Tag Archives: hiking with kids

Big Hill Springs: great family hike for fall colours

It had been exactly three years since we hiked the 2.3-kilomtre loop trail at Big Hill Springs Provincial Park near Cochrane. September is a wonderful month to hike here, as the foliage is changing colours and provides a beautiful golden backdrop to the main attraction: a series of waterfalls that cascade over rocky terraces.

Avery said, "Wow, look up!" Gorgeous.

During a rest stop along the trail Avery said, “Wow, look up!” Gorgeous.

We like to hike the loop backwards so we're rewarded with the waterfalls at the end of the trail.

We like to hike the loop backwards so we’re rewarded with (read: the kids can play in) the stream and waterfalls at the end of the trail.

Back then, the kids were six and four, and it took much longer for their little legs to tackle the trail. Now, at ages nine and seven, we seemed to effortlessly crest the hill and zoom through the groves of aspens and stands of spruce trees in no time, ending the hike at the spring-fed stream and falls for which the park is named.

Avery (then 6) and Bennett (then 4) at hike's end in 2011.

Avery (then 6) and Bennett (then 4) at hike’s end in 2011.

Avery, 9, and Bennett, 7, at hike's end.

Avery, 9, and Bennett, 7, at hike’s end this past weekend.

Really, this is the perfect hike for children: it’s close to Calgary, it’s not too long and the total elevation gain is only 20 metres. What’s more, there’s plenty to keep kids interested including giant tufa boulders to clamber upon, a couple of wood ‘tepees’ to explore midway along the trail and lots of opportunities for water play.

This wood fort 'tepee' was a new addition along the trail.

This wood fort ‘tepee’ was a new addition along the trail.

My favourite part of the hike was walking along the leaf-littered path through the aspens as new yellow leaves floated down to join the seasonal carpet, with Avery exclaiming, “It’s so pretty!” It’s seems amazing how much more the kids can do — and how much more they appreciate hiking — in three short years.

My how they've grown.

My how they’ve grown.


Let them chase frogs (and get muddy!)

With temperatures returning to seasonal highs this week, it seems this past weekend may have been summer’s last hurrah. Time to reflect on an amazing three months that included hiking, kayaking, canoeing, trampoline bouncing, sandcastle building, Saskatoon berry picking and lots of swimming.

Getting muddy feet at the lake = fun!

What my summer didn’t include? Crafts of any sort (kill me now), mall visits or time in the basement watching movies when it was beautiful outside. After spending 10 days in Fernie, B.C. (during which time I missed Calgary not at all), I came to realize I am a nature-mama. I want my kids outside exploring the great outdoors and catching butterflies, discovering beaver trails and finding pretty-coloured rocks.

My kids are drawn to water and Avery has no problem tracking down (and capturing) lake denizens. It’s awesome! Note: dirty fingernails means she’s having fun.

A recent Motherlode blog in the New York Times talked about how spending time outdoors climbing trees not only teaches kids their own physical boundaries, it builds their confidence. It reminded me of all the hoopla several years ago surrounding “nature deficit disorder.” Remember that? The media was full of stories about how this generation of children is spending too much time inside playing video games instead of playing street hockey or jumping in puddles after a rainstorm. They hypothesized the phenomenon was creating a bunch of fat, socially mal-adjusted kids who couldn’t tell the difference between a robin and a rooster. The upshot? Nature is a great, free source of active fun that helps kids grow.

Playing “Leaf Monster” = fun!

Taken together, these two ideas — encouraging my kids to get a daily dose of nature while at the same time letting them (or, ahem, gently pushing them) to take risks and step outside of their comfort zone — have somewhat shaped my parenting philosophy. But still, I have to remind myself to stop saying, “Be careful!” every time Avery goes out on a limb. And I have to willfully ignore Bennett’s repeated requests for “Help!” when he’s navigating a hiking trail — nine times out of 10 he can manage on his own and is super proud of himself afterwards: “I did it all by myself, Mommy!” I also turn a blind eye to the dirty feet, grass-stained clothes and mud-wedged fingernails (difficult, but not impossible), and try to remind myself that dirt is good for my kids, even if it’s bad for my floors. Really.

I’m sad the days are getting shorter and the temperatures cooler, making it less inviting to go outside and play. But I welcome winter and a new season of challenges and adventures: ice skating on a frozen pond, skiing down a snow-covered mountain and lots of sledding. Bring it on!

Hiking in Fernie with “Nature Bob”

My husband and I love hiking with our kids and we usually strike out on the trails solo as a family of four. But on Saturday we bumped into Fernie nature guide Bob Livsey — a.k.a. “Nature Bob” — at the top of the Timber Chair at Fernie Alpine Resort. With no hikes booked for the afternoon he asked if he could tag along as a guide while we hiked the Lost Boys loop, a 1.7-kilometre trail that descends to the Mammoth Droppings (giant boulders below Mammoth Peak) before climbing 100 metres to the Lost Boys Pass lookout. We said, “Sure!”

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

Friends of ours and their two boys had come along for the fun, so our party of eight, plus Nature Bob, began the hike, curious what a hiking guide could add to the experience. A lot, it turns out.

Walking through dense forest before we reached the impressive Mammoth Droppings boulders, Bob pointed out ripe huckleberries that the kids immediately gobbled down. He also showed us the delicious-looking yet poisonous twisted stalk red berries, and explained that purple elderberries are only edible when cooked. Good to know.

Nature Bob points to the top of Mammoth Peak, from which large boulders have fallen to form the “Mammoth Droppings” in the background.

Nature Bob has been leading hikes at Fernie Alpine Resort for 12 years, and he teaches skiing there in the winter, so he knows the mountain extremely well. He explained the rock formations and helped us find crinoid fossils in slabs of limestone. We also spotted a distant critter that looked like either a coyote or a fox; Bob used his binoculars to determine it was a coyote.

One in our party holds up two limestone slabs to show off the crinoid fossils.

Bob loved that our kids and our friend’s boys delighted in finding caterpillars, catching grasshoppers, watching chipmunks and jumping over rocks at the Mammoth Droppings. He also liked that we asked lots of questions and seemed prepared for the unpredictable late-summer weather (it was 20C at the bottom of Timber Chair and probably 10C at the top, some 700 metres higher). “Some people show up for alpine hikes wearing flip-flops,” he lamented. “And some folks just go, go, go, without taking in what they’re seeing. It’s like they’re running a race.” Yep, with four kids aged four to 11 in tow, that was not us. We were all about sloooow hiking.

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

We never made it to the Lost Boys Pass lookout (the downside of slow hiking) but that’s OK. It was fun to explore part of the mountain with someone in the know. And that way, contrary to the name of the trail, it ensured we didn’t get lost.

Nature Bob runs guided hikes throughout the summer at Fernie Alpine Resort. The season is now over, but you can e-mail him next summer at naturebob@telus.net, or call the resort’s guest services at 250-423-2435 to enquire about guided hikes.