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.
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 😉
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.
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”.
The last couple of years we’ve headed to Crimson Lake Provincial Park for a weekend of camping, exploring and playing. Located about 2 hours south west of the city, the Rocky Mountain House Area offers so much to do for families and kids. The Crimson Lake campground is the perfect place to start.
Crimson Lake Provincial Park
Crimson Lake is a beautiful small lake, it’s clean for swimming with a wide sandy beach. The sand is a bit wet, but that didn’t stop my kids from enjoying every last minute. There’s a roped off swimming area with picnic tables, along with a concession that sells ice cream and treats you could need. The playground is located right near the beach, which makes the area perfect for day trips with kids in tow. There’s a boat launch and fishing dock located along the lake as well (although we were told by locals to not bother with fishing on Crimson lake, but instead to head to Twin Lakes only a couple minutes away). We love the beach and facilities at Crimson Lake- it’s such a fabulous hidden gem and definitely worthy of a day trip from Edmonton.
If you have a couple of days to spare, the campground is beautiful- tons of huge trees, private sites and modern facilities . We stayed in the E-loop which were all power sites- a perk even when tent camping because there’s no noisy generators going off around you, and there’s a plug in for a kettle or a camera charger. The campground offers multiple hiking trails and biking trails, even an option to go all the way around the lake at about 10km. My girls loved the “sandpit” trail, which offers a natural play area full of logs and balance beams and long slides in the side of the hill. There were also 2 more playgrounds and a clean shower house. There is also pretty extensive programming in the amphitheatre including movies under the stars. My girls joined in on a scavenger hunt and participated in one of the nightly shows at the theatre. We’ve fallen in love with the campground and the area, and we have decided to make it a yearly visit- it’s so beautiful, quiet and family friendly.
Just down the road from Crimson Lake there’s Wilderness Village. It’s a popular RV park (with cabin rentals!) open to bookings from non-members. The resort is complete with hot tubs, swimming pools and family focused activities. While it isn’t directly on the lake, I have heard rave reviews from friends who love it. We drove up to the gates and enjoyed the free petting zoo and inexpensive pony rides. They also offer Trail rides for 8 and up, which is something I can see my girls begging to do in the near future.
Rocky Mountain House
We started off exploring Rocky Mountain House with a visit to the National Historic Site. The costumed interpreters gave my girls an awesome history lesson and the indoor museum was hands-on with costumes to try on, York boats to “fill” and games to play. There were also tipis to visit, playforts to explore and a full size York boat to climb in. The Historic Site also offers “Heritage Camping” in a First Nations tipis or a Metis trapper tent. In the town of Rocky Mountain House there is also a Museum attached to the town visitors’ information centre which is full of ideas for hikes, lakes and activities for your family.
About a hour west of Rocky Mountain House is the Nordegg area. It’s a dream- quiet, beautiful, and just enough off the beaten track to escape the crowds . We spent an entire day out here last year- there’s a ton to see, with lots of backcountry hiking and rustic camping. Between Rocky Mountain House and Nordegg there’s multiple first come-first serve quiet campgrounds if you are looking for something quieter the Crimson Lake, but don’t want to forge your own campsite on crown land.
The most popular spot for visitors would be Crescent Falls, which is up a bendy gravel road but well worth the drive. You can view the falls from above behind railings, or hike down a tricky cliff to the bottom (there are mounted ropes for support). At the bottom there are no protective railings and there are steep cliffs and rushing water, so it wouldn’t be appropriate from young children or those who may escape from hand holding. But it’s truly a spectacular sight. Don’t forget to stop at the outlook on your drive way up to the falls- the views into the canyon below are breathtaking (and might make you queasy if you’re scared of heights!).
Abraham Lake is stunning, with crystal blue-green water and gorgeous views. Boating, canoeing and walking along it’s edge at the day use area are worth the drive about 20 minutes west of Crescent Falls.
Brazeau Collieries offers tours of their mining site for $30 per family. By the time we arrived at the Miner’s Cafe for a late lunch all the tours were sold out of the day, so go early to avoid disappointment if you’d like to check out the mine. The little cafe was lovely with home made sandwiches, soup and large slices of fresh baked pie at reasonable prices. There’s also a playground outside the museum and an adorable ice cream stand that we definitely had to stop at. Everything is located right on the main road in the hamlet- you literally can’t miss it 😉
Also in the area is Siffleur Falls, Goldeye Lake, and Nordegg Heritage Museum. Most people who visit the area are there for the outdoor experiences like the hiking, horseback riding and river sports but there’s also families like ours- just out to enjoy the sights. We love the area because the views are spectacular and the area still feels like a sleepy abandoned mining town. It’s a slice of Alberta history surrounded by the some of the best experiences central Alberta has to offer.
In January I wrote all about our favourite places to explore in Jasper during the winter, and now I’m back with our top activities in Jasper National Park when the weather is warmer. We love Jasper and camp at Whistlers for about a week every summer. We choose Whistlers because of the perfect location- close to the townsite and all our favourite places around the park. There’s also many things the campground offers for the kids- interactive bike paths, 3 unique play spaces along the trail, the nightly childrens’ programming, the multiple encounters with elk around our campsite every year, and free hot showers. With my girls getting older our favourite things are always changing, but here is our current list of “Must-Do’s” for families visiting Jasper in summertime.
First off, grab a map from Tourist Information and finding each of these locations will be easy. The staff there can help with any questions and can let you know if a trail is closed or if there’s been bear sightings.
Hike Old Fort Point- A great starting point for newcomers to Jasper, this short hike gives you a great overview of the area. It’s not too strenuous but has a great payoff with the stunning views at the top. It is a bit steep, and there are several flights of stairs, but both my girls and their 76 year old grandfather did it with no complaining. We didn’t do the entire loop (4km) and instead we started at the wooden stairs and came back the same way we went up (under 2km round trip) but it had a pretty good incline. With lots of rocks to climb on and a view of the townsite, it’s a perfect hike for even non-hiking families. More details HERE. Cost- Free, bring hats and water in summer months.
Miette Hotsprings and The Source trail– The Miette Hot Springs are my favourite Canadian hot springs. While the drive up the mountainside is a little bit long (17km of winding roads off of highway 16) it’s perfectly located in the middle of the mountains and is a gorgeous place for a soak. The family admission is reasonable and they even allow outside food in for picnics. The little restaurant onsite is delicious if you don’t want to pack a lunch, or if you want to treat the kids to an ice cream and take a short break from swimming. There’s one gradual entry pool that’s perfect for younger children, one large hot pool and 2 cold plunge pools. After your visit you can walk to the source of the hot springs, see the building built in 1938 and play in a warm stream. This “hike” is stroller and flip flop friendly, and only takes 20 minutes. Tip- Hit up the Hotsprings on your way back to the city or on your way into Jasper on Highway 16, so you aren’t making a extra 45 minute drive from the townsite. There’s also free interpretive walks to the source on Saturday and Sunday afternoons as well. Cost- $18.35 for a family
Lake Annette- The perfect place to relax on a hot summer day in Jasper. The lake is clean, warmish, and welcoming. The beach is sandy and long, plus the views are spectacular. My kids can play for hours lakeside while we relax. We always bring along sand toys, floaties and a picnic lunch for a perfect, hot summer day. You can also walk the easy loop around Lake Annette, taking about 35 minutes on flat terrain, and stroller friendly. Cost-Free
(also baby Maeve in these pictures is giving me all the heart eyes!!)
Heritage Firehall Hands-on Museum – From Wednesday to Sunday the old firehouse in town is a hands-on museum for families. Touch a stuffed wolf, learn about animal tracks, play “identify the smell” games and pick up rubber animal poop (strangely my girls loved this feature most and were very excited to identify different types of scat). The park staff working the interactive museum were extremely knowledgable and great with kids, engaging them in the different activities around the hall. And don’t forget to grab a free activity book for the kids too. Cost- free
Jasper Lake- You’ve probably seen people out walking across Jasper Lake as you drive through the park on your way to the site townsite. This roadside stop offers are great afternoon of playing. The sand is powdery soft and the beach goes all along the east side of the lake, so perfect it’s for walking together and finding driftwood sticks. The best part about Jasper Lake is it’s only up to my knees….for the nearly the entire lake. We’ve walked out half-way across the lake and it never got deeper then 2 feet. It’s pretty incredible to be in the middle of a lake, surrounded by mountains and only have water up to your ankles. The kids love the freedom of being able to wade out into the lake and building sandcastles on the waters edge. It’s the perfect place to start or end your Jasper vacation on your way from Edmonton. Cost- Free
Jasper Sky Tram – The most expensive thing on this list is definitely worth a visit during your trip. The views are incredible and the ride up is an experience in itself. If you have a lot of energy, consider making the 3+ hour hike to the top of Whistlers mountian instead of taking the Gondola…. I haven’t done it, but my 10 year niece did it last week and said it wasn’t too hard- just a bit long. Then you can take the gondola down for 1/2 price, make the hike a bit easier. Bring along a jacket, even on a warm day since it can be windy and cooler on top of the mountain. Website HERE Cost- $40 per adult, $20 per kid with 5 and under free.
Horseshoe Lake– Just 3o km south of Jasper there’s a small parking lot on the side of the road- blink and you might miss a beautiful gem in Jasper Park. A short walk through the trees brings you to Horseshoe lake, a spot that’s perfect for cliff jumping and swimming. Bring along life jackets (the water is very deep but crystal clear), towels and enjoy some swimming. But be warned, the water is extremely cold and can take your breath away. While some of the kids we were camping with jumped in multiple times and were still smiling, Violet panicked over how cold it was as soon as she got in. Tim was in the water with the kids the whole time and he never got used to the temperature. On the other side of the canyon, teenagers and tweens were jumping in like it was a warm bath. However, on a really hot day it would be a great way to cool down. But be aware and stay safe- have a spotter, bring floatation devices, and know your limits for cliff height ( Violet was in competitive diving this year, so she was quite comfortable going off the higher cliffs). There’s lots of small ledges for kids to jump off of, but just exercise caution. Even if you just go to watch older kids jumping in and see the gorgeous views, it’s still worth a stop. Cost- Free
Scoops and Loops- My kids never miss a ice cream shop, and stops to Scoops and Loops have been part of our Jasper tradition since the girls were old enough to eat it. What this place lacks in charm in makes up for in the sheer amount of flavours to choose from. We usually grab a cone and head across the street to the park space to enjoy it. We also enjoy The Bear’s Paw bakery and enjoy trying fudge from one of the many candy stores in town. We try to reserve a few hours of our trip just to walk around town and enjoy the sites and smells. Scoops and Loops located right by the Firehall and north of the visitors centre. Cost- kids cones start at $3, very reasonable prices but very limited seating.
Pyramid Lake- We like to spend an hour or so at Pyramid Lake renting a canoe or paddleboat and venturing around the lake. We also love to drive out to Pyramid Lake Island and walk along its shores. My kids love “being on a island” (even if it’s just connected by a bridge, but at least that bridge is so pretty for pictures!). There’s also the option of biking down pyramid mountain for kids who have mastered the art of breaking- it’s all downhill and fast! Cost- one hour of a paddle boat rental including lifejackets-$50.
Athabasca Falls– One of Jasper’s busiest tourist destination, Athabasca falls are best viewed first thing in the morning or later in the evening to avoid tour buses. However, even when it’s busy it’s still worth the short drive out of town down highway 93. My kids liked climbing down to the river through the old water channels. It was a great lesson in erosion and the power of water. Easy hiking/walking for all ages, with some steep stairs if you choose to go all the way down to the river. While the trails are safe with barriers, hand-holding is required for little ones. Cost- Free
Maligne Canyon– Another busy location in Jasper, but it’s worth braving the crowds to hike Maligne Canyon. There’s a series of 6 bridges that cross over waterfalls, canyons and the river. The hike from the Tea Room to 5th bridge is under 4 kms roundtrip and the perfect walk for younger kids. With lots of bridges and sights to keep them entertained, they’ll barely know they’re hiking. And If you kids are younger you can always have on family member leave a car at 5th or 6th bridge to avoid having to walk back up to the top (and the extra strain of going uphill with little ones). Cost- Free, but pack water and hats. The rocks around the falls can be slippery so hold small hands.
Jasper Recreation Centre- Wherever we camp we always scope out the nearest town pool. It’s the perfect way to spend a rainy day, get clean without venturing to the campground showers, or just relax in a hot tub. Jasper’s recreation centre is reasonably priced and has lots of offer. We took advantage of the indoor climbing wall and swimming package on our visit last week because the rain just wouldn’t stop. The girls loved the waterslide and the monkey bars over the water. It was the perfect toasty warm respite from the rain (and we also took in a movie at the downtown theatre that day too, because after 4 days of rain we all needed just to stay dry for longer then 20 minutes) Cost- $19 for a family pool pass or $8 per kid for a climbing wall/swim pass combo . Towels were available to rent for $2 each.
Other places we loved to visit in Jasper is Mount Edith Cavell (hike to the Glacier look-out it’s absolutely amazing), the Jasper Park Lodge hotel grounds, Horseback riding (located up Pyramid Lake Road), Pyramid Lake Beach, Maligne Lake and Spirit Island, and the numerous playgrounds within the townsite. You won’t be bored- the exploring opportunities are endless. What’s your favourite not-miss attraction?