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, October 27, 2016

Rain Gear for the Trail: Oakiwear Review

Hailing from the Vancouver area, I know a thing or two about rain. I grew up with umbrellas, rubber boots, and rain jackets on me or dripping by the door for several months a year. When it was really warm, we chose to get soaked instead of wear a clammy jacket and rain pants as breathable rain gear for kids wasn't available. (If it existed, it was clearly out of my parents' budget.) In winter, we made do with being a bit damp, but this is clearly not an ideal situation, especially in colder climates! 

Ten years ago, Sue Simper, a Vancouver, Washington mom decided to act on the need for affordable, high quality outdoor gear and founded Oakiwear. Oakiwear's philosophy is “if we truly wish to get kids active again, we need to provide them with the right gear at an affordable price to open the door to new possibilities in outdoor exploration.” We can attest to the fact that good clothes make for fun outdoor adventuring in any weather and are super excited to share our experience with the Oakiwear Trail Fleece Lined Jacket and Trail II Rain Pants.

Disclosure: Oakiwear generously provided us with 2 sets of rain gear to review, but as always, all words and opinions are my own.


My 5 year old and 7 year old tested the Trail Fleece Lined Jacket and Trail II Pants over a period of three months. They used them camping, hiking, biking, and for every day use in a variety of weather conditions from clear and cold, to rainy and snowy fall days. We're pleased to report that the girls stayed warm and dry in rain, sleet, and scattered thunderstorms. It was the perfect year to test rain gear since we had the rainiest summer in 89 years!

Oakiwear at Lower Kananaskis Lake

Trail Fleece Lined Jacket Review

The Trail Fleece Lined Jacket is Oakiwear's newest  jacket! With a waterproof outer layer and soft, 160 gram fleece lining, the girls can use this jacket for 3 seasons in Alberta. With a long sleeved tee beneath the Trail jacket, my girls are comfortable down to 5 degrees.

We found the cut to be quite generous (since my girls are skinny), but it allows for easy layering. On cold days (at or below zero), the girls were able to wear a down sweater beneath the trail fleece lined jacket and stay toasty warm.

The elasticized wrists with velcro tabs, shockcord adjustable lower hem, and longer length (below the hip) keep heat in and rain out. The adjustable wrists and hem also allow you to buy the jacket a bit on the big side so your child can use it longer!

With a waterproof rating of 5,000mm (mm/24 hrs), the jacket is suitable for light rain (source: Sierra Post). This said, we tested the jacket in pouring rain and intermittent thundershowers (three in one day) and the kids stayed totally dry. The fabric is also quite abrasion resistant. My kids climb all over rocks all the time and have yet to scratch this jacket!

Breathability also seemed good. Whether we were hiking up a mountain or playing tag at the park, condensation build up was never an issue. I must mention that we dress our kids in technical base layers and midlayers, so they never get the chance to get sweaty (a good thing!).

Other features include pockets, a chest pocket, and non-detachable fleece lined hood so kids won't lose it. Of course, you can't overlook the attractive design! My kids prefer their Oakiwear Trail jackets to their big parkas, and will be wearing them until it gets really cold.

The Trail Fleece Lined Jacket is available in sizes 2 - 10/11. Color choices: Lavender, Forest Green, Burnt Orange, and Perched Owls.

Oakiwear Trail Fleece Lined Jacket

Things I Would Like to See In Later Versions

I wish the hood were a bit bigger and had a brim. The way it is now, the kids' faces aren't as well protected from the rain as I would like, but they have good peripheral vision.

A chin guard and fleece lined handwarmer pockets would be nice additions too.

Oakiwear on Chester Lake Trail


My girls love these cute and cozy jackets and I love that we will be able to use them for many seasons because they are warm, waterproof, adjustable (at wrists and hips), and made of high quality materials. In heavy rain, we wear a baseball cap with the hood for extra protection, but otherwise, the coverage is great. The Trail's slightly longer length keeps rain from going down the back of my kids' pants - critical when they're constantly crouching down to look at stuff on the side of the trail!

Double trouble!

Children’s Trail II Rain Pants Review

These high quality rain pants are made with the same 240T pongee material (with a transparent TPU membrane) that the Trail jacket is made of so they are durable and highly abrasion resistant in addition to being waterproof and somewhat breathable. Instead of a DWR coating which can wash off, the pants utilize a 30D tricot membrane that won’t wear off so the pants will remain waterproof.

With an elastic waistband and generous cut, these rain pants layer easily over base layers, pants, or fleece pants. Fasten the neoprene and velcro ankle cuffs for a secure, but comfortable fit. We love how the neoprene cuff holds the pants in place over pants or over boots! The adjustable cuffs also allow longer use of the pants - we got ours once size bigger so we could use them this fall and next spring/summer.

We have used these camping, hiking, and backpacking and are impressed at the durability and water resistance. The kids have sat on wet snow in these and stayed dry (the best test or waterproofing).

Like the Trail Jacket, we anticipate using the Trail II Rain Pants for many seasons as we can fit warm layers underneath for days when it's too mild for snow pants or the snow is wet.


  • Waterproof rating of 10,000 mm (medium protection according to Sierra Post)
  • Breathability 3,000 mvp 
  • Windproof
  • Not insulated
  • 100% PVC & Poly Urethane free! 

Available in black in sizes 2 - 12/13.

Oakiwear Trail Fleece Lined Jacket (left) and Trail II Pants (right) at Forget-me-not Pond
Oakiwear Trail Fleece Lined Jacket and Trail II Rain Pants on a chilly morning

Things I Would Like to See In Later Versions

We love these rain pants as they are, and you can't be the price for what good quality they are, but it would be nice to see these offered as bib pants for toddlers! While regular rain pants are more convenient for going to the washroom, bib pants allow extra coverage for heat retention and keeping water out. We have never had an issue with the rain pants, however, as we wear them with the Trail Fleece Lined Jacket which provides ample coverage.

The Verdict

We give the Trail II Rain Pants two thumbs up!


The Trail series of rain gear from Oakiwear is well made and an excellent value! They were designed in the Pacific Northwest, but work well for Alberta's climate. Thoughtful details like adjustable cuffs and shockcord hem mean you can get use each item longer and hand them down know they'll still be waterproof because of the quality materials used.

Stay tuned to find out how you can win an Oakiwear rain jacket and umbrella (Holiday Giveaway next month)!!

Oakiwear at Chester Lake

For More Information

Check out Oakiwear online!

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Monday, October 24, 2016

Year Round Fun at Chester Lake

Chester Lake is a fun, year-round destination for hiking, snowshoeing, and cross country skiing. In summer, enjoy a picnic, swimming, or fishing at the emerald green lake. Feisty cutthroat and Dolly Varden prowl the crystal clear waters and can be seen (and caught) from shore. Afterwards, carry on to the Elephant Rocks for bouldering! In fall, look for larches; and in winter, enjoy playing in the deep snow.

Trail Description

From the north end of the parking lot, follow the Chester Lake sign up an old logging road. Although the first half is the steepest, it is moderate compared to Ptarmigan Cirque, Elbow Lake, or West Wind Pass, so you can make good time. Be sure to look back every so often for views across Burstall Pass; a welcome change in scenery.

Trees to the left of me, trees to the right. Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.
About 2 kilometres (and 200 metres of elevation gain) from the start, the trail narrows and is closed to mountain bikes. From here, there's just one more small climb (about 40 m gain over 200 m) before the trail levels off and takes you through clearings and forest. When you reach a large meadow guarded by dramatic Mount Chester, you're almost there! Watch for grizzlies as we saw extensive bear diggings in the meadow and beside the lake.

Small clearing & first larch sightings!
Large meadow near Chester Lake
Mount Chester and Chester Creek
Once you reach the jewel-like lake, you can go around it in either direction. Since my girls love bridges, we headed right first and found a picturesque snack spot near some larches. We then made our way to the other side of the lake where fish were jumping. In less time than it took to set up our fishing gear, we reeled in two beautiful Dolly Varden! 

Crossing Chester Creek
Chester Lake
Me and Dolly (Varden)
We could've fished all afternoon, but it started pouring, so we called it a day. Three degrees and rainy is brr, so imagine our surprise when two young women jumped in the lake!

We returned the way we came and were back at the car in a speedy hour and 15 minutes. It had been a wonderful day in Kananaskis despite the weather!


The Elephant Rocks - aka huge, funky boulders - are 5-10 minutes past the lake (there's a signed turnoff at the far end of the lake) and well worth the short climb. Thank you to Amanda McNally from Life In Alberta for these beautiful photos!

Viewpoint from above Chester Lake (en route to Elephant Rocks)
Image Credit: Amanda McNally,
Elephant Rocks
Image Credit: Amanda McNally,

Snowshoeing Trip Tips

This popular trail tends to get packed down, so you can often hike it with ice cleats or microspikes instead of snowshoes. If you prefer puffy snow (that's the whole fun of snowshoeing, right?), there is lots to be had on the side of the trail.

Please respect the annual trail closure from May 1 - June 29 to allow the trail to dry out and stay off cross country skier-set tracks.

This trail is in Class 1 Avalanche Terrain. For your safety, stay on trail and avoid avalanche slopes. 

If time allows, carry on to the Elephant Rocks. Leigh McAdam has some cool photos from her winter trip to the Elephant Rocks here.

See the Alberta Parks Sawmill/Chester Snowshoe Trail Map here. The snowshoe trail is in red and is 7.2 km return, 287 m elevation gain.

Chester Lake Trail in Winter

Cross Country Skiing Tips

The cross country ski trails are no longer groomed, so you will need light touring or backcountry skis to get to Chester Lake. See the Alberta Parks Sawmill/Chester Cross Country Ski Trail Map here. The ski trail is in blue and is 6.7 km return.

This trail is in Class 1 Avalanche Terrain. For your safety, stay on trail and avoid avalanche slopes. 

To access groomed cross country ski trails in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, go to Pocaterra, Peter Lougheed Visitor Centre, Boulton Bridge, Mount Shark, or Elk Pass. No user fees.

Chester Lake At A Glance

Distance: 9.2 km round trip (add on about 1 km round trip to the Elephant Rocks)
Elevation gain: 275 m
Difficulty: Moderate
Time: Allow 4-5 hours.
Directions from Calgary: Take Hwy 1 westbound. Take the turnoff to Kananaskis Country / Hwy 40S. Continue for 50 km. Turn right onto Kananaskis Lakes Trail. In 2.2 km, turn right onto Smith Dorrien Trail. Continue for 20 km. The Chester Lake parking lot is signed and on the right.
Trailhead: On the far side of the parking lot (furthest from the entrance).
Washrooms: Outhouses at the trailhead and at the lake.
Stroller Friendly? Maybe. You could bring a Chariot here, but about 200 metres of the trail is quite steep and has log cribbing on it (see photo below).

Be prepared to lift your Chariot over several of these for about 200 metres.
Fun Facts:
  1. Chester Lake shares its name with a Law & Order detective, but is actually named for a First World War battleship (as are Indefatigable, Invincible, Arethusa, and other peaks in the area). 
  2. You can mountain bike the first 2 km of the trail.
  3. Chester Lake is the only place in Alberta you can fish for Dolly Varden! They were illegally introduced to the lake, but a limit is in place due to the harsh alpine environment. Please check the Alberta Fishing Regulations before you go.

Know Before You Go

There is a seasonal trail closure from May 1 - June 29 to allow the trail to dry out (it gets a TON of snow in winter).

An Alberta Parks employee told me Chester Lake is known as "The Grizzly Nursery". Be bear aware and carry bear spray. For more information, please see my 10 Bear Safety Tips for Hikers and Backpackers.

This trail is quite popular, so arrive early to get parking. If the lot is full, park on the side of the road across Smith-Dorrien Trail.

An annual fishing ban is in effect from November 1st to June 30th. 

Annual Fishing Closure at Chester Lake: Nov 1 - June 30

When is your favorite time of year to visit Chester Lake?

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Monday, October 17, 2016

Support Snow Making at Confederation Park

The Foothills Nordic Ski Club (FNSC) has successfully raised enough funds to make snow at Confederation Park this winter, but needs your help in getting the project approved by the City. Why do we need snow making at Confederation? To ensure Calgarians have safe, groomed trails to cross country ski on all winter long. 


FNSC proposed snow making at Confederation Park in light of Winsport Canada's recent decision to convert much of its cross country trails to a tube park. With 1,000 Calgarians enrolled in cross country ski classes through FNSC and other clubs, a larger venue was required.

Confederation Park was the natural choice as FNSC has been grooming winter trails there for over 20 years. Did you know there are 5 kilometres of nordic ski trails at Confederation? Snow making and snow harvesting will mean a longer ski season for all Calgarians with no user fees.

FNSC exceeded its fundraising goal within a few months. Thank you to all who donated! Funds raised will go towards snow making, snow harvesting, grooming, lighting, a warming shelter, and washroom facilities provided the project is approved.

Cross country skiing at Confederation Park

How You Can Help

The FNSC is awaiting approval from the City of Calgary, so support from the public is critical to the project's success. To show your support, please submit an online 311 Service Request:
  1. Go to 

  2. Select "Recreation - Golf Course Inquiry" as the service type and click "Go". 

  3. For Topic of Inquiry, select "Confederation". Next, please write a comment letting the City know that you support Foothills' proposal for improving nordic skiing facilities at Confederation Park and why you think it is so important. Finally, indicate whether or not you'd like to be contacted (phone / email / no contact) and click "Next Step".

  4. Enter your contact information. Once that is complete, please click "Next Step." You will have a chance to make further comments or attach documents/images before submitting your request.

The amazing opportunity to cross country ski for free in town all winter is within reach. Please show your support today! Winter is coming!!

Confederation Park Learning Area
For more information, please visit Foothills Nordic Ski Club - Ski Confederation Project Information.

Night Skiing by the Christmas Lights at Confederation Park

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Friday, October 14, 2016

Our Mount Fairview "Blank Space" Adventure

With spectacular views and a short approach, Mount Fairview is a must-do in the Lake Louise area. Here is our experience bagging Mount Fairview with kids (and "Blank Space" by Taylor Swift; my girls kept singing it over and over).

Warning: this mountain may give you summit fever!

"Your kids made it to the summit of Fairview?! I have friends who've been heli-evacuated off that mountain!" a Lake Louise local exclaimed. A big hike for most people, Mount Fairview is an epic hike for a 5 year old (and pretty decent for a 7 year old)! How did we do it? Slowly and steadily, with treats, bribes, and a lie.

Our morning started off as glorious as can be in the Canadian Rockies, with Mount Temple bathed in golden light and blue sky in all directions. It was just what we needed after tent camping in the rain for 11 days. With the weather on our side, we resolved to do a real hike... something big. Mount Fairview seemed the natural choice as everything else was been there, done that; too long; or too technical. After whipping up a breakfast of champions and super strong coffee, we started packing. A 10 kilometre hike with 1,000 metres (3,281') elevation gain would be an all day affair at our pace.

Breakfast of champions
With food for days, ample water, and survival gear packed and double-checked, it was time to go. To our surprise, the parking lot at Lake Louise was full, so I dropped everyone off, drove down to Continental Divide and jogged back (850 m) to the trailhead near the boathouse. It was a good warm up and chance to gaze upon Deer Lodge, where we got engaged back in the day. Note: There is a free shuttle from the Village.

Deer Lodge, Lake Louise
As hordes of tourists jockeyed for best photo locations at the lake, then filed to Lake Agnes Teahouse, we patted ourselves on the back for choosing the path less travelled. A few people overtook us as we paused to do very important things - like, you know, look at moss and eat m&m's - but presently, the trail opened up. The passersby had all turned off at Fairview Lookout! From here on, we saw no more than 10 people all day! It was wonderful and worrisome at the same time since we were in prime grizzly territory, but our vocal Taylor Swift playlist deterred all carnivores.

Saddleback Trail
Trail to Saddle Mountain and Sheol Valley (and Saddleback and Mount Fairview)
As we emerged from the lush, forested trail and crossed avalanche slopes, we took in views of Lake Louise Ski Resort and Lake Louise. Although the lake looked small below us, Mount Fairview's summit was still mockingly far away. A hundred refrains of "I've got a list of Starbucks lovers.." (my kids' version of "I've got a long list of ex lovers", LOL.) later, we came to the turnoff to Mount Fairview (go right at the fork). Around this time, a woman and her son passed us on their way down and said we were halfway to the pass. We thought she was crazy - we've been climbing forever, we have to be almost there - and she thought we were insane for wanting to summit Fairview ("They'll tell you I'm insane.."). No matter who was right, tummies were rumbling, so we stopped for lunch in the first clearing we saw. Bustling pikas and marmots distracted us from the ominous clouds that loomed to the west. Before we knew it, rainclouds were right above us. Rain gear time.

Avalanche Track                                  Lake Louise Ski Resort
Chateau Lake Louise and Lake Louise
Take the right fork for Fairview!
All suited up, we made the final push to Saddleback through larches and meadows. Views opened up as we approached the pass and soon there were peaks all around us including iconic Mount Temple! We had done almost 600 metres of elevation gain in less than 4 kilometres, but everyone was in good spirits, so we decided to carry on as planned. Looking up at the peak, Big POG asked "Is Fairview as big as Prairie Mountain?" I quickly replied, "No way, this mountain's much smaller! You've done lots of hikes bigger than this!" ("pretty lies")

Big POG and Little POG racing to the pass
Saddleback headwall
Saddleback Pass - Mount Temple in the background
Mount Temple
View from Saddleback
From here, the trail becomes incredibly steep (~450 m gain in 1.5 km), so it's easy to lose perception of speed and time at Mini-Me pace. "You can tell me when it's over, if the high was worth the pain." It took about an hour to go from Saddleback to Fairview's summit, but it felt longer. About halfway up, the girls started to doubt my claim that Fairview "wasn't a super big mountain" and said they wanted to go back. We coaxed them on with chocolate and promised them Laggan's treats after, but only if they put their happy pants on. Little POG and Big POG quickly stopped moaning and carried on through the loose rock. Within half an hour we were sitting on top of the world taking in a panoramic feast for the eyes. Glaciers and peaks surrounded us and Lake Louise glittered below. Little POG kept exclaiming "I can't believe we did it!!"

Follow the switchbacks to the top!
Beautiful larches
Crazy steep but totally worth it. Keep going!
You can do it!
Almost there. Saddle Peak and Saddleback below.
Final push to the summit.
Building a fairy house on Fairview's summit
We did it!!
Fairview Summit Panorama
"Nice to meet you, where you been? I could show you incredible things."
Mount Fairview Summit
After a long, well earned break at the top, we returned the way we came. ***Do NOT descend descend the north face, as there are dangerous cliffs below (look up from the lake if you don't believe me).*** We could definitely feel our knees on the way down, but the kids ran down effortlessly like mountain goats "cause [they're] young and [they're] reckless." We chased rainbows, listened for marmot whistles, and sang some more! In a couple hours, we were back where we started with daylight to spare, and headed in to the Village for a "good job treat".

This summit plaques warns hikers of dangerous cliffs below. Return via Saddleback!
Chasing Rainbows
Laggan's for the win!
When we admitted to the girls that we'd lied about Prairie Mountain and they'd just climbed their biggest peak ever, they weren't mad; they were stoked! They started listing off peaks they wanted to do next. "When can we climb Temple?!" "How big is Everest? Can I climb Everest when I'm bigger??" Beautiful Mount Fairview had given them summit fever! While Temple and Everest may be a ways off, we can dream and train! We can't wait to bag more peaks as a family!!

"I've got a blank space, baby, and I'll write your name."

Mount Fairview at a Glance

Distance: ~10 km
Elevation: ~1000 m
Difficulty: Class 1 scramble for steepness and loose rock (i.e. strenuous hike). New to scrambling? See my Tips for First Time Scrambling. Please note visitors from sea level may have a hard time as the summit is at 2744 m ( 9,003').
Time: Allow 5-7 hours for adults and big kids. Allow more time with younger children. (We took 8.25 hours including 2 hours of breaks).
Nearest washrooms: Public washrooms in the public parking lot at Lake Louise.
Stroller friendly: No
Trailhead: Near the Lake Louise Boathouse
Route: Follow the signs to Saddleback/Mount Fairview. At the turnoff for Fairview Lookout (a few hundred metres in), continue straight. After a couple kilometres, you'll get to the Saddleback turnoff - go right. Continue to the pass. From the pass, go to the right and take the switchbacks up Mount Fairview. There's a well beaten path to the top. Come back the way you came (do NOT descend the north face - dangerous cliffs).

Insider Tips 

1. Get to the Lake Louise parking lot before 9:30 am to get a spot on the weekend. Other options are to take the shuttle from the Village or hike midweek.

2. Hike to Saddleback in late July to see wildflowers or late September to see the larches!

3. Bring hiking poles and extra layers. It's super chilly at the top!

4. Check the trail report and avoid this trail when snow covered (avalanche risk).

What is your favorite peak?

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