Friday, September 01, 2017

Gotta do THIS - September 2017 Edition

September is one of my favourite months in the year for so many golden glorious reasons. Pumpkin spice lattes return to Starbucks, my favourite sweaters come out of the closet, and the trees - oh the trees! Suddenly an "ordinary" bike ride on Nose Hill becomes an "extraordinary" ride through a kaleidoscope of oranges and yellows. And if you haven't hiked through a forest of golden larch trees at Highwood Pass in Kananaskis yet - do it!!

September in Kananaskis - Gotta do THIS - September in the Canadian Rockies!

Gotta Do THIS - September 2017 Edition

1. Take a picnic in Banff or Kananaskis 

Popular day use areas start to see a lot less people once the kids go back to school and you might actually find a picnic table now. Check out this story I wrote last year for Calgary's Child Magazine with my top suggestions on where to take a picnic this fall.

Fall at Quarry Lake, Canmore

And, these are some of the most awesome things we've recently found (if you go for a picnic on a hot Saturday or Sunday afternoon this September:)

Bridge Jumping at Cascade Ponds, Banff

There is water in Cascade Ponds again in Banff, and kids can jump off the second bridge into the pond. There are also several picnic tables and fire pits there. It's a fabulous spot to hop on the Legacy Bike Trail as well for a ride towards Canmore.

Note, you should always check the water depth before allowing your kids to jump off of a bridge! Conditions change regularly!

Bridge Jumping at Cascade Ponds, Banff

Rope Swing Jumping at Johnson Lake, Banff

Johnson Lake has Banff's only real beach with sand, shallow water for playing in, and a fabulous rope swing if you hike counter clockwise around the lake (starting by crossing the bridge near the beach.)

It's a short walk and you should be able to find the swing by listening for the screams near the water. (And for safety, I highly recommend life jackets for the kids. I also recommend getting them to jump off below the tree before letting them climb the tree for the full jump. I did not let my son climb the tree! I also suggest bringing water shoes or sandals with some grip because it's quite slippery around the tree with a very steep slope.)

Jumping off the Johnson Lake Rope Swing

2. Go Camping one last time

The great thing about fall camping is that you'll be able to get sites at the popular campgrounds, often without a reservation! Mornings and evenings are cool (so get a site with power if you have a trailer or RV) but the days will usually warm up enough to fool you into thinking it's still July or August.

Check out this story I wrote for Calgary's Child Magazine with my suggestions for where to go camping in the fall.

Autumn is a beautiful time for camping and exploring in the mountains

3.  Explore Calgary's Fish Creek Provincial Park

It's rare to find a provincial park located within city limits, but that is our Fish Creek Provincial Park, ideally situated in South Calgary. My family has spent several days biking around this park this summer, and we can't wait to go back this month when the trees will all be golden around us. I've heard that the park is absolutely spectacular in the fall and that it's a prime location for autumn family photos.

Family biking in Fish Creek Provincial Park, Calgary

Highlights from our recent day in Fish Creek Provincial Park:

We spent two hours playing at the bike park at the end of Bow Bottom Trail. It has two pump tracks and an awesome skills area where you can work on your single track mountain biking.

Biker Gang at the Fish Creek Bike Park

We rode from the bike park to the Bow Valley Ranch (perhaps a kilometre at most) and had ice-cream at Annie's.

Easy biking on the Greenway Pathway through Fish Creek

From there, we went down to the creek to play, and discovered a great swimming hole with a rock to jump off of!! It was super fun! The swimming hole is located at the same spot as the ice falls in winter. 

Directions to the swimming hole: Walk or bike towards the bridge you'll see from the parking lot of the Bow Valley Ranch. As you approach the bridge, turn right, and follow the creek a short ways till you see the swimming hole. You won't cross the bridge but will be on the near side of the creek. (And as always, please check water depth before allowing children to jump off the rock! Water levels change all the time.)

Rock Jumping in Fish Creek Provincial Park

4. Go for a Fall Colour Hike or Bike Ride in Calgary 

There is no one "best" place in Calgary to go for an autumn walk or bike ride but I do have my favourites and we visit these parks every year to get gorgeous family photos.

Fall at Bowness Park, Calgary

Below are some of our favourite places to explore each fall within the Calgary city limits:

Bowness Park  and Baker Park (Paved loop, approx. 3 km distance. There is a playground in Bowness Park, a new wading pool, and you'll find larch trees in Baker Park)

Bowmont Natural Area (Easy to access from Bowness or Baker Park. The pond under the train bridge is fun to play in. There are both paved and natural trails to hike or bike)

Autumn is a great time for biking in Calgary's parks

Nose Hill Park (Best color loop: Start at the Brisebois parking lot off of John Laurie Blvd and walk up the paved trail, continuing straight at the first natural trail you'll come to where the paved trail curves left. This takes you to the top of the hill and from here you can continue into the quarry on an old gravel road where there is a seasonal pond. Loop back on old wagon roads and grass pathways back to the paved path)

Confederation Park (Great trees and a duck pond kids love. There is a short paved path around the pond and a brand new playground!)

Hiking in Nose Hill Park

5. Take a Golden Larch Hike in the Mountains

A larch tree looks like a normal evergreen tree until mid September when the needles turn bright golden yellow and begin to slowly fall off for the winter. New needles come back the following spring, making this a very unusual "evergreen tree" since it's definitely not green year round. In winter, you'd just see a bare trunk and branches (like any deciduous tree.)

The peak time to see larch trees in all their autumn splendor is the third weekend of September here in the Rocky Mountains. So, this year, you want to do your larch hike on the weekend of September 23rd or 24th.

Hiking through golden larch trees, Kananaskis

Want to do a fall hike and see golden larch trees? The trails below are the most popular trails (for very good reason.) They are also the busiest so if you can go mid-week, do it!! If you have to go on Saturday or Sunday, start crazy early!! Also, consider taking the shuttle bus to Moraine Lake if you want to hike to Larch Valley rather than trying to get into the parking lot.

Larch Trees in Larch Valley, Moraine Lake

Top Day Hikes to see Larch Trees:

Larch Valley, Moraine Lake - 7 km return to reach the most magical valley at Lake Louise. Larch Valley is also referred to as "Valley of the Ten Peaks," and you'll quickly see why when you reach the first meadow. It is 11.6 km return if you go all the way to Sentinel Pass (which you should if your kids have the stamina for the 700 metres of height gain. From the top of the pass, it's larch trees as far as the eyes can see in every direction.

Hiking through golden larch trees in Larch Valley

Saddleback Pass and Mount Fairview -Not as popular as Larch Valley, this can be a great option on a busy weekend. It is 3.7 km to the pass from where you have two options. Option one: scramble an extra 100 metres up to the summit of Saddle Mountain (to your left) for a total of roughly 700 metres of height gain. Option two: hike to the summit of Fairview Mountain in a total height gain of 1000 metres. It takes a big push at the end (and lots of candy) but the views are worth it!! And don't worry about not seeing enough larch trees because that's all you'll see in every direction from either summit.

Saddle Mountain Summit looking down at Saddleback Pass

Lake Agnes Tea House, Lake Louise - While maybe not "as incredible" as Larch Valley or Saddleback Pass, this hike is much easier and better with young children. The hike is 6.8 km round trip to a beautiful tea house, small lake, and gorgeous little larch forest en route to the Big Bee Hive above the lake. It is an extra 3.2 km round trip to reach the Big Bee Hive viewpoint above Lake Agnes with an extra 100 metres of height gain. (520 metres total)

And follow this link for information on all hiking trails at Lake Louise.

No filter, no editing required. This is why people hike at Lake Louise in September

Sunshine Meadows, Banff  - This is easily one of the most beautiful places to hike in Banff, and in autumn it is one of the best places to see golden larch trees without a whole lot of effort.

Visit Sunshine Meadows Ski Resort and enjoy bus shuttle service up to the village until the end of the season (September 24th.) The sightseeing gondola only runs until September 4th.

Hike a gorgeous loop including Rock Isle Lake, Sunshine Meadows, Grizzly Lake, and Larynx Lake in roughly 8 km in distance from the Village. You can also cut off some height and distance by riding the Standish Chairlift from the village (open through September 24th.)

You can read about our most recent day trip to Sunshine Village with gondola and chairlift rides here.

Rock Isle Lake, Sunshine Meadows

Ptarmigan Cirque, Kananaskis - Located at Highwood Pass in Kananaskis, this is a 4.5 km loop hike with a gorgeous alpine basin and a small larch forest. It sees less traffic than the Banff/Lake Louise hikes, and hence is great for weekend hiking.

Autumn at Highwood Pass: Ptarmigan Cirque

Pocaterra Cirque, Highwood Pass - A lesser known alternative to Ptarmigan Cirque, this hike starts from the same parking lot. It is a favourite for us with more larch trees than Pocaterra Cirque, a gorgeous pond, and very few crowds.

Trail directions for this unofficial trail: Start from the same parking lot as for Ptarmigan Cirque at Highwood Pass on Highway 40. Head down the trail towards the Highwood Meadows interpretive trail (and don't cross the highway as you would for Ptarmigan Cirque.) Follow the interpretive trail until you reach a a sign that mentions staying on the official trail and respecting the environment. There is a smaller dirt trail heading left here off of the interpretive trail. That is your trail. (And yes, you are allowed to hike it.)

Follow the unofficial trail into the cirque, heading for the pond shown in the photo below. The trail is relatively easy to follow for those who have good route finding skills. If you are inexperienced with hiking, please choose the well marked Ptarmigan Cirque trail instead.

The trail is roughly 7 km return to the pond and the cirque.

Pocaterra Cirque, Highwood Pass

Overnight Trips to see Larch Trees

Check out the following stories to read about a couple of amazing backcountry trips we've taken at the end of September:

Magical Autumn Hiking on the Bow Valley Highline Trail (Shadow Lake to Gibbon Pass)

Family Backpacking in Banff (no tent required) - Shadow Lake Lodge

Copper Mountain above Shadow Lake (larch trees in every direction below us)

Backcountry Banff with Kids - Egypt Lake (Sunshine Village to Egypt Lake)

Healy Pass on our Egypt Lake backpacking trip

6. Climb a Mountain

I like to feature a mountain or two each month, so I've chosen Mount St. Piran at Lake Louise (which we hiked last September,) and Sarrail Ridge above Rawson Lake (which we just hiked a few weeks ago.)

Hiking up the Mount St. Piran Trail in late September at Lake Louise (photo: Megan Dunn)

Mount St. Piran, Lake Louise - A relatively straight forward summit on a good trail with gorgeous larch trees everywhere around you. This is a great way to escape the crowds at Lake Louise. Total height gain is approximately 900 metres.

Read about our adventures here: First Summits - Mount St. Piran, Lake Louise.

And note that if there has been fresh snow, the slopes can get quite slippery. I'd recommend good waterproof boots, gloves, and even ice cleats if you have them.

Mount St. Piran summit late September

Sarrail Ridge, Kananaskis - I haven't written about this adventure yet, but the ridge is easy to find. Simply follow the hiking trail for the very popular Rawson Lake in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.

From Rawson Lake, follow the lakeshore trail around to the back side. Climb the ridge that you'll find at the back (straight UP that horrible slope you see in front of you. And yes, it is as bad as it looks!)

It is a nasty slog up to the top of Sarrail Ridge (I won't lie,) but the views are to die for!! So, it's well worth the effort to get up there.

Distance to Rawson Lake - 8 km return with 300 metres of height gain

Sarrail Ridge add on - 3 km return with 366 metres of height gain

Views over Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes from the top of Sarrail Ridge

7. Take a Fall Road Trip 

We love to go to Radium Hot Springs or Invermere for Thanksgiving if not heading home to visit family. The weather is always warm in the Columbia Valley until late October and you can still enjoy mountain biking, hiking, swimming at the heated hot springs pool (with diving board and slide,) and paddling on the Columbia River. We've also headed out to this sunny valley on warm weekends in September and always enjoyed the beautiful fall colours.

A couple of years ago we also took a weekend trip to Jasper in mid-September and really enjoyed biking the quiet trails around town. The tourists had long gone home for the season and the town was back to being the peaceful place I remembered from my childhood.

Fall Mountain biking in the Columbia Valley

You can read about both of these destinations in previous stories I've written:

Autumn Adventure Weekend in Jasper

Thanksgiving at Lake Lillian in the Columbia Valley

Autumn Mountain Biking in the Columbia Valley

Jasper has hot springs! Perfect for autumn road tripping!

Upcoming Fall Events

Check out this great story on 12 Family Friendly Fall Festivals in Alberta. I know we at least want to check out the Beakerhead festival in Calgary

And, check out these great events in Alberta Provincial Parks

Autumn days in Calgary

Have a great month and colour it golden! :)

1 comment:

  1. I have such great memories of exploring the Canadian Rockies when the larch were turning golden. A friend introduced me. Great ideas, I've been to several of these places pre-kids and would love to make it back with my son.