The Ultimate Car Camping Pack List

Includes our favorite gear!

The Best Short Hikes Near Calgary

1-4 km hikes less than 1 hour from Calgary!

10 Fun Family Bike Rides in Calgary

10 family-friendly bike routes that include tasty snack spots!

3 Family Hikes in Northwest Calgary

Waterfall Valley, Douglas Fir Trail, Nose Hill Park

Exploring Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

Where to go, where to stay, and where to rent equipment!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Camping at Elbow Lake Backcountry Campground

For the best first-time backpacking trip - and shortest hike in the world - head to Elbow Lake Backcountry Campground in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. Besides a super short hike in (1.3 km), the lake is beautiful, there are good dayhikes in the area, and you can have a fire at night to keep warm!


The Hike

Elbow Lake Trail climbs rapidly and steadily to Elbow Lake. The gravel trail is partially shaded and bordered with vibrant wildflowers in early summer. As you approach the lake, mountains rise up to greet you and soon after, the lovely clear, green lake appears straight ahead. It took us about 40 minutes to reach the lake at a very leisurely pace with our kids.

Distance: 1.3 km
Elevation gain: 150 m
Chariot friendly? Yes, but it is VERY steep, so I wouldn't recommend it.
Washrooms? At the trailhead and Elbow Lake (outhouses)


  
Elbow Lake Trailhead
Trail to Elbow Lake
Approaching the lake
Elbow Lake

The Campground

Once you reach the lake, Elbow Lake Backcountry Campground is to your right. Sites 12 & 13 are closest to the water, but all the campsites were really nice with level tent pads. Tent pad dimensions are approximately 2.7 x 2.7 metres.

Elbow Lake Backcountry Campground Map

Campground amenities include: bearproof food lockers, outhouses, communal cooking areas with fire pits and picnic tables, and outhouses.

Scenic fire pit at Elbow Lake
As at any backcountry campground, cooking is done away from your tent. Be sure to pick up food scraps and garbage before you leave the communal cooking area. My friends have seen a grizzly on the slopes of Elpoca Mountain (NW side of the lake) more than once and it would be nice to keep the bear uninterested in the campground!

Store food and attractants (this includes toothpaste, lip gloss and insect repellent) in the bear locker when you sleep or are not using them. Coolers should not be brought in as they are too big to fit in the bear locker and are not bearproof.

Bearproof Food Lockers at Elbow Lake
Water for drinking and washing must be brought in or drawn from the lake. Please Leave No Trace and dispose of grey water in the outhouses. 
  • Not sure how to make water safe for drinking? You could boil your water, but would need to pack in a LOT of fuel. Check out my comparison of water purifier vs. filter vs. Steripen (UV light) here: Potable Aqua PURE Electrolytic Water Purifier Review. Chlorine tablets or drops are inexpensive and effective options.
Elbow Lake
Firewood is free with your backcountry permit and an axe is available near the woodpile for your convenience.
  • Please keep fires to a moderate size and put them out properly before you leave the area or go to sleep. Soak it, stir it, and soak it again! 
  • Do not collect forest deadfall - not only is it illegal, this fragile mountain environment needs any natural compost it can get. We were quite dismayed to see families sending their kids to collect sticks to burn. 
Firewood bin at Elbow Lake
New and clean outhouses at Elbow Lake

Activities in the Area

HIKING

The best family-friendly hikes from Elbow Lake are Elbow Lake lakeshore (less than 2 km round trip, flat) and the picturesque Edworthy Falls (6.4 km return, 50 m elevation gain). I used to hike to Rae Glacier (5 km return, 500 m elevation gain) and slide in the snow, but the glacier has retreated so far up the mountain, there isn't really much to see/do there now.

There are several longer hikes in the area too. I recommend picking up a Gemtrek map and Gillean Daffern's Kananaskis Trail Guide for more information.

Elbow Lake's crystal clear waters
Edworthy Falls
FISHING

Fishing folk will enjoy sight fishing for little brook trout at Elbow Lake. The fish are plentiful, but stunted due to the harsh environment. Most of the fish we caught were 6-8" (with a couple 10").
  • Conservation Officers come by frequently, so be sure to have your Driver's License, WIN Card and fishing license on you. Children under 16 fish for free!
Big POG and her Brook Trout

For information on getting started with backpacking, see my 8 Tips for Fun Family Backpacking. Did you know that children shouldn't carry more than 10-15% of their body weight? 

Got any questions about camping at Elbow Lake? I'd be happy to help!

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Peter Lougheed Provincial Park Camping and Activity Guide

Backpacking to The Point, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park - only a 3.4 km hike!

Not sure if you're ready for backpacking? Start with walk-in camping! Beyond Car Camping With Kids has a fun Camping Readiness Test, tips, and list of walk-in campgrounds near Calgary.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Experience Mount Norquay's Sightseeing Chairlift and Cliffhouse Bistro

For epic views without the crowds, and divine dining, hit up Mount Norquay's Sightseeing Chairlift. Mere minutes from Banff, this open air experience carries you over lodgepole pines to a spectacular viewpoint at 2090 metres (6857 feet). Sights to be seen include legendary Mount Rundle, the Bow and Spray Valleys, and - if you're lucky - wildlife and cloudporn. After filling your eyes, fill your tummy with deliciousness at the Cliffhouse Bistro.


The Ride

The ride up is a pleasant 8 minutes on a chair for two. Sit back and relax while taking in the scenery that has made Banff world famous.

World famous Mount Rundle dominates the landscape.
But first... a little info on how to get on the chairlift. Boarding is a breeze as the chairlift slows down in the loading area. My kids (aged 5 & 7) had no trouble getting on and off the chair on their own as they've skied since they were 2. If you're a chairlift virgin, simply stand on the big red footprints (see photo below) and sit down when the chair is behind you. In the event you have trouble boarding or getting off the chair, the staff can stop the lift at the push of a button.

Boarding the Chairlift
Once you're seated comfortably, lower the safety bar. At the top, staff will advise you when it is safe to raise it. The chair lift runs quite smoothly and the chairs don't rock much (unless you wiggle a lot, so stop that!), but if you ever feel nervous, look ahead of you instead of straight down. We enjoyed the chairlift and got excited about the coming ski season when we can ride it many times a day!

And we're off! 
Disembarking is simple. Raise the safety bar when instructed, stand up, and clear the area.

At the top, get a family photo at the panoramic lookout, then make your way down the walkway to a second lovely viewpoint (2 minute walk). There are a few interpretive signs and benches, lots of curious ground squirrels, and sometimes mountain sheep! The short walkway is suitable for all ages. Afterwards, head into the Cliffhouse Bistro for a gourmet lunch and local craft beer.

Top of the Chairlift! Elevation: 2090 m
Family Selfie From the Viewpoint
The descent is another 8 minutes of beautiful sightseeing. It was fun pointing out landmarks to the kids like Tunnel Mountain, where we were camping.

Descending
Heading down

What We Loved

Our favorite things about the sightseeing chairlift include the following:
  • Views: The panoramic views from the top of the chairlift are hard to beat! You'd have to hike all day for similar vistas. To see conditions before you head over, check out the live webcam from the top of the chairlift!
  • Lunch at the Cliffhouse Bistro: More info below. 
  • No lines: We arrived on a Friday around noon and didn't have to line up! I imagine weekends would be busier, but the lift can accommodate a lot of people, so the wait would never be too long. 
  • Proximity to Banff: Mount Norquay is accessed via a beautiful, short drive (or free shuttle bus ride) approximately 7 km from the heart of Banff.
    • Note that the road has several switchbacks, so trailers should be left at camp. Alternately, you could take the free shuttle bus from Banff.
  • Cost: The Mount Norquay Chairlift is the most reasonably priced sightseeing lift in Banff National Park. For the same price as a gondola ride elsewhere, you can ride AND dine at Mount Norquay.
  • Parking: Mount Norquay has tons of free parking!
Panoramic View from the Lookout

Dining at Mount Norquay

Complete your Mount Norquay experience with a sumptuous meal at the Cliffhouse Bistro. Set into the mountainside, this unique structure built in the 50s is newly renovated, and has the best views in Banff! Service is excellent too!!
Cliffhouse Bistro, Mount Norquay
View from the Cliffhouse Bistro
We enjoyed the charcuterie platter as a starter, shaved prime rib sandwich with beet chips, game and fig flatbread, and grilled cheese kids' meals. Creme brulee and ice cream were the perfect desserts accompanied by Grizzly Paw sodas and cappuccinos. Everything was amazing, but our favorite was the charcuterie platter. I would return for that and a glass of wine anytime! It was much larger than anticipated - would be a good starter for 4 adults or light lunch for 2 - and moderately priced given that the meats were locally sourced and only the best ingredients were used.

Cliffhouse Bistro Charcuterie Platter
(The bread on the adjacent plate is included! Kids' meal in background.)
Shaved prime rib sandwich with beet chips
Being a beef lover, I had to go with the shaved prime rib sandwich. The beef was tender and juicy and dressed with arugula, horseradish and beet chips.

We quickly fell in love with the fig and game flatbread. The sweetness of the figs and grapes balanced the saltiness of the smoked meats perfectly. A dollop of pesto enhanced the flavors even more.

Fig and game flatbread
The girls' grilled cheese sandwiches (kids' meals) came with juice, fruit, and ice cream. They liked them, but were too full to finish them as they had been picking off our plates - something that doesn't usually happen, but they liked everything!

Mini pineapple, coffee, and pistachio creme brulees (creme brulee trio) were the icing on the cake and paired perfectly with cappuccinos.

Creme Brulee Trio
Delectable dessert!!
The bistro overlooks the lookout!
We loved lunch at the Cliffhouse Bistro and will be back!

To view the menu, click here: Mount Norquay Cliffhouse Bistro. Reservations are recommended for groups of 6 or more.

Summer Activities on Mount Norquay

Mount Norquay is a year-round adventure centre with sightseeing, wildlife viewing (bear sightings every few days and regular mountain sheep sightings), hiking, and guided cabled mountaineering on Mount Norquay's Via Ferrata in addition to fabulous dining! If you don't have time to dine at the Cliffhouse Bistro, there is also a concession at the North American Lodge at the base of the chair lift.

Two hikes depart from the Mount Norquay parking lot: Stoney Squaw (4.2 km return) and Cascade Amphitheatre (15.4 km return). For more options around the town of Banff, see 'Related Posts' at the end of this article.

Be sure to follow Mount Norquay's Facebook page for special events such as live music on the mountain!

When to Go

June 10 - October 10, 9 am - 6 pm.

What You Need To Know

  • Purchase tickets at the North American Lodge (next to the main parking lot). 
  • Age 4 & up; children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult.
  • The weather changes rapidly in the mountains and the chair lift is not covered, so bring an extra layer and rain jacket just in case.
  • If you purchase a Mount Norquay Season's Pass for 2016/2017, you will have complimentary sightseeing rides all summer long!
  • Need a ride? Mount Norquay operates a free shuttle to/from various locations in Banff.

For More Information

Contact Mount Norquay - Sightseeing Chairlift.


Disclosure

Mount Norquay generously provided us with chairlift tickets and lunch, but all words and opinions are my own.


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Friday, July 8, 2016

MORE Best Short Hikes Near Calgary (Kananaskis Edition)

Alberta has some amazing hiking! In this post, we'll be focusing on the best short hikes (3-6 km) in Kananaskis. If you missed the first installment, you can check it out here: The Best Short Hikes Near Calgary.




For detailed trip reports, click on the title links. 

Flowing Water Trail, Bow Valley Provincial Park (2.4 km, minimal elevation gain) is a fun, short hike with stairs, boardwalk, wetlands, and river views. In early summer, there are tons of wildflowers too! Picnic at Middle Lake Day Use and take a quick stroll to the other side of the lake for an awesome view of Yamnuska. There's a camping store at Bow Valley Campground if you need a snack. Otherwise, Chiniki Village is a good spot to dine or pick up an ice cream bar or slurpee.

For more great, short hikes in this park, please see this post: Family Fun in Bow Valley Provincial Park.

Flowing Water Trail
Flowing Water Trail
Forget-Me-Not Pond, Little Elbow Provincial Recreation Area (2 km, no elevation gain) is a beautiful spot for a walk and picnic. Arrive early to get a picnic table as this day use area is extremely popular! The trail around the emerald green pond is Chariot friendly and super scenic. For the perfect day trip, stop at Elbow Falls on the way home, then get an ice cream in Bragg Creek.


Forget Me Not Pond
Elbow Falls
Ptarmigan Cirque, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park (5 km, 200 m elevation gain) begins at Highwood Pass, the highest paved pass in Canada. From this lofty height, you climb to a sculpted cirque (carved by glaciers), alpine meadows and waterfalls. It's our favorite short hike in Kananaskis followed closely by West Wind Pass. If the kids need a good job treat, pop in to the Gas Plus gas station at Fortress Junction. They have frozen treats and scoop ice cream with homemade waffle cones!
Waterfall on Ptarmigan Cirque Trail
Ptarmigan Cirque
West Wind PassBow Valley Wildland Park (4.2 km, 380 m elevation gain) is the most challenging of these hikes, but if you take it slow and steady, it's manageable with kids 4 & up. Enjoy views of Wind Tower and Rimwall on the ascent, and panoramic views from the pass. Wind Valley, Spray Valley and Spray Lakes are magnificent to behold. There are lots of fun rock outcroppings to climb too! Mountain Mercato, Harvest, and the Old School Bus are excellent places to refuel your bellies in Canmore.


West Wind Pass
West Wind Pass
Black Prince CirquePeter Lougheed Provincial Park (4.5 km, 150 m elevation gain) is a less strenuous option and good choice when the winter gate is closed and you can't access Ptarmigan Cirque. The first part of the hike is easy going on an old fire road, but becomes more interesting as you approach Warspite Lake. Look for Tree Rock and pikas living among the rocks. The little lake is lovely on a calm day when it acts like a mirror. Get a Japanese beef bowl at Moose Family Kitchen in Kananaskis Village on the way home or dine at Kananaskis Lodge.


Black Prince Cirque
Can you tell I love Peter Lougheed Provincial Park? ;) For a complete camping and recreation guide for PLPP, please see this post: Peter Lougheed Camping & Recreation.

What are some of your favorite short hikes?

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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Lowe Alpine Airzone Trek ND 33:40 Women's Backpack Review

For year round outdoor adventuring, a midsize (33-40L) expandable backpack is the best thing ever. A larger capacity allows you to use the pack for family trips (Mo-o-o-o-o-m, can you hold this?) or winter pursuits (hello, puffy jacket!) and ensures you can pack all the safety essentials you need and creature comforts you crave.

Bigger does not have to mean heavier! With the materials available today, it's possible to get a large and light backpack with thoughtful features such as rain cover, hiking pole loops, compartments and more. Weighing in at little more than my 28L pack, my 33-40L pack allows me to stow everything IN it rather than hang things off every strap.

While there are several great backpacks on the market, I selected the Lowe Alpine Airzone Trek ND 33:40 Women's Backpack based on its female-specific fit, AirZone technology, and convenient features. Details below.

Disclosure: Webtogs provided me with a backpack of my choice to review, but all words and opinions are my own.


Testing

Since March, I've used my Lowe Alpine Airzone Trek ND 33:40 Women's Backpack for: winter, spring, and summer hiking; cross country skiing; and cycling (city pathways, road, and mountain biking). No matter the weather or weight load, the backpack was comfortable to wear and the Airzone technology kept my back from getting overly hot or sweaty. My back is noticeably cooler with the Airzone Trek ND compared to other backpacks I own.

In wet snow and heavy rain, the pack cover kept pack contents dry. You should still, however, pack electronics in a waterproof case and put extra clothes/sleeping bags in waterproof stuff sacks as a best practice. You never know when your hydration pack could leak or your kids decide to "help" pack and put an open water bottle in your backpack (been there). Better to be safe than sorry!

What I Liked

Female Specific (ND) Fit

The ND (narrower dimensions) fit means a shorter back length (16-18") and female specific hip belt (33-45"). "The result is a range of women specific packs recognized as being the most comfortable on the market." - Lowe Alpine.com 

Since I'm 5'3"and 120 lbs, Lowe Alpine's Airzone Trek ND 33:40 fit me perfectly after a few simple adjustments. The Centro Adjustment system made it easy to shorten the back length. Tightening the rest of the straps were the same as on other backpacks.
  • Pro tip: Take the time to fit the pack properly so you will be comfortable. Weight should rest on your hips vs. pull on your shoulders and neck. Test the pack with weight in it to ensure there are no hot spots.
Note: If your waist is less than 26" and your hips are less than 33", this pack may be too big for you! My waist is 27" and hips are 34" and the hip belt is almost as small as it can go.

Backpack Testing on Midnight Peak, Kananaskis
The pack is made for women so it isn't too wide.

AirZone Technology

The AirZone back panel, with tensioned mesh and cutout, keeps the pack away from your back and allows air to flow through to prevent dreaded swass (sweaty a**) and keep you comfortable. I will be looking for this feature when I upgrade my backpacking backpack! It makes a world of a difference on a hot day!

AirZone back panel

Features

It's amazing how many thoughtful features this 3.1 lb (1.4 kg) backpack has! My favorite things about this pack are:
  • Hydration compatible + stretch side panel pockets allow you to keep water in a hydration bladder and a Nalgene bottle of electrolyte solution in the pockets. Even when scrambling, my Nalgene bottle was secure in a side pocket (not the case in my 28L pack by a different company).
Hydration compatible with hose port
  • Lash points, pole holders & pole tip grippers, and ice axe loop make it easy to attach items that should not go inside your pack. 
    • The only thing missing was bungee cord and a cord lock toggle stopper. I picked some up at the Dollar Store and created a custom cord system for easy external storage. The 2016 model of the Trek ND comes with stretchy cord and connectors so you don't have to do it yourself.
DIY cord system
  • Pockets Galore! This pack has top (1-zippered on lid, 1 zippered under lid), side (2 stretch mesh + 2 long, zippered pockets), and front (1 stretch mesh) pockets with zippered, stretchy pockets on the hip belt (2) and harness (1). I'm not keen on the boob (harness) pocket as it's too small for my phone and its location means I can't clip on a camera case on that side, but I have put the rest of the pockets to good use. 
The front and side pockets are super stretchy
and can each accommodate one Nalgene bottle.
  • Expandable capacity means you take the pack on a solo bike ride or carry gear for you and two kids on a winter hike. The Airzone Trek ND 33:40 is a 33L pack that expands to 40L when the lid straps are extended.
I was able to fit all this plus lunch and water in the pack with room to spare.
    The pack at full capacity on an ice walk in March.
  • One issue with larger packs is that it can be hard to access stuff deep down in the pack. This pack solves that issue with lower entry with zip-out divider! Zip it up to make two compartments, or unzip it; the choice is yours. (The PRO version of this pack also has side entry.) Great time saving features when you need to get your rain jacket stat! 
  • Speaking of rain... The built-in Rain Cover is light, effective, and brightly colored should you ever need to signal for help. I like that it is attached to the pack so I can't forget it!
We hiked all day in the rain and pack contents stayed dry.
  • The AdaptiveFit hipbelt and harness flexes to fit you perfectly so the pack moves with you and doesn't chafe.
  • There's also a key clip in the lid, whistle on the sternum strap, and SOS panel under the lid.
  • The colour is beautiful, but if you'd prefer something more subdued, it comes in black. 
  • Finally, the whole pack is made of durable 210D mini-ripstop nylon. The material seems too pretty to be tough, but the pack has been put down on jagged rocks and sat upon several times and still looks good as new! 
Lowe Alpine Airzone Trek taking a break

Lowe Alpine

Founded by two climbing brothers in 1967, Lowe Alpine makes innovative packs that move with your body and allow you to travel fast and light. They made the first internal frame pack and first compression straps, load stabilizers and sternum strap and they continue to innovate!

What I'd Like to See

I would prefer no harness pocket or a larger, removable harness pocket (large enough to hold today's larger cell phones). The current harness pocket is much too small for a Samsung Galaxy phone.

Bottom Line

The Lowe Alpine Airzone Trek ND 33:40 is a high quality, 4-season backpack with women specific fit. It is made with all the features of a backpacking backpack, but is light enough to use as a daypack. I would recommend it to anyone who has outgrown their daypack and wants to travel fast and light, and most of all comfortably. 

Where to Buy

Lowe Alpine products are available at fine outdoor retailers such as Webtogs


Webtogs "is an e-retailer of premier outdoor clothing and equipment. Official UK stockist of Mountain Equipment, The North Face, Rab, Marmot, Keen and more. Our aims as a retailer are simple. Stock the best stuff and have it in stock all the time, deliver gear for free over £30, let our customers return items easily and give the very best customer service of any outdoor website." 

Thank you to Webtogs for the opportunity to review this great backpack!

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