Wednesday, February 13, 2019

5 Destinations to Explore on your Summer Road Trip

We are big fans of the classic summer road trip, trailer loaded with camping gear for at least a week, kayak and paddleboard mounted on top of our vehicle, and bikes filling the box of our truck. Somewhere we find storage space for our hiking and climbing gear as well, and off we go!

Summer vacation doesn't get much better than this!

The challenge - booking these amazing trips - in February - when there's still snow on the ground! Does anybody even know their vacation schedule yet?

And upfront honesty - there is no hidden agenda in this story, no sponsored links to sunblock companies, no paid endorsements for bug spray... Just my words and me sharing my favourite places to travel with you!

My husband nearly died when I told him our giant peacock was coming with us last year!

We will be visiting every destination featured in this story at some point this coming summer, launching each trip from Calgary, Alberta, and I am beyond excited that 90% of my reservations are already booked. Now I can enjoy the rest of the winter while I dream of happy camping and traveling days to come.

One - North to Jasper National Park (Alberta)

Jasper is an annual road trip destination for us (for at least a weekend) and we've been taking a photo of my son and I in the exact same spot every year for the past 8 years! (in hindsight we should have added my husband but it was never intended to become an annual thing.)

The annual photo that we travel to Jasper for every single year!

Highlights of a Trip to Jasper

  • An easy multi-use trail system that loops the town and surrounding lakes - perfect for novice riders wanting to try some easy mountain biking

  • Gorgeous calm lakes for paddling

  • Beautiful hiking trails with something suitable for all abilities

  • The best nachos in the Canadian Rockies at the Jasper Brewing Company (the beer is pretty good too)

  • The tramway ride that takes you up Whistlers Mountain will be something you remember for years if you time your visit for a warm sunny day and hike to the summit

  • Driving the Icefields Parkway, one of the most scenic highways in Canada, and stopping at the Columbia Icefields Centre for a tour on the Athabasca Glacier on a giant snowcoach. 

Hiking on Whistlers Mountain in Jasper

Read: Our Top Ten Favourite Things to do in Jasper 

Read: Family-friendly Summits in Jasper National Park 

Read: The Best Family Bike Trails in Jasper 

Read: Experiencing Awesome in Jasper National Park 

Read: Local's Guide to Exploring the Best of Banff and Jasper 

Read: Summer Planning: Where to Camp in the National Parks of Alberta 

Paddling across Pyramid Lake in Jasper 

Two - Exploring the BEST of the East Kootenays and the Columbia Valley (BC)

We spend multiple weekends in the Columbia Valley around Radium Hot Springs every summer. We also plan at least one longer trip to Fernie every summer. The East Kootenay Rockies feel like home to us and we can never spend enough time here.

Mountain biking in the Columbia Valley 

Highlights of a trip to the East Kootenays or the Columbia Valley

  • The most amazing smooth flowy mountain bike trails ever! (my personal opinion of course)

  • Swimming and paddling with painted turtles at Surveyors Lake

  • Floating down the Columbia River and camping overnight on an island

  • Lots of hot springs!!

  • Warm camping! (as early as Easter some years and as late as Thanksgiving)

Hiking in Radium Hot Springs with views of the Columbia River wetlands

Radium Hot Springs, Invermere, Fairmont Hot Springs, and Golden

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

Read: The Best Family Bike Trails in the Columbia Valley 

Read: Paddling and Camping on the Columbia River with Kids 

Read: Why We LOVE Camping at Red Streak, Radium Hot Springs, BC

Read: Family Adventure Bucket List for Golden, BC 

Hours of fun at the Fairmont Hot Springs Pool

Fernie and surrounding area

Read: The Best Family Bike Trails in Fernie, BC 

Read: Family Downhill Mountain Biking at Fernie Alpine Resort 

Read: Camping at Surveyors Lake, Kikomun Creek Provincial Park 

Read: First Summits - Polar Peak, Fernie Alpine Resort 

Painted turtles at Surveyors Lake near Fernie

Three - Touring the West Kootenays, Nelson and area (BC)

We spent a few days exploring the area around Nelson two years ago, and liked Kokanee Creek Provincial Park so much, we returned last year. Playing on the sand spit is an annual summer highlight and it's surreal to be able to walk out into the middle of the lake to play in ankle deep water.

Fun on the sand spit at Kokanee Creek Provincial Park 

Highlights of a trip to Nelson and the surrounding area around the West Kootenays 

  • Beach time at Kokanee Creek Provincial Park and hours of fun on the sand spit

  • Biking on the Great Northern Rail Trail

  • Paddling on Kootenay Lake, an official paddle route of the Trans Canada Trail

  • Hot Springs! (with a cave if you go to Ainsworth)

Playing on the sand spit in Kootenay Lake

Read: Family Touring around Nelson and the West Kootenays, BC

Sunset fishing at Kokanee Creek Provincial Park 

Four - Discovering Vacation Wonderland in the Okanagan (BC)

Every year we tell ourselves that maybe we're done with the Okanagan and that we can move on to explore other places. We sit down for a couple of seconds until the feeling passes, and then I go book a campsite. I don't think we'll ever get tired of spending a week here and I suspect my son will remember his time here as some of his happiest summer memories when he's all grown up.

Swim Bay in Peachland, a major summer highlight for us

Highlights of a Trip to the Okanagan 

  • Zip lines, diving boards, and a rope swing at the Swim Bay outdoor aquatic centre in Peachland

  • Wibit inflatable water parks in Kelowna, Peachland, and Penticton

  • Floating the channel in Penticton

  • Beach time and gloriously hot sunny weather

  • Biking on the Kettle Valley Railway over trestle bridges and through tunnels

  • Touring Wineries for at least an hour every day (and you can bring the kids)

Biking through the Little Tunnel on the Kettle Valley Railway 

Read: The Importance of Summer Vacations (and the BEST of the Okanagan) 

Read: Biking the Kettle Valley Railway from Kelowna to Osoyoos 

Bridge jumping in Okanagan Falls 

Five - South to Idaho, Silverwood, and Farragut State Park (USA)

This was a new destination for us last year and we enjoyed the area so much, we're returning this year. We love the Farragut State Park Campground and we're all looking forward to spending a couple more days at the Silverwood Theme Park.

Silverwood water park (by far the best water park we've been to)

Highlights of a trip to Farragut State Park and Northern Idaho

  • Biking the Route of the Hiawatha, a restored rail trail, with a a tunnel that's 2.7 km long (and pitch black inside!) - downhill rail grade the entire time with a shuttle ride back at the end

  • Beach time at Farragut State Park (make sure you find the rope swing)

  • A trip to Silverwood, a giant theme park with an incredible water park
Family biking on the Route of the Hiawatha in Northern Idaho

Read: Road Trip to Bike the Route of the Hiawatha in Northern Idaho 

Giant rope swing at Farragut State Park, Idaho

Questions about where we've camped, where we recommend staying, or about any of the activities mentioned here? Send me an email, leave a comment below, or connect with me on Facebook. I answer every message.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Mountain Living in a Tiny Home! Fernie's Newest Accommodations

You know you've always wanted to stay in a tiny home, to check one out, and to find out just how tiny these properties really are. If not, I'm sure you can honestly still say you're "intrigued" by the Tiny Home movement and are curious about how much stuff you can squeeze into a small space.

Mountain Living in a Tiny Home in Fernie

My family had the opportunity to check out the brand new tiny homes with Snow Valley Lodging in Fernie, British Columbia, and it was an incredibly unique set of accommodations for a ski weekend.

Snow Valley Lodging has 6 tiny homes for rent

Close to Everything at Snow Valley Lodging 

The mountain town of Fernie is located 3 hours south of Calgary, and is easy to reach after work on a Friday for a power ski trip. We spend a couple of days skiing, and then drive back home Sunday afternoon. 

In the past we've always stayed right on the ski hill in Fernie in ski in/ski out accommodations, but this year we wanted to spend a longer amount of time in town and wanted lodging that was more centrally located.

The Snow Valley Lodging property is located just a few blocks away from the river, a short 5 minute walk from the multi-use main town loop pathway system, and a short drive away from the Fernie Nordic Centre. We were also able to drive to the nearby Montane Trailhead for cross-country skiing or fat biking, and we were not very far away from the town aquatic centre. 

We also loved that we were a 5 minute walk from the best ice-cream in town at the Happy Cow, close to several other restaurants (if you don't feel like cooking at the end of the day,) and that we were able to rent fat bikes to enjoy during our stay (for free!!) - note that the bikes all had a medium frame and so you'd have to rent youth sized bikes in Calgary if this is something you want to try as a family.

Follow this link to see the Snow Valley Lodging Property on Google Maps. 

FREE BIKE RENTALS INCLUDED! I rode right out the front door of the Snow Valley Lodging Office

The Tiny Home Experience 

Snow Valley Lodging has recently built 6 tiny homes on their property and we got to try one out for a few nights. 

What's included in your tiny home

  • A basic kitchen with stove, oven, dishes, cooking supplies, a toaster, a coffee maker, and a mini fridge. - note that there is no microwave.

  • A queen sized bed in the loft with a double sofa bed on the main floor

  • A  bathroom with shower and basic amenities

  • A very small kitchen table with two stools. Extra family members have to eat from the sofa

  • Free on site parking

  • Two wall mounted televisions (one per floor)
Tiny Home Kitchen with everything we needed for a weekend

Questions you might have: 

1. Is there enough room for a family? - Yes, but it's cozy. The tiny homes would be ideal for a couple, but it's very doable for a family of 3 or 4. 

We joked that every evening we'd convert our tiny home to sleep mode (folding out the sofa bed and putting the table up for the night) and that every morning we'd convert the home back into day mode (table back down, bed converted back to a sofa.)

We just have one child and so it worked for us for a few nights. Two kids would have to be able to sleep well together in a double bed.

Loft bedroom in our tiny home

2. Are pets allowed in the tiny home? - Yes, some of the tiny homes allow pets.

3. Did you have enough space for your ski gear, clothing, outerwear, etc? - Again, it was tight, but we found space for everything, stored backpacks in the shower, shoved our huge hockey bag under the stairs, and loved the storage shelves at the foot of the bed upstairs. 
Looking down on the living area in our tiny home

Because it was winter, we had a lot of wet clothing to dry each day, but we managed to find space to hang everything and loved how fast stuff would dry if you hung it over the main heater.

4. Were you comfortable in your tiny home? - Yes, but you want to make sure you use the ceiling fan, and don't let it get too warm on the main floor. Heat rises and we accidentally turned the loft into a sauna the first night. We learned to live with a  cooler temperature on the main floor after that. - and note, bring slippers. The floor was chilly on the feet.

5. Would you stay here again? - Definitely yes. We loved the cute little home and found it to be so much more personal than a motel room. The art work was unique and the house was very well decorated so that you did not feel like you were in a trailer once you stepped inside.

We loved being able to cook our own meals, to prepare breakfast before hitting the ski trails, and enjoyed being close to everything in town. 

My son especially loved the loft and spent hours upstairs reading books in the cozy bed. He wanted to sleep in the loft as well so we let him fall asleep there each evening (allowing us to continue using the main floor while he slept) and then we moved him downstairs when we went to bed later.

Hanging out in our Snow Valley Lodging Tiny Home  in Fernie

Other Perks Included: 

  • There is an indoor hot tub next to the office

  • There are two adult sized fat bikes available for free rental and they also had these funky HOK skis available to borrow as well (think downhill skis with bindings that fit a normal snow boot.) We never tried the skis but did enjoy taking a short spin along the river on the  bikes. 

Tiny Homes in Fernie 

We enjoyed our Tiny Home stay with Snow Valley Lodging and I highly recommend the experience. Visit the Snow Valley Lodging website for more information or to make a reservation.

I think these Tiny Homes would be amazing in the summer as well because you can bike right out the front door of your house, down to the river, and boom - you're on the Main Town Pathway Loop. From there you can connect to the multi-use trail system, access the aquatic centre, ride to the town bike park, visit restaurants, and even check out the spray park in town - all from your bike! - read more about biking around Fernie here.

Disclaimer: Our stay in Fernie was hosted in partnership with Tourism Fernie. As always, all words and opinions are my own and we were not compensated beyond the stay. 

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Top 5 Things to do in Fernie with your Family this Winter

My family makes the 3-hour drive down to the mountain town of Fernie in Southern British Columbia at least once every winter from Calgary, but up until this year, we'd never left the ski hill. And while Fernie Alpine Resort is an amazing ski hill (one of our favourites,) Fernie has so much more to offer in addition to downhill skiing!

Cross-country skiing on the multi-use trails around the Town of Fernie

I would never suggest you to go Fernie and skip skiing at Fernie Alpine Resort (because that would be crazy talk for any dedicated ski family,) but we added a couple of extra days on to our annual Fernie trip this year so we could check out the other destinations around town.

We wanted to try some new activities and explore the incredible trail network we enjoy so much on our summer visits.

Visit Fernie Alpine Resort, and then try something new on your  next visit to Fernie

5 Things to do in Fernie with your Family this Winter 

One. Ride a Snowcat to Island Lake Lodge for Lunch

We've visited Island Lake Lodge in the summer (when the road is open for visitors to drive up for the day) but it's a completely different experience in winter when the lodge goes into full backcountry mode, and is accessed by snowcat only.

A snowcat/lunch tour to Island Lake Lodge costs $79 per person with children 4-12 receiving a 50% discount (children 3 and under are free.) With your tour, you enjoy return snowcat transportation and a two-course gourmet lunch (with a number of choices from the menu.) 

Island Lake Lodge Snowcat Tour

Skiing out from Island Lake Lodge
Spa treatments are also available (for an additional fee) and snowshoes can be rented if you want to hike around the lake. Alternately, bring your own snowshoes or cross-country skis for use on the trails around the lodge.

We brought our own skis because we wanted to ski out from the lodge. Return transportation is included with every package, but we thought it would be fun to enjoy the descent back to the parking lot on skis following the Cedar Valley Trail that is groomed by the lodge. 

The 10.6km long Cedar Valley Trail follows a couple of different trails combined with sections of the summer road and a few shared portions of the snowcat track. And while we were warned that the trail would be quite steep and challenging, it was quite easy compared with the trails we're used to here in the Rockies (not to mention very wide, double track the entire length, and perfectly groomed for easy control on the steepest parts.)

Skiing out from Island Lake Lodge on the Cedar Valley Trail

Questions you might have:

Snowshoes to rent at Island Lake Lodge
Can you ski or hike up to the lodge? Yes, you can, but you need to make a reservation ahead of time for lunch, and it would be hard to predict an arrival time. If you choose to pursue this option, give yourself plenty of time in case the trip takes longer than expected. It would also be quite the slog up on skis (much more fun on descent) and I would not recommend it with children as the trail gains approximately 500 metres of height gain.

Do you recommend skiing out with children? Yes, IF you're ok with paying for return transportation that you won't use (you can't just pay for the ride up) and if your children are experienced on steep terrain. (The trail loses 500 metres of height and is very fast in spots.)

Do we have to make a reservation for the snowcat tour? Yes! You'll also choose your departure time in the morning and your return time in the afternoon when you make your reservation along with your lunch reservation time.

Can we pay for a one-way ride down on the snowcat if we ski or hike up? No. All snowcat tours are a return package deal and include lunch.

Can we rent skis at the lodge? No. The lodge only has snowshoes to rent. Bring your own cross-country skis if you want to tour around the trails near the lodge.

Can we stay overnight as a family? No. All overnight stays are part of an all inclusive 3 or 4 night cat skiing package. There are no nordic packages for families.

Is the lunch menu child-friendly? I never asked about a specific children's menu, but my son was able to order a child-sized hamburger. The food is definitely on the more "decadent" end of things,  but most families should be able to find something on the menu a child would eat (even if you ask for a simple toasted cheese sandwich instead of the fancier one on the menu)

Does the lodge have snowshoes to rent for children? Yes they do.

Views from the snowshoe trail around Island Lake

Additional tips if planning a trip here with kids:

  • If you have to choose between snowshoeing or cross-country skiing around the lodge, choose snowshoeing. The trail around the perimeter of the lake is a snowshoe trail. Meanwhile, the lakeside ski trail does a loop that is further away and you won't get views of the lake while on it.

  • Ask if your kids can take turns riding in the front of the snowcat with the driver. (one on the way up and one on the way down.) My son got to ride up front and loved the experience.

Visit the Island Lake Lodge website for more information on the snowcat lunch tour or if you want to make a reservation.
Island Lake Lodge on a sunny day (something I need to return for) - photo credit: Island Lake Lodge

Two. Try Fat biking, Cross-country Skiing, or Hiking on the Town's Multi-use Trails 

Fernie's multi-use trail system extends across five different mountain areas, connecting onto the Island Lake Lodge trails and even connecting Fernie Provincial Park with the Fernie Alpine Resort. 

We set aside a day on our recent trip to Fernie to explore the Montane Trail Network because we love mountain biking here in summer. We used our cross-country skis to reach the Montane Warming Hut on the Montane Green Trail and enjoyed seeing familiar trail markers from our summer bike rides.

Cross country skiing on the Montane Green Trail in Fernie

The Montane Green Trail is a groomed 8km cross-country ski loop and I'd estimate that we gained between 150 and 200 metres of height skiing up to the hut. - and personal recommendation, take the upper (more gradual) trail on your way up to the hut, descending the lower (steeper) trail. - There's a good map here that also has the parking lot marked beside the bridge on Coal Creek Road.

For non-skiers, you can also enjoy the Montane Blue Trail on either a fat bike or on foot. This trail also climbs to the warming hut and is one of our favourite mountain bike trails in summer. - find the trail on the map above.

Great views from the warming hut on the Montane Trails

And you can see a giant winter trail map here showing all of the areas around Fernie that can be explored in winter.

The Montane Warming Hut in Fernie 

Finally, looking for more options for a winter hike or want to pull out the snowshoes? Check out this great resource on Snowshoeing in Fernie by Tourism Fernie. Fairy Creek Falls were on our list for our recent trip until the temperature plummeted on our final day and we chose to head home earlier than planned.

And for those wanting to try some easy fat biking, I recommend touring the main town loopWe were fortunate to get free bike rentals with our stay at the Snow Valley Motel but there are shops in town where you can rent a bike for a day as well. 

Read more about fat biking in Fernie here (with information on where to rent bikes.)

Fat biking along the Elk River on the Fernie Main Town Loop

Three. Spend a Day Skiing or Snowboarding at Fernie Alpine Resort

We love skiing at Fernie Alpine Resort and in previous years we've always spent our entire weekend on the hill. 

If you family likes downhill skiing or snowboarding you can read my previous guides to see why we love skiing at this resort so much.

Ski days at Fernie Alpine Resort are magical!

Four. Go Cross-country Skiing at the Elk Valley Nordic Centre

We enjoyed skiing on the Montane and Island Lake Lodge Trails, but if you're looking for track setting (not just grooming,) the Elk Valley Nordic Centre in Fernie is the place to go!

I actually skied down to the Nordic Centre trails from Fernie Alpine Resort one afternoon (which is an amazing option for those staying at the resort in the ski in/ski out lodging.

Elk Valley Nordic Centre in Fernie

I put my cross-country skis on at the alpine resort, skied on to a multi-use trail beside the Elk Chair, and within a kilometre I was on the official Nordic Centre trails. You'll know you've reached the official cross-country trails when you come to a kiosk with information on how to pay trail fees ($10 per user per day which you can pay on your phone if you don't have cash on you.)

I skied the Galloway Loop, down the Grunt, around the Cedar Loop, and down to the warming hut in an easy 5.5 km outing. It took me roughly 1.5 hours and my husband picked me up at the warming hut when they were finished skiing at the resort. - See a trail map here

And if you aren't connecting the Nordic Centre with the Ski Resort, don't worry because there's a parking lot right in front of the Centre where you'll find the warming hut (a great place for putting your boots and final layers on before your ski.)

Read more about the Elk Valley Nordic Centre here along with other areas around Fernie where you can enjoy cross-country skiing.

Warming Hut at the Elk Valley Nordic Centre in Fernie 

Five. Enjoy a Game of Hockey and then Warm up at the Aquatic Centre

Fernie has a new NHL sized outdoor hockey rink located right beside the aquatic centre. It's the perfect place to spend an hour in the afternoon after skiing with a soak in the giant hot tub inside the aquatic centre after.

NHL sized outdoor hockey rink in Fernie

We love the Fernie Aquatic Centre for its hot tub, swimming pool with diving board and waterslide, and inflatable toys that come out once or twice a week. There's also a great shallow pool for younger kids.

Fernie Aquatic Centre

We only had 4 days in Fernie on our recent trip so it was a whirlwind trip filled with activity as we tried to fit everything you've just read about into such a short amount of time. Thankfully we like to be busy and we managed to enjoy multiple activities per day (sleeping very well after.)

Big thanks to Tourism Fernie for hosting us and for helping with accommodations where we stayed in a tiny home at the Snow Valley Motel (separate review to come.)

Thanks also to Island Lake Lodge for hosting our snowcat lunch tour so that I could include their magical destination in this guide.

As always, all words and opinions are my own and we were not compensated in any other way other than accommodations and our tour to Island Lake Lodge. 

Skiing on the Montane Trail Network in Fernie