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!
 




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