Tag Archives: hikes near Calgary

It’s not too late to tackle summer’s best hikes

The mountains are my happy place. I was fortunate to spend many hours seeking out views and breathing in the scent of pine-baked trails this summer.

In my happy place.

In my happy place.

We haven’t hiked this much since 2012, when Blake and I were training for our Kilimajaro trek. What a difference four years makes! The kids actually enjoy hiking now. What’s more, they can go for ever greater distances, which means we can actually do some interesting hikes with rewarding views.

This week and upcoming weekend are shaping up to be the nicest weather we’ve had in a while. So, if you need some hiking inspiration, here’s the highlight reel from our summer in the mountains.

Best hike for kids: The Old Growth Trail in Fernie, B.C. gently ascends from Mt. Fernie Provincial Park four kilometres to Island Lake Lodge. There are bridges across streams, logs to balance upon, giant Western red cedar trees to hug and a pretty mountain lake at the end.

Avery stands on a Western red cedar along the Old Growth Trail in Fernie, B.C.

Avery stands on a Western red cedar along the Old Growth Trail in Fernie, B.C.

Bag a peak with kids: Our children made it to the top of their first “mountain” this summer — Castle Rocks in Fernie. It’s not so much a peak as a rocky high point of the Flathead Range on the Elk Valley’s east side. Avery and Bennett loved finding and eating five kinds of berries on the hike up (thimble berries, Saskatoons, raspberries, strawberries and huckleberries). They also liked picking out landmarks at the top like Fernie Alpine Resort and the Lizard Range across the valley. I couldn’t believe they hiked almost eight kilometres round trip!

That moment when we reached Castle Rocks outcrop.

That moment when we reached Castle Rocks outcrop.

Most epic/Best variety: After 20 years of talking about it, Blake and I finally tackled the storied Crypt Lake hike in Waterton Lakes National Park. It’s been named Canada’s “best hike” and one of the “world’s 20 most thrilling trails.” That’s a lot of hype, but when a day hike packs in a boat ride to the trailhead, a 600-foot-high waterfall, a ladder climb, a 40-foot tunnel crawl, and a cable-assited cliff traverse, the thrills — and the stunning mountain cathedral views — are for real.

Behind that waterfall wall lies Crypt Lake.

Behind that waterfall wall lies Crypt Lake. I’d forgotten how much I love the mountain amphitheatres that make up this Alberta park.

Most surprising: The Chester Lake hike off of Spray Lakes Road in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Alta. is a busy thoroughfare on a summer day, and it’s easy to see why. At four kilometres one way and only 310 metres of elevation gain, it’s a no-sweat way to get your wildflower and alpine lake fix. But venture beyond the glassy lake and things get interesting. Another hiker staying at nearby Mount Engadine Lodge gave us that tip and we were thrilled to discover a giant limestone rock slide deposit called Elephant Rocks not 10 minutes past Chester Lake. They look like something out of The Lion King and make a great scramble up for a snack break. We will return with the kids!

This rock deposit left over from a rock slide looks more Serengheti than Canadian Rockies. It was out favourite part of the Chester Lake hike.

This rock deposit left over from a rock slide looks more Serengeti than Canadian Rockies. It was our favourite part of the Chester Lake hike.

Most challenging/Best views: Before our stay at Mount Engadine Lodge, I had never heard of Tent Ridge. In fact, it’s not even listed as a trail on either of our 20-year-old Gem Trek maps of the Kananaskis area (it is an option on more recent versions). Not only is this hike mostly a ridge walk — you’re up in the alpine with spectacular views of the Rockies and Spray Lake for about six of the 11 kilometres — it’s also a loop! It’s a bit of a scramble to get up to the ridge, with some light route finding, but those challenges made us appreciate the apres-hike beers on the lodge’s deck all the more.

The mountains seem to go on forever on this hike.

The mountains seem to go on forever on this hike.

We’re planning to hike with the kids this weekend. Any suggestions?

Hiking at Glenbow Ranch with kids

Last summer Blake and I went hiking at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park. This new Alberta park near Cochrane sits on the site of the old Cochrane Ranch, Glenbow town and sandstone quarry. It features a visitor centre, picnic tables and washrooms, paved biking trails along with gravel hiking paths, all with interpretive signage. The trails meander over prairie and through aspen groves, and several parallel the Bow River, although a couple trails remained closed from the flooding that happened in June.

The views are pretty and the hiking is not difficult, so I took the kids for a hike there mid-week. We walked the Yodel Loop, a trail that park staff estimated was “a couple of kilometres.”

Looking down at the Bow River from a viewpoint at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park.

Looking down at the Bow River from a viewpoint at Glenbow Ranch.

We set out down the main paved pathway, then cut left onto a gravel trail that ascended up a switchback to a ridge overlooking the river, with fields of canola — and the Rocky Mountains — in the distance. This should’ve been my first clue to take it easy as the children were already guzzling water and walking slowly as if in a heat-induced trance. Indeed, that’s the problem with hiking on bald-ass prairie = no shade (we did wander through a small aspen grove half way through the hike and enjoyed respite from the sun).

The park would also benefit from identifying its trails, as well as marking exact distances — nowhere along the route did we see a sign that said “Yodel Loop” or any indication of how much farther we had to go. The hike was closer to three kilometres (or slightly more) and I may have reconsidered walking it with kids on such a hot day had I known the actual length beforehand. Fortunately I had taken a picture of the park trail system on my iPhone and referred to it periodically to figure out where we were:

Make sure you have a trail map to navigate the park, as paths are not marked.

Make sure you have a trail map to navigate the park, as paths are not marked.

Some hike highlights: Avery caught a grasshopper, I loved all the wildflowers adjacent to the path, and Bennett liked it when I poured the contents of my water bottle over his head to cool him down.

The low point? When Bennett declared, “I’m tired Mommy… and I’m hot,” then plopped down in the middle of the trail when we were still more than a kilometre from the car. After a bribe of apple slices and more cold water he rallied and completed the hike under his own power. Next time we’ll bring even more water and perhaps a parasol for shade.

Bennett forges ahead on the ridge path at Glenbow Ranch.

Bennett forges ahead on the Yodel Loop hike at Glenbow Ranch.

Cool activities for kids at Glenbow Park

If you’re looking for summer camps or even half day activities for children, the park has a full schedule of programs for kids. We live too far from Glenbow Ranch to consider them, but for families in Calgary’s northwest the Little Naturalists camp running July 22-26 for kids aged 7-9 sounds pretty awesome.