Thursday, December 21, 2017

Hiking with Kids is More Fun when there's SNOW! (Family Winter Hiking Guide)

We climb a lot of mountains in the summer but I'd have to say I prefer winter hiking for the pure FUN. Seriously, winter hiking is as much (if not more) fun as summer hiking.

You can't build snow caves in summer 

We Like Winter Hiking for the TOYS

There are several reasons why we love winter hiking, but first and foremost is because we can bring TOYS! 

We bring snowshoes, sleds, ski bikes or scooters, skates, skis, and ice cleats. All of these toys or tools help us to enjoy our experience to the ultimate max. 

With ice cleats we can descend into icy canyons and search for frozen waterfalls. 

Frozen waterfalls in Grotto Canyon, Kananaskis 

With sleds we can enjoy backcountry sledding (which is an extreme sport if you do it on a steep twisty mountain trail.) 

How's this for a scenic and epic sledding hill!

Snowshoes take us to remote places that few tourists would ever see driving by on the highway. 

This magical place is 5 minutes off the Icefields Parkway at Mosquito Creek, Banff (snowshoes required)

And ski bikes or scooters are just FUN! They convince the kids that winter hiking is actually a good way to spend the day (and help them to forget about the cold temperatures.)

Hiking with Strider bikes and ski attachments

And while you normally wouldn't bring skis along on a winter "hike," it can be fun to carry the kids' downhill skis up the trail so that they can ski back down to the trailhead. We did this with the Chester Lake Trail in Kananaskis (my son snowshoed up, and skied down.) - and it was a blast!! Just be prepared that the kids will be a lot faster than you on the way down (or bring your own skis as well.)

You can read more about our hiking/skiing day at Chester Lake here. 

Hike up and ski down! Tons of FUN!

As for the skates, that's just me who drags them everywhere in hopes I'll find something to glide on. (Last year I skated through Grotto Canyon.)

The DREAM - Skating Grotto Canyon

Essential Winter Hiking Gear: Ice Cleats and Spikes

Jump off frozen waterfalls, descend into icy canyons, and explore the magic of places like Johnston Canyon, Jura Creek Canyon or Grotto Canyon. And don't forget Troll Falls which is a lot of fun to climb around on.

Our favourite spikes are the Kahtoola microspikes. And if you can find a pair of XS ones, they fit children with feet as small as size 13 or 1. (Sadly I think they've been discontinued in this size though so kids will have to try a pair of small yak trax or a similar brand of ice cleat.) 

note these are affiliate links to Amazon. Support me by shopping there and I will make a dollar towards a cup of coffee. 

The ice highway through the Jura Creek Canyon

Grotto Creek Canyon

Suggested Reading for Ice Hikes

Jura Creek:

Johnston Canyon:

Grotto Canyon:

Frozen Troll Falls 

Essential Winter Hiking Gear: Snowshoes

Snowshoes are super easy to use and require very little practice using before you can take off running down the trail. Alberta Parks and Banff National Park both have great snowshoe trails that are packed and maintained for easy winter walking.

Snowshoes can take you to beautiful places like this! (photo: Icefields Parkway near the Hilda Creek Hostel)

Suggested Reading:  Family Snowshoeing Super Guide

And if you want to know what we're wearing, my son loves his MSR Shift Kids Snowshoes (affiliate link goes to Canadian company, All Out Kids Gear, website) 

I'm partial to Atlas snowshoes for myself (and would never wear a pair of snowshoes that weren't specifically designed for a woman's gait.) As for my husband, his snowshoes are so old I doubt they even make them even more. If he didn't like skiing so much better than hiking, I'd buy him a new pair for Christmas.

Snowshoeing is pretty exciting when you get views like this! (photo: Shadow Lake, Banff)

Essential Winter Hiking Gear: Sleds

Let's face it, the best thing about winter hiking is that there is snow! This means you can pull the kids in sleds, Chariots, pulks, and strollers with skis when they get tired. We've even pulled our son on a bike with a ski attachment.

Backcountry sledding for the WIN
Because our son is almost 8 years old, we've long outgrown Chariots, strollers, and pulk sleds but we love hiking with a normal plastic Pelican sled. We hike up the trail as a family and then the kids pile into the sleds we've pulled up for the trip down. Helmets are recommended and you'll want to get good at steering the sled if pulling kids down steep trails. (I recommend letting the sled go in front of you so you can steer it around trees!)

Backcountry sledding is a BLAST and kids love the opportunity to slide off hills they'll find in the backcountry along with sliding down your ascent trail back to the car.

Suggested Reading:

*note the highway is closed to reach Highwood Pass now but the story still serves as good inspiration.

Backcountry Sledding on a homemade luge track

And for a real adventure, try creating a twisty windy luge track with banked corners next time you're out in the backcountry! (again, helmets recommended)

Our personal favourite sleds: You're going to need something that you can attach a rope to if you're going to pull a sled up a hiking trail. It should also be a plastic molded sled and not a foam sled that you'd use on a sledding hill.

We like the red Pelican brand Two person plastic sled. It allows us to tie a rope to it and pull kids. (unlike the foam sleds.)

For backcountry hut trips, we like using a black utility ice fishing sled. (similar to this one.)

Whichever sled you use, attach a longer rope to it than what it comes with. You'll appreciate the length so that you can wrap it around your waist and steer it.

(and yes again, affiliate link here so I can afford my Starbucks Coffee.)

Steering our Pelican Sled down the Chester Lake Snowshoe Trail

Other COOL Winter Hiking Gear: Strollers With Skis 

Last winter I did a full review on the Polar Stroller skis, designed and manufactured by a local Calgary family business. Read that review here.

Polar Stroller is unique in that they design and manufacture skis for use with all kind of strollers (three or four wheel ones, mall strollers, all terrain strollers, jogging strollers, Chariots, etc.) Their skis can also be used on a Weehoo or bike trailer if you enjoy winter fat biking and want to pull the kids behind you. (Now THAT is cool!)
Get outside this winter with Polar Stroller Skis

With a set of Polar Stroller skis, you can enjoy fat biking, winter walks or snowshoeing with babies, toddlers, and young children all winter long. You can continue to use the same stroller you normally use all year round (without having to invest in a special ski pulk or Chariot with ski attachment) AND their skis are the best on the market for strollers. You can turn your stroller into a sleigh with a click and away!

Please visit the Polar Stroller Website for full information on the company and to see the different kinds of ski sets available.

Other COOL Winter Hiking Gear - Ski Attachments for Strider Balance Bikes and Scooters

My son has outgrown his Strider balance bike now, but back when he was younger, it made hiking so much more fun!!! We'd strap that bike to our backpack, carry it up the trail with the ski attachment in winter, and then let him ski back down. It was a guarantee "make the day fun" method.

The skis don't work well on flat terrain but we did tow our son into the Elk Lakes cabin one year by attaching a rope to the bike. It worked very very well and was again, a great way to descend the hills on the trail. Read more about that trip into Elk Lakes here.

And for older kids, you can also get ski attachments for scooters. (Amazon affiliate link for the Stiga Snow Kick scooter.)

You can see the ski attachment for the Strider bike here. They're currently out of stock many places I've checked.

Never a boring moment when you have a ski bike on the trail

We Like Winter Hiking for the FUN Activities

You should have a good selection of fun "hiking activities" now after reading the first part of this story. Below are a few other things we enjoy doing on our winter hikes:

- Building/playing in snow forts, quinzees, and tunnels

- Playing in the snow (snowball fights, building snowmen, making snow angels)

- Building snow mazes for games of tag. (pie or circle tag is a lot of fun.) 

Playing backcountry tag in the snow 

Choosing a Winter Hiking Trail 

Visit the Alberta Parks website and explore this page: Kananaskis Country Winter Activities.  There are good links and resources on this page.

Also, check out this PDF guide to snowshoeing in Kananaskis. 

Visit the Banff National Park website and explore their information on snowshoeing in Banff National Park. 

Finally, I recommend you read this story I wrote for Snowshoe Magazine: How to Choose the Best Trail for your Winter Adventure. 

*And remember to stay off ski tracks when hiking. Some ski trails are also closed to hiking so respect signs that request hikers to stick to hiking trails. (West Bragg Creek for example has separate trails for skiing and hiking.)

Snow Angels - the best part about winter hiking

Safety Disclaimers 

I have featured trails in this story that generally, do not have avalanche risk. That being said, some "safe" areas could have risk at certain times of the year when avalanche hazard is high. Always consult with a local visitor centre if uncertain of where to go with your family to stay SAFE. I recommend checking trail reports as well for the park that you want to visit.

Also, nobody is going to have fun hiking if they are cold. Make sure you wear warm winter boots, smart wool socks, layers of warm clothing (non-cotton,) good waterproof gloves, a warm toque or hat, and something to cover the face if it's windy or cold. If uncertain that you have the right clothing, save your adventure for a warm day and choose a trail without a lot of distance so you can turn around if somebody gets cold. 

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