Beaver Flats Interpretive Trail – Hiking with Kids

With this week’s poor air quality rating and the repaving related traffic snarls on Scott Lake Hill we chose to avoid getting stuck in traffic on Hwy 1 went to Bragg Creek instead.

It’s always a challenge finding a the right trail that will suit the kids and adults alike. My criteria are:

  • The location must be in the mountains or as wild as possible
  • The return distance should be 2-3km; maybe up to 5km but then we’re getting in carrying and whining
  • If possible it should end in something interesting that will give the kids a reason to keep going. Waterfalls, lakes, viewpoints, etc are all “interesting”
  • The ratio of outdoor time to driving time must be greater than one. Example: if it’s a 1 hr drive to get somewhere we have to be outdoors for at least 2 hours to make it worthwhile. With our current nap schedule it’s challenging to reach more distant places.

We took the kids out for a nice easy hike along the Beaver Flats Interpretive Trail. The trailhead is a small paved pull-off just past the Elbow Falls parking lot. From there the well built trail drops down towards the river and follows along a marshy fenland near the Elbow river.

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The trail is well maintained and critical bridges have been rebuilt after the 2013 flooding that wiped out a huge amount of infrastructure in this region. Like our trip to Upper Kananaskis Lakes we brought the Chariot again and pressed it into service as pack-mule and rescue-vehicle for tired kids. The Upper Kan trail was challenging for the Chariot with roots and narrow sections, and by comparison the Beaver Flats trail was easy terrain for our mule.

The best part for the kids was the series of beaver dams along the way. They enjoyed looking for beavers (we only saw a frog and some ducks), standing a beaver’s house, and throwing rocks in the water.

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The trail ends at the Beaver Flats campground, conveniently right near some outhouses too. We turned around there and followed the trail back all the way back to the first bridge where we ate lunch.

In the end Logan (3.9 yrs) and Riley (2.5 yrs) both hiked the whole distance and there was no need to use the Chariot for them. Emily (5mo) rode happily in the Ergo for half the trip then in the Chariot for the other half. Total distance according my Gem Trek map is 1.3km one-way, however measured on Google Maps it shows only 950m. Either way, the kids did 2 km or more without whining or crying and it was a fun morning.

One of the best parts of this hike is that it was very low stress. It doesn’t take long to get there, you don’t need anything in particular for it, and it isn’t a committing trail. Another important aspect is that I had already lowered my expectations for the day and wasn’t anticipating a summit or a lot of distance. This really helped frame the day as a chance to be outside, to play in the mountains, and to create a positive experience for everyone.

Better Outdoor Trips with Kids: Lower your expectations

One of the hardest lessons for me to learn about hiking or camping with small kids, is that I need to substantially lower my expectations.

Our trip last year to Sunshine Meadows was a good example of that. We did a lot of prep for the trip: had our packs ready the night before, clothes, boots, and snacks all lined up; got up early to catch the bus from Sunshine; pumped the kids up for a fun day in the mountains and how we’d hike all the way to Rock Isle Lake. Then we get off the bus, start moving, and 100m later the kids want snacks and a break! Super Frustrating!

This was the first moment when it became fully clear to me that we needed to redefine what it mean to have success int the outdoors with kids. Prior to having kids “success” usually meant blasting out four summits in three days or getting up at 4am to climb a snowy couloir. While I am confident that we’ll have those days again they aren’t the kind of adventures you can have with a kid under 4.

Banff based adventurer, writer, and parent, Meghan J Ward of the Adventures in Parenthood Project addressed this re-definition really well in her piece The Transition to Parenthood: 5 (More) things I didn’t consider. Number 3 on her list that “Practicality Will Keep You Sane”, she writes

A huge weight lifted off my shoulders when I discovered, and accepted, that it would be impossible to keep my standards for, well, everything. Organization, cleanliness, punctuality… I do my best, but I simply had to let go of my perfectionism in these areas. I also let practicality guide my outdoor pursuits. I pushed it a few times this summer, but mostly preferred gentler, whine-free adventures. Eventually we’ll be able to handle longer hikes and less stressful overnights. (source)

After our meltdown at Sunshine Meadows we redefined success in the outdoors with kids as the following:

  • Having fun
  • Letting the kids set the pace
  • Sharing a love of the outdoors
  • Having a positive experience for kids and parents

As our kids grow in age, skills, and ability we can keep refining and adjusting our definition of success outdoors, but for now this works for us.

 

Family Walk Time

One of our emerging family traditions is the Family Walk Time. It actually started when Jamie and I were still living in Denver as a way to stretch our legs after dinner and stay active on days when we weren’t out climbing mountains. Regardless of the weather we would head outside for an hour-long walk through our community. There was no destination, no time to beat, and no minimum distance to make it count; the goal was just to get outside, be active, and spend time together.

Now that we’re a family of five (with three kids under 4) we’ve adapted the tradition to include all members of our family. At first we would push the kids in the stroller, then the Chariot when they grew too large. Logan (3.75 yrs) and Riley (2.5 yrs) are now masters of kick-bike and prefer to ride their bikes rather than walk. We still explore our neighbourhood and take great advantage of the wonderful green-space that our community has to offer. We regularly walk/ride for thirty minutes or more with stops to play in the trees, the grass, or to yell into a large storm-water drain to hear the echos (the kids mostly do the yelling…). With two adults, two kids on kick-bikes and one kid in the stroller the goals of Family Walk Time are still the same: spend time outside, be active, and spend time together as a family.