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, June 22, 2017

Exploring Alberta's Only Park of Islands: Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park

Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park is a gem set in the sparkling waters of Lac La Biche. Alberta's only park of islands offers sandy beaches, paddling, fishing, and amazing recreational and bird watching opportunities. Old growth forest is full of wildlife, while the shorelines are visited by countless species of birds. Fall asleep to the sound of loons and wake up to pelicans fishing in the bay. The friendly, nearby town of Lac La Biche has everything you need to stay a while.

>> Read more on ZenSeekers: On Island Time In Alberta!<<

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Things to Do 

When you're on an island in the middle of a huge lake, it's easy to get out on the water any time of day. Paddle to secluded white sand beaches on Birch and Currant Islands, or visit the Pelican Islands to see dozens of pelicans and cormorants. Rentals are available from Lakeland Expeditions (canoes and fishing boats) or the campground (canoes, kayaks, SUPs).

Sunset paddling at Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park
Image credit: Chris Wheeler

Bring your fishing rod as Lac La Biche is a great spot to catch big pike, walleye, whitefish, and burbot. Locals recommend fishing at the drop off near the Day Use Area with a five of diamonds spoon. 

Jamie's son and a big pike caught in Lac La Biche
Image Credit: Jamie Laird, Lakeland Expeditions
If you like bird watching, get a free birding checklist from the campground office and pack binoculars! The park is a bird sanctuary and home to over 200 species of birds!

American Pelican, Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park

Hike or bike through old growth forest and watch for wildlife. Deer, moose, and foxes are common sights throughout the park. Boardwalk Beach and Old Growth Alley Trail were my favorite places. Kids will enjoy playing at the the playground and sandy beach (Camper's Beach) near the campground.

Boardwalk Beach, Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park
For a pleasant half day bike ride, take the paved Lac La Biche Walking and Biking Trail in to town (16 km one way). Visit the beach and spray park at McArthur Park, David Thompson Monument, and have dinner at the Lac La Biche Golf & Country Club on the way back.

David Thompson Memorial, Lac La Biche

Where to Stay

The park has 15 one-bedroom cabins and a campground with 72 forested power sites (reservable and first come-first served). Amenities include showers, a campground store and onsite canoe/kayak/SUP rentals. There is cell phone service in the park too!

Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park Cabin

Getting There

Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park is located 2.5 hours northeast of Edmonton, 10 minutes from the town of Lac La Biche.

For More Information

Please see my story on ZenSeekers: On island time in Alberta and check out #TakeItToTheLake posts for more fun in Lac La Biche / Lakeland / Bonnyville MD!

Disclosure

Thank you to Alberta ParksZenSeekers and Travel Alberta for having me on the #TakeItToTheLake Expedition! All words and opinions are my own.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Discover Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site

Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site brings Canada's 19th century fur trade days to life with engaging interpreters, interesting exhibits, and unique interpretive programs. Learn to start a fire with flint and steel, cook bannock over a fire, or make your own candlestick holder in the blacksmith shop. For an unforgettable experience, live like a trapper and stay in a tipi or trapper's tent!


OUR EXPERIENCE

Evening sun filters through the trees as bannock sizzles in the pan. After an afternoon exploring Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, we eagerly anticipate the crispy on the outside, soft on the inside traditional bread. It is every bit as good as we imagined and pairs perfectly with smokies.

Cooking bannock at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site
With daylight to spare, the girls beg to visit the tipis and bison "one more time". It's not every day we camp in a National Historic Site and see sights like these, so of course we say yes! From the lofty lookout over the bison paddock, we watch bison roaming the range as they did centuries ago. Jagged peaks - the Rockies - dominate the western horizon and we marvel at how David Thompson discovered a way through them to the Pacific Ocean.

Plains bison at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site
On our way back to camp, we check out the tipis, 1967 Canoe Race display, and site of the first fort at Rocky Mountain House. A metal frame reveals what the North West Company Fort looked like in 1799 and interpretive signs describe what was there. There is so much to learn and experience, but first, we must sleep.

Tipis at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site
Our home away from home is a pair of cozy trapper's tents furnished with rustic furniture. The girls are delighted to have their own beds in their own tent and settle in quickly after a cup of cocoa. As large raindrops pummel the roof, we are thankful to be snug and dry inside.

Rustic trapper's tent at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site
Morning arrives overcast and chilly, so we take advantage of indoor activities at the Visitor Centre and Play Fort. The interpreters, friendly locals who take great pride in where they live, bring history to life. Our girls are fascinated by it all and ask question after question and the whole family learns new things about the fur trade days (1800s). When we ask what their favorite things are, they exclaim "Everything!", then say: "going down the river" to the Trading Post with the Métis (Sarah and her son), making bracelets, playing at the 3D Virtual Reality exhibit, and watching the Puppet Show (skilfully put on by Tianna and Hilary).

Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site
Minecraft-themed 3D Virtual Reality!
Visiting the Trading Post
Mini Métis
Learning about First Nations beading
Holding puppets used in the famous David Thompson Puppet Show
In the afternoon, Lauren takes us on a tour of the National Historic Site. Lauren is home for the summer before returning to University where she is training to be a teacher. She seems well suited to her present and future vocation. After playing at the Play Fort, we take the Chimney Trail to the Métis campfire, sites of two Hudson's Bay forts (1835-1868), graveyard, and York Boathouse. At the campfire, Sarah and Leon show us fur trade artifacts and offer freshly baked bannock.

Hanging out at the Play Fort
Red River Carts were built entirely of hardwood (no metal) and used in the 1800s.
Holes were burned, not drilled, and each cart had a unique sound.
Blacksmith shop inside the York Boathouse.
The Boathouse is a replica of the one that stood in the exact same spot two centuries ago,
As luck would have it, Marcien LeBlanc, President of the Métis Nation of Alberta Local 845 (Rocky Mountain House) and respected Métis elder, is visiting at the same time as us. An advocate for Métis culture and humane trapping, Marcien is quick to smile and share a story. He tells us about the Métis flag, Métis sash, and Red River Cart. His mother, he says, saw Red River Carts and a man on the moon in her lifetime and wondered what changes her children would see in theirs. This example of the rapid passing of time reminds us why National Historic Sites are so important.

Marcien LeBlanc, Sarah, and Leon at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site

Did You Know?

Admission to Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site is FREE with your National Park Pass! *And Park Passes are free in 2017 to celebrate Canada's 150th birthday.*

Things to See & Do

  • Interpretive trails (hiking only): Chimney Trail (800 m loop) and David Thompson Trail (3.2 km return) have interpretive signs and Listening Stations. We enjoyed both trails, and were surprised at how lush the forest was on the David Thompson Trail. 
  • Biking
    • Bike from the Visitor Centre to the campground on the paved access road beside the Play Fort (1.6 km one way)
    • Bike from town to Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site on the Petro Canada Bicentennial Trail (5 km one way, gravel, double-track)
    • Ride the Amerada Trail around nearby Crimson Lake (10 km loop, gravel)
    • Bike from Crimson Lake to a) Twin Lakes Provincial Park (7 km one way, gravel, single-track), or b) all the way in to Rocky Mountain House (about 13 km one way).
      The paved access road is good for roller blading too!
  • Visitor Centre: Hands on exhibits, artifacts, Fur Trading Post, and Minecraft-themed 3D Virtual Reality Experience
    Hands on "Pack your own York Boat" Exhibit
  • Play Fort: Kids will love playing on the swing, climber, gallery (raised walkway) and bastion in this mini sized fort.
    Play Fort
  • David Thompson Puppet Show: This lively half hour show runs daily at 2 pm on weekends and is fun for all ages! We loved it! Listen carefully for David Thompson's nicknames (the real one and a silly one)!
    Puppet Show at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site
  • Interpretive Programs and demonstrations: Several free programs/demos offered daily; book ahead for special programming ($)
    • Blacksmith station: Daily free demos, sign up to try it ($)
    • Women of the Fur Trade: Beading and quillwork are just a few of the available demos. Rachel showed us how to start a fire with flint and steel! My kids were so inspired, they practiced making sparks for half an hour!
      Rachel makes a fire without matches or a lighter!
  • Métis campfire: Enjoy fresh made bannock, look inside the trapper's tents, and see a Red River Cart!
    Checking out the trapper's tents
  • York Boat: Could you row this huge boat from Rocky Mountain House to Hudson's Bay? It's hard to believe that the Voyageurs (paddlers) were only around 5 feet tall! 
    York Boat at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site
  • Wildlife viewing: Look for the bison in the bison paddock, birds, foxes and other animals on the 500-acre site.
  • Paddling: Paddle the North Saskatchewan River and Brierley Rapids from the canoe launch near the campground.

Camping 

If you'd like to stay a while, try Heritage Camping at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site! Beautiful tipis sleep 8 and cozy trapper's tents sleep up to 5! The tipis are out in a meadow and the trapper's tents are in the adjacent woods. Both areas have picnic tables and fire pits.

Inside the Trapper's Tent
We chose the trapper's tents so we could sleep on beds for a change. Everyone was so comfy, we all slept in an hour later than usual! To our surprise, the Heritage Fur Trade Camp Kit includes: bison hide, period cooking kit and utensils, flint/steel fire-starting kit, bannock mix, trapper’s tea, spices, oil and soap. We had enough bannock mix for 2 nights and the girls got really good at making sparks with the flint and steel (the enclosed instructions were a big help). Enameled dishes and rustic furniture made for fun photos too!

The Heritage Camping area is located 1.6 km from the Visitor Centre. Gated access and a small number of camping units (6 trapper's tents, 3 tipis, 2 cabins, and a few equipped camping sites) make for a quiet campground. We really enjoyed our stay!

Heritage Camping at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site
Other camping options include: Trapline cabins (coming soon), Equipped camping (6 person tent is set up for you and all equipment is provided), and frontcountry camping (14 walk-in tent sites plus 24 unserviced trailer sites). 

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
  • You must check in at the Visitor Centre before 5 pm to get a key for the campground gate (n/a to frontcountry camping).
  • Heritage camping units are walk-in camping. You can park beside your trapper's tent to load/unload and then park a short distance away. Tipis are about 50 m from the parking. 
  • The nearest water and flush toilets are at the Visitor Centre, so be sure to bring potable water with you. 
  • Tipis and trapper's tents have sleeping pads, but you must bring your own bedding.
  • Don't forget your camp stove, cookware and utensils.
  • Firewood can be purchased from Parks Staff who come around frequently. We got a couple HUGE bundles for only $6.80 each.
  • Keep all food and items with a scent in your vehicle or bear-proof food lockers.
  • If rain is in the forecast, I recommend staying in the trapper's tents. Fellow campers in the tipis got a bit wet after heavy rain (it comes in through the hole at the top).
  • Bring a mosquito net in summer just in case. Luckily for us, the bugs disappeared as soon as it cooled off, but biting insects could be an issue in warmer weather.
Learn more about camping at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site here.

Upcoming Events

You won't want to miss the Aboriginal Day festivities on June 24 or Canada Day 150 &
Voyageurs Rendezvous Canoe Race Launch on July 1. Thousands of people come to see this epic canoe race (1600 km in 23 days!). For more details, visit Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site - Special Events.

Nearby Things to Do

The David Thompson Corridor is steeped in history and full of recreational opportunities:

Paddling at Crimson Lake
Crescent Falls

For More Information

For more information on Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, please visit Parks Canada.

Disclosure

Thank you to Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site for hosting us! All words and opinions are my own.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Ski or Ride For Less! Family Season's Passes Under $1000 (Winsport, Nakiska, Mount Norquay)

Summer is coming and that means it's time to save on family season's passes at your favorite ski hill! Take advantage of early bird sales and ski all season for under $1000 at Winsport, Nakiska, and Mount Norquay.


Season's Pass Details for Winsport, Nakiska, and Mount Norquay 

Winsport, Nakiska, and Mount Norquay are the most affordable options near Calgary with family season's passes for $1000 or less (at early bird pricing). Family season's passes typically become economical when you have 2 kids 6 & up and ski 8 times or more per season. If you ski less frequently - or have children in Grades 2, 4 or 5 - please see last year's story for tips on how to save on lift tickets and season's passes.

Winsport - Calgary's Ski Hill

Winsport, home of the 1988 Olympics, offers terrain for all levels including free style skiers and boarders. Beginners can learn the ropes on the (3) magic carpets before graduating to runs off the (2) chair lifts, junior terrain park (Progression Park), Terrain Park with over 30 features, or Super Pipe (largest pipe in Western Canada).

While the runs aren't that long, you can make them as challenging as you wish by going faster, choosing different lines, or trying new drills. My girls have skied at Winsport since they were 2 years old and got pretty good quickly because we went a few times a week after work. It is a definite advantage to have a ski hill close to home that is open for night skiing!

Winsport, Calgary
Winsport Family Pass Details 
  • Family Size: For two adults and dependent children under 18 years old living at the same address. 
  • Blackout Dates: n/a
  • Discounts: 10% discount on lessons,  10% off winter regular priced retail, exclusive food and beverage offers, winter discounts at partner resorts. 
  • Sale Price: $629 (until June 29). Regular Price: $1,249.
For more information, see Winsport Season's Passes.

Learning to ski at Winsport

Nakiska - Calgary's Closest Mountain

Nakiska is a family favorite due to its location (only one hour from Calgary!), great ski school, and wide range of terrain. Whether you're boarding for the first time, or are a veteran shredder, there are tons of runs to ride. Adventurous skiers and boarders alike will love the Monster Glades and NaJibSka Rail Park! We had season's passes at Nakiska and loved being able to ski for part of the day then go snowshoeing or cross country skiing in beautiful Kananaskis Country. To see our favorite things about Nakiska, check out Why you need a Nakiska Season's Pass.

Nakiska Ski Resort

Nakiska Family Pass Details
  • Family Size: For two adults and dependent children under 17 years old living at the same address. 
  • Blackout Dates: n/a
  • Discounts: 25% off Friends & Family Ticket Discounts, 10% off food, 10% off rentals (20% off high performance rentals), 10% off regular priced retail,  10% off tuneups, 10% off daycare, hotel discounts, and lesson discounts. For a complete listing see RCR Member Benefits and Savings
  • Sale Price: $629 (until June 24). Regular Price: $1,999.
For more information, see Nakiska Season's Passes.

Big POG at Nakiska Ski Resort's Gold Chair

Mount Norquay - Banff's Closest Mountain

For fantastic skiing minutes from Banff, head to Mount Norquay. At this hidden gem, you can enjoy awesome views, fun terrain, and short chairlift waits. For the best apres-ski fun, take the shuttle into town for dinner, drinks and hot springs!  While there are some crazy steep runs off the North American Chair, there is plenty of beginner and intermediate terrain for those still learning. Norquay is well known for its high quality and affordable ski school. 

For more information on skiing and tubing at Mount Norquay, please read these stories:
Mount Norquay, Banff
Norquay 90 Family Pass Details - blackout dates

Although the Norquay 90 Family Pass has a few blackout dates, it's a great deal and gives you the same perks as the regular Family Pass! Most of Christmas Break is included as well as Family Day long weekend and Spring Break.
  • Family Size: For two adults and children under 17 years old living at the same address. 
  • Blackout Dates: December 27 -30, January 6-7, January 13-14, January 20, January 27, February 3, February 10-11, February 24-25, and March 3-4.
  • Discounts: 10% off food and beverage in Lone Pine Pub, rentals, group lessons, and regular snow tubing tickets. Night skiing excluded. Ticket discounts at participating resorts.
  • Sale price: $556 (until June 15). Regular Price: $889.
Norquay Family Pass Details - no blackout dates
  • Family Size: For two adults and children under 17 years old living at the same address. 
  • Blackout Dates: n/a
  • Discounts: 10% off food and beverage in Lone Pine Pub, rentals, group lessons, and regular snow tubing tickets. Night skiing excluded. Ticket discounts at participating resorts.
  • Sale price: $1,329 (until June 15). Regular Price: $1,689. 
For complete details, see Banff Norquay Season's Passes

Mount Norquay, Banff

When to Buy

Buy soon! Early bird deals for these Alberta ski resorts will end this month: 
  • Mount Norquay Early Bird Discount ends June 15.
  • Nakiska Early Bird Discount ends June 24.
  • Winsport Early Bird Discount ends June 29.
Where do you like to ski with your family?

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Monday, June 5, 2017

Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden, Lethbridge

Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden is a peaceful oasis in the heart of Lethbridge. With its traditional design and authentic features, the manicured garden will temporarily transport you to Japan and captivate your senses. More than a garden, Nikka Yuko also serves as a hub of Japanese culture. I loved experiencing my grandparents' culture in such a beautiful environment.


Built 50 years ago to recognize contributions of Lethbridge's  citizens of Japanese ancestry, Nikka Yuko invites visitors to Experience the Friendship and celebrate Japanese culture. The garden's name is derived from Ni (short for 'Nihon': Japan) and Ka (short for 'Kanada': Canada), and the Japanese word for friendship ('Yuko'). It is indeed a friendly place. Cheerful staff, including mascot, Tomo, welcome you and ensure you have a wonderful experience.

My girls and Tomo, the Nikka Yuko Mascot
Weekends are the best time to visit the garden when the calendar is filled with special events. On our visit, we enjoyed yukata (summer kimono) dressing, outdoor tea ceremony (nodate), and an energetic taiko drumming performance. Other events include garden tours, origami lessons, Japanese calligraphy (shodo) demonstrations, kite making, and lantern decorating. 

Matcha tea (offered during Nodate - outdoor tea ceremony)
Taiko Drumming Performance
Garden tours, offered a few times a day (or by request during the week), are a great opportunity to learn about the garden's history and design. Discover the significance of garden features, why the island is shaped like a turtle, where the Friendship Bell was cast, and more. Be sure to ring the bell when you visit it! 

Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden
The Friendship Bell is HUGE!
The Teahouse is made in traditional Japanese style of yellow cypress without nails. It's rare to see this style of architecture outside Japan. Inside, tea ceremony demonstrations are held in beautiful tatami (woven straw mat) rooms with paper screens. You can also try on yukatas (cotton kimonos) and happi coats (men's traditional summer wear) here for a unique photo. Yukata dressing was the highlight of our visit!
Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden Teahouse
Trying on yukatas in the Teahouse
Yukata dressing at Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden
(parasols are our own)
Nikka Yuko's Japanese garden exceeded our expectations. The winding path allows a different view around each turn, and with all the events scheduled throughout the day (on weekends), you can easily spend a couple hours here.

Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden well

Know Before You Go

  • Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden is open from mid-May to early October. Check the website for hours.
  • Most events are held on the weekends, but there are some weekday events, and evening events. Check the Events Calendar for tour/event times. 
  • Allow at least 2 hours for your visit.
  • Food and drink are not permitted in the gardens (except during tea ceremony or morning coffee service), however snacks and drinks are sold at the Gift Shop.
  • A Family Season's Pass pays for itself in about 2 visits!
Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden

Getting There

Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden is conveniently located at 9th Avenue and Mayor Magrath Drive South in Lethbridge, about 2 hours south of Calgary. It was a perfect stopping spot en route to Writing on Stone Provincial Park!

Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden


For More Information

For hours, rates, and events, please visit Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden's website.

Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden

Disclosure

Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden generously hosted me and my family, but all words and opinions are my own.

More Southern Alberta Destinations