Thursday, January 12, 2017

Family Hostelling - Book an Entire Wilderness Hostel!

Every winter we book the HI Hilda Creek Hostel for a family trip in our own private hostel. It's easy to book this whole hostel because it only sleeps 6 people. We book all 6 beds with another family and we have a beautiful wilderness oasis all to ourselves.

The HI Hilda Creek Hostel and our Private Wilderness Oasis

The HI Hilda Creek Hostel has two cabins. One is for cooking, eating, and hanging out in. The second is for sleeping and has three bunk beds. This is rustic accommodations at best and you have to be familiar / experienced with winter camping to stay here. There is no running water and so you either have to haul jugs of water in with you or else melt snow to drink. Bathrooms are pit toilets located in a separate building down the hill from the other two cabins. Other than that, heat comes from propane heaters that you'll have to turn on when you arrive, there's no electricity, and no fridge. (So plan your food as you would for backpacking.)

Fortunately with it being winter, you'll always have a good source for keeping food and drinks cold outside the cabin and it's easy to haul coolers in with ice packs. The hostel is located right off the Icefields Parkway on the Banff / Jasper National Park border and is a 5 minute walk from where you'll park your car. We usually find that snowshoes are required to reach the hostel and that sleds are imperative for getting everything in.

To read more about our previous trips to the HI Hilda Creek Hostel check out these following stories:

Raising Tough Kids - Hilda Creek Wilderness Trip

Easter at the Best Wilderness Hostel in the Canadian Rockies 

Moving on to Big Adventures - and the kids get to come along (Autumn trip to Hilda Creek)

There's no Finer Scenery than in the Backcountry above the Hilda Creek Hostel

Want to travel with a larger group of people? Or want something a tad more comfortable with electricity, lights, showers, and even microwaves? Fortunately, there are many other wilderness hostels that can also be reserved as a private booking if you pay for all of the beds at the hostel.

Our Pre-Christmas Trip at the HI Castle Mountain Hostel

In December, 2015 we made our first family trip to the HI Castle Mountain Hostel in Banff the week before Christmas. We went with one other family and the boys slept in the shared boys dorm room while us moms slept in the much nicer shared girls dorm room. (Bet it doesn't surprise you that the girls dorm smells a whole lot prettier!)

Overall we enjoyed our experience but it felt strange to have to split our families up. Each family had one child (a boy) and this left us moms sleeping by ourselves. (And while we really didn't mind making the dads sleep with the kids, it's always nice when you can share the night time responsibilities.)

Sharing a hostel also means that you have to share a kitchen with other people (which can get very crowded if you aren't doing communal meals,) and that you have to share common areas with others who might not be as "accepting" of your children's energy as other families would be. (I do have to say though that most people we've shared hostels with have been very lovely and understanding.)

HI Castle Mountain Common Room and Fireplace

This winter we decided to book the entire HI Castle Mountain Hostel for a group of families. I aimed to have 6 families and figured we'd put 3 families per room. I then split the cost of the entire hostel booking amongst the 6 families (it didn't matter how many kids a family had) and that was how we made it all work.

The hostel sleeps 28 people but we only had 22 people which was a nice number. I don't think I wouldn't have wanted to have packed the place out with every bed filled.

Kids playing in one of the shared dorm rooms (photo: Sean Strang)

Because we had booked the whole hostel we could have shared bedrooms (dads and moms sleeping in the same room with their kids) and we could do a big communal dinner in our private kitchen. We also didn't have to worry too much about our kids running around, waking up early, or younger kids crying. This was our private space for the weekend and we just shared it with two friendly hostel managers who helped to keep everything running smoothly.

Dinner at the HI Castle Mountain Hostel

For more information on booking an entire hostel, please visit the Hostelling International website. The link goes to the "Wilderness Hostels for Groups" page and lists all of the hostels that you can reserve for a complete rental.

Booking a hostel for your next group outing is an easy way to ensure you'll all be under one roof (rather than staying in individual hotel rooms) and is much more comfortable than camping in the winter months. It's a great way to spend Christmas or another holiday with your extended family and friends (or to celebrate an early Christmas trip with friends as we did.)

Group Hostel Life (photo: Sean Strang)

Note that if you want to book an entire hostel you will want to book EARLY. Think, a year in advance.

The HI Castle Mountain Hostel

Our Group Hostelling Experience this past December

We had great plans for the weekend. We wanted to go to Lake Louise and go skiing, we wanted to hike Johnston Canyon, others wanted to go downhill skiing and ice skating at Lake Louise. Then the weekend arrived and it was too cold to do much of anything!

A Cold Weekend at the Castle Mountain Hostel

It was easily -30 C with wind chill the entire time we were at the hostel and it went down close to -40 C overnight with the wind. Cars wouldn't start, families with young children didn't want to brave the cold for long outings, downhill skiing was out of the question (as was ice skating,) and one family actually fled for on Saturday and hopped over the border to BC where it was a bit warmer for a few hours. (and yes, I'll admit, that was me!)

We tried to get outside for very short outings

In the end, members of our group made the short hike to nearby Silverton Falls, the kids played out behind the hostel in the creek bed, we did a TON of indoor crafts and activities, the kids decorated cookies, and we all fled to warmer temperatures on Sunday.

Families who braved the temps to hike to Silverton Falls (photo: Sean Strang)

It was a good weekend but next time we do something like this I honestly home it's a lot warmer!

Thank gosh we had the whole hostel to ourselves!

Other Winter Hostelling Trips

Winter Camping in Kananaskis - HI Kananaskis Hostel 

Affordable Family Ski Vacations in the Canadian Rockies - HI Kananaskis Hostel 

Winter at the HI Castle Mountain Hostel with Kids

Rampart Creek - Our new Favourite Wilderness Hostel 

Beyond Lake Louise Where the Real Ice Magic Begins - HI Mosquito Creek Hostel 

Winter Paradise at Mosquito Creek

It's still Winter at Lake Louise - HI Mosquito Creek 

5 Reasons to Take Your Family to Mosquito Creek this Winter 

Winter Road Trip to Jasper National Park - HI Maligne Canyon 

Winter Escape to Jasper National Park - HI Athabasca Falls

HI Rampart Creek Hostel

Thanks so much to the families who joined us this year at the HI Castle Mountain Hostel and to all those families who have enjoyed winter camping with us at the other hostels over the past several years.

Disclaimer: We paid for our recent stay at the HI Castle Mountain Hostel and this story is neither sponsored or paid for. As always, all words and opinions are my own.


  1. What a great adventure for kids and adults alike. It's nice that it is relatively close to the highway. Thanks for sharing.