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.

Upper Kananaskis Lakes

Now that we have three kids under four, including one that is only 4 months old, mountain adventures are taking a backseat to playing in the yard and various nap schedules. However, we did get out for a nice morning trip to the Upper Kananaskis Lakes area.

The plan was to hike around the Upper Lakes Trail, and if possible, try and get up to Rawson Lake. IMG_8565

The great thing about hiking with kids is that they are generally full of energy. The kind of energy that radiates from their eyes and their smile and their legs as they race up and down the trail. It’s an infections energy that feels endless… until out of nowhere it hits a giant brick wall and cascades into shards of tantrums, whining, and pleas of “carry me!” Fortunately we didn’t experience any of this at Upper Kananaskis Lakes, but we came prepared for it anyway and brought along our double-Chariot and the Ergo. In this way we could transport all three kids if we really needed to; it wouldn’t be pleasant, but neither is abandoning one in the woods (c:

From what I remembered of the last time I was on that trail (~10 years ago) it was a fairly smooth and fairly open trail; surely it would qualify as a Chariot Friendly trail. As we started down the Upper Kananaskis Trail it was clear that trail was indeed Chariot Friendly – assuming you didn’t mind lifting it up and over roots, rocks, and ledges. This wasn’t bad with a 4mo old in it I didn’t really mind, so we stoically kept  moving along. Next time I think we’d leave the Chariot at home and just use snacks and breaks instead to make sure that the kids can make the trip.

For us, the trail ended at Sarrail Falls ~1km in.
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The bridge across the creek was wiped out in the 2013 floods and has not yet been rebuilt. We briefly considered continuing, and many helpful people offered to help get our Chariot across the creek, but ultimately decided that was a poor idea. It really wouldn’t do to be on the far side of a creek later on with three kids running out of energy.

We always have the kids carry their own backpack, for a few reasons:

  1. They love it, it makes them feel like they’re “really hiking”. Since Jamie and I usually have one, they want one too
  2. In the super-unlikely, and super-uncool even they get separated from us in the woods they’ll have jacket, some food, and some water. It isn’t all of the 10 essentials but it’s as much as they can carry at this age
  3. It’s less stuff that I have to carry!

We turned back and went to play at the lake shore while eating sandwiches and trial mix. I’m always amazed how much fun the kids have just throwing rocks into the water and generally exploring somewhere new.

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View across Upper Kananaskis with Mt. Lyautey on the left and Mt. Indefatigable on the right. IMG_8581

Mt. Indefatigable (which was fun to scramble for sunrise)
As is our style these days we took off shortly after lunch and let the kids sleep in the car. Since Logan and Riley are both still napping 1.5-2hrs per day this works out pretty well. They never nap as long in the car and I really have to be careful to hit the cattle-gates just right or risk waking them up.

Kananaskis Lakes – Hiking with toddlers

The Kananaskis Lakes are an easy 1.5hr drive from Calgary and offer some spectacular scenery. I’ve done plenty of trips there before from a night-time scramble up Mt. Indefatigable to backpacking Northover, and camping at many of the backcountry campgrounds they have available.

This weekend we took the kids out there for a low-pressure chance to wander around explore the area. Both kids were in a great mood and we started off from the Interlake Parking lot with the goal of walking/hiking as far as possible whilst enjoying ourselves as much as possible. I’ve really found that when we take the pressure to hit some certain objective off the table then the day is much more enjoyable and we can experience things at a toddler’s pace.

 

 

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We initially started out going clockwise around the lake before quickly coming to a washed out section of trail. Being that there is no glory in hiking with toddlers we elected to simply turn around and go counter-clock-wise around the lake instead. This was a good deciding and we followed the easy trail for a total of 1.5 km. The kids did a mix of hiking and riding in the backpack, with us encouraging them to hike as much as possible. Riley loves the ride the backpack and I think for her there is still huge novelty in the experience; as you can guess this means that she hiked very little!

Around 11:30 we stopped off at a nice section where there was a beaten donkey-trail from the main path down to the lake. We ate lunch, threw stones in the lake, and looked across the lake at the raging thread of the waterfall and generally enjoyed life outdoors.

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Once the kids grew tired of stone-throwing we loaded them up and headed back towards the parking lot. There is a nice little isthmus that runs out in the lake and provides a great spot to poke around and look at things. We played on this for a while and found even more stones to throw in the lake.

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Sunshine Meadows – Hiking with Toddlers

If you’re a reader of this site you know that Jamie and I are big time outdoors people. More than anything we love spending time outside and it wasn’t unusual for us to spend both days of the weekend , every weekend, in the mountains. Since we had two kids and I started an MBA our available mountain-time has been drastically reduced by course work, house work, yard work, and of course constrained by nap-time. However, every once in a while we still make it out, and as our kids get older and I get closer to finishing school I expect that the frequency of trips will continue to increase.

Over the beautiful 4-day weekend, with a lull in school and some wonderful weather we took the opportunity to get out to Banff National Park again and explored Sunshine Meadows. If you haven’t been there Sunshine Meadows is a beautiful location. It’s easily accessed via Sunshine Resort and (for a fee) you can ride a bus up the “ski out” from the base of Sunshine to the “Village” where the lifts are found. This cuts off 6 km of hiking and some substantial elevation gain. On Monday we pulled in to the nearly-empty Sunshine Village parking lot and pulled the kids out of the car.

It was a balmy 7C at the base and Jamie has smartly packed mitts and toques for the kids. The trails in the Meadows still had 70% snow coverage, however the trail to Rock Isle Lake was open and cleared. Logan, our 2.75 year-old son, is obsessed with cars, firetrucks, and school buses so for him the best part of the entire day was riding the “Mountain Bus” up the steep windy road. Riley, our 1.5 year-old daughter loved looking out the window and seeing the water running in the creek.

Once we arrived  at the top we got off the bus, put the kids coats on a started up the trail towards Rock Isle Lake. We traveled for maybe 100m before the kids needed snacks (c: This is our experience

 

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It was a pleasure to be out in the mountains, even if we were about 2 weeks too early. The snow cover was still substantial, however there were wildflowers everywhere just poking their heads up and looking around.

 

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Unfortunately, this was as close as we would come to Rock Isle Lake. Riley had a full on melt-down and (despite all of the layers) was complaining that she was cold. We devised the “big green hug” and wrapped my jacket around the backpack to build another layer around her in hopes that it would help. The other constraint was the bus situation – buses back to the base ran at 12:30 and then not again until 2:30; and our kids typically conk out for nap around 1. If it had been a stellar warm day up there we would have pushed it, but with one kid already melting down and the other getting whiny we opted to turn around and head back to base.

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The “Big green hug” in action! On the way back to the Village Riley conked out in the backpack and stayed that way all through lunch. We had a nice play at the Village, ate some lunch and the took the Mountain Bus back down to the parking lot.
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All in all I would call it a successful (if abbreviated) day in the mountains.

 

2 Toddlers, 1 Infant and 4 adults – 3 nights on the Icefields Parkway

The scenery, terrain, and adventure options up the Icefields Parkway are second to none. Some of the tallest peaks and biggest glaciers in Canada live up here creating a spectacular view no matter where you look. Now that we have kids we aren’t doing any alpine starts or mountaineering routes, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find adventure. To get here drive west from Calgary on Hwy 1 until you get to Lake Louise, the turn north and take Hwy 93, all the way to Jasper if you want. Since it’s such a long way to go we wanted to make it worth our while without making things too difficult. We elected to forego camping (and give our 8 mo old somewhere to crawl) and booked the Hilda Creek Hostel instead. Located just 8min south of the Icefields Visitor Center Hilda Creek Hostel is a 6-bed wilderness hostel without any running water or electricity. It does have propane heat and light and a nearby creek for water (and beer cooling!). On this trip the creek was extremely cloudy and we were all glad that brought water to drink. The drive up was fairly easy. We traveled convoy style with another family: Kirk, Dianne, and their 2-yr old Annabelle; and agreed to leave Calgary at noon when all of our kids were due to for naps. Both Logan (2yrs) and Riley (8mo) crashed out hard in their car seats and we had peace and quiet all the way to Lake Louise. We stopped in LL for about 45min to give the kids a chance to wiggle and run and then started up Hwy 93 N towards Hilda Creek. Total driving time was roughly 3 hrs and leaving at nap time meant the kids slept for most of that. We arrived in late afternoon and spent  some time getting unpacked and organized while the kids ran around outside the hut. There is a nice wooden deck out front and a flat play space where they could run and play within easy sight of the adults.

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