Twirls and Travels » a blog about exploring with kids

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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”.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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Nordegg Area

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!).

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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.

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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 😉

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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.

 

 

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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.

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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

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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

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(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 

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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

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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. 

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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?

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  • July 21, 2016 - 11:50 pm

    Chantelle Doll - I love your site! Thanks for all the great photos and ideas – I will be referring back to this list when we take our kids to Jasper in a few weeks.ReplyCancel

  • July 26, 2016 - 4:02 pm

    Courtenay Mayowski - Great post Kelsy! This is a great round-up of Jasper activities. Miette is also my fave hotsprings in the rockies!
    Last year we took Hannah on the Wilcox pass hike – it’s my fave rockies hike! It overlooks the Columbia Icefields. She was in the hiking pack last year, so it might have been tough to do it this year with all three kiddos, but it’s not a difficult hike :)ReplyCancel

Disneyland seems to be a childhood staple for many young families. My Facebook feed is filling up with families getting ready for their summer vacations in California with excited kids and countdown calendars. I’ve been to the Anaheim park 4 times, twice as a kid and now twice as an adult and it still holds that special kind of magic. However, it can be full of meltdowns and frustration if not planned properly. We’ve managed to keep our trips (nearly) tear free and here’s how we’ve done it.

  • Travel in off season. The website “Is it Packed?” breaks down how busy different theme parks will be on a calendar. It also gives live updates.  But if at all possible, travel on days listed as ” Ghost Town”
  • Obviously travelling in off season doesn’t work for everyone. And that’s where this tip comes in. Run over to the RideMax website and pay for a subscription to their analytic based ride software. I know this sounds a bit crazy, but the program is actually worth it’s wait in gold.  Last May, we visited the park a week prior to the 60th celebration. The place was nuts. We previously made up our schedule on RideMax and did every single ride we wanted to in the park (within our height restrictions) in one day. We also met a handful of characters, went back to the hotel for a 2 hour nap and had a leisurely lunch.  The software schedules everything in- from breaks to parades to shows. It gives advice on loopholes I never knew about. You decide what you want to do and it figures out the best plan. It’s also full of tips and tricks for where to sit for parades and when to do character greets. Another case-in-point: My brother bought the software for his trip last year with four kids. The first day they flew through the park, everyone was happy and they had a fabulous day. So the next day the decided to just wing it- Disneyland didn’t seem THAT busy.  But by lunch time the kids were begging to go back on the RideMax schedule. Having a game plan eliminates aimless wandering, arguments about what to do next and reduces MUCH longer waits then necessary. During our entire day we never spend more the 15-20 minutes on any ride line-up and some with no wait at all.  Just try the software, it offers a money back guarantee if you don’t trust my review.
  • Be at the parks, with your tickets already purchased, waiting in the turnstile 30 minutes before the park opens. You will get into the park before the rides even open and can literally be the first one in line. Our family did the entire Fanastyland area in the first hour of the park opening. You’ve spent the money to be there, it’s amazing what just showing up early will do. But also be aware which park have the “Early Magic Morning” and try to go the the other park that day to ensure you really are first in line. Our first two hours at the park were our favourite of the day. Make them count.
  • Head down to Target or Walmart to pack your bag full of snacks, treats, water bottles or juice boxes. Disneyland still allows you to bring in your own food. We decided to only purchase one meal a day in the parks, the rest we would bring in ourselves. We saved a ton of money (and had the all-you-can-eat buffet for a “lupper” in Frontierland). Also it’s good to note that any quick service food station will also give you free ice water at anytime.
  • If your kids are under 8, consider bringing a stroller, even if they seem to big for it. Walking the park can be exhuasting and being able to sit down for those long walks can give kids much needed breaks. Strollers can also have storage for your food and drinks, so you’re not carrying it on your back. I honestly thought the stroller would be annoying, but as I looked around and saw parents dragging around crying kids while Violet sat happily in her seat I was singing praises for having it along.
  • Do your research ahead of time. Figure out how tall your children all and plan for those rides. Let your kids know what they can’t do (if any) to avoid disappointment at the park.  Engage your kids in planning by using Disney’s website which is extremely interactive (and will build the anticipation!).
  • Use Google street view to choose your hotel based on distance from the park gates. I researched hotels from Expedia and then cross referenced them with Google Street View to get the cheapest hotel in the closest distance from the gate. I was also able to see which restaurants were close by and how far away Target was for last minute supplies.  Our choice ended up being Hotel De Sol, which was very basic but good enough for a quick 2 nights stay- and the least expensive choice at the time. It was literally across the street (5 minute walk from the gate) and was a fraction of the cost of the larger chain hotels. I wanted to be close to be able to get back to the room easier for naps, and to arrive early at the park before the crowds. Obviously if the Disneyland Hotels had been in the budget, I might have splurged for them- but we are always on a budget over here 😉
  • Use the Rider Switch passes. Maeve was too short to ride Big Thunder Railway or Splash Mountain so we simply asked the attendant for a pass. Then one of us could stay with Maeve while the other one went on the ride with Violet. Afterwards the adults could swap places and Violet got to go on the ride a second time with no wait. It was the best system.  The adult waiting with Maeve could take her on another ride (Winnie the Pooh was right near Splash Mountain), grab a treat (Churros or Dole Whip anyone?) or explore a bit while waiting.
  • Use the fast pass system throughout the park. The RideMax program tells you when and where to get your passes, but if you aren’t using Ridemax definitely take advantage of getting the passes first thing in the morning to bypass the long line-ups later in the day.
  • Check out one of the major websites for Disneyland tips- Mousesavers or The Dis board (where you can post questions and get quick answers from other travellers). Both were super helpful when I was trying to plan our last trip and had a question google couldn’t help me with. There are so many great blogs and website what so much information- try to utilize it as much as possible. When you’re spending nearly $100 a day per person, it’s worth your time to plan ahead.
  • Buy a few souvenirs ahead of time and bring them out in the park like glow sticks for the fireworks, Mickey shaped treats,  and even themed clothing can be purchased for cheap, leaving you extra funds for the one special souvenir (or a silhouette portrait on Main Street, hand cut by talented ladies with stories to tell. By far, my favourite thing from our trip.)
  • Don’t try to do it all. Because you can’t. Decide what’s most important for your family and go from there.  But A little research ahead of time is worth your time. Figure out Parade times, firework times, what rides are closed for maintenance,  and any special events that are happening. Then set your priorities and enjoy your family vacation. Remember to take breaks, spend some time people watching and take it all in.

 

Here’s what Main Street USA looks like it if you arrive as soon as the park opens. I should have turned around and got picture of the crowd behind us. But my girls were too excited looking out for the castle. Truly Magical. The rides opened 30 minutes after the gates opened, so we had a bit of time to roam and get in line and be first!

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Just some snapshots from our latest trip last May from Tim’s old iPhone. We didn’t even bring our camera in to the park since it was just a day to devote to playing and I didn’t want to worry about a camera or my even good phone.  We were the first ones at the castle and the rope hadn’t even dropped yet. They do a little ceremony in the morning to open the park which was fun, and then we were off to Fanastyland. My girls loved all the classic themed rides, so it was perfect doing them first. We saw quite a few characters roaming around first thing in the morning and we were even able to play a game of “unbirthday tea” with the mad hatter, all by ourselves! Both girls were given buttons by cast members since it was their 1st visit. You can also get them from the TownHall/ Forestation on Mainstreet for free.
Disneyland-travel-tipsWhat’s your best Disneyland tip?

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July 9&10 is one of two weekends a year you can get the family out fishing without a license. Last year Tim bought a fishing licence- but only got out a couple of times with the girls – so this year he’s skipping the licence and taking advantage of the free weekend instead. It’s the perfect excuse for a Daddy -Daughter date (mostly because I know how much he likes setting up tackle on a pink Barbie fishing rod:))  It’s a great time to try it out with the kids or even to borrow a friend’s gear to try it for the first time.   Last year we took the girls out to Hermitage Pond in the NE and even though we didn’t catch anything, the girls still really enjoyed the experience. But being chased by the geese around the pond was an entirely different story…

Before you head out-

  • Check out the stocked fishing ponds in right Edmonton via this link or head out to a Provincial park.
  •  Note that National parks are not included in this promo
  • Anyone can fish this weekend- visitors and residents of Alberta, with no WIN number or license is required
  • All the general fishing rules apply- check Alberta’s Fishing Regulations for more details or read up on the My Wild Alberta website for more info about stocked ponds in the Edmonton area.

 

Best of luck! And even if you don’t catch anything, hopefully you can get some relaxing in by the water’s edge.
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Maeve at Hermitage Pond last summer trying her luck (she caught a lot of weeds and was surprisingly happy with that.)

 

 

 

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