Friday, March 27, 2020

Spring Survival Guide for Outside Fun during Covid-19

Treat this guide as a "choose your own adventure" resource. Want to stay home and go no further than your backyard? I've got options for that. Want to practice social distancing on local trails around the city? I've got those options too.

Spring Survival Guide for Outside Fun during Covid-19 

I've focused on the area around Calgary since that's the home base for our family. (You'll find many ideas for your family regardless of where you live though.)

1. Backyard Fun for Safe Self Isolating

Scroll through the ideas below and follow the links for more resources from other blogs and websites. Some links also go to recommended books on Amazon.

Create a backyard you actually want to play in! 

  • Build a sandbox

  • Build a mud kitchen
  • Buy a bird book and build a birdhouse or a bird feeder  (and you can use the bird book for walks around the neighborhood too.)

  • Make a magical Fairy Garden, Dinosaur World or Troll Land - Born to be Adventurous

  • Use that hot tub if you're lucky enough to have one (or fill a wading pool with warm water on a sunny day and pretend you're at the beach)

  • Get out the lawn chairs, the loungers, the hammock if you have trees to hang one, and take your reading time outside. I have one friend who's made it a goal to enjoy her morning coffee outside every day. - And any new furniture you buy now can be used for camping this summer.

  • Create a backyard ninja obstacle course with pieces of wood, logs, hula hoops, buckets or barrels, and any other random items you have at home

  • Buy a trampoline, a climbing dome or something else you'll continue to use all summer long

  • Put up a badminton net if you have a large backyard or get out the soccer ball and make goals using pylons, buckets, or anything you can find around the house (this would work well for younger kids who don't need a big field for soccer)

  • Buy a basketball hoop for your driveway or a hockey net and basic equipment for ball hockey

  • Try some backyard gardening projects with the kids

  • Buy some new backyard toys or games. Example: Learn to play Spike ball or Learn to play Ladder Ball Toss. - and bonus, you can take both games with you when you go camping this summer. 

And I know that many of these ideas will involve shopping but fortunately we live in an age where most things can be ordered online. I also encourage you to choose purchases that will have a shelf life beyond the Corona virus. Choose items you can take camping with you this summer and that will provide hours of outside fun all summer long.

Rainy day fun in our backyard 

Recommended Reading:

100+ Ideas for Backyard Play and Outdoor Activities - Bring the Kids

130+ FREE Outdoor Learning Activities For Kids Unexpectedly Stuck at Home - Outdoor Families  Magazine

- and the guide above has tons of STEM and science activities for the backyard

Keeping busy with nature activities (bucket list & calendar) - Take them Outside

School’s Out(side) - Tales of a Mountain Mama

100+ Ideas for Outdoor Family Fun - Tales of a Mountain Mama

Easy Sidewalk Chalk Obstacle Course - Tales of a Mountain Mama

How Will Your Garden Grow? - AK on the Go

Spring Activity Calendar and free printable- Born to be Adventurous

Bored kids? Create an Activity Jar with these 75 Activities (+Free Printable ) - Born to be Adventurous

School’s cancelled—what now? Here are 200+ activities you can do with kids at home - Active for Life

- and the story above is a goldmine filled with links to other guides and resources

30-Day Rewilding Challenge Activity Calendar – FREE Printable! - Outdoor Families Magazine

We built a large sandbox in our backyard when my son was younger. He still plays in it.

2. Try Backyard Camping

I know many of us are worried about our summer camping plans and have had spring trips already cancelled. In the meantime, choose a warm night and set the tent up in the backyard. You could even have a "virtual camping trip" with friends and chat online from inside your tent.

There are great tips in this guide: Camping at Home - Take Them Outside

I also recommend this guide: Camping at Home - 30+ Backyard and Indoor Camping Activities, Games, and Recipes - Little Family Adventure

Backyard camping is always allowed 

3. Get Outside in your Neighborhood (no driving required)

This is a great one for those who are not self-isolating and are feeling healthy, but want some fresh air beyond the backyard.

Remember that you still need to practice physical distancing which can be challenging on neighborhood pathways on a warm sunny day.

We could play in our neighborhood ravine for hours!

Try these suggestions for neighborhood spring fun:

  • Learn to geocache and look for caches hidden around your neighborhood (I use the Ground Speak geocaching app on my phone and paid for a premium subscription - though you can use the free version as well.)

    Read my newest guide here: Spring Geocaching Challenge (Join us in the FUN!)

  • Get out the wheels! Get out the scooters, the inline skates, the bikes or the skateboards. Maybe invest in a new toy. And while we're a ways off from some of these toys in Calgary, my son has had success outside with his scooter already.

    And, you can always try building ramps or jumps in your driveway for the kids' bikes or skateboards.
We have a great pathway around my neighborhood and we've getting out for daily walks 

  • Get out the sports equipment and head to your local playground or field to play baseball, soccer, or basketball as a family. You can even practice some basic volleyball skills without a net.

  • Go on a puddle jumping adventure (How wet can you get? Adults included.)

  • Explore natural areas in your community. We have a ravine in our neighborhood that's essentially a wild natural playground. There are trees to climb, bridges to explore, there's a creek to play in, and there are plenty of obstacles to challenge children.

    Read this story for more inspiration: Playing in Nature Protects Our Children During a Pandemic - Backwoods Mama

We're lucky enough to have this in our neighborhood 
Get outside in your neighborhood and go for a scavenger hunt 

4. Explore Parks and Natural Areas in a Neighboring Community (driving required) 

If everybody's healthy and you're not being asked to self-isolate, this is another great way to get outside close to home.

Drive to a natural area  in a neighboring community. Maybe explore a park you've never visited before. (Note you are still staying inside your city.)

Check out some of my personal favourites in Calgary here: Calgary Urban Hikes 

There are MANY cool things to discover on Nose Hill in Calgary 

And with any hike at this time, please practice physical distancing and have a backup plan if the parking lot for your chosen park appears to be crowded.

I also recommend staying away from parks with playgrounds since that will only upset some kids who may not understand why they are closed.

Please remember too that some parks won't have bathrooms open so be prepared for emergencies and pack everything out with you!

Finally, you'll find much more solitude if you grab your hiking boots and get off the paved pathways!!

Recommended reading: Calgary's Best Walks 35 Brand New Urban Jaunts And Nature Strolls

We love exploring the Weaselhead in South Calgary 

Fun Activities to enjoy in Calgary's Parks and Natural Areas:

  • Geocaching

  • Disc Golf

  • Scavenger hunts

  • Bird walks

  • Bike rides (bring the scooters or inline skates if there's a paved pathway)

Geocaching in Bowmont Park, NW Calgary

Nature Walk Printables - Backwoods Mama

There's lots of solitude to be found on Nose Hill 
Calgary has several great disc golf courses 


5. Explore Closed Campgrounds near Home 

You'll meet very few people if you go hiking around a closed campground near home.

Even if you cross paths with another family, there's a LOT of space in a campground. I'm pretty sure you can manage to keep the recommended 2-metre distance between yourselves and the other family.

I'm telling you about my favourites below in hopes that it inspires families to go beyond the usual trailheads. Trust me, there is life beyond Elbow Falls!! Let's spread out and choose parks with lots of wide open space.

And please remember that there are no bathrooms open in many parks at this time. Pack emergency supplies with you and be prepared to pack everything out with you. (Yes, that includes a pile of poo!!)

You should also drive straight to the trailhead or campground from your house and then drive straight home again. Stay out of Canmore.

Need to get gas on your way out? Wear gloves and touch nothing with your skin. I have hand sanitizer in my car as well for this purpose. 

And if you don't feel comfortable leaving the city? No problem. Don't! I'm simply presenting options for those who will do so with or without my recommendations so that I can encourage families to explore NEW QUIET AREAS and to spread out!

See the crowds on the closed Bow Valley Campground roads? Me neither! 

A few recommended campgrounds near Calgary:

Bow Valley Campground, Bow Valley Provincial Park

Park at the Middle Lake day use area and bike around on the quiet paved campground roads. They are open to vehicles as of May but they are very quiet. Cars will also be driving very slowly and will give cyclists plenty of space. We like to bike to the Elk Flats Group Campground where you can have a picnic. We then continue on to the Many Springs Trailhead (bring a bike lock if you want to go for a short hike,) and then we head down to the river. From there we return through the campground.

You can also hike around the park, completing a loop with the Elk Flats, Bow River, and Moraine Trails. Add on the Middle Lake or Many Springs Loop to extend the distance. See the map here.

Finally there is a paved bike trail that connects the Visitor Centre near the Highway 1X with the camp store. We like to bike around the campground from Middle Lake and then hop on the bike trail at the end to extend our ride. We return to Middle Lake on the road. This can all be done in a big loop of 12km.

Hiking along the river in the Bow Valley Campground 

Willow Rock Campground, Bow Valley Provincial Park

Park at the campground gate and hike into the Flowing Waters Interpretive Trail.

The Flowing Water Trail is a great early season hiking option

Paddy's Flat Campground, Elbow Valley

Park at the campground gate and hike down to the river. Hike along the Paddy's Flat Interpretive Trail until it joins the Riverview Trail

Hiking along the Paddy's Flat Trail by the Elbow River 

Beaver Flats Campground, Elbow Valley

This is a hike-in campground until Highway 66 opens on May 15th. Park at the winter gate by Elbow Falls and walk down the closed highway. (It's also a fabulous bike ride when the snow is gone!!) - Note that this has been a very popular parking area lately so you should aim to arrive early in the day or go mid-week!

Either hike/bike all the way to the campground (30 minutes at most on a bike) or stop at the Beaver Lodge Day Use area (about a 5 minute walk from the winter gate) and hop on the Beaver Flats Interpretive Trail.

The hiking trail takes you to the campground and is a great hike with kids as you meander along beaver ponds (which are super fun to play in.)

Playing in the water along the Beaver Flats Trail in the Elbow Valley 

6. Explore Closed Highways or Roads near Home 

We love biking on closed highways and roads in spring. It's a great way to self-distance yourself from others too when you're on a big road with space for miles! (Much easier than on a narrow bike path in the city!)

Top 3 highways to ride with kids near Calgary:

Highway 66 outside Bragg Creek  (opens to vehicles on May 15th) - Enjoy this big wide open space to ride as a family. There are many hills and it is a challenging ride if you go all the way to the Little Elbow Campground. Park at the winter gate and go as far as the Beaver Flats Campground with younger kids or just ride as far as you get and turn around.

Highway 40 west of Longview (opens to vehicles on June 15th) - Park at the winter gate at Highwood Junction and ride as far as you get, returning when the kids get tired. You'll have some very big hills in both directions so save energy for the return ride. We like to ride as far as the Cat Creek day use area where we then hike in to see the falls.

Highway 546 west of Turner Valley (opens to vehicles on May 15th) - Park at the winter gate and ride towards Sheep River Falls (a return distance of 30+ km with some big hills.) Turn around whenever the kids get tired (you likely won't make it to the falls.) This is one of the best road rides for wildlife viewings and if you're lucky you'll see sheep.

Biking Highway 66 in the Elbow Valley (closed to vehicles until May 15th) 

Read the following stories for inspiration here:

Biking Highway 40 in Southern Kananaskis

7. Explore Quiet Trails near Home 

The trails in Kananaskis are open again and there are many great options for a short day hike near home.

Don't feel comfortable hiking right now, don't! I'm including this section for those looking for quiet trails outside the city to escape the crowds in city parks.

Quiet spring day at Heart Creek 

Below are some recommended stories:

** Disclaimer, I have not edited or updated these guides for the season. They do list some popular hikes that you may want to avoid right now (especially on a weekend.) 

** I also recommend doing a bit of research on your hike before you head  out. The visitor centres are not open in Alberta's provincial parks so you won't be able to get advice or current trail conditions there. Some trails might be closed this spring, and the national parks are currently closed.

As of May, Troll Falls is closed for trail maintenance. 

Quiet shoulder season hike on the Prairie View Trail 

If you choose to visit the provincial parks, please follow the guidelines and information below:

  • Avoid the mountain towns of Canmore and Bragg Creek. Go straight to the trailhead and back home again. (Banff National Park is closed for hiking right now and they currently have check stops at all entrances to the Town of Banff where you'll be turned away if you try to access the town.)

  • Stay close to home and return to your own bed for the night.

  • There are not many bathrooms open in the provincial parks right now. Go to the bathroom before you leave home and bring emergency supplies with you in case somebody in your family needs them. This should include wipes, toilet paper, plastic bags, and hand sanitizer. You will be packing everything home with you (and that includes your used toilet paper, diapers or a pile of poo!!)

  • Pack your garbage home with you! Nobody is collecting garbage in our parks right now.

  • Wear gloves if filling up with gas before you go. Stock your vehicle with hand sanitizer as well in case you have to touch anything while away from home.

  • Have a plan A, B, C, and D! If you get to a trailhead and the parking lot is already full,  please consider choosing a different trailhead or hike. Yes, people do separate once they get on the trail, but Alberta Parks could shut everything down again if they see hundreds of cars in a parking lot on a Saturday afternoon!

  • Avoid popular trails on a weekend and try to hike outside of peak times. Get an early start or head out later in the afternoon.

  • Carpooling is NOT physical distancing. Hiking with a group of friends is also not physical distancing unless you focus really hard on keeping the recommended 2-metre distance from one another. If your family is not comfortable hiking by yourselves, consider waiting and not hiking at this time.

  • Remember that bears are waking up and starting to move around for the spring. Bring bear spray with you and make lots of noise.

We always choose quiet days to climb Prairie Mountain in spring 

8. Stay Home but Plan for the Future 

For those that are starting to get depressed about having to stay close to home I recommend a bit of dreaming, list making, and goal setting right now. Get the kids involved as well and focus on happier times ahead.

Create a 2020-2021 Winter Fun List

Did you have trips get cancelled this spring? Add them to a 2020-2021 Winter Fun list. Were there trips you wanted to do, but ran out of time? Add them to the list. Maybe there was a trail you wanted to ski or a hike you wanted to do - add it to the list.

Creating a list for next winter creates hope that cancelled trips were really just "rescheduled" or "postponed." They will still happen  - just a little bit later.

Inspiration for next winter:

Read: The Best of Winter in the Canadian Rockies - Gotta do THIS 

Where do you want to explore NEXT winter? 

Create Summer Fun Lists 

Nobody knows what this summer will look like but we can dream and we can plan.

Create a list of hikes you want to do as a family or a list of trails you want to bike.

Create a list of fun things you want to do this summer or maybe a list of summits you want to conquer as a family.

I keep these lists on my phone and then we check things off as we do them.

I also like writing lists on construction paper and we post them around the kitchen for inspiration.

Inspiration for this summer:

Read: The Best of Summer in the Canadian Rockies - Gotta do THIS 

What's on your Summer list this year? 

1 comment:

  1. Such a great resource... full of all sorts of ways to keep families and kids outside! Thanks:)