Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Gotta do THIS - April 2017 Edition

Wondering what you can hike right now without needing ice cleats or spikes? Wanting to get out for that first camping trip and not sure what's open? Maybe you aren't done with winter yet and still want to get out skiing a couple more times. Or perhaps the warm spring weather is making you long to do a short road trip somewhere near Calgary and you'd like a suggestion or two.

Spring Hiking in Kananaskis. Gotta do THIS April (photo: Prairie Mountain, Elbow Valley)

Welcome to the second year of "Gotta do THIS," a monthly post filled with cool ideas of things to do in Southern Alberta surrounding Calgary, my home base. Each month I provide road trip suggestions as well to cover the entire Canadian Rockies across Alberta and British Columbia.

Note that much of this will look very "similar" to last year's April edition. I added some fresh ideas for 2017 but I also have a healthy philosophy that if it isn't broken, there's no need to fix something - and I came up with a lot of awesome ideas last April (that are still awesome!)


Gotta Do THIS - April 2017 Edition

1. Climb a Mountain

Copied over from the March edition of "Gotta do THIS," Prairie Mountain is our annual "first summit" that we tackle each spring as we train up for bigger things. It's safe, there's no avalanche danger, and you don't risk falling off a narrow ridge at any point on the hike.

Last year we only needed spikes at the very top before hitting the ridge but in previous years, we've worn spikes or ice cleats most of the hike. Play it safe, bring some kind of traction device for your hiking boots and choose a nice sunny day.

The Summit Ridge of Prairie Mountain last March, 2016

To read about our previous adventures climbing Prairie Mountain follow this link to More First Summits: Prairie Mountain, Kananaskis.

Prairie Mountain is a classic spring training hike

2. Go Biking on Highway 66 in the Elbow Valley

An annual favourite activity of ours in April, save this trip for later in the month to guarantee a snow-free experience.

Highway 66 past Elbow Falls is vehicle free until May 15th. Seize the opportunity to ride a wide open highway with no cars to worry about. We like to bike from the closed gate above Elbow Falls to the Beaver Flats Campground. We bike down into the campground (go left into the campground) and we head to the Beaver Flats Trailhead. From here we hike to the beaver pond to play and look for water bugs. Expect some mud but the trail is usually snow free in April.

Biking Highway 66 in the Elbow Valley last March, 2016

The highway is relatively flat (slight uphill grade to Beaver Flats) and is great for young kids learning to ride, tots on balance bikes, and families pulling chariots or bike trailers. Pack a picnic lunch and make a day of this fun outing near Calgary. And don't worry about parking - you'll find out rather quickly that everybody just parks along the side of the highway before the closed gate above Elbow Falls. Go early if you don't want to be a mile back from the gate! Alternately park down in the Elbow Falls day use area where you'll find bathrooms.

Family Bike Outing in the Elbow Valley

Return distance to Beaver Flats and back is roughly 3 to 4 km so most young children should be able to do this ride with few difficulties.

Playing at the beaver pond on the Beaver Flats Trail

More suggestions for spring biking can be found here at Kids on Wheels: The Best Spring Bike Rides in Kananaskis.

Biking on the Beaver Flats Trail, Elbow Valley

3. Take a Day Trip to Drumheller and Bike to a Ghost Town

Last spring we took a day trip to Drumheller to visit the Royal Tyrell Museum and decided to visit the ghost town of Wayne while in the area. We wanted to do things a little differently though so we decided to bike to Wayne for drinks at the Last Chance Saloon (completely family-friendly in case you're wondering why I am suggesting you bike to a pub.)

Visiting the Ghost Town of Wayne near Drumheller

While biking (or driving) to Wayne, you will cross 11 one-lane bridges on this scenic country road. The ride is short if you want to bring your bikes and is approximately 10 km return. The stop at the saloon breaks the trip up and it's an extremely pleasant outing.

Biking across one of the 11 one-lane bridges on the way to Wayne

Notes if you want to bike to Wayne with children:

  • You will be sharing the road with vehicles and motor bikes. 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." 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. (Going in April will also help before the majority of bikes come out for the season.)

Not your average way to ride to the Last Chance Saloon

Overall, we found this to be an incredible experience biking through the badlands to a ghost town and we'd do the trip again.

Not your "every day" experience in the Alberta Badlands

Option B for Biking in Drumheller:

For a "safer" and more "family-friendly" biking experience with young children in Drumheller, I  recommend biking the paved river parks trail system  to the Royal Tyrell Museum. We started from McMullen Island Park but you could also start right downtown by the big dinosaur and the Visitor Centre.

Biking the River Parks Trail System in Drumheller

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


4. Enjoy an Easy Spring Hike

My top pick for the month of April would be the Many Springs Trail in Bow Valley Provincial Park combined with an easy bike ride from the Middle Lake Day Use Area. The whole campground is currently closed past Middle Lake until April 28th so you'll enjoy riding the roads without cars on them. You can stop at the playground in the group campground en route to Many Springs as well and have a picnic lunch here.

Biking in Bow Valley Provincial Park to the Many Springs Trailhead

For full details on the  bike/hike, read this story that I wrote back in 2013 when we first discovered this great spring day trip: The Bow Valley Biker Gang

Hiking the Many Springs Trail in Bow Valley Provincial Park

Full information on all of our favourite spring hikes can be found here: The Top Ten Spring Family Hikes in Kananaskis. 

The Flowing Water Trail is a Family Spring Favourite in Bow Valley Provincial Park

5. Take a Spring Getaways to the Sunny Columbia Valley

My top pick for a  spring getaway in April is the Columbia Valley (Radium Hot Springs or Invermere) in BC. It's a close drive for a weekend away and you'll find green grass, mountain bike trails that are good to go without mud or snow, and no shortage of things to do from hiking to swimming in hot spring pools.

Spring swimming at Radium Hot Springs

I've written a full story for Calgary's Child Magazine on the best of spring in the Columbia Valley and it can be found here: Explore Columbia Valley, BC this Spring.

Spring paddling in Invermere, BC

You can also find more on spring in the Columbia Valley here in these stories:

Want Spring? Head West to the Columbia Valley

Kids on Wheels: Biking the Columbia Valley 

The Best of the Columbia Valley (Radium Hot Springs to Invermere and beyond)

Spring Hiking in the Columbia Valley

6. Take a Spring Camping Trip

Ready to go camping? Here are some suggestions for early season campgrounds open in April:

Willow Rock Campground - Bow Valley Provincial Park. This is the access point for the Flowing Waters hike and is right across the road from the main Bow Valley Campground for biking/hiking the Many Springs Trail. And don't worry if you only see the RV part of the campground at first. There are lovely spots in the trees down below. No reservations are required to camp here so just show up if you want to head out on a nice weekend. The campground opens for the season on April 1st.

Dinosaur Provincial Park - Reservations are not required yet if you want to seize prime spots in this top Alberta campground before May. This is a great place to go camping in April with warmer temperatures and great hikes through the Alberta Badlands. Enjoy a quiet campground before the crowds descend over the May long weekend.

Spring Camping at Willow Rock in Bow Valley Provincial Park (open as of April 1st)

7. Catch a Final Day of Spring Skiing

Now is a great time to enjoy a final day at Nakiska with those family passes you might have. The ski hill is still open and will be through most of April.

And find out about Nakiska's Spring Fiesta Weekends in my newest story: Ten Tips for AWESOME Spring Skiing - Nakiska Ski Resort.

Spring Skiing at Nakiska Mountain Resort

8. Explore the Icefields Parkway between Lake Louise and Jasper

Spring is one of my favourite times to explore the Icefields Parkway where there's still snow well into April for skiing, snowshoeing, and playing.

We stay in wilderness hostels,  renting a dorm room for our family and friends if we can't get a private room. (And secret tip: many hostels have dorm rooms that only sleep 6 people, making it very easy to rent an entire dorm - even if your kids are too young to normally sleep in a shared dorm room.)

By staying overnight in hostels along the Icefields Parkway, we have discovered secret canyons, ice caves, frozen waterfalls, magical creeks, and winter wonderland post card photos around each corner.

Hidden ice falls along Mosquito Creek on the Icefields Parkway, 20 minutes north of Lake Louise

Note when booking beds at wilderness hostels, children have to be 6 years old to stay in a shared dorm room. Get around this by booking an entire dorm room (Rampart Creek rooms sleep six people and Mosquito Creek rooms sleep twelve people.) Hilda Creek only sleeps six people in the entire hostel so you can easily book all six beds for your own private cabin. And if you go mid-week, you might be able to grab a private room at Mosquito Creek. (these private rooms sleep five people in a separate cabin which has two bedrooms and its own kitchen.)

Stay at HI Hilda Creek and rent the entire hostel (which only sleeps 6 people!)

Below are some stories I've written about our adventures along the Icefields Parkway. And, I did check to see if there was still space in any of the hostels along the parkway. Both Rampart Creek and Mosquito Creek have available beds on weekends in April. Hilda Creek is full on weekends, but you would definitely be able to find space mid-week.

HI Rampart Creek (dorm rooms sleep 6 people)

HI Mosquito Creek Hostel

25 minutes north of Lake Louise

5 Reasons to Take Your Family to Mosquito Creek this winter  

Beyond Lake Louise - Where the Real Magic Begins  (Mosquito Creek and Bow Lake)

It's Still Winter at Lake Louise (Mosquito Creek, skiing Bow Lake, skiing at Lake Louise)

Skiing across Bow Lake on the Icefields Parkway (15 minutes away from HI Mosquito Creek)

HI Rampart Creek Hostel  

One hour north of Lake Louise, 92 km

Rampart Creek - Our New Favourite Wilderness Hostel

Snowshoeing in the meadows across the highway from HI Rampart Creek

HI Hilda Creek Hostel 

Roughly 1.5 hours north of Lake Louise, 5 minutes from the Columbia Icefields Centre

Easter at the Best Wilderness Hostel in the Canadian Rockies: HI Hilda Creek

Jasper has an Ice Cave - Winter at the Columbia Icefields  

Hiking on glacier moraines above the Hilda Creek Hostel

Happy April, Happy Spring, and Happy Adventures!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Calgary Spring Break Challenge (can you try one new thing?)

I recently met a family at a climbing gym in Calgary and the mom told me about their goal of trying one new thing each month. This resonated with me because I also like to try new things on a regular basis. So far this year, I've tried fat biking and I returned to rock climbing after a ten year break. (and that's me in the photo below conquering my fears!)

What new activity could you try with your kids this month? (Photo: The Climb Park at the Calgary Hanger)

What "new activity" could you try with your kids this March during spring break? And it could be as simple as visiting a new playground or trying a new hiking trail.

Below are ten suggestions to get those creative juices flowing.

Go skiing, try snowshoeing, rent a fat bike... Try something NEW this spring

1. Try Tubing at one of the Local Ski Hills 

There's not much snow remaining on our local sledding hills but fortunately, ski hills still have plenty of snow at their tube parks. Tubing is easy, gentle on the body, and requires no particular fitness level or athletic abilities.  To try the closest one, visit Winsport's Canada Olympic Park and spend some time at the new Winsport Acura Tube Park. It will be open afternoons from 1 to 8 pm on March 16-17, 20-24, 27-31. Otherwise it is open from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm on weekends.

Try some spring tubing at Winsport's Canada Olympic Park

If you want to take a road trip and go a little bit further for the day, the Nakiska Tube Park is also a lot of fun. It is open from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Combine your outing with some skiing at Nakiska or a short hike to Troll Falls. The new Market Cafe is also open at the Delta Kananaskis Lodge if you want to go for a walk around the Village.

Nakiska Tube Park

Alternately, for a fun weekend outing with the whole family, pack the kids up for a trip to Lake Louise where you can try out the Lake Louise Sunny Tube Park which is open from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm daily. And you can read more about our family adventures at the Lake Louise Resort snowshoeing, skiing, and tubing here: Family Guide to the Lake Louise Ski Resort.

And as of the time of publishing this story, the skating rink is still open at Lake Louise. The ice castle is also still there. (Though I would expect both to start melting soon.)

Lake Louise Sunny Tube Park

2. Learn to Climb at the Hanger in NE Calgary

Learning to rock climb is a little bit less scary when you're climbing a wall with happy faces that light up every step that you climb. Visit the Calgary Climbing Centre's Hanger location and spend an hour in the Climb Park (no experience necessary.)

Climb ladders, a bean stock, or a volcano! Walls light up with interactive features!

The Climb Park uses an auto belay system on all walls and features meaning you'll need no experience and you won't have to belay your children. You can all climb together at the same time, cheer one another one, and even race each other on the timed walls.

To read my full review, visit: Calgary's New Climb Park - The Hanger.

And follow this link to check out their spring day camps and PD days.

Climbing in the glow in the dark cave!

3. Unleash your Inner Ninja at InjaNation in NE Calgary

We've visited a number of indoor trampoline parks but InjaNation is still my favourite. It blends the features of a trampoline park with those of a climbing centre and a parkour gym. Add obstacle training courses and there's enough here to keep the whole family occupied and happy for a full afternoon of fun.

Indoor Trampoline Park at InjaNation

Check out my recent review here: InjaNation - Calgary's Newest Indoor Adventure Park.

Follow this link for information on their spring and summer camps.

InjaNation Obstacle Courses

4. Learn to Play Disc Golf (and it's free)  

We like to play disc golf year round in Baker Park, NW Calgary. The rules are simple and you'll burn a lot of calories running around the park hunting for the next hole. Find hole number one and throw your disc or Frisbee down the fairway towards the basket at the end. Go on to find hole number two and continue. The Baker Park course has 18 holes but you can just play the first 9 if you want to try it out for a quick hour.

Snowy Disc Golf Fun in Baker Park

I'm sure there are a lot of other "rules" such as keeping score and trying to follow the guidelines for recommended "par" on each hole, but we just throw our discs, have fun, and don't count.

You can see a map of the Baker Park Disc Golf Course here and you can buy discs at many stores around the city including LifeSport in Kensington. (or you can use normal frisbees.)

Throwing a disc across a fairway on the back 9

5.  Visit a New Playground

Calgary has a lot of cool playgrounds! Below are some of our favourites:

The Helicopter playground, NW - My 8 year old is outgrowing this one now but we've liked the paved path around the playground for learning to ride a bike. The playground is fun too.

The Curry Barracks airport playground, SW - Challenging to find but easily a favourite playground once you navigate your way through neighborhood construction.

Currie Barracks Airport Themed Playground, SW Calgary

The East Village Playground and St. Patrick's Island playground, Downtown - We like biking or riding our scooters between these two playgrounds. We connect them with the Prince's Island Playground as well for a giant playground hopping day. Bike further and you can easily reach the Nellie Breen Playground too in Inglewood.

Roller slide at the East Village Playground, Downtown Calgary

Elboya Park Playground, SW - This giant playground has a lot of features we haven't seen at other playgrounds. It is well worth a visit.

Colonel Walker School Playground, SE - This is one of the more challenging playgrounds we've visited and great for older kids!

Colonel Walker School Playground, SE Calgary

Bowness Park playground, NW - We like biking the Baker Park - Bowness Park Loop, starting in Baker Park with a stop at the Bowness Park playground. The loop is paved and great for novices learning to ride a bike. We also like it on scooters.

Bowness Playground, NW Calgary

6. Try Downhill Skiing or Snowboarding with Spring Camps

If you've been meaning to put the kids in a ski or snowboarding lesson all winter now (and it just never happened,) there's no need to put it off till next winter. Spring sun makes for warm ski days and it's a lot easier to learn to ski when you aren't freezing cold.

Winsport's Canada Olympic Park has Spring PD Day Camps and Nakiska also offers 1, 2, or 3 day spring camps

I also think it would be fun to sign the kids up for a snowboarding camp (if they already ski) just to try something NEW.

Learning to ski the Junior Half Pipe at Winsport's Canada Olympic Park

7. Try Snowshoeing before the Snow Melts 

Always wanted to know what snowshoeing would be like, if it would be fun, if the kids would enjoy it... Well, I wouldn't recommend buying snowshoes right off the bat, but you can rent them at Kananaskis Outfitters at Kananaskis Village and then head out to give it a try before committing to purchasing snowshoes next winter.

Snowshoeing in Kananaskis

There's a Snowshoe Loop that circles around the ski trails at the Village and you can also hike to nearby Troll Falls or along Ribbon Creek. We skied Ribbon Creek recently and it was a lot of fun. It would be just as much fun on snowshoes.

Follow this link to see a brochure of all snowshoe trails in the Kananaskis Valley (including the ones mentioned above.)

Ribbon Creek,  Trailhead is a short 2 minute drive from Kananaskis Village

8. Try Fat Biking with Older Kids and Teens

Kananaskis Outfitters rents fat bikes and runs fat bike tours to nearby Troll Falls (an easy ride for anybody who's done a little bit of beginner mountain biking.) Unfortunately they do not rent children's fat bikes but they do have adult small bikes which would be appropriate for someone around 4'10 to 5 feet tall.

Fat biking at Kananaskis Village (photo: Kananaskis Outfitters)

Regardless if you rent bikes (or bring your own out) you can ride to Troll Falls, ride along Ribbon Creek, or ride the easy Bill Milne Bike Trail (virtually flat with no hills.)

A map of all fat bike trails in the Kananaskis Valley can be seen here.

Winter biking on the trails at Kananaskis Village (photo: Kananaskis Outfitters)

If you want to try fat biking with younger children, you'll have to make a trip to BC where we recently tried fat biking at Nipika Mountain Resort. (which I highly recommend!!) Panorama Mountain Resort in BC also rents fat bikes for adults and plus sized bikes for kids which work well on snow. You can read about that adventure here: Panorama Mountain Resort - much more than downhill skiing

Winter biking at Panorama Mountain Resort, BC

9. Try Cross Country Skiing for a Day in Canmore

Spring sun isn't especially good for ski trails but you can extend the season with a day at the Canmore Nordic Centre where the trails get groomed and freshly track set daily. I've skied here as late as April before and still had good snow.

Spring skiing at the Canmore Nordic Centre

To read more about skiing at the Canmore Nordic Centre check out my newest cross country ski story: Family Cross Country Ski Trips - Our Favourite Destinations Near Calgary.

Visit the Trail Sports website for information on ski rentals at the Nordic Centre. You can also rent sleds for pulling younger kids.

Skiing to the new Meadow Hut at the Canmore Nordic Centre

10. Try a New Hike as a Family

Need some inspiration for a hike or urban walk close to the city? Check out these links below and pick one to do as a family over the Spring Break.

Calgary Urban Hikes

Spring and Fall Hiking in Kananaskis and Banff

The Top Ten Spring  Family Hikes in Kananaskis 

Beaver Flats Hike, Elbow Valley, Kananaskis

Spring Hiking with your Family in Kananaskis

First Summits - Prairie Mountain, Kananaskis 

Spring on Prairie Mountain, Elbow Valley, Kananaskis

5 Spring Hikes in Kananaskis - Calgary's Child Magazine

Grotto Canyon Ice Walk (5 reasons we love this hike) 

Flowing Water Trail, Bow Valley, Kananaskis

Hopefully I've at least inspired you with one fresh idea. I know my calendar is now full! :)

For more inspiration, you can read Gotta do THIS - the March Edition.

You can also start looking ahead with the 2016 version of Gotta do THIS - April. A new one will be published soon.

Parting Shot - Icy Spring Fun in Grotto Canyon, Kananaskis