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, December 28, 2015

Grotto Canyon Ice Hike

Grotto Canyon is one of the best known local ice walks for its beauty, history, and accessibility. While walking on a frozen creek to picturesque icefalls is a treat on its own, you also have the chance to observe ancient pictographs with an interesting story! Expect to walk 2.2 km on a dirt trail and 2 km on ice on this unique hike.


Distance: 4.2 km round trip
Elevation Gain: ~100 metres
Trailhead: Grotto Lake Parking Lot (on Highway 1A)
Stroller Friendly? The trail is doable with a Chariot; the ice hike portion may be a bit challenging (wide enough, but bumpy).
Required Equipment: Microspikes, crampons, snowshoes, or ice cleats. Helmets and hiking poles recommended.

Kahtoola Microspikes work well on ice

Trail Description

Take the well signed Grotto Creek Trail, past the Baymag plant, until you come to a park bench overlooking the creekbed. The trail to the bench climbs gently upward through forest, with some open areas along the power lines. Little ones may need a snack at this point and the bench makes a good place to put on ice walk footwear (microspikes, ice cleats, crampons or snowshoes).

Park bench with view of Grotto Mountain
Once you are geared up, leave the trail and head into the creekbed. There is a big rock at the start of the ice hike that you can easily walk over or bum slide over if you don't trust your footwear (slide over on the right side).  After that, it's easy going, but take care not to slip! The canyon walls sweep dramatically upward on either side, and get higher the further you go into the canyon - about 50 metres high in some places - and smooth ice gleams below your feet.

Grotto Canyon Entrance
Looking back at the canyon entrance
Grotto Canyon Ice
On the last turn before the falls, keep your eyes to the left about 4-6 feet off the ground, and look for reddish markings on the canyon wall. These pictographs are believed to have been drawn by Hopi visitors to the area 500-1,300 years ago1. Ancient Hopi legend says that the Hopi peoples split up and travelled in the four directions when they came to America. While they eventually settled in what is now Arizona, paintings of the Kokapelli, the Flute Player (a symbol unique to the Hopi) have been found down east and in Alberta, including Grotto Canyon! It is amazing to think the Hopi travelled this far north so long ago! Please do not touch the pictographs, so they may be enjoyed by other visitors for many years to come (abrasion and oils on our skin can damage the ochre paintings).

Pictograph Viewing
Pictograph Closeup
The twin ice falls are just past the pictographs. If you're lucky, you'll get to watch ice climbers in action!
Mini Ice Falls
Big Ice Falls
Both sets of falls in Grotto Canyon
The whole hike took only 2.5 hours including two snack breaks and lots of stops to play in the snow. Adults could complete the hike in 1-1.5 hours, but why rush? This rare chance to walk in the canyon only comes for a few months a year!

Going Further

There are caves to the west, but I have never attempted to find them. Let me know if you do!

There are also larger ice falls up the slope to the east, but I do not recommend proceeding to those falls unless you are an ice climber. It's a tricky climb to the falls and even more treacherous climb down unless you have the right gear and experience (my friend on ice cleats slipped there and needed 6 stitches).

Where Is It?

From Calgary, take Highway 1 to the Seebe exit, get on to Highway 1A and continue 11 kilometres to Grotto Pond Day Use Area, Bow Valley Provincial Park.

When to Go?

Mid-December until Mid-March are good times to go, however periods of warm weather may melt the ice and make conditions unsafe. Only go on the ice if it is frozen and there is no risk of sudden melting and flooding.

For More Information

For more information on gear you need for ice walks, and two other recommended ice hikes near Calgary, please see this post.

For other hikes in Bow Valley Provincial Park, please see this post.

To see my review of 3 makes of children's snowshoes, please see this post.


Walton, Dawn. (2001, June 29) The Globe and Mail. Alberta Drawings Support Ancient Myth. Retrieved from 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Choosing Cross Country Skis

Buying cross country skis is exciting, but can be daunting if don't know what to look for. By following these simple steps, you can be on your way to a new and fun winter pursuit.

Please note this post is about Classic cross country skis.

Before you go to a ski store...

1. Consider what kind of skiing you plan to do (Classic/trackset, backcountry, or a mix of both):
  • Classic/Groomed terrain - If you will be sticking to groomed terrain (i.e. skiing trackset trails), classic skis will be your lightest and most affordable option. Light also means fast! However, light touring skis with metal edges that fit in the track (less than 70 mm wide) are a nice option for greater control on steep or icy sections (especially if you are an inexperienced or infrequent skier). 
  • Classic and ungroomed terrain - If you occasionally ski on ungroomed terrain or want extra stability on the steeps or icy sections, I recommend light touring skis (also known as compact touring skis) with metal edges. The metal edges will give you a lot more control and confidence, but are heavier and wider, so they are slower. 
  • Backcountry touring - Touring skis will serve you best for skiing ungroomed terrain as they are wider and provide more flotation (in addition to being more robust and easier to turn). On the downside, they are costly and heavy, and don't fit in the track, so I would only recommend them for serious backcountry skiers. It is possible to do some touring in light touring skis, but they will not be suitable for all conditions/terrain. Discuss options with knowledgeable staff at your local ski shop.
    • BEST TIP FOR GROWING KIDS: Consider "combi" classic/skate skis that your child can use as classic skis to start, and then use as skate skis when s/he is bigger (since skate skis are shorter)!!
    • Tip: Rent before you buy to see if you like the skis. Some stores such as Mountain Equipment Coop will allow you to apply your rental cost to purchase! If you are new to cross country skiing, go with someone who can give you pointers or take a lesson your first time out.
    • If you select light touring skis, be sure to choose a width that will fit in the track (less than 70 mm wide) so you aren't slowed down and so you don't widen the track. 
      Top: Classic skis,  Bottom: Light touring skis
2. Waxable or waxless: There is a lot of mystery and misunderstanding around waxable skis, so I have attempted to briefly outline the pros and cons of waxable and waxless skis below.
  • Waxless Skis:  If you are an occasional skier, aren't racing, or live in a mild climate, waxless skis are very convenient. You don't need to check the temperature and apply the right wax; you just put on your skis and go. You will probably get more of a workout than the folks on waxable skis as you'll be working a bit harder to go the same speed. They are less expensive as they are recreational skis, but over time, the scales will wear away and be less effective, so they will need replacing sooner than waxable skis (granted, this would take quite a long time if you don't ski much). My children started on waxless skis and they were very convenient on warm, Chinook days when the temperatures increased dramatically throughout the day.
    • Recommended for infrequent skier or children under 8 years old (Bunnies and Jackrabbits Levels 1 & 2).
  • Waxable Skis - Ski racers use waxable skis, for two main reasons: a) they are faster on the downhill (scales on waxless slow you down) and b) faster on the uphill (superior grip + little/no sliding back = faster climbing). All in all, they're faster. There is a learning curve however, and if you can't spare a minute to wax each ski (it really is that quick), then waxless would be a better option. The only time waxless skis outperform waxable skis is when the temperatures change dramatically or are quite warm (but you can deal with the former by applying different wax). Waxable skis can get very sticky and accumulate snow in very warm conditions, but if you keep moving, the snow doesn't stay stuck for very long. When it's above 0C, you can use Klister and kick wax. I skied in +12 last spring with Klister and it worked quite well! I own waxable junior racing skis, waxable classic skis, and waxable light touring nordic skis.
    • Recommended for frequent skiers and children aged 8 & up (Jackrabbits Level 3 & up).
  • Skintec Skis: A new kind of waxless ski has synthetic "skins" attached to the base rather than fish scales etched into the base. From what I've read and heard from friends, skintec skis are faster than traditional waxless skis but not as fast as properly waxed skis. If you don't think you have the patience to figure out waxing your skis, definitely consider Skintec (Skintec is Atomic's name for this type of ski, other "skin" skis are available). They work in any temperature and don't need wax (except for the occasional glide waxing of the tips). You will periodically have to replace the "skin" section.
Waxless ski base - observe the fish scale pattern
Waxable ski base - note that the kick wax  is not applied to the whole base!

At the store, consider...

  1. Camber - In order for you to have an effective kick and glide, your skis must have the right camber. This is basically the bendiness (flex) of the kick zone. Too soft and you will not glide; too stiff and you will not be able to kick or climb well if you're inexperienced. Ski shops can help you find skis with the camber that is right for you. They use a really high tech method of slipping a piece of paper under the kick zone while you stand on both skis with weight evenly distributed; the paper should just slide beneath your feet. ;) They will also need to know a bit about how you ski. 
    • Tip: If you usually ski with a pack, bring it with you, to ensure that the loaded pack + your weight works with the skis.
    • For young children, skis should be soft and have minimal flex, so they can get good grip.
      The skis on the bottom have greater camber (flex).
  2. Length - Traditionally, the recommended length is up to your wrist if you raise one hand above your head. This is just a rough guideline, however, as some skiers may benefit from longer or shorter skis depending on their ability. You can go faster with longer skis, but if you are a beginner, you shouldn't start with skis that are too long as they could be unwieldy. 
    • 2-5 year olds should have skis that are about chin height.
    • Older kids can have skis that are as tall as them.

  3. Weight - The lighter the skis, the faster you will go! I recently picked up a pair of racing skis that are half the weight of my light touring skis. They make a huge difference! 

  4. Stiffness - Stiffer skis are better for racing, but not for everyone as they require perfect technique to work well. Regarding the tips, backcountry skis tend to have stiffer tips to keep you going straight. Classic skis have slightly bendy tips that "flow" around corners and make for smoother entrances/exits from the track. 

  5. What about racing skis? If you are a novice, recreational skier, racing skis will not necessarily make you go faster as you will not be able to get the skis to do what you want. Lightweight, intermediate skiers may get an advantage from Junior racing skis as they are light and fast, but not as stiff as racing skis. If in doubt, inquire at your local ski shop and be honest about your abilities. I am very happy with the Junior racing skis that were recommended to me!
Sidecut is another consideration, but since most classic skis have very little shaping, this was not on my radar when I went ski shopping. 

Boots, Bindings & Poles

  1. Boots - This is a chicken and egg debate. While some people choose their bindings first, I chose my boots first. Why? It is almost impossible for me to find boots that fit! After trying on everything in the store, I finally found a super comfortable pair of light touring boots. I then looked for bindings that would work with them and fit my skis. Boots should be comfortable and snug, but not too tight. Don't get them too small at the toe! I made that mistake with my first pair of boots and lost some toenails. 
    • Tip: Try them on with the socks you will wear when skiing. I recommend wool or wool blend midweight, midcalf socks.
      From left to right: SNS Pilot, NNN, and SNS Profil boots
  2. Bindings - There are many different kinds of bindings. Be sure to get the kind that matches your boots! The main types are NNN (step in), SNS and 3-pin. I have NNN bindings on my Classic skis, Salomon SNS Pilot flip-lever bindings with 2 pins on my light touring skis, and Salomon SNS Propulse RC2 bindings on my racing skis. Ask the ski shop what they recommend for your setup. I prefer the lever bindings to the atuomatic bindings (so annoying to have to step in it just right!). Tip: Do NOT get automatic bindings for children if you can help it. They are too difficult for little kids to put on/take off by themselves.
    From top to bottom: SNS Pilot bindings, SNS Profil bindings, NNN Manual bindings
  3. Poles - For recreational skiing, poles should fit under your armpit (more experienced skiers will want longer poles). Look for lightweight, but strong poles with adjustable straps*. If you ski with mittens, ensure the straps will fit around your mitts. Buy the lightest you can afford; it makes for more fun - and less fatigue - when skiing! *Tip: For young children, it is more convenient to use poles without velcro wrist closures so you don't have to help with them constantly. They're less expensive too!
    Poles with velcro closures on the wrist straps (lower) are more expensive, but more comfortable and secure.
    I recommend the upper type for young children.
*Now would be a good time to pick up kick/grip wax if you chose waxable skis.

Cross country skiing is fun for all ages!

Glide Wax and Kick/Grip Wax

All skis - waxable and waxless - require glide wax. When purchasing new skis from a ski shop, they will come with base wax and glide wax already applied. If buying used, you will probably need to apply glide wax - this should be done at least once a season; more if you ski a lot. Glide wax for waxable skis requires an iron; glide wax for waxless skis (Swix F4) can be rubbed on (but I still recommend an annual hot wax on the tips).

If you have selected waxable skis, you will also need to pick up some kick/grip wax. I recommend a multi-pack with 3 different colors and a cork and scraper. (The cork is for smoothing out lumps and bumps. Scraper is for removing old wax.) This wax needs to be applied every time you ski, and reapplied throughout the day. Depending on the snow temperature, you will not always use the same color. Look at the temperature ratings on the wax, to see what you need. If in doubt, ask someone who looks like they know what they are doing. Most skiers are more than happy to tell you "It's a blue/green/red day!". As you get more familiar with how the wax works, you may even mix waxes in certain conditions. Do NOT use kick/grip wax on waxless skis!

For very warm days, you will need to apply Klister. It makes spring skiing possible (I've skied in +12C!) but is sticky, so wrap a plastic shopping bag around your skis to keep your roofbox/vehicle klister-free while transporting skis if you don't think you'll have time to clean the skis before packing them.

Fluoro or regular wax? Fluoro waxes have a wider temperature range but are not so good for the environment. They're also extremely expensive.

Spray on waxes are also available. They go on fast, but need time to set and still need to be smoothed out, so they don't actually save you time. I find it wears off quicker than wax in a tube, so it's not my first choice.

Kick wax kit

Notes Regarding Used Skis

Buy the skis first and then the boots - Get the best skis you can afford, then look for boots that match your bindings. You don't want to buy the boots first then limit yourself to only a few kinds of skis. Boots are also less expensive than skis, so if you have to buy one item new, it's better to get new boots.

Camber - Over time, the camber of skis changes, so it is important to check the camber of the skis before you take them. The online specs may say the 175 cm skis are good for 120 pounds, but they may not be anymore (unless the original owner has hardly used them). 

Wax - You may need to reapply glide wax if it hasn't been done for some time. See the Glide Wax section above.

I hope this helps you get started so you can enjoy cross country skiing as much as we do!

Where to Ski

For the best beginner trails in the Lake Louise area, please see this post. For great places to ski in Calgary, Bragg Creek, Canmore, and Kananaskis, see this post.

Bow River Loop, Lake Louise is a skier's paradise!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Introducing & Oakiwear Rubber Rain Boots Review

Whether it's brand spankin' new or second hand, we are always looking for the best gear we can afford. While we like to support local businesses, we also have a soft spot for family run businesses and products made in North America. For these reasons, we were happy to partner with, a family-run outdoor gear store to review some Oakiwear rain boots and give away a gift card. A complete review of the boots follows as well as a chance to win a $75 gift card from OutdoorFamilies!


OutdoorFamilies (formerly known as The Ottomus) is a family-owned business based in Boise, Idaho, that carefully curates outdoor gear for active families. They believe that "outdoor experiences make us all better people" and embody that spirit in their hashtag #GoBeDo. They pride themselves on professional customer service and a unique, high quality collection of gear from big names to the coolest kickstarters. Their customers appear to be very satisfied - over the past 12 months, Outdoor Families has received an Amazon rating of 4.9 stars (>1,000 ratings)!

Some of the fine products Outdoor Families sells include: Club Ride cycling apparel, Icemule Coolers, NEMO camping gear (tents, sleeping pads, and sleeping bags), Darn Tough hiking socks, Deuter packs, MPOWERD and gosun solar gear, Forsake footwear, Win Green cotton playhouses, and Oakiwear products.

December 28, 2015 Update: OutdoorFamilies will be rebranding in the new year. Check out their new website at!

Win Green Cotton Playhouse

Oakiwear Rubber Rain Boots Review

Oakiwear rubber rain boots are made of 100% rubber , have topside handles to help pull them on, and are mid-calf height to keep water out. They come in a variety of fun patterns such as Timberland Critters, Dinosaurs, Purple Fairies and Perched Owls (shown below).

Little POG loves her Oakiwear rain boots!

What I Like

Sizing: The boots fit true to size and aren't too wide. The size 13 Oakiwear are the slightly narrower than another brand of size 12 boots, so they don't fall off as easily (convenient when kids are playing in sticky mud!).

Reinforced Handles: Since the handles are reinforced, they are still securely fastened to the boots after 4 months. (On a different make of boots with handles, the handles came off and the boots cracked within a couple months.)

Quality: The soles have good treads - the grooves are deep enough to provide some traction in mud, but not so deep that they are a pain to clean when mud dries and get stuck in them. The rubber is high quality and shows no signs of wear and tear (no scratches or cracks) after 4 months.

Pattern: The pattern is beautiful and the paint is durable. I was worried it would fade or wear off, but it hasn't! 

Putting the boots to good use!

What I Would Like To See

We've had no issue with these Oakiwear rain boots. They are superior quality to other rubber rain boots we've tried. If you would like warmer, waterproof boots, Oakiwear also makes neoprene/rubber boots!

The Verdict

I would recommend these rain boots for outdoor water play as they are high quality and will last the season without cracking and could be handed down to younger siblings. Ours show no wear and tear despite being worn often since August. The price point is very reasonable given how durable they are! 

Where to Buy

Buy online at (Note: The boots reviewed are no longer sold at but they have many other cool products in stock!)


To celebrate the launch of the website, they are generously offering a $75 gift card to a lucky reader. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and will close on December 20th at 12 midnight MST. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: provided me with a free pair of Oakiwear Rubber Rain Boots to test and review, but all opinions are my own.

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Snow Show Book Review and Giveaway

What do you get when a snowman, Snow White and Jack Frost team up to make snow for a live, studio audience?  The Snow Show! With vivid illustrations and snappy dialogue, Carolyn Fisher's Snow Show takes us on an entertaining, but informative journey through the water cycle. 

After the ingredients are listed, Chef Kelvin, the snowman, performs various stunts (despite his fear of heights), to demonstrate all the phase changes involved in snow creation. His trusty sous-chefs tag along to make sure the temperature is just right every step of the way. 

While the subject is scientific, the book reads like a children's story, or rather TV program, complete with commercial break (while Chef Kelvin has a meltdown). My girls delighted in the definition of a gas - you will have to read it yourself to see what gave them the giggles - as well as Chef Kelvin's dramatic outbursts.

The Snow Show would be most suitable for elementary school aged kids, but my 4 year old enjoyed it as much as my 6 year old did. The story flows nicely with or without the phase change side bars, so it is possible to simplify for a younger audience or get into more detail with older readers. To continue the learning, be sure to download the Snow Show Study Guide here (a free download) for fun snow-related activities.

We love snow, and the girls are at the 'Why?' stage, so The Snow Show allowed us satisfy their curiosity in a fun way. I think the book would make a great gift for any boy or girl (although one of the sous chefs is named Snow White, the story isn't princessy at all)!

To win a copy of Carolyn Fisher's book, The Snow Show, please enter the Rafflecopter form below. 

Where to Buy

The Snow Show is available from better booksellers, or at

For More Information

Visit Carolyn's blog at


Please note this contest is open to Canadian residents only (US friends, please stay tuned for another giveaway later this week). Contest closes December 12, 2015 at 12 AM MST.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, December 4, 2015

Why You Need a Nakiska Season's Pass (or RCR Rockies Card)

Ski season has started and it's not too late to get a Nakiska Season's Pass! Why Nakiska? The best hill is the one you go to! Since my first visit in '99, I've made lots of turns at Nakiska, and return each year to the promise of great skiing less than an hour's drive from home. There is terrain for all levels, with fun features such as the NaJibSka Rail Park and Monster Glades, an amazing snow school, and a long season thanks to state of the art snowmaking equipment. Last year, we made the most of our season's pass (15 visits!), and were surprised at how quickly our kids progressed from bunny hill to blue runs! If you love to ski and want to go often, a Season's Pass or RCR Rockies Card is the best value for your money.

  1. Ski Close: Since Nakiska is less than an hour from Calgary, you not only save time and money driving, but on lodging and dining also! (If you want to treat yourself, however, there is on-mountain dining! For a weekend getaway, the Delta Kananaskis Lodge is close by and has beautiful rooms and a wonderful indoor/outdoor hot tub! Click here for a great package deal.)

  2. Ski any time, all season long, for a great rate: Your Season's Pass pays for itself in only 11 visits (way less if you get the early bird special)! Not sure you will go that many times? Consider the RCR Rockies Card*. For little more than a single lift ticket, you get three free days and discounts at partner ski resorts. *Only available until December 26, 2015.
    Makes a great Christmas gift!
  3. Flexibility: Whether you like to sleep in, have an evening engagement, or have babies that nap in the morning, a season's pass allows you to ski when you want. There's no need to wait until 12:30 pm for half-day lift tickets! Since our girls are late risers, we head out mid-morning after a big breakfast and ski until the lifts shut down. It's just the right amount of time for little legs (and by not overdoing it, they're keen to go back)!
    Stoked to hit the slopes with my big girl!
  4. Terrain for All Levels: Nakiska boasts a large learning area (Kids' World with Magic Carpet), beginner-friendly green runs, the NaJibSka Rail Park, Monster Glades, and everything in between. While the runs off the Gold Chair are my favorite, now that I have children, I appreciate the beginner terrain. Beginner Tip: Once you have mastered everything off the Bronze Chair, try the Easy Way Down from the top of the Silver Chair and take the Homesteader Bypass to avoid the steeper section on Lower Homesteader. My daughter was able to do the easy way down when she was five! 
    Shredding Pow In The Monster Glades!
    Image Credit: Resorts of the Canadian Rockies
  5. Super Fast Gold Chair Express: I love the Gold Chair Express so I can wait less and ski more. Tip: Play in the Monster Glades after a big dump of snow! 
    This puppy gets you to the top o' the mountain in 5 minutes flat!
  6. Kids 5 & Under Ski Free: For real! No fine print, just pick up a free ticket (proof of age may be requested). If your children are under 6, you only need to purchase adult season's passes!
    Little POG at Kids' World
  7. Resort Size: With 71 runs, Nakiska is just the right size. The hill is easy to navigate, with all runs on the same side of the mountain, and there are plenty of fun runs for everyone. Pop in to the mid-mountain lodge or main lodge for a bite. Fun fact: 28% of Nakiska's runs are advanced!
    Tell your kids to meet you at the Lodge for lunch!
  8. No Getting Stuck In The Flats: Nakiska doesn't have long, flat stretches to get stuck in, so you can ski or ride more! My boarder friends appreciate this most!

  9. Family Friendly: Families will love Nakiska's onsite daycare, Snow School, great learning area for first timers, and beginner friendly runs from the Bronze Chair. The Bronze Chair is not too fast, so first-timers can safely get the hang of getting on and off. 
    Nakiska Kids' World and Magic Carpet
  10. Partner Discounts: Your Nakiska Season's Pass includes fantastic discounts at partner resorts, hotels, and businesses. See all member benefits here.
Bonus: Skiing at Nakiska is fun!

See you on the slopes! At Nakiska!

Disclosure: I received free skiing from Resorts of the Canadian Rockies, but all opinions are my own.

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