Twirls and Travels » a blog about exploring with kids

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It’s that time of year again. The time of year when you have to plan out your summer of camping in the middle of winter. It’s crazy, but it’s the way it goes if you want to guarantee a site this camping season at one of the popular campgrounds.  This year the parks will be particularly busy for Canada’s 150 birthday because entry to all National Parks is free! You can apply for a free pass HERE, or just drive up to the gates and receive a pass on your way through.  If you plan a last minute trip and don’t have time to order a pass, it’s no big deal. You can enter as often as you like for free, you’ll just most likely save some time by going through the “pass holders” entry.

Here’s the basic layout of dates and times for all you happy campers wanting to ensure you get the exact site you want on the date you want.

National Parks in Alberta:

PARK: Jasper National Park- including Pocohontas, Wabasso,Wapiti, and Whistlers (including oTENTiks comfort camping)
DATE: January 10th, 8:00 a.m. MST.
WHY: Jasper’s Whistlers park is one of our family favourites. We go every year and enjoy it immensely.  If you are looking for a long weekend, I suggest you refresh your browser right at 8am to start your search. Full service sites are in high demand anytime in the summer. Tenting sites do not fill up near as fast. Keep in mind not every site has a fire pit in the national park. Here’s my post on Jasper during the summer to check out for ideas.

PARK: Banff National Park- Lake Louise, Two Jack, Johnston Canyon, Tunnel Mountain
DATE: January 11th, at 8:00 a.m. MST
WHY: Banff is incredibly popular and there are so many good reasons why. Two Jack Lake is particularly awesome in my opinion. These campgrounds are busy all summer long, weekends and weekdays- Last year we had friends miss out on a campsite even though they were at the computer at exactly 9am.. But if you are looking to stay in mountains but away from the (bigger) crowds, other options include Bow Valley Provincial Park (see below) and Peter Lougheed PP which are both located in the mountains, but outside the National Park Boundaries.

PARK: Elk Island National Park- Astotin Campground
DATE:  January 14th, 2016 8:00 a.m. MST
WHY: While Elk Island doesn’t have the popularity of the mountain national parks, Equipped camping is in high demand and is a great way to try out camping as a family without purchasing any gear. These sites will fill up quite fast, especially for popular dates. Here’s a post on why you should add Elk Island to your list of places to discover this year. And it’s the perfect year to check it out,  considering there will be no fees this year and it’s so close to the city!

PARK: Waterton National Park- Townsite Campground
DATE: Thursday, January 12th, 2016 8:00 a.m. MST
WHY: If you want to try out Waterton and don’t want to risk not having a site at the popular first come first serve Crandell Mountian Campground, then this is your best option. Unfortunately, the campground is in the middle of the townsite and the sites are not private at all, buuuuuut the views, the ability to walk to anywhere in town you like, and the lake front location make it still a worthwhile visit. If you’d like to Tipi Camp at Crandell Mountain, reservations open May 10th by phone. Here’s my post on what makes Waterton great.

The link to book all of the above through the National Parks System is HERE

Alberta Provincial Parks-

The provincial park system is a bit different. Their system goes live on Tuesday, February 21st. However, you can only book dates up to 90 in advance of your departure date. So if you are looking for May long weekend camping, you can book on opening day. Then you can book up 16 days in a row.

Some dates to keep in mind when looking for a Provincial park to camp at-

February 13th  @ 9am: Comfort Camping – reserve for the entire season. If you are wanting to try out the yurts, the canvas wall tents at Dinosaur, the cabins at Lac La Biche, be ready to book on this day. Especially if you are looking for a long weekend or a extended period of time, you need to be on the computer waiting to click on “book now” when the clock strikes 9.

February  6th @ 9am: Group Camping – reservable for the entire season

February 21 : Regular Campsites- these are restricted to the 90 day window

Then for the rest of the season you need to do some counting. For example, if you want to head out on June 30th to spend Canada day in a park, you’d need to book on April 1.  I found this handy calculator to do the math for you at this website HERE.

Our favourite provincial parks include Dinosaur, Writing on Stone, Crimson Lake, Long Lake, Carson-Pegasus, Red Lodge, …just to name a few. We also love the Yurts at Pigeon Lake and the Cabins at Lac La Biche.  But why not browse the Alberta Parks website, find something new and then book early to avoid disappointment!  Last year our list included Thunder Lake, William A. Switzer, Crimson Lake, Peter Lougheed PP,  Whistler’s, and Miquelon Lake. We enjoyed each of them for different reasons….but we are hoping for a little less rain this year!

The link to book Provincial Parks is HERE or you can call at 1-877-537-2757

Insider Tip- write the date and time to book your preferred site in your daytimer and or add it is an event on your phone with a alarm to remind you when it’s the right date and time to book.

Happy Camping!

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It’s no secret we love flying out of Edmonton International Airport with our kids. It’s efficient, well laid out, and has lots of options to make travelling with kids easy.

Here’s our top ten tips for travelling with children at EIA 

(please note these tips are for the main domestic/international termina

1. Arrive early to give yourself extra time to enjoy the airport. Enjoying an airport? Sounds like a oxymoron, but starting your travels off rushed and stressed isn’t the greatest way to begin. By giving yourselves extra time, you can begin the relaxing before you even leave.

 2. Take advantage of that extra time by letting the kids play in one of the great indoor play spaces. The large indoor playground is at gate 16 and it has multiple slides and things for climbing (think a McDonald’s play area).  There’s also a science space sponsored by TWOS with mirrors and a few hands-ons activites to try. The second playspace is located at gate 66, and is geared towards kids under 5. There’s a few games and things to climb on, along with a mini slide for toddlers. (If you are traveling to the United States there’s a small play space by gate 80 past customs along with X-boxes for bigger kids).

3. There are multiple giant interactive touch screens around the airport for navigation. These giant iPad-like screens also have kid friendly games- like a airport themed memory tile game. It’s intuitive to use and exciting- My girls would have liked to play on this device for our entire wait.

4. Walk the entire length of the airport. This will take  about 30 minutes depending on how fast your kids walk. But it’s the perfect way to tire out little legs that will be sitting still for hours on a plane.  We always tell our girls we are walking the airport in search of the play spaces and water fountains (but really we just giving them a bunch of exercise before boarding).

5. If your kids are into Pokemon Go, there are 7 pokestops throughout the airport. This can be a great activity to get your kids moving before a long flight.

6. Feed the children at the airport. A rookie mistake when travelling with kids is only eating before you leave the house. However,  if you leave the house even a minimum of  3 hours before your flight you’ll find everyone is hungry before even taking off- waiting around can be exhausting.  Food in the airport is still cheaper then food in the air and a full, real meal before a flight is essential to happy travelling kids. I find that even though I pack an abundance of healthy snacks for the flight, a solid meal right before boarding is key to getting my girls through any long flight. Remember you’ll could be adding on a hour or two of customs or line-ups once you arrive at your destination- it can be a really long time before everyone has another good meal.  EIA has great options for dining with kids-  lots of fast food or sit down options with child friendly meals at BP’s, Montana’s or Chili’s to name a few. We budget a meal at the airport every time depart on a long trip.

7.  Talk to one of the happy volunteers once you’ve gone through security. They often have colouring books and other activities to give to children travelling. They can also direct you in the right direction for the playgrounds, food or shopping.

8. If your airline offers pre-boarding for families with young children don’t do it! You’re only adding more time in a confined space. Use those last few minutes to play “simon-says” or other games that get your kids moving before you board. Turn some music on and have a mini (quiet) dance party! Being the first to board a plane can add  30 minutes onto your travel time and it’s a lot harder to keep them sitting down and quiet when everyone is still moving around to their seats. You’ll be on that plane long enough, limit it if you can!

9. This may seem obvious, but use the bathroom and fill up your water bottles right before boarding as well. You can’t use the facilities on the plane until it’s reached it’s final cruising altitude and that can take some time (or basically eternity if you have a toddler).

10. If you are travelling on your child’s birthday, stop by the info booth for a T-shirt saying “Today is my Birthday” on the front and “wish me happy birthday” on the back. They’ll love the extra attention and the shirt is absolutely free! The birthday program is one of those perks that makes EIA extra special.  Edmonton International Airport always has contests and activities on their website– makes sure to check it out before fly.

Have you flyed through EIA lately? Any advice for travelling with little ones in the airport?

flying-with-kids-tipsedmonton-airport-with-kids

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This past weekend we took advantage of warm fall weather and enjoy as short weekend out at Miquelon Provincial Park. While we may try to look like old pros when it comes to camping with kids,  I remember earlier this year when  Facebook’s “On this day” feature gave me a great memory. In 2010, when Violet was 7.5 months old we did our first camping trip. We packed our little tent and headed for the badlands. I wasn’t completely naive but I still had grand pinterest-style visions us of the three of us sitting around a fire for hours and then snuggling up for a good nights rest. I knew it might be tricky since my baby liked routine….but I also knew that we had to start sometime.  So we packed and prepped and we decided to just go for it.

My Facebook post went something like this

“I’m in the middle of a 24 hour pharmacy with a crying baby at 4am. How do you think our first camping trip is going???”

Yup, that well.

All night long Violet was either crawling on my head, nursing, or crying.  I was paranoid we were keeping the entire campground awake with her crying in the tent.  Then, just to make matters worse,  I pulled a muscle in my neck trying to get her off my head. Hence, we ended up in a pharmacy looking for muscle relaxants.  Then first night ended with us driving around till she fell asleep in the car and the three of us sleeping in a parking lot. Good times.

My Facebook post the next day was

“I’ll be happy to never go camping with Violet again”

I’m going to say that was just the exhaustion talking.  After all, we did have a great little trip to Drumheller. We hiked around with Violet in the wrap, we went swimming and did end up sitting around a fire for hours. We were tired, but without my Facebook confessions I probably wouldn’t have even remembered that horrible night. So while we didn’t pack up and head out for another camping trip that summer, the next year we did venture out to Jasper and, according to my Facebook posts, everything seemed okay ;).  Since that first camping trip we’ve  made more good memories then I can count, and Violet is truly my outdoor enthusiast. I can’t imagine if I had just given up after one trip.

But let’s be real. Camping with us still isn’t near perfect.  I have lots of camping confessions, but I’m going to dive into only a few here (we won’t get into to the time I ordered pizza to our campsite because let’s face it, sometimes camp life is hard).

Being a mom is a lot of work. Being a mom camping is even more work. You’re still doing everything you were before, just surrounded by trees and without hot water. I understand when my mom friends say they’re aren’t going to bother taking their kids out for the weekend because it’s just more work then it’s worth. I get it.

Buuuuut, I really really want to give my kids nature. Give them free play. Give me the same experiences we had growing up- staying up way too late, building forts in the trees, tearing around the campground on a bike, eating too much junk food and sitting around the fire telling stories about our last trip. I want those moments. I want to give them those moments… but without making myself crazy with pre-planning, cleaning, full-time cooking and all around stressing.  And I’ve never been about perfection, I’ve always been about just getting stuff done.  Let’s be honest,  I’m a  working mom, with 15 projects always on the go, adding more hours of prep-work for camping just isn’t in my cards right now.

So this year we just made life easy.

We’ve bought all our groceries on the way out of town. A fruit tray, veggie tray, hot dogs, buns, sandwich stuff, hamburger stuff, pre-made salads, pre-made kabobs, little individual boxes of cereal. (I’m keeping my sanity, one easy meal at a time.)

We’ve also eaten hot dogs for numerous meals in a row. (No, I’m not telling how many)

We’ve “lost” Maeve in the trees like 20 feet from our Boler . (She was totally fine, just found out she has zero sense of direction)

We’ve threatened the girls with no marshmallows more times I can count. (This also conveniently works as a bribe)

We’ve forgotten matches, roasting sticks and even milk. (And more things I’ve probably forgotten about forgetting. But guess what?  Campgrounds have stores.)

We’ve packed up early and came home with every item we owned completely drenched. (That was fun)

We’ve gone into town and taken the family swimming at the pool instead of toughing it out in the rain. (Jasper, I’m looking at you and your 5 days of rain in row this July)

We’ve been completely exhausted and still been happy about it.

Right now I’m all about making life easy.  Even if that means ordering pizza on Friday night. For us, camping is now all about being together as a family with as little distractions as possible. Being outside and exploring until the sun sets. So, Moms, if just looking at booking a weekend of camping next summer seems like more then you can handle, think of me passing out pre-cut carrots, calling that dinner and know you’re not alone. But know that getting out there is worth it.

kelsy-nielson-family-campingkelsy-nielson-family

 

Thank you to the always lovely and talented Dana Pugh for joining my family out at William Switzer Provincial Park and photographing us in our element. Hiking, exploring, playing, eating and relaxing in our Boler….but I promise we never normally look that good unless there’s a camera following us around 😉

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  • November 8, 2016 - 12:09 am

    stephscade - Thanks for always being honest and inspiring! 😀ReplyCancel

  • November 8, 2016 - 3:09 am

    allison - Oh YES YES YES!!! Keep. It. Simple. That is what I say when we go camping. Still kicking it in a tent for the next couple of years at least and still loving it. But we go with the flow. Expect than we will forget one or ten items every trip. And that’s okay. Order pizza from in town and eat it at your campsite. You are still camping Mama’s. Caeser Salad from a bag mix pretty much all the time. Running around the campground looking for your 4 year old who took off on her bike following her older brother. Pretty much normal. My friends think were are so amazing for camping with kids. And I am always amazed we don’t visit the hospital on every camping trip 😉ReplyCancel

  • November 8, 2016 - 3:57 am

    Lindz (Lindsay) - You & your family truly do inspire many of us to get out there and explore with our kids. I look forward to your posts and tips. I love how you keep it simple, honest and real.ReplyCancel

  • November 8, 2016 - 4:11 pm

    Tanya - lol,Jasper and the rain! We were at Switzer at that time. We’d jump out of the trailer every time the rain stopped for half an hour, hop on our bikes, and then escape back into the trailer. Not ideal.
    Love this story and how honest it is. We have ALL been there. :)ReplyCancel

  • November 8, 2016 - 9:09 pm

    Amber - Dana’s photos are always amazing. And you guys making camping with kids look fun and easy.ReplyCancel

Last fall we were able to make the  2.5 hours drive north to the town of Lac La Biche to stay in a cozy cabin in Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park.  This provincial park is located on a island and was the perfect place to decompress after a hectic fall. For about $160 you can stay in a cozy lake-front cabin on Big Island with gorgeous views right from the front deck .

The unit we rented had one bathroom and one bedroom, along with a queen sized bunk bed in the living room, so it comfortably slept 6 (or eight if you put a couple people on the fold-out futon).  Everything in the unit was brand new and so clean. There was also a fire pit in the front of the building, facing the water, for evening bonfires. Fishing piers were also located just steps from the cabin doors.

The island  itself is gorgeous- multiple hiking trails, playgrounds and beaches. Unfortunately Lac La Biche is known for having blue-green algae, but that didn’t stop us from enjoy the water’s edge and all the provided facilities. There were multiple boaters out on the lake, even with the chilly fall temperatures.  In the summertime it would be a fabulous place to spend a weekend with friends  and in the off season there’s opportunities for ice fishing and winter sports on the ice.  On our second day, after a morning of exploring the trails (Old Growth Alley and the Boardwalk trail topped our list), we ended up going to town to spend some time in the local swimming pool.  We had a great afternoon before heading back to the cabin for dinner around the fire and spending our evening playing cards around the dining room table- it’s the simple things that make the best the memories.

The cabins on Sir Winston Churchill Park are available for rent starting February 13th at 9am on the Alberta Parks Website. These cabins are quite popular ( I’m not aware of too many places in Alberta that you can rent a lake front cabin for $160 a night). I would even recommend renting a cabin in the winter and fall months- they’re a perfect retreat for quiet family time.

More information on booking can be found on the Alberta Parks Website.

 

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Looking for a simple hike this fall that’s just outside city limits? Wagner Natural Area is absolutely beautiful in the fall and the simple trail is perfect for toddlers and young children. The Marl Pond Trail is a easy loop that is approximately  1.5 km long through four different types of ecosystems.  It’s the perfect distance for young kids and can be completed in about 30 minutes, or longer if you stop and read each trail marker provided.

When you arrive at the gate, follow the path to the right (heading west) and stop at the large map to pick up a visitors guide. The trail is marked with numbers and each marker has a page in the guide with interesting facts and unique things to look for.  There’s a couple of guide books in the attached box and they’re free to borrow for your walk through the park.  On your hike you’ll walk through a meadow, a willow tree forest, an evergreen forest and across a boardwalk by the pond.  It’s a great place to teach kids about ecosystems including a unique marl pond  (which is a pond rich in calcium deposits, and in this case it’s spring fed with lots of fen vegetation adding to it’s uniqueness). You can see the calcium deposits around the outside edge of the water, and for older kids this can be a great learning opportunity. Younger children will just love running across the boardwalks.

Wagner Natural Area is less then 15 minutes outside the west end of Edmonton and is easily accessible right off of Highway 16 before Spruce Grove, just south on Range Road 270. It is directly south of Kiwi Nureries and is easily found using Goggle Maps. More information can be found on the Alberta Parks Website HERE or on the Wagner Area official website.

Look Forward to-
-Peace and quiet right outside the city.
-Beautiful views- make sure to bring a camera if you’re visiting in the fall- the colours are fantastic and make it a great place for a DIY family photoshoot.
-Lots of different species of trees, birds, and vegetation and being able to identify them with a visitors guide.
-An easy hike for any age and ability- and it’s impossible to get lost on the loop, it leads right back to the parking lot.
-There’s also stocked outhouses and a picnic shelter  if you plan on staying a bit longer.

But Be Prepared For-
-The park being only accessible by crawling through a gate (see image below.) It is not stroller friendly and bikes are not allowed on the trails. Dogs must be kept on a leash.
-Mosquitos. Bring repellent spray and use it generously (especially around the ponds)
-Wet trails if it’s been rainy. The trails are natural, so if it’s been wet, wear rubber boots in case of mud.

Our Insider Tips-
Print off a scavenger hunt game when hiking with young kids. We liked this one because every item the list was available to be found at Wagner Natural Area…expect for an acorn, but looking for an impossible item kept them all busy anyway 😉 Or you can write your own list (if you’re less lazy then me) to make it more difficult or add any items that your kids might be more interested in searching for.  Also if you’re looking for a naturey-type location for a photoshoot, this one is winner because of the awesome variation of “backgrounds”.

 

wagner natural area

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