Thursday, September 01, 2016

Gotta Do THIS - September Edition

September is one of my favourite months in the year for so many golden glorious reasons. Pumpkin spice lattes return to Starbucks, my favourite sweaters come out of the closet, and the trees - oh the trees! Suddenly an "ordinary" bike ride on Nose Hill becomes an "extraordinary" ride through a kaleidoscope of oranges and yellows. And if you haven't hiked through a forest of golden larch trees at Lake Louise yet - do it!!

The weather will cool off at the beginning of September but it always warms up again ushering in a second summer. Get out and enjoy the beautiful weather, plan a final beach day, head out for a family picnic in the mountains, or take off for one final road trip of the season. Whatever you choose to do, don't let the return to school take over all of your family time. You still have four weekends this month to get out and do something special! Seize the magic of September and plan some special activities this month.

Gotta Do THIS - September Edition

Gotta Do THIS - September Edition

Take a picnic in Banff or Kananaskis 

Popular day use areas start to see a lot less people once the kids go back to school and you might actually find a picnic table now. Check out this story I just wrote for Calgary's Child Magazine with my top suggestions on where to take a picnic this fall. I've included drive-up, hike-in, and paddle-picnic options. Many also have water features as well (beaches, lakes, ponds, and rivers) so bring your swim suits for one final day of splashing around.

Top Ten Places to Picnic in the Mountains this Fall

Fall at Quarry Lake, Canmore

Go Camping one last time

The great thing about fall camping is that you'll be able to get sites at the popular campgrounds, often without a reservation! Mornings and evenings are cool (so get a site with power if you can) but the days will usually warm up enough to fool you into thinking it's still July or August.

Check out this story I wrote for Calgary's Child Magazine with my suggestions for where to go camping in the fall.

Top Five Campgrounds to Visit with your Family this Fall 

Autumn is a beautiful time for camping and exploring in the mountains

Alberta Parks Feature - Visit Fish Creek Provincial Park 

It's rare to find a provincial park located within city limits, but that is our Fish Creek Provincial Park, ideally situated in South Calgary. My family just spent the day biking around this park and we can't wait to go back this month when the trees will all be golden around us. I've heard that the park is absolutely spectacular in the fall and that it's a prime location for autumn family photos.

Exploring Fish Creek near Bebo Grove day use area

Top highlights in the park:

  • Beach day at Sikome Aquatic Facility (and yes, there are admission fees for 2016 but a family day pass is only $10.00 and that's pretty cheap for family entertainment. Also consider, how much would you spend for the whole family to go swimming at a city leisure centre? A lot more than $10.00 and this facility has a huge beach!! I'd say that's money well spent.)

  • Go Biking! Seriously, I was blown away by the quality and variety of paved, granular (gravel,) and single-track trails in the park. We started at Bebo Grove and biked to Shannon Terrace a week ago on a mixture of trails. We started off on the fun single-track trails and then when we wanted something easier for the return ride, we just hopped onto the wider paved and granular trails for the way back. Next time we want to bike all the way from Bebo Grove to Bow Valley Ranch.

  • Stop in at Annie's Cafe for ice-cream. (Located near Bow Valley Ranch if you are biking/walking in the park)

  • Have a picnic at one of the many day use areas in the park
Sikome Aquatic Facility


Go for a Fall Colour Hike or Bike Ride in Calgary 

There is no one "best" place in Calgary to go for an autumn walk or bike ride but I do have my favourites and we visit these parks every year to get gorgeous family photos.

Below are some of our favourite places to explore each fall within the Calgary city limits:

Bowness Park  and Baker Park (Paved loop, approx. 3 km distance. There is a playground in Bowness Park and you'll find larch trees in Baker Park)

Bowmont Natural Area (Easy to access from Bowness or Baker Park. The pond under the train bridge is fun to play in. There are both paved and natural trails to hike or bike)

Autumn is a great time for biking in Calgary's parks

Nose Hill Park (Best color loop: Start at the Brisebois parking lot off of John Laurie Blvd and walk up the paved trail, continuing straight at the first natural trail you'll come to where the paved trail curves left. This takes you to the top of the hill and from here you can continue into the quarry on an old gravel road where there is a seasonal pond. Loop back on old wagon roads and grass pathways back to the paved path)

Confederation Park (Great trees and a duck pond kids love. There is a short paved path around the pond)

Bow River Pathway (We love riding along the paved Bow River Pathway from Shouldice Park to Edworthy Park or beyond to downtown. The trees are gorgeous along the path and it's easy flat riding)

Hiking in Nose Hill Park


City of Calgary Pathway Map with distances 

Urban Hikes in Calgary

Nose Hill Park is glorious late September

Take a Golden Larch Hike in the Mountains

A larch tree looks like a normal evergreen tree until the third week of September when the needles turn bright golden yellow and begin to slowly fall off for the winter. New needles come back the following spring, making this a very unusual "evergreen tree" since it's definitely not green year round. In winter, you'd just see a bare trunk and branches (like any deciduous tree.)

The peak time to see larch trees in all their autumn splendor is the third weekend of September here in the Rocky Mountains. So, this year, you want to do your larch hike on the weekend of September 24th or 25th.

Want to do a fall hike and see golden larch trees? The trails below are the most popular trails (for very good reason.) They are also the busiest so if you can go mid-week, do it!! If you have to go on Saturday or Sunday, start crazy early!! Also, consider taking the shuttle bus to Moraine Lake if you want to hike to Larch Valley rather than trying to get into the parking lot.

Larch Trees in Larch Valley, Moraine Lake

Top Day Hikes to see Larch Trees:

Larch Valley, Moraine Lake - 7 km return to reach the most magical valley at Lake Louise. Larch Valley is also referred to as "Valley of the Ten Peaks," and you'll quickly see why when you reach the first meadow. It is 11.6 km return if you go all the way to Sentinel Pass (which you should if your kids have the stamina for the 700 metres of height gain. From the top of the pass, it's larch trees as far as the eyes can see in every direction.

Hiking through golden larch trees in Larch Valley

Saddleback Pass and Mount Fairview -Not as popular as Larch Valley, this can be a great option on a busy weekend. It is 3.7 km to the pass from where you have two options. Option one: scramble an extra 100 metres up to the summit of Saddle Mountain (to your left) for a total of roughly 700 metres of height gain. Option two: hike to the summit of Fairview Mountain in a total height gain of 1000 metres. It takes a big push at the end (and lots of candy) but the views are worth it!! And don't worry about not seeing enough larch trees because that's all you'll see in every direction from either summit.

Saddle Mountain Summit looking down at Saddleback Pass

Lake Agnes Tea House, Lake Louise - While maybe not "as incredible" as Larch Valley or Saddleback Pass, this hike is much easier and better with young children. The hike is 6.8 km round trip to a beautiful tea house, small lake, and gorgeous little larch forest en route to the Big Bee Hive above the lake. It is an extra 3.2 km round trip to reach the Big Bee Hive viewpoint above Lake Agnes with an extra 100 metres of height gain. (520 metres total)

No filter, no editing required. This is why people hike at Lake Louise in September

Sunshine Meadows, Banff  - This is easily one of the most beautiful places to hike in Banff, and in autumn it is one of the best places to see golden larch trees without a whole lot of effort. Visit Sunshine Meadows Ski Resort and enjoy bus shuttle service from White Mountain Adventures up to the village (with special discounts after September 19th until the end of the season.) The total loop including Rock Isle Lake, Sunshine Meadows, Grizzly Lake, and Larynx Lake is roughly 8 km in distance from the Village.

Read about our previous fall hike around Sunshine Meadows here. 

Rock Isle Lake, Sunshine Meadows

Ptarmigan Cirque, Kananaskis - Located at Highwood Pass in Kananaskis, this is a 4.5 km loop hike with a gorgeous alpine basin and a small larch forest. It is less popular than other options here (and hence great for weekends with kids!!)

Even the grass is golden at Ptarmigan Cirque

Lake O'Hara, Yoho National Park - There's not much to say about this one because if you're going, you already have your bus reservations and have had them for months!! However, put a note on your calendar for April next year and try to get into this gorgeous area for a day hike in larch season. You won't be disappointed.

Lake O'Hara and the Opabin Basin in September

Overnight Trips to see Larch Trees

Check out the following stories to read about a couple of amazing backcountry trips we've taken at the end of September:

Magical Autumn Hiking on the Bow Valley Highline Trail (Shadow Lake to Gibbon Pass)

Family Backpacking in Banff (no tent required) - Shadow Lake Lodge

Copper Mountain above Shadow Lake (larch trees in every direction below us)

Backcountry Banff with Kids - Egypt Lake (Sunshine Village to Egypt Lake)

Healy Pass on our Egypt Lake backpacking trip

Climb a Mountain

Each month I like to feature a mountain that you can climb with your family. This time, I'm choosing the East End of Mount Rundle (EEOR) to the ridge top above Canmore. Getting to the actual summit on the east end of Mount Rundle is not for the faint of heart and I can't really recommend it as a family hike unless you have a lot of scrambling experience under your belt with kids. We made it to the summit this summer but it was challenging to say the least.

Getting to the ridge on EEOR however is not terribly scary or hard (with a bit of care on the odd narrow spot) and offers breathtaking views down to the Town of Canmore and the Spray Valley.

Scenery en route to the East End of Mt.  Rundle Ridge Top

If interested, take a read of our trip report, First Summits - East End of Mount Rundle Summit as a family, and be inspired by the photos from the ridge. I'd recommend the trip as a follow up to neighboring Ha Ling Peak. If you haven't done that one yet, perhaps start there first. Then move on to EEOR if you found Ha Ling to be easy as a family.

on the Ridge of the East End of Mount Rundle


Take a Fall Road Trip 

We love to go to Radium Hot Springs or Invermere for Thanksgiving if not heading home to visit family. The weather is always warm in the Columbia Valley until late October and you can still enjoy mountain biking, hiking, swimming at the heated hot springs pool (with diving board,) and paddling on the Columbia River. We've also headed out to this sunny valley on warm weekends in September and always enjoyed the beautiful fall colours.

Last year we also took a weekend trip to Jasper in mid-September and really enjoyed biking the quiet trails around town. The tourists had long gone home for the season and the town was back to being the peaceful place I remembered from my childhood.

Mountain biking in the Columbia Valley at Thanksgiving

You can read about both of these destinations in previous stories I've written:

Autumn Adventure Weekend in Jasper

Thanksgiving at Lake Lillian in the Columbia Valley

Autumn Mountain Biking in the Columbia Valley

Jasper has hot springs! Perfect for autumn road tripping!

Have a great month and colour it golden! :)

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