Thursday, November 30, 2017

Gotta do THIS - December 2017 Edition

We just welcomed in the Christmas season with the annual Santa Claus Parade in Banff. We met Santa in person on top of the Banff Gondola, and we did our first winter ice hike to see the frozen falls at Johnston Canyon.

Gotta do THIS in the Canadian Rockies - December 2017 Edition

Last year, I did two separate "Gotta do THIS" posts, one for December, and one for Christmas. This year I am combining the two into the same post, focusing primarily on holiday fun to enjoy with your family this coming month.

Gotta do THIS in the Canadian Rockies - December 2017 Edition


One - Attend a Fun Family Outdoor Holiday Event

We have several favourite holiday events that we attend annually as a family. Then there are always new events that we discover each year - ensuring our calendar stays nice and full. Add a few to your own calendar and make some fun memories this season.

1. The CP Holiday Train -  This beautifully lit up train travels across Canada each December collecting donations for local food banks and spreading holiday cheer with live entertainment. A stage opens out of one of the box cars and it's always a big party with kids dancing in front of the colorful train.

The CP Holiday Train rolling across the country

We like seeing the holiday train in Airdrie so that we can go to the Airdrie Festival of Lights at the same time and take a ride on one of the miniature trains.

Riding the train around the Airdrie Festival of Lights

2.  The Spirit of Christmas in Bragg Creek - This festival runs over the first two weekend in December. While you probably won't spend the entire day at the festival, it's fun to head out for a short ski or hike in West Bragg Creek and then stop by on your way home to take in some of the free family activities, to see Santa and his reindeer, and to enjoy a wagon ride. (Our highlight one year was the wagon ride with Santa riding along with us leading us in Christmas carols.)

Santa and Reindeer for the Win in Bragg Creek

And if you want to make sure the reindeer will be there for your visit, I'd recommend contacting the Bragg Creek and Area Chamber of Commerce in advance. The reindeer might not be there until the second weekend.

Wagon Rides with Santa in Bragg Creek

3. The Lion's Festival of Lights, Confederation Park  - The 31st annual Festival of Lights runs nightly from December 2nd until January 8th in NW Calgary. While you can just park near the gates and walk in to see the lights, we like to park over by the Confederation Park Golf Course off Collingwood Drive and then we like to ski or hike across the golf course.

Attend the opening night celebration on December 2nd. There will be hot chocolate and cookies from Tim Hortons, ice sculptures, musical entertainment, and fireworks! Bring a donation for the interfaith food bank and plan to arrive anytime between 5 and 5:30pm. (Fireworks start at 6:00pm)

Fireworks and Lights in Confederation Park

4. Zoo Lights at the Calgary Zoo - This popular event is back until January 6th and I recommend going early! By 7:30pm it's so crowded you can't move in the park and the line up to buy tickets is insane!

And a Few Things that Many Families Don't Know:

  • Yes, you can use your seasons pass to go earlier in the afternoon, visit the animals, and then just stick around for Zoo Lights. They do not kick you out. In fact, the cafeteria is kept open so you can go in and have dinner (and thus, you are still supporting the zoo by buying something, and not just sneaking in for free. We usually buy cookies and hot chocolate as well.) - And yes, I can confirm all of this because we just visited Zoo lights last weekend.

  • If you don't have a seasons pass, you can still go earlier in the day, pay for regular admission, and then stay for zoo lights. Yes, it is more expensive to buy regular admission rather than paying for zoo lights, but you get to see the animals and the lights for one price - and you get early access to see the lights without the crowds!

  • If you have a seasons pass with parking connected to it, you do not need to pay for parking at zoo lights. You can park in the zoo lot at any time with your Calgary Parking Authority registration.

  • The conservatory opens at 6:00pm for zoo lights. In previous years it was kept open between regular hours and zoo lights hours, but this year it is kept closed until zoo lights officially starts. Hang out in the cafeteria instead, or just walk around to see the lights between 5 and 6pm (they come on as soon as it gets dark.)

Zoo Lights at the Calgary Zoo

We went to zoo lights last Sunday at 3:30pm with our annual passes. We visited all of our favourite animals, had dinner at the cafeteria, and had the whole park to ourselves. AND the lights were on by 5pm. By the time the park started to get busy, we were on our way home. We skipped the Santa visit this year but he was in the conservatory at 6pm ready for visitors.

Santa at the Calgary Zoo (He arrives in the Conservatory at 6pm)

5. Mountaintop Christmas at the Banff Gondola - Free with your admission to the Banff Gondola, you can visit with Santa, decorate Christmas cookies, make a craft, and participate in a fun family scavenger hunt. Take a tour of the interpretive centre, watch a great Disney movie in the theatre, have lunch in the cafeteria, and take a walk on the boardwalk trail to the top of Sanson's Lookout.

And for those on a budget, you don't have to pay to ride the gondola down in the winter if you hike up. The trail is pretty snowy right now though so if you plan on hiking up the 700 metres of height to the top of the gondola, bring spikes or ice cleats for traction. I also recommend checking the Banff Trail Report for the Sulphur Mountain Trail because sometimes the trail can be closed.

For more information, read the story I just wrote: Celebrating a Mountain Top Christmas in Banff.

Santa found his way to the top of the gondola in Banff

6. Ski With Santa at Nakiska Ski Area - Watch out for Santa on the slopes at Nakiska Ski Area between December 23rd to the 25th.

Ski with Santa at Nakiska Ski Area this Christmas

And then when you're done, head over to the Delta Lodge at Kananaskis to look for Santa's reindeer. (You can take photos with them on December 24th between 3-5pm and on December 25th between 1-3pm.)

Reindeer at the Delta Kananaskis Lodge

7. Attend Christmas at the Track at Winsport's Canada Olympic Park in Calgary - This event happens on December 9th and includes the following:
  • Viewing access to the Viessmann Luge World Cup races

  • Airbrush tattoos and face painting

  • Horse drawn rides inside the track (Husky Gardens to Kreisel)

  • A petting zoo and bouncy castles

  • Santa visits

Tickets are $10 + GST (Children under 3 are free.)

And, you can try luge in the ice house, included with your paid admission, if you pre-register. I'd register soon as this is bound to be popular!

And read here for all details on luge participation (including age, weight, and health restrictions.)

And, while you're at Winsport, you should definitely try tubing as a family!

New this year:

  • More sliding lanes to control crowds

  • Faster, longer lanes where you can reach speeds up to 50km/hour (though you can place a saucer under your tube to slow it down if you are with younger kids)

  • Heated bathrooms and a snack/coffee bar right at the base of the sliding hill! You can warm up with a hot chocolate or coffee without having to return to the main building.

  • Large family tubes that can fit up to four people in one tube!

New snack and coffee bar at the base of the tubing hill

Read more about the Acura Tube Park at Winsport's Canada Olympic Park here (complete with age restrictions, hours, and ticket prices.)

Acura Tube Park at Winsport's Canada Olympic Park 

Still looking for more fun holiday events? Check out the following:

  • Granary Road Christmas Market (skating, visits with Santa, photos with the farm's alpacas, petting zoo, family games, hay rides, and market shopping/dining)

  • Market Collective in Inglewood (Shop from local businesses in Calgary this Christmas on the first three weekends in December)

  • Santa's Wonderland at Bass Pro, CrossIron Mills Mall (The only store my son actually enjoys visiting for Christmas shopping! Kids can visit Santa, make a craft, play with toys sold at the store, and participate in fun activities - all for free. And CrossIron Mills Mall is always decorated beautifully right down to the giant Christmas tree and the Starlight musical light symphony.)

  • Once Upon A Christmas at Heritage Park (Wagon rides, Santa visits, Christmas train display, holiday music, crafts, cookie decorating, shopping)

  • Free Wagon Rides in Banff (Sundays until December 17th starting from the Whyte Museum parking lot.  - This is great if you're already in Banff for Christmas at the Banff Gondola.)

  • New Year's Eve Party on the Pond in Canmore with fireworks (and if you are looking for something to do locally in Calgary, there is always a new year's eve party at Zoo Lights. The Airdrie Festival of Lights has had a new year's eve party in previous years as well.)
Holiday Fun in the Canadian Rockies 

Two - Plan a Pre-Christmas Mountain Getaway

Spend Christmas at a Wilderness Hostel

We like to spend the weekend before Christmas at a remote wilderness hostel in Kananaskis or Banff and have been doing this for several years now. We go skiing, snowshoeing, skating, and play in the snow with friends. Some years we've made gingerbread houses and other years we've exchanged a few presents.

Christmas at the HI Mosquito Creek Hostel 

Below are some of my pre-Christmas wilderness hostelling stories if you'd like to be inspired to try this yourself.

Christmas Getaway in Kananaskis at the HI Kananaskis Hostel

Christmas Getaway at the HI Castle Mountain Hostel

Christmas Getaway at the HI Mosquito Creek Hostel

Christmas in Kananaskis at the HI Kananaskis Hostel

And this year we've decided to glamp things up a bit by staying at the HI Lake Louise Hostel before Christmas (hello private rooms, indoor plumbing and electricity!)

You can read about our stay at the Lake Louise Hostel last winter in this story I wrote about Lake Louise. (Scroll to the end where I wrote about our accommodations at the hostel.)

Hostelling in comfort at Lake Louise

Have a bigger budget and want to spend a few nights in the mountains this Christmas? Below are my top picks for where to spend a truly magical Rocky Mountain Christmas.

Spend Christmas at Emerald Lake Lodge, Yoho National Park, BC

With ski or hike in/out cabins on the lakeshore, Emerald Lake Lodge is a great place for active families wanting to play in the snow without going far from their hotel room. Families can ski or hike across the lake, ski or hike the circuit around the lake, or ski/hike on numerous other trails in the area.

The resort has a great outdoor hot tub as well and the dining is some of the best in the Rockies.

It can be noted too that the last time I stayed here, I proclaimed that camping was stupid and that I was born to be a princess within the first 5 minutes of arriving. So take mom here and treat her like a princess for a couple of nights.

Cabins along the lakeshore of Emerald Lake

For more inspiration check out this story I wrote after our stay last year: Family Weekend at Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park. 

Skiing at Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park 

Spend Christmas at the Delta Lodge at Kananaskis

One of our favourite places to head for a day trip before Christmas is Kananaskis Village (and if you can stay overnight at the Delta Lodge it's even better!) We go cross country skiing or hiking at Ribbon Creek, go downhill skiing at Nakiska Ski Area, skate on the outdoor pond at the village, visit with the reindeer (they'll be at the Delta Lodge this year on the 24th and 25th,) and hang out inside the lodge by the beautiful fireplace.

Stay overnight and you can also enjoy the amazing swimming pool and hot tub as well as stay for dinner in one of the excellent restaurants (something we even do on day trips occasionally.)

Christmas at the Delta Lodge at Kananaskis

For more information check out these links:

Christmas and New Years Festivities at the Delta Lodge at Kananaskis

Deals and Packages at the Delta Lodge

Ten Reasons to Spend Time at Kananaskis Village This Winter 

Ski Trails at Kananaskis Village

Spend Christmas at Mount Engadine Lodge, Kananaskis

If there's one place I've truly fallen in love with over the years, it's Mount Engadine Lodge. We've stayed here numerous times (winter and summer) and have always had an extremely memorable stay.

Top Reasons to stay at Mount Engadine Lodge:

  • Easy access to the Mount Shark cross country ski trails

  • Easy access to the Chester Lake and Rummel Lake trailheads for snowshoeing

  • Close proximity to Canmore if driving out Saturday afternoon after spending the day in the Bow Valley

  • Amazing location in Spray Valley Provincial Park with SNOW that you have to see to believe

  • Beautiful lodge rooms, cabins and suites in what feels like a backcountry ski lodge - but that has drive up access

  • All inclusive stays with lodging + all meals included (including afternoon tea, dinner, breakfast the next day, and a packed lunch for your day's outing)

  • A cozy rustic yurt on site for those who want to try winter camping with all the comforts of the lodge and meals next door
Mount Engadine Lodge from the meadow below

For more inspiration check out these links:

Yurt Camping in Kananaskis at Mount Engadine Lodge

Paradise at Mount Engadine Lodge

Yurt Camping at Mount Engadine Lodge

Christmas Day Trips

Don't have the time, budget, or energy to plan an overnight trip right before Christmas? You can still round up your Santa hats and head out for a day hike. Check out our photos from last year's Christmas hike in Johnston Canyon in this story.

Christmas hiking at Johnston Canyon

Three - Plan a New Years Getaway

We love going away for New Year's with friends and sharing a cabin or condo so that we can celebrate New Year's Eve with the kids during the daytime but then continue the celebration after the kids have gone to bed.

New Years Fireworks in Radium Hot Springs

Travel Spotlight: Radium Hot Springs and the Columbia Valley

We love going to the Columbia Valley in BC for New Year's. There are fireworks on the 31st in the Town of Radium Hot Springs and there's no shortage of things to do in the valley!

Some of our favourite things to do in the Columbia Valley over New Years:

Go Skating on the Lake Windermere Whiteway - When frozen, the lake has a giant oval cleared for skating with groomed ski tracks created around the outside of the skating loop. It is the longest skating trail in the world at over 30 km in length. There are also several hockey rinks cleared on the lake and fat biking is another popular sport enjoyed by locals on the lake.

Skating on the Lake Windermere Whiteway

Spend a day at Panorama Mountain Resort - We plan to spend a weekend downhill skiing at Panorama in January and are super excited to try out the hill.

Aside from downhill skiing, there are plenty of other activities to try at the resort as well. We love coming here for a day to go cross country skiing up to the Hale Hut. And this past winter, we tried fat biking!

You can rent everything you'll need for  cross country skiing or fat biking at the Panorama Nordic Centre (and they have kids plus sized bikes for rent as well.)

Read more about our fat biking and cross country skiing experience last winter here: Panorama Mountain Resort - much more than downhill skiing.

    Skiing at Panorama Mountain Resort

You can also go cross country skiing or skating on Lake Lillian, just outside the Town of Invermere on your way up to Panorama. The Toby Creek Nordic Centre grooms and maintains a ski and skating loop on this lake.

Skating across Lake Lillian, Invermere

Go Cross Country Skiing or Fat Biking at Nipika Mountain Resort - Located a short drive from Radium Hot Springs, we love coming here for a day to ski or bike . The Natural Bridge is really cool to ski to and we like doing the loop to return via the Canyon Bridge. There are also warming huts spread out around the property which makes for a family-friendly way to ski with young children. 

Read my story, Everything for a Family to Love about Nipika Mountain Resort, to learn more about skiing here. 

Skiing across the Natural Bridge at Nipika Mountain Resort

And, while you're at Nipika skiing, rent some fat bikes and take them out for an easy spin around the south trails. The resort also rents kids' fat bikes (they have one 20" bike and one 24" bike.) Go early if you want to claim one of the two kids' rental bikes. 

Fat biking at Nipika caused me to fall head over heels in love with the sport and I now want my own bike. Read more about our experience last winter: Our Newest Obsession - Family Fat Biking.

Fat Biking at Nipika Mountain Resort

Have a great Christmas season everybody and make sure you're following me on Instagram to follow all of our holiday adventures. Some of them will be a little less snowy than normal for this family in December.

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