Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Three New Alberta Parks Campgrounds to Visit

It feels like we haven't visited a lot of new campgrounds over the past few years because we have so many favourites - and tend to visit them annually. This year however, we made the decision to try at least two or three new campgrounds. We chose to visit one new campground in Southern Alberta, one in Kananaskis, and one that would be closer to Northern Alberta. We recommend all three campgrounds featured below and hope you will add them to your family's camping list.

Beauvais Lake, Southern Alberta (paradise for fishing, biking, and hiking)

Little Elbow Campground, Kananaskis

This campground is located in the Little Elbow Provincial Recreation Area and is one of the only campgrounds you can make a reservation at in the Elbow Valley.

Views from the Big Elbow Trail in the Little Elbow Provincial Recreation Area

Highlights of camping here:

We can be at camp Friday night in time to roast hot dogs over the fire for dinner. The Elbow Valley is a short drive past Bragg Creek and this is ideal for families who work late Friday or just want someplace close for their weekend getaway.

There are many mountain biking and hiking trails around the Elbow Valley. This is a great place to camp for active families. Popular nearby hiking trails are Nihahi Ridge, Powderface Ridge, and the Beaver Flats Interpretive Trail.

The Elbow River is a lot of fun to play in with secret beaches hidden near most campgrounds and enough rocks to entertain the children for hours.

There are several easy mountains and ridges that you can climb in the Elbow Valley. We personally like Nihahi Ridge, Forget me not Ridge, and Prairie Mountain for big hikes.

Hiking on Nihahi Ridge

Why we would return:

We love adventure base camping where we can walk or bike out of our campsite and get onto great trails without having to drive. From the Little Elbow Campground you can hike the Nihahi Ridge Trail or bike the Little Elbow or Big Elbow Trails.

Mountain biking on the Big Elbow Trail

What we did on our recent trip to the Little Elbow Campground:

We hiked Nihahi Ridge all the way to the South Summit (a challenging scramble best suited for older children,) and we biked a short section of the Big Elbow Trail.

Intermediate scrambling on the Nihahi Ridge Trail

Campground details:

For more information on this campground, please visit the Alberta Parks website here.

For information on mountain bike trails in Kananaskis, visit Trail Forks Website and look for trails in the Elbow Valley, on Moose Mountain or in West Bragg Creek.

Beach below the suspension bridge in the Little Elbow Campground


Beauvais Lake Campground, Southern Alberta


Beauvais Lake Provincial Park is located approximately 2.5 hours south of Calgary near the town of Pincher Creek. The Beauvais Lake Campground has both serviced and unserviced sites along with a special walk-in tenting area. There is also a group campground here (where we stayed.) Reservations can be made in advance.

Biking around Beauvais Lake on the South Shore Trail

Highlights of camping here:

This is a paradise of a campground for families who enjoy fishing, paddling, hiking, and mountain biking. There is also a small beach with playground.

The park has over 12 hiking trails around the lake and some of them are suitable for biking on as well. Our favourite for biking was the loop with the Chipman Creek Trail and the South Shore Trail combined with some paved riding between the Beaver Creek Day use area and the North Shore Day use area.

The lake was very quiet and made for beautiful canoeing or kayaking (stand up paddleboarding in my case) without loud motor boats since there was a 12km per hour speed limit for all power boats.

Paddling on Beauvais Lake

Why we would return:

We enjoyed the quiet paddling experience we had on Beauvais Lake and loved the bike loop around Beauvais Lake.

We also enjoyed being situated so close to many other parks we could visit within an easy day trip. From Beauvais Lake you can easily visit Waterton Lakes National Park for a day trip, Crowsnest Pass for a visit to the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre, or Beaver Mines Lake for hiking and beach time.

Visiting the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre in the Crowsnest Pass

 What we did on our recent trip to Beauvais Lake:

We biked around Beauvais Lake, we paddled on the lake, and we spent time with friends in the Homestead Group Campground.

We also took a day trip to Beaver Mines Lake to climb Table Mountain. You can read more of that adventure here: First Summits - Table Mountain, Beaver Mines Lake.

On our drive home, we stopped at the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre so that we could learn more about Canada's deadliest rock slide from Turtle Mountain. The movie we watched brought the fateful night to life for us and I know for myself, I won't be able to drive through the Crowsnest Pass again without thinking about the families who got caught in the slide that night.

Hiking on the Table Mountain Trail, Beaver Mines Lake

Campground details:

For more information on Beauvais Lake, please visit the Alberta Parks website here.

Playground and beach at Beauvais Lake

Gregg Lake Campground, Northern Rockies

We recently spent a few nights camping at Gregg Lake in William A. Switzer Provincial Park located near Hinton in the Northern Rockies. Hinton is only a one hour drive away from the town of Jasper in Jasper National Park so we combined our trip with a few days camping in the national park too.

Kelley's Bathtub, Jarvis Lake

 Highlights of camping here:

There are many different camping options for all different users and preferences of camping style. We chose a power site at  the Gregg Lake Campground but friends wanted to be closer to the lake and chose an unserviced site in a different loop at Gregg Lake. The Jarvis Lake Campground offers a more natural camping experience with 25 unserviced sites. Cache Lake and Graveyard Lake also have small campgrounds with unserviced first come first serve sites. 

The park has two group use areas as well at Beaver Ranch and Pine Bay.

All campgrounds can be seen here on the Alberta Parks website

Along with camping, there are several opportunities for recreation within the park. The most popular ones are fishing, paddling and power boating, hiking, and mountain biking.

Beach playground at Gregg Lake

Why we would return:

We traveled five and a half hours north from Calgary to reach this campground for one main reason; We wanted to paddle the Jarvis Creek Canoe Circuit.  

Jarvis Creek flows out of Jarvis Lake and then passes by Blue Lake, through Cache Lake, by Graveyard Lake and then into Gregg Lake at the end of the circuit. Not really a "circuit" since it's not a loop or anything, it's still a route that passes by or through 5 lakes. 

Most years, paddlers will complete the "interpretive" part of the tour from the end of Jarvis Lake to Graveyard Lake where they take out. This short distance takes 1.5 to 2 hours return if you paddle back upstream to reach your vehicle. 

Paddling on Jarvis Creek

We were incredibly fortunate though in that water levels were exceptionally high! We were able to paddle the entire circuit from the Kelley's Bathtub Visitor Centre on Jarvis Lake all the way to Gregg Lake at the very far end. The full trip took us 3.5 hours one way with a break at Cache Lake. During the entire trip we only had to carry our kayak over the boardwalk at the far end of the Bathtub, over the highway after Jarvis Lake, and over the old bridge near the Trout Pond. Other than that, we ran right over every beaver dam and flew off waterfalls on the other side of each one. It was super fun.

If you are going to do the section past Graveyard Lake check in with the Visitor Centre to find out how deep the water is, how much portaging you will have to do, and how "wild" the creek currently is. We had one crazy ride and I wouldn't recommend the full circuit right now for novice paddlers. There were countless sweepers, we got stuck on top of a stump, and we faced some of the tightest turns I've ever had to navigate around (while ducking under tree branches and paddling through rapids as we'd round a corner and shoot under a bridge or over a beaver dam.) 

Anyway, the canoe circuit made the trip for us and we'd return for it any day!

Easy paddling on the interpretive part of the Jarvis Creek Canoe Circuit

What we did on our recent trip to William A. Switzer Park:

We biked the Gregg Lake Trail (super fun 3.5 km mountain bike loop) - make sure you ride it clockwise heading down on the longer trail and back up on the shorter trail.

Mountain Biking on the Gregg Lake Trail

We kayaked the canoe circuit and I took my stand up paddleboard out on Gregg Lake. I tried to paddle up Jarvis Creek a ways from here but didn't get very far because I haven't figured out how to SUP up over a beaver dam yet.

Paddling through the reeds at the far end of Gregg Lake to reach Jarvis Creek

We took a day trip to Hinton to hike the Beaver Boardwalk, Canada's longest freshwater boardwalk, and we visited the Hinton Mountain Bike Park. It was awesome!!!

Rainy day hiking on the Beaver Boardwalk in Hinton

Campground details:

For more information on William A. Switzer Provincial Park, please visit the Alberta Parks website here.

Note that there are paddleboard, canoe and kayak rentals available in the park at both Jarvis Lake and Gregg Lake as well. 

Please follow this link to see a full list of hiking and biking trails in the park.

Scenic kayaking on Gregg Lake

I hope you'll research these great Alberta Parks Campgrounds and make plans to visit one over the next year or two. They are all great for active families and offer a wide range of recreational activities for you and your children to enjoy.

Playing at the Hinton Mountain Bike Park near William A. Switzer Provincial Park

Disclaimer: I am an Alberta Parks Ambassador and as such received free camping at these three campgrounds. All words and opinions are my own and I wasn't paid or required to write a favorable review for any of these parks.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

First Summits - Table Mountain, Beaver Mines Lake

We spent the Canada Day long weekend camping in Southern Alberta at a beautiful provincial park on Beauvais Lake near Pincher Creek. While there we had one big objective: Climb Table Mountain! While it's not exactly a "popular" hike for folks from Calgary, (and most of you will have never heard of this hike,) it is a special mountain for me personally.

Western Plateau of Table Mountain, Beaver Mines Lake

Ascent #1 of Table Mountain - 3 Months Pregnant

Table Mountain is one of the biggest hikes that I did while I was pregnant with my son, the same son who now climbs mountains side by side with me rather than in my belly! I figured that if I could climb this mountain while pregnant, it couldn't be that hard of a hike and it would be perfect for a family outing. I remembered one short chimney that we had climbed through (with photos to prove that this pregnant mama managed to scramble her way up it,) and remembered a "small bit" of loose scree on the way down. Just a little bit. And that was all I remembered. I did remember liking the hike though. I think... Maybe?

Scrambling up Table Mountain when I was pregnant

In hind site, I have no idea if I ever really liked the climb up Table Mountain when I was pregnant, if I found it challenging or not, or if I swore I'd never hike up it again. I just remember being very hot (since we did it in July on a warm day,) and trying to hike very slowly so that I wouldn't overheat or exhaust myself too much. Those things I do remember.

My husband worried a lot less about me back in our early days. He'd never let me do this now!

Time to Climb Table Mountain Again 

Assuming that a 7 year old could hike the same mountain his pregnant mother had hiked when he was in her belly, we recruited a few other friends to come along on the hike with us while camping at Beauvais Lake. They all had children around the same age as Noah, our son, and I assured them it would be a "walk in the park." I reminded them that I had first done the hike when I was pregnant. I'm positive I told them that it would be relatively easy. "Just a hike with a bit of loose rock here and there." "We'd follow a relatively good trail." "There was just one chimney with a few "hands on" moves..."

Nothing steep or hard about this, right?

I know now that I can no longer trust my memories from the months when I was pregnant.

I know that that I did a lot of crazy stuff when I was pregnant. A LOT!

On of the more "interesting" parts on Table Mountain

I know now that there is a good hiking trail up Table Mountain. But that it was not the route we took when I was pregnant - and it's not the route we followed this time either.

I know now that at least one of my friends likely won't do another "scramble" with me anytime soon.

Not the hiking trail up Table Mountain

And I know now that my son is just as crazy as his mother because he actually liked the climb up Table Mountain, scree bashing and all! (and there were a lot of moments that honestly, were not a lot of fun.)

We spent hours bashing our way up this steep scree.

 Ascent #2 of Table Mountain - Children in Tow

The trailhead for Table Mountain starts from the Beaver Mines Lake Campground, two and a half hours south of Calgary near the town of Pincher Creek.  The trailhead is well marked and there is a  "decent" trail all of the way to the summit. It's steep and loose, but it is a good trail and you shouldn't get lost if you stick to it. Our plan however was to leave the hiking trail to do the "scramble" off trail route. (which would be more direct, steeper, and more interesting.) We set off on the Table Mountain Trail with expectations that the hike would only take four to five hours at most, and that we'd be back at the lake in no time to go for a swim.

The last photo I took on the hiking trail before we headed "off trail" to scramble the mountain

Quick Stats:

Elevation Gain - 740 metres

Expected trip time (according to the guide book) - 3.5 to 5 hours

Guide Book used - More Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies by Andrew Nugara

Guide Book Rating - Easy

"A good choice if time and/or energy are limited."  - Nugara

The guide book told us to hike on the well maintained official trail for 20 minutes until reaching the second big clearing. At this point we were supposed to leave the trail and basically (in my words) - bash your way up roughly 600 metres of scree to the Western Plateau. Sound fun??

For the first couple of hours we saw scree, more scree, and then more scree...

Nugara doesn't make it sound nearly that torturous but "scree bashing" is the best description of what we did. The slog was broken up a couple of times by cliff bands we had to pick our way through (one on purpose because it looked fun and we didn't want to go around,) and one being the chimney I had remembered from our first ascent 7+ years ago.

Cliff bands at least made the route interesting
There were lots of interesting spots as we got closer to the ridge

The small cliff bands were the reason we'd chosen the scramble route
One of the cliff bands we had to climb up
The kids were like mountain goats and did awesome!
This route will be a bit much for novice hikers

Anybody wondering why we left the official trail to bash our way up 600 metres of scree? Answer: Because we are crazy. And because we wanted to find the chimney we both recalled being so much fun right before the Western Plateau.

We got to traverse under this giant cliff face right before the final chimney
Climbing the chimney
Climbing up to the top of the ridge

Anybody wondering where we would have gotten to if we had chosen to stay on the official Table Mountain hiking trail? Answer: The summit. Yes, the official trail goes right to the Western Plateau where you do a pleasant ridge walk to the summit.

the scramble route was hard but parts were a lot of fun!
The final climb to the Western Plateau

Again, why did we choose to do the "scramble" when there was a perfectly good hiking trail to the summit???

I have a few "theories" for why we chose not to take the hiking trail

I think we had "romanticized" the whole "chimney" part of the scramble and we wanted to do this part. We knew the hiking trail avoided it.
We honestly didn't remember the 600 metres of scree bashing. (I didn't anyway)
We took the hiking trail down on our first ascent of Table Mountain and I remembered it being quite loose. It wasn't much fun then and I didn't think it would be any more fun going up this way.
 Because this was the route we "knew." Back before Noah was born, we were dedicated "scramblers." One didn't take the hiking trail if there was a more interesting option.
Finally on top of the Western Plateau
The Western Plateau over Beaver Mines Lake is the big reward at the end of the scramble

Overall Experience Climbing Table Mountain as a Family Hike

The scree bash to the chimney was definitely not a lot of fun. It wasn't "technically" hard or anything, but it was a slog. The kids however were machines and never uttered a word of complaint!! Seriously, they were angels. Meanwhile, a couple of us moms had a few choice words at moments (myself for sure when my husband chose the wrong clearing to head up at the beginning.)

Reaching the Plateau made it all worth it!!

The chimney was just as much fun as I had remembered it being. Noah loved it and it was really easy. However, other scrambly bits were harder than I had remembered and at least one novice hiker in our group was more than a little freaked out by what certainly felt like exposure at times.

Views from the Western Plateau at the top of the chimney

The Western Plateau was glorious, beautiful, and very airy. You definitely didn't want to let the kids get too close to the edge.

Definitely worth the climb!

The walk to the summit across the ridge from the Western Plateau was looooooong!!!!! And I don't remember this part from our first Table Mountain hike at all. I'm honestly surprised the big kids made it (one family chose to stop at this point as they were carrying their two younger children for large portions of the hike) and I still can't get over how positive the kids were about the whole experience.

Walking to the Summit (straight and then left to the high point)
We probably walked for an hour to reach the summit on this ridge
The kids were starting to get tired at this point! (see the Western Plateau in the background?!)

The summit was anti-climatic after the gorgeous views and blocky table like properties of the Western Plateau. One definitely doesn't miss anything if they skip the summit.

Summit Shot of Dad and Son

My new fav. summit pose (with the Western Plateau in the background where we had hiked from)
Tired but we made it!

Here I'm pointing to the far end of the ridge we had hiked from to reach the true summit

After reaching the summit there's bad news - you have to hike ALL the way back to the freakin' Western Plateau to find the trail down!! And it was a long walk over the first time!

Summoning energy for the hike down!

It is really hard to find the "official" descent trail when you chose to scramble up off trail. We wanted to do a loop taking the hiking trail down. Good luck finding the trail though if you do this! It's hidden in the trees off of the Western Plateau and we never did find it until we were well below the ridge.

Scrambling down off of the ridge (again, off of the official trail)

It may have been a mixed blessing that we missed the official trail down at the top because we found the most awesome scree run off of Table Mountain! The kids loved it and were true mountain goats. Our most novice hiker was not so fond of it, but it really was a great scree run down.

Two of the kids running the scree slope down off of Table Mountain

Back on the official trail, we realized that there is no "easy" way up Table Mountain. Even the official trail is loose, nasty, and steep as heck! It wouldn't have been much more fun. And we wouldn't have gotten to do any hands on scrambling.

The official trail (just as loose and steep)

The only injuries of the whole trip happened on the official trail down. I slipped and sprained (bruised, hurt??) a finger, and Noah took a face plant and tumbled head first down some rocks. It definitely wasn't any easier on the official trail.

End Trip Time Result: 7 hours car to car!!

Needless to say we didn't get to the beach at the end of the hike and had to head straight back to camp for dinner.

Easy hiking near the bottom of the official trail

Will we do Table Mountain Again?

No. Not again. And not that I regret doing it. I'm super proud of us all for doing it. It was a great adventure and I'm super happy that we tackled it. And I'm so proud of the kids for making the summit with fabulous energy, attitudes, and determination.

However, it wasn't entirely "fun enough" that we'd do a repeat hike if we happened to be in the area again.

This kid kept running to the very end of the trail! (probably why he face planted down a steep hill!)

Should you Hike Table Mountain with your Family?

Definitely. The views are phenomenal and it's one of the best hikes in the Castle Wilderness area. However, I recommend the hike for children 8-10+ and I do recommend taking the official hiking trail if you want the easiest option. If you want to do the scramble, make sure you pick up a copy of Nugara's book before you go and don't let the "easy" rating fool you.

The scramble route is "easy" for an experienced adult hiker, and is "easy" in that there are no technical moves required. Most of the time you could hike with your hands in your pockets and you would not be seriously injured if you fell. However, for children this is an advanced hike and requires significant experience on easier summits.

Whichever route you choose, Table Mountain is a steep hike. There is no easy way up

Recommended prerequisite hike:  

Ha Ling Peak in Canmore (for both the scramble and the official hiking trail.)

Other First Scrambles


Family-friendly Summits in Jasper National Park

More First Summits - Prairie Mountain, Kananaskis

Ha Ling! My Baby Climbed his First Real Summit

First Summits - The Mighty Yamnuska with a 6 Year Old 

First Summits - Barrier Lake Lookout, Kananaskis 

The Four Summit Day - Ha Ling Peak to Miner's Peak (and beyond)

First Summits - Forget Me Not Ride, Kananaskis 

Copper Mountain from Shadow Lake Lodge, Banff 

First Summits - Polar Peak, Fernie Alpine Resort

Family Hiking at the Next Level - Scrambles and Summits (Nihahi Ridge to the South Summit)

5 Summit Day in Canmore (Kid-Friendly) - Ha Ling Peak and Miner's Peak