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?

Monday, March 30, 2015

Mental Health Spotlight: Finding Gratitude During Postpartum Depression

"Four years ago, if you had told me an attitude of gratitude could change my life, I would have laughed in your face. In fact, I am pretty sure I snorted some coffee while I read such advice on a postpartum depression (PPD) self help page online. How could I keep a Gratitude Journal, a daily record of three things I’m grateful for, when I hated my life and couldn’t stop thinking of ways to end it? The whole concept seemed a challenging, pointless waste of time, yet I knew I had to do something to get out of the dark pit of despair I had fallen into."

Bonbon Break

To read the rest of this piece, please see "FindingGratitude During Postpartum Depression", a Fill Your Bucket submission for March 2015, on BonBon Break. A lot of people don't realize that anyone can be afflicted by depression. Before the birth of my second child, I was sunny, active, and resilient. I had weathered an international move, nasty breakup, complicated family issues, and the deaths of my Grandma and Father. Through tough times, I had been been sad, but never depressed. Somehow, in the postpartum period, something in my brain just clicked, and suddenly, I was sad all the time and easily overwhelmed by daily tasks.

Postpartum depression is prevalent, but rarely spoken about. It wasn't until I admitted my struggles, that a few close friends came out and shared their experiences. It was heartbreaking to hear of their pain. If only I, and others, had known, we could have helped! When I was at my worst, one of my best friends took me to yoga and out for coffee once a week. It was a time to relax, and laugh, and I looked forward to it. Small acts of kindness can go a long way! 

This made me want to cry when I had PPD.
I tried a lot of different things to feel better, and in the end, going back to work, being more active, and cultivating an attitude of gratitude helped me. 

If you don't feel like yourself, and think you might be depressed, I urge you to speak to your spouse, friends, and doctor. It's hard, but the people that love you want you to be well. You can and will feel better!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Rheos Gear #LookAround Contest - Win a Delta Gift Card and Shades!

For more information, visit: Rheos Gear Official Contest Rules

I'm excited to partner with Rheos Gear, a new sunglasses company with a fresh outlook. Rheos wants you to take a moment to look around and enjoy the world around you whether you are adventuring near or far. They are so committed to this mission, that part of their business plan involves placing a portion of every sale into their #LookAround Cash Pool "to reward Rheos community members who like to go and see and do wherever you are."

To kick off Rheos's launch, they are having a contest with the following great prizes up for grabs:
  • Grand Prize (1 available): One $500 Delta Gift Certificate and a Full Set of Rheos sunglasses 
  • First Place Prize (9 available): One Full Set of Rheos sunglasses

How to Enter
  1. Complete the entry form at To double your chances, enter my special referral code:  PLAYOUTSIDEGAL
  2. Submitting a picture on Instagram with the hashtag #LookAround and tag @rheosgear
The contest closing date is March 30, 2015 so enter today!

Stay tuned for a review of Rheos Gear's sunglasses. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Camping Sleep System 411 - How to Choose a Sleeping Bag, Sleeping Pad / Cot & Baby Bedding

Now that you've chosen the perfect tent, it's time to decide on a camping sleep system. Sleeping bags and sleeping pads are critical pieces of camping gear that should be paid special attention. Most of the time, when I ask people why they don't like camping, they say it's because they don't like sleeping on the hard, cold ground, but there is no reason to be uncomfortable just because you are sleeping in a tent! The self-inflating camping mattresses and cots on the market these days are amazingly comfortable and excellent at keeping you insulated from the cold.

Your camping sleep system is comprised of something to sleep on and something to sleep in. When choosing your sleep system, your main considerations will be comfort, weight, size, and cost. My personal preference is for a self-inflating Therm-a-Rest mattress and down mummy bag because these items are comfortable and warm, but compact and light enough to take into the backcountry.  At $335 ($235 sleeping bag + $100 sleeping pad), this is a moderately priced sleep system, but you can do it for much less. In fact, we were able to get the kids' sleeping bags on clearance at MEC, and buy their sleeping pads second hand! Whether you buy new or used, keep in mind that high quality gear will last for several years. We are using self-inflating Therm-a-Rests that are over 10 years old and will probably last another decade.

Something to Sleep On

  • Air mattress - Air mattresses are comfortable, compact, and cheap ($32-100 for Queen or King size), but notorious for developing leaks. We slept on one for a month when I was pregnant, and loved the mattress when it was inflated, but woke up on the cold, hard ground several times. The other disadvantages are that every time your partner moves, you move too; and if you and your partner are very different weights, you will find yourself rolling into him all night. 
    • Purchase the self-inflating type (remember to pack extra batteries) or bring a pump or air compressor with adaptor.
    • Pack a patch kit and duct tape. 
    • Not recommended for backpacking; neither light not compact.
    • Not recommended for cold weather camping as they do not insulate against the cold.
    • I do not recommend using air mattresses with very young children as they could suffocate in a partially deflated mattress.
  • Foam sleeping pad (aka foamie) - Foam sleeping pads are light, relatively inexpensive ($15-45) and require no inflating or maintenance. In general, the thicker the pad, the more comfortable you will be, but some of the ridged closed cell sleeping pads are thin, but surprisingly cushy. At $40, the Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite Sol (which we also own and have camped with) provides great value as it is warmer than basic blue or yellow foam pads. The disadvantages of foam pads are that they are bulky and not the most comfortable to sleep on. 
  • Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite Sol - thin and light, but effective at buffering the cold
  • Self-inflating camping mattress - My favorite sleeping option is a self-inflating Therm-a-rest camping mattress. My Therm-a-Rest Trail Pro is light and compact enough to take backpacking and keeps me warm in -7 C (19.4 F). Averaging around $100, they are more costly than air mattresses or foamies, but are light, compact, comfortable, and reliable. I am still using the Therm-a-Rest I bought in 2004 and it gets slept on 14-30+ nights a year! 

    • If you camp in mild climates and backpack a lot, consider a "short" length mattress to save pack weight.
    • If you are not a backpacker, go for a thicker and wider mattress. We also have the Therm-a-Rest Base Camp for car camping. It is wide, thick, and super comfortable. 
    • If you camp in cold weather, look for higher resistance to heat loss, otherwise known as R-value (e.g. R 6.0 is good for -40 C/-40 F).
    • For winter camping, layer a self-inflating mattress on top of a foam pad for extra insulation.
    • Check reviews to ensure you get a product that will last.
    • A great camping mattress works in or out of your tent!
  • Cot - The latest cots are comparable in weight to thick self-inflating camping mattresses and are compact enough to take backpacking! Comfortable and only requiring a few minutes to set up, the only barrier is price. At over $200 each, they are not in everyone's budget. 
    • You may have to pad the feet so they don't damage your tent's floor. 
    • Check reviews regarding noise as some models have noisy springs or creaky frames.
    • We recently purchased the Therm-a-Rest LuxuryLite Ultralite Cot and so far, are really impressed with how robust the frame and cover are, as well as how comfortable the cot is. Full review coming soon! 
Thermarest cot on left side - see how low profile it is!

Something to Sleep In

Unless you live somewhere really warm, you need to get a sleeping bag. Here are some things to look for when sleeping bag shopping.
  • Mummy, barrel bag, or backcountry bed? Your warmest option is a mummy bag as the shape, hood, and baffles minimize heat loss. Another benefit of the mummy bag is that there is no dead weight. The bag tapers towards the feet, so there is less space to warm up and keep warm, and less bag to carry. Mummy bags are the bag of choice for backpackers and those who hike in colder weather or high altitudes. Some mummy bags can be zipped together (if you buy 1 bag with a right zipper and 1 with a left zipper), but given how narrow mummy bags are, I think that arrangement would be extremely claustrophobic! 
    • Backcountry beds do not retain heat as well as mummy bags, but are extremely comfortable. If you are not camping somewhere too cold, and prefer a roomier bag, a backcountry bed will work well for you. 
    • Barrel bags should only be used in warm places as they do not keep heat in well. One benefit of barrel bags is that they can easily be zipped together. 
    • There are integrated sleep systems on the market with the sleeping pad built in/attached to sleeping bag. The advantage of integrated systems is that the sleeping bag does not slip off the sleeping pad and you get better insulation.
  • Size? If the sleeping bag comes in various sizes, get the one that is recommended for your height so you do not have to pack extra weight or warm up extra space. 
    • Children's sleeping bags are worth the money! They are so much smaller (1/2 the size!) and lighter and a smaller bag means less space to warm up and keep warm. Also, when the bag fits properly, there is less heat loss. Even though we didn't backpack when the kids were really little, we still had kids' bags so the girls wouldn't get cold at night.
  • What temperature rating do I need? If it will be 0 C at night where you are going, get a -7 C bag. Always prepare for worse weather so you can have a good sleep. It's easier to unzip your sleeping bag than put on more more clothes in the middle of the night. A great, reasonably priced -7 C sleeping bag is the MEC Aquila. I have the older generation MEC Raven and have comfortably slept in -10 C in even though I'm a cold sleeper with low circulation (I was wearing fleece to bed, however).
  • Down or synthetic? Synthetic bags will still keep you warm when wet, but it's hard to beat the warmth and compressibility of a down bag. I have 1 of each: a -7 C down bag for mountain trips and a +10 C synthetic bag for trips to the coast where it's warmer and wetter. Big Agnes, LL Bean and Eddie Bauer make sleeping bags with DownTek water repellent down if you want to chance taking a down bag to a rainy place. 
    • A great compromise for cold weather camping is a hybrid bag. These bags have synthetic lowers and down uppers so you get the best of both worlds. The synthetic lower part of the sleeping bag does not compress as much as down so you stay warmer, while the down upper is light and compressible to reduce pack weight (vs a fully synthetic bag).
  • Pay attention to the zipper - do you want the zipper on the right or left side of the bag? A right-hand zipper would be on your right side if you were lying in the sleeping bag. I prefer a right zipper since I am left handed. 
    • If you plan on zipping sleeping bags together, get the same size and type of sleeping bags - one with a right zipper and one with a left zipper. 
    • Glow in the dark zipper pulls are a great feature.
    • A pocket can be helpful for keeping your cell phone handy and warm (cold kills the battery), but if you're a side/stomach sleeper, keep your phone elsewhere.
  • Draft tube - check that the draft tube adequately cover the zippers (the draft tube on my friend's sleeping bag was too narrow so cold air seeped in and warm air seeped out) and that it does not catch in the zippers. Very thin, flimsy material tends to get stuck; not good if you have to get up suddenly to take a small child to the washroom in the night.
  • Baffles - Baffles around the face help to keep warm air in and cold air out. Make sure the baffles are wide enough to be helpful. Try before you buy - get in the sleeping bag and see if there are any drafty spots when it's all zipped up.
TETON Sports Tracker -15C/+5F Ultralight Sleeping Bag
Please note that children under the age of 2 should not have a pillow or fluffy bedding (such as a sleeping bag) as they increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. I have provided safer alternatives in the "Sleep System Recommendations for Young Children" section.

3. Optional: Pillow
A small camp pillow can make a huge difference in your sleep quality. I like the Mountain Equipment Co-op "Go" down filled camp pillow and Therm-a-Rest compressible small pillow. They are equally comfortable and small enough to bring backpacking. You could improvise and stuff clothes in a stuff sack, but I have never managed to make an un-lumpy stuff sack pillow, so I prefer to bring my own pillow for a great night's sleep.
Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow - available in different sizes if the small is too small for you

Sleep System Recommendations for Young Children 

To decrease the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), avoid fluffy bedding, pillows, and air mattresses with children under the age of 2.

For babies and very young children (under 2 years old), I recommend that you:
  • Put baby to sleep on her back in a travel crib. We liked the Baby Bjorn Travel Crib for its size and ease of setup. The Peapod Travel Bed is another popular choice and is a lot cheaper, but your child will likely outgrow it before the age of 2. If you have enough room in your tent, a Pack n Play works just fine and makes a safe play space while you prepare meals.
  • Dress baby in a blanket sleeper and fleece bunting suit and/or wearable blanket. Ensure baby is warm, but do not overdress her. We love the MEC Ursus (fleece) Bunting Suit for its warmth, foldover mitts and booties, and double zippers that make diaper changes easy. Our kids pretty much lived in the bunting suit around camp when they were small. Halo Sleep Sack Wearable Blankets are excellent for sleeping in too.
  • Do NOT put baby in a sleeping bag.
  • Do NOT put loose blankets or a pillow in your baby's crib.
Halo SleepSack

For more information on safe sleep environments, please see this page from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. 

Where to Buy

Now is the perfect time of year to look on Kijiji or Craigslist for gently used camping gear. We lucked out last year and found sleeping pads for less than half price!

We purchased our sleeping bags at Mountain Equipment Co-op because their return policies and prices are the best. Camping gear usually goes on sale in the fall.

Need it new, cheap, and now? Throughout the year, deals can be found on online outdoor gear retailers such as Live Out There and Go Gear. Check out their outlets and Deals of the Day for amazing savings. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

DIY Waterproof Fire Starters

These easy to make waterproof fire starters can be made from items around your house that you would normally throw out (except for the dental floss). Instead of plain paraffin wax, upcycle some broken crayons or ends of candles in your favorite colors to make designer fire starters. (Don't mix all the colors of the rainbow together or you'll end up with brown "nature" fire starters like we did.)

Materials Needed

  • dryer lint
  • broken crayons, remnants of unscented candles, chunks of paraffin wax (break it up so it melts faster)
  • cardboard egg carton
  • dental floss
  • clean, empty tin can
  • piece of wax paper/aluminum foil
  • optional: birthday candle to use as a wick


  1. Put the pieces of candle, crayon, and/or chunks of paraffin wax in the tin can. Tip: Don't use more than 25% crayons as they don't burn as well as candle ends and paraffin.

    Wax and crayons melting in improvised double boiler.
  2. Place the tin can in a sauce pan of water on the stove.

  3. Put the heat on high. Let the water boil until all the wax has melted.

  4. While the wax is melting, cut the egg carton into single egg cups.

  5. Fill each "cup" with dryer lint. If using a birthday candle wick, insert a candle and leave the wick sticking out.

  6. Fold the tops over so the dryer lint is encased in cardboard, then tie closed with dental floss.

    Dryer lint "eggs" wrapped in egg carton and dental floss.
  7. Dip the whole thing in wax so it is completely coated. 

  8. Fish out with a spoon and place on sheet of wax paper or aluminum foil to cool. 
Waterproof DIY Fire Starters
Store the fire starters in an airtight plastic container or zipper bag and bring them on your next camping trip! They take a few seconds to light, but last quite a while - long enough to get your kindling burning. The birthday candle wick makes for easier lighting.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Deciding Where to Stay (Epic Road Trip Planning Part 4)

Once you have determined your epic road trip destination, it's time to think about accommodation. For me, this is always the hardest, but most exciting part! My top five tips for deciding where to stay are 1) research the location, 2) know your options, 3) read reviews and trip reports, 4) use travel apps, and 5) visit a Visitor Information Centre.

1. Research the Location. Take the time before you make a reservation to see what is in the vicinity. Will you be able to hike/bike/swim/ski/paddle from your door? If you are staying in an urban centre, is your motel on skid row, near an industrial park, or backing onto railway tracks? Ensure the location is safe for children, not too noisy, and close to amenities/activities. When we camp, we camp in scenic areas off the highway, near water, with plenty of hiking trails suitable for children within walking/biking distance. When it's ski season, we try to stay as close to the hill as possible so we can spend more time on the slopes and less time in the car.
  • Key considerations: Safety, proximity to amenities/activities, noise (traffic, trains, planes), views
This beautiful waterfall was just minutes' walk from our hostel.
2. Know Your Options. There are various accommodation types to suit every budget and traveller. Tent and trailer camping are not the only ways to get close to nature. Alternatives to traditional camping include yurts, oTENTiks ("Comfort Camping" in Canadian National Parks), wilderness hostels, or cabins. It is possible to stay in a prime location with minimal hardship! For more solitude, consider a walk-in campsite. As backpackers, we enjoy doing walk-in camping with our children and getting away from the RVs.

If you need more creature comforts, hotels and resorts will serve you well. Depending on what you plan to do on vacation, or what amenities the properties offer, hotel/resort stays can offer good value. We look for the following perks:
  • Free breakfast
  • Free kids' meals
  • Free wifi
  • Free parking
  • Swimming pool and hot tub for evening fun
  • In-room fridge, microwave, and coffeemaker so we can make our own beverages and meals.
  • Complimentary equipment rentals: bicycles, canoes, kayaks. Call to confirm that children's life jackets are available.

B&Bs and hostels are affordable options, but not all allow children and the family rate can often be more expensive than 3-star motels! Most hostels allow children if you book a private room; check before you book.

We typically tent camp (front country, walk-in, and backcountry) in the summer and hotel it during the cold months. Our one experience in a yurt gave us bedbugs, and I find cooking in a crowded hostel kitchen annoying. Do what works for you and your family.
  • Key considerations: Cost, desired experience, privacy, location
A charming, but bedbug infested yurt we stayed in.
3. Read Reviews and Trip Reports. Look for a high number of positive reviews, especially pertaining to cleanliness, service, and noise. If any reviews were negative, how did the business owner respond? Apologetically or in a hostile manner? Take note as that is how you could be treated.
For detailed reviews, I usually turn to TripAdvisor (campgrounds, hostels, B&Bs, hotels), Expedia (hotels), and Yelp (campgrounds, hostels, B&Bs, hotels). TripAdvisor's forums offer a wealth of information on where and when to go or what to do in a given location. Take advantage of others' expertise! 

I also look at reviews and recommendations from travel magazines, local newspapers, or independent writers (bloggers). Look for "Where to Stay" and "Trip Reports".
  • Key considerations: Cleanliness, service, family friendly, noise, handling of complaints. For me, recommendations from friends or family trump any review.  
Luxury vacation rentals are about the same price as a 4-star hotel, but bigger and often have more perks.

4. Use Travel Apps. The best travel apps not only provide information, but booking capabilities and itinerary management. Use the apps on the go to pull up reservation numbers, or to find a deal and make a last minute booking. Consider TripAdvisor, Expedia, Kayak, or Orbitz (all of these are free!). I use the Expedia app on a regular basis and am extremely satisfied with how well it works and how reliable the booking process has been.
Around Me is a useful app to have when you aren't sure where you're going to stay for the night and need to know what's nearby. Besides providing accommodation information, Around Me will tell you where to eat, shop, fill up, bank, or catch a movie (and more!).

For trips within the U.S., Roadtrippers is a powerful app that allows you plan out your route, read reviews, and book accommodation; all on an easy to use platform. Although there is some Canadian information, there is not enough at this time for me to recommend it for road trips in Canada.

There are several camping apps, but most have a fee or have conflicting reviews. In BC and Alberta, the best free resources are the Discover Camping Mobile Site and online Alberta Campground Guide (the Alberta Campground app does not provide pricing information), respectively.
  • Key considerations: Data usage, cell phone coverage/wifi availability
Expedia App

5. Visit Visitor Information Centres. We're big fans of visitor information centres for the clean washrooms, free wifi, interesting exhibits, and recommendations on where to stay, eat, and hike. Be advised that most info centres keep business hours.
  • Key considerations: hours, location
There's a lot to see and do at the Lake Louise Visitor Centre.

To Reserve or Not to Reserve?

Once you've decided where to stay, book it before someone else does! First, be sure to check the cancellation policy to see what fees you will be responsible for in the event your plans change. Many hotels offer free cancellation up to 3 days before, or even the day before, but others require more notice. 

Campgrounds typically charge a reservation fee which is nonrefundable, but may be avoided by travelling midweek at a campground with a large number of first-come, first served sites. Keep in mind that during peak season, you may not get a spot even if you show up on mid-week. Campsite reservation season has just starter with most campgrounds allowing bookings up to 3 months in advance. Start checking now and save the dates!

The method to our madness is to book our favorite places and leave the rest of our itinerary open. A little flexibility makes for truly epic road trips.

Where is your favorite place to stay?

Wilderness Hostels are a great alternative to winter camping.

More Information on Booking Campsites, Comfort Camping, and Wilderness Hostelling

      Tuesday, March 10, 2015

      How to Choose a Tent Q&A

      When you plan a camping trip, the most important piece of gear is your tent. Your tent must keep you warm and dry, and have ample storage space for your packs if you are camping in the backcountry. No one dreams about staying in a leaky tent, but it happens to people all the time and turns them off tent camping. How can this situation be avoided? You need to start with a decent tent and set it up properly. I have seen campers in top of the line tents get soaked because they were too lazy to peg the fly out properly. In other instances, getting soaked was inevitable due to poor tent design (short fly) and/or inferior tent materials (thin floor material vs reinforced bathtub floor, brittle/bent tent poles). The Q&As below should get you on the right track to getting a good tent, within budget, for your family this summer.

      Car camping / "Family" tent or backpacking tent? 

      A car camping tent is fine for front country camping in sheltered areas, but if the tent is very large and you are camping in an open area, it is more likely to be broken or blown away by high winds. In Glacier National Park, the campground operators took our huge tent down while we were hiking because the 60 mph winds were bending the poles! Consider where you will be camping and purchase accordingly; we have one of each tent type. If you plan on buying just one tent, buy the one that fits your needs. Campers who frequently backpack and stay at walk-in campsites would do best with a dome backpacking tent as it is smaller, lighter, will fit on backcountry tent pads, and stand up to more extreme weather conditions. Car campers may prefer larger "family" tents for headroom and space for travel cribs; many even have privacy partitions.

      Backpacking tents aren't too big but they are dual purpose (car camping and backcountry camping).

      Should I buy a 3-season or 4-season tent? 

      For most people, a 3-season tent will suffice. If you frequently camp in very cold weather, look into a 4-season tent. For backpacking, be sure to check the dimensions (will it fit on a backcountry tent pad) and weight (lighter is better) before you buy.

      What should I look for? 
      • Good reviews.
      • A fly that goes down to the ground. 
      • Zippers that are easy to open/close without getting stuck,
      • Two doors: For family camping, it is preferable to have a door on each side of the tent so you don't have to crawl over everyone to get out. 
      • "Bathtub floor" bottom to protect you from water seeping in.
      • At least one vestibule. Vestibules are handy for keeping footwear or gear dry, especially when your vehicle isn't nearby. 
      • A footprint/groundsheet to protect your tent from rips and tears. If your tent does not come with a footprint/groundsheet, purchase one or cut a tarp to the size of your tent floor. If you make your own, be sure it is no larger than your tent or water may collect underneath and seep in. I lucked out and found a $5 blue tarp at at hardware store that fit my first tent perfectly. 
      • Good ventilation. Some tents will have vents near the top of the tent. These are helpful to prevent condensation buildup inside or overheating in warm conditions. If these vents are not available, be sure to get a tent with 2 doors for increased ventilation.
      • Reflectors on guy lines are nice to have, but not a dealbreaker. If you love the tent and the price is right, you could always replace the lines with reflective paracord so someone doesn't trip over the lines in the night.
      MEC Wanderer Tent - check out that fly! Pretty weatherproof!
      AVOID a tent like this. The fly is not large enough to protect your tent!

      Which tent is best? 

      I would like to say the best tent is the one you use, but not all tents are created equal. We have 5 tents and a couple of them are ready to retire. For family trips, the $125 6-person tent was good while it lasted, but it only lasted one season (30 nights). Although our MEC Wanderer 4-person tent was a lot more money ($300 used / $400 new), it has all the features we were looking for and we are confident we will get a lot more use out of it. My Outbound 2-person tent was only $200 and lasted 4+ years but we outgrew it. 

      Follow the "What should I look for" guidelines above, and follow the set up instructions, and you will be fine.
      My $200 Outbound tent served me well for 4 years!


      When looking for a tent, get the best you can afford and be sure to get one with a footprint and fly that goes down to the ground. Next, learn how to set it up properly. Set up your tent before you go so you can set it up in any conditions. You will appreciate knowing how to set up your tent fast when a storm is rolling in, it's getting dark, or you are surrounded by biting insects! Set up includes pegging the fly out correctly so water doesn't wick in when it rains. The most expensive tent will not keep you dry if you fail to put the fly on right. Finally, be sure to sweep and dry out your tent before packing it away, and check it over after each trip for tears or rips. A little maintenance will ensure you get many years out of your home away from home. 

      Thursday, March 5, 2015

      The Best Things to Do in Calgary (and area) over Spring Break

      With Spring Break fast approaching, some parents are joyously anticipating some quality family time, while others are dreading the thought of entertaining their kids all day, every day, for ten days. If you are unable to get away, there are lots of way to keep the kids out of trouble, on any budget. Here are some of the best things to do over Spring Break in Calgary.

      aka Fun Ways to Stay Sane on Staycation
      1. Be a tourist in your own town.  (Admission fees for a family of 4: $$$ = $50-79, $$ = $30-49, $ = $1-29)

      • Check out local tourist attractions. In Calgary, visit the Calgary Zoo ($$$), Heritage Park ($$), Telus Spark Science Centre ($$$), Calgary Tower ($$$), or Glenbow Museum ($$). 
      • Visit a bird/wildlife sanctuary or fish hatchery. My kids love exploring the Discovery Centre and feeding the fish at Bow Habitat Station ($$). Outside, there is a network of trails for cycling/walking, a pond that is stocked with trout for fishing in the summer months, and a playground. The Inglewood Bird Sanctuary and Nature Centre are fun for exploring - don't forget your binoculars! Check out this family-friendly bike tour of Inglewood!
      • Sample tasty treats at a Farmer's Market. Calgary Farmer's Market, Crossroads Market, and Symons Valley Ranch are open year round! 
      Interactive Exhibit at Bow Habitat Station
      Warming up in the Conservatory at the Calgary Zoo
      Play Outside Guide Tip: Look for coupons at or Student Union Ticket Pack before you go to save on admission fees.

      2. Go somewhere new.
      • Visit a park you've never been to and go for a bike ride/urban hike and picnic. Check your city Parks & Rec site for picnic areas, ponds, wetlands, beaches, viewpoints, interpretive trails and self-guided walking tours. If it isn't muddy, bring a picnic blanket and make your own picnic spot. Eating on the ground feels more adventurous than eating at a table! 
        • Want to find a little waterfall, Medicine Wheel, or cool sculptures around Calgary? Check out this post on Landmarks to Look for in Calgary Parks.
        • Some short dayhikes suitable for little legs are Waterfall Valley (Bowmont Park), Confluence Park, Douglas Fir Trail (Edworthy Park), and Confederation Park (Rosemont Community Centre to the duck pond), and Nose Hill Park. More info in 3 Family Hikes in NW Calgary.
        • Confederation Park, Confluence Park, the Bow River Pathway, and Edworthy Park are great for young cyclists as the trails are quite flat. Try this route from Pearce Estate Park to Nellie Breen Park. More great bike rides in 10 Fun Family Bike Rides in Calgary.
        • Much of Nose Hill and Fish Creek Park is suitable to beginner and intermediate cyclists. For bigger kids, Glenmore Reservoir is a great 14 km circuit and there is some pretty awesome mountain biking and geocaching in Nose Hill Park! For some fun cross country trails, go to Eastlands (east of Canada Olympic Park). 
        Hiking at Nose Hill Park
      • Play at a different playground each day. Instead of the same old, same old, take the long way home from the store, or walk/bike a different route than usual so you can try a different playground. Take advantage of the school closures to play at the large, uncrowded playgrounds. Calgary Playground Review has excellent photos and descriptions of many playgrounds around town.
      Play Outside Guide Tip: For some ideas on what to do at the park, please see this post.  For snow fun, see this one.

      Cycling at Edworthy Park (after having an ice cream at Angel's)

      3. Take a Daytrip
      • Explore a neighboring town. One of the kids' favorite daytrips last year was to Cochrane (30 km away). We rode our bikes to a playground, dined at Tim's Pizza, walked by the river, then ended our day at MacKay's Ice Cream. Although we were so close to home, the change of scenery made our short afternoon jaunt feel special. Other options less than an hour away include Airdrie (Ironhorse Park, Nose Creek Park, Genesis Place), Chestermere (bike park, Chestermere Lake), Okotoks (glacial erratic, BMX track), and Bragg Creek (hiking, xc skiing, snowshoeing, fatbiking, and mountain biking). Drive further down the Cowboy Trail, past Bragg Creek, and stop in at the Longview Steakhouse for a succulent steak and pick up some beef jerky from the Longview Jerky Shop. 
      • Visit a provincial/state/national park and go for a hike, bike ride, snowshoe, ski, or paddle. Glenbow Ranch and Big Hill Springs Provincial Park are only half an hour away. For mountain fun, head to Bow Valley Provincial Park, Kananaskis, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, or Banff National Park. 

      Ice cleats will be required for most mountain hikes at this time of year. The Yaktrak Pro ice cleats are an affordable option, but the best are Kahtoola Microspikes. A member of the Calgary Outdoor Playgroup recommends using zip ties to secure small ice cleats to children's boots - genius!!

      Play Outside Guide Tips: For day trips, limit driving time to 3 hours total. Everyone is happiest out of the car! Visitor Information Centres can provide up to date trail reports and maps. To save money, pack a picnic, or plan to barbecue at a picnic area. 

      Snow fun at Lake Louise

      4. Try something new.
      • Rent a fat bike ($$$) and go fat biking in Bragg Creek or Canmore. Rent from BikeBike in Calgary or Rebound Cycle in Canmore.
      • Go on an ice walk. For more information on where to go and what to bring, please see my Ice Walk post here. If you have ice cleats or snowshoes, you can ice walk for free! 
      • Try geocaching! Instructions on geocaching with your smartphone are here.
      • Go climbing at an indoor climbing centre ($$).
      • Take a ski or snowboard lesson ($$$). Winsport is located in town and Nakiska is the closest ski hill to Calgary with terrain for all levels.
      • Tubing at Nakiska ($$$), Mount Norquay ($$$), or Lake Louise Ski Area ($$$) is a blast whether you ski or not!
      • Visit a local marsh and do some birding. Learn how to use the free Merlin Bird ID app from Cornell University here. Pearce Estate Park and the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary are great places to try.

      Hiking/Ice walking at  Johnston Canyon

      Happy Trails and may your staycation be the best ever!

      Related Links

      For Calgary Spring Break events and camps, visit: