Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Purchasing a New Trailer (Family Camping Made Easy)

Our first trailer was a small hybrid unit that we purchased second hand with very limited experience or research. To back up the “lack of experience” we actually believed the couple selling the trailer when they said the soft floors were “completely fine.”

Our first trailer (light, easy to tow, and cozy)

The hybrid was ok for our first few years camping with a trailer and served as a great introduction to trailer camping. However, it had its downsides too. It took forever to set the beds and awning up when we got to camp and it had no storage space whatsoever. (Everything lived on the floor of our trailer and had to be moved out before we could sleep.) We also realized that "technically" you're not supposed to leave anything that resembles food or carries a smell inside a soft sided trailer when you're not around. (which means leaving nothing in the pantry and treating the trailer as a glorified tent.)

We’ve learned a lot since buying our first trailer and things were much different when we went shopping for our new, fully hard-sided, RV this spring.

The Massive Upgrade (and see the front and back storage doors!)


Know What You’re Looking For


I have long sworn that I’d never buy a gigantic toy hauler for our family’s next RV but I will never forget the first time I actually looked inside one of these spacious RVs at a dealership and realized that they give you an entire extra bedroom for the kids. I also discovered that you could fit a lot of bikes or boats inside without having to mount everything on top of the truck. At that moment I realized we needed to do some serious research before choosing our next trailer and that I wasn’t going to limit myself to what I had always thought of as sensible or practical.

And while we did not buy a toy hauler, we were glad we had at least taken a look at one one so that we could open our eyes to what our options were. Step one is to do your research and know what you’re looking for. You won’t know you actually want a toy hauler for example if you’ve never taken a look inside one! Visit RV shows, tour local dealerships, and take your time looking around.

Maybe this is what you want (or maybe not...) - You won't know till you do some research


Create your Masterpiece Shopping List


As you do your research and check out possible RVs, make a few lists to help narrow the search down.

The first list should include the necessary things you must have in your new RV. For example, it must have a bathroom (necessary for us because our first trailer was actually lacking in this area.)

Some things that were on our "must have" list when we bought our new trailer a month ago:

  • A bunk house with double over double bunk beds (something I didn’t know existed before we recently started shopping) - and now my son will be able to bring a friend camping!

  • An outdoor shower for those beach camping trips

  •  A bike door under the back bunk beds for storage (the bottom bunk lifts up to reveal a giant storage area with a door from the outside. Great for the toy bin, sports equipment, a kids' bike, lawn chairs, etc.)

  • Storage space under the front end of the trailer with access from both sides of the unit ( I had no idea you could store so much outdoor stuff under the trailer until we started looking around! We are now storing all outside gear including the barbecue, kitchen table, and RV matt in this front storage area.)

  • A bed for the parents that is always a bed! (No pull down bed, no murphy bed, no sofa that pulls out into a bed, and no slide out bedroom. We want to be able to pull into camp and go to bed with minimal effort!) - and it was the same with the bunk beds for our son. We wanted his bed to always be a bed as well and the kitchen table to remain a table at all times.

Other lists you might want to create would include “features we’d really like to have but could live without,” and the “dream wish list” of items you likely won’t get but that might become more important in the future as your family grows up. (an outside kitchen would fall under one of these categories for me.)

Tent Trailers, Fifth Wheels, Hybrids... - Lots of Choice! (each with its own advantages)

Join Online Camping Forums


It can be very helpful to seek out advice from friends with RVs and to ask two important questions:
“What do you love most about your current RV or model of trailer?” And “What would you change if you were to buy a new RV?”

I asked these two questions in an online group forum and built my entire shopping list around the answers. It was one of the best camping discussion I’ve ever had and I gained a lot of wisdom that helped us become more informed and educated when we went to purchase our new trailer.

I will never camp in anything that it not fully hard sided over the May long weekend ever again

Compare, Compare, Compare


Don’t just go to one dealership and fall in love with your first trailer.  Guaranteed, you’ll fall in love with a dozen more before you choose the right one for your family.

Every time you find one that you like, add the features that appeal to you to your shopping list until you know exactly what you want.

Still not sure what features you need in your next trailer or RV? A quick google search of “best RV features” should have you reading for hours on the subject. 

Our new trailer had to have an outdoor shower!!

Service and Warranty Facts


Before choosing an RV dealership to buy from, ask about the service policies of the dealership and about the manufacturer warranty for the RV you want to purchase. 

  • Avoid manufacturers that aren't good with accepting or approving warranty.

  • Find out where you’d have to take the RV to for warranty work to be done.

  • Avoid warranties that require returning the RV to the manufacturer in the US for repairs

Does size matter? Sometimes...

Did You Know…

 

  • Some slide outs prevent you from accessing the fridge or kitchen when the slide is in, or prevent you from accessing the full trailer (including the bathroom)

  • To avoid frustrations with pulling your new RV, take the weight your vehicle can pull and divide that weight in half. Aim for that number with your new RV weight.

  • Smooth flooring is easier to clean than textured flooring

  • LED lights last up to 20 years and require a lot less electricity than traditional RV lights. While they cost more up front, they will save you money in the long run

A good starting point is to walk around a campground, writing down names of trailers you like

Happy shopping and I'll have a story written soon about our first trip out with our new trailer. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Gearing up for Biking Season

The snow is melting in the mountains and bike season is around the corner. Our skis have been put away until next fall, the Thule has been taken off our car, and bikes have been tuned up for another great season of riding.

Now is the time to gear up for biking season and to take all of the necessary steps so that your family is ready to roll! While I definitely don't have all the answers (and honestly can't tell you how to fit 5 bikes and a chariot in your vehicle,) I've learned a few things over the years that should at least serve as inspiration.

Bike Season is here and we're excited!!


1. Bike Gloves! Our Favourite Brand (and worth every penny)

 

This story is not sponsored, but I really wanted to throw some love at All Out Kids Gear, a family run Alberta business, for introducing us to ZippyRooz and the best pair of kids' bike gloves we've ever owned. My son was given a pair of their half finger bike gloves last summer and we LOVE them.

Bike Gloves for the WIN

Bike gloves are great for climbing
The ZippyRooz gloves have more padding on the palms than the previous kids' bike gloves we got from MEC, and have finger loops to help kids pull their gloves off (without turning them inside out!) They are honestly the best style of bike gloves I've seen yet for kids on the market and are super stretchy so that I can easily get them on my son's hands. (unlike our previous ones where it was always a battle!)

The Zippy Rooz bike gloves come in fun colours and designs along with a full finger version that we'll have to check out for cooler weather next.

And when you're not biking, you can use them for rock climbing, scrambling, and hiking (I make my son wear bike gloves when running down mountains because I don't want him tearing up his skin if he falls down.)

And check out this review on the ZippyRooz Gloves from friends at Rascal Rides.



2. Go Lightweight and just say NO to Department Store Bikes


Regular readers of this blog will know that my son has never known a pair of training wheels or coaster brakes and that we went straight from a Strider balance bike to a 16" Spawn Banshee with hand brakes.

Our first pedal bike, a 16" Spawn Banshee (lightweight and built to last!)

I'm a firm believer in quality when it comes to kids' bikes and you can read some of my previous stories below:

Kids on Wheels - Choosing a Good Bike 

Investing in a Lightweight Kids' Bike - Your child is worth it!

How to Choose a Quality Kids' Bike 

Our second bike: The Spawn Savage 1.0 complete with gears and disc breaks

And I know that Spawn Bikes are not cheap but honestly, they come up second hand every week if you put an alert on Kijiji.

And until your child is ready for a pedal bike, visit our friends at Run Bikes YYC to shop for Strider balance bikes so that you can skip the training wheels and move directly to an amazing lightweight pedal bike, skipping on the latest Walmart special.

(Disclaimer, I have partnered with both Spawn Cycles and Run Bikes YYC to promote their bikes.)

We had so much fun with our orange Strider (and it's still sitting in my garage cause I can't bear to sell it)


3. Create (or join) a Junior Biker Gang 


If I have one accomplishment that I'm possibly most proud of as a outdoor loving parent in Calgary, it's for starting the first Junior Biker Gang in the city (that I know of anyway.) - don't tell me if a plethora of other groups existed before mine.

I started my Junior Biker Gang through the Calgary Outdoor Playgroup Community and it continues to this day with other leaders stepping in to take my place as current coordinators.

The beginning of the Calgary Junior Biker Gang (still going strong today!)

To read more about starting your own biker gang, check out this story I previously published: Kids on Wheels - How to Create your Own Junior Biker Gang.

You can also read about the trip that launched the biker gang here: The Bow Valley Biker  Gang.

Somehow my biker gang has all grown up!

And I don't run organized family "biker gang" events anymore but I definitely plan a lot of family rides around Calgary and in the mountains. If you want to get on my contact list for more information when we head out, send me an email.

Email me if you want to connect for family group rides

4. Make a List (a super fun list of all the trails you want to ride this summer)


I love lists (seriously, they cover my fridge and cupboards) and we make fresh ones for every month of the year, inspiring us to get outside as a family.

I encourage you to sit down as a family and to make a big list of the trails you most want to ride this summer. Put the list in an accessible place and have fun checking off the trails as you complete them.

Biking in Drumheller was the first ride on my list for this spring. CHECK!

For inspiration, here are some stories I've written on bike trails around the Canadian Rockies:

Alberta Bike Trails


The Best Spring Bike Rides in Kananaskis  


The Best Family Bike Trails in Canmore  

Gorgeous bike trails in Canmore


The Best Family Bike Trails in Banff National Park


Biking the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail  - With Kids


Tour de Banff - The Ultimate Family Bike Tour


Tour de Banff - The Ultimate Family Mountain Bike Loop


Beautiful Biking around Banff



The Best Family Bike Trails in Jasper

   
Easy single track riding in Jasper National Park
 

British Columbia Bike Trails 


Kids on Wheels - Nipika Mountain Resort


Biking the Columbia Valley

Awesome Biking in  the Columbia Valley on Deja View off the Old Coach Trail


The Best Family Bike Trails in Fernie, BC 


Biking the Kettle Valley Railway from Kelowna to Osoyoos
 

Biking the Kettle Valley Railway from Chute Lake to Penticton

5. Discover your local Bike Park 


I have yet to meet a child who wouldn't have fun at a bike park or pump track. When we visited our first pump track in Canmore, I knew it would become an obsession and a mission to visit every pump track we could find across Alberta and BC.

One of our favourite bike parks in Radium Hot Springs, BC

And while we certainly haven't visited all of the kids' bike parks across AB and BC yet, we are on our way!

Check out my huge resource guide below with information and photos on every bike park and pump track we've visited as a family.

Kids on Wheels - Pump Tracks and Mountain Bike Parks  

Calgary's newest bike park in Fish Creek Provincial Park
 

Inspiration and Recommended Reading



Campsite to Trail - the Best Campgrounds for Biking Families  (across Southern Alberta and BC)

Rad Biker Boys

Top 10 Family Bike Trails from Kananaskis to Banff - Calgary's Child Magazine


The Best Spring Bike Rides across Southern Alberta and BC - RV and Resort Magazine


10 Ways to Make Biking Fun for Kids - Active for Life



Protect your Head while Bicycling: 7 steps to properly fit a helmet -
Born to Be Adventurous 



Starting a Toddler on a Balance Bike - Tips and Tricks - Tales of a Mountain Mama


Just say NO to Training Wheels - Tales of a Mountain Mama


Spring is here and it's time to get the bikes out


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

An Australian Family's Adventures in the Canadian Rockies

It was March of 2015 when I received Amanda's first email reaching out in preparation of her family moving to Canada for a year from Australia.

"I am an Australian/Canadian who lives in South Australia, but was born in Toronto. In July our two children turn two and four, and in December my husband, children and I are hoping to move to Calgary. Our biggest goal is to have a year of as much quality time together and outdoors as possible before our son starts school in January 2017."

Amanda and her family in Banff National Park

Amanda is back home in Australia now but we spent a lot of time together while she was living in Calgary with her family. We went hiking, climbed a mountain, went camping, and toured about on our bikes together. As she was preparing to go home at the end of 2017 I asked her if she'd be willing to write about her adventures in Canada.

Below is Amanda's story and her highlights from a year spent living like locals with her family in Calgary. It is my hope that her story will inspire others planning trips to Canada this summer or in the future.

What would your trip to the Canadian Rockies look like?

 An Australian Family's Adventures in the Canadian Rockies



We have been fortunate enough to have spent a year in Calgary, Canada with our two children (now 5 and 3). Before we left Australia, we did our research, and were completely inspired by Tanya's blog, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies. It helped us decide that our goal for our time in Canada was to have as many outdoor adventures as possible. Many of them have been in the mountains, so I offered to share our thoughts and adventures with Tanya.

On the summit of Prairie Mountain, Kananaskis


Highlight One: Hiking


Although my husband and I had considerable hiking experience before we met, we had not hiked as much with our kids. Since arriving in Calgary it became our most regular activity as a family, and an amazing way to appreciate the diversity of the Canadian Rockies.

In winter we put on our ice cleats to explore Johnston Canyon (Banff) and Grotto Canyon (Kananaskis,) and marveled at frozen water falls.

Winter hiking in in Banff

In spring we summitted Prairie Mountain (Kananaskis) and wandered through Marble Canyon (Kootenay National Park.)

In summer we took gondolas up to Sunshine Meadows (Banff) and Whistler Mountain (Jasper), hiked around Johnson Lake (Banff,) admired the wildflowers at Ptarmigan Cirque (Kananaskis,) and took the grandparents hiking in Jasper to Maligne Canyon and the Walk of the Five Lakes.

Hiking in Jasper on top of Whistler Mountain

In fall we hiked around Kananaskis, going to Arethusa Cirque to spot some golden larch trees, to Pocaterra Cirque where the snow arrived early, and up West Wind Pass where the kids rocked their new hiking boots.

There’s always more to see, but we found that using local knowledge helped us to pick the right trail for the time of year, to be prepared, to stay safe and to get the most out of our adventures.


Fall hiking in Kananaskis with golden larch trees



Highlight Two: Biking on Closed Highways


We’ve always loved getting out on our bikes, but found it a little more challenging in terms of gear, weather and logistics (having a chariot, bike and trail gator stolen over the year didn’t help!)

We joined the Calgary Outdoor Playgroup on two annual biking events in Kananaskis, one in Bow Valley Provincial Park and one to Cat Creek Falls from the southern road closure along Highway 40. 

Biking closed roads in Bow Valley Provincial Park

We also biked Highway 66 beyond Elbow Falls in Kananaskis before it opened to traffic The kids loved being able to ride (or be towed) freely, and we loved not having to watch them so closely. Although we did some great urban rides along the river and some mountain biking without kids, the highway rides were my favorite.


(Editor's note: The Bow Valley Provincial Park Campground doesn't open for the season until the end of April, Highway 66 past Elbow Falls doesn't open until mid May, and Highway 40 doesn't open past Highwood Pass until the middle of June. These roads can be cycled without traffic on them before these times.)

Spring in the Elbow Valley of Kananaskis


Highlight Three: Camping at Two Jack Lake in Banff


We managed just over two weeks camping in Alberta and Montana, and loved the chance to explore at a more leisurely pace without as much driving.

In January when the National Parks camping opened up for reservations, we booked 3 nights at Two Jack Lake in Banff and 3 nights at Wapiti in Jasper. The scenery and facilities at Two Jack Lake made it our pick; it was such a peaceful and beautiful place to be. We used it as a base for exploring, and the shared eating huts (with combustion wood stoves) made it a great trip in June despite some heavy rain. We didn’t have anything to paddle on the lake, but still enjoyed taking walks, letting the kids ride their bikes and spotting elk on the water’s edge. 

Camping at Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park



Highlight Four: Wildlife Spotting


Seeing and learning about animals was my son’s highlight of our time in Canada, and something that formed part of all our other activities. He loved the many interpretive centres, junior ranger programs and any opportunity to see animals in the wild. Whether it was the grizzlies (preferably at a safe distance!), deer, hoary marmots and numerous others, we loved being able to see them while out exploring.

Summer exploring in the Canadian Rockies



Highlight Five: Celebrating Holidays in the Rockies


Our first Christmas together in Canada was only a few weeks after we arrived in Calgary, so we decided to spend a few nights at the Delta Lodge at Kananaskis. Patting reindeer, sledding, hot chocolate, seeing Santa, and some solo skiing at Nakiska for my husband and I (as well as a taste for the kids) made for a memorable holiday.

This recent Christmas season we enjoyed the Santa Claus Parade in Banff, and I skied at Sunshine Village Resort while the rest of the family went up the Banff Gondola and enjoyed the 12 animals of Christmas scavenger hunt. 

The Banff Santa Claus Parade

At Easter we took part in the Easter Egg hunt at the Mt Norquay Ski Resort in Banff followed by brunch.

We also joined the Calgary Outdoor Playgroup's annual Halloween hike and bonfire in Kananaskis Country. All of these events were special, and many will become part of our family traditions in the future.

Spending Halloween in the Canadian Rockies


Highlight Six: Downhill Skiing


Downhill skiing has been one of my favorite sports since I was a kid, and think I’ve now converted my husband. Although we generally only managed a day here or there, between us we tried Nakiska Ski Area in Kananaskis, Mt Norquay, Sunshine, and Lake Louise in Banff. My son took lessons over the Family Day weekend in February, and this season is keen to get out and try again.

With kids ages 2 and 4, we found that it was easier for one of us to stay home or in Banff/Canmore (especially if staying somewhere with a pool) while the other skied, rather than trying to entertain them at the day lodge.

Family Ski Day in Banff


Highlight Seven: Visiting Lake Louise 


We took my brother to the Lake Louise Ice Magic Festival when he visited, and I fell in love. I’d never walked on a lake that big, let alone one with an ice castle. It was busy and cold, but well worth the visit. On one of our trips we walked to the back of the lake where our kids wandered barefoot in the muddy shallows. We didn’t need to convince them again to walk the whole way to the back of the lake because they led the way the next time.

The Lake Louise Ice Castle and Ice Magic Festival


Highlight Eight: Rafting down the Bow River in Banff 


Although most of our list could be done by anyone, we lucked out with this one! Tanya was heading out for the day with a local rafting guide, and she offered to take us with her and her son. It was a magical way to see the mountains and Bow River from another angle, and only makes us more determined to explore in kayaks or canoes. There were far fewer people, amazing views and many animals to spot. It also gave us a better appreciation for early explorers without the luxury of cars, roads or trains. And the real lesson for me was the value in accepting any opportunity for an adventure!

Rafting on the Bow River in Banff


Highlight Nine: Walking on a Glacier


We booked a weekend camping in Jasper National Park, and stopped on our way up along the Icefields Parkway at the Columbia Icefields. I thought it was worth doing because I wanted our kids to see what a glacier is like while they are still around. But once we got on the ‘monster bus’, we were all hooked. It was a fun experience, a great way to feel tiny, and a reminder of the importance of living lightly.


Snow Coach Tours on the Athabasca Glacier, Columbia Icefields



Highlight Ten: Staying in a Yurt at Mount Engadine Lodge in Kananaskis


We entered to win a night at Mount Engadine Lodge in a contest on Tanya's blog. We didn't win but we decided that it was still worth doing while we were here. It became one of our most special adventures, and we highly recommend it. The drive in along from Highway 40 was beautiful, and the lodge is in an incredible location. The tasty food and fun company at the family style dinner and breakfast were appreciated by all of us, and we all kept warm in our yurt. We’re very glad we were able to fit this in!

Mount Engadine Lodge Yurt, Kananaskis


Tips


Phone a friend


Although both my husband and I had outdoor experience, most of it was in Australia. Joining the Canadian Wildlife Federation's Wild Family Nature Club, following local blogs and making friends helped us to find the best activity each season. It also gave us more confidence with what we were choosing to do.


Local friends show you the cool things to do

Pick the right activity for the right time


The Rockies were even more seasonal than we expected, and places changed drastically at different times of the year. Having a whole year meant that we could choose what we did each weekend, and make it appropriate for the weather and conditions. Some places were worth multiple visits at different times of the year. Safety was an issue for some activities (especially with kids), and where we found Tanya’s Gotta Do THIS monthly articles invaluable.



Lake Louise was worth multiple visits in both winter and summer


Listen out for any local deals or great events


Through our networks (Tanya in particular) we often heard about good deals or things happening. One of the best we found was the Epic Pass we bought for the Brewster Travel Canada Tours, and while it wasn’t cheap we definitely got our value from it. We enjoyed the Banff Gondola, Banff Lake Cruise, Glacier Adventure and Glacier Skywalk.  Only the Maligne Lake Boat Cruise eluded us. Hopefully next time!


(Editor's Note: I haven't heard of any combo deals with Brewster Tours for the 2017 season.)



Columbia Icefields Glacier Adventure

Be selective


We knew we couldn’t do everything, so we concentrated on only a couple of activities that felt right for the four of us. Downhill skiing, biking and camping were the three we invested in second hand gear for, but hiking became our most common activity.

Skiing was a priority for Amanda and her family

Leave something for next time


Cycling the Icefield Parkway was one of my husband’s goals when we were in Australia, and the canoeing looks amazing. We’d still love to do both, but they will happen when our kids are older. We have no doubt that we’ll be back!

A year in the Canadian Rockies!


Your Turn


Have you recently visited the Canadian Rockies with your family? Want to share your travel story with thousands of other readers who can be inspired from your adventures? I'd love to hear from you. Go to the Contact Me tab at the top of this page and send me an email.


What would your highlights be if you spent a year in the Canadian Rockies?


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