Twirls and Travels » a blog about exploring with kids

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Let’s be Explorers in Kananaskis

The last two years we’ve spent weekends in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in Kananaskis, Alberta.  Just a short drive off Highway 1, on your way to Canmore,   is an incredible protected area that doesn’t have the crowds of Banff, but all the beauty.  There’s an incredible family friendly hotel, The Delta Lodge at Kananaskis, along with a huge variety of campsites run by Alberta Parks.  We’ve stayed at Bolton Creek Campground and Elkwood Campground-  each has gorgeous treed sites and beautiful views- I don’t think you can go wrong. There’s also beautiful first-come first-served sites all throughout the park, including Canyon Campground which borders Lower Kananaskis Lake.

Once you arrive in Kananaskis the main activities are all outdoors- hiking, boating, fishing….. there’s endless options. One of your first stops inside Peter Lougheed Provincial Park should be the Visitor’s Centre which includes an interactive displays and a hands-on interpretive centre, along with free wifi and knowledgable staff. They can outfit you with free local maps and lots of ideas.  If you continue down the Park Highway you’ll find the Bolton Creek Trading Post where you can rent kayaks and canoes to use on one of the many lakes in the area. There’s also hard ice cream and a store full of things you may have forgotten. If you are spending the night, make sure you watch one of the interpretive programs at the theatre. We only had time to catch one program, a musical about beavers, and I laughed until I cried. Seriously, so funny and so educational.

Also notable in the area is William Watson Lodge.  It’s barrier-free wilderness camping (including sites, cabins, trailers and huts) for those with disabilities and seniors. The sites are paved, the cabins are accessible and the hiking trails around the lodge allow for easy access to the lake- no having to go across gravel or tree roots.  Accommodation is available by booking in advance, and they even have on-site equipment rentals so everyone can explore Peter Lougheed park.

Whether you are camping in the area or enjoying the Delta Lodge in the village, one of the main activities in the area is hiking. We are “fair-weather” hikers- meaning we are a family of average athletic ability and enjoy hiking when the sun is shining. We don’t own any special gear or enjoy 12 hour gruelling days.  Our daughters are 5 and 7,  and while they seem to have a endless amount of energy, we look for hikes that keep their attention and are enjoyable for them to explore.

Check in with the Visitor’s Centre or online if you’d like the bear report prior to leaving- we carry bear spray but you can decide if it’s necessary with the hikes you are trying.

Here’s our hiking recommendations for travelling with kids in Kananaskis-

Easy hikes– (these hikes are mostly flat and more like a scenic walk).

1. Marl Lake Trail Loop- This hike is easily accessible from the Elkwood Campground. We originally rode our bikes to the trail head and found it that there are no bikes allowed on the trail and had to return back again (this was listed on the trail map, whoops). The trail is well maintained and  suitable for toddlers and strollers.  Trail markers with information about the forming of the mountains, types of forest, and early settlers make it interesting and educational.  We walked entire loop (1.5km round the loop or about 3km from the theatre), at a child’s pace and including taking time to read the markers it was about 30 minutes or so – my kids wore Natives, and I wore sandals with no issues. The views along the lake are great and worth the walk. Another similar trail is the Bolton Creek Interpretive Trail Loop- but this loop isn’t really stroller accessible, but still easy for pre-schoolers (3km).  Both are a great introduction to “hiking”.

2.  Sarrail Falls – Easily accessible from the furthest parking lot at Upper Kananaskis Lake, this short, mostly flat, walk to falls is a great way to get your family moving (1.1 km one way from the parking lot). It’s suitable for all ages and abilities, but the trail can be busy. Having some gorgeous waterfalls at the end is a great payoff for little kids and it can easily be done in 30 minutes. There’s rocks to climb on or plan to have a picnic snack around the falls.

3.1982 Canadian Mount Everest Expedition Interpretive Trail This easy hike from the first Upper Kananaskis Lake Parking lot is a 2.1km loop through the forest to a great outlook of the lake. After you cross the land “bridge” there are places along the shore to throw rocks into the lake before heading into the forest for the loop. While it is not stroller friendly, it is great for older kids who love to climb. The views can’t be beat- from either the main walkway along the lake or at the outlook in the middle of the loop.

Almost-As-Easy Hikes

1. Ptarmigan Cirque Interpretive Trail– Hands down our favourite trail we’ve done with our kids. Ptarmigan Cirque is pretty much near a perfect hike when you have small child. It’s a steep (ish) trail up to the meadow with the most incredible views (about 2km with incline, 4.5km round trip).  This hike is not stroller friendly and good shoes are required, but we saw many toddlers hiking it with their families. There are also numbered trail markers along the pathway- so a little incentive for kids to run get to the next one. The best part though are the views once you’ve reached the clearing. It. Is. Incredible. There are rocks to climb on, marmots to watch, waterfalls to play in, fields of flowers to enjoy, and snow to roll around in (well, that last one was only Violet, however we did have a pretty epic snowball fight). If you can only manage one hike with your children this summer, make it this one.  It took us about 2.5 hours, but that included a LOT of playtime in the meadow.  And if you’re organized and prepared, print off the interpretive trail guide HERE.

 2. Troll Falls. From the Stoney trailhead parking lot, just outside of Kananaskis Village, is a great little 4km hike up to some pretty falls. While there is some minimal elevation gain, there’s a lot of flat areas as well.  It’s just far enough you feel like you got a bit of a workout, but it’s not hard or strenuous at all. We did see some strollers on the trail, but I would definitely not classify it as “Stroller Friendly” as there were roots, rocks and narrow parts in last quarter of the walk to the falls .  Around the actual falls there’s large rocks and trees for kids to climb on and it’s a great place to have picnic (no picnic tables, outhouses or garbage cans). Budget about 90 minutes for the round trip- and try it again in the winter to see frozen falls.

A-Bit-Harder Hikes

  1. Rawson Lake. If you continue past Sarrail Falls on the Upper Kananaskis Lake Trail, you’ll come to the turn off for Rawson Lake.  It’s a 7.8km round trip with 2.7km steady incline. It was moderately hard for my kids- not all from the incline (which was still hard) but more just the length. However, they were SO PROUD when they reached the lake, they declared it worth it. There was snow to play in, incredible views, and trails through the meadow to view many different types of wildflowers.  We saw families with children younger then ours hiking the trail, and lots of parents with kids in carriers. If you are looking for a bit of challenge, pack some water and snacks, wear comfy shoes and enjoy the climb. It took us around 4 hours  for the round trip.
  2.  Okay, so we’ve only done one harder hike in the area ;). But I only like to blog about things we’ve actually done, so I’m not going to list my other selections quite yet, however there’s essentially limitless hikes in Kananaskis if you’re up for a challenge. As my girls get older (and less likely to whine the entire time) we will attempt more moderate-level hikes. The best resource I’ve found is my friend Tanya and her blog “Rockies Family Adventure” . She hikes incredible trails every weekend with her son and documents them to share- if you are headed to the Rockies with kids to hike, definitely read through her blog first!  You can also always pop into the Visitor’s Centre, give them your ability level and hear more hikes that would be perfect for your family (maybe the entire Upper Lake Loop?).

All-in-All, Kananaskis will be a yearly camping trip for us. At about a 4 hour drive from Edmonton, it’s an easy weekend road trip.  Every year we’ve found new places to explore within the park and have gone back to old favourites. I remember as a kid watching my brothers kayak the rapids around the Widow Maker and having picnics around Barrier Lake (side note-you can also rent boating and SUP gear in the parking lot at Barrier Lake).  We took the girls back to both places last year and they still held the same magic and beauty as I remembered. Definitely add them to your list to explore in Kananaksis.  Spending July long weekend in the park these past two years and has also meant spending some of Canada Day in nearby Canmore. Seeing the fireworks with the silhouette of the mountains behind is truly magical. The kids loved eating out at the Grizzly Paw, playing in park and walking the streets of Canmore. It was a great little way to break up our camping trip and a really nice afternoon out, without the expense of actually staying in Canmore. It’s about a 45 minute drive to town (take the Spray Lakes highway if you don’t mind driving on gravel just to mix things up and see lots of wildlife and great views). 

Have you been out to Kananaskis? What is your favourite part of the area?

 

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  • July 12, 2017 - 2:08 pm

    Kylie - This is a great post! You’ve sold me on the Ptarmigan hike when we’re in the area next weekend. We love Peter Lougheed – how cute is that little interpretive centre?! When we stayed at Canyon Campground last year there was a little hike that left from the campground but it was closed for renos.. I can’t remember the name of it but really hope it opens up again soon! Do you happen to know which one I’m talking about?ReplyCancel

    • July 12, 2017 - 11:17 pm

      Kelsy - Hi Kylie!

      Your thinking of the Canyon Interpretive Loop. It’s still closed so we haven’t had the chance to try it. I believe it was damaged when they worked on the dam. Hopefully it’s back up next summer- it’s another good short one for the littles! Thanks for being here 🙂ReplyCancel

  • July 13, 2017 - 3:02 am

    Teann - Thank you so much for this awesome post! We are headed there for August long and staying at Delta! This helps so much to see everything we can discover!ReplyCancel

  • July 18, 2017 - 10:57 pm

    Jodi - We love PLPP too…just finished our first family backpacking trip to Point & Forks (one night at each) with our 9 & 10 y/o kids, I would recommend it for sure. I had no idea that Ptarmigan would be so friendly for kids-it’s on our list for next time! Great blog, thank you!! 😀ReplyCancel

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