Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Fall Biking! 5 Places to Explore with your Family

Summer is slowly creeping away from us as temperatures slowly drop and early season snow blankets the mountains already. Fortunately the snow hasn't quite reached ground level yet at most elevations here and for us, that means we can continue biking till the last trails are too slippery to ride.

We've enjoyed several biking weekends over the past month and have been loving the beautiful fall colors, the cooler temperatures for climbing hills, and the chance to continue doing a sport that we love on trails that are much quieter these days. Below are five places that we've enjoyed fall biking as a family. I hope you'll get the opportunity to plan a trip to one of these locations over the next month. They are also great destinations for a Thanksgiving road trip should you want to make a long weekend out of your adventures.

Fall biking in Drumheller, Alberta Badlands

Fall Biking! 5 Places to Explore with your Family

1. Drumheller and the Alberta Badlands

We took advantage of a free day to go explore Drumheller a few weeks ago. We checked out a brand new bike trail while there (new to us that is) and rode our bikes from just outside McMullen Island Park to the Royal Tyrell Museum on the river parks trail system so that we could take advantage of our Experience Alberta's History Annual Pass.

Biking the Drumheller River Parks Trail System near McMullen Island Park

While the paved riverside trail was generally easy, there is one long hilly stretch leading up to the museum that younger kids may have to walk. I'd also strongly advise sending adults down the hill first on the return ride. There's one blind corner and if you're going too fast, you could easily collide with people walking or riding up. Other than this section though, the ride is relatively flat and you can start your ride downtown by the giant dinosaur if you want to ride further. Our shortened trip from outside the town core was only 6 km return at most.

Biking to the Royal Tyrell Museum, Drumheller

The other bike ride that we LOVE in Drumheller is a bit more "off the beaten path" and will have you feeling like perhaps you should be on a motorized version of your bike. Earlier this summer we rode to the ghost town of Wayne where we got to cross 11 one-lane bridges on a scenic country road. The ride is short and is approximately 10 km return. A stop at the Last Chance Saloon breaks the trip up and makes for an extremely pleasant outing.

Biking the road to the Ghost Town of Wayne, Drumheller

Notes if you want to bike to Wayne with children:

  • You will be sharing the road with vehicles and motor bikes. This is not a bike path. Make sure your children know to stay to the right side of the road. We found most vehicles and bikers to be very respectful of us and most let us cross the bridges first before passing.

  • The motorbikes were quite scary at times when they came up behind us in groups of 10+ riders. Children with sensitivities to loud noise might not enjoy this ride.

  • You will be visiting a "biker bar" should you choose to stop at the Last Chance Saloon. Most visitors to Wayne arrive on motor bike and you will most likely be the only guests on "pedal bikes." There is also a very good chance that you will be the only people with children in the bar. Needless to say, language is sometimes an issue and conversations around you might not always be family-friendly. We didn't really find this to be a big problem but I would suggest going early in the day before the bar gets too busy.
Parked outside the Last Chance Saloon in Wayne

2. Jasper, Northern Rockies

Last September we took a weekend trip to Jasper and fully enjoyed biking around the Town of Jasper's easy trail system. I've written about all of our favourite trails in Jasper in this story: The Best Family Bike Trails in Jasper so you can plot out your adventure should you wish to plan a trip north for Thanksgiving.

Biking Jasper's Easy Trail System

Given Jasper's location, 5 hours from Calgary or 4 hours from Edmonton, you'll need to find a place to stay. I have two suggestions for you that won't involve camping (unless you like cool-weather camping.) First, book a private room at the HI Athabasca Falls Wilderness Hostel. The rooms sleep 5 to 6 people with two bunk beds and a double bed. Cooking facilities are located in a separate shared cabin and  the hostel is quite cozy for a wilderness facility. Bathrooms (pit toilets) are located outside but there is clean filtered drinking water, electricity, and heat at the hostel to make you very comfortable for a weekend.

For more information on the Athabasca Falls hostel, visit the website at the link above.

Checking in at Athabasca Falls Hostel

The second option that I enjoy for cool weather "glamping" in Jasper is to book a cozy resort style cabin with a kitchen. Follow this link to see plenty of other options in Jasper.

And if you want to plan your trip for mid-October, try to plan it around the Jasper Dark Sky Festival.  You'll be able to bike all day and then spend your evenings star gazing or attending free interpretive science shows.

Jasper has many cute cabin resorts perfect for a fall biking weekend

3. Lake Louise, Banff National Park

After hiking in snow last weekend it feels crazy to recommend Lake Louise as a prime "fall biking" location but fortunately the snow tends to stay higher up until November so you still have a month to get out and enjoy the great bike trails here. And yes, I said "bike" trails! Lake Louise has some awesome trails that are much more fun on a bike than they would be on foot. And, they are super fun with kids!!

We spent a day biking at Lake Louise this month and discovered two prime trails for families. The first one is the Tramline Trail which takes you from the lake all the way down to the village. Don't make the kids bike back uphill to the lake at the end and skip setting up a shuttle. We just hung out at the coffee shop in the village while the dads biked back up the road for the vehicles parked at the lake.

Biking from Lake Louise down to the Village on the Tramline Trail

The Tramline Trail is 5 km in length and loses 186 metres in height, all on a good double wide trail that is tracked and groomed for cross country skiing in the winter. The trail is a bit bumpy in spots and I advise having hand brakes for it. That being said, our youngest group rider had coaster brakes and was riding a small 14" bike - and did just fine.

Easy riding on the Tramline Trail at Lake Louise

The second trail that we enjoyed biking was the Bow River Loop which circles the village and campground area. The full loop is 7 km and is relatively flat. The trail is more narrow than the Tramline Trail (single track in nature) but is definitely not super skinny. Kids will enjoy the occasional roots and flowy sections, the bridges, and opportunities to get close to the Bow River.

After riding the Bow River Loop once, I think it will become an annual favourite for our family and I can see us camping at Lake Louise next summer so that we can spend the weekend biking.

Scenic riding on the Bow River Loop, Lake Louise

Where to stay at Lake Louise this fall:

There are private rooms located at the HI Lake Louise Hostel and Alpine Centre where you can hop on the bike trails mentioned above right from your hostel front door. We stayed here last year for the first time and will be making repeat visits.

Stay at the Lake Louise Alpine Centre and you'll be steps away from the bike trails

4. Rocky Mountain House, Central Alberta

When I think of "National Historic Site"  I always seem to think "mountains." This definitely isn't the case in Rocky Mountain House where you can bike to the National Historic Site there to learn about our fur trading history, aboriginal peoples and explorers. We visited the site over the September long weekend and biked the Petro Canada Bicycle Trail from the Town of Rocky Mountain House. The trail was 5 km in length (one way) and relatively flat. We chose to just ride one way while dads rode back for the vehicles so that we could explore the bike trails around the Historic Site after arriving.

Biking on the Petro Canada Bicycle Trail into the Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site

At the Rocky Mountain National Historic Site, we enjoyed biking the David Thompson Trail which is a 3.2 km loop. It took us to the 1799 fort sites of the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company. We biked past the heritage camping area (where families can stay in traditional tipis or canvas tents,) checked out the Brierley rapids (the furthest point the explorers could get in their canoes, going upstream,) and got up close to the bison paddock.

Interpretive Trails at the Historic Site, great for biking or walking

While the Interpretive Centre at the Historic Site is closed for the season after October 1st, you can still bike into the site and explore the park trails. You can also buy tickets for special Halloween themed events in the park running from early through mid October.

Families wanting to camp can still camp at  nearby Crimson Lake Provincial Park. It is open through the end of October.

Displays at the Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site

If camping at Crimson Lake, make sure you check out the Amerada Mountain Bike Trail, 10 km in length, or the Twin Lake - Crimson Lake Trail which connects Rocky Mountain House with Twin Lake and Crimson Lake.

Biking the Amerada Trail, Crimson Lake Provincial Park

For more information on camping at Crimson Lake Provincial Park, please check out my previous story: Crimson Lake Provincial Park - Hidden Gem in Alberta Campgrounds.

Biking the Twin Lake to Crimson Lake Trail

5. Invermere, Radium Hot Springs, and the The Columbia Valley, BC

I couldn't write a fall biking story without including my absolute favourite place to ride in October. This is a regular destination for us over Thanksgiving and the fall colours are absolutely beautiful in this valley.

Thanksgiving Biking in Radium Hot Springs, Sinclair Creek

For a complete list of bike trails that I recommend for families, check out my previous post on the Best Family Bike Trails in the Columbia Valley.

Scenic Views on the Old Coach Trail, Columbia Valley

Also check out Autumn Mountain Biking in the Columbia Valley.

The Radium Hot Springs Bike Park - always a hit with the kids!

For other inspiration, read The Best of the Columbia Valley (Radium Hot Springs to Invermere - and beyond) 

For accommodations in the valley, I'll have to leave the searching to you because we always rent a condo.  Owner Direct Vacations is a good place to get started.

For campers, the Red Streak Campground in Radium Hot Springs is open through the Thanksgiving weekend as is the Canyon RV Resort in Radium and the Fairmont Hot Springs RV Resort.

Deja View! (the unofficial name for the single track loops off of the Old Coach Trail)

Top Gear that We Recommend for Fall Biking

Along with a good bike (because it always starts there) I recommend three key pieces of clothing to make cool weather biking enjoyable.

First, we love wearing a Buff or similar version of the classic "tubular head wrap" underneath our helmets on cooler days. This keeps your ears and face warm without creating a lot of bulkiness underneath the helmet.

Can you see the purple buff under my helmet? My ears were toasty warm on this chilly ride

Second, gloves are paramount to fall biking happiness! And while I'm partial to a cheap pair of fleece mittens for myself, we have two current models of bike gloves that we swear by for our son. On warmer days, we love the ZippyRooz Half Finger Gloves that we got from the Alberta company All Out Kids Gear.

The ZippyRooz gloves have more padding on the palms than the previous kids bike gloves we had and have finger loops to help kids pull their gloves off (without turning them inside out!) They are honestly the best style of bike gloves I've seen yet for kids on the market and are super stretchy so that I can easily get them on my son's hands. (unlike our previous ones where it was always a battle!)

The Zippy Rooz bike gloves come in fun colours and designs along with a full finger version that we'll have to check out for cooler weather next.

ZippyRooz Bike Gloves for warm fall days

The other gloves that we like for colder days are the Outdoor Research Flurry Wool Gloves. My son's are a bit more "basic" than the current model at MEC but we love how warm they are. They also allow kids to still use their brakes and gears (unlike bulkier gloves or mittens.)

The OR Flurry gloves double well as cool weather hiking gloves

Finally, a light puffy is KEY for cool days on a bike. Nothing super heavy but just a light insulated jacket. We are partial to the kids' North Face Jackets and my son is currently wearing the Boy's Thermoball Full Zip Jacket that we got from Canadian company, Altitude Sports. While we wouldn't wear insulated jackets when climbing big hills, they are awesome for leisurely cool weather bike rides, trips to school, and chilly fall days.

Autumn hiking in our new North Face Thermoball puffy

 End of Season Thanks Yous

Thank you to the many sponsors and groups who helped make the content in this story possible.Thank you to Alberta Parks for giving me the honor of being an Alberta Parks Ambassador this season. This has given us the challenge we needed to go out and explore new campgrounds, new parks, and new bike trails.

Big thanks to All Out Kids Gear, ZippyRooz, and Altitude Sports for helping us gear up for fall and for our outdoor pursuits.

Huge thanks to Hostelling International who put us up for a weekend at the Mosquito Creek Hostel so that we could finally spend a weekend biking at Lake Louise.

And finally, we are continually grateful to Spawn Cycles for allowing our son to ride such an amazing bike. We still swear by the 20" Savage 1.0 that Noah rides and thanks to a great mountain bike instructor, he is finally starting to see the value in riding UP the mountain before he can enjoy the ride down. (something I wouldn't want to make my child do on a heavy box store bike that weighs more than he does.)

Parting shot

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Family Backpacking in the Bugaboos, BC

I still remember the first time I saw the granite spires of Bugaboo Provincial Park 11 years ago. We had planned a September backpacking trip to the Conrad Kain Hut with friends and it was our first visit to this provincial park in the Purcell Mountains of Southeastern British Columbia.

Going over a rise on the drive in, we caught our first glimpse of Hounds Tooth Spire and Marmolata Peak, and promptly jumped out of the vehicle, mouths wide open! "Did we suddenly get teletransported to Patagonia" I remember asking? "There's no way we're in Canada anymore" was next out of my mouth.

The Bugaboos with the Conrad Kain Hut

I still get the same feeling that I'm been whisked off to South America every time I visit the Bugaboos, even now after my fourth visit, and I am pretty sure I could never become complacent with this park's beauty no matter how many times I return. One thing that has changed over the years though is that "Bugaboo weekend" doesn't have to equate to "climbing weekend."

Hiking into the Conrad Kain Hut with Hounds Tooth Spire as our backdrop

We've just tackled our first family trip to the Conrad Kain Hut this past summer and it was every bit as enjoyable as previous adult trips. We spent a free day at the hut traversing the wildest terrain our son has experienced yet, and did our first glacier walk as a family (something I never imagined we'd be doing with a 7 year old!) We enjoyed scrambling around the Applebee Dome Campground above the hut, sent the dads off to do a fun little scramble up East Post Spire (the first spire that we'll attempt as a family in another year or two,) and entertained ourselves just playing on giant boulders outside our cozy cabin.

Playing on giant boulders outside the Conrad Kain Hut (Bugaboo Glacier in the background)

Getting to Bugaboo Provincial Park

Bugaboo Provincial Park is located between the towns of Golden and Radium Hot Springs in Southeastern British Columbia.You start your trip from the small town of Brisco, where you leave Hwy 95 and switch to gravel roads for the next 50 kms.

While you won't "need" a 4x4 vehicle, it is recommended that you have something with good clearance on the final section of road leading to the parking lot for the Conrad Kain Hut. You'll also want to protect your vehicle with chicken wire when arriving at the parking lot to ward off feisty porcupines who supposedly like to chew on brake lines and tires at night. (You don't need to do this if just taking a day trip up the valley.)

To note if it's been a while since your last trip to the Bugaboos, the road has improved a LOT. Back when we first visited the Bugaboos, you really did need a 4x4 truck. Today you can make it in with pretty much anything if you drive slowly and proceed with care on the rough sections. Also, you don't need to bring your own chicken wire and stakes anymore. There are bins in the parking lot where people are encouraged to leave their used wire for the next user (and they were full.) I'd still encourage you to bring wooden stakes or long pieces of wood though if you have anything kicking around the house.

Protecting the truck from critters with sharp teeth

Hiking to the Conrad Kain Hut

While there certainly are other hiking trails in the park, the one up to the Conrad Kain Hut is definitely the most popular. It's also the hike that will get you closest to the granite spires, and at 4.6 km in length, is definitely doable as a day trip.

We could have hiked in for the day to introduce our gaggle of kids to the Bugaboos, but why would you when there's a gorgeous backcountry hut perched on a bench overlooking the glacier and several large spires including Snowpatch and Hounds Tooth!

Hiking into the Conrad Kain Hut with a gaggle of kids (Photo: Alyssa Erickson)

The Alpine Club of Canada website told us to expect a 3 hour hike but we got an early start because nothing ever takes "just 3 hours" with kids. Well, this is one trip where I was pleasantly surprised! Our kids, not burdened down by heavy climbing gear (unlike most visitors to the area,) made it to the hut in LESS than 3 hours! My husband jokes that I was the limiting factor in our speed and that we probably could have made it up in 2.5 hours. (And I'd pretend to be offended except that he's probably right.)

One of the more interesting parts of the trail into the Bugaboos (photo: Alyssa Erickson)

While much of the hike is just "steep walking" on a very well maintained trail, there are a few narrow sections with hand lines and cables. I imagine climbers with heavy packs appreciate the extra security if they are feeling unstable with the weight on their backs. Our kids however, were fine and didn't seem too phased by the narrow ledges we had to traverse. My husband briefly put our son on a length of short rope on the way up but we quickly realized it wasn't necessary at all.

Rock stairs carved into the hiking trail up to the Conrad Kain Hut (are we in Peru now?)

For the kids, the highlight of the hike in was the giant ladder that they had to climb to get up a cliff blocking our way to higher slopes. The ladder is permanently bolted in place and very secure. We still kept a careful watch on the kids though and tried to place an adult right behind the youngest children.

Now if every hiking trail had ladders at the cliff bands! (Photo: Alyssa Erickson)

Ladder and ledges aside, it was a beautiful hiking trail and not terribly challenging. If I had to choose the hardest thing about this trail I'd actually say that it's the heat!! It gets pretty intense on warm days when you're down in the trees on this trail. Reaching the upper ledges is actually a relief because you finally get a breeze.

Ladder bridge crossing to reach the Hut with Snowpatch Spire in the background


The Conrad Kain Hut (5 Star Backcountry Lodging in the Bugaboos)

It doesn't get much fancier than the Conrad Kain Hut for backcountry "camping." Maintained by the Alpine Club of Canada under the jurisdiction of BC Parks, this is the only ACC hut that can boast of having electricity, hot running water, lights, and heat!

Thanks to a pretty awesome hydro generator, one could easily be fooled into thinking they were in a front country hostel or lodge while staying at the Conrad Kain Hut. You can walk into the kitchen, turn on a tap, and wash your dishes with clean hot water. You can fill your water bottle straight from the tap (no filtering required!) When it's dark, turn on the lights (no propane lanterns here.) And when it starts to cool off at night, the heaters come on guaranteeing a toasty warm hut stay.

The only challenge with staying at the Conrad Kain Hut is knowing that the next hut you stay at will feel very primitive by comparison.

Kitchen facilities at the Conrad Kain Hut (photo: Alyssa Erickson)

Unlike a luxury hotel, you will be sharing sleeping accommodations at the hut but you can't really expect much more in the backcountry. And at $25.00 a night per person ($50.00 per family,) I'm ok sharing a bedroom with a few strangers.

Fortunately, there are two floors or levels to spread yourselves out on for sleeping and both are above the main cooking and living area. This isn't one of the smaller huts where you'll sleep, eat, and hang out all in the same room. (thank god!) If your child goes to bed early, just put him or her down on the top floor far away from the main area, and they won't hear a peep.

Room with a view at the Conrad Kain Hut (photo: Alyssa Erickson)

For  more information on the hut and what to bring, visit the Alpine Club of Canada's website.

Morning at the Conrad Kain Hut

Exploring Around the Conrad Kain Hut

One doesn't have to go far to get good views from the hut. Simply look out the windows from the tables where you're playing cards, walk outside to the bathrooms, or take a short jaunt through the boulder gardens towards the Bugaboo Glacier.

Team work! (and believe it or not, nobody fell off any of the boulders!)

Our kids loved playing on the huge boulders and practiced a bit of climbing on the biggest one beside the hut.

Two small boys, a stick, and a giant boulder garden for hours of amusement

I'm pretty sure we could have actually spent the whole day just playing outside the hut without going anywhere for a day hike.

Climbing up the biggest boulder outside the hut

Day Hiking from the Conrad Kain Hut

Want to actually go exploring while at the hut? Applebee Dome it is then! The climbers base camp is perched a kilometre above the hut on giant rock slabs. It's an impressive campground to see and the setting is pretty hard to beat for views of the various climbing objectives surrounding the dome.

Applebee dome Campground above the Conrad Kain Hut (photo: Alyssa Erickson)

We took the kids up the well maintained path towards the campground and wow has this trail improved since I first hiked it 11 years ago!!!! I warned everybody about how hard it would be to hike back down at the end on the slippery gravel trail, only to find that they'd carved out rock steps and made it into a pretty decent hiking trail! Thank you to everybody who helped with that!!

Our group of kids on the way up to Applebee Dome

We didn't go all the way to the campground but cut off earlier towards the Crescent Glacier and the Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col. We had no intention of taking the kids anywhere dangerous but knew we could safely do a small circuit around the area, traversing the glacier, and returning via the campground for a round trip distance of roughly 7 km.

Hiking towards the Crescent Glacier below Snowpatch Spire (photo: Alyssa Erickson)

Crossing the glacier was definitely the highlight of the outing and I have dozens of photos I could share! I had never thought of taking kids as young as as 5 - 10 years old on a glacier traverse but the Crescent Glacier was the perfect choice for a family outing. The part that we were on was flat, crevasse free, and without any technical difficulties.

Approaching the glacier on snow fields and rubble covered ice

Those who had helmets wore them but we were not in any danger from rock fall so they weren't needed in any way. We did put ice cleats on every child and adult though so that there was no risk of slipping and falling into the melt water pond at the bottom of the glacier.

Our mighty boys (ages 7 and 8) on Crescent Glacier in the Bugaboos

The kids had a blast running around on the glacier and it's probably the only time in their lives that they'll get to "play" on a glacier without being tied into a rope, without having to follow safety protocol, or without having to walk single file following a leader. The kids ran wild and free across the glacier and it was magical to see.

The kids leading the way across the Crescent Glacier with Bugaboo Spire in the background

Our only challenge now is finding another equally "safe" glacier to play on next summer! I'm not sure we'll find one.

Such great models these kids make!
Wild and Beautiful Bugaboo Provincial Park
The kids giving me their best "mighty mountain man and woman" poses
Summer Goal: Walk on a Glacier - check!

Getting back to the campground from the glacier actually turned out to be a lot more difficult than we'd expected it to be - and was the crux of the whole outing. There was lots of scrambling involved, short cliff bands, route finding, and false endings where our path would end in cliffs (causing us to either help the kids down or find another route around.)

Helping the kids down cliff bands on the way back to the campground

We also had to get around a small pond which ended up being a bit sketchy in spots (cliffs ending in water on one side, snow ending in water on the other side.) I'm happy to say though that nobody fell in!

Crossing snow slopes on our way back to the Applebee Dome

I was so proud of our kids and of how well they did on this wild and crazy adventure in the Bugaboos. There were definitely challenging moments but they rose to the occasion and kept good attitudes through most of it.

Family photo on Crescent Glacier, Bugaboo Provincial Park

The Best Part about the Trip - the Friends!

The hike out from the hut took roughly 2 to 2.5 hours (not much shorter than the hike in actually) and was uneventful, always a good thing. Best of all though, we'd made new friends on our trip that I hope to do many more trips with in the future.

When Outdoor Bloggers meet for the first time in epic places! (photo: Chris Erickson)

We planned the trip with friends visiting from Utah and this was the first time we'd met in person (despite being great friends on social media for years.)

Strangers to Best Friends in a weekend (Photo: Alyssa Erickson)

I'd been collaborating and partnering with Alyssa of the blog, Kid Project, for several years, and this was our first time meeting in person, Utah and Calgary not exactly being neighbors.

The Mighty Bugaboo Junior Explorers

Alyssa and I already knew we'd love each other when we met but fortunately the kids all got along fabulously as well and we ended up spending many days in the mountains together while they spent a month in the Rockies this summer (those stories still to come.) Our husbands even got along super well and got to spend a day doing some multi pitch climbing in August.

The Calgary Team!

Next summer, we have another family from Utah coming to visit us so I'm thinking we'll just continue to invite amazing folks from the US to come visit us for a month each summer. Let me know if you want to come spend a month with us in 2018 and I'll start planning our epic backcountry trip. :)

Hiking out from the Conrad Kain Hut

Want to plan your own trip to the Conrad Kain Hut? 

Please visit the Alpine Club of Canada's website for more information on booking huts. You'll need to be a member to make an advanced booking at most huts but reservations at the Conrad Kain Hut don't require membership since it is under the jurisdiction of BC Parks and not located in a national park. You can make a reservation for the Conrad Kain Hut now for next summer and I'd recommend booking early for prime summer spots.

To read Alyssa's trip report and see more of her photos (some featured in this story) follow this link to Backpacking into the Conrad Kain Hut, Bugaboos.

Parting shot and my best mountain woman pose