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, August 29, 2016

Siffleur Falls Trail, David Thompson Corridor

Siffleur Falls are located a hop, skip, and a jump off the Icefields Parkway, in the beautiful Kootenay Plains. Cross two bridges - including a cool suspension bridge - and long boardwalk, then enter a peaceful forest. Soon, you come to the edge of a massive gorge and powerfall falls. Keep away from the canyon's edge and stay behind viewing platforms and railings as there are huge dropoffs with rushing water below. Fun fact: Siffleur falls are named for the whistling sound marmots make (siffleur in French = whistling)!

Trail at a Glance

Trailhead: Siffleur Falls Trailhead, 65 km west of Nordegg (GPS Points: 52.050768, -116.412614)
*If driving from Nordegg, it is 1.7 km past Two O'Clock Creek Campground on the left side of the road.*
Distance: 8 km return (to 1st set of falls)
Elevation gain: 150 m
Difficulty: Easy
Geocaching: Yes
Washrooms: Pit toilets at trailhead
Stroller friendly: Yes, but there is one big hill.
Nearest Campground: Two O'Clock Creek Campground or random camping at Preacher's Point. Please practice leave no trace.

Siffleur Falls Trail
Siffleur Falls Trail Boardwalk
Please stay on the boardwalk to prevent erosion.

The biggest hill - the rest of the trail is fairly flat.
Siffleur Falls Warning Sign - a common sight as there have been some fatal accidents here.
Siffleur Canyon - stay back from the edge!
Siffleur Canyon
Siffleur Falls
Siffleur Falls Trail Suspension Bridge over the North Saskatchewan River
Two O'Clock Creek Campground
The kids found the hike easy and loved the bridge, boardwalk, and cute geocache near the falls (it's guarded by a small, magical creature! Hopefully it's still there when you go!). If you'd like to hike further, there are two more sets of falls. The second set of falls is 2.5 km past the first set, and the third set is hard to find due to a landslide, so I wouldn't recommend it at this time.

After your hike, relax on the shores of Abraham Lake or try your luck fishing at Fish Lake! For great pie, visit the Miner's Cafe in Nordegg. Hoodoo Creek is another great hike in the area.

Abraham Lake
Stay tuned for more fun things to do in the David Thompson Corridor!

More Alberta Road Trips

Friday, August 26, 2016

6 Bear-Free Alberta Road Trips

If you don't want to worry about trail closures and bear advisories, head south-east to bear-free parks! Those who need their weekly dose of mountain time will enjoy the Lake Louise road trip (trip #5 below).

  1. Kinbrook Island Provincial Park boasts a beautiful beach on the shores of Lake Newell. This park, with the largest and warmest manmade lake in Alberta, is only 2 hours from Calgary! Enjoy boating, fishing, beach time, and amazing birding on the 4.5 km interpretive wetland trail. If you'd like to stay for the weekend, there's a campground here too! Visit Alberta Parks for more information.
    Kinbrook Island Provincial Park
  2. Dinosaur Provincial Park is a land of hoodoos and dramatic badlands. Take advantage of the shorter days and get some out of this world dramatic sunset photos or go on a guided tour to see fossils in-situ that aren't accessible to the public. Go for the day, camp in the park, or stay in nearby Brooks. 220 km from Calgary. For more information, please see my post: Exploring Dinosaur Provincial Park
    Dinosaur Provincial Park
  3. Drumheller is home to the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology, the World's Largest Dinosaur, and a rich history. Bike from downtown to the museum and check out mining relics in Midland Provincial Park en route, visit the hoodoos at Willow Creek Hoodoo Provincial Recreation Site, or tour the Atlas Coal Museum and climb the tipple, ride a train, or explore an underground tunnel. Allow a few hours for each museum. 135 km from Calgary. 
    Drumheller Badlands River Pathway
    Midland Provincial Park
    Exhibit at the Tyrrell Museum
    World's Largest Dinosaur
  4. Elkwater, Cypress Hills Provincial Park has a small, warm lake with sandy beaches, several campgrounds, a pleasant lakeside trail, and mountain biking trails. Come in winter for cross country skiing! For more details, please see Trip Report: Cypress Hills Provincial Park. 359 km from Calgary.
    Elkwater Lake, Alberta
    Elkwater Lake, Alberta
    Beach on Elkwater Lake
  5. The Lake Louise Sightseeing Gondola takes you way up Whitehorn Mountain for phenomenal views of Mount Temple, Mount Fairview, and the Victoria Glacier. If you're lucky, you might see a grizzly from the gondola, but never fear, the area at the top of the gondola is fenced off with an electric bear-proof fence. Explore the Wildlife Interpretive Centre then enjoy a gourmet lunch at Whitehorn Lodge before heading down. There are some amazing hikes beyond the electric fence; group hiking and bear spray recommended. For more info, please see this post: Lake Louise Sightseeing Gondola - Great For All Ages. 184 km from Calgary.
    View from Kicking Horse Viewpoint
    On the way to Kicking Horse Viewpoint
  6. Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park is a magical land of hoodoos, First Nation petroglyphs (rock carvings), and pictographs (rock paintings) in the beautiful Milk River Valley.  For the best experience, book a tour ($) in advance so you can see parts of the park not open to the public, and don't miss the free evening interpretive programs. 340 km from Calgary. See our trip report hereThank you Sonja from Sonja's Super Suggestions for YYC Families for the beautiful photos!! *UPDATE (May 2017): The first bear sighing in 70 years was in April 2017, so while it is extremely unlikely you will see a bear, I can no longer guarantee that Writing on Stone is bear free.*
Writing on Stone Provincial Park
Image Credit: Sonja Hayes-Powers
Petroglyphs at Writing on Stone Provincial Park
Image Credit: Sonja Hayes-Powers
Have the bear advisories/warnings and trail closures made you change your summer travel plans? We had to cancel our backcountry camping trip to the Point and Forks as the Upper Kananaskis Lake Circuit was closed due to "multiple grizzlies feeding on berries along the trail". We went to Lundbreck Falls instead!

More Great Road Trips

Thursday, August 25, 2016

This Doll Loves Banff and We Love Her! Maplelea Taryn Doll Review & Giveaway

Meet Taryn, the newest addition to our family. Hailing from beautiful Banff National Park, Taryn loves nature, camping, and the great outdoors. With her hiking boots, backpack, tent, sleeping bag and pj's, she's ready to go backpacking! Sound like someone you know? My girls can relate to her in a way they can't with other dolls and enjoy reading her journal and helping her add entries as they take new adventures together.

Designed by a Canadian mom for Canadian girls, Maplelea 18" dolls are beautifully made with silky hair, eyes that open and close, poseable arms and legs, a soft, huggable body, and no scary makeup or weird proportions.

Big POG and Taryn taking baby skunk for a walk
Taryn and her accessories are high quality. Over the past few months, my 5 year old and 7 year old have dressed and undressed her, dragged her around by one arm (apparently how you show love when you're almost in kindergarten, LOL), ripped the tent open umpteen times to shove more stuff in and "make it more comfy", and everything is still good as new. Don't forget lifting the skunk's tail a million times to spray people. If that's not thorough testing, I don't know what is!

Maplelea Taryn Collection
Image Credit: Maplelea
When I asked my girls what they love best about Taryn, they said:
  • It's cool that she's from Banff! (We frequently go to Banff; it's only an hour from home!)
    • We like the same things! (Taryn's favorite thing to do with her family is go camping and roast marshmallows.)
    • Her hair is really nice. It's like real hair! I like doing her hair!
    • I like her cute clothes and pajamas.
    • I love her because she came with animals and the animals can move! (The fox is fully adjustable, skunk has an adjustable tail, and the deer stands up on its own.)
    • I like her tent because it's like a real tent. Her backpack is cool too because it has buckles like a real one.
    • It's fun to read her journal and find out what she likes.
    Little POG loves Taryn!
    While I agree with my daughters 100%, I have to add a few points from a mother's perspective. If Taryn were a real person, she's the kind of girl I'd want my girls to play with. She won a Citizenship Award in school, is in the Environmental Club, would keep disrespectful tourists out of the park if she had superpowers, and loves skiing, camping, and skating. I read all this in her journal (shhhh, don't tell!) and her journal has inspired my 7 year old to start one of her own! The first entry was "My Raincation" since this summer has been the rainiest Alberta has seen in 89 years.

    I also love that Taryn dresses sensibly in clothes that cover her butt. With so many scary and skanky dolls on the shelves, it's great to have wholesome options. More outfits are available on the Maplelea website, but Taryn can wear any clothes for 18" dolls. Accessories may be stored in the beautiful keepsake box that comes with each Maplelea doll. If your kids are learning to tie their shoes, they'll get lots of practice with Taryn's boots!

    Tying Taryn's boots. Note the fasteners on the tent flaps and windows!
    Last but not least, Taryn's journal offers opportunities to learn more about Canada's heritage, culture, and geography. This is especially important to us as my husband is a teacher and I have a Geography degree. When you combine playtime with learning, lessons are retained better! We read through the information about Banff (it was accurate), Taryn's wish to end global warming, and talked about how the glaciers are shrinking and what we could do to slow that process. After seeing the Athabasca Glacier (just north of Banff National Park) this summer, the girls were very curious about what causes glaciers to shrink and how humans can reduce their impact on the environment.

    Taryn's Journal (comes with doll)
    Taryn would make a great gift for young adventurers as she's a positive role model, fun to play with (that hair!), high quality, and super cute. Built to last, she can be a part of the family for a long time.

    Maplelea Taryn Collection
    Do you know someone who would love a Taryn doll? Buy the complete Taryn collection online ($68 off for a limited time) or enter to win a Maplelea doll of your choice! Giveaway open to Canadian and US Residents only. Contest closes August 30, 2016.

    Disclosure: Maplelea generously provided us with a complete Taryn collection for review, but all words and opinions are my own. I take great pride in reviewing quality products and providing honest reviews.


    Prize: ONE Maplelea Girls doll of winner's choosing. See complete choices here. Accessories (tent, backpack, animals) sold separately.
    Eligibility: Open to residents of Canada & the U.S. Entrants must complete the mandatory entries in the Rafflecopter form below.
    Contest closes August 30, 2016 at 11:59 pm MDT.

    a Rafflecopter giveaway

    Tuesday, August 16, 2016

    How can we safely share nature with wildlife?

    In an effort to protect park users, local parks have implemented multiple wildlife advisories, trail closures, tenting bans, and even put down two wolves. Some recent incidents that triggered these measures include the following:
    Why is this happening and how can we reduce the number of human-wildlife conflicts? Large predators (bears, wolves, cougars) have always lived in our mountain parks, but this year we are dealing with a bumper berry crop after two years of drought, record numbers of park visitors, and hordes of ignorant campers/hikers who refuse to abide by the rules. While conservationists would remind us that habitat loss is an important part of the equation (and they would be right), the biggest thing we can do right now is change our behaviour so we are not part of the problem. The wolves that were recently killed in Banff and the bear killed at Mount Kidd Campground in Kananaskis in 2013 were habituated, essentially trained to eat human food.

    When we stayed at Tunnel Mountain Campground in Banff last month (July 2016), one in three campers in our loop left food bins, coolers, garbage, barbecues, and/or dog food out at unattended campsites (all night or for several hours) despite tons of signage advising otherwise. It's no wonder that wolves were frequenting the campground (and the Two Jack campgrounds) for meals! Sadly, the wolves paid with their lives and careless campers continue to make the same mistakes. It's just as easy for this to happen with bears too.

    So how can we share natural spaces with wildlife safely? In a way that neither endangers humans nor wildlife?

    Here are 6 ways to share nature safely with wildlife.

    1. Respect Wildlife: One of the seven tenets of Leave No Trace is to respect wildlife. Keep your distance, don't touch them, never ever feed them, and don't leave food out for them. This goes for all creatures, large and small. If you've ever been in touristy areas overrun with problem ground squirrels stealing your food or going in your vehicle, you know what I'm talking about! If not, take my word for it. Besides, Cheetos aren't good for anyone. Wild animals need to eat wild food! Did you know the fine for feeding wildlife in the national parks is up to $25,000?
      Don't feed wildlife!

    2. Educate Others: Some people have never seen a bear and don't believe that one would come into a crowded campground. Of course, that is not the case. Do what you must - if you have to scare the bejeesus outta them to make them put their shit away, so be it. I like telling people that bears come around the campground every night after you go to sleep. Works like a charm! Likewise, many people don't seem to understand that very placid looking moose, elk, or bison can hurt you if you get too close, approach their babies, or are within 100 metres of them during rutting season (when males are extremely territorial). Keep your distance, please!

    Bison near our site in Yellowstone National Park

    3. Say No To Bear Jams: Stopping on the side of a twisty mountain road is not only dangerous from a traffic perspective, it accustoms bears to human company. As civilized as that sounds, you do not want to have tea with a bear (guess who will be doing all the eating?). Slow down and snap a photo from the car if you must, but please don't stop. If you're brave enough, you can lay on the horn as you drive by to break the bear jam up. When I spoke with WildSmart educators last month, they advised me this was a helpful thing to do (but to expect some ticked off people - one of their employees was tailed and harassed for doing so).

    4. Be Bear (and Wolf! and Cougar!) Aware:  By making noise and hiking in a group, it is very unlikely you will ever see a large predator on the trails. You should, however,  carry bear spray for insurance and know how to use it. For more bear safety tips, please see this post.

    See! Bears DO hang out near campgrounds!

    5. Respect Trail Closures: Trails are closed on a temporary or seasonal basis for a variety of reasons: prime wildlife habitat, environmentally sensitive area, caribou winter grounds, mountain sheep calving area, carnivores feeding on a carcass, mother bears with cubs. You may put yourself at risk entering these areas, or you may endanger wildlife. I heard a sad story this summer of how the caribou population near Maligne Lake was decimated. The Maligne Lake Road and winter backcountry users allowed wolves to get in to an area historically safe for the caribou in winter (caribou have big hooves to travel on snow, wolves cannot move through deep snow). It is unlikely that Maligne Lake herd will last long with only 3 individuals left. We need to think of the long term effects of our actions and choose another path.

    6. Keep a Bare Site: All food and attractants must be put away when you are not at your campsite or when you go to sleep at night. This includes coolers (bears can smell 100 times better than us and can smell food inside them!), garbage, empty bottles, toothpaste, bug spray, pet food, barbecues, and dishes. If you are backcountry camping, hang your food high in a tree at least 100 metres from your tent or utilize the campground's bearproof food lockers or bear wires for all food and attractants. It's safer for you and your campmates and ensures animals don't get rewarded for sniffing around camp.

    Are there any other ways we can help wildlife? I would love to hear them!

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    Wednesday, August 10, 2016

    William A. Switzer Provincial Park Recreation Guide

    William A. Switzer Provincial Park is a foothills oasis near Hinton, AB with five lakes to explore. The calm waters are inviting to paddlers of all levels and more experienced paddlers will enjoy tackling the Jarvis Creek Canoe Circuit. A network of hiking and bike trails connects the lakes, and the Hinton Nordic Centre has 35 kilometres of rolling trails that are groomed for cross country skiing in the winter! When it's time to relax, stretch out on the sand at Jarvis Lake's beach.

    We spent 4 days at Switzer Park in mid-July and found it a pleasant change of pace from the National Parks. Lake time without the crowds!


    Switzer's lakes are the main attraction. Calm, clear waters make for a great experience no matter your skill level. We enjoyed paddling to the northern end of Gregg Lake and visiting a small island, beaver dam, and bird houses near the private residences. We had to work a bit harder on the return as the water flows north out of the lake, but it was still an easy, beautiful paddle.

    Paddling on Gregg Lake, Switzer Park
    Kayaking on Gregg Lake, Switzer Park
    If you would like to try moving water, paddle the Jarvis Creek Interpretive Route (4 km one way). More experienced paddlers can paddle the entire Jarvis Creek circuit from Jarvis Lake to Gregg Lake, but must be able to navigate sweepers, beaver dams and strong currents. Portages are required on both routes during low water flow and a car shuttle is recommended unless you want to paddle both ways. A detailed brochure outlining the routes is available at Kelley's Bathtub Visitor Centre. More information is available from Alberta Parks.

    Jarvis Lake
    Canoe, kayak, and stand-up paddleboard rentals are available at Gregg Lake and Jarvis Lake boat launches from Switzer Park Paddleboard Rentals.


    Jarvis Lake has a sandy beach perfect for sunbathing and building sand castles as well as a playground!

    Picturesque Kelley's Bathtub has a small patch of sand (a few metres long) which is fun for the kids if you're hiking there or visiting the Visitor Centre. Hiking info follows.

    Kelley's Bathtub, Switzer Park


    Switzer's hikes have minimal elevation gain, so they're perfect for children!

    Kelley's Bathtub (1 km loop) was our favorite short hike in the area. Jokingly named for a local hunter and outdoorsman who fell in (before the boardwalk was built), the pool's calm waters make for perfect reflections and pretty pictures. Walk around the pond and across a short boardwalk that separates it from Jarvis Lake. Afterwards, grab an ice cream bar and check out the exhibits in the Visitor Centre! There are picnic tables and washrooms here too.
    Trailhead: Kelley's Bathtub Visitor Centre.

    Kelley's Bathtub Trail
    For a longer hike, try Friendly Vista (2.5 km loop). Bird watch, look for moose, and take a break at the various viewpoints along the lake. Insider tip: Be sure to pick up a Family Adventure Backpack from the information centre so you can solve clues at each interpretive stop.
    Trailhead: Kelley's Bathtub Visitor Centre.

    Viewpoint on Friendly Vista Trail
    Kettle (3.5 km) interpretive trail takes you on the path of ancient glaciers. Walk along an esker (winding gravel ridge deposited by glaciers) to a kettle lake left behind when the glaciers retreated. We didn't get a chance to do this hike, but it was highly recommended by parks staff.
    Trailhead: Behind the Gregg Lake campground shower building. 

    Athabasca Lookout (1.5 km) is a short climb to a viewpoint overlooking the Solomon Valley. From this vantage, you can see all the way to the Rockies! Head northwest across the ridge to leave the cell phone towers behind. The best part of the hike was all the wildflowers! 
    Trailhead: Luge Parking Lot, Hinton Nordic Centre.

    Athabasca Lookout
    Athabasca Lookout Trail

    Mountain Biking and Cross Country Skiing

    Bike or hike Jarvis Lake Trail (13.5 km) and Gregg Lake Trail (2.5 or 4 km). These gravel trails are rolly and suitable for kids on 20" bikes, but it's possible to bike and hike with younger kids as the hills are not too big. For forest, meadows and creeks, try the Jarvis Lake Trail. Gregg Lake's trail has mixed forest and some of the biggest aspens I've ever seen. We walked the Gregg Lake Trail as my mom didn't have a bike with her. Insider tip: Stop at the campground registration building for an ice cream treat!

    Gregg Lake Trail
    For more challenging trails, try the hilly, forested trails at the Hinton Nordic Centre. Mountain bike in the summer and cross country ski in the winter on 35+ km of maintained trails! (Day use/season's pass fees are in effect in winter.) 


    Jarvis Creek is stocked with brown trout and may be a good place to try. Locals also recommended Cache Lake and Petite Lake. Unfortunately the Trout Pond was already fished out, so we had no luck there and we got skunked at Gregg Lake (4 times), but heard that winter ice fishing for whitefish is pretty good.

    Trout Pond


    There are several great campgrounds to choose from in Switzer Park.

    Gregg Lake Campground has the most amenities including showers, amphitheatre, playground, and power, power & water, or unserviced sites. Sites were well shaded. The only downside is that sites are quite close together. Reservable.

    We chose to stay at Gregg Lake Lakeside to be closer to the lake. While these unserviced sites were not directly lakeside, the day use playground and boat launch were a short walk away. There is a large cook shelter, swing set, water pumps, and pit toilets in this loop. Sites were close together, but the campground was quiet, so we slept well. All sites were partially shaded. Reservable.

    Gregg Lake Lakeside Campsite
    Gregg Lake Lakeside Cook Shelter
    Gregg Lake Lakeside Playground
    Jarvis Lake, Cache Lake, and Graveyard Lake campgrounds have unserviced sites. 
    • Jarvis Lake looked the most appealing as it has a boat launch, playground, and beach with many shaded sites and walk-in tent sites. Reservable.
    • Cache Lake is smaller (14 sites), but has treed sites and a playground. FCFS.
    • Graveyard Lake is the smallest campground with 7 sites in an open grassy area. FCFS.
    One of the best things about camping here is that there are no trains going by to wake you up in the night! It was quiet at night and we could see tons of stars.

    Other Activities

    Switzer Park has excellent programming throughout the week including:
    • Art in the Park at the Gregg Lake Boat Launch (so much fun!), 
    • Amphitheatre shows at Gregg Lake, 
    • Presentations at Gregg Lake Campground, and 
    • Family activities like pond dipping.  
    Art in the Park
    (Tables were set up on shore, but the girls wanted to dry their paintings on the dock.)

    Check at the Visitor Centre or your campground for upcoming events.

    Getting Here

    Switzer Park is located about 30 km north of Hinton, Alberta on Highway 40 (paved). From Calgary, it is a 5.5 hour drive on Hwy 2 & 16, or 6 hour drive via the Icefields Parkway (Hwy 93N) or Cowboy Trail (Hwy 22).


    I would recommend Switzer Park to families who like to get off the beaten path and spend lots of time on the water. This is a great place to paddle! 

    Disclosure: As an Alberta Parks Ambassador, I received free camping, but all words and opinions are my own.

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