Monday, October 03, 2022

Immerse yourself in late Autumn Fun at Fairmont Hot Springs

Late autumn is always a challenging period when the prime hiking season is behind us, but ski season hasn't yet begun. There's always a month or more of down time when it's hard to get enthusiastic about adventuring and playing outside.

This year, the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort is adding some excitement to the late October/November season with a brand new 37-day Immersion Festival that will take us from Halloween to an early celebration of Christmas in November.

Combine hot springs + fun festivals + fresh mountain air, and a fun weekend getaway is guaranteed! 

Immerse yourself in late Autumn fun at Fairmont Hot Springs (Photos: FHSR)

Weekend Getaways to the Columbia Valley 

It's just over 3 hours to Fairmont Hot Springs from Calgary (Google Maps link) and very doable on a Friday evening after work. Enjoy two days playing in the sunny Columbia Valley and come home late Sunday in time for bed (and work the next day.)

For a more relaxed getaway, make it a 3-day long weekend, perfect for Halloween when many kids have the Friday off school, or for the "wine in the alpine" festival which kicks off on the Friday of Remembrance Day. Many students also have the last Friday of November off school which falls over the "Christmas in November festival."

Holidays are fun at the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort (Photos: FHSR)

Immersion Festival 2022 at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort

The Immersion Festival is a series of short themed events, many family-friendly, and others perfect for a romantic getaway or a weekend trip with a group of friends.

The festival starts with "Beer Weekend" October 22nd - 23rd before moving on to the family-friendly Halloween festival from October 24th - 31st.

Halloween family activities include kids' movie nights, resort trick or treating, costume contests, scavenger hunts, a pumpkin carving contest, daily hikes, and themed crafts.

Halloween will be a very fun holiday to celebrate at Fairmont Hot Springs (Photo Credit: FHSR)

November starts with a "Wellness Week" from Nov. 3rd - 5th wrapping up with a wellness retreat on November 4th - 6th where instructors will guide you through a series of workshops designed to nurture your physical, mental and spiritual health. Topics on the schedule include yoga, healing, drumming, dancing, nutrition, and general health.

Those with an artistic side will enjoy the Creative Expressions Retreat that occurs from November 7th - 10th. Instructors will lead a series of workshops which will encourage participants to explore their creative side exploring both visual and performing arts. No experience is required.

Moving through November we come to the festival I'm most excited about: "Wine in the Alpine!" Book a resort package for this event from November 11th - 13th and attend a fabulous wine pairing dinner the Friday night along with tickets to the Wine and Spirits Festival on the Saturday evening.

Wine in the Alpine will be a popular festival at the resort this fall (Photo Credit: FHSR)

First Responders and Health Care Providers receive discounted stays the week of November 14th - 19th, and then the resort celebrates the Grey Cup on November 20th. 

The festival concludes with "Christmas in November" which runs from Nov. 21st - 27th. Activities include daily hikes and scavenger hunts, family Christmas themed crafts, a candle making workshop for the adults, chocolate making, cookie decorating, mini gingerbread house making, elf story time, and a clay ornament making workshop.

The popular "Holiday Lights and Winter Nights" display will also launch for the Christmas season this week, there will be a Christmas market on the Saturday, a winter wonderland Christmas dinner the Saturday night, followed by a brunch with Santa Sunday morning.

Launch the Christmas season in November at Fairmont Hot Springs (Photo Credit: FHSR)

Full information on the Immersion Festival can be found on the Fairmont Hot Springs website. 

Questions you might have:

Do we have to stay at the resort to participate in the festivals?
Tickets will become available to non-resort guests 35 days prior to the event (subject to availability). 

Can we book a resort + festival package?
Packages (hotel rooms and events tickets) are available to book right now on the website. 

Will all events happen at the main resort?
Some events will happen up at the Fairmont Hot Springs ski hill. There will be free shuttle service available to take you up there. 

Do we have to sign up in advance for family activities during the festival?
Yes, many activities will require that you sign up ahead of times on the website.

The Holiday Lights and Winter Nights event is popular every winter at Fairmont (Photo Credit: FHSR)

Fairmont Hot Springs is magical at Chrisstmas!

Accommodations at the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort 

On one of our recent trips 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 girls' weekend getaway as well!)

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.)

Kitchenette loft room at Fairmont Hot Springs 

On a previous trip we got to try one of the mountain view cabins (open year round,) located beside the resort in the upper campground. And 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.  There's also a barbecue located on the deck of each cabin. 

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 us adults could stay up later after kids had gone to bed.

Mountain view cabins at Fairmont Hot Springs 

Other accommodations at Fairmont Hot Springs include:

Lodge rooms and suites - sleeping up to 6 people in a family suite or loft room (8 people in a pool facing loft with attached bedroom.)

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

Family Villas overlooking the  Mountainside Golf Course - they sleep up to 6 people and include fully equipped kitchens, a barbecue, and high-speed WiFi.

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

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

Check into the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort for a late Autumn Getaway! (Photo Credit: FHSR)

The Fairmont Hot Springs RV Resort is also located next door to the regular resort and we've stayed here many times for long weekends. While the hot springs are not included with RV stays, you do get discounted admission and you'll be able to purchase day passes allowing you unlimited access to the pools per day.

We love camping here because there are many hiking and biking paths that start right from the campground and we can use the hot pools mornings and evenings when it's chilly outside. 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.

There are sites available year-round (even through the winter) and every site has full hook ups.

For more information on the campground follow this link. 

Note that the RV resort does not allow tents. You must have a trailer, RV, or van set up for camping.

The Fairmont Hot Springs RV Campground is open year-round! (Photo Credit: FHSR)

Enjoy Unlimited Access to the Hot Springs Pools with your Resort Stay

We spend hours in the hot pools at the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort when we stay here. The pools are especially nice first thing in the morning while you wait for the air to warm up before heading out on a hike or a bike ride. They also feel good at the end of the day after you've been out exploring.

The resort has a hot soaking pool and a large warm swimming pool situated side by side. There is also a private "resort guests only" hot pool located beside the main lodge.

As of autumn 2022, all hot pools at Fairmont Hot Springs are open to resort and campground guests only. They are not accessible to the general public due to ongoing lifeguard shortages as we come out of the pandemic and adjust to a new normal. What this means for you as a resort guest is that the pools will be quiet. There will be no lineups to get in, and you'll  be able to walk up at any time without worrying about capacity limits.

Read more about the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort Pools here.

Immerse yourself in natural warmth this autumn at Fairmont Hot Springs (Photo Credit: FHSR)

Not a bad place to unwind after a fall hike or bike ride

I also recommend running up to the Indigenous Historical Baths before or after visiting the main public pools.

You'll see the small stone house up above the overflow parking lot at the resort. And while you can't go inside the house anymore, you can still soak in the small warm mineral pool that you'll find up on the knoll by the bathhouse. The water isn't "hot" but it's warm enough for a short soak when it's not too cold outside.

I personally recommend coming up here for sunset where you can enjoy views over the valley while you soak.

Small mineral pools by the Indigenous Historical Baths above Fairmont Hot Springs

Other Outdoor Activities around the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort 

You've got to do something between soaks in the hot springs, so I recommend heading out for a hike or a bike ride on the nearby Spirit Trail. The trailhead is a short 10 minute drive from the resort and the trail is relatively flat and easy enough for pushing a Chariot or a good outdoor stroller. There are also great singletrack trails off the Spirit Trail that we enjoy riding!

If paved riding is more your speed, there's also an amazing 25-km long trail that connects Invermere and Fairmont on the south side of Westside Road called the Markin-MacPhail Westside Legacy Trail

Read more about the best bike trails in the Columbia Valley here. 

Fall looks pretty good when you stay at the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort!

There are also many great hiking trails around Fairmont Hot Springs, several that are short and sweet for a half day outing close to the lodge. You can download a map of trails around the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort here. 

I also recommend reading my complete guide to the valley:

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

Get out for a late autumn hike near the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort (Photo Credit: FHSR)


Disclaimer: We are regular partners with Fairmont Hot Springs Resort and often receive complimentary accommodations. 

Photo Credits: Chris Conway and FHSR

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

First Summits - Mt. Allan and Centennial Ridge, Kananaskis

Centennial Ridge is the highest maintained trail ever built in the Canadian Rockies and is one of the best ridge walks in all of Kananaskis. Strong hikers can continue to the summit of Mount Allan which looms high above the Nakiska Ski Area. This is a very long day hike but it should go on every local hiker's "someday" list. Families will appreciate that there are few technical challenges and it's largely just a long scenic hike on a well built trail.

Hiking Centennial Ridge, the highest maintained trail in the Canadian Rockies

Hiking through the Rock Garden is a highlight on Centennial Ridge

Stats for the Hike 

Distance:  16 km round trip from Ribbon Creek to the summit of Mt. Allan according to my guide book. (I tracked 17 km.)

It's also possible to do a one-way traverse from Ribbon Creek to Dead Man's Flats but then you'd need two vehicles, you have an extra 2.5 km of hiking, and you also have an extra 200 metres of height loss at the end because Dead Man's Flats is lower than Ribbon Creek (so whatever you do, don't start at Dead Man's Flats!) 

All in all, it's just much easier to do the trip as an out and back hike starting and ending at Ribbon Creek.

Height gain: 1300 metres height gain from Ribbon Creek to the Mt. Allan summit. (I tracked 1400 metres including all ups and downs.)

Time it took us to complete the return hike: It took us just under 9 hours for this one (like I said, long day!) This was a solid moderate pace and we were faster than several adult groups on the trail so plan for 8+ hours depending on your personal pace.

Best time to do this hike: Wait until late June when the snow will be clear on the route. This is a beautiful summer hike when everything is very green and there are lots of marmots playing around in the rocks along the ridge.

Fall is another good time for this hike because there are larch trees along the ridge. The peak for golden larch hiking is the third weekend in September.

Annual Seasonal Closure: April 1 - June 21 for the protection of bighorn sheep during a sensitive birthing period

And don't forget to purchase your Kananaskis Conservation Pass!

Mount Allan Summit looking over the Wind Valley

Rating: This is an easy scramble or an advanced hike. You won't have to use your hands at all on the trail to Olympic Summit. There is one small cliff band after that which requires some hands-on scrambling to reach the summit of Mt. Allan. 

There's a fairly decent trail the whole time and much of the trip is just steep hiking. Route finding is also generally easy once you get off the ski trails from Ribbon Creek.

And best of all, there is no bad scree on this hike nor is there any real exposure (other than the one small cliff band mentioned above.)

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

All Trails Link: Mount Allan from Centennial Ridge 

Note to download the map, you'll need to have a premium paid subscription. I find it to be worthwhile, even just so I can see how far I am from the summit every time somebody asks "how much further?" 

Having a downloaded map will also help you navigate through the ski trails down below.

Map of our Route: 

And should you want to navigate using my routes, you can follow me on All Trails.

You can also follow me on Strava

Looking down over the Nakiska Ski Area from Centennial Ridge

Ribbon Creek to the Centennial Ridge Trail

You'll park at the Ribbon Creek trailhead (google maps link) and start by hiking up the Hidden Trail, a wide cross-country ski trail. Within 300 metres there is a junction with the Coal Mine Trail where you turn left on another ski trail. Stay on this trail until you come to the official "Centennial Ridge Trail" sign and the trail becomes more narrow resembling an actual hiking trail.

That was your warm up. Now the climbing begins. The Coal Mine ski trail takes a more gradual approach but the Centennial Ridge trail climbs straight up between switchbacks on the Coal Mine Trail.

The first section of the hike is approximately 2.5 km in length and you'll climb a very gradual 250 metres of height until you cross the Coal Mine Ski Trail for the final time.

After this, it is straight UP until you reach the Olympic Summit.

The end of the ski trails at the Coal Mine site

Climbing to the top of the Olympic Summit (and the beginning of the ridge walk)

From the end of the Coal Mine Trail where you leave all ski trails long behind, it is a steep climb to your first summit (and you won't be alone if you decide that Olympic Summit is as far as you can make it.)

The trail to Olympic Summit is well maintained and easy to follow, but it is steep! There are many switchbacks (thank goodness) but you will be tired when you reach the top of the first summit.

The trail to Olympic Summit is relentlessly steep but well switchbacked

It is a 700 metre climb to the top of Olympic Summit overlooking the Nakiska Ski Area (plus the 250 metres you already climbed to get to the end of the ski trails.) This means you'll have already climbed 950 metres just to get to the top of Olympic Summit! And you still have 350 metres to go! - Like I said, it's a BIG day.

It's a gorgeous hike to Olympic Summit (even if you call it a day here!)

Distance to the top of the Olympic Summit is 3 km (So you'll climb 700 metres in 3 km.) And then add on the initial 2.5 km for 5.5 km of total distance just to reach the first summit of the day. - Good news, you only have 2.5 to 3 km left of hiking along Centennial Ridge to reach Mt. Allan.

Just a tad steep!

Climbing, climbing, climbing!

Simply put:

Ribbon Creek to the end of the ski trails and Coal Mine site: 2.5 km (250 metres climbing)

Coal Mine to Olympic Summit: 3 km (700 metres climbing)

Olympic Summit to Mt. Allan along Centennial Ridge: 2.5 to 3 km (350 metres climbing)

All numbers are approximate! Every guide book/website varies slightly from the All Trails app, and then my own personal stats were different yet.

If you do nothing but Olympic Summit, it's still a rock star hike! 

You'll know you've arrived when you reach a weather station and then a small cairn with a flag. This is your first summit and the Nakiska ski area is far below you now.

So far, you have climbed almost 1000 metres so be gracious with your bodies (and energy levels.) If you turn around here, it's still a fantastic hike!! (One of the best.) And Olympic Summit definitely counts as a mountain!

Reaching Olympic Summit above the Nakiska ski area

If only Nakiska ran chairlifts in the summer! 

Hiking across Centennial Ridge to the Rock Garden 

The next 3 kilometres are the most spectacular part of the hike as you walk across Centennial Ridge. Most of the big height gain is done and while technically there is still 350 metres of climbing, it's spread over a long distance and you won't notice much of it until the final summit push.

Easy hiking along Centennial Ridge,  the rock garden and the final summit of Mt. Allan ahead

The big highlight along the ridge is the rock garden or the "mushroom garden" where you'll hike through giant conglomerate rock pillars, the largest named the "Claw." 

Striking a pose in the rock garden (watch for playful marmots here)
The giant "Claw!"
Beyond this, there is a short section that requires some brief down scrambling at a cliff band, but it's generally easy and there are lots of good hand holds. Remember, this is an official hiking trail.

The short cliff band that you have to down climb to reach the summit

Hiking to the Summit of Mt. Allan 

Once you pass the down climb, it is a short but steep push to the summit. Fortunately the rock is solid and there is no bad scree.

Hiking to the summit of Mt. Allan (closer than it looks)
There's a good trail to the summit
The ridge is never overly airy or exposed and the summit should feel big enough for most people. Enjoy the views over the Kananaskis Valley and the Wind Valley, and then return the same way (unless you've set up a car shuttle for a one-way hike to Dead Man's Flats.)

Mt. Allan Summit 

On the Mt. Allan Summit looking down over the Wind Valley

The Return Hike to Ribbon Creek 

By now you're probably really tired so it's not comforting to know that you have an 8 km hike left to reach your vehicle!

Climbing back up the cliff band to the rock garden
My family passed the time with loud singing and trail games (partially because we'd seen a bear on the way up)  and I'm sure anybody who passed us would have thought we were completely crazy with some of our song choices ("I want to be sedated" by the Ramones was just one of the fun tunes we sang loudly off key running down the trail.)

Hiking back through the rock garden

Read about more great first summits in my complete guide below! 

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Powderface Ridge - Family Hiking and First Summits in Kananaskis

There are very few hiking trails that I would repeat annually, but Powderface Ridge is one of them. We keep finding new and creative ways to hike this trail, and it never really gets old as a destination. It's the perfect first summit for families, and there are several options to make the trip as short or as long as you want it to be.

Powderface Ridge sunset hike in June (photo: Joyce Cortes)

The Official Trailhead and Route up Powderface Ridge

This official trailhead for this ridge starts at the end of highway 66 in the Elbow Valley where the pavement ends (right before you drive into the Little Elbow Campground.) From this parking area it's a steep 600 metre climb (13 km round trip distance.)

You can read about the official trail and see a map on the Kananaskis Trails website. And if you have a copy of the Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, Volume 2, by Gillean Daffern you can read all about the trail there (Trip 31.)

And note, the highway only opens on May 15th each spring so while this is a great spring hike, wait until the road is open past Elbow Falls. 

This large boulder begs to be climbed while hiking up or down the Powderface Ridge trail

My personal opinion about the official trail for Powderface Ridge can be summed up in one word: DOWN. This is a great way down from the ridge. It sucks as a climbing route. I like doing a one-way shuttle for this hike, starting high and ending low.

I have hiked Powderface Ridge many many times, but I've never climbed up the official trail because I don't seen a point in starting at the lowest point possible to access the ridge, especially when there are two other routes that both start much higher!

Powderface Ridge is a beautiful ridge in the Elbow Valley

Powderface Ridge via Three Trail Pass 

For an easier outing, we always do a traverse (with a car shuttle) via Three Trail Pass allowing us to gain only 400 metres of height, hiking across the ridge, and descending the official trail in a complete distance of approximately 8 km.

To access this shortcut trail and by far the easiest access for the ridge, turn right on to the gravel Powderface Trail (road) when you get to the Little Elbow Campground and the end of the paved Highway 66.

You'll enjoy a long meadow traverse to the summit of Powderface Ridge from Three Trail Pass

Drive up the Powderface Trail road for approximately 6 km until you reach Sacramento Pass. You can see the Google maps location for the Three Trail Pass trailhead here. 

Note the All Trails link above has you starting at Highway 66 but this is where you want to END. You want to start high, finish low. You should be starting from the Powderface Trail road and then ending on Highway 66 at the entrance to the campground.

Because the All Trails version of this hike is done in reverse, the numbers for height gain will be off. The distance is also a bit high.

Follow this link to a good description from the Alberta Parks website (where there is a good map showing both trailheads.)

There are lots of fun scrambly rocks at the summit of Powderface Ridge

Route Description for the Powderface Ridge Traverse

From Powderface Trail, you'll begin by hiking a kilometre on an old road /double track trail to a three-way junction, climbing a gradual 150 metres of height. This is Three Trail Pass and here you'll turn right to climb up to the ridge. Don't go straight or you'll find yourself heading along the Powderface Creek trail which ends by Elbow Falls! It's a great mountain biking trail but not too fun as a hike.

The trail climbs a rocky wide road to Three Trail Pass

From Three Trail Pass the hike starts to get more beautiful as you climb up and through grassy meadows to gain the ridge  and official summit for Powderface Ridge. This section is approximately 2 km in length and you'll gain another ~ 150 metres of height. The hiking is never steep and the ridge is not narrow.

Three Trail Pass with the ridge visible above

Either turn around once you reach the summit or (if you've set up a vehicle at the far end) continue hiking towards the exit trailhead on Highway 66.

Powderface Ridge is a beautiful hike in the Elbow Valley

And this is where I mention that all distances and height gain references in this guide are approximate numbers! I've used several different guide books, websites, and apps to create this guide, and every single one is slightly different!

Early season snow on the ridge crest 

From the ridge, drop down off the opposite side of the ridge, following the trail that descends from the summit. You don't have to traverse the ridge very far before you'll see the trail leaving the ridge.

If you hike this trail early season there may still be snow on this section requiring you to kick steps as you descend off the ridge (or follow steps others have made.) Once below the ridge crest, the snow disappears.

Descending the ridge on early season snow

The trail loses 100 metres of height over the next couple of kilometres as you descend through trees without views. At the bottom, you'll arrive in another large meadow and you have the option of climbing up to the East Summit. It's a quick "run up and down" with less than 50 metres of climbing to reach this summit, and in my opinion it is highly worth it for great views over the Elbow Valley. This summit also feels more like an official summit than the one on the ridge top.

Tag the East summit if you want, or continue your hike through the meadow and down the official Powderface Ridge trail to the trailhead on Highway 66. This is where you'll lose another 400 metres of height over 3.5 km.

The trail down from the meadow travels through trees much of the time without views. It is never overly steep, and the trail is good, but those with bad knees will definitely know they are descending!

East summit of Powderface Ridge

Easy Peasy Shortest Hike Possible for Powderface Ridge 

Start and end your hike via Three Trail Pass for the easiest hike (6 km round trip.) 

This is a great one with young kids or as a half day hike.

It's only 6 km round trip to tag the official summit via Three Trail Pass

Powderface East Ridge Trail from Rainy Creek Summit 

For an alternate (shorter route) to the East Summit, you can start from Rainy Creek Summit and take the East Ridge Trail off Highway 66 for a short 4 km round trip outing with 400 metres of height gain.

The East summit feels most like a real "summit" and it's a great evening hike. Note the East Ridge Trail is steeper than the route via Three Trail Pass. You'll also be hiking along a rocky ridge for a bit where the terrain could feel a bit scrambly for some.

Hiking up the Powderface East Ridge Trail

To extend your hike, drop a small amount of height and then climb up the regular Powderface Ridge Trail to gain the official summit for a double summit day. Return the same way via  the East Ridge Trail.

Tagging both summits from the East Ridge Trail would amount to ~ 150 metres of extra climbing and 4 extra kilometres of hiking.

See the Google Maps location for Rainy Creek Summit where you'll park here. 

Youth hike up the Powderface East Ridge Trail to the East Summit

Alternate Traverse: Three Trail Pass to Rainy Creek Summit 

This traverse is still on my list for the next time I head out to hike Powderface Ridge. Start high on Powderface Trail and approach the ridge via Three Trail Pass. Then end high as well by finishing at Rainy Creek Summit (which sits at a much higher elevation than the regular trailhead on Highway 66 at the end of the road.)

This route is only 9.5 km long with an easy 450 metres of climbing! (SCORE!)

Girls night out on the East Powderface Summit

Read more about Hiking in the Elbow Valley