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?

Friday, February 24, 2017

Skating Fun for Little Ones

Skating is a fun, inexpensive activity the whole family can enjoy. My daughter got her first pair of skates at 1.5 years old! While she didn't skate a lot, she loved it. To make sure your first skating outings are a success, follow these tips:

  1. Bring a sled! When your little one needs a break, she can hop on the sled and have a fun ride. Seeing you and others skating will encourage her to try again. (Note: not all rinks allow sleds, so check before you go.)
    Big POG with a chair for support and Little POG in the sled
    Big POG towing Little POG on a sled at Bowness Lagoon
  2. Consider bob skates (double blades that attach to winter boots) or clip on skate supports (like skate training wheels, one brand is Skateez) for young first-time skaters. My oldest did fine with regular skates and a skating aid. My risk-averse younger daughter preferred bob skates until she was almost 5! Bob skates are very inexpensive and what I recommend for toddlers as tiny skates are expensive and usually not used many times before they are outgrown.
    Little POG (blue helmet) on bob skates at Winsport
  3. Bring a skating aid. Whether you bring a toddler chair, homemade skating aid, or store bought skating aid, your child will gain confidence from being able to skate on her own. Your back will thank you too (it's no fun bending down and holding a small child up)! *Note: Most indoor rinks can loan skating aids; some rinks do not allow them.
    Skating aids (toddler chairs work well on outdoor rinks!)
  4. Always wear a helmet. You too, parents! A hockey helmet or snow helmet is best.
    Little POG in her Nutcase Snow Helmet at Bowness Lagoon
    See my review here.
  5. Put risk-averse kids in hockey gear so falls don't hurt. My youngest was afraid to fall, so we got some second hand ringette pants for her. She was a lot braver when she had padded pants. 
  6. CCM Hockey Pants Available on Amazon (affiliate link).
  7. Play tag. Parents and older children can skate backwards to give younger kids an advantage.

  8. Play pass! As your child develops coordination, toss a stuffed animal and get your child to retrieve it, or get two kids to race to it. Stronger skaters can up their skills by kicking a ball/puck back and forth up the rink. We've even improvised with a chunk of ice when we didn't have anything to play with.
    Kicking the puck around with Dad and Uncle at Canmore Nordic Centre
  9. Dress for the cold. Warm kids are happy kids! See my story: Keeping Kids Warm in Winter for tips on what to wear. Snow pants and mittens also provide protection when kids fall.

  10. Allow time for snow play. When we go to outdoor skating rinks, about half the time is spent playing in the snow and half is spent on the rink. 
    Playing in the snow at Hawreluk Park, Edmonton
  11. Bring lots of snacks! Snacks are the other best part of skating (and hiking, biking, etc.). Things that are easy to eat with mittens on are best. Cookies and cocoa for the win!

Where to Skate

For beginners, a maintained indoor or outdoor rink is preferable to natural ice as the ice is smoother and easier to skate on. As skaters get better, they can graduate to natural ice. If you plan to skate on natural ice, please see my Pond and Lake Ice Safety Tips first.

We prefer outdoor skating rinks so we can combine skating with snow play and toboganning (and they're free!). Check out Calgary's Best Outdoor Skating Rinks for a rink near you! For places to skate in Canmore, Banff, and Lake Louise, see my Winter Activity Super Guide.

Where do you like to skate?

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Magical Maligne Canyon Ice Walk

Maligne Canyon, in Jasper National Park, is home to the Canadian Rockies' most spectacular and accessible ice walk. For only a few months each year, you may descend to an icy world straight out of Narnia and tread on the frozen river. As you travel through the canyon, walls of limestone rise higher on either side and grow closer together 'til you can almost touch them with arms outstretched! Stunning 30 metre tall ice falls and sparkling ice caves await in the inner recesses of the canyon. Plan to spend a few hours in this enchanting canyon. Maligne Canyon was the highlight of our trip to Jasper last March and is a winter must-see! 

Maligne Canyon Ice Walk At a Glance

When to Go: January to mid-March is usually best time. Go midweek to enjoy the falls without crowds, and check the Jasper National Park Trail Report before you go!
Distance: 4.4 km  (2.4 km hike + 2 km ice walk)
Elevation Gain: 100 m elevation gain
Time: Allow 3 hours
Nearest Washrooms: Pit toilets at the parking lot 
Stroller Friendly: No (also NOT RECOMMENDED for baby wearing due to the risk of falling on ice)
Distance From Jasper: 11 km
Parking/Trailhead: Start from Bridge 1 near the Maligne Canyon Restaurant and Gift Shop (CLOSED from October to April). Alternate start: Bridge 5 parking lot.

Magical Maligne Canyon, Jasper National Park

Route Description

See the Parks Canada Map here.

Starting from the trailhead near the restaurant, with ice cleats or microspikes on, look for little fossils just past the fossil interpretive sign. Going further, observe potholes scoured from the canyon walls by rushing water over thousands of years. Head down the stairs to First Bridge and watch your step as it's slippery!

From First Bridge, you can see ice falls. Continue on to see bigger ones! By the time you reach Second Bridge, the canyon is at its maximum depth of 50 metres.

Ice falls and potholes in Maligne Canyon, Jasper National Park
Near Third Bridge, there are several ice falls frequently visited by ice climbers. These are the ones you will visit on the canyon ice walk!
Ice Falls at Maligne Canyon, Jasper National Park
By the time you reach Fourth Bridge, the canyon has widened and the walls are less vertiginous. Stay left at the fork to stay close to the river, and watch for a canyon access sign on your left. If you get to Fifth Bridge, you've gone too far.

Maligne Canyon - Canyon Access Point
Enter at your own risk!!

Ice Walk

From the canyon access, head up the canyon back towards First Bridge. Depending on conditions, you should be able to go as far as Third Bridge (the trail is somewhat sketchy beyond with hazards overhead and underfoot). Take care on uneven and inclined surfaces and go slow to prevent slips and falls.

Near Fourth Bridge, you will notice several ice flows, including ice coming out of a cave. While it would appear that Elsa has been at work, there are several underground streams from Medicine Lake (15 km away) feeding the ice. This water rejoins Maligne River downstream later in the year.

Ice flows at Maligne Canyon
Ice cave at Maligne Canyon
Carry on to a beautiful "grotto" festooned with moss and natural ice sculptures. We could've stayed in this splashy spot all day looking for naiads, but the ice falls beckoned.

Grotto in Maligne Canyon
Natural ice sculptures, Maligne Canyon
The falls are a short walk up the canyon. They appear bigger from the riverbed, and different colors depending on how the light hits them. We spent a long time exploring in and around the falls.

Maligne Canyon Ice Falls, Jasper National Park
Maligne Canyon Ice Falls, Jasper National Park
Maligne Canyon Ice Falls, Jasper National Park
Maligne Canyon Ice Falls, Jasper National Park
Maligne Canyon Ice Falls, Jasper National Park
Maligne Canyon Ice Falls, Jasper National Park
Behind the Falls at Maligne Canyon, Jasper National Park

Turn back after the large ice falls, or if conditions look unsafe (see below).

The turnaround point - the canyon floor was collapsing

Exploring Further

Return the way you came, and continue down the river bed towards Fifth Bridge, to Wedding Cake Falls. Fed by springs, these falls do not freeze in winter.

It is another 1.6 km one way to Sixth Bridge.

Wedding Cake Falls, Maligne Canyon

Alternate (short) route

If you are short on time and just want to do the ice hike, start from Bridge 5 and head towards Bridge 4. The canyon access is between Bridge 5 & 4.

Required Gear

  • Warm, waterproof hikers
  • Microspikes or instep crampons (ice cleats not recommended as they do not do well on uneven terrain)
  • Rock/snow helmets recommended
  • Extra clothes, socks and mittens 
While the ice walk can be done unguided with proper footwear and precautions, tours offer insight into the area's history and geology, and provide you with the required safety gear. Three-hour guided tours include the use of insulated boots, trekking poles, and microspikes. The Jasper Visitor Centre can recommend local tour operators.

Know Before You Go

Hazards include, but are not limited to: rockfall, falling on ice, and falling through thin ice. Please check trail conditions before you go and be aware of your surroundings. Stay off of thin ice and watch for trees and rocks overhead that could fall into the canyon.

Trees and rocks could fall into the canyon! Be aware of your surroundings!

Fun Facts

  • Powerful forces of nature shaped this canyon over the past 10,000 years.
  • The highest parts of the canyon are 50 metres above the river!
  • The narrowest sections of the canyon are only 2 metres wide!
     Source: Parks Canada

Where to Stay

There are several accommodation options in the town of Jasper or nearby Hinton. We enjoyed Jasper Park Lodge's attractive and newly renovated rooms on our visit.


Maligne Canyon is a magical must-do winter walk in Jasper National Park! Put it on your bucket list!

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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Powder Stagecoach Cat Skiing at Castle Mountain

The Powder Stagecoach at Castle Mountain, one of only two cat skiing operations in Alberta, offers an amazing resort-based backcountry experience. Get first tracks in exclusive terrain with gorgeous views, a sweet ride, and knowledgeable guides. Besides the actual skiing, the best part was being able to put our kids in ski school for the day while we went out to play.

Our adventure begins in a private meeting room at the Castle Mountain Day Lodge where we meet everyone. Cam and Doug, our guides for the day, hook us up with backpacks, avalanche gear, and bagged lunches before launching a crash course on avalanche safety. It's a good refresher as we haven't taken avalanche training or used a beacon in several years. While it's a sobering subject, we are comforted in hearing there hasn't been an incident in Powder Stagecoach's 8 year history.

Next stop is the Huckleberry Chair. We will ride up, complete avy training, and meet the snowcat. It's a beautiful morning, mild and calm, unlike my heart. I gaze up at Mount Haig and wonder what the other side looks like - the cat skiing side. It's exciting, but daunting not knowing exactly what we're getting ourselves into. Jason Crawford, Castle Mountain Resort Sales & Marketing Manager, assures us the terrain is "mellower than the rest of the resort." That doesn't say much given that Castle has some of Canada's most challenging terrain, but I decide to put on my big girl pants.

Heading up Huckleberry Chair in my Big Girl Pants
By the time we've successfully rescued a backpack (beacon practice), the cat is parked and waiting for us. "Hey, everyone gets a seat!" someone jokes. While the cat can comfortably accommodate 12, there are only 9 of us on board. The cat skiing veterans in our midst quickly hook up their iPod so we have tunes for the ride. Van Halen's Runnin' With The Devil sets the tone and everyone is jovial. "We come here every year," the guy in front of us says gleefully, "One year we skied in 6 feet of powder!" Oh em gee... I can't even imagine! Our intrepid cat mates are warming up for a big trip to Revelstoke later in the season. Castle, they say, is a great place to get a taste of backcountry skiing in a safe atmosphere. The mountain is checked frequently and bombed as needed to reduce the risk of avalanches.

Avalanche Beacon Practice
Image Credit: Powder Stagecoach, Castle Mountain Resort
Kheang and the Snow Cat
One long song (Hotel California) later, it's time to disembark. Our instructions are simple - head down one at a time and follow calls in the trees so we all go down the same way. At the bottom, take the ski out back to the lift and repeat. Oh, and smile for the photographer!

Ready to Rip!
Image Credit: Powder Stagecoach, Castle Mountain Resort
We're the only people on the mountain and it's pure bliss. Aside from shusshing snow and the occasional whoop for joy, or signalling yodel from the guides, it's silent. There aren't even cars in the valley as the road is closed on this side of the mountain. I take a moment to savor it before making my first turns. Although there's another cat skiing group booked on the same day, we never see them as they ride up in the cat while we ski down. It's like we have our own private mountain!

Preparing to drop in!
Kheang on Roll Your Own
Image Credit: Powder Stagecoach, Castle Mountain Resort
Karen Cruisin' the Castle
Image Credit: Powder Stagecoach, Castle Mountain Resort
True to Jason's word, the terrain isn't too demanding pitchwise, but conditions are slightly challenging given the rain a few days prior to our arrival (rare for this area in January).  I'm thankful for my sweet loaner skis that can bust through the hard stuff, and for guides who know where the powder stashes are! It's definitely more fun skiing powder and Castle usually gets a TON! Two weeks after our visit, the mountain is hit with 90 cm of freshies. Next year, I'm going in February!!

Castle Mountain Storm Cam - February 6, 2017
Almost 40 cm of snow in 24 hours!!
After a fast ski out down Ski-Daddle Trail, we get to do it again. The cat drops us off at a different point on the ridge, so we can once more make first tracks. It's a pretty sweet setup! I wonder how they can keep ungroomed terrain "fresh" day after day and learn that the wind and new snow fill in tracks on the Powder Stagecoach's days off.

Amazing views
Image Credit: Powder Stagecoach, Castle Mountain Resort
Cat Skiing at Castle Mountain
Image Credit: Powder Stagecoach, Castle Mountain Resort
The cat runs 'til 3:30 pm, but we duck out early to check on the kids (little one is shy) and take a break. We're happy to hear the girls made some friends, had a hot lunch, colored, watched a movie, and are on their second ski lesson! After a quick bite, we head back out to ski until it's time for the après. We debate doing a couple more runs with the cat or resort skiing, but we've missed the cat, so we decide on the latter.

Mm.. lunch. Came with cookies, but I already ate 'em. 
Later, with drinks in hand, we mingle and check out the amazing photos from the day (professional photos available on USB for $30). The après event included in the cat skiing package is the perfect ending to a perfect day! I am inspired to ski better so I can go on more adventures like this!

Après-ski beverages sponsored by Big Rock
If you've always wanted to try backcountry skiing, but don't have avalanche training or gear, cat skiing with the Powder Stagecoach at Castle Mountain is the ultimate adventure made easy. Besides not having to get yourself to the top of a mountain, avalanche gear and training are provided, the terrain is monitored and bombed as needed to reduce the risk, your group has its own photographer, and great guides know where to find the best snow! Fat ski rentals are available onsite at Alpenland Pro Shop, and continental breakfast, lunch, and a beer are included. All you have to do is get down the mountain!

Read on for cat skiing tips!

Powder Stagecoach Cat Skiing/Riding Tips

  1. Check conditions: Check the snow report and weather before you book to ensure you have the best time ever! If there's a huge snowstorm moving in, don't delay as those cat skiing spots will go fast!
  2. Level check: Strong intermediate skiers will be fine provided you are comfortable skiing ungroomed terrain, powder, and trees. If you usually ski groomers, you can prepare by going off-piste and in the glades more often, and take a lesson on skiing powder (I need to get off the groomers more often and gain more confidence in the trees!). Kids must be 14 or older to cat ski/ride.
  3. Rent fat skis: These puppies float on the fluffy stuff and cut through hard stuff much better than regular skis. Rent from Alpenland (next to the Day Lodge) for $40. 
  4. Keep warm: Dress in layers and bring a face mask and hand warmer packets for chilly days. The face mask keeps snow out of your face on crazy pow days too. Don't forget your goggles! 
  5. Hit the can: Use the washroom before you go as there are no facilities in the cat skiing area. The good news is that the lodge is close to the Huckleberry Chair, so if you need to pop in during the day, it's a short detour.
  6. Prevent motion sickness: If you're prone to motion sickness, take a nondrowsy anti-nauseant at least an hour before you board the cat. I took ginger Gravol the night before and morning of our trip, and sat by the window, and was ok. The cat bounces a lot, but travels in a straight line, thankfully.
  7. Watch for the Mardi Gras Tree (unofficial name): As you head up the Huckleberry Chair, you'll see a tall evergreen festooned with beads and underwear. If you find out what it's about, could you please let me know? :)
  8. Continue the aps at T-Bar Pub: They have great pizza, anything you want to drink, and live music on weekends! Fun times!
Chillin' at T-Bar

Getting There

Castle Mountain is located only 2.5 hours from Calgary, about 40 minutes SW of Pincher Creek.

Driving to Castle Mountain
Image Credit: Powder Stagecoach, Castle Mountain Resort

For More Information

To Reserve Your Spot on the Powder Stagecoach, or get more information, visit Castle Mountain - Powder Stagecoach.

For more info on skiing at Castle Mountain, please see my story Destination: Castle Mountain Resort, Alberta. My whole family loves this friendly resort off the beaten path!

If you wanna see some of Castle's extreme terrain, check out this rad video by Resort TV!


Castle Mountain generously hosted our cat skiing adventure (Thank you!), but all words and opinions are my own.

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Sunday, February 5, 2017

Reaping the Rewards of Every Day Outdoor Play

Sunlight sparkled on the snow as wind gusts bowed the trees. We watched, from the kitchen table, protected from the deathly minus-30-with-windchill cold. My daughter, without warning, picked up a pen and paper and painstakingly wrote "Do you want to play outside?" What magical words to come from a 5 year old on one of the coldest days of the year! She didn't know or care what the temperature was; she just wanted to play in the snow! I was overjoyed (although I knew we wouldn't last long out there)! Little POG raced me to the door and within moments was pulling on snowpants, zipping up her coat, shoving her little feet into boots, and putting on her toque and mittens. She was dressed before I was and the last I heard, she was hollering, "See you in the back yard!!" I raced to keep up.

It isn't always like this and it's been a long time coming. The biggest challenge has always been getting out the door. When the girls were small, it literally took longer to get ready than do anything outside on chilly days! By the time one kid was dressed, the other was hot and stripping down. If I put Miss Toasty outside, she would protest (loudly) that she wanted "Inside!"and come back in before the other toastlet and I were dressed. It was a lot like herding rabid cats. (For tips on how to dress your kids in winter, see Keeping Kids Warm in Winter.)

Little POG loves snow!
By the time my kids were 3 and 1.5, I was child wrangler extraordinaire with mad ninja moves, not to mention convincing (or conniving?) acting skills. "Mommy will be so LONELY at the park without you!!" I bribed them to no end too: "If we go [here], you can have a treat!" All the things I swore I'd never do when I had kids were coming home to roost. Whatever. We were getting out and living the good life, right? Yes. Undeniably yes.

We often bribed the kids with treats. Now treats are more of a reward!
Playing outside every day is something I committed to long before having kids for countless reasons. Along with that hit of Vitamin D, which is so good for our physical and mental health, it gets us moving and gets us into nature. Kids forget what they were fighting about while they roll in the snow, and you can have a moment's peace... until you dive in with them, and I recommend you do! Outdoor play is good for adults too! We all feel happier when we get outdoors, and once it becomes a habit, you don't have to fight to get the kids out the door. Try to do it every day - even if it's only for a short time! I promise it gets easier and your kids will be beating you to the door!

How we do grocery runs!
For fun outdoor play ideas and tips on getting outside with little ones, check out these stories:

See you outside!

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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Small to Big: Growing your adventures with a baby and toddler

Today's story is a by Sarah McLean of Rockies Girl. She provides several helpful pointers on getting outside with a baby and toddler. As a mom of two kids 20 months apart, I can totally relate! 

Before my son, Baby Bear, was born, I felt like we had gotten into a groove in terms of family outings with my daughter (Little Bear). We knew how far she liked walking, how to dress her for various temperatures, what would motivate her to keep walking, and how long she'd be happy sitting in the car/carrier. I remembered the learning curve involved in getting one baby out and was a little apprehensive about how it would be getting a toddler AND a baby out of the house!  Turns out it wasn't as difficult as I anticipated though there were a few lessons I learned the hard way (snacks, don't EVER forget toddler snacks!). Here's what my experience looked like and a few things I learned along the way.

A chilly morning toddler hike on Fenland Trail
Image Credit: Sarah McLean, Rockies Girl

The first few months

When my husband and I are new to an area and wander around trying to figure out the best things to do, we joke that it is an exploratory mission.  I decided this was going to be my mindset the winter my son was born.  I tried to get out as much as possible on walks/outings with Baby Bear (while big sis was with the grandparents) to get used to his sleeping, eating, and transportation preferences.  My son was completely different in temperament and personality to my daughter so it was nice to get his routine down pat before adding in the toddler.

Getting out with a non-mobile baby and toddler

As spring rolled around, I was excited to get into more of a routine of getting outside with both kids.  No winter clothes = way easier to get out! Here are some tips to make outings go more smoothly:
  • Plan ahead. It's easiest to start with familiar, close locations at first. Inviting friends is also key. Not only for toddler entertainment, but for you! A stressful morning can be erased by a good laugh with friends. And friends usually have extras if you forget anything. 
  • Pack as much as possible the night before, in the car if possible. This includes snacks, extra clothes, diaper bags, strollers, run bike, etc. 
  • Organize your diaper bag. I use the packing cubes from MEC and have one for each kid with an extra outfit, diapers, sweater, hat & sunglasses. I also brought an emergency "fun bag" for the toddler with chalk, bubbles, a ball, and a shovel and pail.
  • Start with shorter outings. As you get more comfortable you can extend it to longer outings including lunch.
  • Feed everyone before you leave and be back home for lunch/naps. This allows you to get into a groove with fewer variables at first. 
  • However long you think you need to get ready, double it! It's much more relaxing to be early and go for a drive-thru coffee first.

Some of our favorite outings included trips to local parks to go on a nature walk or playground meet ups. 

Getting Ready for Bigger Trips

Our first out-of-town trip with both kids involved a 1.5 hr car ride each way. We discovered that unlike his sister, Baby Bear did not like to nap in his carseat. After that we decided to start with closer trips and work our way up to something longer. This allowed us to do half day trips where we could be back home for afternoon naps and possibly lunch if we left early enough! We also discovered that packing everything the night before was key.  Carriers, strollers, diaper/hiking bags, and a reusable grocery bag of extra layers for each person was all in the car the night before. Food was packed in a bag in the fridge.  In the morning we'd dress in whatever layers we wanted to wear in the car, grab our food and leave. 
Exploring the Banff Gondola catwalk with the bear cubs.
Great views and hot chocolate waiting inside the main building.
Image Credit: Sarah McLean, Rockies Girl

Do I need a double stroller?

For the first few months, we didn't need a double stroller as I was either going out with just the baby or if I went out with both, the toddler could use our single Chariot/BOB stroller and baby went in a carrier.  As Baby Bear got older and was better able to sit, we bought a Chariot Cougar 2. It gave me more options as both kids could sit in it (though usually it was one at a time), and I had more room to bring a bike, toys, diaper bag, food, etc.

 Exploring a close area, Forget-Me-Not Pond!
Great for morning excursions so you can be back home for naps. 
Baby bear was tucked away in the Chariot with his dad.
Image Credit: Sarah McLean, Rockies Girl


In the end, I think the best advice for getting out is to know yourself and know your kids. Every family is different. Each parent and each kid has a different personality and likes/dislikes. Try not to compare your family to others. Getting outside is meant to be a time to refresh your batteries and provide a breath of fresh air (literally!) and each family will find their own way to achieve this. Pack as much as it makes sense to bring, pack as much as you can the night before, and don't forget a coffee for yourself!  

About Sarah 

Sarah is a hiker, climber, skier and outdoor mama to two little ones. She lives in Calgary, Alberta and enjoys adventures both big and small in mountains or in the city. Read more on her blog: Rockies Girl, or follow her on Twitter @cdnrockiesgirl, or Instagram @cdnrockiesgirl.

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