Monday, November 19, 2018

Winter Guide to the Columbia Valley (Golden, Radium Hot Springs, Invermere - and beyond!)

For those of us living in Calgary, it is a 3 hour drive to reach either the Village of Radium Hot Springs or the Town of Golden (both, fabulous destinations for a winter getaway and fairly easy to access Friday after work.)

Skating on the world's longest ice skating path, Invermere

Without much extra distance you can also reach the Community of Invermere, Panorama Mountain Resort, or the resort community of Fairmont Hot Springs.

Drive an hour further south and you'll be in the small Bavarian themed City of Kimberley, an ideal destination for a long weekend or school holiday.

I've organized this guide by town, community, or resort area starting in the north and working my way south through the Columbia Valley.

Note this guide gets updated annually.

Fat biking at Nipika Mountain Resort

The Town of Golden 

Below are some of the key winter adventures you can find for your family in the Town of Golden:

  • Spend the day downhill skiing or boarding at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort (and if you time your visit right, you can watch some of the World Free Ride events in February.)

Skiing at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort

  • Enjoy cross-country skiing at Dawn Mountain Nordic Centre (with 35 km groomed for classic and skate skiing) - and the centre is located less than a kilometre from the base of Kicking Horse.

Cross country skiing at Dawn Mountain Nordic Centre

Dog sledding in Golden (photo: Julie Brown and Golden Dog Sled Adventures)

For more information read my newest story on Golden:

 Read: 5 Reasons to Visit Golden, BC this Winter

Wapta Falls outside Golden 

The Village of Radium Hot Springs 

We spend a few nights here every year for New Years and frequently come out for the Family Day long weekend in February as well.

Winter activities I recommend are below:

Radius Retreat Winter Yurt Camping 

  • Try winter yurt camping at Radius Retreat. They have six yurts (the closest one is a 300 metre walk from the parking lot and the most remote one is a 2.5 km hike.)

  • Take a day trip to Nipika Mountain Resort, Invermere, Panorama Mountain Resort, or Fairmont Hot Springs.

    The beauty of staying in Radium Hot Springs is that you're at the centre of everything. You could even go skiing in Kimberley or Golden for the day.

    Use Radium as your base camp for adventure across the entire Columbia Valley.

For more information, visit the Tourism Radium Hot Springs website.

And check out my guide: Active Family Guide to Winter in Radium Hot Springs

And for a cross-country ski getaway to Radium, read: Plan a Cross-Country Ski Getaway to Radium Hot Springs

Winter at Radium Hot Springs (photo: Tourism Radium Hot Springs)

Nipika Mountain Resort 

Nipika Mountain Resort is an eco-resort is located approximately 45 minutes outside Radium Hot Springs. Here you'll find over 50 km of groomed ski trails and 25 km of dedicated fat bike trails (groomed to perfection) along with snowshoe trails as well.

Fat biking at Nipika Mountain Resort

Stay overnight and you can ski, snowshoe, or bike out the front door of your own cozy cabin. There's even a small pond on site for ice skating.

You can also visit Nipika as a short excursion from Radium Hot Springs, using all their trails for a small day use fee. There is a great rental shop on site as well and they have two youth fat bikes (a 20" bike and a 24" bike.)

Ski in/out cabins at Nipika Mountain Resort

Visiting Nipika is always one of our winter highlights, and there's no other place I like fat biking more.

Read more: Family Fat Biking at Nipika Mountain Resort

Read more: Everything for a Family to Love at Nipika Mountain Resort 

Read more: The Ultimate Girls' Ski Getaway at Nipika Mountain Resort 

Skiing over the natural bridge at Nipika Mountain Resort 

The Community of Invermere

Winter Adventure on the Lake Windermere Whiteway

The biggest highlight here is skating on the Lake Windermere Whiteway between the towns of Invermere and Windermere on the world’s longest ice-skating path. The full track is 34 km long when the lake is fully frozen, and the Whiteway promotes community spirit as the entire valley gathers in the same location to skate or ski around the lake, with dedicated paths for both cross-country skiing and ice skating.

Skating on the Lake Windermere Whiteway

Local cyclists also like riding around the lake on fat bikes with studded tires, and the snowmobile community is out in force as well, using the middle of the lake as their recreational ground.

A $5 donation fee is requested from all Whiteway users (or a seasons pass can be purchased for locals) to support the efforts of the Toby Creek Nordic Ski Club who maintains the Whiteway.

This is a major highlight for us on every visit to the valley in winter and I have dreams of skating the entire path in a day. (some year...)

And you can watch a fabulous video of the experience here on the Columbia Valley website.

For up to date conditions on the Whiteway, visit the Toby Creek Nordic Ski Club website or check out their Facebook page.

Sunset on the Lake Windermere Whiteway

Skating and Skiing on the Lake Lillian Whiteway

Most people will be completely satisfied with the Lake Windermere Whiteway, but if you want a smaller lake to skate or ski on, Lake Lillian also gets groomed and tracked for skiing (and sometimes for ice-skating) by the Toby Creek Nordic Ski Club. It's located on the road up to Panorama and is only 10 minutes outside town.

More information on Lake Lillian can be found on the Toby Creek Nordic Ski Club site.

There are also groomed trails for cross-country skiing, fat biking, or winter hiking (separate trails for skiing Vs. multi use enjoyment) across the road from Lake Lillian on the Junior Johnson Trail. If you were to ski every groomed trail in the Junior Johnson network, it would be about 5 km of beginner/intermediate skiing.

Note that as with the Lake Windermere Whiteway, a $5 donation is requested per user for use of the Lake Lillian Whiteway.

And while we always stay in Radium Hot Springs, you'll find plenty of condos to rent in Invermere as well if you'd prefer to be closer to the Whiteways or to Panorama Mountain Resort (below)

Skiing on the Lake Lillian Whiteway 

Panorama Mountain Resort

I love ski or hike in/out locations, and this is a prime contender for one of the best spots to enjoy a variety of winter sports without ever having to drive anywhere. Walk out the door of your cozy condo in the Panorama Village and enjoy downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or fat biking – with rentals for all sports on site. With the amount of options here, you might just have to stay for a week!

First tracks at Panorama Mountain Resort

Panorama Mountain Resort is a short 20 minute drive if you are staying in Invermere as well and we usually visit this resort as a day trip from Radium to go cross country skiing over New Years.

Rent a condo in the village and you'll enjoy relaxing at the end of each day in the Panorama Springs Hot Pools, included with all stays in the Panorama Village.

Panorama Springs Hot Pools 

Read more: Plan a Ski Getaway to Panorama Mountain Resort (with affordable slopeside lodging at the Approach Hotel)

Read more: Family Guide to Panorama Mountain Resort 

Read more: Find it ALL at Panorama Mountain Resort

Read more: Panorama Mountain Resort (much more than downhill skiing) - Cross-country skiing and fat biking guide

Read more: Magic Carpet to Monster at Panorama Mountain Resort 

Cross-country skiing to the Hale Hut, Panorama Mountain Resort

Fairmont Hot Springs

We love the pools at the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort. I like to soak in the hot pool while my boys swim and play around in the warm pool (situated side by side so I can keep an eye on them while I’m relaxing.) 

Fairmont Hot Springs in winter (photo: Fairmont Hot Springs Resort)

Spend the day skiing at the Fairmont Hot Springs Ski Hill and you'll receive day passes to visit the hot springs after as well. (Inquire directly with the resort to check on current availability of ski/soak passes.) 

Finally, Fairmont Hot Springs is a lovely family-friendly resort and I highly recommend spending a weekend here at the lodge.

Read more:  Five Reasons you need to Visit Fairmont Hot Springs Resort with your Family

Read more: Hot Springs and Cross-country Skiing! The Ultimate Winter Getaway 

Fairmont Hot Springs Ski Hill (photo: Fairmont Hot Springs Resort)

Looking for other activities to do in the area:

  • Hike to Findlay Falls near the Village of Canal Flats - A high clearance AWD or 4WD vehicle may be needed if it's recently snowed. You'll also want snowshoes if the trail hasn't been packed down.

  • Visit Lussier Hot Springs, natural hot spring pools located near Canal Flats. They are accessed via a rough logging road followed by a short hike. - You may want an AWD or 4WD vehicle in the winter and snow tires would be very helpful.

  • Explore the Spirit Trail, an old historic road that connects Fairmont with Canal Flats. Hike as far as you want and return the same way. Snowshoes may be necessary but chances are you should be fine in winter boots for this trail.

  • Take a walk on the new Markin MacPhail Westside Legacy Trail which will connect Invermere and Fairmont when completed. The first 5 segments have been completed from the Invermere side and you'll find the trail off Westside Road. 

Findlay Falls Hike 


Kimberley is one of my favourite mountain towns with a quaint Bavarian themed plaza located downtown.

Below are a few highlights from a winter trip to Kimberley:

  • Go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing in the Kimberley Nature Park, a large natural area located completely inside city limits and containing more than 30 miles of trails for skiing, hiking, or snowshoeing.

    It's also the largest municipal park in all of BC.

  • Spend the day downhill skiing at the Kimberley Alpine Resort. And I highly recommend staying at one of the ski in/ski out condos on the property where you'll be close to both the alpine resort and the Nordic centre up above.

Kimberley Alpine Resort

  • Go cross-country skiing at the Kimberley Nordic Centre, just up the road from the Alpine Resort. The Nordic Centre has 30 km of groomed trails and the Kimberley Nature Park is also accessible from this centre for backcountry touring or snowshoeing.

    You'll also find night skiing on a 3 km loop (which I found to be awesome while I was staying at the Alpine Resort down the road.)

    Note that there are trail fees to ski at the Nordic Centre.

  • Join a fat bike or snowshoe tour at the Kimberley Alpine Resort. The Trickle Creek Snowshoe Tour is family-friendly and you'll enjoy a hot drink and s'mores on your outing. There's also a Kootenay Haus Chocolate Fondue and Snowshoe Tour where you'll ride up the chairlift for a gentle snowshoe tour up top followed by chocolate fondue.

    Adults can join a fat bike tour across the snowy Trickle Creek Golf Course with a hot drink and s'mores. (The resort has fat bikes to rent, but unfortunately only for adults.)

  • Plan at least one dinner in the downtown Platzl. My personal favourite restaurant is the Pedal and Tap where I’m obsessed with their Vietnamese pulled pork subs with mucked-up fries. My son is a huge fan of their spaghetti balls and I have been known to plan ski trips to Kimberley around our family’s love of this restaurant.

    Tip: Dine early because I’m not the only one who loves this restaurant, and the dining room is small.
Snowshoeing through the Kimberley Nature Park (photo: Kimberley Tourism)

Read: Family Guide to Kimberley Alpine Resort

Read: The Ultimate Family Ski Weekend at Kimberley Alpine Resort 

Winter in the Platzl downtown Kimberley 

Planning to return in Summer? Check out the summer edition of this story:

Read: The Best of the Columbia Valley (Radium Hot Springs to Invermere - and beyond) 

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

A Holiday Gift Guide for Active Kids

I'm back with another one of my annual holiday gift guides, and this year I've decided to keep the theme more general, focusing on fun gifts to keep our kids active all year long, outside (and even inside on those cold winter days.)

Get the kids outside year round to be active, happy, and healthy

I've organized gift ideas below by category/sport.

All links go to the product or company website. A few links go to the Amazon website (If you choose to purchase anything off Amazon I might make a few pennies off the purchase, but please feel free to shop wherever works for your family.

You'll also find many links for products off the All Out Kids Gear website and the Kids Bikes Canada website where I'm an affiliate partner.

Holiday Gift Guide for Active Kids

Kids on Bikes - Gift ideas for kids who love mountain biking and cycling

The BIG Gift: A New Bike

Prevelo Bikes ships their bikes for free (including to Canada,) and they make amazing bikes (engineered specifically for youth!)

You can read all about my son's Prevelo Zulu Four here: What to Look for in your Child's Next Bike (and what to skip!)  - note I previously partnered with Prevelo Bikes as an Ambassador

My son is currently as of 2020 riding a 26" Cleary Scout bike and it's been amazing for a combination of cross-country and downhill riding. You can buy Cleary bikes locally from Kids Bikes Canada.

We ordered my son's Cleary bike for Christmas 2019 and it was delivered to our door from Kids Bikes Canada. They provided amazing customer service and we felt good knowing that we were supporting a local family business.

A new bike makes for a fabulous Christmas gift!

Other recommended bikes for children and youth:

And it's your choice if you want to put the bike together for the big "Christmas morning reveal" or if you want to wrap the box (which would make for one very large present to be opened.)

Invest in quality mountain bikes for active kids who love to ride

Other Gifts for Kids Who Love Biking

And a few tips for getting the kids out on bikes year round:

First, consider renting fat bikes for a day (or a weekend) from Kananaskis Outfitters at Kananaskis Village. 

Biking can be a fun activity year round 

Or, visit B-Line, Calgary's indoor bike park where you can bike for the entire day for $30. (Much cheaper than a ski lift ticket.)

Conquering the beginner jump line at B-Line Indoor Bike Park

Kids on the Trails - Gift ideas to keep kids hiking year round 

The BIG Gift: A New Backpack 

All out Kids Gear has a great assortment of backpacks from kids' starter packs up to hydration packs and overnight packs for backpacking.

My son uses a small hydration pack for our day hikes but has a Deuter Fox 30 for overnight trips. We love this backpack and are pleased with the amount our son can carry with it.

See the full collection of backpacks at All out Kids Gear here

Backpacks make excellent Christmas gifts for active kids

Other Gifts for Kids who Like Hiking, Snowshoeing, and Backpacking

Get the kids some snowshoes and enjoy year round hiking!

And check out Lori Beattie's Guidebook: Calgary's Best Walks: 45 Urban Jaunts and Nature Strolls 

This is the second edition of this book and it has been fully updated and expanded.

My son loves the colorful maps in the first book and reads it regularly while eating breakfast as he plots out new routes we should walk around our city.

It's a great guide if you like geocaching too!

The book will be available in stores on November 27th, 2020.

Winter Kids - Gift ideas to keep kids happy and warm all winter long

Check out the suggestions below for kids who want to play outside all winter long while staying warm

Dress the kids warm and get out to play! 

Crag Kids - Gift ideas for kids who love rock climbing (inside or out)

Here are a few of my top suggestions here:

Climbing shoes make great Christmas gifts

  • Climbing shoes (We swear by the Mad Rock Mad Monkey shoes.)

  • A climbing harness (great for kids who've been renting at the gym and would like their own)

  • A climbing helmet (great for kids who've been using bike helmets for outdoor climbing) 

  • A chalk bag for a stocking stuffer 
Shop all climbing gear for the whole family from All Out Kids Gear.

And for a BIG gift: Build the kids a basement climbing wall! (could be hard to keep as a surprise, but it would be an awesome gift!)

Climbing helmets are great for scrambling and hiking too!

Ski Kids - Gift ideas for kids who enjoy downhill and cross-country skiing

The BIG Gift: New Skis and Boots

This is the obvious choice, right? Seriously though, a pair of skis makes for a great Christmas gift if your family wants to get into cross-country skiing. Buy the skis, boots, and poles, and then you're set with free skiing the rest of the winter. 

Buy adjustable poles to cut down on one cost (one pair will last for years and can be used for both cross-country and downhill skiing along with hiking as well.)

And if you're buying downhill skis, consider Roces adjustable ski boots that expand to fit your child for several years.

And need to save a few pennies? Check out the local consignment stores. Your child likely won't care if their skis or boots aren't brand new. I bought my son's cross-country boots second hand from Trail Blazers in Cochrane this year.

Get the kids on the slopes with new ski gear for Christmas 

Other Gifts for Kids who Love Skiing

  • Any of the clothing items above under the "winter kids" section

  • A new ski helmet

  • New ski goggles! (it's always a treat to have goggles without scratches!)

  • A new thermos for the ski hill (hot lunches are the best!)

  • Any of the ideas in this gift guide from last year: A Ski Family's Holiday Gift Guide

Ski goggles make an excellent Christmas gift

Little Campers - Gift ideas for kids who love camping

I have lots of suggestions for you here:

  • A new headlamp (we're always losing ours!)

  • A new sleeping bag (kids grow, right?)

  • A slackline for car camping trips next summer

  • A hammock for next season's camping trips (kids LOVE playing around in hammocks!)

Shop all camping items above from All Out Kids Gear.

  • Down hut booties! (the best thing for winter hut trips) - my son has a pair of XS hut booties

  • A fun camping themed water bottle 

  • A fishing rod! (Something my son just discovered he enjoyed this summer while backpacking) 

A fishing rod is a great gift idea for active kids 

Active Kids - General gift ideas

Below are some random ideas I had for year round active play:

  • A new sled! (sleds get cracked, broken, etc. Then there's just the "it's a new sled!!!" factor

  • Fitivities, the board game that moves you - "Each individual or team competes against each other by completing the number of repetitions of a given exercise, which are determined by the spin of the arrow."

    "Fitivities is part board game, part workout, and all fun."

  • And check out these ideas for active toys from the Active for Life Gift Guide. 

Activity trackers make great holiday gifts for active kids

The Gift of Experience and Fun - Gift cards, ski discount cards, and more!

Want something that's less about collecting "stuff" and more about family bonding and fun adventure?

Gift cards for local indoor playgrounds, indoor bike parks and climbing gyms

Below are some of my top picks for the Calgary area:

B-Line Indoor Bike Park - Calgary's Biking Playground! Enjoy bike park and BMX style riding year round. There are levels of progression for all riders and you can rent everything you'll need (including bikes.)

Read more: B-Line Indoor Bike Park Review

Give the kids a gift card for B-Line Indoor Bike Park in Calgary

Calgary Climbing Centre - Take the kids to one of the Calgary Climbing Centre's Climb Parks for an hour of fun on creatively-themed climbing walls. There are two locations in the city and no experience is necessary thanks to the auto belay system that's used on every wall in these parks. Learn to climb and have fun doing it!

Read more: Rocky Mountain Climb Park Review

Read more: Hanger Climb Park Review

Give the kids a gift card to use at a Calgary Climbing Centre climb park

Ski Discount Cards, Tube Park Passes, or lift tickets for your local ski hill 

Below are a few suggestions here:

  • Ski discount cards make great Christmas gifts. Buy a Lake Louise Plus card for adult and teen members of your family and kids will get discounts every day they come with you.

    Read: 7 Days of Big Mountain Skiing for less than $400.00

  • Tube park passes make another great stocking stuffer. And the Servus Tube Park at WinSport's Canada Olympic Park is a lot of fun!! (It's one of the fastest tube parks in the area.)

  • Pick up some lift tickets and surprise the kids with a ski day at one of their favourite hills. Most hills have incentives for multi-day skiing or provide discounted pricing if you purchase lift passes online. 

Tube park passes make a great stocking stuffer gift

Check out my complete set of holiday gift guides

A Holiday Gift Guide for Active Kids 

Big Thanks to all sponsors of this year's holiday gift guide!

- All Out Kids Gear

- Altitude Sports

- B-Line Indoor Bike Park

- The Calgary Climbing Centre

- Trail Blazers

Monday, November 12, 2018

Wild Mountain Skating Guide for Banff and Kananaskis

Mid-November is here and that means it's game on for wild mountain skating in the Canadian Rockies. Some of the lakes are starting to freeze, the ice is thick enough for skating, and they are snow free (for now.) Once it snows, the ice will be covered and that will be it for another year.

Wild Mountain Skating in Banff on Johnson Lake

What is "Wild Mountain Skating?"

There are many outdoor ponds, lakes, and rinks in the Rockies that get cleared of snow and maintained by park or resort staff through the winter, usually starting mid to late December. 

November (and sometimes December if snow is late to arrive) however gives us a different experience where we can often experience "natural skating" on lakes that are not maintained or cleared of snow. 

We often get a brief window mid to late November where some mountain lakes have frozen (with ice thick enough to skate on) without being snow covered yet. Some years, it never happens. Other years, we get a magical window where the ice on certain mountain lakes is smooth like glass and 100% snow free.

Skating across Johnson Lake in Banff on November 11th, 2018

Skating on Johnson Lake, Banff

Johnson Lake in Banff is always one of the first lakes to freeze and my family has skated on it nearly every year now for the past eight years. We started by pushing our son across the ice in a chariot when he was just a toddler, and now, at 11 years old, my son doesn't even like skating indoors anymore. He's become spoiled and loves his wild mountain skating days.

Playing hockey on Johnson Lake, November 9, 2013

Some years we luck out and get ice that's as smooth as glass and 100% snow free. Other years, we shovel off a small area to play hockey and skate (as in the photo above where the ice thickness was so bad we never actually went further than this tiny rink we cleared).)

Often, benevolent angels in the Bow Valley show up with shovels to clear paths around the lake if there's been snow before the lake freezes.

Johnson Lake on November 15, 2014

Other Options Around the Town of Banff for Wild Mountain Skating 

Other options around the Town of Banff for natural skating are the Vermilion Lakes (we have skated on all three of the Vermilion Lakes,) or Cascade Pond

Skating on the First Vermilion Lake, November 19th, 2016

First and Second Vermilion Lake are easy to access and you can park right beside the ice. If you want to skate on the Third Vermilion Lake, park by the outhouses in a parking lot along Vermilion Lakes Road and hike in from there to the east side of the lake. There's always open water if you try to start from the boat dock.

Ice that was smooth as glass on the Third Vermilion Lake, November 1, 2019 

Two Jack Lake can often be good for skating as well in late November or even into December. In 2018, we were on Two Jack Lake on November 21st but in 2017, we weren't skating here until December 15th. 

Skating on Two Jack Lake, December 15, 2017

The cool thing about Two Jack Lake is that when it's frozen, you can skate down the canal through the campground. In 2017 it wasn't frozen but in 2018, it was. It made for a 4 km round trip skate from one end of the lake (as far as we dared go in the Minnewanka direction) down the canal and back.

Skating down the canal on Two Jack Lake, November 21, 2018

It doesn't get prettier than this on Two Jack Lake,  November 21, 2018

- note the life jacket in the photo above: the ice was barely thick enough to skate on.

Finally, Lake Minnewanka is a popular skating lake later in the season and I finally caught a window for this one in 2018 for the first time, and again in 2019. Sometimes you can skate all the way down the lake, other times you can only skate in the first bay, and other times you have to hike a ways down the lake to find skateable ice. It's always an adventure on this wild lake.

Skating on Lake Minnewanka, December 29, 2019

Bubbles on Lake Minnewanka, January 22, 2018 

Other Popular Skating Choices in the Bow Valley 

There are many choices, depending on the season. Below are a few popular locations:

  • Lac Des Arcs off the TransCanada Hwy

  • Carrot Creek, Banff  located between Banff and Canmore off the TransCanada Hwy (requires a hike down from the highway and you have to be driving eastbound on the highway.)

  • Gap Lake off the Hwy 1A between Canmore and Exshaw (The parking lot is on the 1A)

  • Grotto Pond beside the Grotto Canyon Day Use Area (this one is usually cleared by locals and can be skateable into December.)

  • The Yamnuska Nature Area located off the Highway 1A near the popular Yamnuska trailhead. There are many ponds and lakes here to skate if you're willing to go for a hike. Start at the Yamnuska parking lot and hike to the first lake you come to that's located right beside the 1A (That's Loon Lake and you can see it on the map in the link above.) The hiking trail in the link above doesn't go here, but it's easy to find from the Yamnuska parking lot.

    The second lake we've skated is called Crescent Lake and on the map at the link above, it's the uppermost lake at the bottom left. The one below it (closer to the highway) is Reed Lake and we've skated on this one as well.

    For a really good map of this area, labeling all of the lakes, with different access points for hiking, check out Gillean Daffern's 3rd Kananaskis Hiking Book.

  • Ghost Lake Reservoir just outside Cochrane off the Hwy 1A (this one is often skateable through the winter season and is popular with ice sail boats)

Lac Des Arcs, November 26, 2016

Halloween skating on Gap Lake, October 31st, 2019 

Grotto Pond, December 18th, 2016

Ghost Lake, December 1, 2020

Skating on Loon Lake in the Yamnuska Nature Area, December 1, 2020

And one final place you can often skate in the Bow Valley is called the "Back Swamp." We hiked in here in 2019 and found a small skating area that was fun for a group of kids.

Directions: Park on the side of the TransCanada Highway just after the Sunshine Village turnoff. (the link takes you to the exact spot on Google maps.) You'll be heading west from Banff towards Lake Louise.

Skating on the Back Swamp in Banff, November 16, 2019 

You will see a gate in the fence if you park at the correct spot and you'll be able to exit the highway through that gate. From the gate, follow wide clearings until you reach the pond that you can see on the Google Maps link. It's about a 15-20 minute hike.

This is a large wetland area and if conditions are right, you'll have a very large skating area.

Parked on the side of the road and you can see the Sunshine exit in the background 
The gate you'll want to park beside so that you can get through the wildlife fence
Hiking through open meadows to the Back Swamp in Banff 

Wild Mountain Skating at Lake Louise 

Most of the lakes around Lake Louise require incredible luck along with some hiking or skiing to reach the ice you'll skate on.

The crown jewels here are Lake Louise and Moraine Lake which are very hard to time. Moraine Lake doesn't usually freeze until the road is closed after Canadian Thanksgiving, requiring a long hike or ski in to reach the lake. Avalanche danger is also a concern for Moraine Lake after Thanksgiving making this lake a definite challenge.

Lake Louise often gets a short window, often a day or two at most late November, where you can skate end to end on the big beautiful lake. The lake doesn't freeze evenly though and so it can be dangerous to go out on this one too early if the back of the lake isn't thick enough for skating yet. Many people have been lured out onto the ice here, only to fall in upon reaching a thin patch of ice halfway down the lake.

Skating to the back of Lake Louise on November 21, 2022

In 2022 we finally get our break here and got to skate the full lake end to end on very solid safe ice. 

Know that even if you miss a window to skate the entire lake here, there is always a skating rink cleared at the front of the lake throughout the winter season in front of the Chateau Lake Louise. You can even rent skates at the hotel.

Glorious Lake Louise on November 21, 2022 

Wild Mountain Skating in Kananaskis

It's a real treat to be able to skate on some of the big lakes in Kananaskis. Dates are variable year to year, and I've only managed to personally skate on a couple of them due to timing.

Spray Lake Reservoir 

The crown jewel here is Spray Lake which had the most amazing season in 2017 for about a week where the ice was snow free and smooth as glass. 

Skating on Spray Lake, December 16th, 2017

Edit for 2020, we have had another amazing window on Spray Lake and we were able to skate a loop of roughly 4.5 km from the Driftwood Day Use Area. The ice got thinner as we went south.

Spray Lake from the Driftwood Day Use Area, December 3, 2020

Upper Kananaskis Lake

In 2017 we also got to skate on Upper Kananaskis Lake which I feel might have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!

Skating on Upper Kananaskis Lake on December 16th, 2017

Lower Kananaskis Lake

In 2020 we finally got a window to skate on the Lower Kananaskis Lake. It was smooth as glass, completely empty of people, and a true local secret for the week that it was thick enough to skate on (before it snowed.)

Skating on Lower Kananaskis Lake, December 5, 2020

We actually got out twice on this lake in 2020 and had it completely to ourselves the first time. The second time we only had to share the gigantic lake with one other small group.

The lesson we learned here: Always bring your skates with you when you're going hiking, skiing, or even visiting another lake between November and December. We decided to stop by the Lower Lake on our way home from skating on another lake - out of curiosity - and were completely surprised that it was thick enough to skate on (after measuring it.) 

The best wild skating experiences will always be those where you get that "first ice" after doing safety checks and measuring the ice, before it's carved up from hundreds of other users, and before social media has broadcast the news that the lake is ready to go.

First tracks on the Lower Kananaskis Lake, December 5, 2020

Barrier Lake from the boat launch 

In 2018, we had two new additions to our "we've finally skated here" list: Barrier Lake and Wedge Pond.

Barrier Lake had been on my bucket list for years now to skate but I'd never found a window before when it was frozen but still snow free. December 2018 was the year and we caught a very small window when the ice was like glass.

Note if you want to skate Barrier, you'll usually be starting at the day use area where they have boat rentals in the summer, and NOT at the dam itself. The ice is not usually frozen or smooth enough at the dam. 

You want to park way up above the Barrier Lake Day Use Area beside a gate that's closed for winter and then you'll hike about a kilometre down the closed road. If you are not hiking down to the lake you're at the wrong spot. (see the link above for the Google Map location)

Skating across Barrier Lake on ice as smooth as glass, December 16, 2018

Barrier Lake from the Dam 

In 2022 we finally got a window to skate Barrier Lake right from the dam itself (Google Maps link) for easy parking and a very short walk down to the ice.

The ice was smooth as glass and we just had to walk across the dam and then hike down to the ice.

Skating on Barrier Lake from the dam, November 21st 2022 

Wedge Pond

Wedge Pond gave us another great skating day in December, 2018, and we were surprised by this one because I'd never seen this pond frozen (with ice thick enough to skate on) and snow-free at the same time. 2018 was a truly magical season where we had no snow for a very long time, and it gave us some windows for skating I don't expect we'll get again anytime soon.

Skating on very smooth ice on Wedge Pond, December 15, 2018

Goat Pond

In 2019 we got another first, and we were able to skate on Goat Pond off the Spray Lakes Road. There wasn't a huge area to skate on, but we caught a 2-day window where the ice was thick enough and snow free.

There's currently another window for this one as of December 3, 2020 and it's been quite popular.

Magical skating on Goat Pond, November 2, 2019 

Skating on Creeks and Rivers

Truth be told, I almost prefer creeks and rivers over lakes because I think it's fun to skate along a winding channel with bends and interesting features.

In 2018 we heard about people skating on Cougar Creek in Canmore, and had to go check it out. It was absolutely magical!!

Skating down Cougar Creek in Canmore, January 8th, 2018

Basic Directions to find Cougar Creek: 

  1. Start at this off leash dog park in Canmore on Bow Valley Trail / Hwy 1A.

  2. Walk under the bridge (crossing under the 1A)

  3. Follow the creek until you find good skating ice. You will come to a junction where Policeman's Creek and Spring Creek come in to join you from the northwest. Here we headed towards the river and found great smooth ice. 

As this is a skate-hike, you'll need winter boots to reach the ice, and either a backpack to hold your skates (or just carry them.)

Where Cougar Creek meets the Bow River in Canmore

Finally, we love skating on the creek in Bowness Park, right in Calgary (super close to home!) It's cleared and maintained through the winter and gives a very natural skating experience close to home.

Skating down the creek in Bowness Park, Calgary 

For more information on where to skate in Banff and Kananaskis:

Banff Town Guide to Ice Skating (with safety information and locations for skating all winter long)

8 Memorable Places to Skate in Banff National Park - Banff Lake Louise Tourism Guide

Ice Skating on the Ghost Lake Reservoir - often great for skating all winter long

How to Love Winter in the Rockies - On Skates!

November is my favourite month to visit Banff  

Johnson Lake 2018 - Pure Magic!! 

Safety Guideline for Ice Thickness

Recommendations for ice thickness are based on clear, blue or green ice: 

3" (7cm) or less STAY OFF

4" (10cm) ice fishing, ice skating, walking, cross country skiing

5" (12cm) one snowmobile or ATV

8"-12" (20-30cm) one car or small pickup truck

12"-15" (30-38cm) one medium truck (pickup or van)

And I'll confess that we do skate ice that is 3 inches thick (most dedicated wild mountain skaters in the Rockies will because it's the only way to get the good glass) but we take safety precautions when doing so, never skate alone, and we measure the ice often using an ice screw. Those new to wild skating will want to stick to ice that is 4 inches thick.

Skating down Cougar Creek, Canmore on January 8th, 2018
Skating down the canal on Two Jack Lake, November 21, 2018

Disclaimer: It is up to you the individual, to verify that all ice is thick enough to skate on. I rely on social media reports, measurements from friends and acquaintances, and sometimes even official warnings/notices from Parks Canada. 

I also don't like to venture out on lakes unless I can see lots of other people enjoying the ice. It gives me a sense of comfort to know that we're not alone on the ice.

I highly recommend bringing a full change of clothes and a rope or even a hockey stick/ski pole in case you have to pull somebody out. Some people also choose to wear life jackets.

Finally, it's always a good idea to skate with other people in a group (or to choose a lake with many other people out on it.)

Ghost Lake, December 1, 2020