The Best Short Hikes Near Calgary

These scenic hikes are all 4 km or less round trip and less than 1 hr from Calgary.

The Ultimate Car Camping Pack List

Everything you need for an awesome camping trip!

Tips for Fun Family Backpacking

Family Backpacking 101 - what to pack, where to go...

Discover Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site

Go back in time and live like a trapper at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, only 2 hours from Calgary.

Why you should visit Writing on Stone Provincial Park

Hoodoos, beaches, and paddling! Need I say more?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Winter Adventuring After Dark

Winter days are short, but that's no reason to cut your outdoor playtime short! Take your children on a nighttime adventure and witness the wonder in their eyes as they take in the starry sky, lights, and silhouettes. Listen to the night sounds and smell the air. Other senses take over when it's dark.

Night skating at a local pond - we cleared the snow and brought lanterns!
Most of the activities you would do in the day are safe at night, as long as you know the area and there is ample light (use caution with skiing, skating or tobogganing). We enjoy cross country skiing, alpine skiing, snowshoeing, skating, and walking and playing in the snow, day or night. To make the most of this special time, bundle up, give each person a headlamp or flashlight, and throw some hot chocolate, marshmallows, and treats in your pack. Glow sticks are always a hit too. If you don't have snowshoes for your kids yet, check out Tubbs Snowglow Snowshoes  that light up with every step (

Night xc skiing at Confederation Park, Calgary

Safety Tips

  • Keep excursions short. Your child may be able to ski 8 km, but what if fog rolls in or snowfall becomes heavy? Will you be able to find your way home? 
  • Stick to well marked trails in familiar territory. After dark is not the time to go off trail.
  • Remember turnoffs and landmarks. A GPS unit and extra batteries can be helpful, if it works, but, but don't rely solely on it as gadgets can malfunction. 
  • Carry a cell phone, signalling device (flares, whistle, mirror), and firemaking kit. In rural areas, a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) is a good idea. 
  • Stay off of natural ice at night! For more ice safety tips, please see this post: While my poem mentions skating on a pond at night, it is a drainage pond in an urban area that is less than 2 feet deep! 
  • Take action against hypothermia and frostbite. More information here:
Night snowshoeing at Mosquito Creek, Banff National Park
I'll leave you now with my original poem about winter night adventuring.

Remember When

When we night skied through the park,
I wasn't afraid though it was dark.
We glided along beneath the stars
And dreamed we were explorers trav'lling far.

When we snowshoed one full moon night,
I saw stars, the moon, and Daddy's headlight,
Mountains all around and glistening trees,
And walls of snow up to Mommy's knees.

When we wandered to the pond so late,
We cleared a rink so we could skate.
A curious coyote watched us there,
While our giggles filled the cool, crisp air.

When we played after bedtime in snow so deep,
Because we did not want to sleep,
With toques on our heads and cocoa in our tummies,
We knew we had the best Daddy and Mommy. 

Use glowsticks, a flashlight, or lantern to make a Magic Glow Mountain
Night skiing at Canada Olympic Park
What winter night activities do you enjoy?

More Winter Fun

Monday, January 19, 2015

GEAR REVIEW: Protect Your Bumper and Clothes with Body Guard

As someone who spends a lot of time outside every day, I don't mind getting dirty, but given the choice of having car grime on me or not, I choose the latter. When I was approached by a company representing Body Guard, a clothing and bumper protector developed in Canada, I was keen to give it a try and was pleased with the results.

What is Body Guard?

Body Guard is "a vinyl canvas measuring 30” x 30” that easily attaches inside the car trunk using velcro."

Body Guard in action (Photo Credit: Body Guard)

How does it work?

Unroll the canvas when loading or unloading your trunk to protect your clothes from salt or grime on your car's bumper. At the same time, Body Guard protects your car's bumper from being scratched by sports equipment other large items. Alternately, use Body Guard to protect the interior of your trunk when transporting wet items (such as ski boots) or messy items (like potted plants).

When you don't need it, Body Guard rolls up compactly and can be held in place with the two attached velcro straps.

Body Guard is not just for skis! (Photo Credit: Body Guard)

What I liked

  1. It works: Body Guard is simple, but it works. I'm so pleased I no longer have to rock salt and dirt smears on my ski pants and can lean the skis on my bumper without worrying about unsightly scratches.
  2. Ease of installation: Simply press the velcro side against the rear interior of your trunk and you are good to go. If you would like to install on a smooth, uncarpeted surface, an additional velcro strip with adhesive backing is included.
  3. Size: Body Guard is light and compact. When not in use, it rolls up quite small so it does not take up any precious cargo space. This is very important when trying to fit as much outdoor gear in the car as possible for our family of four!
  4. Washable material: If Body Guard gets heavily soiled, the material is hand washable.  Simply wipe it with a damp cloth.
  5. Made in Canada: As a Canadian, I am pleased to support a Canadian business. Body Guard is the brainchild of Isabelle Cyr, a Canadian mom. Her father-in-law engineered the product, and her husband, Eric, has been key in promoting the product and forging a partnership with professional hockey player Francis Bouillon from the Montreal Canadiens. Eric and Francis formed Gestion XTRM Inc. to bring Body Guard to market and their success is growing by the day. 
  6. Price: Body Guard is reasonably priced at $19.99 in stores, or $24.50 including shipping at / (French website).

What I Would Like to See

The product does what it promises, so I have no complaints. The only recommendation I have would be to offer a larger version in future, about 4 inches wider, for sports utility vehicles and vans. 

Use Body Guard year round (Photo Credit: Body Guard)

Where to Purchase

Body Guard is available at:

The Verdict

I give Body Guard two thumbs up. The product was reasonably priced, will save me money in the long term (dry cleaning or paint chip repairs), and will save me time doing laundry. The more time I can spend playing outside the better! 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Tobogganing for Idiots

As someone who has spent many happy winter days tobogganing without incident, I was appalled to hear of sledding bans in various cities across North America. It appears that individuals are not taking precautions, getting hurt, and then turning to the city for compensation. While almost any outdoor activity poses a risk of injury, with common sense, major injuries can be avoided. To this end, I give you my rules for safe tobogganing (or Tobogganing for Idiots).

Rules for Safe Tobogganing

  1. Love thy brain. Wear a ski/hockey helmet. 
  2. Sit up in the sled, don't lie down, and certainly don't go head first. "Face down on your stomach with your head forward, is the most dangerous position" according to Dr. Charles Tator, neurosurgeon*. Your brain and spine are kind of important to every day life, so let's keep them intact.
  3. Mr. Tree is not your friend. He is a big bully that will bust you up if you come anywhere near him. Do not sled if there are trees in your slide path or near it!
  4. Sticks and stones will break your bones (or rip your face open). Avoid low hanging branches or stones sticking up out of the ground.
  5. Do not sled onto roads, alleys, or parking lots. In Toboggan vs. F150, the truck won. In Toboggan vs. BMW, the car won. Basically, in any toboggan vs. motor vehicle scenario, toboggan loses.
  6. Ms. Fence is not your friend. She is an antisocial wretch that requires ample personal space. If you disturb her, she will flip your sled and shatter your nose. Keep your distance!
  7. Don't make or use jumps. You really can't control how you will land after getting big air (and cracked ribs are painful). 
  8. Look for snow covered terrain and a soft landing pad. Grassy knolls and fields blanketed in snow are sliding nirvana. Ice, pavement, concrete, or bare ground are just magnets for injuries and costly emergency dental work. *Ice patches can cause you to speed up and/or lose control, so do not toboggan on ice, please!*
  9. Sleds are not boats. Keep them on land. Even if the pond below looks frozen, refer to Rule 8 above, and find another place to slide.
  10. More is not merrier. If your sled is made for two; only let two people ride in it.
  11. Cherish the space between. Space between you and other sleds is a good thing. 
  12. Don't sled in the dark! You never know who might be lurking in the shadows; Mr. Tree, Ms. Fence, and friends are highly unforgiving.
A designated toboggan hill in Confederation Park, Calgary
If it were up to me, sledding would neither be banned nor restricted to designated areas. I love the freedom to discover new toboggan hills with my kids and feel tobogganing is less risky than walking on icy sidewalks. Hopefully the recent media attention regarding tobogganing will encourage families to be safe when they partake in this pastime. Sledding is an exhilarating, affordable winter activity for all that can be done safely. Follow the rules and save sledding!

Sledding on an UNdesignated toboggan hill in Calgary
Have you been affected by a sledding ban?  How do you feel about it? 

This post was syndicated on BonBon Break

More Winter Fun
For More Information

*Tobogganing is more dangerous than you think - here's how to stay safe, Globe & Mail

Tobogganing and Sledding Safety, City of Ottawa

Preventing Injuries for Tobogganing and Sledding, Parachute Canada

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Falling for Winter: Winter Activity Guide for Calgary & Area

When you live in a place where it snows from October until June, you can either hibernate, migrate, or embrace the cold. I confess I was not a winter lover my first few years in Calgary, but as I took up more winter sports, I had a change of heart and found myself falling for winter. If you haven't tried winter sports or have reluctant winter adventurers in your midst, try something new. You may discover you DO love winter after all! Here are some family-friendly winter activities and local trip recommendations.

1. Check out a local Winter Festival 

From Winterfest to the Glow Festival Downtown, CALGARY has lots of fun offerings. See 15 Things to Do in Calgary This Winter for more information.

CANMORE has several winter festivals! Check out the Rotary Festival of Trees - December 2-31, 2016; Re/Max Skate with Santa - December 22, 2016; New Year's Eve Party on the Pond; FIS World Snow Day at Canmore Nordic Centre - January 15, 2017; Winter Carnival Dates TBA. For more information, see 14 Things to Do in Canmore This Winter.

In BRAGG CREEK, be sure to check out The Spirit of Christmas Festival Dec 3, 4, 10 & 11, 2016. More info here. There are lots of free family events!

BANFF's winter festivals include Snow Days - January 13-February 4, 2017; Lake Louise Alpine Ski World Cup, Craft Beer Market, and more. For full details, see Banff-Lake Louise Events.

From January 19-29, 2017, check out the Ice Magic Festival at Lake Louise in Banff National Park. There are free activities at Lake Louise Ski Resort, Deer Lodge, and Chateau Lake Louise. Some highlights of what you can expect follow:
  • Skate around an ice castle on world famous Lake Louise. You can even meet and skate with Mother Nature and Old Man Winter! Skate rentals available onsite until 7 pm. 
  • Skate, ski, walk, and snowshoe on world famous Lake Louise
  • There's a great toboggan hill behind the Chateau too. 
  • Watch the International Ice Carving Competition. Tickets required.

Skating on Lake Louise.
Ice Magic Festival, Lake Louise

2. Snowshoeing

Tobogganing aside, snowshoeing is easiest winter activity to learn.  Just strap your snowshoes to your winter boots, and head out into the snow. The deeper the snow, the better! Kids as young as two years old can snowshoe, but be prepared to carry or tow them in a sled after a while because snowshoeing is hard work, especially if you're breaking trail! If you plan on bringing your Chariot, put on the ski attachments for flotation and easy travel. For a unique experience, grab your headlamp and try night snowshoeing! My kids haven't stopped talking about the full moon snowshoe we did last winter!

Check out Where to Snowshoe Near Calgary for trip ideas.

Some easy snowshoe trails to try include the following:
  • Kananaskis
    • Troll Falls and Hay Meadow is short and flat, with a frozen waterfall at the end! We like that it's a short drive from Calgary and Chariot friendly too. Only 3 km return and virtually flat. You may not need snowshoes if there hasn't been much snow or the snow has been packed down (it's a popular trail). If you don't have snowshoes, bring ice cleats just in case. See this post for an alternate sled/stroller-friendly route to Troll Falls.
    • Village Loop at Kananaskis Village is a nice one if you're staying at the Delta Kananaskis Lodge. Only 2.5 km and rolly. It has a tendency to get packed and icy, so bring ice cleats just in case. 
    • Hogarth Lakes Loop is another family-friendly snowshoe trail (3.9 km loop, 30 m elevation gain) but a further drive.
    • Elkwood Loop Trail is pretty and not too long! 3.4 km, 23 m elevation gain. Stop at the Peter Lougheed Visitor Centre before or after to warm up or use the washrooms. There's a microwave and kettle in there if you need to prepare a hot drink or warm up food too! 
  • Johnson Lake, Banff: Take the flat and pretty trail around the lake (2.8 km), or snowshoe right on the lake once it's frozen. Chariot friendly. For ice safety tips, please see this post.
  • Lake Louise, Banff: Snowshoe across Lake Louise or take the Lake Louise Lakeshore Trail (4 km return). Both are Chariot friendly. Other options include Fairview Lookout (2 km return, 100 m elevation gain) or the Lake Agnes Trail to Mirror Lake (5.4  km return). Do not go past Mirror Lake as it is avalanche terrain! 
  • Mount Norquay, Banff: Stoney Squaw Loop Trail and Stoney Squaw Summit Trail (4.2 km round trip) are fun trails that get a lot of snow. Chariot friendly.
  • West Bragg Creek: The Snowy Owl Trail is great on a calm day as it's quite open and gets lots of sun. It parallels the Mountain Road ski trail and is quite flat for the first couple kilometres. Option 1: Make the blue bridge your destination (1.3 km) and turn back for a 2.6 km snowshoe. Option 2: Do a 5.4 km loop by continuing on Snowy Owl 1.8 km past the bridge and returning on Snowy Shortcut, a 1.0 km connector that rejoins Snowy Owl. There is some elevation gain on the section between the bridge and the connector trail, so it may be a bit much for the littlest snowshoers.
To see my reviews of three makes of children's snowshoes, please see this post.

Snowshoeing and babypacking at Troll Falls, Kananaskis
Snowshoeing on Johnson Lake, Banff National Park
Snowshoeing on Mount Norquay, Banff NP
Night snowshoeing at Mosquito Creek, Banff
3. Cross country (Nordic) skiing: Nordic skiing is more fun than people think! You don't just walk on your skis; you glide, and can get some serious speed on the hills! To ensure everyone has fun, take a lesson, go out with someone experienced, or watch some YouTube videos before heading out for your first ski. With a few pointers, you will have a good kick and glide in no time! Best of all, when cross country skiing, no ski passes are required (unless you ski at a resort) and you get away from the crowds. Our favorite places to ski follow:
  • Calgary: 
    • Confederation Golf Course: Where else can you ski by a huge Christmas Lights display? Go during the holidays for a magical night ski. Don't forget your headlamp! New in 2016 - There will be snow making at Confederation Golf Course!
    • Shaganappi Point Golf Course: This is the largest golf course groomed for xc skiing. The course is pretty and you get great views of downtown! Terrain is flat and beginner friendly.
    • Maple Ridge Golf Course: Your second largest option. I plan to ski there soon. 
  • Canmore Nordic Centre has beautiful groomed trails in a gorgeous setting. There is a fee, but it is well worth it for the quality of the trails and amenities. Onsite rentals are available from TrailSports, but call first to confirm availability or make a reservation. Fatbike rentals are also available! Click here for our trip report!
  • West Bragg Creek, Kananaskis: Most of the trails here are rated intermediate (blue), but there are also some short beginner trails: Bunny Loop, Chickadee Loop, part of West Crystal Line. There is a warming hut and washrooms at the parking lot.
  • Kananaskis Village: Terrace Trail & Terrace Link make a 2.7 km loop that is great for children. Elevation gain is minimal, you get intermittent panoramic views of the mountains, and you can go in to Delta Kananaskis Lodge or the Village Cafe for a hot beverage, snack, or meal at the end. There is also skating and a Fire and Ice Bar at Kananaskis Lodge! 
  • Lake Minnewanka, Banff National Park: Lake Minnewanka Day Use Area to Upper Bankhead (2.6 km return) has a bit of elevation gain, so is a good option once kids have skied a few times. Another option is to tow your kids via towrope, pulk or Chariot as far as you wish through Cascade Valley, then let them ski back to the car (mostly downhill on the return). You can make your day as short or long as you wish; it is 13 km return to the campground and 30 km round-trip to Stoney Creek bridge. 
  • Peter Lougheed Provincial Park: Pocaterra has a 10.5 km green run and large warming hut with washrooms near the parking lot, which makes it a great family ski spot. We like skiing to Pocaterra campground and back with the kids (about 5 km return).
  • Lake Louise, Banff National Park: 
    • Ski the Bow River Loop (6.6 km) from the village. It is beautiful and flat! 
    • For more of our favorite beginner cross country ski trails in Lake Louise, please see this post. 
    • If you are skiing in a group, do a car shuttle and ski the Tramline Trail (4.8 km). The steady downhill meant my 5 year old could happily ski the whole trail on her own. 
    • For more challenging trails, try the Pipestone Loops: Pipestone is a fun intermediate level trail that connects to Hector, Merlin and Drummond Trails.
Bow River Loop, Lake Louise
Tramline Trail, Lake Louise
Mountain Road, West Bragg Creek
Pipestone Loop, Lake Louise
XC Skiing Terrace Trail, Kananaskis.
Night skiing at Confederation Park / Lion's Festival of Lights
Cross country skiing at Canmore Nordic Centre
Looking for reasons to love cross country skiing? Check out this post.

4. Canyon Ice Walks: Walk on ice to frozen waterfalls, see ancient pictographs, and slide on ice slides. You can only experience ice walks in winter, so try one soon! Three great ice walks near Calgary are Jura Canyon, Grotto Canyon, and Johnston Canyon. Learn where and when to go, and what gear you need at:

Jura Canyon, near Exshaw
5. Ice Skating: We are blessed with an abundance of beautiful places to skate in Alberta.
  • Banff townsite - on the Bow River, Banff Springs Hotel, Johnson Lake, Cave & Basin, Carrot Creek. For more information, see 8 Memorable Places to Skate in Banff.
  • Calgary - Bowness Lagoon, Carburn Ponds, Olympic Plaza, Prince's Island Park, community rinks. For more information, see Calgary's Best Outdoor Skating Rinks.
  • Canmore - The Pond
  • Exshaw - Gap Pond, Lac des Arcs, Grotto Pond
  • Kananaskis Village - Pond, rinks
  • Lake LouiseLake Louise
Skating on Lake Louise
Ice skating at Bowness Lagoon, Calgary
Pond at Kananaskis Village
Skating at Rosemont Rinks, Confederation Park, Calgary

 6. Skiing/Snowboarding: Winsport Canada Olympic Park (COP), Nakiska, and Norquay are great family ski hills.

Both of our kids have been skiing at COP since they were two. With four carpets, two chair lifts, and a snow park, there are several options for those just learning how to ski/board or those who are ready for rails, jumps, moguls and half pipes. We love being able to ski after school or on the weekend for a couple hours without driving far.

About an hour away, Nakiska has reasonable rates, free skiing for kids 6 and under, and great green and easy blue runs for early skiers. There are also more advanced runs and a new tree park for more advanced skiers. We got season's passes this year and got our money's worth over Christmas break. My 5 year old is doing blue runs already and can't get enough! To see why we love Nakiska, see this post.

Mount Norquay is minutes from Banff with fun runs for everyone in the family, a great ski school and tasty on-hill dining. See Fun Family Skiing at Mount Norquay for more information.

With skiing and snowboarding, I highly recommend enrolling your children in lessons unless you are an intermediate skier with a lot of patience. So far, we have been teaching our kids ourselves, with help from Youtube. There are a lot of skills drills online that help with developing balance, learning to initiate turns, and more.

See this story for information on Family Season's Passes at Nakiska & The Big 3 (Mount Norquay, Sunshin Village and Lake Louise).

Sunset skiing at Canada Olympic Park
Young skiers may feel more secure in a harness.
Skiing at Nakiska.
Magic Carpet at COP
7. Tobogganing: Who doesn't love tobogganing? Speed, snow, and screams! Just be sure to don a helmet and look out for obstacles before you head down the hill. Sledding is our go-to winter activity when we're short on time or it's too cold to spend an afternoon outside. Get a big sled so the kids can share with their friends; the more the merrier! For sledding safety tips, please see this post. 
Tobogganning in -25C
8. Tubing is super fun and offered at all of our local ski hills (Winsport, Nakiska, Norquay, Sunhine, Lake Louise). 

If you're dressed right and having fun, you will keep warm! Have I sold you on fun in the cold yet? 

Remember eye protection when on the snow!

More Winter Fun

For More Information

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Get Closer to Nature at Mosquito Creek Wilderness Hostel

The Icefields Parkway, running from Banff to Jasper, boasts ten Hostelling International (HI)Wilderness Hostels, including Mosquito Creek. Last month, we stayed there with two other families and were pleasantly surprised by the setting and amenities. It was our first time staying in a hostel dorm room with kids and it was great! The exercise and mountain air must have made the kids sleep so well!

HI Mosquito Creek Wilderness Hostel, Banff National Park
We had everything we needed at the hostel. Mosquito Creek has gas powered stoves and fridges, lots of ookware and dishes, a tap in the kitchen for drinking/dishwashing water, lights (but no electrical outlets), limited wifi (no video streaming), a sauna, heaters in the dorms and kitchen, and a large fireplace in the main building's common area. There are also magazines, a guitar, playing cards, marshmallow/hotdog roasting sticks, and puzzles for guests' use. There are neither showers nor flush toilets, but that's all part of the wilderness experience. As a backpacker and tent camper, I felt incredibly spoiled having a bed, blankets, heat and lights!

Plenty of snow to play in!
Best of all was the hostel's location; we could snowshoe somewhere beautiful right from our door! On our second night, we even went for a full moon snowshoe! The backcountry skiing in the area is pretty incredible too, according to other hostel guests.
Mosquito Creek Waterfall - only a few minutes' walk/snowshoe from the hostel.
Snowshoeing near Mosquito Creek
My kids said their favorite part of the trip was sleeping in bunk beds, playing in the deep snow, and roasting marshmallows in the common area. (There is a fire pit outside, but it was almost bedtime, so we roasted marshmallows indoors.)

Night snowshoeing at Mosquito Creek
In addition to two dorms, Mosquito Creek has private rooms available (one cabin with two rooms and shared kitchen). I highly recommend the private accommodations to light sleepers so you can make the most of your trip.

For More Information

To learn more about Mosquito Creek Wilderness Hostel, please check out Tanya Koob's Five Reasons to Take Your Family to Mosquito Creek:

If you have never stayed in a wilderness hostel and would like a quick "how to", check out some helpful tips on How to Weather a Wilderness Hostel with Kids:

For a backcountry experience without backpacking, try wilderness hostelling at Mosquito Creek! You won't regret it!