Monday, March 01, 2021

Spend Spring Break with your Family at a Wilderness Hostel

Spring Break is coming along with the Easter long weekend and we always love spending a few nights at one of the wilderness hostels in Kananaskis, Banff, or Jasper. The hostels provide the perfect combination of drive-up access blended with a backcountry experience (with way more comfort than winter camping!)

This cabin could  be yours for a Spring Break getaway! (HI Hilda Creek)

I had dismissed winter hosteling this year due to Covid restrictions, but suddenly my family is booked into one of our favourite hostels for a weekend in March and I couldn't be more thrilled! (And we'll have the entire hostel to ourselves!)



How does hosteling work with Covid restrictions?


Right now all wilderness hostels are technically "closed" in that you can't just show up for a night or make a reservation for a handful of beds.

Several wilderness hostels do however have "rent-a-hostel" availability and it's not as expensive as you'd imagine. Hosteling International realizes that current restrictions prohibit families from sharing indoor spaces with other groups, so they've adjusted their pricing based on private bookings for one family unit per hostel. (Meaning you get an entire hostel to yourselves and you won't be sharing it with anyone else.)

This entire wilderness hostel could be yours for Easter! (HI Athabasca Falls)


Follow this link to see a full list of  wilderness hostels that are open for rent-a-hostel bookings.

And this link will take you to the Rent-a-Hostel page for Hosteling International for all information.


Take your children on a wilderness getaway for Easter this year! (HI Kananaskis)


Do the hostels still have space for spring break or Easter?


I can't speak for every hostel, but my family is booked into the very popular HI Mosquito Creek Hostel for a weekend in March, and the reservation was just made. We're staying on a weekend and there was space for us (meaning the hostel was empty.)

Families with flexibility to stay mid-week should definitely have no problems finding a hostel with availability in the next month.

And, you don't have to wait until spring break. You can check for bookings for this coming weekend if you want. 

Playing in giant snow banks outside the HI Mosquito Creek Hostel in spring


How do I make a booking and how much will I pay to rent an entire hostel?


Now that there are single family restrictions in Alberta, Hostelling International has lowered the price to $195.00 per night to rent a hostel . For that you get any available wilderness hostel, the whole place, for your immediate family to use. Each hostel comes with kitchen facilities and may have an indoor fireplace depending on the hostel. (Check with the individual hostel to find out what amenities you'll have.)

Bookings must be made over the phone and you can get more information on the booking process here.

Imagine spending a few days here with your family! (HI Rampart Creek)


Why Stay at a Wilderness Hostel instead of a Hotel


There are a few main reasons why we love staying at wilderness hostels:

  • Each hostel has kitchen facilities so we can cook our own meals and save money on not having to eat out. (And they're significantly cheaper than fully equipped condos.)

  • We appreciate the space! Hotel rooms generally have one room (unless you splurge on a 2-bedroom condo.) Meanwhile, a hostel will usually have a separate kitchen and living area (sometimes with a fireplace) and separate rooms or cabins for sleeping. This is great if you want to stay up past the kids' bedtime! (No hiding in the bathroom while the kids sleep in the hotel room.)

  • The kids can go sledding, play in the snow, build a snowman, or just run around - right outside the hostel! (This doesn't usually happen when you stay at a hotel.) Bring some lawn chairs and you can just hang out and watch the kids play - without having to drive anywhere! Every hostel is located in a wilderness setting so you'll have space for the kids to run around for miles.

  • By March we usually miss camping and staying at a wilderness hostel gives us that "nature fix" that we've been craving. Lest you worry that the hostels will be too "rustic" though, many of them have indoor plumbing with showers, and some even have full electricity with microwaves.

  • Spring is a great time to stay at one of the hostels along the Icefields Parkway or near Lake Louise. There's still awesome skating, sledding, and skiing (while everything is starting to melt closer to Calgary.)

This could be your children if you spend a few nights on the Icefields Parkway this spring!


Wilderness Hostels as a base camp for Skiing


The HI Kananaskis Hostel is the closest facility to Calgary and is located just below Kananaskis Village off Highway 40. Stay in Kananaskis and you'll be a 5 minute drive from the Nakiska Ski Hill.

There are also groomed cross-country ski trails right outside the door from the hostel and around the Kananaskis Village area.


HI Castle Mountain is located at Castle Junction in Banff and is centrally located to ski at either Sunshine Village, Mount Norquay, or at the Lake Louise Ski Resort.

There are also groomed cross-country ski trails right outside the door.


HI Mosquito Creek is another great option for downhill skiing. This hostel is located approximately 30 minutes away from the Lake Louise Ski Resort on the Icefields Parkway (a heck of a lot closer than the ski hill is from Calgary for a day trip!)

Stay at Mosquito Creek and you'll have plenty of options for cross-country skiing as well near Lake Louise.


Finally, HI Athabasca Falls is located near the Marmot Basin Ski Resort in Jasper, and from the hostel the ski hill is only a 30 minute drive.

There are also groomed cross-country ski trails right across the highway from this hostel.


There are several wilderness hostels near downhill ski resorts


Wilderness Hostels as a base camp for snowshoeing, hiking, and adventure


We love staying at the hostels along the Icefields Parkway where you can walk out the door and generally go rambling wherever you want (within reason.) I'm not saying you should just start walking up any random hiking trail in winter (avalanche terrain is very real out along the Parkway) but we've had a lot of fun over the years exploring the terrain near each hostel we've stayed at.

Below are highlights from each wilderness hostel along the Icefields Parkway.

HI Mosquito Creek  - Explore the Mosquito Creek campground or cross the highway and hike up the creek to find frozen waterfalls. Note you'll be going up the actual creek and not up the summer hiking trail. (Though we did try cross-country skiing the summer hiking trail and it was quite beautiful - though challenging.) From Mosquito Creek you're also near Lake Louise where there are many safe designated winter hiking trails.

We found these frozen waterfalls right across the highway from the HI Mosquito Creek Hostel


From Mosquito Creek we also like to hike or cross-country ski to the Peyto Lake Viewpoint at Bow Summit. The viewpoint is closed this winter 2021 for construction, but keep it in mind if you're traveling here next winter. The hike or ski is an easy one up a wide summer road with no avalanche danger. Once you get to the viewpoint though you should return. Do not attempt to hike the Bow Summit Lookout Trail where backcountry skiers will be touring with avalanche gear and training.

The Peyto Lake Viewpoint is always a fun destination on skis or snowshoes (add to your list for 2022)

Finally we have also cross-country skied across Bow Lake (sticking to the middle of the lake to avoid avalanche slopes) and you could also hike across the lake. It's a beautiful lake even if you just stop by the lodge to take photos and play around.

Do not go past the end of the lake towards Bow Glacier Falls as this puts you in avalanche terrain.

Skiing across Bow Lake on the Icefields Parkway


HI Rampart Creek - Further north along the Icefields Parkway near the Saskatchewan River Crossing, this hostel is conveniently located to explore the Mistaya Canyon Trail. We've also enjoyed hiking in the meadows across the highway from the hostel and there's a small canyon behind the hostel. 

From Rampart Creek you're also a short 30 minute drive from the Columbia Icefields Centre where you can snowshoe the moraines below the Athabasca Glacier and hike to the toe of the glacier. (It's not safe to walk on the glacier itself.) And just past the Icefields Centre, make sure you drive a short distance further to view the frozen Tangle Falls (right hand side of the road.)

Playing in the snow outside the Rampart Creek Hostel 


HI Hilda Creek
- Families wanting a true backcountry experience will find it here! This is a hike-in hostel and you'll have to load all of your gear into a sled, and use snowshoes to access the hostel (even though it's only a 5 minute hike to the cabin.) - Read more below where I've listed stories from our previous trips.

From Hilda Creek families with backcountry experience and avalanche training can snowshoe up to the moraines behind the hostel to try some epic sledding. The trail we follow starts behind the outhouse by the creek where the terrain is generally safe if you have the training to know where to go (and where not to go.) You should not hike directly up from the hostel as this will put you into direct avalanche terrain.

Sledding down glacier moraines above the Hilda Creek Hostel 


If you want to drive from Hilda Creek you are a very short distance away from the Columbia Icefields Centre where you can play on the moraines at the toe of the Athabasca Glacier. 

Hiking to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier at the Columbia Icefields Centre


We've also hiked down to the base of Panther Falls which was an amazing hike nearby. I'd avoid this area in times of high avalanche hazard and the trail is not suitable for young children. It is also imperative that you have spikes or good ice cleats.

Panther Falls near the HI Hilda Creek Hostel

The basic appeal of Hilda Creek is that you'll get to experience true winter camping without having to sleep in a tent. This hostel does not have a manager on site and you'll be fully responsible for your own needs.

Note you should not hike the popular Parker Ridge or Wilcox Pass Trails in winter with children. Both trails enter avalanche terrain.

Create memories on the Icefields Parkway!


HI Beauty Creek - We haven't stayed here as a family yet, but this hostel is similar to Hilda Creek in that you'll be on your own without a manager to assist you. You get a key code in advance to access the hostel. Access is much simpler though and you won't have to hike in to the cabin. 

From Beauty Creek you can either drive back to the Columbia Icefields Centre (20 minute drive) or you can drive further to the Town of Jasper (which is only an hour north.) You're quite close to both the Sunwapta Falls and the Athabasca Falls Trails from this hostel as well (both very safe in winter.)

The "beauty" about this hostel is that you can explore Jasper as a day trip without having to drive the full distance to Jasper. You'll save an hour of driving if you're heading out Friday night but can still go skiing, hiking, or exploring around the Town of Jasper the next day.

Ice climbing at Tangle Falls near the Columbia Icefields Centre


The hostel is also conveniently located near Tangle Falls for families who have experience with ice climbing. This is one of the best places to try ice climbing as a family because you can set up a top rope from above without having to lead.

If you'd like to try ice climbing but don't have experience, contact Rockaboo Mountain Adventures in Jasper. They often use Tangle Falls for their "Experience Ice Climbing" Tour. And while they normally meet in Jasper, you might be able to convince them to meet you at Tangle Falls (especially if you booked a private tour.) Youth must be 12+ to join this tour.

Ice climbing at Tangle Falls on the Icefields Parkway 


HI Athabasca Falls - This hostel is located 25 minutes from the Town of Jasper and is perfectly situated for downhill skiing at Marmot Basin, cross-country skiing on groomed trails across the road, or hiking to Athabasca Falls across the road. You can also drive into Jasper to go ice skating or explore Maligne Canyon. If ice is starting to melt, there are many nice hiking trails around Jasper as well. I recommend the Old Fort Point Trail.

This is one of your best choices for an affordable stay in Jasper if you want to travel north for spring break or Easter. And the hostel has a beautiful cabin with kitchen, fireplace, and living room in addition to the sleeping cabins.

Day trip to Maligne Canyon in Jasper


Read more here about winter on the Icefields Parkway. This Parks Canada page gives very important information on driving the highway in winter and general safety.

Hiking through the Mosquito Creek Campground beside the hostel


Additional Reading (read about our previous hosteling adventures!)



Wilderness Hosteling in Kananaskis

Cross-country skiing at Castle Junction in Banff 


Wilderness Hosteling at HI Mosquito Creek and HI Rampart Creek



Playing in a snow quincy we found in the Mosquito Creek Campground

Wilderness Hosteling at HI Hilda Creek



Playing in snow caves outside the HI Hilda Creek Hostel 

Winter Hosteling at HI Athabasca Falls

Cross-country skiing near the HI Athabasca Falls Hostel


Disclaimer: This story has been written in partnership with Hosteling International. We have received many complimentary stays over the years in exchange for writing and sharing.

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