Thursday, June 30, 2016

Gotta Do THIS - July Edition (with GIVEAWAYS)

It's summer and here's my next edition of Gotta do THIS - focusing on some great adventures you can enjoy with your family over the next couple of months. There are also TWO giveaways so make sure you check them out and enter to win at the bottom of this post.

Gotta do THIS - July Edition (with GIVEAWAYS) - photo: Sunshine Meadows, Banff

Gotta do THIS - July Edition


1. Hike Sunshine Meadows with New Summer Gondola Access (with giveaway)

Sunshine Meadows is easily Banff's most beautiful family hike. I recommend it to every tourist who contacts me for travel suggestions and I've enjoyed the hike with my own son many times. This year, the hike just got better though!

This summer you can now access Sunshine Meadows by gondola rather than taking the old yellow school bus from the Sunshine Village base area.

"It’s official—Sunshine Village is set to open its 8-person gondola and the Standish high speed quad lift for sightseeing each weekend (Friday – Sunday) and on all long weekends starting on Canada Day, July 1st. Beat the Banff crowds and enjoy the views at Sunshine Village.
Ride the Standish quad chairlift to over 2,400 m (7,875 ft) – the highest sightseeing elevation in the Banff and Lake Louise area-- and experience 360 degree views of the Rocky Mountains that surround you. From there, catch even more breathtaking scenery from the Standish viewpoint platform and take in the view of the three high-alpine lakes; Larynx, Grizzly and Rock Isle."
Rock Isle Lake, Sunshine Meadows, Banff

Rock Isle Lake is an easy 1.5 km hike (one way) from the upper gondola station. Beyond this first lake, families can enjoy a scenic loop around Larynx and Grizzly Lakes for a bigger hike of approximately 8 km (return distance from the gondola.)

To make the Sunshine Meadows hike even easier, ride the Standish chairlift (newly open for this summer season) and enjoy an easy 1 km downhill walk to Rock Isle Lake.

Alpine Hiking in Paradise! Sunshine Meadows, Banff

Of Note to Sunshine Village Season Pass Holders:

"Did you have a season pass last season or did you buy one at the early bird price? If so, you’ll receive 50% off your gondola ticket in addition to a free Standish lift pass. Just bring your 2015-16 pass or 2016-17 receipt to receive your discount."

And Last Minute Suggestion for the Canada Day Long Weekend:

"To say Happy Canada Day, Sunshine is offering the Standish lift as a FREE add-on to a gondola ticket for the Canada Day long weekend only."

GIVEAWAY: Go to the bottom of this post for your chance to win a family pack of tickets: two child and two adult tickets for both the gondola & chairlift courtesy of Sunshine Village, good for weekends from July 1- Sept 5, 2016.

For more information on the Sunshine Village summer gondola, hours, and pricing, please visit the Sunshine Village website.

Sunshine Meadows and Rock Isle Lake, Banff


2. Go Canoeing in Banff and view Mt. Rundle from the Water (with giveaway)

We love canoeing, kayaking, and even stand up paddleboarding in Banff. We've paddled on all of the lakes around the Town of Banff and have even been down the Bow River from Banff to Canmore. Of all the outings we've done though, my favourite remains the same: Downtown Banff to Vermillion Lakes and back.

From the Banff Canoe Club docks you can paddle up Echo Creek and 40 Mile Creek to the First Vermillion Lake. It's easy paddling (even in the up stream direction) and you might be lucky enough to see beavers, muskrats, or loons amongst other wildlife. Once you arrive at the First Vermillion Lake, you'll be awarded with views of iconic Mt. Rundle and you can sometimes paddle up a small channel to the Second Vermillion Lake.

Canoeing on the First Vermillion Lake with Mt. Rundle in the background

Float back downstream to the canoe club docks and if time permits, paddle up the Bow River a short distance. When you get tired of paddling up river, turn around and float back down. This is a very scenic section of the Bow River and is easy for novice paddlers.

Don't have your own canoe or boat? Don't worry because you can rent boats (including stand up paddle boards) from the Banff Canoe Club. Prices are cheaper for members so if you plan to do this more than once this summer, consider becoming a member. You'll appreciate how easy it is to drive up and grab a boat without having to transport one out to the mountains yourself.

Stand up paddling on the First Vermillion Lake

For more information on rental prices, membership, and hours, please visit the Banff Canoe Club website

Also available from the Banff Canoe Club are canoe tours in guided voyageur canoes along with offsite boat rentals should you wish to take a boat to one of the other nearby lakes.

GIVEAWAY: Go to the bottom of this post for your chance to win a two hour canoe rental for your family courtesy of the Banff Canoe Club.

Easy paddling on Echo Creek from the Banff Canoe Club

3. Try the Brand New Pipe Mountain Coaster at Revelstoke Mountain Resort

This is my summer's MUST try new activity or tour and I'm very excited to ride the new pipe mountain coaster when we're in Revelstoke in August. Till then, I just keep watching the video over and over (and over.)

 I don't have to say much about this one because the video should say it all. You're either screaming "no freakin' way!" or else you've already got your calendar in hand and you're trying to find a free weekend to visit Revelstoke.

And yes, younger kids can ride tandem with you so don't worry about them having to miss out on the fun. And you can control your speed to make the ride as exhilarating or as tame as you'd like it to be.

For complete information on the new Pipe Mountain Coaster, pricing, and hours, please visit the Revelstoke Mountain Resort website.

The all new Pipe Mountain Coaster (photo credit: Revelstoke Mountain Resort)

4.  Road Trip Feature - Explore Fernie, BC

We LOVE Fernie any time of the year. Summer is magical though with mountain bike trails for all levels, amazing camping nearby at Surveyors Lake, and lift-accessed hiking at Fernie Alpine Resort.

Polar Peak Summit, Fernie Alpine Resort

Check out some of the previous stories I've written on summer in Fernie and the surrounding area. (only 3 hours from Calgary!)

The Best Family Bike Trails in Fernie

First Summits - Polar Peak, Fernie Alpine Resort

Camping in British Columbia: Kikomun Creek Provincial Park (Surveyors Lake)

Lakeside Camping at Surveyors Lake near Fernie

While you're in Fernie, make sure you check out the following events/attractions:

  •  Sign the kids up for a Little Critter Fun Ride in downtown Fernie

  • Take a scenic chair lift ride on the Timber Chair at Fernie Alpine Resort for lunch at the Lost Boys Cafe. From the top of the Timber Chair, the Lost Boys Lookout is reached in less than a kilometre in distance. Ride and Dine packages are also available

  • Visit the Aerial Park at Fernie Alpine Resort or try out the resort zipline!

  • Visit the Kids Aerial Playground at Fernie Alpine Resort (FREE!) This playground includes climbing features, a mini zipline, slackline, bridges, and swings

  • Ride the new Lazy Lizard Trail  to Island Lake Lodge for lunch. And my understanding is that the trail flows best for younger children (read, all downhill) in the direction from the lodge back down to the road. Consider setting up a vehicle shuttle and let the kids ride one way down hill.

Mountain biking near Fernie

5.  Climb a Mountain! This month's feature - Barrier Lake Lookout 

My son and I love climbing mountains so I aim to feature one summit each month. This month's peak is an easy one that requires no scrambling or tricky moves. It is pure hiking and without any real difficulties - and technically, isn't a peak. It is however a gorgeous viewpoint and worthy of including as a summit.

From the Barrier Dam day use area, follow the Prairie View hiking trail until you reach the ridge and are rewarded with gorgeous views down to the lake and over to Mt. Baldy opposite you. Take a well deserved rest, strike your best mountain pose, and then continue on for the rocks.

Mountain pose on the Prairie View Trail Ridge

Reaching the rocks, you'll want to take another break and many more photos.

Rock lookout on the Prairie View Trail

If you aren't tired yet, continue on for the final summit push to the top of the Barrier Fire Lookout House.

To read my previous trip report, please read First Summits - Barrier Lake Lookout, Kananaskis.

Lookout platform above Barrier Lake with Mt. Yamnuska in the background


6. Find a New Favourite Beach near Calgary

I'm always ecstatic when I find a new hidden beach with perfect sand and great views. This month we found a new one and because I'm feeling generous, I thought I'd share its location.

Drive out to the Ghost Reservoir past Cochrane and park in the boat club parking lot on the right hand side of the road just past the bridge (there is public parking available if you drive past all the sail boats.) From here, launch your canoe, kayaks, or even a stand up paddleboard and paddle up the channel towards the outlet of the Ghost River.

Ghost Reservoir Beach

When you reach the river coming in to meet the reservoir, you will find a gorgeous area of sand that begs you to stop and play for a couple of hours.

Warning - make sure you choose a calm day with little wind or you could be fighting strong winds to get back to your vehicle at the end of your picnic and beach outing. I found it very hard to make it back paddling into a strong head wind on my SUP board. Next time I go, I will either take a kayak or else only go when there is no wind.

Also know that the water is not warm. Kids probably won't mind sticking their toes in the water to play around (and I paddled bare foot on my board) but it is a very cold lake.

Finally, expect motor boats.

Private beach on the Ghost Reservoir where the Ghost River comes in

Other great mountain beaches near Calgary:

Quarry Lake, Canmore

The parking lot for Quarry Lake is unsigned but easily reached if you drive up towards the Canmore Nordic Centre. You'll see a parking lot on the left hand side of the road that's always full of cars just before the Nordic Centre. There is also an off leash dog area here. The lake will show up on google maps if you're not sure where you're going. Arrive early in summer as the parking lot will fill up.This is a very popular place to be on a hot day.

Quarry Lake, Canmore

Johnson Lake, Banff

This sandy beach is extremely popular in summer and children never seem to mind the temperature of the mountain water. It is a popular place to canoe, kayak, or SUP. There is also a short walking circuit around the lakeshore and you can look for two hidden swings (a rope swing and a normal swing.) Arrive early in summer if you want to find parking. This is a very popular place!!

Johnson Lake Beach, Banff

7. Introduce the Family to Backpacking

I confess that I don't especially love sleeping in a tent. That aside though, I believe every child should have the experience of sleeping in one (several times) over the course of their childhood. I also believe in the therapeutic value of spending time in the backcountry as a family to unplug and reconnect. I mean, how often at home are you all together as a family for an entire weekend, sleeping together in the same small space, eating together, playing together, enjoying the same entertainment together... (If you have teenagers you probably won't remember the last time you were all together 24/7 for a whole weekend.)

Backcountry camping at the Point, Kananaskis

Below are some of the best introductory backcountry campgrounds to check out with your family this summer. And reservations are necessary so don't plan to just wander into camp.

  • Elbow Lake, Kananaskis - Chariot friendly and only 1.4 km one way. Fire pits and food lockers make this a pretty comfortable campground.

  • The Point, Kananaskis - Canoe accessible and only 3.8 km one way on foot. The campground has fire pits and food lockers making it very comfortable. It is also very scenic as it is situated right on Upper Kananaskis Lake.

  • Jewell Bay, Kananaskis - Canoe accessible from Barrier Lake and only 3-4 km one way on foot. The campground also has hitching posts for horses so there are many ways to get the kids and gear here! The campground has a large group fire pit and food lockers making it a very comfortable base camp.

Elbow Lake, Kananaskis

  • Larry's Camp, Banff National Park - Also referred to as JO 9, this campground is reached via the popular Johnston Canyon hiking trail. Hike past the Upper Falls to the Ink Pots and then the campground is just a few kilometres beyond. It is 9 km one way. Reservations can be made through Parks Canada.

  • Laughing Falls, Yoho National Park - This beautiful campground is reached via the popular Little Yoho Valley Trail and passes by three sets of waterfalls before arriving at the fourth set, Laughing Falls, where you'll be camping. The trail is easy and we've taken a chariot here in the past. There's only one hard hill to tackle where you'll want to have the kids walk. The campground is reached in an easy 4 km hike one way from the Takkakkaw Falls parking lot. Reservations can be made through Parks Canada.

  • Elk Lakes Provincial Park, BC - Located in British Columbia, Elk Lakes is reached via Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in Alberta. Hikers will take the West Elk Pass Trail to reach the park and families wanting to take a chariot, will follow the bike/ski trail over Elk Pass. The hike is 9 km in distance one way and once you arrive in the park, you can either camp at the Lower Elk Lake Campground or stay at the Alpine Club of Canada Cabin (reservations required.)

Easy hiking into Elk Lakes Provincial Park

For other backcountry cabin suggestions please read my newest story: Backcountry Cabin Camping with Kids.

The Elk Lakes Cabin, Elk Lakes Provincial Park

8. Find a New Favourite Bike Trail

I've written many many family biking guides on this website. To find a new favourite trail this summer, check out the stories below while out traveling and exploring this summer.

The Best Family Bike Trails in Banff National Park

Biking the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail  - With Kids

Family biking on the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail, Banff

Tour de Banff - The Ultimate Family Bike Tour

Tour de Banff - The Ultimate Family Mountain Bike Loop

Great Scenery along Vermillion Lakes Drive, Banff

The Best Family Bike Trails in Canmore

The Best Family Bike Trails in Fernie, BC 

Kids on Wheels - Biking the Columbia Valley, BC

Family Biking in Canmore

The Best Family Bike Trails in Jasper

Kids on Wheels - Pump Tracks and Mountain Bike Parks

Family Biking in Jasper


9. Go Camping! This Month's Feature - The Elbow Valley, Kananaskis

We recently spent a weekend camping at the Little Elbow Campground in the Elbow Valley. We had a fabulous time and clearly see why it's such a popular place to camp as a family. We had a reservation at the Little Elbow Campground but fortunately there are also many first come first serve campgrounds in the Elbow Valley too.

Here are our top picks for what to do in the Elbow Valley:

1. Hike Forget Me Not Ridge

Forget Me Not Ridge, Elbow Valley

2. Hike Nihahi Ridge

A look at our recent hike on Nihahi Ridge (and you don't have to go this far)

3. Play in the Elbow river and find a hidden beach (there's a great one underneath the suspension bridge in the Little Elbow Campground)

Playing in the Elbow River

4. Hike the Beaver Flats Trail or the Paddy's Flat Trail with toddlers and preschoolers

Playing on the Beaver Flats Trail

5. Hike Prairie Mountain

Hiking on Prairie Mountain

6. Go biking on the Big Elbow or the Little Elbow Trail from the Little Elbow Campground

Biking on the Big Elbow Trail

10. Go Urban with These Great City Adventures in Calgary

So you want to stay close to home one or two days this month? Ok. Here are some suggestions.

1. Plan a Downtown Bike day. We like riding from Edworthy Park to the East Village. We stop at Prince's Island Park to play at the playground, play at the wading pool there, bike to the East Village Playground, visit the St. Patrick's Island playground, go for ice-cream, and then ride home. The full ride is roughly 20 km return and is a full day tour.

2. Visit one of the City's mobile adventure playgrounds.

3. Attend an Unplug and Play event with the City of Calgary.

4. Attend a Lawn Chair Theatre show.

5. Find a Pop Up Picnic downtown Calgary

6. Celebrate Alberta Parks Parks Day at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park on July 16th

7. Attend Parks Day and Creek Fest in Fish Creek Provincial Park on July 17th

8. Plan ahead for the August Long Weekend with Calgary Slide the City or the Inglewood Sun Fest

9. Outside Calgary but worth mentioning, the Canmore Folk Fest is coming up on the August long weekend as well. Buy tickets now!

10. Finally, the kids will always love you if you take them to a new playground! Check out Calgary's best playgrounds here. 

Checking out the new Cycle Tracks downtown (while riding to a pub on 17th Ave for lunch)


Giveaways are courtesy of Sunshine Village Resort and the Banff Canoe Club.

Entries will close on Friday, July 8th at 12:00am MT.
Names will then be drawn and announced with the winners contacted by email. If the winners don't respond by Monday July 11th, new winners will be chosen.

These giveaways are open to any families who plan to be in the Banff area by the end of August. Please note that you will have to pick up your gondola/chair lift tickets at the Sunshine Village office in Calgary and that you will have to visit Sunshine Village on a weekend.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


a Rafflecopter giveaway



Big Thanks to Sunshine Village Resort and the Banff Canoe Club for partnering with me this month in our giveaways.

I also want to say thanks to Revelstoke Mountain Resort for allowing my family to try the new mountain pipe coaster when we are there in August.

Finally, thank you to Resorts of the Canadian Rockies and the Alpine Club of Canada for their continued support.


  1. Tunnel Mountain is a great hike in Banff! Easy enough for families, with great views!

    1. We love Tunnel Mountain too - great first summit for little ones!

    2. Sunshine Meadows is so spectacular - and great for visiting families who may not be big hikers - great views, relatively easy access!

  2. Always love your suggestions! Looking forward to checking out Surveyors Lake and Fernie later this summer!

  3. It's just outside Banff but we love Johnson Lake!

  4. The Vermillion Lakes area in Banff is great for paddling.

  5. Sunshine meadows with the kiddos :)

  6. We are excited about Sunshine Meadows.

  7. I've never paddled in Banff before but would love to try vermillion lakeslakes. Our favourite hike with kids is Fenland trail!

  8. Our kids adored Two Jacks Lakeside, thanks for another great tip Tanya.

  9. Would love to try a hike up to one of the tea houses!

  10. We are going to head up to Johnson lake tomorrow. Thanks as always for the great suggestions. And we were just taking about trying to get the kids out in a canoe this summer. Banff would be much more exciting than the reservoir in Calgary

  11. You have such great guides. We have used a few and hopefully lots more this summer.

  12. We love Tunnel Mountain best so far!

  13. Wow great post! So much content!

  14. We really enjoy Tunnel Mountain. Sunshine Meadows is on the list for this year.

  15. I've never actually paddled in Banff. Would love to give it a go with the kids.

  16. Johnson lake loop was great with the kids and beach time after

  17. We love hiking around Lake minnewanka, we can choose how far to go and the kids always love the water.

  18. Have only ever paddled on moraine lake in Banff NP

  19. I love the hike to The Teahouses in Lake Louise, we would love to paddle in Banff with our three boys!

  20. There are so many great hikes in Banff NP! I'm looking forward to Sunshine Meadows wildflowers this summer and I'd love to do Consolation Lakes as well.

  21. I love camping at Two Jack Lakeside and paddling early morning on the lake.

  22. Love hiking in the winter around the Bow River and around the Cave and Basin. Easy enough with a chariot. Would love to introduce the kids to water activities.

  23. We loved hiking Tunnel Mountain when my parents were over and happy to babysit. Beautiful views across the valley. Johnston Canyon in winter was another beauty, and so was Stewart Canyon. Lots to choose from!

  24. Sunshine meadows..Looking forward to getting out this summer with the kids

  25. Have never paddled so this would be sweet!!

  26. Great blog post!

  27. My two year old son loved visiting the Bankhead train this weekend. He thought it was awesome he got to play on/around the old train!

  28. What an awesome list! I will be saving this page!

  29. I love Valley of the Ten Peaks/Sentinel Pass.

  30. I've never paddled in Banff! Would love to.

  31. Lake Louise is the most beautiful place on earth!

  32. Tried to book surveyors lake this summer and couldn't get a spot! So disappointed, but will try again next summer! Would absolutely love to do sunshine meadows this summer though! Thanks for all tips!

  33. Love Sunshine Meadows - the gondola would be SO much easier to travel up with kids!

  34. Would like to try paddling (and camping) with people at two jack.
    Would like to try Sunshine Meadows, or hike to a tea house.

  35. So excited to try Sunshine meadows now that the gondola can ferry my little ones up with me! And can't wait to check out Banff by canoe. We love Banff Canoe Club!

  36. Thanks for the list to finish my summer hiking schedule!

  37. Thanks, I know where to go this summer.