Sunday, October 01, 2017

Gotta do THIS - October 2017 Edition

Summer is officially behind us now with October ushering in a "shoulder season" that can be challenging to always appreciate. I personally love the month of October though as we slow down a bit, celebrate Thanksgiving, and seek out early season snow. And then, of course, there's Halloween!

October's not so bad! Gotta do THIS - October 2017 in the Canadian Rockies

Let's be Realistic, October does bring certain challenges!

I've been known to drive out to the mountains with at least three different jackets or coats for each person in the family, multiple pairs of boots and shoes per person, and a bag filled with mittens, toques, and other accessories. You just never know what you're going to get until you reach your trailhead. (and we often switch between multiple seasons on the drive out to the mountains, and back to the city on a fall weekend.)

Add the loss of leaves from the trees, fall cloud cover, wind, and rain, and it can be hard to get inspired to go outside at times.

Challenges aside, read on and find out what my family loves to do in October to make the most out a great month.

Put on a happy face and make the most of every season!

Gotta do THIS - October 2017 Edition

1. Plan a Thanksgiving Road Trip (and bring the bikes)

Thanksgiving is around the corner and it's not too late to plan a weekend away! Check out last year's story on 5 great destinations for a fall bike weekend or day trip. The story even has suggestions for where to stay (and has been freshly edited for 2017)

Also, give this story I wrote for Calgary's Child Magazine a read: Autumn Getaways your Family Will Love.

Fall Biking in the Columbia Valley

2. Go Camping one Final Time for the Season

Due to a record breaking camping season experienced in Alberta campgrounds, several Alberta Parks Campgrounds are staying open through the end of October this year! This is great news for families who want to get out one last time. Load up the RV or trailer, reserve a site with power, and take full advantage of the warm days for some autumn hiking or biking.

Read more here about the extended camping season in Alberta parks

There are still many great weekends left to camp this coming month

Suggestions for fall camping:

1. Bow Valley Campground, Bow Valley Provincial Park, Kananaskis - open through Thanksgiving

And note that Willow Rock Campground, across the road from Bow Valley, is open through October 22nd (non reservable)

Read about shoulder season camping in Bow Valley here.

Camping in Bow Valley Provincial Park

2. Gooseberry Campground, Elbow Valley, Kananaskis - open through Thanksgiving. (non reservable)

Camp close to Calgary without having to make a reservation. And note that there are some power sites in the campground as of this year.

Fall camping and biking in the Elbow Valley, Kananaskis

3.  Crimson Lake Provincial Park, Central Alberta - Open through the end of October (reservations accepted through Thanksgiving)

Read more about autumn in the Rocky Mountain House Area here.

Autumn biking and camping at Crimson Lake, Central Alberta
 4. Beauvais Lake Provincial Park, Southern Alberta - This campground is open year round (reservations not required after September.)

Read more about camping at Beauvais Lake here.

Beauvais Lake Campground, Southern Alberta

5. Dinosaur Provincial Park, Southern Alberta - This campground is open year round (no reservations required after Thanksgiving) and it's one of the warmest parts of the province - making it an ideal spot for a fall camping trip.

Read more about camping in Dinosaur Provincial Park here.

Hiking and Camping in the Alberta Badlands of Dinosaur Provincial Park

3. Plan an Outdoor Halloween Party and Costume Hike

This has been one of our favourite things to do in October each year! We plan a ginormous outdoor Halloween party complete with a costume hike, pinatas, a bonfire, hot dogs and marshmallows. Add candy, snacks, and everything else that arrives for the pot luck affair and it's a great afternoon spent in Kananaskis.

Outdoor Halloween Party in Kananaskis

Not up for "crowds" or don't want to plan a big party? That's fine! Gather a few family friends then and plan a smaller costume hike in the city or on your favourite hiking trail. Just make sure it's an "easy" hiking trail because those princess dresses get caught on roots and tree branches very easily!

Halloween Costume Hiking

We've also done costume bike rides near Halloween which has been super fun. I like assigning a "super hero" theme because everybody has a cape (or can make one out of a pillow case) for creating an easy bike-friendly costume. Near Calgary, I like Troll Falls as an easy Halloween bike ride. It's even appropriately named for a spooky ride.

Super Hero Themed Fall Bike Riding

For more on how to plan an outdoor Halloween party, check out this story I wrote on how to Plan an Outdoor Halloween Bash

Who doesn't like dressing up in costume and running around in the woods?

4. Take a Fall Hike (Our Favourite Shoulder Season Hikes)

Here are a few picks for hikes that we love in October: 

Cat Creek Interpretive Trail, Kananaskis. This 1.3 km trail ends in a beautiful 6-metre tall waterfall and passes through a delightful little canyon. I find the hike to be a bit small for a summer day hike, but in fall when days are short, it's the perfect half day outing. We like to drive down Hwy 40 over Highwood Pass from Calgary and then return via Longview and Black Diamond.

To plan your return drive, visit the Cool Little Towns website and choose a restaurant or coffee shop to visit after your hike.

Cat Creek Falls, Kananaskis

Prairie View Trail, Kananaskis. The Alberta Parks website lists this trail as 6.6 km one way but that is the full distance to the intersection with Jewel Pass and you likely won't be going that far with your kids. Hike to the scenic viewpoint on the ridge overlooking Barrier Lake and Mt. Baldy across the way for a pleasant 4.6 km hike one way. Turn around when you reach the rocks and lookout site or continue up to the Barrier Lake Fire Lookout in an additional 0.7 km. Total height gain if you were to hike to the Fire Lookout is 616 metres with a total of 10.6 km return distance.

To read about our fall hike up to the Fire Lookout last year, please read First Summits: Barrier Lake Lookout, Kananaskis

Hanging out at the Prairie View Lookout above Barrier Lake

Sulphur Mountain, Banff. This strenuous hike gains 655 metres of elevation gain in 5.5 km and takes you to the Upper Terminal for the Banff Gondola (from where you can hike a short ways further to the summit of Sanson's Peak on a lovely boardwalk trail.) Honestly though, unless you really need the exercise or want to save the money, skip the climb and enjoy the 8 minute gondola ride.

Kids LOVE this gondola ride and while it's definitely expensive, it's also something I can justify as a once-a-year treat. Let the kids enjoy the ride,  hike up the boardwalk trail to the old weather station, and then check out the amazing interpretive centre inside the gondola building. The views are stellar and the experience is extremely pleasant if you go between the months of October and May (outside prime tourist season.)

NOTE if you want to hike up and ride down for FREE: Straight from the Banff Gondola Website: "During the winter season it is FREE to ride the Banff Gondola down. Hikers need to be aware that the trail will be covered in snow/ice and need to have appropriate hiking gear suitable for winter conditions." - and the winter season begins on October 10th (though mid May.)

Fall on top of the Banff Gondola

Tunnel Mountain, Banff. This is another short hike that I find hard justifying in the middle of summer as an actual "day trip." In autumn however, it makes for a pleasant half day hike when the kids get off school early on a Friday. Combine it with a trip to the hot springs or dinner out in Banff for a longer day trip.

The hike is only 4 km return with 300 metres of height gain. For many children, this will be their first summit that they tackle on their own little feet and it's a proud moment for many families when the kids reach the top of this peak for the first time.

Hiking up Tunnel Mountain in autumn

Get more suggestions for fall hikes here on my Spring and Fall Hiking Page (with 25+ suggestions for great fall hikes)

You can also get some suggestions here from the Born to Be Adventurous blog: 10 Fall Hikes to do Around Calgary with Preschoolers/Toddlers!

Hiking the Many Springs Trail in Bow Valley Provincial Park

5. Climb a Mountain (Fall Favourites)

It may be autumn but you can still get out and climb mountains before the snow falls. And even after it does start to fall, there are many easy summits that are quite doable with a pair of ice cleats or spikes (even for children.)

Hiking along the ridge on Prairie Mountain, Kananaskis

Suggestions for a fall family summit:  

Forget Me Not Ridge, Elbow Valley - My son loved the Forget Me Not Ridge hike at age 6 but I'd recommend it for children that are perhaps a little bit older unless you have a very strong 6 or 7 year old who's done some other big hikes this summer.

En route to the summit trail you'll have to cross the Elbow River (very braided and easy to cross) so we like to save this hike for fall when the river is lower. Our feet barely got wet.

To read my full trip report, please follow this link to First Summits - Forget Me Not Ridge, Kananaskis 

Forget Me Not Ridge in October

Prairie Mountain, Elbow Valley - This trail is accessible for hiking year round, and is relatively easy as long as you bring a pair of ice cleats or spikes if it's snowed recently.

Note that the highway closes past Elbow Falls on December 1st but that you can still access Prairie Mountain year round by parking at the road closure and just walking around the gate to the trailhead (which starts right from the gate.)

Read about our hike here: More First Summits: Prairie Mountain, Kananaskis

Prairie Mountain Summit, Elbow Valley

Mount Lady Macdonald (to the platform,) Canmore - This is a great summit that can often be done year round when wind blows snow free from the trails in the Bow Valley. Bring a pair of ice cleats or spikes with you for early season snow if hiking this trail in fall. And choose a nice clear day so you can enjoy the views from the platform (first photo in this story)

We did the hike last October and loved it as a fall summit.

Read about our hike here: First Summits - Mount Lady Macdonald Hike, Canmore

Hiking up the Mount Lady Macdonald Trail in October

6. Seek out Early Season Snow at Highwood Pass, Kananaskis 

This will come up again in "Gotta do THIS November" as I talk about early season snowshoeing at Highwood Pass in Kananaskis. In the meantime, if you'd rather hike without snowshoes on your feet, visit Highwood Pass now - Located on Canada's highest paved highway which closes at the end of November.

Bring ice cleats or spikes for slippery sections.

And kids LOVE hiking through snow because it means they can throw snowballs, build snowmen, and make snow angels. Just don't expect to get too far quickly.

September snowball fight at Highwood Pass

Best Family Hikes at Highwood Pass:

Ptarmigan Cirque - Hike up an easy and official trail to this beautiful little gem of a location in a short 4.5 km round trip hike.

Note that as of September 30th, there is a bear closure for this trail. Check conditions before planning to hike here. If the trail is still closed, choose one of the other two cirques below.

Read about our hike here: Our Favourite Hike in the Canadian Rockies - Ptarmigan Cirque.

Ptarmigan Cirque Trail in autumn

Little Arethusa and Arethusa Cirque - an unofficial trail leads to a pretty cirque and access for the easy summit of Little Arethusa. Round trip distance to the cirque and back is similar to neighboring Ptarmigan Cirque.

Read about our hike here: First Summits - Little Arethusa, Highwood Pass

Standing on the snowy summit of Little Arethusa in late September

Pocaterra Cirque and Ridge - Great hike on an unofficial trail starting from the main Highwood Pass parking lot. Go as far as you want towards the cirque and the pond, or hike farther along the ridge. This hike is further than the two cirques above but the pond can be reached in 5-6 km round trip.

Read about our hike here: Pocaterra Ridge - Family Hiking in Kananaskis.  

Pocaterra Cirque and tarn late September

7. Plan Fun Activities Close to Home

Every month I make a bingo-grid fun list to put on the fridge, and it inspires us to get out as we try to check off as many of the activities on the list as possible.

Samples of things that you could put on your October Family Fun List:

  • Go geocaching in the city after school

  • Visit a new playground

  • Visit a pumpkin patch or corn maze

  • Enjoy a quiet afternoon at the zoo without the summer crowds

  • Take one last trip to Heritage Park or Calaway Park (both open through Thanksgiving weekend)

  • Bike or hike a new pathway in the city

  • Visit one of our awesome recreation centres for a day (We like visiting Vivo for Healthier Generations because we can go ice skating, swimming, and rock climbing all in the same visit.)

  • Play indoor mini golf, visit a trampoline park, go inline skating at Lloyds one last time before it closes in the new year... - the possibilities are endless.

Indoor Monster Mini Golf anybody?

For more inspiration, check out these stories:

20 Autumn Outdoor Adventures for Families - Backwoods Mama

Create an Autumn Magic List - A story I wrote on my monthly family fun lists

Discover a new favourite trail in your city this month

8. Seize the Moment, and Make it Count on those Exceptional Warm Days

Go rock climbing, climb a mountain, go mountain biking...Just get outside and proclaim madly and excitedly that you are still rock climbing, that you actually did get out to ride that trail that's been nagging at you all summer, that you got out camping - in late October!

I have spent warm October days hiking in a tank top (after hiking in a winter coat in late September.) And last year we were still rock climbing in November (which is crazy!)

Possibilities are limitless. Just get outside and enjoy the last warm weather days.

Get out and enjoy the last warm fall days

Sorry for those who like even lists with 5s or 10s. This one only goes to 8.



Future Planning for November

Much as I'd like to stick with just the "Best of October" in this post, one has to plan ahead or you'll find that there are no hotels, cabins, hostels, or resorts left when you want to travel. Below is one key event to keep on the radar. Book your hotel room now if you want to spend the night in Banff.

The Santa Claus Parade of Lights in Banff returns on November 18th. It's an annual highlight for us each year and we usually try to spend the weekend in Banff.

Banff Santa Claus Parade

Last year we skated on frozen Vermillion Lake, attended the parade, and visited the Banff Gondola to see Santa Claus. This year we plan to return, and already have reservations at the Banff Hostel (where as it turns out, they have private cabins for families.

Christmas at the Banff Gondola

Have a great month!

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