seaside for the best Island experience!"

Camping and Swimming at Sand Hollow State Park - Kid Project

"Camping with close access to National and State parks, slot canyons, plus crystal blue water and cliff jumping out your tent door! Check out Sand Harbor State Park in Utah!"

Best Waterside Campgrounds in North America - Mountain Mom and Tots 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Tour de Banff - The Ultimate Family Mountain Bike Loop

We've spent a lot of time biking the trails around Banff over the past month and have come up with a few amazing family tours. I wrote about our last tour in Tour de Banff - The Ultimate Family Bike Tour. The previous tour combines both paved and natural trails for an amazing 20 km loop where you can stop at playgrounds, go for ice-cream, and take numerous breaks along the way. Today's loop is for the more experienced riders in your family and takes you on the best single track mountain bike trails around the Tunnel Mountain Bench.

This mountain bike tour has two endings depending on whether you want to set up a vehicle shuttle or not. Sections could be ride-able by younger children on balance bikes (which will be indicated below,) but the loop is definitely not chariot-friendly. I also don't really recommend riding these trails with  young kids in child seats mounted to bikes. That being said however, a really good mountain biker would find it easy enough to do.

Single track riding on the Coastline section of the Tunnel Bench Loop

Overview of the Trails You'll be Riding

The loop that I'll be describing follows two main trails: The Tunnel Bench Loop (Coastline,Teddy Bear's Picnic, and the Spine,) and the Bow Falls-Hoodoo Trail. They can be found on the Trail Forks website

Minimum requirement for these trails would be a 20" bike with gears and hand brakes. I do not recommend using coaster brakes on these trails. Strong kids could try sections on a 16" bike but would struggle on a few hills without gears. Capable youngsters could also try riding some of the sections on a balance bike with supervision on the bigger hills.

Proud riders on the Tunnel Bench Loop

These trails are intermediate single track mountain bike trails, and good for the confident rider who's already mastered a few easier trails (see my full story on the Best Bike Trails in Banff to choose a few easier mountain bike trails.) The trails are cross country in nature and have rolling terrain. There are no steep relentless climbs (the ending of the Hoodoo Trail aside) and hills are always short enough to walk.

Not sure your child is ready yet? Go out as an adult and explore the loop first. Alternately, work up to doing the full loop with the Junior Tunnel Mountain Bench Loop. It includes sections of the Tunnel Bench Loop together with the easier Tunnel Campground Loop. My son road this easier loop when he was on a 16" bike.

One of the first steep hills my son learned to ride on the Tunnel Bench Loop

The Coastline Trail (Tunnel Bench Loop)

We always start riding on the Coastline section of the Tunnel Bench Loop. We are usually camping in the Tunnel Mountain Village 1 Campground for easy access. We jump on the Tunnel Campground Loop (a gravel trail that circles all three campgrounds on the bench) and jump off when we see the Tunnel Mountain Road beside us. The Coastline Trail starts on the opposite side of the road. It can be seen on Trail Forks. 

If you don't want to start here, you could start at the Hoodoo viewpoint parking lot (opposite the Tunnel Mountain Village 1 Campground) and proceed from here.

Scenery on the Coastline Trail

The Coastline Trail is a flowy trail that is best ridden towards the Hoodoos (riding the Tunnel Bench loop clockwise.)

Here is a map of the Coastline Trail with details on length and height gain. 

What you can expect:
  • Lots of roots

  • Short hills with no steep or sustained climbs

  • One hill down that you may choose to walk because of a root you have to drop over

  • Exposure and airy bits along the bank above the river (short sections could be walked)

  • Flat riding and downhill coasting along the bench until you get further into the trees. From here the trail climbs back up towards a paved service road (closed to the public.)

  • A short section of technical riding that has recently been changed (the trail used to be easier.) Just walk this short hilly section if you have to 

Below is a video of my son on the Coastline Trail. It should tell you if this trail is appropriate for your child.



Teddy Bear's Picnic (Tunnel Bench Loop)

Once you get to the service road you have two choices. If you're thoroughly freaked out and done, just bike down the road and you'll end up at the Hoodoo viewpoint. Here you can head back to camp or whatever and take a rest. (and yes, we've taken this escape route.)

If you're keen to keep riding, ride down the access road until you see the sign for Teddy Bear's Picnic. This short trail is relatively easy and would be one of the best sections for youngsters on balance bikes or smaller pedal bikes. Looped with the access road it could be a pleasant outing from the Hoodoo viewpoint parking lot.

For a map of this trail along with stats on distance and height gain, follow this link to the Teddy Bear's Picnic Trail.

One of the viewpoints on the Tunnel Bench Loop 


Don's Bypass Trail (Tunnel Bench Loop)

Teddy Bear's Picnic will take you to the Hoodoo Viewpoint Hiking Trail (a lovely little tourist trail that gives you awesome views of the Banff hoodoos and the Bow River below.) If you watch for it, you'll see a short connector trail called Don's Bypass. This trail takes you down to the parking lot without having to take the tourist hiking trail. Should you choose to take the hiking trail, please dismount your bikes and walk.

Don's Bypass Trail might just be the primary reason your are doing this loop clockwise! It is a sweet short downhill ride that is fast and very flowy! You might even be tempted to climb back up so you can ride it twice.

Hoodoo Viewpoint

Upper Hoodoo Trail (Tunnel Bench Loop)

Biker Boyz on the Hoodoo Trail along the Tunnel Bench

This next section of trail parallels the road and is an easy section of the loop. This is the first part of the Tunnel Bench Loop that we rode when my son was much younger combined with the easier Tunnel Campground Loop.

Read my Junior Tunnel Bench Loop story to find out how you can loop the campground trail with this section of the Tunnel Bench Loop.

This is also one of the most scenic sections of the Tunnel Bench Loop. To read the trail description with all stats on distance/height gain, go here to the Bow Falls - Hoodoos Trail. This is the full route we'll be following next, down to the Bow Falls viewpoint with a shuttle.



Trail Ending #1 - Lower Hoodoo Trail to Surprise Corner

This is where you have decisions to make. You can keep following the Hoodoo Trail on the Bow Falls - Hoodoos Trail or you can continue with the Tunnel Bench Loop. We personally love finishing the ride down to Surprise Corner. The ride is very diverse and has a few challenging moments.

Riding across the big meadow on the Hoodoo Trail

What you can expect from this section:

  • A long descent down to river level from the top of the bench. One loose section could/should be walked as even I wiped out on the loose gravel.

  • One challenging hill down a steep section with trail erosion you must work your way around (can be walked)

  • A lovely flat ride through a big open meadow beside the river

  • A pleasant forest ride along the river towards Surprise Corner

  • A challenging ending that involves pushing your bike up a couple of big hills and pushing your bike down a set of stairs
Playing on the bridge in the meadow

So, yeah, it's a bit challenging in spots but it's a very beautiful ride and worth doing at least once. Just set up a shuttle in advance because you are ending much lower than you started. You really don't want to bike back up!!

Reward the kids with a drive straight downtown for ice-cream at the end of this one.

One of the easier sections of the Hoodoo Trail down by the river

Total ride distance (Coastline to Surprise Corner):  10.6 km

The ride took us roughly 2 hours at a good pace and we gained just under 200 metres of height over the course of the ride.

Rad riders on the Hoodoo Trail

Trail Ending #2 - Upper Hoodoo Trail to the Spine Trail (Tunnel Bench Loop)

Orange pumpkin in the sky on the Spine
Don't want to set up a shuttle? Continue with the Tunnel Bench Loop and don't drop down onto the Lower Hoodoo Trail. Stay high along the Tunnel Mountain Road and follow the Upper Hoodoo Trail until you come to the Hidden Ridge Resort.

Here you will get onto the Tunnel Campground Loop for a short distance until you come to the Spine Trail. You can read about the Spine Trail here.

We've always found the Spine section of the Tunnel Bench Loop to be the hardest section. It is very rooty and there are numerous trees down across the trail at times. For this reason, we usually  bike it up until we reach the big orange water tower (I think that's what it is) and from there drop back onto the Campground Loop. You can follow the Campground loop back to where you started from.

Watch out for the fun "bike park" section on the spine, right below the big orange pumpkin as we call it. It's a lot of fun to play on with rollers, bumps, and banked corners.

Fun "Bike Park" section of the Spine Trail

Optional Loops

Try riding the Junior Version of the Tunnel Bench Loop combining the easy Campground Loop with the bench portion of the Upper Hoodoo Trail. My son has been riding this loop since he was 5 years old on a 6" bike. It could also be ride-able by children on balance bikes with heavy parent supervision at all times.

The Junior Version is approximately 7 km with 90 metres of height gain. As before, it is usually ridden clockwise.

Easy riding along the Upper Hoodoo Trail along the Tunnel Mt. Bench

Additional Resources

The Best Family Bike Trails in Banff National Park 

Easy riding on the Hoodoo Trail near the Banff Hostel