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?

Thursday, March 31, 2016

10 Fun Family Bike Rides in Calgary

The secret to success with biking with kids is finding fairly flat paths that lead somewhere fun. Fortunately, in Calgary, we have several great options for family bike rides! These shorter distance bike rides are perfect for new cyclists, have minimal elevation gain, and little to no road riding. Please note that all distances are round-trip unless otherwise specified. Enjoy and please let me know which is your favorite!

1. Calgary Zoo to St. Patrick's Island - 5/6.7 km

With a lagoon for wading, an amazing playground, grassy hill to climb and roll down, funky art installation ("Bloom"), and pretty bridge to cross, your kids won't want to leave!  

My kids call this the "bridge route" as it goes along the river and passes under several bridges and overpasses. You only have to cross the street once, at Baines Bridge, and the path is not as heavily used as other sections of the Bow River Pathway, so it is quite safe and pleasant. 
  • 5 km Route: Starting from the zoo, get onto the Nose Creek Pathway and turn right (south). Follow the path under Memorial Drive and around the south side of the zoo. You will go under 2 zoo bridges. At Baines Bridge (the only crosswalk), cross to the other side of the bridge, and turn left. As soon as you get off the bridge, St Patrick's Island Park is on your right. There is a covered picnic area near the parking lot, washrooms are to the right, and the playground and hill are just past the washrooms on the path to the right. Continue west to see Bloom and the George C. King Bridge. Come back the way you came.
  • For a 6.7 km loop, cross George C. King bridge and return to the zoo via River Walk (left turn after the bridge)-Bow River Pathway-12 St SE-Zoo Rd NE-Baines Bridge-Bow River Pathway-Nose Creek Pathway. Be sure to check out the new playground on the south side of George C. King Bridge!
Worthwhile detour: Get a coffee at Phil & Sebastian or a treat at Sidewalk Citizen Bakery in the nearby Simmon's Building. Thanks to Sonja of Sonja's Super Suggestions for YYC Families for the tip!
George C. King Bridge and Bloom Art Installation
St. Patrick's Island Playground
6 St & 7 Ave SE Playground 
St. Patrick's Island Path

2. Pearce Estate Park to Nellie Breen Park - 2.4 km

Experience wetlands, train watching, birding, a river ride, major art installation, and playgrounds. Combine routes 2 & 3 (below) for a longer ride!
  • Route: Explore Pearce Estate Park, then get on to the Bow River Pathway. You will pass Bow Habitat Station on the left (otherwise you're going the wrong way!). Continue on the pathway until you reach a residential area. Turn left onto 15 St SE. Take your 2nd left and Nellie Breen Park will be 2 blocks ahead on the left. Although not the biggest playground, this is one of my kids' favorite places to play. The only thing missing is washrooms, so be sure to visit the washrooms at Pearce Park before you leave! "River Passage" at Harvie Rapids is a worthwhile detour on your way there or back. Just be sure to keep kids well back from the rapids.
Pearce Estate Park
River Passage
Nellie Breen Park

For more information on exploring Inglewood by Bike, please see this post. 

3. Pearce Estate Park to Inglewood Bird Sanctuary - 3 km

Experience wetlands, train watching, birding, a river ride, major art installation ("River Passage), and playgrounds. Combine routes 2 (above) & 3 for a longer ride!
  • Route: Head in the opposite direction on the Bow River Pathway (south) until you reach 9 Ave SE. Turn left and the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary will be a short ways ahead on the right. There are several paths to explore (on foot, bring a bike lock) and beautiful heritage buildings. Bring binoculars so you can birdwatch! For extra fun, download a birding app so you can easily identify the birds and "talk" to them. Detailed instructions on using the Merlin Bird ID app (free from Cornell University) are here.
Washrooms at Pearce Estate Park and Inglewood Bird Sanctuary (seasonal hours).

For more information on exploring Inglewood by Bike, please see this post. 

4. Baker Park to Bowness Park - 5.6 km

Enjoy flowers at the Sun Bowl, disc golf, picnicking*, wading, paddling, and playgrounds! Kids will enjoy the bear sculptures and big bridge too.

5.6 km Route: Park in the main parking lot and head towards the Sun Bowl. Turn right onto the Bow River Pathway** and follow the path across the Stoney Trail Bridge. Turn left and take the paved path on the left or the dirt path on the right. The second (newer) playground is usually our turnaround point and we come back the way we came. To make a loop and reduce the distance a bit, stay left on the paved path then turn left on 85 St (bridge), but note that you will have to ride on the side of the road across the bridge.

In summer, continue past the playground (east) on the right fork of the paved path to the:
  • Lagoon - boat rentals available at the Boat House (no private boats may be launched here). There is also great skating on the lagoon in winter.
  • Seasons of Bowness Park cafe - As of May 31, 2016 the market is open with a limited menu. The restaurant will open later this summer.
  • Wading pool - scheduled to open Summer 2016. Stay tuned to Calgary Parks for updates! 
*Bowness Park has several picnic sites and shelters which are reservable through Calgary Parks. Reservations recommended on weekends. 
**There is a fun disc golf course to the right of the Sun Bowl! Bring your own discs.
Baker Park Sun Bowl 
Baker Park
Stoney Trail Bridge
Baker Park Bear Sculptures "Playful Cubs"

5. Calgary Curling Club to 10th St NW - 4.5 km

Visit several Calgary Landmarks including the Peace Bridge, Poppy Plaza (war memorial), Eau Claire Market & Prince's Island Park. The playground at Prince's Island Park is one of the best in the city & the splash park/wading pool at Eau Claire is a lot of fun too!

Route: From the public pay lot east of the Calgary Curling Club, take the overpass over Memorial Drive and turn right onto the Bow River Pathway. Stay on the north side of the river. At 10th Street, take the underpass and explore Poppy Plaza on the other side. Come back the way you came, and cross the Peace Bridge. Be sure to stay in the middle lane (bike lane) on the bridge! Stay left when you get off the bridge and continue on the paved path until you reach Eau Claire Market (shopping, dining, washrooms, splash park/wading pool); it will be on your right. Turn left and cross the bridge to Prince's Island. Here you have many options - play frisbee, go to the playground, watch the ducks, throw rocks in the river, walk an interpretive trail, go to River Cafe - but if you must head back, continue straight and you will be back on the Memorial Dr overpass next to the parking lot.

Public washrooms are available at Eau Claire Market (outside by the windmill and inside by the food court), and below River Cafe.

Peace Bridge
Poppy Plaza
Prince's Island Playground (part of it - it's big!)

6. Confederation Park - 1.3-2.8 km

Confederation Park is a favorite for its beautiful setting and landscaping. In summer, you can count on several parties taking wedding photos here. Large towering trees in the coulee, a meandering path, and cute bridge over the pond outlet make for a scenic stroll or bike ride. 

Starting from Rosemont Community Centre, you have a couple options:
  • 1.5 km return to the playground: Take the 10 St underpass and follow the path to the northeast. Stay left to access the washrooms in the parks building (seasonal hours). Stay to the right to get to the playground. 
  • 1.3 km return to far end of the pond: Go straight. At the first fork in the path, stay right. Continue around the pond to reach a good duck viewing spot. Kids will enjoy biking 'round and 'round the pond. (Note: There is a new "Please do not feed waterfowl" sign at the pond.)
Combine both loops for a longer outing!

Confederation Park Pond

7. Edworthy Park to Shouldice Playground - 5.2 km

This river ride takes you from a park full of playgrounds to another playground. Stop in at Angel's for a coffee or ice cream and take time to play in the river on a warm day! We park at Edworthy as it's close to Grandma's house, but Tanya Koob of Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies recommends starting from Shouldice as there's more parking. 

Note: This route requires riding on the road for about 500 metres each way (but 2 blocks can be bypassed on a walking trail and 350 m is on a quiet gravel road).

5.2 km Route: Starting from Angel's Cappuccino and Ice Cream at Edworthy Park, go west on the Bow River Pathway. After you pass a clinic and some condos, you'll have to ride on the side of the road or sidewalk for a couple blocks, but if I'm with the kids and it's midweek and quiet, I usually just continue on the walking path for 2 blocks where it rejoins with the bike path. You'll pass several football/soccer fields. At the gravel road (13 Ave), turn left. Continue straight for 350 metres. Rejoin the path on the right and go under Hwy 1. The playground is 250 m beyond the underpass and on your right.

Bow River Pathway
Shouldice Playground
For more information on Shouldice Park and Playground, see this post by Calgary Playground Review.

Off trail exploring in Edworthy Park

8. Confluence Park (aka West Nose Creek Park) - 4.5 km

Take your picture with Split Rock, a large glacial erratic, and see native prairie plants in a rich riparian zone on this short loop. There are opportunities for a longer ride along the Nose Creek Pathway, but the trail is hilly to the north and northwest, so it's not ideal for beginning riders.

Route: Whether you take the paved trail or the gravel trail, you will arrive at Split Rock after 500 metres. The lower dirt trail is prettier and allows you to cross several small bridges over the meandering creek, but it may be mucky in the spring. In summer, enjoy the unique vegetation along the creek. Fall colors are pretty here too. For more details, please see this post.

Confluence Park Unpaved Trail
Split Rock (it's hard to tell how big it is, but it's over 7 feet tall!)

9. South Glenmore Park to Weaselhead

South Glenmore Park to Weaselhead Natural Area, like much of the area around the Glenmore reservoir, is a nature escape in the city. Enjoy playground time at South Glenmore Park (it has 2 playgrounds and a splash park), then take in reservoir and forest views. Bring a bike lock so you can lock up your bikes and explore Weaselhead or the popular Jackrabbit trail (parallel to the bike path) on foot, but stay on the trail at all times and be on the lookout for wildlife and undetonated explosives. When the kids are strong bikers, try biking around the reservoir (~14 km) for a longer ride!

South Glenmore Park Playground and Splash Park
Our turnaround spot - the signs indicate steep hill ahead and possible undetonated explosives!
Beautiful views of Glenmore Reservoir

10. Lindsay Park to Roxboro Park & Elbow River Beach - 2.8 km

With a playground at either end and a beach in the middle, this ride is a summer favorite! Worthwhile detours include grabbing coffee at Phil & Seb's on 4th Street or picking up pastries at Yann's Haute Patisserie (329 23 Ave SW). 

Route: Take the Elbow River path south. Go under Scollen Bridge at 25 Ave SW. Continue south on the left (east) side of the river until you reach the playgrounds and tennis courts of Roxboro Park. Return the way you came, but when you get to the bridge, turn left (don't cross the street!), and then take your first left onto the pathway. Keep an eye out on your left for river access and enjoy some beach time on this pebble beach.

Playing along the river behind St. Mary's Highschool
Elbow River Beach
Roxboro Park Playground
Yann's Haute Patisserie
Yann's pastries
There is also great biking in Nose Hill Park, Fish Creek Provincial Park, and other parks around town. Stay tuned for the second installment of family biking in Calgary!

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Saturday, March 26, 2016

Skate, Ski, Walk, and Snowshoe on World Famous Lake Louise

For a few months each year, you can skate, ski, walk, or snowshoe on Lake Louise for a magical experience in a winter wonderland. Lake Louise was named "Best Skating Rink in the World" in 2014 by The Huffington Post, and it's easy to see why with dramatic peaks and the stunning Victoria Glacier as its backdrop. After an epic skate, swap skates for boots, skis, or snowshoes, and travel across the lake for a better view of the glacier and icefalls. There is one set of falls at the end of the lake, and a smaller one just a few minutes further. If you're lucky, you'll see ice climbers on the big ice falls! 

Lake Louise Hike/Snowshoe/Cross Country Ski

Distance: 5 km return. While it's tempting to keep going, be sure to turn back at the avalanche warning sign as there is significant avalanche danger after that point. Allow 1-2 hours.
Elevation Gain: n/a
Washrooms: flush toilets at parking lot
Equipment Rentals: Wilson's Mountain Sports in Lake Louise Village
Dining: various options within Chateau Lake Louise and down at the Village (we like Laggan's Mountain Bakery & Timberwolf Pizza and Pasta Cafe - located inside Lake Louise Inn)
When to Go: The lake is frozen from mid-December to April, but mid-January to late February are the best times to see the ice castle and ice sculptures. Conditions vary, so check the trail report before you go!

Cross country skiing on Lake Louise
Little POG double poling on Lake Louise
Big POG towing the Chariot on Lake Louise
Ice Falls at Lake Louise
Cross Country Skiing at Lake Louise
Cross Country Skiing at Lake Louise
Cross Country Skiing at Lake Louise
The 2nd set of ice falls at the end of the lake

Skating on Lake Louise

The rink is open for skating every day until 11 pm from mid-December to March/April, but mid-January to late February are the best times to see the ice castle and ice sculptures. Conditions vary, so check with the Chateau or Parks office before you go!

There are usually two rinks - one for hockey and one for skating. Please note that hockey sticks are not allowed on the main skating rink.

Washrooms: flush toilets at parking lot
Equipment Rentals: Chateau Mountain Sports (at Chateau Lake Louise, 8 am - 7 pm), or Wilson's Mountain Sports in Lake Louise Village
Dining: various options within Chateau Lake Louise and down at the Village (we like Laggan's Mountain Bakery & Timberwolf Pizza and Pasta Cafe - located inside Lake Louise Inn)

Skating on Lake Louise
Skating on Lake Louise
To see a photo slideshow of skating at Lake Louise, check out my Youtube video below!

If you're short on time, you can take a horse-drawn sleigh along the side of the lake to the ice falls! Contact the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise for more information.

What will you try first at Lake Louise??

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Maintaining Credibility as a Blogger

When everyone is blogging about the Top 10 or BEST Things to Do Now, it's easy to go with the flow and start writing them yourself. Are these titles clickbait or an effective means of driving traffic to your blog? They are both, so you owe it to your readers to deliver on promises and make sure you have researched appropriately, and are fairly representing a product/place/experience before you click publish. How can we pump out Top 10 lists and Best articles and maintain credibility?

  1. Be Honest. This is the most important aspect in getting and keeping your readers' trust. While we often feel our hands are tied when receiving free gear to review, it's ok to say what isn't perfect about a product or what we would like to see in future generations. It's helpful to the manufacturers as well. I often struggle to come up with "nice to haves" on high quality gear, but feel confident potential purchasers will appreciate my thorough testing and considerations of various applications in different conditions.

    The Gen 3 Nutcase Helmets Fit Better
    (worth mentioning in the review as friends of mine didn't buy them before because of the fit)
  2. Know the Subject. How can you say this is the best snowshoe trail in the park if you don't know any others? Similarly with product reviews - how can you say this is the best bike when you haven't tried any others? While many companies will not allow you to write reviews comparing their products against the competition, it is helpful to have experience with different makes so you can say how this product really shines, and maybe what it could improve on also. For example, when reviewing Potable Aqua's PURE Electrolytic Water Purifier, I had never reviewed a water purifier before, but was able to draw on my experience with two microfilters, Pristine chlorine drops, Steripen, and chlorine tablets to provide first-hand examples of how the PURE was better or worse. While it isn't always feasible to try several options, due to constraints of time or expense, refer back to point #1 and let readers know something along the lines of "While this is the only water purifier I've ever used, I was pleased with..."

    In this review of children's snowshoes, I reviewed 3 brands available locally before saying which was best.
  3. Don't Make Over-Inflated Claims. I remember being sorely disappointed after reading a blog post on the "best" place to camp, driving several hours to get there, and then finding it was just ok. I made a promise right then and there never to lead people astray like that. It's not fair to make people spend 4 days and hundreds of dollars somewhere mediocre!

    I'm a bit spoiled when it comes to camping, so when someone says "best", I think somewhere like this.
  4. Back Up Your Claims. Since "best", "beautiful", and "fun" are so subjective, explain why you think so. Yep, go back to elementary school and show your work. You can do it with a picture, map, or description, but make it crystal clear why you think something is the best so you don't get hate mail down the road from someone who hated your number 1 camping choice.

    Can you see why this is one of the best beginner cross country ski trails in Lake Louise?
  5. Use Respectable References. This goes along with #4. If you aren't knowledgeable on a subject - say bike gearing and geometry - link up to an external source. Rather than sit for an hour with my husband and paraphrase what he said, I linked up my Woom Bikes Review to a big bike reviewer's page on bike geometry that was complete with photos illustrating her points. By doing this, I was able to maintain the flow of my review and ensure that my readers could get reliable and detailed information if they chose.

  6. Disclose Relationships. Whether the law requires you to disclose sponsorships or not, it's unethical to push a product you receive for free and not tell your audience. If you received free gear, accommodations, tours and so on, let your readers know. If your reviews are consistently honest and talk about the good and the bad, readers will value your advice whether you bought the product or received it free for review.

Finally, have fun and keep it real! 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

4 Shoulder Season Hikes in Banff

Banff is a favorite year-round hiking destination of ours due to its scenery and location. While most people put their hiking boots away at the end of summer, we love hiking in the spring and fall when there are less people on the trails. In fall, you get the added bonus of no bugs!

1. Johnston Canyon is a gorgeous walk along Johnston Creek that leads to two waterfall viewing decks (Upper and Lower Falls). With catwalks and opportunities to see more falls along the way, this hike is one of the best short hikes you will ever do! There is minimal elevation gain to Lower Falls (or Downer Falls as Little POG calls it), so even toddlers can complete the hike. For a longer walk, and higher falls, continue on to Upper Falls. For more info, please see this post.
  • Distance: 1.1 km to Lower Falls, 2.7 km to Upper Falls.
  • Elevation gain: Fairly flat to Lower Falls, about 130 m gain to Upper Falls.
  • Washrooms? Flush toilets and outhouses at trailhead.
  • Stroller friendly? No. Baby carrier recommended as the catwalks are quite narrow.
Johnston Canyon, Banff
Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park
2. The trail around Johnson Lake follows the shoreline fairly closely, so for much of the way, you get great views of Cascade and Rundle mountains. On the south side of the lake, look for the old hermit cabin. It's a short detour off the main trail. In summer, come back for a swim or paddle. In winter, you can snowshoe around or on the lake (check ice thickness before venturing on the ice!). 
  • Distance: 2.8 km loop.
  • Elevation gain: n/a
  • Washrooms? Yes, outhouses at trailhead.
  • Stroller friendly? Yes, but some sections are rooty, so a baby carrier may be preferred.
  • For more details on the hermit cabin built in 1910, see this post by The Proper Function.
  • For ice safety tips, please see this post: Pond and Lake Ice Safety.
Johnson Lake, Banff
Johnson Lake, Banff National Park

3. Tunnel Mountain is a surprisingly pretty hike you can do from town! Seek out the red chairs and geocaches on your way to the top of this outlier! To cut off some distance, park at Tunnel Mountain Drive and St Julien Way. A complete trip report is here
  • Distance: 3.4 km round trip.
  • Elevation gain: 300 m
  • Washrooms? No, nearest washrooms are at the Banff Centre.
  • Stroller friendly? No.
Tunnel Mountain, Banff
Tunnel Mountain, Banff National Park
4. If you do Fenland Trail, you must make the short detour to Vermilion Lakes Drive. This perfect pairing will take you through old growth forest alongside a creek (Echo Creek) bustling with beavers. Interpretive signs tell you more about the area. Step out of the trees onto Vermilion Lakes Drive for postcard worthy views of Mount Rundle (I recommend continuing until you reach the dock). Not bad for a 2.6 kilometre walk!
  • Distance: 2.6 km (includes 2.1 km Fenland loop and walk to the dock)
  • Elevation gain: n.a
  • Washrooms? Yes, outhouses at trailhead.
  • Stroller friendly? Yes.
Mount Rundle, Banff
Mount Rundle, Banff National Park (from Vermilion Lakes Drive)

What You Need

Pack ice cleats/microspikes as the trails can be slippery and icy in shoulder season. For children, many people have had success with size XS Yaktrax Pro. A hiking hack I learned of from a member of the Calgary Outdoor Playgroup is to zip tie ice cleats so they don't fall off! Genius!

Other recommended items include cocoa, snacks, and warm woolies. For a complete hiking pack list, please see this post.

It's also a good idea to check the trail report as well as avalanche and weather conditions before heading out. The weather can change quickly in the mountains and avalanches occur any time of year, anywhere there is accumulated snow.

Where to Eat

Head to Cows for ice cream or the candy store for a "good job treat".

For lunch or dinner, Cascade Mall has several family-friendly dining options. We really like Rocky Mountain Flatbread kiosk (take away only) and Old Spaghetti Factory.

Chaya (next door to McDonald's) has tasty Japanese rice bowls.

The Bison and Maple Leaf Grille serve Canadian fare (bison, venison, fine local cheese).