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, April 28, 2016

Things to Do this Weekend in Calgary, Banff, and Kananaskis: Apr 29 - May 1, 2016

Now that the days are long, we can spend more time outdoors and go further afield.. or a-mountain? Happy adventuring! For current trail conditions, see the parks pages or my Trip Reports page.


CALGARY

1. Visit Bow Habitat Station and then bike to the new East Village Playground (located directly south of the George C. King Bridge between Fort Calgary and the Simmons Building). Grab a coffee at Phil & Sebastian or pick up to-die-for pastries from Sidewalk Citizen Artisan Bakery; both in the Simmons Building. Nearby St. Patrick's Island is fun to explore too with its playground and wading area.
East Village Playground
Feeding the fish at Bow Habitat Station
2. Fly a kite at Nose Hill Park and visit the Medicine Wheel (near 14 St NW Entrance, just south of the radio tower).
Nose Hill Park Medicine Wheel
3. Bike to the Calgary Zoo and visit the baby gorilla! Start near the curling club or for a longer ride, start at Edworthy Park.
4. Visit your local YMCA on May 1st for Healthy Kids Day. There will be free activities and opportunities to learn about health and wellness.

5. Learn something new at MEC Calgary's Free Events: Bear Awareness 101 (April 29, 12-1 pm) and Paddleboarding 101 (May 1, 12-1 pm).

Monday, May 2 – Sunday, May 8, 2016: Try Outdoor Rock Climbing For A Toonie (lessons and drop-in) at Beltline Aquatic & Fitness Centre! 221 12 Ave SW Calgary.

BANFF / LAKE LOUISE

Most of the trails around Banff townsite as well as Stewart Canyon, Lake Minnewanka Lakeshore Trail, and Johnston Canyon are in good condition. Sulphur Mountain Trail is closed due to avalanche danger, but you can take the gondola up from May 1st on!

Lake Louise hiking trails are still snow covered with significant avalanche risk in some areas, but there is lots of fun to be had at Lake Louise Ski Resort to celebrate the end of ski season.

1. Look for the hermit cabin at Johnson Lake, Banff. There's a fun 3 km loop around the lake with great views of Cascade Mountain and Mount Rundle. The hermit cabin is just off the trail, near the SW corner of the lake. Bring your canoe for an early-season paddle! Grab dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory after (our kids' favorite place!) or get authentic Japanese food from Chaya.
Billy Carver's old cabin
Johnson Lake, Banff

2.Take the Banff Gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain and do the super scenic hike to the cosmic ray station! The gondola will open on May 1st! Details from Brewster Travel Canada here. During peak season, take the complimentary shuttle from downtown to the gondola! (Leaves from Banff International Hotel and Evelyn's Coffee Bar every 15 minutes from 10am-6pm. Last shuttle leaves the gondola at 6:15 pm.)

Sulphur Mountain, Banff
3. Check out Shake the Lake at Lake Louise Ski Resort. There are several events to celebrate the end of the ski season this weekend:
  • Saturday, April 30: Rail Jam - free, Bikinis for Breast Cancer - free, Salomon SRD Park Jam - $20, Shake the Lake After Party at Lodge of Ten Peaks- $40.
  • Saturday, April 30 & Sunday, May 1, 12 pm - 5 pm. Closing Weekend Celebration. Live music, bouncy castle and more!
4. Go geocaching in Banff and earn an official Banff National Park Geocoin! You only need to find 3 geocaches in Banff National Park to be eligible (and pay $4 for the geocoin).
  • Hint: There are 2 geocaches on Tunnel Mountain!
  • More information from Parks Canada here.
  • Learn how to geocache with your smartphone here.
Tunnel Mountain, Banff

KANANASKIS

Most trails around Bragg Creek, Barrier Lake, and Canmore are in good shape, so I  recommend those areas over others. Please check Kananaskis Trail Reports before you head out as there are a lot of advisories including the following:
  • Kananaskis Village had a controlled burn this week that may affect some trails in the valley including the Bill Milne Trail. 
  • There's a bear advisory for the Sibbald Flats area which includes Powderface and Jumpingpound Loop. More info here.
  • Peter Lougheed still has a lot of snow, especially at higher elevations and around Chester Lake; beware of postholes if you go off trail as the snow is softening up. 
  • Avoid the Montane Trail in Bow Valley Provincial Park right now as there is an aggressive grouse there!
1. Hike Prairie Mountain near Bragg Creek. Visit Elbow Falls while you're there (it's across from the trailhead) and stop for ice cream in Bragg Creek on the way home. We like Frontier Candy & Ice Cream on Balsam Avenue or Scoops and Snacks on White Ave, but if you're in a hurry, the gas stations are well stocked with ice cream bars!


2. Prairieview Trail and Barrier Lake Fire Lookout is another popular spring hike. The view is nice from Prairieview Lookout, but if you're able to make it to the fire lookout, you get stunning 360 views!
Barrier Lake Fire Lookout, Bow Valley Provincial Park
3. Shorter options include Grassi LakesHeart Creek, Troll Falls, and Mount Lorette Ponds. We often do Troll Falls and Mount Lorette Ponds on the same day as they're short and in the same area. Mount Lorette has a nice picnic area (a few spots even have firepits - bring your own firewood)!

Heart Creek (near Canmore)

More Fun Stuff to Do This Weekend!

Happy Trails! Where will you go first?? 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Fun Family Backpacking - Part 1

My husband and I love backcountry camping and were over the moon when we could do it as a family. While there is no perfect age to start your kids backpacking, we chose to wait until our kids could hike in on their own. (There was no way we were going to pack two kids under 2 years old!) With the kids independently mobile, we were able to bring all the essentials plus a few fun extras, so we didn't feel like we were roughing it at all. We can't wait to go backpacking again!

In this installment of Fun Family Backpacking, I will cover the following topics:
  • How to start
  • How much kids can carry & what they should carry
  • Where to Go!! 5 trips under 5 km (see #4 below)!
  • How to reduce pack weight
  • Water treatment options
  • How far to hike each day and how often to take breaks
  • Snacks, hydration, and how to poop in the woods
  • Tips for fun hiking 



1. Ease into it: Walk-­in camping (100 – 500 metres) is a great way to ease into backpacking. Don't take your kids on the West Coast Trail right off the bat! Can you manage carrying your gear and your child's gear (and your child if she's too young to walk)? For how long? Test all your backpacking gear and make sure it meets your needs. 
Lake O'Hara, Yoho National Park
2. Don't overload the kids: If you want your children to go the distance, you can't expect them to carry too much. In fact, young children should not carry more than 10-15% of their body weight1! In other words, your 40 pound kindergartner should not carry more than 4-6 pounds. What should children have in their packs? Each child should carry basic wilderness survival gear including water, a nonperishable snack, and a jacket. A whistle is a must for everyone in your group so they can signal for help in the event they are separated from you! Older children may be able to carry their own clothes and/or sleeping bags and sleeping pads. 
The JetScream Whistle is a super loud, high quality, pealess whistle

3. Pack as light as possible: Since YOU will be carrying most of the gear, invest in the lightest gear you can afford. Your tent, backpack, and sleeping bags are the heaviest items you will carry, so upgrade them before you think of cutting the handles off your toothbrushes or packing less food. You can also save weight by carrying less water if you will be in an area with many streams and lakes. Treat or filter your water on the go (and carry a good topo map so you can find water bodies)! 
  • How to Choose a Tent: Look for a reinforced bathtub floor, dual doors, full fly, strong tent poles, and large vestibule(s) for storing gear. For family backpacking, I recommend a dome tent; check dimensions to ensure it will fit on a backcountry tent pad*. Alternately, you could bring 2 tents; this works well for larger families or families with older kids so the parents can sleep in one and kids in another. (*The tent pads at Lake O'Hara backcountry campground are 2.7 m x 2.7 m.) Choose a tent on the lighter side, but don't compromise on quality (some ultralight setups are flimsy).
  • How to Choose Camp Bedding for the Whole Family: We prefer down sleeping bags and Thermarest self-inflating mattresses for warmth, comfort, size and weight, but there are several less expensive options. 
  • Water Treatment Options (and Water Purifier Review): This review looks at the pros and cons of the PA Pure water purifier vs Steripen and water filter. The pocket-sized PA Pure can treat up to 20L at once, has a small solar panel to recharge its battery, and kills all bacteria, protozoa and viruses (allow 4 hours for cysts). The downside is that it puts chemicals in your water and you must remember to carry salt to make the purifying solution. The Steripen uses UV light to treat the water, is light and compact, but is not 100% effective with cloudy water, especially against larger microbes like giardia, and requires batteries. Filters require no batteries and leave no taste, but are expensive, can't remove viruses and can become clogged in silty water (My $200 ceramic filter was rendered useless within 2 yrs; a replacement cartridge was $100). For these reason, we carry more than one device to make water safe to drink (usually PA Pure and water filter). Other options include chlorine drops, iodine, or water purification tablets. 
We really like our MEC Wanderer Tent!
Potable Aqua PURE Hydrolytic Water Purifier
4. Keep It Short: I've heard parents say “There were tears.” when talking about their first family backpacking experiences. While not all meltdowns are avoidable, most meltdowns usually happen when kids are hungry, tired, or at their limits. If your children typically conk out at the 5 kilometre mark, try not to exceed 5 kilometres per day. Bonus for you? The sooner you get to camp, the sooner you can get that heavy pack off! 
  • Where to Go: All of these backpacking trips are less than 5 km.
    • Elbow Lake, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park (1.3 km);
    • The Point Campground, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park (3.4 km);
    • Jewell Bay, Bow Valley Provincial Park (3.9 km); 
    • Laughing Falls, Yoho National Park (4.4 km); and
    • Quaite Valley, Bow Valley Provincial Park (4.7 km). 
    • ADVISORIES: Elk Lakes "Backcountry travel not recommended at this time due to unsafe trail conditions, limited access and ongoing construction and rehabilitation work. Big Elbow: "Section between Little Elbow and Big Elbow Backcountry Campground damaged during 2013 flood."
    Elbow Lake, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park
Laughing Falls, Yoho National Park
The Point Campground, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park is on the mid-right.
5. Take Lots of Breaks: In addition to limiting hike length, break up hiking time. Take a break every 1­-2 kilometres or less if the terrain is really challenging. Breaks don't have to be long, but they are necessary to let little legs recharge and keep everyone in good spirits. If it's hot, find shade or water to cool off in. If it's cold, keep breaks as short as possible.
  • SnacksQuick & Healthy Snacks for On-the-Go Families
  • Treats: M&Ms (more melt-resistant than chocolate bars), fruit gummies, bubble gum, cookies
  • Hydration: Take frequent sips of water to avoid dehydration. Dehydration can make you feel crummy and is dangerous too! Check your kids' water bottles / hydration packs regularly to ensure they're drinking. If the weather is cool, try a warm drink as kids often won't want to drink something cold on a cold day.
  • Potty time: My most dreaded 5 words on the trail are “I have to go poo.” Even more than bears – we make too much noise to see any – #2 on the trail is a nightmare if you're unprepared. Keep the toilet kit handy! Pack a shovel, toilet paper, wipes, and copious amounts of Ziploc bags so you can double  bag the mess if the terrain is not diggable (ever try digging a cathole in frozen ground or above treeline)? Once you get to camp, dispose of #2 and toilet paper in the outhouse, but pack out the bags. 
Homemade trail mix is the best!
6. Take a rest day: Most children are not used to hiking long distances day after day and may not want to go backpacking again if they're never given downtime. Take a rest after a hard day so everyone can get recharged for the return trip. We did exactly that after hiking in the rain all day through mud and slippery roots and after a day of rest, the girls practically ran back to the trailhead. 


7. Keep It Fun: While on the trail, we like geocaching, singing, and playing Follow the Leader, I Spy, or impromptu scavenger hunts (How many kinds of flowers can you find?). Geocaching is great for enticing the girls to hike another few hundred metres to the next cache. Singing is amazing for morale and safety as it announces your presence to wildlife. Not a singer? Play a never ending story game, 20 questions, or word game. That works too!
Happy Hikers Playing Horsie
8. Bring fun stuff to play with at camp! While most kids will make their own fun, a few extras can make for a really memorable trip. We like to bring fishing gear, glow sticks, a favorite small doll for each girl, and e­-reader for bedtime stories. 
Sunset fishing makes for a perfect evening!
Stay tuned for more tips for fun family backpacking! Part 2 will go into more detail regarding what to gear to bring, and Part 3 will cover backpacking food. 

What else would you like to know about family backpacking?

Reference

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Your Weekend Planner - Earth Day Edition (April 22-24)

Earth Day is a time to think about how we can reduce our impact on the Earth and take care of wild spaces. Following leave no trace guidelines when hiking is awesome, but what can we do in our daily lives to make a difference? Can we drive less, buy less, or recycle more? Probably... (I know I can!) While we work on that, one of  the simplest thing parents can do is offer children opportunities to connect with nature so they will (hopefully) want to protect it. Here are 10 ways to celebrate Earth Day on April 22nd and every day!

"In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught." Baba Dioum

1. Take a Hike. Getting out into nature is the best way to appreciate it! I recommend the following family-friendly hikes:
Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park
Middle Lake, Bow Valley Provincial Park
Prairie Mountain
2. Have a litter-less picnic (pack only reuseable food and beverage containers!).
  • There are great picnic areas in town at Bowness Park, Edworthy Park, North Glenmore Park, South Glenmore Park, Prairie Winds Park, Pearce Estate Park, Sandy Beach Park, Shouldice Park, Stanley Park, and Fish Creek Park (Bebo Grove). 
  • Out of town picnic areas to try include Middle Lake, Bow Valley Provincial Park; Mount Lorette Ponds, Kananaskis; Wedge Pond, Kananaskis; Alan Bill, Bragg Creek; and Cascade Pond, Banff. If you're up for an 18 km bike ride, enjoy a picnic at Forget-Me-Not Pond near Bragg Creek! It's usually extremely busy, but with the winter gate on Hwy 66 closed (until May 15), it's quiet and peaceful.
  • If you have a picnic blanket, any park will do!
  • Erin Kirkland's article provides tips on having a spontaneous pop-up picnic.
  • For a DIY Cutlery Roll Tutorial, please see this post.
    Wedge Pond, Kananaskis
    Forget-Me-Not Pond
    (9 km from Hwy 66 winter gate near Elbow Falls, no car access until May 15)
    Mount Lorette Ponds, Kananaskis
3. Read The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss (or watch the movie). This powerful story show what happens when things are made at a factory: displacement of wildlife, deforestation, pollution, etc., but ends on a hopeful note. Appropriate for kids of all ages.

4. Go birding. Migratory birds have returned, so ponds and wetlands are full of song and color! Some of the best places for birdwatching in Calgary are: Carburn Park, Ralph Klein Park, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, Pearce Estate Park, and Weaselhead. 
  • Not familiar with birds? There's an app for that! Try the free Merlin Bird ID app from Cornell University. For a tutorial on how to use it, please see my writeup here.
Carburn Park
Pearce Estate Park
Merlin Bird ID App Screenshot
5. Plant a tree! Beautify your yard, make shade and a home for birds, and reduce CO2 all at the same time. A succulent or drought-resistant shrub is a good option if you don't have room for another tree.

6. Go on a Scavenger Hunt. Around Calgary, look for the following: prairie crocus, Canada goose, robin, dandelion, butterfly, pussy willows / catkins, cherry/apple blossoms, nest, and new leaves. Wild Tales Of has a printable Spring Scavenger hunt PDF here.

Prairie Crocuses
7. Combine geocaching with park cleanup. Geocachers call it cache in, trash out. Trash is often blown into bushes where geocaches are hidden, so see who can collect the most litter! To learn how to geocache with your smart phone, see this post.

A large geocache
8. Go on a car-free adventure! Choose a destination and then see how you can get there without the car. Will you walk, ride your bike, roller blade, scoot, or take the bus? Whether you're going to school or visiting a park across town, kids will enjoy being part of the decision-making process.

Confluence Park
9. Take an evening walk. Shut out the lights and go outside! Combine this with #6 (scavenger hunt) for a fun activity.

Enjoy the golden hour!
10. Gather and Donate Unused Household Items. Your cupboards will be less cluttered and someone somewhere will benefit from new-to-them stuff.

Now back to our usual programming... check out these events around Calgary and spring crafts!

Events This Weekend

Saturday, April 23 & Sunday, April 24, 11 am - 7 pm: YYC Food Trucks Spring Frenzy
East Village C-Square, 429 8 Ave SE
15+ food trucks, live music, entertainment & giveaways!

Saturday, April 23, 4-6 pm: Free Concert at the Cave Featuring Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy
Cave & Basin, Banff.
This looks like an amazing concert! Fingers crossed the weather holds!
~Thanks Jill M. for the heads up! 

Sunday, April 24, 11 am - 4 pm: Okotoks Kite Day Festival
Riverside Park, Okotoks
Kite flying demos, bouncy house, face painting, trampoline & fundraiser BBQ

April 1- May 31: Spring Alive Festival in Banff / Lake Louise 
Spring Alive celebrates "the ARTS, CULTURE + WELLNESS diversity that Banff and Lake Louise have to offer." Various activities and venues. See the calendar for event listings.

Crafts

GoAdventureMom has the motherlode of spring home decor crafts in her recent post here.


For more ideas on what to do in Calgary this weekend, please see last week's Weekend Planner!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Flowing Water Trail, Bow Valley Provincial Park

Flowing Water Interpretive Trail, located in Bow Valley Provincial Park, has boardwalks, stairs, a marsh with beaver dam, and river all packed into a 2.4 km loop. Go in summer for the wildflowers and camp at nearby Willow Rock campground or Bow Valley campground! There's great rafting on the Kananaskis River too! For more hikes in Bow Valley Provincial Park, please see this post. I highly recommend going for a picnic at Middle Lake after the hike!


Flowing Water Interpretive Trail At a Glance

Distance: 2.4 km loop (official hike is 1.4 km, access to trailhead is 1 km return)
Elevation Gain: n/a
Time: Allow 1 hour
Nearest Washrooms: Willow Rock Campground
Stroller Friendly? No 
Geocaches: No
Trailhead: Located near the shower building. The sign says 0.5 km to Flowing Water Trail.
Distance from Calgary: 78 km
Directions: Head west on the Trans Canada Highway (Hwy 1), until you get to the Exshaw / Bow Valley Provincial Park exit. From Hwy 1x, take your first right into the Willow Rock Campground. The hike is just under an hour from Calgary!
Parking: Park at Willow Rock Campground (near the showers).


The moisture makes for lush vegetation!
Wildflowers

Flowing Water Trail
Flowing Water Trail - watch for cow parsnip (white flowers above) - it stings!
Flowing Water Trail
Lookout over the Kananaskis River
Heading down to the river
Rafting the Kananaskis River
Bring extra clothes and towels if you want to play by the river! There is no official river access, but if you're feeling adventurous, you can climb down to the water's edge (from just past the interpretive sign about rusty water). For a big, sandy beach, head to Barrier Lake Day Use!

Other Posts You Might Like

Family Fun in Bow Valley Provincial Park - info on 5 other hikes in the park including Middle Lake!
Camping in Bow Valley Provincial Park
The Best Short Hikes Near Calgary

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Hiking Prairie Mountain, Bragg Creek

Prairie Mountain is a popular spring hike due to its proximity to Calgary and great, early season conditions. With 700 metres elevation gain over less than 4 kilometres, the trail is not for slackers, but you're paid off at the top with panoramic views. While ice cleats or microspikes are a good idea in February and March, by April, the trail is usually completely dry. Check the Kananaskis Trail Reports or my Trip Reports page for current conditions.


Prairie Mountain At a Glance

Distance: 7.8 km
Elevation Gain: 700 m
Time: Allow 4-5 hours (5-6 hours if hiking with small children)
Nearest Washrooms: Elbow Falls Day Use Area
Stroller Friendly? No. 
Geocaches: There are several geocaches on the mountain! Download and store cache data at home as there is no cell service on the trail.
Trailhead: There is no sign marking the trailhead. See below for details. 
Distance from Calgary: 65 km
Directions from Bragg Creek: Take Hwy 22 South. At the 3-way interection, turn right onto Hwy 66. Continue on Hwy 66 for 18 kilometres. Elbow Falls parking lot will be on your left. If the winter gate is open, continue on for half a kilometre and park at Beaver Lodge on the left.
Parking: Beaver Lodge (When the winter gate on Hwy 66 is closed, park at Elbow Falls).

Prairie Mountain 

Finding the Trailhead

The trail up Prairie Mountain is pretty straightforward, except for the trailhead. Three trails converge in one spot, so you must pay pick the right one if you want to get up the mountain! 

1 a) From Beaver Lodge head east (towards Elbow Falls) on foot for about 100 metres until you reach a small bridge over Prairie Creek. Continue to step 2.

1 b) From Elbow Falls head west on foot until you reach a small bridge over Prairie Creek (~300 metres past the winter gate). Continue to step 2.

2) From Prairie Creek Bridge, with your back to the highway, take the trail on your right that climbs steeply upward (the low lying one on the left, along the creek is Prairie Creek and the trail that runs parallel to the road is Elbow Valley Trail). Prairie Mountain Trail is a steady climb. If you find yourself heading back towards Elbow Falls, you're on Elbow Valley Trail, not Prairie Mountain Trail.

Once you're on the right trail, the route is straightforward. Keep going up, up, and up! A rock cairn marks the summit and an anonymous hiker has kindly planted a flag there (Thank you!).

Prairie Mountain - only a few hundred metres to go!

Hiking Prairie Mountain With Kids

On the day we hiked Prairie Mountain (March 18, 2016), it was covered in a blanket of sparkling snow. Fortunately, early-rising hikers had broken trail, so it was easy to find our way. Slowly and steadily, we made it to the top, using every lookout as a snack spot. I'm glad I packed lots of food because we devoured all of it!

A good snack spot and viewpoint!
The hike is a steady climb, but the last bit in the trees (1 km from the top) was the toughest with solid ice beneath the snow. Microspikes for the win! Icy slope behind us, we emerged from the trees and could see our objective: the summit cairn and flag, only 500 metres away. With Calgary's skyscrapers to the west, Elbow Valley behind us, and mountains all around, the view was beautiful in every direction. We took a summit selfie, enjoyed a well deserved "good job treat" (chocolate bars) and headed back the way we came.

On the final push to the summit
All in all, it took us 3.5 hours to ascend and 2.5 hours to come down including lots of breaks (snacktime, lunch, washroom, snow play). It was a big day for my little hikers and I am so proud of them!

Prairie Mountain Summit Selfie!