Our fave 5 family attractions in Calgary

There are only two weeks of summer left (and a measly 10 days if your kids are in the Catholic system). It’s a time of mixed emotions — we’re sad because the season is coming to an end, yet ebullient at the thought of child-free September days. But we’re also plum out of ideas for how to occupy the children during summer break’s homestretch.

These are a few of our favourite outdoor places to go for fun, in no particular order. Some are popular attractions that charge admission; others are free. Hopefully one of our fave 5  stops will become your go-to.

Calgary Zoo

When the kids were little we had zoo passes and visited the Calgary Zoo almost weekly during the summer. Now that they’re older (11 and eight) we go about twice a year. It’s great fun to visit the animals that we think of as our old friends, including the gorilla troop, tigers and curious penguins. During our last visit we also bade Sabari, the rhinoceros, goodbye. He’s leaving in mid-September to make room for the giant panda exhibit, which is slated to open in 2018.

The Penguin Plunge at the Calgary Zoo is a family favourite.

The Penguin Plunge at the Calgary Zoo is a family favourite.

Inglewood Bird Sanctuary

We are a bit biased toward this protected natural area as we live a block away, but the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary is a neat place to bring kids. You have a great chance of seeing not only birds (from great blue herons to bald eagles), but other wildlife including deer and muskrats. Also, a lot of people don’t realize that all of the trails that were damaged during the 2013 flood have now reopened.

This is why they call it a bird sanctuary -- a great blue heron rests atop a fallen tree.

This is why they call it a bird sanctuary — a great blue heron rests atop a fallen tree.

Heritage Park

Did you know the rides at Heritage Park are now included in the cost of admission? During our last visit we were super excited to just hop on the swings and carousel on the midway of this historical village. For those new to town, Heritage Park is an “olden days” attraction that brings to life various eras of a settler’s life in the west, from the fur trade at a replica fort to the dusty streets of a frontier town complete with ice cream shop and candy store. All the workers even dress the part (and are knowledgeable about their particular role), which makes it fun.

Bennett loved the swings and Avery was brave enough to try them, even though the spinning almost caused lunch to come up.

Bennett loved the swings and Avery was brave enough to try them, even though the spinning almost caused lunch to come up.

St. Patrick’s Island

This new-ish urban park has a natural-materials playground, a wading area, walking paths and a giant grassy hill to walk up and roll down (where they show free movies on select summer evenings). What’s more, St. Patrick’s Island is right on the bike path by the Bow River near Fort Calgary, so you can easily get there under your own power, bring a picnic and make a day of it. Be sure and check out the other new natural play space in neighbouring East Village, or pop into the Simmons Building for a coffee, cocktail or baked goodie.

St. Patrick's Island is a lovely redeveloped urban park between the Calgary Zoo and East Village.

St. Patrick’s Island is a lovely redeveloped urban park between the Calgary Zoo and East Village. Here, Bennett wades in a Bow River off-shoot.

Calaway Park

The beauty of Calgary’s amusement park is its small size. You can easily “do Calaway” in a day and I’ve hardly ever encountered a wait time longer than 10 or 15 minutes, so you can go on your favourite rides more than once. And don’t miss the Bumper Boats on a hot day — the best!

On the airplane ride at the Calaway Park kiddie zone.

Bennett on the airplane ride in the Calaway Park kiddie zone.

Finally, don’t forget to go for ice cream one more time this summer! The Calgary Zoo, Calaway Park and Heritage Park all have ice cream vendors, and you can ride over to Village Ice Cream from St. Patrick’s Island, or pop in to the Inglewood Drive In for a chocolate dip cone or milkshake if you’re at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.

Now that's a proper kid-sized ice cream cone.

I scream for ice cream!

Le Grand Fizz

A hot summer day calls for a long and fizzy cocktail that’s light, citrusy and slightly sweet. I was served just the one at the Grey Goose Canada Boulangerie Bleue event, held at Charbar last night.

Le Grand Fizz is Grey Goose’s take on a classic fizz, with vodka in place of gin, lime juice rather than lemon, and St-Germain elderflower liqueur as the sweetening agent. This drink is super refreshing and not too sweet. Best of all, it gives us another reason to drink St-Germain, a French liqueur that’s made from macerated elderflower blossoms and tastes like honey, flowers and sunshine. And it goes without saying, Le Grand Fizz should be enjoyed on a sunny patio, preferably one with a view of The Bow.

This vodka take on a fizz tastes like summer in a glass.

This vodka take on a fizz tastes like summer in a glass. Photo is from my Instagram, @lisakadane.

Le Grand Fizz

  • 1.5 oz Grey Goose vodka
  • 1 oz St-Germain elderflower liqueur
  • 0.5 oz fresh lime juice
  • Top soda water (approximately 2 oz)
  • Garnish: Lemon and lime wheel dropped into the glass, and a Grey Goose stir stick

Method: Build over ice in a red wine glass and garnish with a lemon and lime wheel, and a Grey Goose stir stick.

— Recipe courtesy Julien Lafond, Grey Goose brand ambassador

Top 5 kids’ summer activities in Fernie

We’ve been coming to the small mountain town of Fernie, in the southeast corner of British Columbia, for the past nine summers. Our family is usually here for all the summer long weekends, including our favourite — August long.

Downtown Fernie had charm galore, and some cute boutiques and great restaurants (order the Switchback Salmon at Big Bang Bagels).

Downtown Fernie has charm galore, and some cute boutiques and great restaurants (order the Switchback Salmon at Big Bang Bagels!).

There’s no doubt Fernie is an outdoor destination, nestled as it is in the Elk Valley, where the Elk River cuts a path at the foot of the Lizard Range, which is part of the Canadian Rockies. Winter visitors come to ski, while summer guests spend their days hiking and mountain biking. When you bring kids, you add activities like swimming to the mix. Since we come so often with our children, aged 11 and eight, we’ve got the whole Fernie-with-kids thing dialled. Here are our Top 5 kids’ summer activities in Fernie:

1. Hike the Old Growth Trail to Island Lake Lodge

Giant cedar trees, mossy logs and a wide path that gently ascends to Island Lake are the top draws on the kid-friendly Old Growth Trail. The trailhead is located at the 4-kilometre mark on the road that cuts through Mt. Fernie Provincial Park on its way up to Island Lake Lodge. The hike is well-marked and — most importantly for children — easy, gaining just 250 metres as it climbs four kilometres to Island Lake.

We humans sure look tiny next to these giant Western Red Cedars on Fernie's Old Growth Trail.

We humans look tiny next to these giant Western Red Cedars.

What’s more, there are numerous kid distractions along the way, such as balancing on fallen trees, or measuring an 800-year-old cedar’s girth by hugging it (one of them is “seven arm spans” around, which works out to a circumference of about 28 feet!). Best of all, you can reward yourself apres-hike on the Bear Lodge patio at Island Lake Lodge, with some lavender lemonade for the kids and a Sunny Side cocktail for the adults.

2. Spend a day at Surveyor’s Lake in Kikomun Creek Provincial Park

Surveyor’s Lake is not technically in Fernie — it’s about a 30 minute drive south and then west on Hwy. 3 (turn left at the Kikomun Newgate Road, just past the Hwy. 93 turn-off, and follow the signs to Kikomun Creek Provincial Park) — but it’s the favourite family lake in the region, in part because of its small size, warm water and the fact that motorized craft are not allowed.

The dock at Surveyor's Lake is a busy place on a summer afternoon.

The dock at Surveyor’s Lake is a busy place on a summer afternoon.

Over the years we have collected buckets, water noodles and even a four-person raft, and we love to paddle to the lake’s small inlets in search of the Western Painted turtles that like to sun themselves on fallen logs.

It's easy to spot Western Painted turtles at Surveyor's Lake.

It’s easy to spot Western Painted turtles at Surveyor’s Lake.

Don’t worry — if you don’t own a water conveyance, you can rent a kayak, stand-up paddle board or pedal-boat from Turtle Haven Rentals. We also always hike the two-kilometre-long trail that circumnavigates the lake, and we spend plenty of time swimming and jumping from the dock. It’s pure lake bliss.

3. Practice wheeled skills at Fernie’s Skate Park and Dirt Jump Park

Confession: I would likely kill myself if I tried to scooter or take my mountain bike over a jump at the Skate Park or adjacent Dirt Bike Park, which are both conveniently located next to the Fernie Aquatic Centre and its outdoor splash park. But it’s pure entertainment to watch the local kids defy gravity on wheels, even if it’s terrifying to see your own offspring attempt new tricks.

I love the contrast between urban graffiti and nature's mountain splendour at the Fernie Skate Park.

I love the contrast between urban graffiti and nature’s mountain splendour at the Fernie Skate Park. Here, Avery scooters with two friends.

Our daughter likes going to the Fernie Skate Park because it’s small and isn’t very crowded, so there’s no pressure to perform. She also likes navigating the mountain bike skills area, which is next to the Dirt Jump Park.

4. Mountain bike the new Lazy Lizard trail

This wide, leisurely bike path wends its way from Island Lake Lodge down 339 metres over seven kilometres to Mt. Fernie Provincial Park. You’ll see mountain bikers pedalling up the trail, but if you’re bringing children on this ride, the best way to do it is to have someone drop you off at the lodge and ride (mostly) down hill.

The Lazy Lizard trail covers seven kilometres between Island Lake Lodge and Mt. Fernie Provincial Park.

The Lazy Lizard trail covers seven kilometres between Island Lake Lodge and Mt. Fernie Provincial Park.

Avery has biked the Lazy Lizard twice. The first time she was very cautious and had to walk her bike on the uphill parts; the most recent time she rocked it, pedalling hard, going fast and letting loose with some, “Woo-hoos!” She totally schooled me, in fact, as I wiped out twice! It’s not what you’d call a technical trail — it has berms and wide bridges for stream crossings, plus the odd feature for Dad to catch air off of. Kids (and this mom) can take it slowly but still have a blast.

5. Ride the chairlift at Fernie Alpine Resort for some wildflower hiking

In the summer, the slopes at Fernie Alpine Resort blossom with wildflowers. You can purchase a single-ride ticket and catch the Timber Chair express four-person lift for some chairlift-assisted hiking.

The best way to access alpine hikes at Fernie is to ride the Timber Chair. Sadly, summer operations ended this weekend.

The best way to access alpine hikes at Fernie is to ride the Timber Chair.

The Lost Boys Lookout and Lost Boys Loop trails are easy hikes from the top of Timber Chair. You can also sign up for a guided hike or tour, like the one with “Nature Bob,” a local who has been leading hikes for over a decade and who can point out everything of interest.

The children loved jumping over rocks at the Mammoth Droppings, the hike highlight.

The children and some friends loved jumping over rocks at the Mammoth Droppings, the highlight of our hike four years ago (!) with Nature Bob.

Whatever you do on your long weekend in Fernie, make sure to get outside in this beautiful mountain town!

Long Hot Summer

The dog days of summer officially arrive this weekend, and we’ll see August stretch before us all hot and hazy. The holiday weekend marks the halfway point of summer break (cue tears) so if you need a drink to cry into — or one to cheer you up while cooling you down — I found just the one at Island Lake Lodge near Fernie, B.C.

The Long Hot Summer is light and refreshing with just a touch of heat from muddled jalapeños to keep things interesting. I love that it uses fresh raspberries and Chambord for sweetness, plus ginger beer for spice and fizz. It’s totally crushable, and even more so if you’re lucky enough to drink it on a patio with a view of the Lizard Range. Cheers!

Beat the heat with this spicy cooler -- aptly named a Long Hot Summer -- from Island Lake Lodge.

Beat the heat with this spicy cooler — aptly named a Long Hot Summer — from Island Lake Lodge.

Long Hot Summer

  • 2 raspberries
  • 2 jalapeño slices
  • 1 oz fresh lime juice
  • 1 oz Absolut vodka
  • 1/2 oz Chambord
  • Top ginger beer
  • Garnish: Lime wedge and a raspberry

Method: In the base of a cocktail shaker, muddle raspberries and jalapeño slices with lime juice. Add vodka and Chambord, plus ice, then shake. Strain into a rocks glass filled with new ice and top with ginger beer. Garnish with a lime wedge on the rim and a raspberry dropped into the glass.

— Recipe courtesy Island Lake Lodge

It’s Saskatoon berry season!

The Saskatoon berries are ripe and ready for picking in Fernie, B.C. We spent about an hour harvesting the juicy berries, which look like blueberries but are actually more closely related to apples! (They taste rather like blueberries, too, but are not quite as sweet.)

Avery holds out a handful of Saskatoon berries. She was a great help picking them. Bennett, on the other hand, spent the entire walk eating his harvest.

Avery holds out a handful of Saskatoon berries. She was a great help picking them. Bennett, on the other hand, spent the entire walk eating his harvest.

There are so many Saskatoons on bushes right now, we walked away with about 12 cups of them. The kids love berry picking as it involves immediate gratification — they had Saskatoon stains all over their hands and faces! Our favourite spots to berry pick are along the pathway near the Fernie Stanford Resort, and over on the river trail behind the Fernie Golf Club.

We filled up this pitcher with Saskatoon berries in no time!

We filled up this pitcher with Saskatoon berries in no time!

The fruit pickers hard at work along the river trail behind the Fernie Golf Club.

The fruit pickers hard at work along the river trail behind the Fernie Golf Club.

What to do with so many Saskatoons? We’ve been adding them to breakfast smoothies and yogurt. Avery and Grammie also baked a Saskatoon berry pie. It turned out beautifully and was so delicious we ate it in one day! We are going to bake another one later this week with the rest of our harvest.

Saskatoon berry pie is a summertime treat, and a great taste of Canada!

Saskatoon berry pie is a summertime treat, and a great taste of Canada!

Saskatoon berry pie

  • 1 pie pastry
  • 5 cups Saskatoon berries
  • 1/2 cup white sugar, plus 1 tsp. set aside to sprinkle on the top crust
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3 tbsp. flour (we used pancake mix)
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp. butter

Method: Preheat oven to 425F. In a sauce pan, combine the berries, 1/2 cup sugar, water, flour and lemon juice. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 10 minutes. The berries should turn into a jam-like filling and thicken up. Pour the filling into a pie pastry and dot with the butter. You can either make your own pastry, or use a prepared frozen pastry (that’s what we did!). Place a second pie pastry on top, making sure to cut a few holes in it to let hot air escape, and then press the bottom and top crust together using a fork. Sprinkle the top with the remaining 1 tsp. sugar. Finally, put the pie in the oven and bake for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350F and bake for another 35-45 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream and enjoy!

Take flight to hike: what surprised me about helicopter-assisted hiking

Every time I have been in a helicopter, the whirly bird has transported me somewhere beautiful.

A Bell 212 helicopter comes to fly us to another spectacular hiking site in the Bugaboos.

A Bell 212 helicopter operated by Canadian Mountain Holidays flies in to transport us to another spectacular hiking site.

First, it was to Assiniboine Lodge near Mount Assiniboine, a.k.a. Canada’s Matterhorn. The second time it was a tour around the real Matterhorn mountain in Switzerland; after we circumnavigated the pointy Alp, the chopper deposited us atop Zermatt ski area for a day of on-piste schussing. More recently, a Bell 212 whisked me into the snow-covered backcountry near Revelstoke, B.C. for an epic day heli-skiing. And then last weekend a helicopter flew me up into the Bugaboos for some heli-hiking with Canadian Mountain Holidays.

Like heli-skiing, heli-hiking uses a helicopter to deliver guests high into the mountains where they can walk along alpine ridges, stride across wildflower-studded meadows and even ascend to the toe of (or onto) immense glaciers streaked blue, white and brown. I’ll be writing a couple different stories about the experience in magazines next spring, but wanted to share a few things that surprised me about this awesome pastime.

Mother nature beats the whirly bird, hands down

Yes, zipping around in a helicopter is a fun and exhilarating way to travel. You take off, and moments later you land in a place that would take you days to access on foot. But step outside the chopper and you’ll see that the real show stopper is the scenery.

Hiking across a meadow toward the Bugaboos while heli-hiking with Canadian Mountain Holidays.

Just me and the mountains — walking toward the Bugaboos while heli-hiking with Canadian Mountain Holidays.

We hiked right up to the glacier-fed lagoon beneath Vowell Glacier.

We hiked right up to the glacier-fed lagoon beneath Vowell Glacier.

We hiked out of CMH Bugaboos Lodge, set smack in the middle of the Bugaboos, a series of granite spires that dominate the skyline of the Pucell Mountains in southeastern British Columbia. The Bugaboos would be impressive on their own, but their rugged beauty is enhanced by the glaciers — part of the Conrad Icefield — that spill down between their flanks, and the verdant meadows below. I’ve explored Banff, Kootenay, Yoho, Jasper and Waterton Lakes national parks, and Glacier National Park in Montana, and have never seen such alpine awesomeness. The Bugaboos had me at hello.

The views are even great from the lodge

You could go “heli-hiking” and not even hike to see beautiful scenery. Right out the back door of the lodge is a spectacular view of several Bugaboos spires. You can also admire the mountains from the comfort of the roof-top hot tub, or from a seat at the bar while sipping on The 5:30 cocktail.

A quick stroll from CMH Bugaboos Lodge takes you to this small pond where the mountains are reflected in the still water.

A quick stroll from CMH Bugaboos Lodge takes you to this small pond where the mountains are reflected in the still water.

“Heli Belly” is a real affliction

Travellers to India get Delhi belly. Guests at CMH Bugaboos are at risk of developing Heli Belly. Basically, this first world problem involves eating more delicious food than you are able to burn off while hiking (or, in the winter, skiing).

You will get fat and happy eating pancakes for brekky at CMH Bugaboos. Photo by Tammy Hanratty.

You will get fat and happy eating pancakes for brekky at CMH Bugaboos. Photo by Tammy Hanratty.

You start the day with a hot breakfast of eggs and bacon or pancakes, plus fresh fruit and yogurt or muesli; grab a couple of sandwiches and some cookies to sustain your energy levels while hiking; indulge in apres-hiking fare dubbed “tea goody” (heavy on the goodies, light on the tea); and end the evening with a hearty dinner and dessert — followed by a nightcap at the bar — before rolling your now-heavier body into bed.

The hiking guides make a big difference

I’ve often wondered whether a guide is necessary while hiking. The majority of the hiking I’ve done has been guide-free, armed with a good map and bear spray. But there’s something liberating about leaving the details of where you’re going, and how you’ll defend yourself against grizzlies, to an ACMG (Association of Canadian Mountain Guides)-certified guide.

Not only did they keep in radio contact with the chopper, our CMH guides kept us safe and educated us about everything we saw along the trail.

Not only did they keep in radio contact with the chopper, our CMH guides kept us safe and educated us about everything we saw along the trail.

What’s more, our guides were troves of mountain knowledge, able to point out and identify every plant and flower, and educate us on the region’s geology and history at the same time. I learned a lot as I explored one of Canada’s most beautiful places.

Canadian Mountain Holidays runs summer trips out of their Bugaboos and Bobbie Burns lodges through Sept. 4.

 

 

Happy hour in the Bugaboos

Happy hour after heli-hiking goes something like this: Grab a beer from the bar at the Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH) Bugaboos Lodge, take it to the rooftop hot tub to enjoy with a view of the mountains, and then — at 5:30, or sometime before dinner — order The 5:30 cocktail.

Bartender Rob Vinson shakes his version of a Sidecar with pear brandy instead of cognac and lime juice rather than lemon. You wouldn’t think that a bunch of hikers would be ordering cocktails in the backcountry of British Columbia, but the surprising thing about heli-hiking — using a Bell 212 helicopter to access alpine ridges for hiking that would otherwise remain inaccessible — is it empowers you to try new things, whether it’s a via ferrata, or a dry, citrusy and strong sipper at day’s end. And if you line up your glass just right, the impressive Houndstooth Spire makes a great garnish!

The 5:30 is a twist on a Sidecar, with pear brandy instead of cognac. It's just the thing to take you away after a day hiking from the whirly bird.

The 5:30 is a twist on a Sidecar, with pear brandy instead of cognac. It’s just the thing to take you away after a day hiking from a whirly bird.

The 5:30

  • 1 oz Okanagan Spirits Poire Williams (Pear Brandy)
  • 1 oz Cointreau
  • 1/2 lime, muddled

Method: Muddle half a lime in the base of a cocktail shaker. Add pear brandy, Cointreau and ice, shake. Double strain into a chilled martini glass.

— Cocktail courtesy Rob Vinson, bartender at CMH Bugaboos