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, February 24, 2016

Landmarks To Look For in Calgary Parks

When you think back to your favorite play places, what was special about them? Boulders and trees for climbing, secret forts, or watering holes? When you look through the eyes of a child, there is magic and fun all around! Landmarks become destinations to visit again and again. Here are a few of my girls' favorite spots around Calgary. See how many you can recognize! For more information, including route descriptions, maps, and directions, click on the links.


Waterfalls

We love Waterfall Valley as it's a short, fun hike with stairs, boardwalks and a nice lookout, but for bigger falls (and caves!), go to Fish Creek Park.  January is the best time to see lots of ice and cross the creek to see the ice cave!

Ice Falls & Ice Cave, Fish Creek Provincial Park
Waterfall Valley in Fall, Bowmont Park
Waterfall Valley in Winter, Bowmont Park

Ancient Trees


The Douglas Fir Trail has 400 year old Douglas Fir trees and a nice lookout.
Only 2.2 km round trip from Angel's Coffee!

Caves

Besides a cool ice cave, there are three more caves to explore in Fish Creek Park! Put splash pants on the kids as it can be mucky inside the caves (but so much fun it's totally worth doing laundry!).

Caves at Fish Creek  Provincial Park
Do you know of any other caves in Calgary?

Lookouts

Lookouts make great hiking destinations, as well as perfect picture and snack spots. 

Waterfall Valley, Bowmont Park:
See the Twin Bridges, mountains, and Canada Olympic Park.

Douglas Fir Trail
 (The trail is open to this point, but ice cleats required in shoulder season.)
Nose Hill Park - a great view of downtown and the airport!
Silver Springs Lookout is southwest of Silver Ridge Drive NW and Silver Crest Dr NW, 
just off the Bow River (paved) Pathway. Head down the hill to the Storm Ponds and Twin Bridges or stay on the plateau.

Glacial Erratics (Big Rocks Moved By Glaciers)

There's a famous glacial erratic in Okotoks, but did you know we have some of our own big rocks in Calgary? Split Rock in Confluence Park broke off of Mount Edith Cavell in Jasper and was moved here by glaciers thousands of years ago. The Big Rock near COP has a similar history.

Split Rock, Confluence Park
Split Rock Up Close,  Confluence Park
Big Rock, Paskapoo Slopes

Sculptures & Art Installations

From largest to smallest, here are some cool sculptures and art installations to visit around Calgary.
Poppy Plaza, at Memorial and 10th Street, is a tribute to our veterans.
It includes a large wooden deck with seating, and weathered steel walls engraved with quotes from world leaders and Canadians.

River PassagePearce Estate Park
Bloom, St. Patrick's Island Park
Medicine Wheel, Nose Hill Park - so not a sculpture exactly, but worth checking out!
For more information on medicine wheels, see this post.
Bison Sculpture, Tuscany Ravine
(Near Tuscany Hills Way NW & Tuscany Hills Bay NW,
GPS coordinates: 51.121589, -114.237430)
"Caballo" Horseshoes Sculpture
See this and many more sculptures at Fish Creek Provincial Park 
(near Bow Valley Ranche).
Playful Cubs, Baker Park
GPS Coordinates: 51.099856, -114.220016
Rabbit Rise, Edgemont Ravine
Park on Edgepark Rise NW and head north on pathway about 300 metres.
There's a playground and picnic area on the way!

Relics

Old Beaters, Paskapoo Slopes

Ponds

There are several ponds in Calgary, but these are a few of our favorites. 

Confederation Park - a popular place to feed the birds! 
The pond is on the west side of 10th St NW. Park at Rosemont Community Centre.
Intermittent Pond in late fall, Nose Hill Park
It's cool to see how the pond grows and shrinks throughout the year.
Kids Can Fish Pond, Bow Habitat Station, Pearce Estate Park
Free fishing for kids 16 & under at this stocked pond!
Carburn Ponds at Carburn Park are lovely too. 
Picnic, walk/bike, birdwatch, and fish there in summer and skate in the winter!

Beaches

If Sikome Lake (Fish Creek Provincial Park) is too far or you don't have access to a private lake (Arbour, Bonavista, Chaparral to name a few), escape the heat at this gravel beach in Mission. The water is quite shallow and teaming with minnows, so the kids can enjoy watching the fish and wading. Best of all, when you're done with beach time, there are good eats just a couple blocks away on 4th Street. We like nearby Yann's bakery for a special treat!

Mission/Roxboro Beach - Just west of 25 Ave SW & Erlton St SW
Sandy Beach (SW) and Edworthy Park (NW) are a couple other good options. Sandy Beach, like Mission Beach, is on the Elbow River so the water flows gently by. Edworthy Park is on the Bow River, so the water is deeper, faster, and colder. Not a great wading spot, but we enjoy throwing rocks in the water, riding our bikes, playing in the many playgrounds, and getting an ice cream at Angel's. 

Edworthy Park

Bridges

These are a few of our favorite bridges in Calgary. Which do you like best?

Peace Bridge, Eau Claire Park
Peace Bridge, Eau Claire Park
George C. King Bridge connects
River Walk/East Village with St. Patrick's Island
The Twin Bridges of Bowmont Park, built in 1883
One of the Twin Bridges, Bowmont Park
Stoney Trail Bridge connects Baker Park and Bowness Park
Harry Boothman Bridge, Edworthy Park
Centre Street Bridge is accessible from the Bow River Pathway
Prince's Island Park has some nice pedestrian bridges too (as well as a great playground). Visit the splash park and wading pool near Eau Claire Market while you're there!

Prince's Island Park
What are your family's favorite landmarks in Calgary parks?

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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Alberta Parks Camping Reservation Dates

The Alberta Parks Camping Reservation system opens on February 22nd! Are you ready? Take note of the different times for different regions, to ensure you get the sites you want. Group campsite and comfort camping bookings are already available. Backpackers will have to hang tight a while longer, but that just gives you more time to plan!


1. Individual, group and comfort camping bookings may be made up to 90 days in advance (e.g. you may book July 1 camping on April 1) starting February 22nd. Reserve sites online at Reserve.AlbertaParks.ca or by phone at 1-877-537-2757.
  • Individual Campsites: February 22, 2016 at 4 different times; see below for times for each region.* 
    • South: 9:00am
    • Kananaskis: 11:00am    
    • East & West Central: 1:00pm
    • Northeast & Northwest: 3:00pm
  • Group Camping Areas: February 8, 2016 9:00 AM MST
  • Comfort Camping: February 16, 2016 9:00 AM MST
*Alberta Parks - Find a Park is helpful to see what region your desired campground is in, or what provincial parks are in a certain area.

Elkwater Lake, Cypress Hills

2. Backcountry and equestrian campsites may be booked 90 days in advance by phone, via the online backcountry reservation request form, or through the Reserve.AlbertaParks.ca site. More details follow.
  • Backcountry campsites: May 1, 2016 8:15 AM - 4:30 PM. Book by phone: 403-678-3136 or complete and submit the online backcountry reservation request form. Please note that online requests are only checked on Tuesdays and Wednesdays; the fastest way to make a booking is at an Alberta Parks Visitor Information Centre.
  • Equestrian Campsites: A few campgrounds are reservable at Reserve.AlbertaParks.ca, but many require you to reserve by phone. More info here
Near "The Point" Backcountry Campground,
Peter Lougheed Prov Park

Be Prepared

Check the Vacancy Calendar before making your reservation, especially if you are booking less than 90 days in advance.

To make your reservation, you will need to provide your name, contact information, address, check in and check out dates, type of equipment, and payment information. 

For backcountry permits, you will also need to provide your license plate number, names of all members of your party, and ages of children. Although children under 12 years of age are free, they must have a permit.

Middle Lake, Bow Valley Provincial Park

Alberta Camping Destinations

Best of luck in getting your favorite campsites or a great campsite somewhere new! I know we're excited to visit some new-to-us provincial parks this year!!

Disclosure: I am an Alberta Parks Ambassador. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Why You Need Avalanche Skills Training

Getting away from the crowds and having powder to yourself is appealing, but not to be undertaken without training. After completing an Avalanche Skills Training (AST1) course, I quickly realized there was a lot more to avalanche safety than I realized. Every person in your party must be knowledgeable, carrying avy gear, and willing to work with others to stay safe. The "human factor" is usually what gets people into trouble; poor decision making versus bad luck. How do you make good decisions if you're not informed?


Choosing a safe route seems straightforward (look for lower angle terrain, avoid open areas and avalanche slopes for a start), but what do you do when people in your group refuse to take the safest way down? As we all know, the best skiing is on terrain with the highest avalanche risk! Class discussions opened with exclamations of "That ridge looks pretty sweet!" then changed to "But, yeah, it would be kinda sketchy." when everyone realized that was exactly where we shouldn't be skiing on a high risk day. Your group must be unanimous in its decisions to minimize risk as it only takes one person to endanger the whole group!

Conducting mock rescues with several people who kept forgetting to turn their transceivers from transmit to receive (necessary so you can get the signals of those trapped beneath the snow) was a bit frightening (every minute counts!), but it was downright terrifying to learn more often than not, rescues involve recovery of bodies or body parts, rather than survivors. The only good news we got, was that most fatalities occurred when avalanche danger was high, so by avoiding those conditions, we greatly reduce the risk of serious injury or death.

Do you trust the people you're adventuring with to choose a safe route and not trigger an avalanche above you? Do they know how to use their avalanche safety gear? In our in-class simulations, if a real person had been relying on us, he wouldn't have made it as we wouldn't have located and dug him out in time! 

At a minimum, if you adventure in the mountains year round, you should take Level 1 Avalanche Skills Training. It's not just for backcountry users and it's not ok for just one person in the group to have the training - especially if that person is buried in snow! If cost is an issue, there are several resources online (such as this free online avalanche tutorial at http://www.avalanche.ca/training) and at your local library.

If I haven't convinced you of the value of avalanche safety training yet, please watch this video. I saw "A Dozen More Turns" in my AST1 class; the true story of five guys who went on a backcountry ski trip and were caught in an avalanche. It was the most memorable part of the course besides the hands on transceiver exercises. 


Avalanche danger is quite high right now in the Canadian Rockies ("Considerable" at and above treeline and moderate below treeline as of today). Staying out of the alpine and high angle terrain (steeper than 30 degrees) are a start to staying safe, but educating yourself is the best thing you can do to minimize the risk of being caught in an avalanche. Contrary to popular belief, avalanches can and do travel beyond treeline, so you need to plan your route accordingly and know conditions before you head out. Stay safe, friends!

For More Information

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Amazing XC Skiing at Pipestone

The Pipestone Loops near Lake Louise are a fantastic option for intermediate level cross country skiers. It's also where you are guaranteed great views and snow! The trails are frequently trackset, and being just out of town, the trails don't seem to get destroyed by other trail users (who shall remain nameless, but skiers know who I'm talking about). Although conditions were amazing, with about a foot of fresh snow in the days previous, the parking lot wasn't full and we didn't cross paths with too many skiers.

View of Mount Temple from Pipestone Loop
You can make your day as short or long as you like as the trails connect to each other. On my trip with the Calgary Outdoor Club on January 31st, we did Pipestone, Hector, and Drummond trails (some parts more than once) for a total of 24 kilometers. 

Starting out, be sure to close the wildlife gate behind you and go in a counter clockwise direction on Pipestone Loop (13.3 km). This is courtesy and for your safety as there are a few fast and twisty hills! The first part of Pipestone is mostly steady climbing in the trees, but eventually you cross a meadow and shortly after, come to Pipestone Pond. The pond makes a good snack spot as there is plenty of space off the trail for packs and skis. From here, you have many options, but we chose to finish off Pipestone Loop before hitting the other trails.

Pipestone Loop Meadow
Pipestone Pond
Carrying on, you soon get to a fun downhill section. Give a holler as you approach corners, so folks ahead of you can double pole or get off the trail. One of my ski companions sacrificed himself and dove into a snowbank rather than take out a timid skier. Everyone was ok, thankfully! 

Pipestone Loop
After a thrilling ride to the bottom of Pipestone, we headed back up to the pond via Hector Trail. It was a steady, but gentle climb (95 m over 3 km). We then skirted the lower edge of the pond and took Drummond (2.7 km) down to Mud Lake. The hill down to Mud Lake is not as bad as it looks from the top, and is totally worth the short climb on the way back! The view from Mud Lake was amazing!!

YMCA at Mud Lake
Normal people at this point would take Pipestone Trail back to the parking lot (~2 km), but we wanted to do some more hills before heading home. We went back up Drummond to come down Pipestone from Pipestone Pond. So fun!! I am grateful to have gone out with such a strong and capable group! 

Those of you who follow my Facebook page know I've been training for the Birkebiener Nordic Ski Loppet near Edmonton. If you're training for something, want to get more practice on moderate hills, Pipestone Loop is a great course! Do Pipestone first, then cool down on the green trails (Hector, Drummond, and Merlin). I hope to check out the pioneer cabins along Merlin Trail next time! 

Where do you like to ski near Lake Louise?

How to Get There From Calgary

Take Hwy 1 to just past the Lake Louise turnoff. Turn right at "Pipestone Trail Head". 

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Sled Route to Troll Falls, Kananaskis

Troll Falls is a fun family hike year-round as it is short, scenic and easy to access. In winter, for more sun and less hills, take the easy route (Stoney Trail) straight along the power lines from the gate. At the junction, turn left for Troll Falls. On this flat and open route, you can easily tow a sled all the way there and back! I recommend the "sled route" for strollers or Chariots as well as this popular trail gets packed and icy and slippery hills are tricky when towing or pushing! The round trip distance is the same as the Troll Falls trail with less elevation gain (largest hills are bypassed).

Troll Falls
MAP & DIRECTIONS

Troll Falls Map
Take Stoney Trail (dashed green line) to the junction with Hay Meadow Trail and turn left. At the next turnoff (signed), turn right onto Troll Falls Trail. After a few hundred metres, you will be at the falls!

For a pleasant detour and panoramic views, explore Hay Meadow on the return. For more info on Hay Meadow, please see this post.

DETAILS

Distance: ~3 km return
Elevation Gain: 50 metres
Cell phone reception? Yes
Stroller Friendly? Yes
Recommended Footwear: Good walking shoes/hiking boots and ice cleats for trail. Use extreme caution on the ice near the falls (my children were wearing microspikes which offer superior traction to ice cleats).
Directions to Trailhead from Calgary: Take Hwy 1 westbound, head south on Hwy 40 for 25 km, turn right at Kananaskis Village turnoff, take your first right into Stoney Trail Day Use Area parking lot.

On the way to Troll Falls
A small ice fall near the main falls
Troll Falls
Exploring Troll Falls - microspikes recommended!
Side view of Troll Falls
On this day, we didn't need spikes until we got to the falls!
Views from the trail beneath the powerlines
What is your favorite winter hiking trail?