Monday, December 05, 2016

Gotta do THIS - The Christmas Edition

There's finally snow on the ground, my house is decorated for the holidays, and I've been listening to Christmas music for two weeks already. I love December and I always have a huge list of fun things that we want to do to celebrate Christmas and the holiday season.

Gotta do THIS - Christmas in the Canadian Rockies

Hopefully you've already read Gotta do THIS - The December Edition. It focuses on winter hiking, snowshoeing, canyon and ice walks, cross country skiing, and mountain skating. There are also two giveaways to help families with young children get outside more easily this winter.

I originally intended to include Christmas and holiday activities in "Gotta do THIS December" but changed my mind when I realized you would need an hour to go through all of the information I wanted to share!

I decided to write a second Gotta do THIS post this month dedicated purely to the topic of getting outside this holiday season, to finding ways to celebrate an outdoor Christmas, and to enjoying this dark time of the year underneath beautiful twinkling lights with the family.

Everybody looks good in a Santa hat

Gotta do THIS - The Christmas Edition


One - Attend a Fun Family Outdoor Christmas Event

We have several favourite Christmas events that we attend annually as a family. Then there are always new events that we discover each year - ensuring our calendar stays nice and full. Add a few to your own calendar and make some fun memories this season.

1. The CP Holiday Train -  This beautifully lit up train travels across Canada each December collecting donations for local food banks and spreading holiday cheer with live entertainment. A stage opens out of one of the box cars and it's always a big party with kids dancing in front of the colorful train.

The CP Holiday Train rolling across the country

We like seeing the holiday train in Airdrie so that we can go to the Airdrie Festival of Lights at the same time and take a ride on one of the miniature trains. This year the CP Holiday Train arrives at Nose Creek Park in Airdrie at 5:30pm on Friday, December 9th. The entertainment goes from 5:45 - 6:15.

Families may also want to travel out to the mountains to see the train. It travels to Cochrane, Morley, Canmore, and Banff on Monday, December 12th this year with 45 minute stops in each town. The full schedule can be seen here (including the date for Calgary.)

Concert on the CP Holiday Train Stage

2.  The Spirit of Christmas in Bragg Creek - This festival runs on two more days this weekend, December 10th and 11th with reindeer showing up on the 11th. While you probably won't spend the entire day at the festival, it's fun to head out for a short ski or hike in West Bragg Creek and then stop by on your way home to take in some of the free family activities, to see Santa and his reindeer, and to enjoy a wagon ride. (Our highlight one year was the wagon ride with Santa riding along with us leading us in Christmas carols.)

Santa and Reindeer for the Win in Bragg Creek

If you want to visit the Spirit of Christmas with my family and join us for some cross country skiing or snowshoeing in West Bragg Creek first, send me a message. It's officially on my calendar for this Sunday, December 11th so that we can see the reindeer.

Wagon Rides with Santa in Bragg Creek

3. The Lion's Festival of Lights, Confederation Park  - The 30th annual Festival of Lights runs nightly until January 8th in NW Calgary. While you can just park near the gates and walk in to see the lights, we like to park over by the Confederation Park Golf Course off Collingwood Drive and then we like to ski or hike across the golf course. Sledding has also been fun in previous years but it looks like they have a light display on the hill we normally slide down this year.

Sledding at the Lion's Festival of Lights

4. Zoo Lights at the Calgary Zoo - This popular event is back until January 8th and I recommend going early! By 7:30pm it's so crowded you can't move in the park and the line up to buy tickets is insane! Go at 4:00pm if you have an annual zoo pass (or earlier if you want to spend the afternoon looking at the animals.) And if you are paying zoo light pricing rather than for a day admission, you can pay and enter the park as early as 4:30pm. At this time, there are no line ups and you'll still get to see a few animals before the buildings close for the night.

Zoo Lights at the Calgary Zoo

We went to zoo lights last Saturday at 4pm with our annual passes and friends arrived at 4:30pm, paying zoo light pricing. We visited a few animals, had dinner at the cafeteria, and had the whole park to ourselves. AND the lights were on by 5pm. By the time the park started to get busy, we were on our way home having already seen Santa, toured the lights, and played in the giant hay pile for over half an hour. Next time we go, we'll take advantage of the free skate rentals and skating rink.

Santa at the Calgary Zoo

5. Mountaintop Christmas at the Banff Gondola - Free with your admission to the Banff Gondola, you can visit with Santa, decorate Christmas cookies, make a craft, and participate in a fun family scavenger hunt. Take a tour of the new interpretive centre, have lunch in the newly renovated cafeteria, and fly over Banff in the incredible movie playing in the theatre.

And for those on a budget, you don't have to pay to ride the gondola down in the winter if you hike up. The trail is pretty snowy right now though so if you plan on hiking up the 700 metres of height to the top of the gondola, bring spikes or ice cleats for traction.

Santa found his way to the top of the gondola in Banff

6. Skate with Santa at the Canmore Nordic Centre - I've got this one on the calendar for December 22nd because it seems like a great way to get out for a family-friendly ski at the Nordic Centre and then enjoy some skating afterwards.

Trail fees are in effect for skiing at the Nordic Centre but the RE/MAX annual community skate with Santa is free. I've heard that the event takes place from 4:30 - 7:30 pm but it would be a good idea to call the Nordic Centre to confirm before heading out.

Learning to ski at the Canmore Nordic Centre

7. Ski With Santa at Nakiska Ski Area - Ski with Santa on December 24th at Nakiska Ski Area in Kananaskis. And personally, I'm thrilled that this is on the 24th and not the 25th. We might actually make it out this year to look for Santa on the slopes. AND then when we're done, we can head over to the Delta Lodge at Kananaskis to look for Santa's reindeer (more on that below under getaways for Christmas.)

Ski with Santa at Nakiska Ski Area this Christmas

8. New Year's Eve Party on the Pond in Canmore -  We've never spent New Year's Eve in Canmore before but this would be my top pick for how to spend New Year's in the Canadian Rockies. Enjoy skating on the pond downtown Canmore with fireworks as you start a new family tradition.
And while I can't speak for availability, the Alpine Club of Canada has affordable family accommodations at their Canmore Club House. There are also plenty of hotels and resorts nearby as well so do a quick search to see if you can find something close by rather than having to drive back to Calgary at midnight.

Skating is always a fun activity to do over the holidays

Two - Plan a Pre-Christmas Mountain Getaway

Spend Christmas at a Wilderness Hostel

We like to spend the weekend before Christmas at a remote wilderness hostel in Kananaskis or Banff and have been doing this for several years now. We go skiing, snowshoeing, skating, and play in the snow with friends. Some years we've made gingerbread houses and other years we've exchanged a few presents.

Christmas at Mosquito Creek

Below are some of my pre-Christmas wilderness hostelling stories if you'd like to be inspired to try this yourself.

Christmas Getaway in Kananaskis at the HI Kananaskis Hostel

Christmas Getaway at the HI Castle Mountain Hostel

Christmas Getaway at the HI Mosquito Creek Hostel

Christmas in Kananaskis at the HI Kananaskis Hostel

Have a bigger budget and want to spend a few nights in the mountains this Christmas? Below are my top picks for where to spend a truly magical Rocky Mountain Christmas.


Spend Christmas at Emerald Lake Lodge, Yoho National Park, BC

With ski or hike in/out cabins on the lakeshore, Emerald Lake Lodge is a great place for active families wanting to play in the snow without going far from their hotel room. Families can ski or hike across the lake, ski or hike the circuit around the lake, or ski/hike on numerous other trails in the area. You can even ski from the lake down to the Town of Field (which would be awesome with a second vehicle down there waiting for you.)

The resort has a great outdoor hot tub as well and the dining is some of the best in the Rockies.

It can be noted too that the last time I stayed here, I proclaimed that camping was stupid and that I was born to be a princess within the first 5 minutes of arriving. So take mom here and treat her like a princess for a couple of nights. 

Cabins along the lakeshore of Emerald Lake

 For more inspiration check out these links:

Christmas at Emerald Lake and Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts

Four Reasons to Celebrate the Holiday Season in the Rockies

Special Packages at the CRMR Resorts (including for Christmas and New Years)

Hiking across Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park



Spend Christmas at the Delta Lodge at Kananaskis

One of our favourite places to head for a day trip before Christmas is Kananaskis Village (and if you can stay overnight at the Delta Lodge it's even better!) We go cross country skiing or hiking at Ribbon Creek, go downhill skiing at Nakiska Ski Area, skate on the outdoor pond at the village, visit with the reindeer (they'll be at the Delta Lodge this year on the 23rd, 24th and 25th,) and hang out inside the Delta Lodge by the beautiful fireplace.

Stay overnight and you can also enjoy the amazing swimming pool and hot tub as well as stay for dinner in one of the excellent restaurants (something we even do on day trips occasionally.)

Finally, you can literally ski or hike right out the door of the lodge. From the lodge you can ski down to Ribbon Creek, ski down to a connector trail that takes you to Wedge Pond, or hike around the Village on signed snowshoe trails. You'll never need to drive anywhere if you choose to cross country ski, snowshoe, or go skating. There's even a small sledding hill at the resort and Nakiska is only a 5 minute drive up the road.

Christmas at the Delta Lodge at Kananaskis

For more information check out these links:

Christmas and New Years Festivities at the Delta Lodge at Kananaskis

Deals and Packages at the Delta Lodge
Merry Mountain Christmas Package at the Delta Lodge

Ten Reasons to Spend Time at Kananaskis Village This Winter 

Ski Trails at Kananaskis Village


Spend Christmas at Mount Engadine Lodge, Kananaskis

If there's one place I've truly fallen in love with over the years, it's Mount Engadine Lodge. We've stayed here numerous times (winter and summer) and have always had an extremely memorable stay.

Top Reasons to stay at Mount Engadine Lodge:

  • NEW cross country ski trails being built right outside the door

  • Easy access to the Mount Shark ski trails, Chester Lake, and Rummel Lake

  • Close to Canmore if driving out Saturday afternoon after spending the day in the Bow Valley

  • Amazing location in Spray Valley Provincial Park with SNOW that you have to see to believe

  • Beautiful lodge rooms, cabins and suites in what feels like a backcountry ski lodge - but that has drive up access

  • All inclusive stays with lodging + all meals included

  • A cozy rustic yurt on site for those who want to try winter camping with all the comforts of the lodge and meals next door
Mount Engadine Lodge from the meadow below

For more inspiration check out these links:

Yurt Camping in Kananaskis at Mount Engadine Lodge

Paradise at Mount Engadine Lodge

Yurt Camping at Mount Engadine Lodge

Christmas Day Trips

Don't have the time, budget, or energy to plan an overnight trip right before Christmas? You can still round up your Santa hats and head out for a day hike. Check out our photos from last year's Christmas hike in Johnston Canyon in this story.

Christmas hiking at Johnston Canyon

Three - Plan a New Years Getaway

We love going away for New Years with friends and sharing a cabin or condo so that we can celebrate New Year's Eve with the kids during the daytime but then continue the celebration after the kids have gone to bed. This is much harder to do if you all have to go back to your own house by 8pm to put the kids to bed.

New Years Fireworks in Radium Hot Springs

Travel Spotlight: Radium Hot Springs and the Columbia Valley

We love going to the Columbia Valley in BC for New Year's. There are fireworks on the 31st in the Town of Radium Hot Springs and there's no shortage of things to do in the valley!

Some of our favourite things to do in the Columbia Valley over New Years:

  • Go skating on the Invermere Whiteway on Lake Windermere - when frozen, the lake has a giant oval cleared for skating with groomed ski tracks created around the outside of the skating loop. It is the longest skating trail in the world at over 30 km in length. There are also several hockey rinks cleared on the lake and fat biking is another popular sport enjoyed by locals on the lake.

  • Go cross country skiing at Panorama Mountain Resort or on Lake Lillian. The trails are maintained by the Toby Creek Nordic Club and they do a fabulous job. This year we are determined to make it up to the Hale Hut (with the kids skiing on their own up there) and we might try some downhill skiing at the resort too.

  • Go cross country skiing at Nipika Mountain Resort just outside of Radium Hot Springs. The Natural Bridge is really cool to ski to and we like doing the loop to return via the Canyon Bridge. There are also warming huts spread out around the property which makes for a family-friendly way to ski with young children.

Skiing at Panorama Mountain Resort

Additional Inspiration and Reading

Spend Christmas Outdoors

How to Celebrate an Outdoor Christmas

10 Ways to Celebrate a Calgary Outdoor Christmas 

Check out my Christmas Pinterest Page

Gotta do THIS - December Edition 

Holiday Gift Guide for Outdoor Families (2016)

Winter Escapes in the Columbia Valley

Waking up to a New Year in the Columbia Valley

Celebrating an Outdoor Christmas

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