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?

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Our Favorite Vancouver Island Campgrounds

Vancouver Island will forever have my heart. It's easy to be captivated by the rugged coastlines, ancient rainforests, windswept cliffs, and mountains with views to the sea. With a laidback Island vibe, it's the perfect holiday destination.

Camping is a great way to experience the Island during the summer. For large sites and interpretive programs, you can count on the major provincial parks. Private campgrounds offer different amenities such as private beaches or laundromats. Here are a few of our favorite Vancouver Island campgrounds. Be sure to book in advance as these places fill up fast!

Goldstream Provincial Park, VICTORIA

Goldstream is a well appointed provincial park campground tucked away in a residential neighborhood. Although it is only half an hour from Victoria (16 km), we felt miles away from civilization in this beautiful campground full of old growth forest. Imagine camping with 600 year old trees! Sites are gorgeous, large, private and clean. 

I would highly recommend Goldstream as a standalone destination or base camp for exploring Victoria (be sure to visit the harbour and go for tea at the Empress!). Goldstream has great hiking, but French Beach and the Butchard Gardens are manageable day trips less than an hour away.

Goldstream Provincial Park
  • Adventure playground 
  • Biking - Pump track and skills loop trails 
  • Fishing
  • Hiking - There are several hikes within the park including the impressive Niagara Falls and smaller, but also pretty, Goldstream Falls.
  • Water: yes
  • Power: yes
  • Showers: yes
Special Notes: Since the campsites are large, it's a bit of a walk to the flush toilets and washrooms. Bring bikes or book your site accordingly. 

French Beach (50 minutes away)

Bella Pacifica Campground, TOFINO

Bella Pacifica is one of few seaside campgrounds in the Tofino area. Choose a waterfront site on beautiful MacKenzie Beach, or a forest site nestled in old growth forest. This is the most expensive campground in the area, but offers the most amenities and is closest to Tofino. We would stay there again for its great location. 

Chesterman Beach, Tofino Area
Activities: Surfing, hiking, beach walks. Chesterman Beach (where we got married!), Cox Bay (go at sunset!), and Long Beach are our favorite beaches. 

  • Water: yes
  • Power: yes
  • Showers: yes
  • Laundromat and pay phones
Special Notes
  • Book a waterfront site or specify that you need a larger site when making your reservation as some of the forested sites are quite small (see below).
  • If you cannot get a spot, consider Green Point Campground in Pacific Rim National Park (near Long Beach) or Wya Point (near Ucluelet). 
Forest Site at Bella Pacifica Campground
Jumping for joy on MacKenzie Beach

Wya Point Campground, UCLUELET

Wya Point Resort has lodges, yurts, and a campground with RV sites and walk-in sites. We chose to stay in a walk-in site near the beach. Although we paid for a "forest" site, we were literally 10 steps from the beach, so we felt it was great value! Being outside the national park and down a private road, made for an awesomely secluded private beach.

Wya Point Beach
The walk in was about 30 metres and wheelbarrows were provided to transport our gear to our site. Large bear lockers and pit toilets were well spaced out throughout the campground and flush toilets, showers and a dishwashing sink were located near the yurts (with more washrooms and a sink near the upper parking lot).

While walk-in camping is a bit more work than car camping, we felt it was worth it to stay at this beautiful, secluded spot.  

  • Surfing, hiking, beach walks. Chesterman Beach (where we got married!), Cox Bay (go at sunset!), and Long Beach are our favorite beaches but we really enjoyed hanging out at the beach near our campground every day too!
  • The Wild Pacific Trail in Ucluelet is an excellent day trip. We hiked the Lighthouse Loop and Artist Loops.
Wya Point Forest Site
  • Water: yes (near the yurts)
  • Power: no
  • Showers: yes (near the yurts)
  • Large bear lockers. Each site is allocated 2 shelves so you can bring a small BBQ and large cooler and have room to spare.
Special Notes:
  • There is no water in the walk-in camping area. You must get water from the upper parking lot or yurt area (3 minute walk). Bring a big water jug for toting water and dish bin!  
  • Request a site big enough for your party. Our site was small, and the fire ring was quite close to the tent, but we liked its location.
  • The drive-in RV sites up top are basic gravel pads with a bit of a walk to the beach and don't have much shade, but are close to the flush toilets and water. 
  • Yurts and lodge suites are also available.
Amphitrite Lighthouse along Wild Pacific Trail, Ucluelet
Wya Point Yurts

 Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, PARKSVILLE

Half the families I know went to Rathtrevor Beach this summer and once you go, you'll know why. If you're looking for a beach with warm water, sand perfect for sand castle building, and sheltered water for paddling, this is your place! We relaxed here after backpacking sections of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail.

Rathtrevor Beach

  • Three Adventure Playgrounds - two in the campground (1 has a small bike park!) and one in the day use area near the beach
  • Rathtrevor Nature House with regular programs - kids can participate in Jerry's Rangers daily during the summer. My girls planted a tree and learned about slugs.
  • Paddling (except when tide is low), swimming, fishing
  • Hiking - There are a few kilometres of easy hikes within the park including the Old Farm Field Trail (no bikes allowed), trails around the campground and parallel to the beach. For a bigger hike, try the Top Bridge Regional Trail (5 km one way). 
  • Biking - Bikes are allowed on the sides of the roads and on the pathways adjacent to the beach, but not on the beach. We enjoyed biking to the store at the top of Rathtrevor Road (park entrance) for ice cream!
Rathtrevor Beach Adventure Playground (in day use area)
  • Water: yes
  • Power: yes
  • Showers: yes
Special Notes: The tide goes out really far (about a kilometre) and comes in really high, so bring chairs or waterproof beach mats (and move them to higher ground before the tide comes in!) as most of the beach stays wet most of the time.

Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, Parksville, BC

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Where do you like to camp on the Island?

Friday, August 21, 2015

10 Tips for Backpacking the West Coast Trail

The legendary West Coast Trail can be a walk in the park or a slick obstacle course depending on the weather, but either way the trail is worth doing for the gorgeous scenery. Expect to spend half your time on the beach and half the time hiking lush coastal rainforest, with a few opportunities to dine on the trail (seriously!). 

Carmanah Point Lighthouse on the West Coast Trail 
If I could only give you ten tips for doing this 75 km backpacking trip, they would be as follows:
  1. Start from Gordon River (south end)
  2. Read the tide tables and respect the sea.
  3. Be prepared for mud.
  4. Start early each day.
  5. Pack enough food.
  6. Carry cash.
  7. Have a backup plan.
  8. Carry First Aid supplies and take some basic first aid training (wilderness first aid recommended).
  9. Bring waterproof matches and waterproof firestarters or fire paste.
  10. Book a motel at the end of the trail.
For further details, please see the complete post on the Potable Aqua blog at

One of many ladders on the West Coast Trail
Information on the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail (just down the coast from the West Coast Trail) is available here!

Monday, August 17, 2015

7 Leave No Trace Fails and Remedies

"Take only photographs, leave only footprints" means more than just packing out your trash. When you truly leave no trace, you minimize your impact on all aspects of wild places - the air, soil, vegetation, wildlife - and keep them wilder, longer, for others to enjoy.

Leave only footprints!
Did you know shortcutting, dumping soapy dishwater in the creek, and picking wildflowers are all violations of Leave No Trace principles? The good news is that there are only seven Leave No Trace principles (in bold italics below), so once you know them you can get them right. Check out what some careless dudes did and how you can avoid making the same mistakes.

7 Leave No Trace Fails and Remedies

1. TRAIL MOBBING: The more the merrier! A group of 40 will keep the bears away!

  • While bears will certainly stay away, so will other animals. Larger groups tend to disrupt wildlife more, impact other users to a higher degree (block views, trails), and cause greater damage to trails (widening them, for example, when several people walk side by side) than smaller groups. Many parks restrict group sizes for this reason. Plan ahead and prepare to ensure you are abiding by park rules. In many parts of Kananaskis Country, for example, trail group size is limited to 15 people.
  • For bear safety tips, please see this post.
Small group sizes are especially appreciated in tight spots or narrow structures!
2. TRAILBLAZING: Going off trail is ok. There are only 4 of us.
  • When you fail to travel and camp on durable surfaces, you destroy vegetation and organisms in the soil, and cause unsightly trail braiding. As new trails are formed, more people use them, and it becomes increasingly difficult for the damaged areas to be recover. In isolated areas, trail braiding could cause hikers to lose their way! Further, going off trail increases erosion. Choose instead to stay on the trail or hike on rocky areas above treeline (vs disrupting what little soil there is).

Staying on the trail keeps the area around it wilder, longer.
3. POLLUTING WHEN CLEANING: I wash my hair and dishes in the river every day with biodegradable soap! 
  • Dumping soapy water in the river is not how you dispose of waste properly. The proper way to dispose of it is to dump it in an outhouse or cathole 6" deep cathole, at least 200' away from a water source (Source: Microorganisms in the soil help biodegradable soap to properly biodegrade, but the process takes several months, so use soap sparingly or not at all. When possible, use plain water to reduce the amount of wastewater you create.
Keep the water clean for all.
4. TAKING: There's a ton of wildflowers, so it's no big deal if I pick some.
  • If everyone did this, there would be no wildflowers for anyone else, or any animals, to enjoy. Besides adding colour to the landscape, many plants provide food for animals and insects. Always leave what you find, including shells, stones, fossils and cultural artifacts. Many of these items are protected by law.
    Wildflowers are best enjoyed in nature!

Part of leaving no trace is leaving natural treasures for others to discover.
5. BACKCOUNTRY FIRE MAKING (IN A NON SURVIVAL SITUATION): I know how to put out a fire, so I can make a bonfire anywhere.
  • First of all, decide whether you really need a fire. Unless I were at a designated campground with fire rings, I would only make a fire in a survival situation. Just because there are charred logs at a lookout, doesn't mean fires are allowed there. Check the rules in the area you are visiting before you make a fire. If fires are permitted, you need to construct a proper fire ring/mound and collect firewood in as sustainable a manner as possible (easier said than done!). Collecting wood when wood is scarce, isn't good for the ecosystem. Fires in times of dryness pose a risk to the forest. Use your stove for cooking and a fire only if absolutely necessary. For more information, see Leave No Trace's page on how to Minimize Campfire Impacts here.
Downed trees and branches are an important source of fertilizer for forest plants.
Unless it is a survival situation, do not collect branches for firewood.
6. FEEDING ANIMALS: Getting close to animals is all part of the nature experience.
  • It's all fun and games until a gray jay dive bombs your head, a squirrel claws your legs for handouts, or a bear rips in to your tent trailer. Respect wildlife, keep your distance, and never, ever feed animals. Habituated wildlife that do not fear humans and have developed a taste for human food (i.e. are food conditioned) can become aggressive when they don't get what they're accustomed to getting. This applies to creatures large and small, so don't feed bears either. "A fed bear is a dead bear." Recently, a woman was caught on camera feeding a bear. Not only is she endangering the bear (fed bears usually end up being put down), but she received a $1,000 fine. 
  • If you want to get closer to animals in a safe environment, visit them at a zoo, wildlife theme park, petting zoo. In and around Calgary, consider the Calgary Zoo, Butterfield Acres, Discovery Wildlife Park (Innisfail), or Northern Lights Wolf Centre (Golden, BC).

7. OFFLEASHING IT: My dog would never bite someone, so it's ok to let her run offleash in the provincial/state parks. 
    • Letting your dog run offleash violates several Leave No Trace Principles: Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces (ecologically sensitive areas can be damaged), Dispose of Waste Properly (many dogowners pick up feces they can see, but not feces deposited offtrail), Respect Wildlife (animals may be startled, frightened, hurt, or chased by dogs), and Be Considerate of Others (see below). 
    • Even if your dog is gentle, it can annoy or frighten other park users. I've lost count of the times that offleash dogs have knocked my children over or disrupted snack time by jumping on us. 
    • Offleash dogs put hikers at risk when they run offtrail, antagonize wildlife and draw angry animals back to their owners.  
    • Keeping your dog on a leash, close to you, limits its impact on the park, wildlife, and other park users.  You and your dog will be safer too.
      Thank you to all the responsible dog owners who abide by this!
Please spread the word about Leave No Trace so we can keep wild places wilder, longer. To learn more about Leave No Trace principles, visit Leave No Trace Canada

Have you seen anyone violate Leave No Trace principles? What happened and what did you do?

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