Monday, 29 July 2013

Hiking with Kids in Kananaskis: Sparrowhawk Tarns

These days when I go on a hike or scramble for me, I'm always on the lookout for something along the trail that would catch the interest of my boys. On the trail to Sparrowhawk Tarns in Kananaskis, I came across a boulder field complete with marmots that would be a perfect hike for kids.

The full trail to Sparrowhawk Tarns is 10 km round-trip with an elevation gain of 680 m. This is well within the ability of my older son (then 11), but too much for my younger son (then 7). And let's face it, kids don't really care about pretty little lakes surrounded by cirques. The boulder field is just 6 km round-trip with a modest 300 m of elevation gain. Enough to challenge an 11-year-old, but not too much for his little brother.

Click here for more kids hikes in Banff, Kananaskis, Kootenay and other areas of the Canadian Rockies. 

The trail starts across Highway 742 from the Sparrowhawk day use area. A well-defined trail leads up to tree line and continues up hill until you pop out of the trees on small plateau. A couple minutes further brings you to small stand of trees behind which you'll find the boulder field. The boulders, or big grey rocks as I like to call them, range in size from beach balls to houses, providing plenty of climbing options for big and small kids alike. You're also almost guaranteed to see
and hear the resident marmots.

After an hour or so of hiking, followed by another hour of playing around on boulders and chasing marmots, we took a short side trail on the left and headed down. It met up with the main trail after a couple hundred metres, but gave the kids a chance to rock hop across a small stream. I could easily step across it, but for the kids it added a bit of extreme adventure.

I'd thought the boulders and marmots would be the high points of the day, but I was wrong. Back at the highway, one of the kids found a patch of alpine
strawberries. Tiny but bursting with flavor, both my kids said they were the best strawberries they'd ever had. This past weekend I scrambled Mount Shark, and noticed literally thousands of alpine strawberries along the approach trail...guess where we're going this weekend?

Distance: About 6 km round-trip
Elevation gain: About 300 m
Hiking Time: 4 or 5 hours
Driving Directions: Take the Trans-Canada to Canmore. Drive through downtown, and when you get to the end of the main street (8 Street), turn left. Follow that up and around until you reach the right turn onto Spray Lakes Road (which turns into Highway 742/Smith Dorrien Spray Trail). Continue for about 24.5 km and turn into the Sparrowhawk day use area.  Click here to see a driving map.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Kids Hikes in Banff, Kananaskis, Kootenay and Beyond

Kids Hikes in Banff, Kananaskis, Kootenay and Other Areas in the Canadian Rocky Mountains

If you're looking for a good trail to take your kids hiking in Banff National Park, Kananaskis, Kootenay National Park or somewhere else in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, you'll find it here.

Banff National Park

Click here to check trail conditions in Banff National Park.


Click here to check trail conditions in Kananaskis.

Kootenay National Park

Click here to check trail conditions in Kootenay National Park.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Hiking with Kids in Banff: Consolation Lakes

One of my fondest memories of my childhood is going to Moraine Lake and climbing on the huge rubble pile at the end of the lake. Back then, it was just an untended rubble pile with no paths. You had to find your own way up, and that was half the fun. Now, an engineered path leads to a viewing platform at the top and if there aren't signs telling you not to climb on the rocks there might as well be.
Click here for more kids hikes in Banff, Kananaskis, Kootenay and other areas of the Canadian Rockies.

Luckily, there are other childhood joys still to be found at the lake that graced the Canadian $20 bill for years. One of these joys is the trail to Consolation Lakes, which starts at the Moraine Lake parking lot and winds around the base of the rubble heap before crossing the rubble field at the base of the Tower of Babel (scrambling to the top is on the to-do list for my kids this year; climbing helmet required) and disappearing into the trees. True, there's often group size restrictions in effect, requiring everyone to hike in minimum groups of four due to the bear activity in the area. And the 6 km return trail is hidden in the trees for most of its length,
obscuring the view of the valley your hiking through. But the reward at the end is all worth it.

Upon exiting the trees, the trail deposits you in boulder field with big grey rocks that kids--and you--can climb over, squeeze under and scramble around for hours. It's one of those treed trails that toddlers can manage (well maintained, minimal elevation gain) and that won't bore older kids before they reach the rocks. For adults that don't like to let their inner, rock climbing kid out, the two Consolation Lakes are set in an amazingly beautiful alpine valley. I'd comment on the lakes, but to be honest I was so busy
playing on the boulders that I don't remember much about the lakes.

Distance: About 6 km return
Roundtrip Time: 3 to 4 hours
Elevation gain: 60 m

Driving Directions: From Calgary, drive west on Highway 1 and take the exit for Lake Louise. Go straight through the four-way stop, drive up the hill and turn left onto Moraine Lake Road. Park in the Moraine Lake parking lot.

Click here to see a driving map.

Hiking with Kids in Banff: C-Level Cirque, the Whole Trail

In the past, I'd led a kid's hike to the abandoned mine building part way up the trail to C-Level Cirque in Banff. The kids had a blast playing around the roofless concrete structure and woods around it, but I'd left feeling like I'd left some business undone. So when the flooding of June 2013 severely limited the hiking options in Kananaskis and Banff, I decided to take the kids back and do the whole trail.

Click here for more kids hikes in Banff, Kananaskis, Kootenay and other areas of the Canadian Rockies.
Setting out from the Upper Bankhead parking lot, we arrived at the old building within half an hour. There, we took off our packs, had a snack and explored for another half hour. Maybe it was because the kids had been there before, or because they were three years older (8 and 13), they had fun but the worn concrete shell of a building just didn't seem to hold their interest like it had the first time. So, with nary a complaint, we put our packs back on and followed the trail up.

Like the trail to the building, the trail beyond stayed in the trees the entire way to the cirque although it wasn't quite as steep. We knew we were getting close to the cirque when the trail took a left turn and the trees began to open to reveal glimpses of Lake Minnewanka to the left and Cascade Mountain straight ahead. Then, almost without warning, the trees opened to reveal the cirque itself.

Although not the most scenic or impressive cirque--the bowl carved into the mountain by the
end of a glacier--in the Rockies, C-Level Cirque gives you the definite feeling of having gotten up into alpine. It also had the fixings of a good kid's hike: rocks to scramble on and snow to slide and dig around. More than enough to keep the kids busy for an hour until it was time to start back to the car, which would take us to the post-hike ice cream cone in town.

In some ways, the hike down was the best part of the day. Fifteen minutes after leaving the cirque, we were met by a grouse and her young blocking our way. Or were we blocking it?

Distance: About 8 km return
Roundtrip Time: 3 to 5 hours
Elevation gain: About 450 m

Driving Directions: From Calgary, drive west on Highway 1 and take the exit for the townsite/Lake Minnewanka. Turn right towards Lake Minnewanka and drive for 3.5 km to the Upper Bankhead picnic area on the left. The trail starts at the far end of the parking lot near the picnic tables and garbage bins. The road to Upper Bankhead is closed from November 15 to April 15 to give wildlife a breather.

Click here to see a driving map.

Hiking with Kids in Kootenay National Park: Stanley Glacier

Stanley Glacier is one of those trails I've wanted to hike for a while, but that never made it far enough up the list to actually do it. But after I realized that my two sons (then 6 and 11) were more than ready for a bigger challenge, it was a natural pick for a kid's hike.

Click here for more kids hikes in Banff, Kananaskis, Kootenay and other areas of the Canadian Rockies.
A few kilometers west of the Alberta/British Columbia and Banff/Kootenay border on Highway 93, the trail starts uphill almost immediately. You cross a small bridge and suddenly you're switch-backing through a forest in the process of regeneration after forest fires in 1968 and 2003. Depending on your mood, the scene can seem surreal: At your feet the forest floor is lush, green and flowing; above the ground, charred tree trunks sway in the breeze.

After initially quickly gaining elevation, in three quarters of an hour (at kid speed) or so the trail
starts to ease and you find yourself at the mouth of a valley sided with sheer rock on either side. This gradually narrows as the plants covering the ground and the trees thin until you find yourself above the treeline. Shortly after passing the last tree, you're greeted by a sign announcing that you've reached the end of the trail. Although the option exists to continue hiking further and see the glacier close up, we decided to stop, have lunch and explore. Although the kids would have been game to keep going, the puppy we'd brought along was pooped. Any further and she'd have had to ride along in a pack. As it was, we thought we'd lost her until we found her sleeping under one (see photo below).
Distance: About 8.5 km return
Roundtrip Time: 3 to 5 hours
Elevation gain: About 400 m

Driving Directions: Take the Trans-Canada west from Calgary to the turn off for Highway 93 to Radium. Head towards Radium for about 12.8 km and turn into the Stanley Glacier parking area.  Click here to see a driving map.

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