Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Bike and Hike Closed Campgrounds near Calgary this Spring

You'll meet very few people if you go exploring around a closed campground near Calgary this spring. We love biking the quiet roads when they're closed to vehicles and many campgrounds also have great interpretive trails for hiking. You'll even find playgrounds in many of the featured campgrounds which you'll most likely have to yourself.

We love biking around the Bow Valley Campground in spring

I'm telling you about my favourite campgrounds to explore this spring in hopes that it inspires families to go beyond the usual trailheads. Trust me, there is life beyond Elbow Falls and Barrier Lake!

Hiking the Many Springs Trail is a spring classic in the Bow Valley Campground

Bow Valley Campground, Bow Valley Provincial Park 

The Bow Valley Campground is closed to vehicles until April 30th allowing families to freely explore the park on foot or by bike.

Park at the Middle Lake day use area and bike around on the quiet paved campground roads. We like to bike to the Elk Flats Group Campground where you can have a picnic at the playground. 

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 empty campground (where you'll find at least two more playgrounds.)

Enjoying the playground in the Elk Flats Group 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.

Hiking along the river in the Bow Valley Campground 

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.

Note that the paved bike trail is not flat. Gears are required for this one unless you plan to push bikes up the steep hills. It is not beginner-friendly. With young riders I'd stick to the flat roads when they're closed to traffic.

The paved bike trail in the Bow Valley Campground is beautiful for a family ride!

Willow Rock Campground, Bow Valley Provincial Park 

The Willow Rock Campground is closed until April 30th. 

Park at the campground gate and hike down to the Flowing Waters Interpretive Trail

This hike is very short, 2 km in total, but it's quite pretty and kids always find it interesting as you hike along the river and explore beaver ponds.

When you're done your hike there is a playground in the campground as well.

The Flowing Water Trail is a great early season hiking option

Paddy's Flat Campground, Elbow Valley

The Paddy's Flat Campground is closed until May 15th. Until then, park at the campground gate and hike down through the empty campground to reach the river. 

Hike along the Paddy's Flat Interpretive Trail until it joins the Riverview Trail. The Paddy's Flat Trail is only 2 km in length but you should plan for a 5 km outing once you add in the distance you'll hike from the highway return down to the river.

The Riverview Trail can be added on as well for a longer hike with older children. Return the same way you came when you get tired of walking.

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

There is a playground in this campground as well which you'll likely pass as you head down to the river.

If you choose to bring bikes, make sure you bring locks so you can enjoy the hiking trails on foot. Also know that it's downhill to the river so you'll be climbing back up to the highway. The roads are also not paved in this campground so children must be able to ride on gravel.

Young children on balance bikes will enjoy bringing their bike for this outing and sand toys could be fun as well for playing down by the river. 

Playing in the sand down by the Elbow River in the Paddy's Flat Campground

Beaver Flats Campground, Elbow Valley 

The Beaver Flats Campground 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!!) 

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.

Biking Highway 66 is a lot of fun before the road opens on May 15th 

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.)

The hike is only 3 km return + a short distance on the highway. It is best enjoyed on foot so bring bike locks if you want to access the trail via the campground at the far end of the trail.

We often bring sand and water toys to play with at the beaver ponds. (And expect the kids to get wet!) 

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

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Jump into Spring at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort

My family has spent a lot of time at the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort over the years and it's always been one of our favourite places to spend a weekend while exploring in the East Kootenay Rockies of British Columbia.

Spring is especially glorious when there's already green grass and dry trails in April. Add hot pools to soak in, and it's a pretty sweet place for a family getaway.

Spring at Fairmont Hot Springs is pretty glorious!

Move over Mexico, Hello Fairmont Hot Springs Resort

On our last visit to the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort, I actually felt like we were on an all inclusive getaway in Mexico. We didn't bring any groceries with us but allowed ourselves to eat out the entire time. We made use of the restaurants at the resort and enjoyed a decadent weekend with no cooking! No sandwiches for lunch, no packed lunches in backpacks, but simply walking into one of the restaurants every time we were hungry.

Add hot pools where you can spend hours lounging in the sun, and it definitely felt like we'd left Canada.

Hands up if you'd like to spend a day here soaking in hot water and basking in spring sunshine!

Fairmont Hot Springs Resort in the Columbia Valley 

Fairmont Hot Springs is located in the Columbia Valley between the communities of Radium Hot Springs and Invermere to the north, and the City of Kimberley to the south. From Calgary, the drive is just over 3 hours depending on where you live. It's easy enough to reach Fairmont on a Friday after work, and the drive is doable for a short weekend, returning to the city Sunday afternoon.

For a more relaxed visit, plan a trip out to Fairmont over a long weekend or reserve one of the deluxe cabins for a week this coming summer. (It's a great vacation spot!)

This is April at Fairmont Hot Springs!

Everything you need to know about the Fairmont Hot Springs Pools 

It's no secret in our family that I love the Fairmont Hot Springs pools and that we will be visiting the resort (no matter where we stay in the Columbia Valley) for at least an afternoon.

The hot soaking pool and the warm swimming pool are side by side so I can spend my time happily soaking in the hotter pool while my son is playing with his dad in the other pool - and I can keep an eye on the fun, so I don't feel like I've abandoned my boys.

There's a dive tank for the summer months which has had two diving boards. New regulations for pools have closed the high board but hopefully the small one will be open again this year (usually by the May long weekend.)

In a normal year (without Covid restrictions) you can spend the whole day here at the hot pools. You'll find a large grassy area with lawn chairs, poolside cabana rentals in the summer season, a cabana restaurant (where you can purchase drinks or snacks to enjoy beside the pool) and with your day pass you're usually allowed to come and go through the day (which is great if you're staying at the RV resort next door.) Resort guests already get unlimited access to the pools.

There's also a snack bar next door where you can purchase items to go (to enjoy beside the pool.)

Side by side hot soaking and warm swimming pools at Fairmont Hot Springs

Current Covid operational changes for spring 2021

  • The public hot springs pools are open only to registered overnight guests of the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort during allotted time slots for each group, with a strict maximum of 150 visitors permitted in the pool area at any one time. You can visit the pools for more than one time slot per day but know that there is a half hour cleaning period between slots so you can't book back to back slots.

  • The resort has  implemented an online reservation system to allow guests to book their preferred swim times in advance. Reservations are available on Eventbrite and can be booked 48 hours prior to your stay. Check your pre-arrival email for access to the Eventbrite link. Most time slots are one hour in length.

    Guests are asked to be courteous and to not reserve each time slot to ensure everyone has an opportunity to enjoy the hot springs pools. For Friday & Saturday stays it is asked that you keep your reservations to 2 time slots per day.

  • Only 30 guests can be in the hot soaking pool at one time. When this pool reaches capacity, a line is formed in the warm swimming pool where you can wait to enter the hot pool. For this reason it is recommended you arrive early for the time slot you've chosen if you want to be one of those 30 people. (Though they do encourage people to rotate between pools frequently.)

  • The drive tank is closed until further notice.

  • There is a separate guest-exclusive hot springs pool which is open to Fairmont Hot Springs Resort guests only, with a strict maximum of 12 guests permitted in the pool at any one time. If the pool is full you can either return to your room or wait until other guests leave the pool. It is requested that guests cap their time in this pool to 30 minutes. No reservations are required.

  • Pool hours and allotted guest access times are subject to change without prior notice as restrictions are constantly changing.

  • Limited lockers are available on a first come, first serve basis in the change rooms (which are open with bathrooms.) Most guests of the resort change into their swim wear in their hotel room and wear one of the bath robes provided when going to the pools.

    Be very careful about where you leave your bath robe so that you take the correct one back with you to your room - especially if you have your room key or a phone in the pocket. And if the kids want bath robes you should bring their own from home.

  • No towel rentals are available at this time but towels are included in your room if you're staying at the resort. Again, be careful about where you leave it by the pool as they all look the same! Bring your own towels if this is a concern to you. 

  • The check-in time is 4:00PM MST and access to the pools will not be granted prior to your check-in. 

Pool Spring Maintenance: Also note the Public Hot Springs Pools will be closed for annual maintenance between April 25th and May 7th, 2021

The guest-exclusive hot springs pool is a magical place to relax

Accommodations for all Comfort Levels, Family Needs, and Budgets

On our most recent trip to Fairmont Hot Springs we had a loft room with kitchenette in the main lodge. It worked well for us, and our son could go to sleep upstairs while my husband and I stayed downstairs to quietly read or play a game of crib.

Our room had two queen sized beds on the main floor with two single beds upstairs in the loft (perfect for a moms' weekend getaway with a few girlfriends once restrictions are lifted!)

Our cozy loft room with kitchenette at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort

And while we didn't do any cooking in our room, we did have a basic kitchenette that would have worked well for breakfast and lunch (honestly for dinner you want to eat out at one of the resort restaurants.)

Staying in the lodge is convenient if you want to run downstairs to grab a coffee in the morning or you want to go out for a meal at one of the restaurants without having to put on a jacket. (Heck, you could wear slippers to breakfast. - which I actually saw.) 

Our cozy upstairs loft room (pretty palatial for one child!)

On a previous trip we got to try one of the new deluxe cabins (open year round,) located beside the resort in the campground. 

Read about our previous cabin stay below

Lest you think you'll be "camping," these cabins are pretty comfortable. Each cabin has a kitchen with a full sized fridge, a dishwasher, microwave, Keurig coffee maker, stove and oven, and everything you'll need for your family's needs. There's also a barbecue located on the deck of each cabin. Going one step further, the TV also has Netflix on it so you can hang out on the balcony with your glass of wine while the kids are happily entertained.

The cabins sleep four people and have two bedrooms, one with a queen sized bed for the parents, and the other with bunk beds for the kids. I loved the separate bedrooms because it meant I didn't have to go to bed at 8pm with my son. (The kids went to bed, and us adults could stay up and hang out in the living room.) It also worked out well when my son was awake at 6am the next morning - and needed a place to read books and eat his cheerios (without disturbing this mom's beauty sleep.)

Deluxe cabins at Fairmont Hot Springs

Spend a few nights in one of these comfortable cabins and wake up to deer grazing outside your door. Start your day with a short walk over to the main lodge for a cup of coffee from Steamers Cafe or enjoy weekend brunch at the Antler's Restaurant. After that, you'll enjoy your proximity to the hot pools which you can easily reach in your bathrobe (adult robes provided in each room.) - bring your own bathrobes for the children.

And when you get tired of cooking, there's a great family-friendly lounge, the Bear's Paw Bar and Grill, in the main lodge. The pizza is incredible so I highly recommend at least one meal here.

Cabin to hot springs!

Other accommodations at Fairmont Hot Springs include:

Lodge rooms (some with lofts and kitchenettes) - they sleep 4-6 people

Summer duplex-style cabins - they sleep up to 4 people and are dog friendly

Summer cottages - they sleep up to 6 people

Juniper Lodge rooms (with kitchenettes) - they sleep up to 4 people and some are dog friendly. 

* All stays include access to the hot pools during your visit including a private hot pool for resort guests only.

** Many of the cabins and cottages work very well for groups or family reunions. Book a bunch of rooms or cabins side by side, bring your lawn chairs, and you can hang out on the lawn visiting while the kids run around and play.

For more information, please visit the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort website.

Pool Spring Maintenance: Also note the Public Hot Springs Pools will be closed for annual maintenance between April 25th and May 7th, 2021

Not a bad place to spend a spring weekend!

Camping at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort (Albertans welcome!)

The Fairmont Hot Springs RV Resort is next door to the regular resort and we've stayed here several times for long weekends. While the hot springs are not included with RV stays, you do get discounted admission and in the past we've always been able to get day passes allowing us unlimited access to the pools per day.

RV Guests can use any of the lodge guest time slots for the hot springs pools and will have their own allocated time slots after the May long weekend. 

We love camping here because there are many hiking and biking paths that start right from the campground. We can go out for a walk, warm up in the hot pools, hang out at camp for a while, go for a bike ride, and then go back to the pools. And to splurge, the resort is a short walk away for a decadent restaurant meal or even afternoon appies and drinks at the family friendly pub.

We also love that every site has full hook ups so we don't have to fill our water tank before setting up camp. (And we don't have to empty the tanks when leaving!) I can use my coffee maker, the toaster, and the microwave (we don't camp simply,) and cable TV hook ups are available on some sites.

And should you fancy some early season camping, the RV Resort is already open.

Fairmont Hot Springs RV Resort

For more information on the campground follow this link. 

Note that the RV resort does not allow tents. You must have a trailer or RV. 

However, tents are allowed just down the road at the Spruce Grove Campground. This campground opens on May 19th and is a lovely campground for tenters with many non serviced sites. It also has several RV sites with hookups, a swimming pool, and you'll still get discounts for the hot springs.

When we last camped at the Fairmont Hot Springs RV Resort in 2020 the bathrooms were closed due to Covid restrictions. If you are making a booking here for the 2021 season make sure you ask about bathrooms if this is important to you. (Our trailer has a bathroom so it wasn't a big deal for us.)

I have checked and bathrooms will definitely be open at Spruce Grove.

And before you make a giant group booking with a large gang of friends, check out the Covid policies here for the campgrounds. Large social gatherings with members outside your household or cohort are discouraged.

Follow this link to make an online booking for the Fairmont Hot Springs RV Resort. And for the first year, you can now make reservations online! No more calling in. (This makes me very happy!)

You can also make an online booking for the Spruce Grove Campground here. 

Note Albertan residents are allowed to camp at both campgrounds regardless of the Covid situation because these are private campgrounds. They do not fall under the same rules that BC Provincial Parks have created for their campgrounds.

Mountain biking on one of the trails from the Fairmont Hot Springs RV Resort

Bike, Hike, and Soak from April through October!

Spring comes very early to the Columbia Valley and you can be mountain biking on dry trails by mid to late April! There's even green grass by that time. We also come out for Thanksgiving in October because it's definitely still warm and we can even camp.

For hiking around the campground, we like the Owl Loop and the Geary Lookout Trail. For biking, my boys like the Montezuma's Revenge loop and we also liked biking to the Geary Lookout.

You can see the resort trails here and download a map. And all trails are fully dry and good for hiking by April. (Note the Waterfall Trail is officially closed due to flooding that occurred in the spring of 2020.)

Some of our favourite family-friendly mountain bike trails are located near Fairmont so we always come out here in the spring and fall when it's not quite as hot.

Spring mountain biking near Fairmont Hot Springs

There's also a brand new paved bike trail that starts near Invermere and ends at Fairmont. The Markin-MacPhail Westside Legacy Trail is 25 km long (one way) and has easy, intermediate, and advanced sections. Check out the map at the link above to choose a section that would be right for your family.

Strong riders could do the entire thing one way if you set up a vehicle shuttle for your family or if an adult rode back to the beginning. (If you were to do this, I'd ride one way from Invermere to Fairmont so you can bike back to the resort while one adult bikes back for the car.) - Although know that you'll have to climb to get back up to the resort from the highway.

My family usually does short segments out and back.

Biking towards Fairmont on the new Westside Legacy Trail

Read more about mountain biking in the Columbia Valley here: 

Read: The Best Family Bike Trails in the Columbia Valley 

Read more about hiking in the Columbia Valley here: 

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

Other recommended reading:

Spring hiking near Fairmont Hot Springs

Soak in Natural Hot Springs at Fairmont

One of our favourite things to do when we're at Fairmont Hot Springs is to soak in natural mineral pools that don't have chlorine or chemicals added to them. The water isn't always as "hot" or as comfortable for soaking in as the main commercial pools at the resort, but it's a fun experience (especially on a warm day.)

Soaking in the Indigenous Baths at Fairmont Hot Springs

There are two options for natural soaking near the resort:

1. The Indigenous Baths at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort

From the overflow parking lot hike up to the top of the little knoll where you'll see an old stone house. This is the historic Indigenous Bath House. It is closed to entry but there are pools outside the bath house that have warm water in them. 

These pools are very small so I recommend visiting them early morning or in the evening when they might be quieter. Be prepared to wait if others are using them or to return later. We've had good luck going early morning.

There is nowhere to change at the site so wear your swim suit under your clothes and bring a towel for the return to your hotel room or campsite.

The Indigenous Baths at Fairmont Hot Springs

These are the best known natural hot springs near Fairmont but have been closed since the beginning of Covid. Check the website at the link above to see if they've opened again. As of spring 2021 they are still closed.  Find out if the hot springs are open here

When they open, know that this area is very busy. Don't expect to have the pools to yourself at any time of the day. Also be prepared for a rough drive on a gravel road that may scare some people afraid of heights.

From the parking area, it is a short walk down a steep but well maintained trail to the pools by the river. There is an outhouse on site but it's easier if you wear your swimsuit and then you only have to change before driving home.

Lussier Hot Springs near Fairmont

Disclaimer: Use the natural hot springs and mineral pools at Fairmont Hot Springs at your own risk.

Please obey all closures and respect the areas you are visiting. Pack out all garbage, do not bring glass bottles to the pools, and swim suits must be worn in all public areas.

Soaking in the Indigenous Baths at Fairmont Hot Springs

Explore Fairmont Hot Springs from the River

Lake Windermere is just a short drive away if you want a beach day in May or June, and the Columbia River flows through the valley for great paddling.

We spent a great day paddling down the Columbia River through Fairmont Hot Springs on our stand up paddleboards last spring. We timed our visit for a warm day in May and the river was high enough for our boards. (Later in the summer the water gets too shallow and is better enjoyed in tubes.)

Recommended activities:

May on the Columbia River near Fairmont Hot Springs 

Alternately, you can bring your own stand up paddleboards and head out for a lazy float down the Columbia River through Fairmont. You'll need your own equipment and will have to set up your own shuttle. We used bikes for this.

If you want to float the river on your own, this is where you'll put in. (And I know it looks like you're walking to the put in, but I assure you Columbia River Road continues past where it ends on Google Maps. The put in is right on Columbia River Road so just follow this road until you see the obvious boat launch beside the river.)

And this is where you'll take out. There's a lovely little boat launch on the other side of the highway from the resort beside the river.

Note, previous experience is highly recommended!! There are several tight corners on this stretch of river, the water can be cold early season, and there are some fast sections. There is also one bridge that was a bit tricky to get under last time we went (with rocks to dodge.)

Paddling through the golf course in Fairmont Hot Springs

Other Recommended Spring Activities at Fairmont Hot Springs

My family doesn't golf, but golfing would be the big draw for many adults (and families with older youth) for a spring trip to the Columbia Valley.

Golf courses at Fairmont Hot Springs open as early as March 26th for the season! (That's way earlier than Calgary.)

You can get all the details on golf courses at Fairmont Hot Springs here. (And there are options for easy family-friendly par 3 courses.)

There are golf specials as well, and kids 12 and under golf for free (follow the specials link for information on times kids can golf for free.)

There are golf courses for all abilities at Fairmont (including mini golf for the non-golfer)

Still not convinced your family will be entertained at Fairmont Hot Springs?

How about a zipline adventure! My family tried the Mineral Mountain Ziplines Course and it was a blast! The course is located right at the resort so you don't have to drive anywhere. (And it's the real deal! - we were thoroughly impressed.)

Contact the resort to find out when the ziplines will open for spring 2021. They'll definitely be open by the May long weekend.

Flying above the Columbia Valley at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort

Add to all of that, the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort also has a full activity program run by the "Activity and Experience Centre" which includes kids' day camps.

Other activities to try include:

  • Mini golf (on site with a cost)

  • Tennis and volleyball courts (on site)

  • ATV tours (nearby)

  • Geocaching (on site)

  • Horseback riding at the stables right at Fairmont Hot Springs (along with pony rides for the younger kids)

  • River rafting tours (nearby) 

  • Fishing (nearby) 

Note there are additional charges for most of the activities above and some of them are not guided by the resort. The Activity Centre will connect you with your tour operator though and make reservations for you. 

For more information, follow this link to Things to Do at Fairmont Hot Springs 

Fishing on the Columbia River near Fairmont Hot Springs

Additional Recommended Reading

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

Five Reasons you Need to Visit Fairmont Hot Springs Resort with your Family

Autumn Family Fun at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort (with more information on the zipline tour)

Mountain biking near Fairmont Hot Springs 

Travel Disclaimer

As of early spring, travel is still not "encouraged" between the provinces of Alberta and BC, and the Government of BC is asking their residents to travel locally.

Should you choose to visit Fairmont before the restrictions are lifted, do so at your own risk and on your own conscience. I trust you to make your own decisions.

The resort continues to welcome all visitors and the RV Resort is open to non-residents of BC.

Please follow all safety guidelines while visiting at this time including limiting your socializing to your own household (restaurants included,) obeying physical distancing rules (especially in the hot spring pools,) and staying home if you are not feeling well.

If you become ill while at Fairmont, please try to return to your own city to seek medical attention and keep the local hospitals for the locals who need them.

Finally, check all cancelation policies when booking trips at this time.

Disclaimer: My family has been hosted on recent visits to the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort. Also please note that we have not tried all of the activities mentioned in this story (yet.) It's an ongoing mission of ours to explore every corner of the valley but it's going to take us a few years yet to try everything. As always, all words and opinions are my own.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Big Mountain Skiing, Small Hill Charm at Castle Mountain Resort

I'm always amazed when fellow Calgarians tell me that they've never skied Castle. Castle Mountain Resort is only 3 hours south of Calgary, easily reached Friday evening, and it's a local Alberta resort! 

Castle has accommodations on site with options for all budgets, and with spring coming, you can also bring your trailer down and camp in the parking lot (It's absolutely allowed here!)

Spring is here and Castle Mountain is calling!

The ski hill itself is out of this world with terrain that easily compares to what you'd find at bigger resorts in the Rockies. My boys spend their days lapping the double black chutes while I meander my way down the gorgeous traverses and groomed intermediate runs top to bottom.

Castle has a dedicated beginner chair as well along with an intermediate progression chair with gentle groomed runs perfect for building confidence. 

Add small hill charm, uncrowded runs, the friendliest people you will ever meet at a ski hill, and a family-friendly pub with unbelievable food. 

Have you started to plan your spring ski getaway yet?

Lonestar is definitely calling your name if you like epic big mountain skiing!

Introduction to Castle Mountain Resort 

Castle Mountain Resort is located in Southwestern Alberta, approximately 30 minutes SW of the Town of Pincher Creek. Families living in the south part of Calgary can reach the resort in 2.5 hours, making the trip very doable for a 2-day weekend.

We have a longer drive from the north of Calgary but we can easily reach Castle Friday night after work. We ski full days both Saturday and Sunday and then stop for dinner on the drive home Sunday night.

Bluebird day at Castle Mountain Resort

All about the Skiing and Riding this Spring! 

Things will look a little bit different at ski resorts this spring. We'll be missing out on the slopeside parties and gathering with groups of friends around a shared table at the end of a ski day. 

What's not cancelled though is the actual skiing and riding!! And remember last year, all resorts were closing for the year at this time. (March 17th was my last ski day in 2020.)

Visit Castle this spring and enjoy awesome warm-weather skiing or riding! The resort is located just east of the Continental Divide on the Alberta/BC border, and thus gets a LOT of snow each winter (up to 9 metres per year on average.) So don't worry about snow melting in Calgary as spring approaches. You're still good to plan a weekend away at Castle.

And Castle Mountain is scheduled to stay open until April 11th for 2021.

Adventure awaits when you ski into the chutes at Castle!

Affordable On-hill Accommodations

We've been spoiled by a few too many ski in-ski out trips and now it's a huge priority when we plan family ski weekends. I want to be able to have a leisurely morning without a long drive to the ski hill, and my son likes to be first in line for the lifts opening. This means that staying very close to the hill is almost imperative for us. 

At Castle Mountain Resort there is an affordable hostel and ski lodge located across the parking lot from the ski hill. It's not quite "ski out your door" lodging but I'm ok with having to carry my skis across a parking lot. It's also very handy on Sunday when you can pack up your car and go skiing without having to move the vehicle to a separate day-use parking lot. 

The ski lodge offers traditional dorm-style hostel rooms (with beds arranged in rooms of 6 or 8) or you can upgrade to a private hotel-style room with either 2 queen sized beds or a queen bed and a double / single bunk.

Simple but functional rooms at the Castle Mountain Ski Lodge 

Note that due to Covid, the hostel rooms will be booked out on a room-by-room basis this season, with only one individual or cohort per room to eliminate sharing close quarters with others.

Normally there is a full kitchen facility and common room that all guests of the ski lodge can use but these amenities are closed because of Covid restrictions.

A simple hotel room at the Castle Mountain Ski Lodge with two queen beds 

Tips for Staying at the Castle Mountain Ski Lodge

  • Bring small bags you can carry up a flight of stairs if you're staying in the hotel rooms at the ski lodge. They are upstairs and there is no elevator. 

  • Bring inside shoes/slippers if you want because all footwear must be left at the front door.

  • Because of Covid restrictions, the kitchen and common room in the hostel are closed. Fortunately the day lodge opens at 8:30am and their breakfast sandwiches are delicious. Lunch can also be purchased at the day lodge or at the T-Bar Pub and Grub. (And you can choose to eat in, or to eat on the sunny patio outside.)

    For dinner, I highly recommend eating at the T-Bar Pub. The pizza is amazing, and the beef brisket is the best I've ever had! (We actually ate there for both lunch and dinner on Saturday, and again for lunch on Sunday.)

  • If you want to bring your own food, there is a microwave, a coffee maker, and a kettle in the hallway of the hotel so you can make simple breakfasts and lunches for the family (and each room has its own mini-fridge.) There is also a communal barbecue that is still open at this time outside the ski lodge if you'd like to cook up some hamburgers for dinner.

    Pizza can also ordered for takeout from the T-Bar Pub and brought back to your room.

    Note you'll want to bring your own dishes if planning to eat in your room.

  • There is free WiFi at the ski lodge which is good because there is no cell service anywhere at the resort.

You can view all Covid policies for the ski lodge here. 

Otherwise, for families wanting to take it up a notch in their accommodations, there are other options available on the hill including bed & breakfast suites, ski in, ski out rental houses, or chalets on the hill with suites available for rent. Visit the Castle Mountain website to view all options. 

And, if you're interested in camping, overnight camping in the parking lot of Castle Mountain Resort is permitted with a few restrictions. (Follow the link.) It's a pretty sweet set up though and there's even a heated bathroom building to use. 

First laps are easy to get when you stay on site at Castle Mountain

Big Mountain Skiing with Small Hill Charm

We often get our minds set on "heading west to the mountains" to go skiing from Calgary but the reality is that for families living in South Calgary, Castle Mountain Resort is not much further away than Lake Louise. Skiing at Castle is quite a bit cheaper and as already mentioned, there's affordable accommodations right at the hill.

I will always love the big mountain resorts in Banff, but Castle has a charm that you really have to experience. On our recent trip I was blown away by how friendly everybody was. I easily struck up conversations with other skiers in every lift line, I had people willing and eager to share a chair with me when I was riding solo (my boys off in the chutes somewhere,) and locals were eager to tell me about their hill, why they loved it, and why it was so special to them.

And for those who've asked, yes, you'll still get hugs in the lift lines if you want one. (Slightly more physically distanced hugs, but attempted hugs none the less.) Seriously, Castle has the friendliest staff you'll ever meet! 

My son was greeted by name each time we had our lift passes scanned at the base of the resort and our lift attendant was genuinely happy and excited to see us each time we arrived at the bottom again. I actually felt like we were locals by the end of the day.

Big views and big smiles at Castle Mountain

Big Mountain Skiing at a Resort for all Abilities 

This next section is copied (with edits) from my previous story on Castle after our first visit a couple of years ago. I've used photos from both trips.

Castle Mountain for Beginners

There is not a "lot" of beginner terrain at Castle Mountain but if you have mixed levels in your family, each person will be able to find something that works for their abilities at this resort.

True beginners can start off on the magic carpet until they are ready to advance to the "green chairlift." The Green Chair then accesses three short gentle runs at the bottom of the hill. This area is always full of families with young children and is very well used.

From the green chair, beginners have options off both the Huckleberry Chair or off the Sundance Triple Chair (the Blue Chair) where the North Run gently winds its way down the mountain.

I actually love the North Run off Sundance and spend a lot of time cruising my way down here when I visit Castle.

Unfortunately, beginners can't access the top of the mountain until they're able to handle steeper terrain so Sundance will be as high as it gets for many families.

Cruising down the North Run at Castle 

Castle Mountain for Intermediate Skiers and Snowboarders

A true "intermediate" skier will want to start off on the Huckleberry Chair, a fabulous learning environment where nearly every run is groomed, and you won't accidentally find yourself on a black run.

From the Huckleberry, progress to the North Run (mentioned above) or "Easy Street" both off the Sundance (blue) chair. Easy Street is basically a cat track that accesses other runs such as "Sundown" and "Twilight," a solid intermediate combination. 

Intermediate skiing off the Huckleberry Chair

Once you're comfortable on the Huckleberry and Sundance Chairs, make your way up the Tamarack Chair (the red chair) to the top of the mountain where the views (and hopefully not the winds) will blow you away on a clear day. If it's a windy day, stick to the terrain lower down.

From the top of the Tamarack Chair, you'll find yourself on the Skyline Traverse as you make your way towards "Harkers Highway," the easiest way down. And honestly, this is pretty much a green run aside from the steep pitch at the top. Make it down that pitch, and the rest is a winding road.

For more of a challenge, take the Skyline Traverse to "Bandito" or "High Noon." Each one has a short steep pitch but spits you back out on Harkers Highway lower down.

Cruising down the Skyline Traverse to great intermediate terrain 

Castle Mountain for Advanced Skiers and Snowboarders

Ready for more of a challenge and you've successfully tackled the intermediate terrain at Castle? Check out these tips below for progressions:

  • Try the Ambush Glades off Sidewinder (Huckleberry Chair)

  • Take Easy Street to Mouse Trap and Jelly Roll, a groomed black run (Sundance Chair)

  • Try some of the black runs off the North Run. They are all quite short and spit you back out on the road lower down. (Sundance Chair)

  • Drop down off the Skyline Traverse into the bowl under the Tamarack Chair (Deputy, Sheriff, or Outlaw) are all good choices here) - and you'll end up back at the bottom of the Tamarack Chair. (Tamarack Chair)

  • Try skiing in the Huckleberry Bowl (the opposite direction along the Skyline Traverse) - my boys really love this bowl with its gentle angle. Alternately, try the Tamarack Bowl located right beside the Huckleberry Bowl. (Tamarack Chair)

  • On a powder day, try Drifter, the first chute you'll come to just before you go through the gates into the double blacks. (Tamarack Chair)

Adventure awaits when you ski into the chutes at Castle!

Castle Mountain for "Extreme" Skiing and Snowboarding 

Once you're comfortable skiing black terrain at Castle, it's time to go play in the double black chutes off the top of the Tamarack Chair.

My husband and son have a favourite run here called "Lone Star" - with a 600 meter fall line, a consistent 37 degree angle, and the longest continuous fall line descent in Canada.

Note that falling on some of the steep black pitches (Drifter or Lone Star for example) isn’t an option when conditions are firm. A fall could land you in the ER. You must be able to stop any fall to control your slide or you’ll go a long ways!!! And there are canyons to fall into on both Lone Star and Drifter.

Skiing Lonestar is an unforgettable experience!

Castle Resort Planning Tips

Below are some miscellaneous notes to help you with planning a trip to Castle Mountain including some special Covid restrictions you'll want to take note of.

  • Castle Mountain Resort has instituted a cap on daily ticket sales for the season as a result of Covid protocols. Guests are encouraged to pre-book lift tickets online before visiting. Many weekends, the resort is at capacity and you won't be able to buy tickets on site the day of your arrival

  • Castle Mountain Resort season pass holders, WOW Card holders, and/or those with pre-purchased open-dated tickets do not need to pre-purchase their ticket online.

  • The resort offers half day skiing starting at 12:30pm if you leave Calgary in the morning but still want to get a few hours of skiing in that day. Again, it is recommended that you pre-book your half day ticket online. 

  • The resort offers individual pricing for the beginner/intermediate chairlifts! You can pay a discounted price for just the Green Chair or for just the Huckleberry Chair. Again, pre-book these tickets online.

  • Kids 5 and under are free (as they are at most resorts)

  • Get free or discounted skiing if you have a Lake Louise Plus discount card. You can claim one of your free days at Castle. Card holders must pre-pay for a discount day and, should it be your free day, you will be refunded upon arrival / ticket pick-up.

  • Fill up with gas in Pincher Creek. The small gas station in Beaver Mines is not always open.

  • Even if you just visit for the day, make sure you visit the T-Bar Pub at least once - and order the beef brisket!! (No words for how good it was.) The pizza is pretty amazing too. Note if you want to get into the pub for lunch, go early. Capacity is limited and so it's usually full by 11:30am.

  • There are multi use trails on site for fat biking, snowshoeing, and XC skiing - with rentals available.  There are also designated groomed and track set cross-country ski trails.

View all current Covid restrictions for Castle Mountain Resort here. 

The Sundance Chair looking up at the Centre Run and the lower mountain

Buy your 2021-2022 Season now and Ski for Free this Spring!

 "If you weren't able to score a pass this season, the wait for next season's passes is  over. A limited number of passes for the 2021-2022 season are now on sale as of Monday, March 15th. 
As in the past, season passes will be available for use for a portion of this season. Our first 500 passes sold this spring will be valid starting Monday, March 22 so you can enjoy the last three (3) weeks of this season on us! 
While we will be limiting the number of season passes available for the 2021-2022 season, additional passes at the same pricing tier - aka our lowest price - will be released for sale as soon as we close on April 11. This means that, if you already own a pass for this season, there's no need to panic buy for next year just yet." - Castle Mountain Resort
If every morning looked like this!

Read More about our Adventures at Castle Mountain Resort

Read about our first trip to Castle Mountain two years ago (The visit when we almost contemplated moving to South Calgary to make Castle our home hill.)

Read: Epic Family Ski Weekend at Castle Mountain Resort

For more information, please visit the Castle Mountain Ski Resort website. 

Disclaimer: Our recent trip to Castle Mountain was hosted. As always, all words and opinions are my own.