Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The Secret to "Tourist-free" Travel (November in Radium Hot Springs, BC)

Travel enough and you'll find that November is a GREAT time to travel! This "shoulder season" month is generally quiet across Canada as we see a transition from summer sports to winter ones, and most people take a break leading up to the Christmas holiday season.

Discover "tourist-free" travel this November 

Radium Hot Springs in November

We spent a weekend this November in Radium Hot Springs, across the border in British Columbia. So far this year, we've been out to the Columbia Valley 12 times, in pretty much every season - and we've found something fun and unique to do as a family on each one of these trips.

And while we generally spend a lot of time around the Radium Hot Springs area, this was our first time visiting in November. - and I admit I had no idea what one would do this time of year between seasons.

As it turned out for us, we escaped a major cold front blowing through Calgary, we avoided a big snow storm, and we enjoyed warm autumn weather (while Alberta was seeing some of the coldest temperatures on the planet for November!)

While Albertans were shivering in front of their fireplaces all weekend and shoveling out their driveways, we were soaking in natural hot spring pools and taking walks around the Village of Radium Hot Springs on dry trails.

Travel to the Columbia Valley in November if you want the Lussier Hot Springs to yourself!

Our "Home" for the Weekend in Radium Hot Springs 

We were offered the opportunity to spend the weekend at Bighorn Meadows Resort in Radium Hot Springs, located on the Springs Golf Course right in town. We've spent many weekends in Radium, but this was our first time staying at this resort, and it was definitely a property we'd choose to stay at in the future.

Highlights of a stay at Bighorn Meadows Resort: 

Individual 1, 2 and 3-Bedroom condo-style suites or townhomes with options to fit every budget. We had a two bedroom suite and it was more than comfortable enough for our small family (allowing my son to have his own room.)

We appreciated the separate bedrooms and living area so that we could go to bed at different times (rather than everybody going to bed at 8pm when my son wants the lights turned out.)

Thursday, November 14, 2019

5 Reasons to Visit Golden, BC this Winter

Golden is a year-round adventure destination and is only 3 hours away from Calgary, making it an easy location to visit for a ski weekend this winter. Plan a longer getaway over a long weekend and you'll have plenty of time to explore the town and surrounding national parks.

Plan to spend at least one day at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, Golden BC 

5 Highlights of a Winter Getaway to Golden, British Columbia

1. Skiing or Snowboarding at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort 

We just visited Kicking Horse Mountain Resort as a family last winter for the first time (shocking I know!) What impressed me the most was the scenery. Don't believe me, just look at the views from the top of the gondola in the photo at the top of this story.

Scenery aside, other things families will love about Kicking Horse:

  • There's an easy way down from the top of the gondola, allowing for top to bottom skiing for all abilities. (See the ski map here.) I also found a good way down from the Stairway to Heaven chairlift that most "strong novice" skiers should be able to handle.

  • There's a beginner chair at the bottom of the mountain where you can warm up before getting on the gondola. I always appreciate having a beginner-specific chairlift when I'm at a new resort because I can just enjoy skiing without constantly checking the map to make sure I don't end up somewhere I won't be able to ski down. - especially useful when skiing with kids who like to ski ahead!

  • I like resorts with gondolas! Gondolas are so much warmer than open chairlifts and Kicking Horse is one of the few resorts here where you can get to the top of the mountain without having to ride several chairlifts.

The Eagle's Eye Restaurant at the top of the gondola 

  • There's a family-friendly restaurant at the top of the gondola! Reservations are recommended and I appreciated knowing I could show up and be guaranteed to have a table. (unlike trying to find space in a crowded day lodge.)

  • I liked the assortment of other restaurants at the resort including the Double Black Cafe in the Village. I'm a big fan of resorts having an authentic coffee shop rather than just a day lodge with cafeteria. (It makes for a nice place to unwind if you're a person who sometimes finishes skiing earlier than the rest of the family.)

  • Strong skiers will love the advanced terrain at this resort. With 5 alpine bowls and 85+ inbound chutes, you'll feel like you're backcountry skiing without the work of climbing up the mountain first. Note that a short hike is required to reach some of the bowls but you'll appreciate that ski down after you've worked a bit for it.

How's this for a sea of mountains all around you at the top of Kicking Horse! 
Climbing up to ski the Whitewall at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort 

2. Cross-Country Skiing at the Dawn Mountain Nordic Centre

I love downhill skiing, but I'm also very fond of nordic skiing and was very excited to finally visit Dawn Mountain on our trip to Golden last winter. The Nordic Centre is located less than a kilometre away from Kicking Horse so if you aren't a downhill skier, you could drop the family off at the hill, and then continue back to the nordic centre for the day.

At the Nordic Centre you'll find 33 km of trails groomed for both classic and skate skiing. There are loops for all abilities and the trails get freshly groomed within 24 hours of every snowfall. You can also phone ahead if you'd like to sign up for a lesson while you're here.

Dawn Mountain Nordic Centre day lodge 

Dawn Mountain has a full rental shop and so my son rented skate skis for our outing here. He'd been begging to try skate skiing all winter and I was happy that he finally got the opportunity on such meticulously groomed trails.

You can also rent snowshoes if you'd prefer to check out the trails around Dawn Mountain while hiking. There are a couple of short snowshoe loops here that would be perfect for families.

The Nordic Centre also has a beautiful day lodge where you can warm up  between ski loops or have your lunch before driving home if you visit for a few hours of skiing Sunday morning (as we did.)

Learning how to skate ski at Dawn Mountain Nordic Centre 
Cross-country skiing at Dawn Mountain Nordic Centre

3. Winter Hiking and Chasing Frozen Waterfalls in Yoho National Park

There are many beautiful hikes near Golden, but my favourite is the Wapta Falls Trail in Yoho National Park. Best of all, you'll pass right by the trailhead on your drive to or from Calgary. Leave Friday morning for an extended weekend and you can hike to Wapta Falls on your way to Golden. Alternately, stop on your way home Sunday.

Wapta Falls from the first viewpoint above the river (most groups climb to the top of the snow pile in front)

The trailhead is located 32 km east of Golden, so this hike is definitely day-trip worthy from Golden as well if you're spending a few days in town.

Hiking across the frozen river to the base of the waterfalls 

In summer, the falls are reached in a round trip distance of 4.6 km. In winter, you have to add an extra 3.6 km for hiking the closed gravel access road from the highway. In total, it's an 8.2 km winter outing and fast parties can make the return trip in 2.5 hours.

Standing at the base of Wapta Falls 

I hiked this trail last spring with a few girlfriends and we didn't need snowshoes because the snow was packed down. If you go earlier in the winter, you'll want to pack your snowshoes. Depending on conditions you might also want ice cleats for the steep hill down to the river.

The snowpile in front of the falls makes for a great lunch spot!

4. Family Backcountry Adventure at Rogers Pass in Glacier National Park

We travel out to Golden and beyond to Glacier National Park to spend a couple of nights at Rogers Pass every winter. We rent out the entire A. O. Wheeler Hut, An Alpine Club of Canada property.

From Golden, you can reach Rogers Pass in roughly an hour (82 km away) when roads are good.

A. O. Wheeler Hut, Rogers Pass 

The Wheeler Hut sleeps 24 people in winter and is one of the larger backcountry huts managed by the Alpine Club of Canada. With three separate rooms on the main floor, it always feels spacious and comfortable for a big group. Reservations must be made in advance and you'll want to book your spots at least 6 months in advance (earlier if you want to stay on a weekend or you want to book the entire hut.)

Skiing into the Wheeler Hut, Rogers Pass 

In summer you can drive right up to the door of the hut, but in winter it's about a 30 minute hike in. You can also use cross-country skis to reach the hut from the highway.

From the hut, families can't go too far without entering avalanche terrain, but you can hike up to the first bridge in the Asulkan Valley and the kids will have fun playing in the ruins of the old hotel here.

Read more: The Easiest Family Winter Backcountry Trip (Wheeler Hut, Rogers Pass) 

Snowy hiking at Rogers Pass in the Asulkan Valley 

5. Unique Winter Tours and Activities for the whole family! 

Don't ski but still have a day or two to spend in Golden? Check out this large list of fun winter activities below.

Some of these activities are also great for the more "extreme" person in the family if you want to divide and conquer, sending one or more adults in your group off on a guided tour while others spend time with the kids.

Finally, there are a few suggestions below that definitely say "romantic weekend away without the kids!"

Eagle's Eye Restaurant on top of Kicking Horse Mountain Resort

Dogsledding with Golden Dog Sled Adventures (photo: Julie Brown and Golden Dog Sled Adventure)

Disclaimer: our stay in Golden was hosted by Tourism Golden. As always, all words and opinions are my own

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Holiday Gift Guide for Happy Campers

I'm back with another one of my annual holiday gift guides, and this year I've decided to focus on camping as my theme. I've collected a large list of Christmas gift ideas for families who enjoy tenting, RV camping, and backpacking.

Holiday Gift Guide for Happy Campers 

All links go to the product or company website. A few links go to the Amazon Canada 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, where I'm an affiliate partner. Altitude Sports has also been a huge supporter of this blog so you'll find links to their website as well. Shop from either company where you can order quality outdoor gear and clothing online across Canada.

Holiday Gift Ideas for Happy Campers

1. Leatherman Multi-tools and Knives

Learning to use a pocket knife is a valuable skill for older children, and whittling by the campfire can be a fun source of entertainment. For us parents, a good multi-tool is one of the most basic "must have" items in a day pack or on a backpacking trip.

Leatherman Signal Multi-Tool
The Leatherman Squirt is a small keychain-size multi-tool. Tools include pliers, scissors, a screwdriver, knife, bottle opener, and a file. This small multi-tool is perfect for snipping fishing line, and is nice and light for backpacking.

Alternately, the Leatherman Micra is perfect for a stocking stuffer gift. With a small knife, tweezers, a nail file, scissors, and a bottle opener, this is an item that should be in any mom's purse or day pack.

Finally, for the full meal deal, check out the Leatherman Signala full-size multi-tool which includes a firestarter, hammer, one-handed blade and an emergency whistle. Alternately, take a look at the Leatherman Free, P4, "the most advanced multipurpose tool ever made." This multi-tool comes with 21 tools and yet weighs in at only 8.6 ounces (making it ideal for backpacking.)

Leatherman Multi-Tools make great Christmas gifts for your camping adventures (winter or summer!)

2. New Sleeping Bags, Sleeping Pads, or a New Tent

With technologies always improving, it's safe to say most of us could appreciate a new sleeping bag that's either warmer, more lightweight for backpacking, easier to compress, or just more comfortable. The same can be said for sleeping pads! I upgraded a few years ago and I sleep so much better on my much thicker (yet somehow lighter in weight) sleeping pad.

You'll find a great collection of sleeping bags and sleeping pads for the whole family from All Out Kids Gear with free shipping included on orders of $49.99 or more (before taxes.)

And I'd especially like to highlight one of the coolest things I've seen for parents who want to co-sleep with younger children. The Big Agnes Dream Island double wide sleeping bag is a nice roomy bag with an  integrated pad coupler that can accept a double-wide sleeping pad.

Finally, you'll find a great collection of tents for all family-sizes from the same website.

Follow this link to shop all camping gear at All Out Kids Gear.

** If anything you're interested in is out of stock with All out Kids Gear, please send them a message and Phil will let you know if he has more of that item on order.

By shopping from this company you are supporting a local Alberta family and business.

Invest in a new tent or upgrade your sleeping bags and pads this Christmas 

3. New Backpacks or Hydration Packs 

My son got his first overnight backpack from his grandpa a few years ago and it was a fabulous Christmas present. Last year I was asking for a new day pack for mountain biking, and my husband recently updated his overnight pack as well.

Regardless of who you're shopping for in your family, there's almost always a need for a new backpack of some kind or size. 

You'll find no shortage of great packs on the All Out Kids Gear website so take a look around and see if there's something you're missing. Maybe the kids just need a bigger pack. 

I also recommend hydration packs for the kids for day hikes. My son doesn't carry a huge pack when we're out for the day, but he does need to carry his own water, a few basic items, and most importantly, his own candy!

Backpacks are a great Christmas gift for anybody!

4. Hydro Flask Products for Camping and Backpacking 

We LOVE our Hydro Flask products and have used several different items from this company while both car camping and backpacking.

Some of my favourite items are below (with links to the Altitude Sports website where Canadians can easily order Hydro Flask products.)

25 Ounce Wine Bottle - Fits a full bottle of wine and keeps it perfectly chilled. Great for overnight paddle trips when you won't notice the extra weight. I've also used this bottle for cold brew coffee and taken it with me to the beach while camping.

10 Ounce Wine Tumblers - Each tumbler comes with an insulated lid and these cups are worth their weight in gold! I use these tumblers for car camping and my wine is always the perfect temperature (even sitting out in the sun.)

64 Ounce Beer Growler - One of our favourite things to do on camping trips is to stop at local micro breweries along the road. Having a growler in the trailer allows us to fill up at each brewery (even if they don't sell bottles to go.) The growler also allows you to take beer on overnight paddling trips without having to worry about keeping cans cold. The Hydro Flask growler keeps beer at an ideal temperature for a few days.

Stop at micro breweries on the road and fill your Hydro Flask Growler for cold bevies at camp

16 Ounce Pint Cups - Enjoy a cold beverage in these double wall insulated cups. Perfect for folks like me who take a while to nurse their beer and don't want it getting warm in the sun.

12 Ounce Coffee Mugs - Enjoy your morning coffee in one of these insulated mugs with a lid to prevent spills. I can't think of a better coffee mug for camping!

12 Ounce Food Flasks - I have a child who will not eat sandwiches while camping, hiking, or when on the go. Having a food flask in the trailer saves our butt on every trip. They also come in an 18 ounce model. 

18 Ounce Standard Water Bottles - While these bottles are a little heavy for hiking, they're perfect for hydrating around the campsite and for always having a cold drink handy. We spend a lot of time driving between new campsites and sightseeing on our road trips as well, where having a good water bottle in the vehicle for each person is imperative. These water bottles also come in 21 or 24 ounce models.

Cooler Cups - "The new Cooler Cup is two great things in one: it’s a can or bottle cooler, and, with one quick switch, it’s a 12 oz beverage cup. As a Cooler Cup, it’s brilliantly versatile with a silicone sleeve that lets you slide in a narrow bottle or a can—all with the same snug fit. Pop off the sleeve and you have a 12 oz cup made to keep cold drinks cold and hot drinks hot. The ultimate win-win." - and while I haven't tried this product yet, I'm definitely intrigued!

Hydro Flask Wine bottle and Wine Tumbler for a camping win 

5. New Sun Hats or Knit Toques for Cold Weather Camping

I recently discovered Sunday Afternoons when I was given an Aurora Beanie to keep my head warm this winter. Let me tell you, I am in love with this hat and if you've seen me in the past month, I was probably wearing it. 

Another hat that has caught our attention is the Sun Tripper Cap. This hat is perfect for hiking and comes in youth sizing along with colors for both men and women. (Every member of my family has one.) 

Matching Sun Tripper Caps 

The cap has a bungee cord at the back to cinch it in when it's windy, it has slits for the arms of your sunglasses so they won't fall off when worn on top of your hat, it's water repellant, and it can be folded for traveling. All in all, it's a brilliant hat and I'll never want to wear anything else in summer.

Sunday Afternoons has a giant collection of hats for all weather, seasons, activities, and temperatures. 

Hats of note I suggest you take a look at:

- The Snow Tripper Cap (the winter version of the Sun Tripper Cap)

- Kids Play Hats (in a variety of different color themes)

- Kids Trucker Hats (in a variety of themes with beautiful animals and nature scenes on each hat)

I've already placed a second Aurora Beanie from Sunday Afternoons on my Christmas list this year 

6. New Hiking Shoes 

Hiking is one of our favourite things to do when we go camping in the summer, and a good pair of boots will be invaluable on a backpacking trip.

We're big KEEN fans in this family and my son gets a new pair of Targhee Hiking Shoes every year. Myself, I live in my Terradora boots and I like the Explore shoes for mountain biking or walks around the city.

I also live in my KEEN slipper shoes around the campsite when it's cool outside and they're easy to put on for night time trips to the bathroom. 

Kids grow! You can't go wrong with new hiking shoes as a Christmas present

7. Camping-Themed Books and Guidebooks 

I love receiving new guidebooks for Christmas because then I can spend the afternoon reading through each book, highlighting trails I want to hike, and dreaming about the upcoming summer.

For families planning to camp in the Canadian Rockies, I recommend both of the books below, written by local authors from Calgary:

Family Walks and Hikes in the Canadian Rockies - Volume 1: Bragg Creek - Kananaskis - Bow Valley - Banff National Park  - written by Andrew Nugara and published in 2019

This guidebook is filled with colorful photos of local families hiking around Calgary, and my son spent hours reading through it last summer. It's been a great tool for creating interest in hiking with my son and he's added several hikes to our list after reading about them in this book.

Andrew has also published his second edition to this book. The next book carries on with more hikes, areas to explore, and trails not described in the first book.

The Ink Pots in Banff National Park, one of the hikes we read about in Andrew Nugara's book 

Canadian Rocky Mountains Hiking Guide for Families - Hikes for Families, from toddlers to grandparents, near Banff, Canmore, Kananaskis, Bragg Creek, and Calgary written by Annika Mang and recently published in 2020.

Each hike featured in the book has a good map, directions to the trailhead, a difficulty rating, a description of what to expect on the hike, nearby attractions, and insider tips from one outdoor family to another.

Best of all, every hike in this book has been researched and walked by Annika and her young children, so you can trust what you're reading.

Other recommended books for Happy Campers 

 - A camping logbook and travel diary 

- Goodnight, Campsite - A children's picture book on camping

And by searching for this book on Amazon you'll receive suggestions for many other great camping-themed picture books to start a fabulous collection for your family.

- A Hiking Journal for Kids (we have this one and it's a beautiful way to record the hikes your child completes.)

This hiking journal was a great gift for a happy camper and outdoor child

And check out this brand new book: The Easy Camp Cookbook: 100 Recipes For Your Car Camping and Backcountry Adventures by Amelia Mayer of the popular blog, Tales of a Mountain Mama.
"Organized into two sections: car camping and backcountry camping, this camping cookbook features delicious, easy-to-make recipes. Many recipes can be prepped at home so you can spend more time relaxing and enjoying camping—it even includes vegetarian options! Take the guesswork out of keeping everyone fed with this insightful camping cookbook."

Also check out this brand new family adventure journal: The Outdoor Family Adventure Guide (Journal + Activities for every season) by Amelia Mayer and her team at the Tales of a Mountain Mama blog.

"Help inspire year-long family time outside with this unique adventure guide made just for you. Over 350 different ideas for outdoor family fun, divided by season so you can choose-your-own-adventure depending on the weather in your area, ages of your kids and personal preferences.
Choose your favorites and document them in the included 52-week journal with room for specifics, photos, lessons learned and questions you have.The book also includes a list of 75+ books we recommend to supplement your outdoor time together.
This book is for ALL families in all climates and is incredibly easy to customize for an adventure keepsake. Plus 14 bonus extra family CHALLENGES to work on together and a huge book list divided by seasons."


8. Lightweight Gear for Backpacking or Tent Camping 

Christmas is a great time to update or upgrade backpacking gear. There's always something out there that's lighter, better, more comfortable, or easier to use.

Check out the All Out Kids Gear website for ideas

And a few of my personal suggestions:
  • Headlamps

  • LED Lights and lanterns

  • Backcountry chargers (we just found an affordable one at Costco that looks great.)

  • Inflatable pillows

  • Backpacking chairs

  • A new stove or cook set

  • Satellite communicators and locators 

  • A Gravity water filter (We LOVE ours and never sit beside a stream filtering water anymore.)

  • Down blankets (We always use our down blankets for hostels and backcountry cabins)

  • Down hut booties 
Upgrade this Christmas with great gear for tenting and backpacking 

9. Camp Toys for both Kids and Parents

Admit it, camping is more fun when you bring the toys. Be it a great hammock that you spend hours chilling in with a good book or something as simple as a fishing rod.

Below are a few suggestions for gifts you can wrap and put under the tree:

Water Toys:

- Inflatable floaties and water toys

- Inflatable stand up paddleboards

- Kids sit on top kayaks 

- Fishing rods and a starter tackle kit

Hours of entertainment at camp with inflatable SUPs and floaties 

Toys for the Campsite:

- A slackline the whole family can enjoy at camp

- A great hammock (and consider getting a freestanding frame for sites without good trees)

- New games to play at camp

- Inline skates for campsites that have paved loops 

- Walkie talkies for the kids to use around camp

Check out the All Out Kids Gear website for ideas (and you can also order slacklines and hammocks here.)

These skates were my son's fav. camping toy this past summer!

10. More Awesome Gear to take Car Camping to the next level! 

Some of these items could be hard to find this time of year, but you could always wrap a photo of what you intend to buy your partner once Costco brings their camping gear out for the new season. A Costco gift card would also work in this situation with a voucher for one "big round comfy Costco chair."

Below are just a sampling of suggestions other Happy Campers have said they'd like for Christmas this year:

  • Heavy duty welders gloves for cast iron pots on the fire

  • A screen tent for the campsite to protect you from rain or bugs 

Wrap up some awesome gifts to take car camping and RV life to the next level!

Check out my Complete Set of Holiday Gift Guides

A Holiday Gift Guide for Active Kids 

A Holiday Gift Guide for Winter Hiking and Snowshoeing  

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

- All Out Kids Gear

- Hydro Flask

- Sunday Afternoons

- Leatherman Canada

- Annika Mang, Calgary Author

- Andrew Nugara, Calgary Author

- HT Designs