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?

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Biking Tunnel Bench Loop, Banff With Kids

Tunnel Bench Loop is a scenic, moderate-level single track mountain biking trail in Banff. While most of the trail is rolling and fairly easy, there are a few bigger hills and lots of tree roots to challenge novice riders. I recommend this trail to bigger kids on a (minimum) 20" bike with gears and some mountain biking experience as it's hard to get over the roots and up the hills on a 16" bike. My kids (5 & 6 years old) have top of the line lightweight 16" bikes, but still had to walk sections due to the bumps, hills and exposure (see details below).

Tunnel Bench Loop At A Glance

Difficulty Rating: Moderate (Blue). My kids found this trail harder than Water Tower as it's rootier, longer, and has exposure.

Distance: 9.7 km loop (opportunities for experienced riders to extend their ride by adding on The Toe - rated black).

Elevation Gain: 124 m gain and 124 m loss. Rolling terrain - no long climbs, but younger kids/less experienced mountain bikers may have to walk a few hills.

Trail surface/type: Mostly dirt single track. A few sections have gravel and parts of Teddy Bear's Picnic are partially paved (reverting to dirt trail). Some fun bermed corners on the Coastline section.

Recommended Direction: We rode the trail counterclockwise so we could visit the Hoodoos Lookout first and do the easiest section last (see below for details).

Chariot Friendly? NO. This is a single track trail that is quite narrow in sections. While a single Chariot could fit on the trail, it would likely tip over in many spots as the trail is quite rooty.

Parking: Hoodoos Lookout Parking Lot (E on map) OR 502 Tunnel Mountain Drive (550 m past Douglas Fir Resort - the first lot on your right when driving up from town). See Parks Canada's Map here.

Trail Description

We parked at the first parking lot past Douglas Fir Resort and went counter clockwise (away from the resort).

Follow the blue markers to stay on Tunnel Loop

Following are descriptions of each section of the Tunnel Bench Loop Trail (going clockwise from parking near Douglas Fir Resort):

1. Hoodoo - Rolling terrain, lots of tree roots, fantastic views of Mount Rundle, the Bow Valley and the Hoodoos from the various lookouts! Be sure to stop at the red chairs for a picture! Watch for vehicle traffic around viewpoint parking lots. *Note that the Hoodoo section of the trail is NOT the same as Hoodoos Trail (green)! FOLLOW THE BLUE TRAIL MARKERS TO DON'S BYPASS.*

Tunnel Bench Loop, Banff
Tunnel Bench Loop Trail Marker
Red Chairs on Tunnel Bench Loop (Mount Rundle)
Tunnel Bench Loop, Banff
Tunnel Bench Loop, Banff
Tunnel Bench Loop, Banff

2. Don's Bypass - Single track through the trees. Has one hill younger kids may have to walk.
Trail Marker
3. Teddy Bear's Picnic - This was the easiest section, but the kids still had to walk their bikes up one hill. Mostly in the trees here.
Teddy Bear's Picnic
4. Coastline - The most exciting part!! Coastline flows around the north side of Tunnel Mountain and has great views of Cascade Mountain, the Water Tower and Hoodoos. There is considerable exposure over the hoodoos, so advise kids to stay away from the edge and/or walk their bikes if they are gawking at the view instead of where they're going. At one stop along the way (there are a few little pullouts/viewpoints to let others pass), we stood on a slight overhang and my youngest said "If we jump, it'll all fall down." Stay away from the edge! Parts of the trail have been moved back recently to keep up with erosion.
Coastline Trail Marker
Caution! Steep cliffs ahead!
Looking across at the Water Tower
Walking a sketchy bit
Standing above the hoodoos!
Tunnel Mountain Bench Loop
Peering into the abyss

Coming up to the road crossing where we will get on to the Spine section

5. Spine - The spine takes you through trees and a small clearing, across the mountain's backbone, to the south side of the mountain. You will soon see come approach Tunnel Mountain Campground. This section was quite easy, but not very scenic.

6. Tunnel Bench Loop joins up with Tunnel Mountain Campground Loop. Continue south on the flat, gravel path (rated easy/green). Cross the road to rejoin Tunnel Bench Loop until you reach your car!

Easy peasey Tunnel Campground Loop

Tips For Riding Tunnel Bench Loop With Kids

No helmet, no ride!

If you are short on time, ride the Hoodoo section of the trail as it is moderate, has lots of viewpoints and places to rest, and easy parking. 

Assign trail buddies. Make sure that every rider has a trail buddy and stays with him/her. Ideally, there should be one adult carrying bear spray with each child or group of children. Since our kids ride at different speeds, my husband rides with one and I with other and we each have our own bear spray. We like Frontiersman bear spray from MEC.

Pack plenty of snacks and water. Mountain biking burns a lot of calories! 

Always bring a first aid kit complete with tweezers (for bee stings/slivers) and polysporin. The spray stuff (Polysporin to go) is amazing as it has topical anaesthetic in it to take the ouch away. 

A promise of treats goes a long way to keeping little riders happy. I call it encouragement rather than bribery. ;) Think Cow's Ice Cream, the candy store (Banff Sweet Shoppe), The Fudgery, Welch's Chocolate Shop. Banff also has a Dairy Queen in Cascade Mall and McDonald's on Banff Avenue (McFlurry - yum!).

Choose age & level appropriate trails. Blue trails may be fine for some 6 year olds, while some 9 year olds (or adults!) may find them too tough. Start with a short intermediate (blue) trail, or section of one before trying longer intermediate trails.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Things To Do in Calgary and the Mountains This Weekend (May 27-29)

As we say good bye to May, the rain is pouring and flowers are blooming. Trails around Calgary, Canmore, Kananaskis Village and Banff townsite are in great shape (but wet). There's still snow at elevation, expecially in Peter Lougheed, Spray Valley and Lake Louise. Please take care and be avalanche aware as well as bear aware. I've tried to capture most of the closures and advisories, but conditions change quickly with the weather, so always check before heading out.


Tis the season for flowers! We visited Reader Rock Gardens (SW) and Silver Springs Botanical Gardens (NW) this week and both have tons of flowers in bloom. Silver Springs has a longer walking route; about 3 km return. Reader Rock Gardens is a quiet escape near the Stampede grounds with a charming cafe onsite.

Reader Rock Gardens
Reader's Garden Cafe
Reader Rock Gardens
Silver Springs Botanical Gardens: Old Post Garden
Silver Springs Botanical Gardens: "Shakespeare Garden"
Silver Springs Botanical Gardens: Chartres Labryinth
(The labyrinth flowers were just starting to bloom and should be like this by mid-June)
If you're up for a roadtrip, Dinosaur Provincial Park is particularly lovely with all of its flowers in bloom! 

Badlands Trail, Dinosaur Provincial Park

More Calgary Fun

Landmark Challenge: See how many Landmarks you can find in Calgary Parks this weekend!

River Passage Art Installation
Check out the Landmarks in Calgary Parks post for more info.
Rainy Day Fun in Calgary: Indoor and outdoor fun including many FREE activities! The Calgary Police Interpretive Centre is on our bucket list!

Visit a Farmer's Market for the freshest local produce, meats, and baked goods.

10 Fun Family Bike Rides in Calgary: Try a new one each week! Snack spots are included in these itineraries because every bike ride deserves a "good job treat". Combine routes for a longer bike ride.

3 NW Calgary Hikes: Did you know the Douglas Fir Trail is open from the north side trailhead to the lookout? Or that Calgary has a Medicine Wheel? Visit Waterfall Valley in Bowmont Park too!

Waterfall Valley, Bowmont Park

Calgary Events

Thank you Sonja's Super Suggestions for YYC Families for these awesome recommendations!

May 25-28 Calgary International Children's Festival Free and ticketed fun events for kids of all ages!
May 27 4 pm - 7 pm Springfree Calgary's Birthday Bash  Jump on trampolines, face painting, balloon animals, food and more! 6999 11 St SE
May 28 10 am - 5 pm 2nd Annual Bridgeland Cultura Festival Live music, beer gadens, family activities, local vendors. 1st Ave NE & 8 St.
May 29  Alberta BMX Day - BMX tracks open to the public (ages 4 & up)!  & racing! Calgary, Okotoks, Airdrie, Cochrane and other Alberta towns/cities are participating.


The trails in Bow Valley Provincial Park and Canmore are in excellent condition with only a few seasonal closures in Bow Valley (Pigeon Mountain, Mount Allan/Centennial Ridge Trail, part of Stoney Trail, Wind Ridge - note that West Wind Pass is not affected by this closure). Trails will be wet due to all the recent precipitation, so biking paved trails is a great alternative to hiking right now. Tanya Koob has a great roundup of The Best Family Bike Trails in Canmore.

Biking in Canmore, Alberta
Image Credit: Tanya Koob, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies
Flowing Water Trail, Bow Valley Provincial Park
In Peter Lougheed, I'm pleased to report that the bridges on Black Prince Cirque and Sarrail Falls (Upper Kananaskis Lake Trail / Rawson Lake) have been rebuilt!! Black Prince Cirque is good to go, but expect wet/muddy sections in the trees. Rawson Lake still has snow near the lake, so be sure to wear waterproof boots and gaiters.

Black Prince Cirque, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park
The Peter Lougheed bike path is snow-free, but there are several bear advisories in place (around Boulton Creek Campground, Lower Lake Campground, Lower Lake Group Campground and Interlakes Campground) so I recommend biking the Bill Milne Trail until those advisories are lifted. Bike from Ribbon Creek / Kovach Pond Day Use* to Wedge Pond. It's 18 km return, but mostly flat (except for the last 2 km to the pond)  so my 5 year old managed fine on her 16" bike with no gears! This trail is even prettier than the Legacy Trail, is further off the road, and sees very little traffic, so it's peaceful. I'm sure you will love it!

*Note: Kovach Pond Day Use opens April 29th each year. If the parking lot is full, park at Ribbon Creek.

Bill Milne Trail, Kananaskis
Kananaskis Valley Trails tend to dry out sooner than Peter Lougheed and Spray Valley trails. All are in good shape, but expect wet and muddy sections in the trees. Troll Falls and Hay Meadow can be hiked or biked, Mount Lorette Ponds have been stocked with rainbow trout, and the Bill Milne Trail is always fantastic. More information here: Top 5 Spring Things to Do in Kananaskis With Your Kids.
Mount Lorette Ponds, Kananaskis
Elbow Valley got quite muddy last weekend with all the rain. Trails and Powderface Trail (road) need time to dry out. Expect muddy sections on Prairie Mountain and possibly some snow. Fullerton Loop may be a better option as it gets more sun.
Forget-Me-Not Pond, Elbow Valley
Prairie Mountain, Elbow Valley (in March)
Always check trail reports before you go! To help fellow hikers, please leave a trip report here.

Banff National Park

Check out my Top 5 Things to Do in Banff in Spring and stay tuned for a summer version! We're super excited about the gondolas (Banff and Lake Louise) being open. Banff Gondola has a stunning hike from the summit (about 1 km) and Lake Louise Sightseeing Gondola has a few gorgeous hikes to choose from and amazing dining at Whitehorn Bistro.

Be sure to visit Banff's Central Park Playground! It has a nature theme and the views are great!

Lake Louise trails are opening up - Hike to Lake Agnes or Fairview Lookout for lovely views. Bike the Great Divide Trail. Moraine Lake Road is now open but there's still a lot of snow on the trails along there.
Kicking Horse Viewpoint
(short hike from top of Lake Louise Gondola)
Tunnel Mountain, Banff
Banff Central Park Playground
Image Credit: Dana Wheatley, Calgary Playground Review

Get Ready for Camping / Road Trips

Read my Epic Road Trips Series so YOU can have epic road trips!
Camping Trip Reports
See the Where to Stay page for BC camping trip reports and more!

Have a great weekend! 

Camping in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

Peter Lougheed Provincial Park is a premiere camping destination in the Canadian Rockies with several campgrounds to choose from. For amenities - including showers, power and water hookups,  and amphitheatre programs - stay at Boulton Creek or Elkwood. They are equally good, but Elkwood has a playground and Boulton has a camping store and restaurant. Bring bikes so you can enjoy the services both campgrounds have to offer! It's easy to get around on the paved bike path between campgrounds and you can even access lakeside picnic areas and hiking trails from the bike path!

For beautiful lakeside camping, stay at Interlakes, but be prepared to stay elsewhere if Interlakes is full (it usually is). For lake access, Lower Lake and Canyon have sites that are walking distance to Lower Kananaskis Lake. Interlakes and Canyon have boat launches.

Mount Sarrail Walk-In Campground has walk-in sites conveniently located between Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes. No lakeside sites or lakeviews here, but it's a short bike ride or walk to numerous trailheads and picnic areas. More options in: Walk-in Campgrounds Near Calgary.

Elbow Lake and The Point are two great Backcountry Campgrounds Near Calgary in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park that are popular with families. For a longer hike, try camping at Forks or Three Isle Lake.

More details below! Scroll to the end for Activities in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.

Peter Lougheed Provincial Park Campgrounds
- Amenities & Things to Do!

1. Boulton Creek Campground (Reservable)

Boulton Creek is a large campground with spacious, forested sites offering shade and privacy. If you've forgotten anything, find it at Boulton Creek Trading Post. They also have a restaurant, ice cream shop and equipment rentals.

  • amphitheater 
  • concession
  • water - tap
  • electric
  • water hookup
  • firepits
  • firewood available for purchase
  • flush toilets and pit toilets
  • showers (closest to Loop B)
  • pay phone
  • wheelchair accessible sites
  • sewage disposal
  • Hike Boulton Creek trail (4.9 km loop)
  • Bike to Lower Kananaskis Lake
  • Get an ice cream at Boulton Creek Trading Post
  • Attend a program at the amphitheatre
  • Scroll down for more activities in the park!
Boulton Creek Campsite

2. Canyon Campground (FCFS)

Canyon Campground has 50 unserviced first come-first served sites, some shaded and some in the open. Hike the Canyon Interpretive Trail (currently closed for construction - will hopefully re-open in summer) from camp or make your way down to the lake for some splashy fun!

  • unserviced sites
  • water - tap
  • boat launch
  • firepits
  • firewood available for purchase
  • pit toilets
  • pay phone
  • playground (near site B19)
  • sewage disposal 
  • no showers
  • secure food storage available for cyclists
  • Hike Lower Lake Trail (3.5 km one way) to the lookout at the end of Bill Benson Trail. The trail is well shaded and offers good views of the lake!
  • Hike Canyon Interpretive Trail (800 m).* (Note: Canyon Interpretive Trail is closed until further notice (as of May 9, 2016)
  • Paddling, Fishing
  • Scroll down for more activities in the park!

Bill Benson Lookout

3. Elkwood Campground (Reservable)

Elkwood is a large campground with spacious, forested sites offering shade and privacy. Bike or hike from the campground; the bike trail has beautiful views!

  • amphitheater (between loops A & B)
  • playground (near site B30)
  • water - tap
  • electric
  • water hookup
  • fire pits
  • firewood available for purchase
  • flush toilets and pit toilets
  • showers (shower buildings located between loops A & B and C & D)
  • pay phone
  • Ride your bike to Boulton Creek Campground for ice cream!
  • Bike to William Watson Lodge and walk down to the lookout at the end of Bill Benson Trail.
  • Hike the wheelchair accessible hiking trail to Marl Lake (3.3 km loop).
  • Attend a program at the amphitheatre.
  • Scroll down for more activities in the park!
Elkwood Campsite
Elkwood Campground Amphitheater
Elkwood Campground Playground

4. Interlakes Campground (FCFS)

Camp on the shore of Lower Kananaskis Lake and listen to loons while you go for an evening paddle. These desirable sites are nonreservable, so if you want one, head out mid-week and have a backup plan. Sites are shaded by tall trees.

  • unserviced sites
  • fire pits
  • firewood available for purchase
  • water - pump
  • boat launch
  • no showers
  • Hike the Canadian Mount Everest Expedition Trail (2.2 km loop)
  • Paddling, fishing, biking, hiking
  • Scroll down for more activities in the park!
Peter Lougheed (paved) Trail

5. Lower Lake Campground (FCFS)

Lower Lake Campground has unserviced first come-first serve sites near the water. Loops B & C are closest to the lake. Loop A is about 800 metres from the lake.

  • unserviced sites (Please note that the Lower Lake Walk-In sites are closed due to flood damage.)
  • playground (between Loops A, B & C)
  • water - pump and water tap
  • firepits
  • firewood available for purchase
  • pay phone
  • no showers
  • Bike the Peter Lougheed Bike Path to Boulton Creek Trading Post
  • Hike the Lower Kananaskis Trail or Lower Kananaskis Interpretive Trail
  • Scroll down for more activities in the park!
Lower Lake Interpretive Trail

6. Mount Sarrail Walk-In Tent Campground (FCFS)

No lake view, but the campground is conveniently located near Lower and Upper Kananaskis Lakes. Note that most sites are unshaded and all sites are walk-in sites. Bearproof food storage lockers are for cyclists, so please store food in your vehicle.

  • unserviced walk-in sites
  • water (hand pump)
  • pit toilets
  • firewood
  • bear-proof food storage lockers - limited number available for cyclists. Please do not store coolers in the bear lockers as they're too big; coolers should be stored in your vehicle. 
  • no showers
  • Bike the Peter Lougheed Bike Path to Boulton Creek Trading Post
  • Scroll down for more activities in the park!
For more walk-in campgrounds near Calgary, please see this post.

7. William Watson Lodge

This wheelchair-accessible campground is for guests of William Watson Lodge only. It has 13 accessible, full hookup sites with great views and partial shade.

  • Take the accessible Bill Benson Trail (700 m) to Lower Kananaskis Lake. Enjoy the views and do some fishing! See photo in #2 above.
  • Drive to Elkwood Amphitheatre (parking available) and then take the paved Marl Lake Trail. 
William Watson Lodge Campsite
William Watson Lodge

8. Mount Kidd RV Park 

Mount Kidd RV Park is a private campground in the provincial park with full hookups / power only / power and water as well as 32 unserviced sites. Amenities include: convenience store, coffee counter, showers, whirlpools, games room, laundry, tennis courts, wading pool, and amphitheater. Contact them directly for more information!

  • Ride the Bill Milne Trail (paved) to Wedge Pond, Kovach Pond Day Use (picnic area), Ribbon Creek, or Kananaskis Village! Note that there's a big hill between Kananaskis Village and Ribbon Creek which is why we start at Kovach Pond. The rest of the trail is fairly flat except for 2 km before Wedge Pond.
  • Hike the Troll Falls/Hay Meadow Loop.
  • Go fishing at Mount Lorette Ponds.
Bill Milne Trail
Mount Lorette Ponds
Hay Meadow
Mention: Nearby Kananaskis Valley is home to Sundance Lodges (tipis, trapper's tents, unserviced campsites), a private facility in Kananaskis with several amenities.

Activities in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

Family Friendly Hikes
  • Black Prince Cirque (4.3 km return)
    Black Prince Cirque, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park 
  • Boulton Creek Interpretive Trail (4.9 km loop)
  • Chester Lake (9.2 km): Closed until June 29, but worth the wait! See our trip report here.
    Chester Lake
  • Elbow Lake Trail (2.8 km return): This pretty alpine lake makes a great base camp for exploring the area's many trails. It's also a good fishing spot (small brook trout, please check Alberta Fishing Regulations for catch limits). Note that the winter gate on Highway 40 is closed until June 15, so the trail is closed until then. For more information on hiking and camping at Elbow Lake, please see this post: Camping at Elbow Lake Backcountry Campground.
Elbow Lake, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park
  • Lower Lake Trail (3.5 km one way) goes from Canyon Day Use to the lookout at the end of Bill Benson Trail. The trail is well shaded but offers good views of the lake!
  • Lower Lake Interpretive Trail (500 m) is a pleasant forest walk on a hot day. Take the trail to Bill Benson Trail which ends at the shores of Lower Kananaskis Lake.
  • Marl Lake Interpretive Trail (1.5 km loop from campground / 3.1 km return from amphitheater parking lot) departs from Elkwood Campground and is a wheelchair-accessible trail to a pretty lake.
    Snowshoe to Marl Lake in the winter!
  • Ptarmigan Cirque (4 km return): This beautiful hike is the best short hike in Kananaskis! Hike Highwood Meadows while you're there (same trailhead)! Note that the winter gate on Highway 40 is closed until June 15, so the trail is closed until then. 
    Ptarmigan Cirque, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park
  • Rawson Lake (~8 km return):  Hike past falls, through forest, and along boardwalks to a beautiful lake often frequented by wildlife. 
    • Extension: If someone can stay with the kids at the lake, go around the south side of the lake then up the ridge (called Sarrail Ridge or Rawson Ridge) on the north side for amazing views of Upper Kananaskis Lakes and the surrounding peaks! 
Rawson Lake, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park
Rawson Lake
  • Upper Lake Trail: From North Interlakes, hike 0.5-2 km to beaches along the shore. For a full day hike or multiday trip with kids, hike to the Point or Forks Campground and carry on to pretty Three Isle Lake. Northover Ridge is an amazing long/multi-day hike. From Upper Lake Day Use, hike as far as you wish around the lake.
Upper Lake Trail from North Interlakes Day Use
The Point, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park
Northover Ridge, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park
  • Paddle on Lower Kananaskis Lake: Canoe/kayak rentals available from Boulton Creek Trading Post (opens mid to late June); boat launches at Canyon and Interlakes. Canoe, kayak, and stand up paddleboard (SUP) rentals also available from Kananaskis Outfitters in Kananaskis Village.
  • Paddle on Upper Kananaskis Lake: Bring your own boat/SUP.
  • Bike the Peter Lougheed (paved) bike path to the lake / Boulton Creek Trading Post for an ice cream. Need to rent? Bike, Trail-a-Bike and inline skate rentals available from Boulton Creek Trading Post (opens June 17th). Kananaskis Outfitters in Kananaskis Village also rents bikes. 
    Boulton Creek Trading Post, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park
  • There are several other trails that connect to the Peter Lougheed Trail; trails that are ski trails in the winter! If hiking with younger riders, avoid Lookout, Whiskeyjack and Tyrwhitt as these have big hills. 
Ice cream stop at Boulton Creek Trading Post,
Peter Lougheed Provincial Park
  • Fishing at Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes is fantastic! Anyone over 16 years old must have a valid Alberta Fishing License. Please check and follow Alberta Fishing Regulations.
Beautiful bull trout I caught on Upper Kananaskis Lake!
Note: ALL Bull Trout are catch & release!!

What You Need to Know

When camping in Peter Lougheed Park, you really get away from it all!

You are in bear country so you must keep a bare site! This means all food, coolers, beverages and cookware MUST BE KEPT IN YOUR VEHICLE when you are not at your site or when you are sleeping. Last year a bear was put down because it was used to finding food in the campround and was getting too close to campground visitors. A fed bear is a dead bear! Materials may be confiscated and you will be fined and evicted from your site if food/cookware/drinks are not put away properly. For tips on hiking and backpacking in bear country, please see this post.

The nearest gas stations are at Fortress Junction (20 km north of Boulton Creek Campground on Highway 40) and Chiniki Village (76 km from Boulton Creek off of Highway 1).

There is no cell phone service, so plan ahead when/where you will meet other members of your party. There are pay phones at Boulton Creek, Canyon, Elkwood, and Lower Lake Campgrounds.

Flush toilets are available in the Visitor Information Centre as well as the shower buildings at Elkwood and Boulton Creek Campgrounds. Mount Kidd RV park also has flush toilets and showers.

There are camping stores at Boulton Creek Trading Post and Fortress Junction. On the way, stop at Kananaskis Outfitters in Kananaskis Village and check out their extensive collection of outdoor gear.

Where will you go first?

Disclosure: I am an Alberta Parks Ambassador, but all words and opinions are my own.

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