Thursday, May 03, 2018

First Summits for Families in the Canadian Rockies

We've been climbing mountains as a family since my son was too young to walk. We started with hikeable peaks we could carry a baby up, moved on to toddler summits, and then slowly walked our way higher each year.

First Summits for Families in the Canadian Rockies (Photo from Little Lougheed, Kananaskis)

I'm going to start with the best first summits in the Canadian Rockies for toddlers and preschoolers walking on their own feet.

If you are carrying a baby or toddler, I'd suggest starting with these hikes as well to get your footing and balance established before moving on to other hikes featured in this story.

I also ask that you pay special attention to the final section of this guide (scroll to the bottom) on safety, disclaimers, recommended guide books, and recommended tips.

Climbing the mighty Tunnel Mountain in Banff (age 4)


First Summits for Toddlers and Preschoolers


I wrote a story for Calgary's Child Magazine that features many of the best "first summits" for families with young children.

Banff Gondola hike to the summit of Sulphur Mountain

These are also great hikes for all families who might be new to hiking, new to scrambling mountains, and wanting to start small. They are great easy hikes if you have family in town visiting over the summer as well.

The story can be found here:  Go Climb a Mountain! Family-friendly First Summits 

Bear's Hump Hike, Waterton Lakes National Park

Featured hikes include:




7 years of climbing up to the Old Fort Point Viewpoint in Jasper 


Chairlift, Gondola, and Tramway Accessible Summits 


It's not easy to hike up a mountain with young kids, gaining 700 or more metres of height. Why not take a gondola or chairlift if you can to assist with the slog up the lower slopes. (where you'd be in the trees the whole time on endless switchbacks.)

Hiking to the Summit of Whistlers Mountain in Jasper after taking the Jasper Tramway

We love the alpine hike to the top of the Whistlers Mountain Summit in Jasper. You can reach the gorgeous summit with less than 250 metres of height gain, on a short 2.4 km round trip hike. And by taking the Sky Tram, you'll save 950 metres of climbing! That's right, without the tramway ride there is 1200 metres of height gain! So this is a real mountain summit you're reaching!

Read more about the hike to the summit of Whistlers Mountain here:  Family-friendly Summits in Jasper National Park 

There are spectacular views en route to the summit of Whistlers Mountain

Other Recommended Reading: 


Go Climb a Mountain! Family-friendly First Summits  (which includes the Banff Gondola)


First Summits - Polar Peak, Fernie Alpine Resort (Chairlift accessible hiking in Fernie, BC) 


Sunshine Village in Summer (lift accessed hiking and great view points in Banff )


Memorable Hiking and Sightseeing at the Lake Louise Gondola (lift accessed hiking and great viewpoints in Banff )


High on Adventure at Fernie and Kicking Horse Mountain Resort (lift accessed hiking, summits, and ridge walks)


Lift Accessed Hiking at the Lake Louise Ski Resort

And finally, you'll also find lift accessed hiking (and an alpine roller coaster!!!) at Revelstoke Mountain Resort in BC. Read more here: Summer Fun at Revelstoke Mountain Resort

And yes, last year we did ride every single gondola between Calgary and Revelstoke! 

Great views at Revelstoke Mountain Resort


Best Easy Summits for Hikers


Leaving the gondolas and chairlifts behind, these are some of the first summits that we've tried as a family. They are all very hikeable, hands in pockets, no scrambling involved, walks. Granted they might be steep at times and you may want hiking poles, but you won't need to scale cliff bands or do anything too technical. And, you should always have a pretty good trail under foot.

Prairie Mountain, Kananaskis (First hiked at age 5)

Follow the links below to read the full story for each trip, complete with very detailed descriptions and photos.


First Summits - Prairie Mountain, Kananaskis

- Most local kids will start with this one as their first real summit. With 700 metres of height gain, it's a workout, but there is no exposure and you're always on a good hiking trail.


First Summits - The Mighty Yamnuska with a 6 Year Old (to the ridge top)

- We turned around at the chains, my son was short roped on all narrow parts, and we really just wanted to get to the top of the ridge. Also, while this is primarily a "hike" to the ridge, you will have to scramble up a short chimney at the end of the official hiking trail. 

Hiking to the top of the ridge on Yamnuska (age 6)

First Summits - Barrier Lake Lookout, Kananaskis 

- This is an excellent hikeable summit where you'll be on a good trail the entire way. It is a great first choice for an easy lookout or peak with only 125 metres of height gain once you leave the Prairie View Hiking Trai.


First Summits - Table Mountain, Beaver Mines Lake, Alberta Parks 


- We chose the "scramble" route up Table Mountain but there is also a very well defined hiking route to the summit. 


Mount Fairview Summit, Lake Louise (age 7)

First Summits - Mount Fairview and Saddle Mountain, Lake Louise 

- You'll gain 1000 metres of height climbing Mount Fairview and then another 100 metres or so if you decide to tag Saddle Mountain as well from Saddleback Pass. We waited until our son was 7 years old for this one (and had several easier summits under his belt already.)


First Summits - Mount Saint Piran, Lake Louise


- Mount Saint Piran was a fall hike and there was already a fair amount of snow. It would be much easier in summer! There is also less height gain for this one than for Mount Fairview and you'll be able to visit the Lake Agnes Tea House after your visit to the summit.


Mount St. Piran, Lake Louise (age 7)

First Summits - Little Arethusa, Highwood Pass 


- This was another fall summit that would be much easier in summer. From Arethusa Cirque it's a short hike up to the summit of Little Arethusa with a narrow ridge walk at the end (so perhaps wait till the kids are a bit older.) My son was 8 for this one. 


First Summits - The South End of Mount Lawson, Kananaskis 

- This summit had been on my list for a couple of years now so I'm thrilled that we finally completed the hike in 2018 (when my son was 9.) We discovered how beautiful it is, and it's now a new favourite hike for us in Kananaskis. It's also one of the easier summits we've reached as a family. 

Move over Ha Ling Peak! Do this one instead. 


South End of Mount Lawson, Kananaskis 


Ridge Walks


We LOVE ridge walks and I think they're more fun than just climbing up and down a trail to a summit. Often you can make a loop or a one-way traverse with a car shuttle as well.

Awesome hiking on Tent Ridge, Kananaskis (age 7)

I've arranged the ridge walks below in order from easiest to hardest (not necessarily in the order that we hiked them.) Click on the links to read the full story and trip report with detailed instructions and photos.

Note: many ridge walks tend to be narrow, exposed in spots, and may require some hands on scrambling in sections - so read up on your hike before going and know what you're getting into! 

Also it's very important that ridges be clear of snow before you hike them, so save these hikes until 
July.

Sarrail Ridge, Kananaskis (age 8)

Recommended Ridge Walks: 









Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis (age 8)





Hiking to the South Summit on Nihahi Ridge, Kananaskis (age 7)

The Real Deal! Best Easy Family Scrambles


No gondolas, more than a hike with a lookout at the end, and moving up to official mountains that you'll climb by yourself, hopefully with the kids at your side.

First summit of Ha Ling Peak in Canmore (age  5)

Ha Ling Peak, Canmore 

We climbed our first big mountain as a family, everybody walking, when my son was 5. We chose Ha Ling Peak in Canmore because it was a mountain my husband and I were very familiar with. We knew we could help our son every step of the way, and knew we were prepared for the loose rock and scrambling at the top.

Read more about our first ascent of Ha Ling Peak in Canmore here:  Ha Ling! My Baby Climbed his First Real Summit

Upper scree slopes on Ha Ling Peak 

Ha Ling Peak and Miner's Peak, Canmore

Since then, we've moved on to tagging both Ha Ling Peak and Miner's Peak in the same day. And then we progressed to also tackling the Three Humps next to Miner's Peak (for a 5 summit day.)

Read about our bigger adventures on Ha Ling Peak here:

The Four Summit Day - Ha Ling Peak to Miner's Peak (and beyond)

5 Summit Day in Canmore (Kid-Friendly) - Ha Ling Peak and Miner's Peak  

Ridge walking on Miner's Peak next to Ha Ling Peak 

Mount Lady Macdonald, Canmore

And for another great easy summit, try Mount Lady Macdonald in Canmore to the platform. You'll gain 900 metres for this one but will be on a good trail for the majority of the time. It's really just a steep hike. Beyond this, it turns into a real scramble with a knife edge ridge walk to the summit (not a place for children.)

Read about our hike up to the platform on Mount Lady Macdonald in Canmore here:  First Summits - Mount Lady Macdonald Hike, Canmore 

Lady Macdonald Platform, Canmore (age 7)


Moving Up! Intermediate Family Scrambles


You've done Prairie Mountain, Ha Ling Peak, and Lady Macdonald as a family. (Along with other hikes and ridge walks already mentioned in this guide.)

The kids are strong, with good stamina, have solid footing on loose scrambly terrain, and are not especially scared of heights.

You the parents have significant experience scrambling and climbing mountains! Let me stress that word again - "Significant!!!"

East End of Rundle Summit, Canmore (age 7)

You are prepared to bring a rope to "short rope" your kids on narrow sections, you will bring helmets if there is risk of rock fall or a serious tumble while scrambling cliff bands, and you are prepared to turn around if necessary at any point on your trip.

Your route finding skills are solid!!

You know who Alan Kane is and have spent hours reading through his book: Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies. (Amazon affiliate link.)

Heart Mountain Summit, Bow Valley (age 8)

These are the "intermediate" scrambles that we have done so far as a family. (I define them as intermediate by family standards:)


First Summits - East End of Mount Rundle Summit 


First Summits - East End of Mount Rundle Double Summit Day 


First Summits - Heart Mountain Horseshoe 


First Summits - Little Lougheed, Spray Valley Provincial Park 


First Summits - Grizzly Peak, Kananaskis 


First Summits - Mount Yamnuska Family Scramble (to the very top!)


Little Lougheed Summit, Spray Valley, Kananaskis (age 8)

Note that all scrambles above are included in Alan Kane's scrambling guidebook with the exception of Little Lougheed. We read about this one in Andrew Nugara's new book, More Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies, Third Version. (Amazon affiliate links.)

Grizzly Peak Summit Ridge, Kananaskis (age 8)

Summits Requiring Camping or Backpacking 


I couldn't write this guide without including our fabulous hike up to a lower summit on Copper Mountain from Shadow Lake Lodge in Banff.

We did it while staying at the lodge but you could do it from the campground as well.

Read about the adventure here: Copper Mountain from Shadow Lake Lodge, Banff 

Copper Mountain, Banff National Park (age 5)


The Safety Stuff 


Don't know what "scrambling" is? Want to join an experienced group to get started?

Please request to join my newly created Mighty Mountain Kids group on Facebook. This group is aimed at kids ages 6-12 and please answer the questions you'll see when you request to join.

Mighty Mountain Kids! (photo taken on the Miner's Peak saddle looking at Ha Ling Peak)

I also recommend getting some good guide books!

Recommended books:


- Amazon affiliate links 



Little Arethusa Cirque in September

Disclaimers:


  • Please don't take my son's age on our previous climbs as a "reference age." My son has been climbing mountains since he was 4 years old and is now able to do hikes that many adults would be terrified to do.

  • Start small and work your way up!! I always tell my son every spring that I won't take him up the bigger mountains until he does three practice hikes! This means he slogs his way up Prairie Mountain before he touches scree or loose rock. (Though this year's late spring has certainly slowed this down!)

  • Hike with a group of friends you trust, that you can work together with as  team, and that you know will have your back. I would never have gotten my son up Grizzly Peak last summer without two strong mountain mamas helping me.

  • PLEASE read my previous story: Family Hiking at the Next Level - Scrambles and Summits and scroll to the bottom of the guide where I've included very detailed sections on "useful tips if doing scrambles with kids," and "recommended gear for scrambling with kids." 


Ridge walking at the top of Little Lougheed, Kananaskis 

I hope this has been helpful and I will be adding to this guide regularly so please pin or save it for your references.

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2 comments:

  1. Your posts are always so informational! My boys are a bit older, but we've never done a summit. This is the summer we're going to change that, it's just overwhelming trying to figure out where to start. Thanks for the suggestions!

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    1. Glad to help. I hope this story breaks it down to give you some good ones to start with. Ha Ling Peak, Lady Macdonald to the platform and East End of Rundle (even just to the viewpoint over Canmore) are three good ones to start with.

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