Monday, July 22, 2019

Mount Kidd Lookout - Family Hiking in Kananaskis

I'd had this hike on my list for years after seeing some pretty photos of the lookout site. Once a fire lookout, the house has been removed, but the platform still remains high on the northeast shoulder of Mount Kidd.

The Mount Kidd Lookout makes you feel as if you've traveled to the Alps!

Why You Need to Add the Mt. Kidd Lookout Hike to your List 

  1. The lookout site is incredibly beautiful!! You might even think you've entered a magical portal to the Swiss Alps.

  2. Chances of having the lookout site to yourself are high. This is not a popular hike, despite its beauty, and so you won't be sharing the trail with crowds or hordes of tourists. This is definitely a "locals secret."

  3. The hike is short and sweet. It took us 6 hours round trip, but that's because we spent a good hour on top. At a good pace you could complete the trip in as little as 4 hours.

  4. The trailhead starts from Kananaskis Village, reached in an hour or less from NW Calgary.

  5. The trail is steep, but never technical, never overly difficult, and allows you to have a "summit experience" without any hands on scrambling.
Site of the former Mount Kidd Fire Lookout above Kananaskis Village

Stats for the Hike

Distance: 8.9 km return 

Height gain: 753 metres 

Time it took us to complete the hike: 6 hours round trip with a gaggle of kids ages 6-10.

Rating: Technically it is an easy trail. The All Trails website rates it as difficult, but that would be for steepness and effort exerted. There is also some route finding required and you are not on an official trail.

Best Guide Book: Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, Volume 1, Gillean Daffern - Amazon affiliate link

All Trails Link - Mt. Kidd Lookout Hike 

Mount Kidd Lookout Hike, Kananaskis 

Trailhead Information and Finding the Trail for the Mt. Kidd Lookout Hike 

The trailhead for this one is Kananaskis Village off Highway 40. (Google maps link.) And it's helpful if you have some experience with the cross-country ski trails here because you start off by hiking along the Kovach Ski Trail. 
Hiking along the wide Kovach Ski Trail 

I'm a huge fan of Trail Forks, so if you have this app on your phone, you'll easily be able to get on the Kovach Trail (Trail Forks Link)

Once you're on the Kovach Trail, you'll hike until you come to the Aspen junction (another ski trail.) There will be a map here so you'll know you're on the right track.

Carry on along the Kovach Trail, slowly climbing through boggy wet grass and mud, until you come to a faint trail on your left marked with pink and orange flagging. This is it. And as far as unofficial trails go, it's actually pretty easy to follow. You should not get lost once on this trail. 

If you're really concerned about getting lost, put the All Trails app on your phone and just follow the map all the way up to the top of the lookout site (which is what we were doing.) - All Trails Link

Our boys on the Kovach Trail 

Hiking to the Mt. Kidd Lookout Site 

Once you get on the narrow trail up to the lookout site, it's honestly hard to get lost. It's a good trail, it's been well packed down, and it was very easy to follow.

The trail was very dense at times

I will warn you though that it is VERY steep, and relentlessly so. You'll especially feel it on the way down. I've done a lot of steep hiking, but this trail definitely felt steeper than most trails I've been on recently.

The trail did not waste time with cute switchbacks! Straight up it went

Fortunately, you'll be rewarded with good views for much of the hike and so it's easy to stop and take frequent rest breaks.

We were rewarded with good views quite soon in our hike 

I recommend bringing bear spray on this hike because there are times when you'll be hiking through dense plants and it would be hard to spot a bear up ahead. Make lots of noise and travel in a group. There was no chance of us seeing a bear with the noise our group of kids was making.

Ever climbing up to the lookout site 

I love the next photo because it shows the Village way down below us, and it shows how steep the slope was that we were on.

Hiking up to the Mt. Kidd Lookout Site with Kananaskis Village below us 

Hanging out at the Lookout- The Highlight of the Trip! 

Once we'd climbed up to the platform, we chilled, ate lunch, rested, and explored the grassy hillside, the kids running around like little mountain goats.

Very happy to arrive at the lookout site!
Running around the Mount Kidd Lookout Site like little mountain goats
Site of the Historic Mt. Kidd Fire Lookout 

The Hike Back Down to the Village 

If we thought the hike up was steep, the hike down felt even steeper. I highly recommend poles for this one!!

A brief traverse where the trail leveled out for a break

We returned to the village in 6 hours round trip after spending a good hour at the top. At a steadier pace we could have done the trip in 5 hours for sure. Given how beautiful it is at the lookout site though, you'll want to spend some time up there to enjoy the reward you worked so hard for.

Hiking back down the Kovach Trail at the end 

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Friday, July 12, 2019

5 Family Highlights from our Summer Trip to Whitefish, Montana

We launched the summer camping season in Whitefish, Montana this year, heading south as soon as school was finished at the end of June. We thoroughly enjoyed 5 special things about the area that I hope you'll check out if you make it down to Whitefish with your active family.

5 Family Highlights from our Summer Trip to Whitefish, Montana 

5 Family Highlights from our Summer Trip to Whitefish, Montana 

Finding a campground where a child could never be bored

We only have one child, so he often gets bored at campgrounds unless one of us offers to throw a football around with him, take a walk or a bike ride with him, or play a board game with him.

Boredom was not on the table though at the KOA of Whitefish/Kalispell North

Go carts that you could pedal around the Whitefish KOA campground

Below are just some of the many activities you could enjoy at the campground (all included with your stay at no extra cost:)

Indoor/Outdoor Pool at the Whitefish KOA
  • Mini golf

  • Go carts (they had tiny ones for little kids, tandem ones for parents/kids, and then larger ones for youth or adults)

  • A indoor/outdoor swimming pool with a shallow wading pool area and a separate hot tub

  • Paddle boats for little kids in a small pond

  • Horseshoes, a basketball court, and a beach volleyball court

  • A petting farm (and if you showed up at feeding times you got to help feed the animals)

  • A disc golf course

  • A playground with a tetherball pole and other outdoor games (giant jenga, connect four, etc.)

  • A free buffet breakfast every day of your stay
Mini golf included with stays at the Whitefish KOA

There was also a games room with video games and pool tables but I'm assuming there was a cost for this.

Would we Return:

While we loved this campground, we likely wouldn't return though because a full service campsite for trailers or RVs costs over $100USD per night!

That's a lot of money for camping when many campgrounds have swimming pools included at a much more affordable rate. I'll pay for mini golf if I can save at least $40 per night staying elsewhere.

The campsites were also very close together, and some were absolutely dreadful (a tent site sitting right beside the communal hot tub for example on the tiniest patch of grass.)

If you stay here, make sure you find out in advance what site number you are getting and check a map online.

Playground and tetherball at the Whitefish KOA

A rad bike park with all the berms!

Flowy riding on Legoland
I saw somebody post about a visit to the Whitefish Bike Retreat last summer and I immediately bumped it to the top of our travel list for this summer.

Just seeing a map of the bike park alone convinced me that I wanted to camp here (or at the very least, spend a day biking here.)

And we wanted to camp here, but there was no availability for our dates so hence staying at the KOA above, and day-tripping to the Bike Retreat.

What we loved about the Bike Retreat:

  • We loved the downhill flow trails with all their gentle berms (perfect for beginners and novice bikers,) easy rollers, and features that were great for bringing your skill to the next level. Legoland and Terraflow were two of the most fun trails I've ever ridden!

  • The Ridge Trail was a well-designed climbing trail and perfect for teaching kids to climb uphill at a gentle grade. I still had problems on it, but my son could crush it like a machine.

  • My boys had a lot of fun on the wooden features found on the Berm Trail, in the skills park, and on the giant circle (an elevated circular wooden boardwalk.)

  • We liked the Whitefish Trail which you can access either from the Bike Retreat or from the nearby Beaver Lake Trailhead.

  • The Bike Retreat would be a fun place to camp with friends, the kids running around the campground on their bikes, trailer or tent sitting right beside the trails... 

Wooden feature on Berm Run

What you'll want to know before you visit: 

First, there are only 8 campsites here so book well in advance if you want to camp here. Also know that the sites are quite small (best suited for tents or small camper vans,) and that they are basic campsites with no electricity or water. (Fill your tank before you come if you want water in your trailer.)

If you don't want to camp, there is also a lodge with rooms available inside.

Campsite right beside the pump track

Second, know that as a day user, it will cost you $10 per person to use the trails and facilities at the bike retreat. This was steep for us because we've become spoiled up here in Canada and generally don't have to pay to use bike parks unless there's a chairlift involved.

Wooden practice features at the bike retreat 
Don't be discouraged though by the day use fee. I highly encourage families to visit the Bike Retreat at least once and we enjoyed the property. The ultimate experience that we missed out on would definitely be camping right at the retreat - an experience you'd be hard pressed to find elsewhere.

Cruisy riding on Terraflow 

Discovering new mountain bike trails

We tried out a couple of sections on the Whitefish Trail between the Lion Mountain and North Beaver Trailheads. Definitely the loop we enjoyed the most started from the Beaver Lake Trailhead near the Bike Retreat.

From the Beaver Lake Trailhead we climbed up a short connector trail to reach the Whitefish Trail. We turned left on the Whitefish Trail and rode to the intersection with the Beaver Lake Overlook Trail. Riding the Overlook Trail and returning on the Whitefish Trail back to your starting point creates a loop called the "Angry Beaver" which you'll ride in a clockwise direction.

Easy riding on the Beaver Lake Overlook Trail

The climb up the Beaver Lake Overlook Trail was never very steep and my boys were able to ride the whole thing. I was the only one walking sections. Once we reached the high point, it was a fast flowy ride down with many gentle berms that we all enjoyed. I'd do this ride again any day!

Fun riding down the Beaver Lake Overlook Trail

The other ride that the boys did was from the Woods Lake Parking Lot back down to the Bike Retreat on the Whitefish Trail. It started with approximately 150 metres of climbing but then was all downhill back to the retreat where I was waiting.

Evening riding on the Whitefish Trail down to the Bike Retreat 

Paddling the Whitefish River

I've said this many times since our trip: We went for the biking, but I'll return for the paddling.

We've become spoiled by the great bike trails that we have close to home in the Canadian Rockies, but a nice gentle river is harder to find. Enter the Whitefish River, the perfect float-trip river where an absolute novice paddler would be perfectly safe and comfortable (even on a stand up paddleboard.)

We spent two days exploring different sections of this river, and I'd return to Whitefish in a heartbeat to spend a day paddling here.

Lots of scenic bridges to paddle under on the Whitefish River

Whitefish City Beach to Riverside Park (with a shuttle)

This first option can be done with a bike shuttle and is the perfect length for children with short attention spans. This section could even be done with tubes or floaties if you walk around to the start of the river. (Note it does not flow very fast though so plan for a long float trip if you don't have paddles!)

Starting from City Beach (google maps link,) paddle over to the start of the river (heading left from the beach.) There's a very short section with rapids as the river leaves the lake that you could walk around if you had to. Otherwise, just get down on your knees if on a paddleboard and you'll be fine. After that, it's 100% floating all the way down to Riverside Park  (google maps link where it shows up as River Trail Park) where there is a parking lot just off Baker Ave.

Paddling across Whitefish Lake towards the river

There's a nice playground across the street from the parking lot where you can hang out with the kids while somebody bikes back for the vehicle. (and there's a bike trail right beside the river.)

This was the first paddle we did and it took us an hour at most on two stand up paddleboards and a child's sit on top kayak.

Gentle floating down the Whitefish River

Riverside Park to Whitefish City Beach return (no shuttle required)

If you don't want to set up a shuttle, just start at Riverside Park, at the parking lot mentioned above, and paddle up river towards City Beach. Go as far as you have energy for and then float back down to your vehicle.

Paddling up river from Riverside Park 

We tried this our second day and my son wasn't having much fun trying to paddle up river (even though the current is very gentle.) Adults will have no problems though (even on paddleboards, the vessel of choice for this river.)

First time on a paddleboard on a river was a piece of cake on the Whitefish River

Riverside Park to the Highway 40 Bridge (with a shuttle)

If you have two vehicles, or a willing partner who agrees to pick you up 10 kilometres down the river, you can paddle from Riverside Park all the way down to the Highway 40 bridge crossing. It took me 2 hours on a stand up paddleboard and I had to paddle the entire time because the current was barely moving.

It was an extremely enjoyable trip though and I counted 30 painted turtles sunning themselves on various logs along the edges of the river as I made my way down. You also get to paddle through a culvert under one of the road crossings - which was a lot of fun!!

You can see the route here if you were to drive down to the Highway 40 bridge crossing from City Beach.

The perfect barefoot adventure in Whitefish, Montana 

A brewery with trees for the kids to climb

We took a drive down to Kalispell and Flathead Lake one afternoon and discovered the most amazing brewery, The Tamarack Brewing Company

The brewery had a large outdoor patio right beside a creek with gorgeous climbing trees. A large group of kids was running around playing in the creek, climbing the trees, and having a great time while the adults relaxed on the patio. It was absolute perfection!

Patio with kids climbing the trees beside the creek

The brewery had great food, a children's menu, flights for sampling the different craft beers they produce, and I wish I would have brought home some of the Apricot Wheat Ale. (It was so good!!!)

This will go at the top of our list for things to do again if we return to Whitefish.

The Apricot Wheat Ale was amazing!!! 

Disclaimer: This story was not sponsored, we paid for our camping and entertainment, and all opinions are entirely my own.


Thursday, July 04, 2019

First Summits - Pigeon Mountain, Kananaskis

Continuing with my "First Summits" series, we've reached the top of another mountain as a family and this one was a great hike with no technical scrambling or extreme experience required. Pigeon Mountain will crush you though if you don't work up to it (So don't use it as your first training hike of the season!)

Why You Need to Add Pigeon Mountain to your Hiking List 

Wildflowers on the Pigeon Mountain Hike
  1. If you time your visit for early summer you'll be rewarded with an amazing display of wildflowers blooming in the meadow you'll climb to the summit (something I appreciated as a distraction from the steep hike.)

  2. It's hard to find summits without technical scrambling that still offer a good challenge in terms of distance and height. Pigeon is an ideal choice for a long day hike for families who don't want to have to worry about bringing a rope, helmets, or other safety gear.

  3. Route finding is minimal on this hike.

  4. This trail rarely feels crowded. The distance is long enough that everybody spreads out and we even had the summit to ourselves (on a Saturday in the peak of wildflower season.)

  5. The trailhead is close to Calgary so you won't be driving more than you actually hike.

We had the summit all to ourselves on Pigeon Mountain

Stats for the Hike

Distance: approximately 15 km round trip 

Height gain: approximately 1000 metres 

Time it took us to complete the hike: 6 hours round trip 

Rating: Technically it is easy. For distance + height I'd rate it as a more advanced hike. The trail is also very steep as you climb to the summit

Best Guide Book: Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, Volume 3, Gillean Daffern - Amazon affiliate link

All Trails Link - Pigeon Mountain hike 

Climbing the steep trail up to the summit of Pigeon Mountain

Trailhead Information and Finding the Trail for Pigeon Mountain 

The parking lot is at the Skogan Pass Trailhead at Dead Man's Flats off the TransCanada Highway. See the Google Maps Link here. 

From the parking lot, start hiking up the Skogan Pass Trail following the powerline. If you climbed all the way to the top of the pass, you'd be able to descend the other side to Kananaskis Village around Troll Falls. (for reference.)

The Skogan Pass Trail quickly comes to a junction with the Centennial Ridge Trail but you want to stick to the Skogan Pass Trail which weaves in and out of the trees, often following right under the powerline. 

Hiking up the Skogan Pass Trail from Dead Man's Flats 

There is one other junction on the Skogan Pass Trail where you'll see a sign directing hikers to the left rather than following the powerline straight up (which is where service vehicles would go.) 

Other than those junctions, it is straightforward hiking up the Skogan Pass Trail until you reach a side trail on your left with a sign that says "Living with wildlife means respecting their space." This is the turnoff for Pigeon Mountain. The sign also reminds hikers that the trail is closed to human use from December 1st to June 15th.

The Pigeon Mountain Trail where it leaves the Skogan Pass Trail

Hiking to the Summit of Pigeon Mountain

Forest trail from the Skogan Pass junction
It took us 1.5 hours to reach the actual Pigeon Mountain Trail and then another 2 hours to reach the summit for a total of 3.5 hours up. 

By comparison, it only took us 2.5 hours to hike down.

From the junction of the Skogan Pass Trail you have another 2.8 km to hike and still have 535 metres of height to gain. This is where you also start hiking very steeply uphill.

The trail starts out through the forest but you quickly come to a wide open meadow with a dirt trail heading straight up. This is your life for the next hour or two (depending on how fast you hike.)

I was struggling with blisters and legs that didn't think 1000 metres of height gain was fun for a second hike of the season. Without me, my boys could have easily conquered the hike through the meadow in an hour I'm sure. 

Fortunately, the hike through the meadow is beautiful, the flowers are incredible if you time your hike right for late June/early July, and there are many rounded grassy bumps to rest on.

Rest break while climbing through the meadow to the top of Pigeon Mountain

The grade levels out as you reach the ridge until the final summit push where you turn left towards the double pyramids. The summit is the second one. 

The Summit as seen in the background from the ridge
Hiking along the ridge towards the summit
It gets steep for the final summit push but you're almost there!

The Summit! 

We enjoyed that we had the summit to ourselves but didn't stay very long because we knew we still had at least 7 km of walking ahead of us before we'd reach the car. 

My mighty hiker, age 10 

Hiking Down 

It still took us another 2.5 hours to reach the parking lot on the way down and I realized how steep the trail was as we descended the meadow. (I couldn't walk down the stairs in my house the next day.)

I took a lot more photos on the way down since I wasn't forced to concentrate all my effort on breathing!

The trail is exceptionally pretty 

A look back up the steep trail through the meadow

Lots of rest breaks
One tired hiker by the time we reached the Skogan Pass Trail again

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