Twirls and Travels » a blog about exploring with kids

Masthead header

With campgrounds in Alberta Parks opening today for the first 90 days of the camping season, it’s time to start planning some more of your summer vacation. Today also marks the first day you can book Dinosaur Provincial Park’s Tours with their Reservations website online. Today I’m checking off another box on my bucket list and booking a full day guided excavation. I’m so excited to be spending the day with adults uncovering real fossils never before seen by human eyes. With so much to do on site, Dinosaur Provincial Park should be on your summer exploring list this year-  the programming, facilities, and campground are all world class.

dinosaur-park-with-kids

 

 

A UNESCO World Heritage site, Dinosaur Provincial Park is a must-see Alberta destination. In the past years we’ve tented amongst the giant popular trees and also stayed in their modern and cozy canvas tents along the river. The campground is located right in the middle of the valley, surrounded by hoodoos and endless hiking opportunities for all abilities. There’s a beautiful  treed section of the campground and a section facing the hoodoos- just depends what you like. There’s also dinosaur themed playground and a creek to wade in on those hot, summer days.

dinosaur-park-camping-with-kids

 

Add on the option to go on an actual dinosaur dig, enjoy family programming like making your own fossil cast class, a guided hike through the badlands, or learning about prehistoric times in the Visitor’s Centre, there seems to be something for everyone. If you’re there on a weekend, be sure to take part in the free theatre programs too. My kids really enjoyed John Ware’s cabin on site and the interpreter was fabulous getting them involved with activities and helping them get excited about the history of the area. On our last trip we took part in the Explorer’s Bus tour which the four kids all loved. They even found real dinosaur bones and learned how to identify fossils from rocks (if you lick your finger and it sticks to the rock, it’s actually a fossil!). We also took part in Fossil Safari, but ended up getting rained out- however the guide had a back-up program inside including a behind the scene tour of the lab and some handling of real fossils. It was perfect for young minds.  If you like your vacations to become educational, Dinosaur won’t disappoint.

dinosaur-provincial-park-with-children

dinosaur-park-with-kids-programming

If the incredible scenery isn’t enough to get you to head out to Dinosaur Provincial Park, maybe the modern amenities like free showers, free wifi, a yummy restaurant, a sandy creek to play in, the option of comfort camping (complete with air conditioning and a heater!) and endless photo opts might.

Look Forward to-

  • The views. Oh those views.
  • The facilities. As mentioned above, Dinosaur has been developed with both comfort and exploring in mind.
  • Amazing programming for families and programming for Adult’s only.
  • If you can’t get into the Programming, there’s self- guided interptive trails with uncovered fossils to check out, free of charge
  • There’s really good food in the cafe if you don’t pack enough, need a cool treat after hiking or just need a break from cooking (and if you see someone who looks like me, give her a little wave- that’s my lovely niece scooping your ice cream!)
  • The on-site Museum is very interactive and worth the small cost of admission for kids.

But be Prepared for-

  • The Drive. At over 5 hours from Edmonton and 2.5 hours from Drumheller, budget your time accordingly. I would give yourself 2 days to fully experience Dinosaur.
  • Mosquitos. Do not forget the bug spray. Enough said.
  • The heat. The Badlands can have extreme heat waves. Pack hats, sunscreen and water accordingly.
  • Booking all your camping and programming in advance.  You will be disappointed if you make the trip and don’t have a campsite or a program to attend- everything fills up in far in advance.

Our insider tips-

If camping or comfort camping isn’t for you, there are multiple hotels in the town of Brooks, as well as Bed and Breakfasts in the surrounding area.  It’s still worth the trip even if you don’t want to stay onsite. We loved our little canvas tent along the river- it felt like we were on luxury safari- and we were warm at night and cool during the day. Everything but our food was included.  Definitely worth the splurge. There’s also Kinbrook Island Provincial Park about 30 minutes away with a beautiful beach, playground and a day use area to use in if the badlands get to hot, or if you’re in the mood for a change. Our biggest tip would be to plan out your trip with help from the Park’s website, but to also leave time to just relax and explore the valley. There’s so much much to do (and I’m always guilty of trying to do it all!) but don’t forget to enjoy.

Facebook Share|Tweet Post|Email Post|Contact Me

Family Day in our family is usually spent tobogganing, watching a movie and just being together, but this year there are a lot free activities in and around Edmonton worth checking out. The weather looks spectacular and we can’t wait to get outside.

If you’ve ever wanted to try ice fishing, this weekend is your chance to try fishing for free, with Alberta’s “Family Fishing Weekend”.  Lake Wabamun has a free family Ice Fishing program on Saturday, complete with complimentary hot dogs & hot chocolate, and loaner fishing rods. Check out the details HERE

Alberta’s Museums and Historic sites are free on Family Day-  Government House, Rutherford HouseReynolds-Alberta Museum,  Royal Tyrrell, amongst others have free entry and lots of special programming to take part in.

Elk Island National Park- With Free admission to all National Parks this year, heading East to Elk Island is a great idea this long weekend.  The website has ideas for your family day-  “Get outside and embrace the winter season at Elk Island this Family Day. Pack a thermos and set out into a frosted landscape by snowshoe or cross country skis to explore one of the many trails in the park. Or lace up your skates and skate around Archer Island on Astotin Lake for a truly unique winter experience. When you’re ready for a warm up, settle in near the crackle of a campfire with hot chocolate in hand or visit the Elk Island Golf Course Clubhouse for a bowl of chili and live musical performances.”

Alberta Legislature Grounds has numerous activities indoors and out, including magic shows, treasures hunts, Indigenous games and crafts.

Alberta Parks are always a great place to explore on the weekend, with some parks providing free activities this weekend to celebrate families. Check out the Alberta Park Website to see what’s happening.

 

There’s also quite a few festivals going on in and around Edmonton including- 

Silver Skate Festival — Edmonton, William Hawrelak Park from Feb.10 to 20.

Family Fun in City Hall & Churchill Square – Edmonton, City Hall, Feb.20, Noon to 4 p.m.

Fire and Ice Festival – St. Albert, Lacombe Lake Park, Feb. 20, Noon to 4 p.m.

WinterFest – Fort Saskatchewan, Fort Heritage Precinct Museum, Feb. 20, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

 

The City of Edmonton is hosting lots of great family day fun, with details on their website for free activities like skating, visiting the AGA, and the Shake-Up festival that includes free bannock making and sleigh rides on the Armature.

 

What’s your family doing this weekend??

 

close up

Facebook Share|Tweet Post|Email Post|Contact Me

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!

booking-alberta-parks

Facebook Share|Tweet Post|Email Post|Contact Me
  • January 6, 2017 - 7:39 pm

    Erika - Thanks for the info on the national parks! We don’t normally camp in those much but hope to this year with the free pass. We do camp a lot in the provincial parks. Have you tried Ross lake at whitney lakes provincial park? If you like Carson- Pegasus you will love Ross lake. We tried it last year and went twice. Our list last year also included dinosaur, William a Switzer and Miquelon. We also love Carson-Pegasus and crimson lake. Maybe we will try the other ones on your list this year! 🙂ReplyCancel

    • January 22, 2017 - 3:58 pm

      Kelsy - It sounds like we have a lot of the same favourites! I’m going to go google Ross lake right now. I’m a little worried about the National Parks being so busy so we only have weekday camping arranged for Jasper. I guess we will see!ReplyCancel

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

Facebook Share|Tweet Post|Email Post|Contact Me

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 😉

Facebook Share|Tweet Post|Email Post|Contact Me
  • 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

  • January 13, 2017 - 11:12 pm

    Janel Pond - We are a family of six..2 adults and 4 children..we have been camping with our children for 14 years. But, we can only camp for 3 weeks out of the summer due to our jobs. The last 5 summers we have explored and loved Canada…from Waterton to Jasper to Mount Robson, Banff and Bugaboo National/Provincial Parks. Oh the stories we can tell! As the kids get older, the more difficult and longer our hikes are! But they are so worth it! Some favorites..Perley Rock in Mt Revelstoke; Cobalt Lake Hike in Bugaboo Provincial Park; Wenkchemna Pass Hike and Sentinel Pass Hike ..oh yes! Fairview Pass Hike in Banff is awesome! We as parents have to bump up our patience levels with our children and we do have the “angry” looks from them but the smiles on their face when we reach Floe Lake or Crypt Lake or any summit is so awesome! Keep doing what you do! No regrets here in Southwest Minnesota! JanelReplyCancel