It was raining lightly at the Bear’s Hump trailhead in Waterton Lakes National Park, but as we stood there debating whether or not to tackle the trail in the rain — something happened. In one glorious moment, the clouds parted, the rain stopped and the sun shone down. The kids and I took it as a sign that we should head up the trail. My husband disagreed with our assessment and stayed in the car.
About five minutes up the trail, we had another sign from above. The sky clouded over, the wind picked up and the rain started to pour down. By the time we reached the top, we were so drenched and cold that we only took a quick look at the view and ran back down the trail.
Although it was recent, our Bear’s Hump hike ranks as one of the more memorable family hikes we’ve had. And to his credit, we never once heard the words “I told you so” from the family member who stayed back in the car.
Hiking is a great way to enjoy the outdoors with your family. Besides the benefits of spending time together being physically active, hiking is a wonderful way to teach children about the flora and fauna of Alberta. It’s also an activity that fits well with the current economic climate, because it’s free.
Alberta has some of the best hiking trails in the world. Here are just a few family favourites:
Bear’s Hump, Waterton Lakes National Park
The most popular hike in Waterton, this steep one-km trail up Mount Crandell leads to a rock outcropping that is shaped like a grizzly’s hump and provides excellent views of the lake, the townsite, and the Prince of Wales Hotel. You will find the trailhead directly behind the visitor’s centre. Although it is a short one-hour hike, it isn’t the easiest hike in the park. It is a good starter hike for older children, teens and tweens. At the top, be careful to keep children away from the edge.
Other family-friendly options in Waterton include Cameron Falls Trail (1.2-km trail; directly behind the waterfalls), Blackiston Falls (one-km trail; starting from Red Rock), and Bertha Falls (1.5-km trail; starting from the townsite). Of these, Blackiston Falls Trail is the flattest and easiest for young children and toddlers.
Getting there: Waterton Lakes National Park is located in the southwest corner of Alberta, about a four-hour drive from Red Deer.
Where to stay: The National Parks Service operates several campgrounds. The most popular one with families is the Townsite Campground. You can reserve in advance at: pccamping.ca. There are also several hotels in Waterton. The Waterton Lakes Lodge (www.watertonlakeslodge.com) is the only hotel with a swimming pool, but campers and visitors to the park can pay a fee to use the pool and fitness area at the hotel.
Johnston Canyon, Banff
This deep limestone canyon is the ideal place to observe the raw power of nature and it is also one of the most popular hikes in Banff National Park. There are actually three options for this hike. You can hike 1.1 km on a paved trail to the first waterfall and return or hike 2.7 km to the upper waterfalls and the inkpots. The trail is paved to the first falls, but becomes a little more rugged as you make your way to the upper falls and the inkpots. Keep an eye out for birds as you move along the trail. Johnston Canyon is a breeding site for black swift birds.
Another family-friendly hike in Banff is the Sulphur Mountain trail (5.6-km uphill one way). Most people hike up and take the gondola back down. Children five and under ride the gondola for free. If you are less ambitious or your kids are very young, take the gondola both ways and hike the short interpretive trail to Sanson’s Peak.
Getting there: Banff is a little less than three hours by car southwest of Red Deer. To get to Johnston Canyon, drive west from Banff on the Trans-Canada Hwy. Take the Bow Valley Parkway turnoff and continue west 18 km to Johnston Canyon Lodge, where you’ll find the trailhead.
Where to stay: The National Parks Service operates several campgrounds. Onsite interpretive programs are available at Tunnel Mountain and Lake Louise campgrounds. You can reserve in advance at: pccamping.ca. A popular hotel with families is the Douglas Fir Resort (www.douglasfir.com). The hotel has a huge indoor water park and playground and the condo-style rooms have full kitchens.
Siffleur Falls, David Thompson Country
This five-km trail near Kootenay Plains Provincial Park in David Thompson Country leads across a suspension bridge, over a boardwalk and up to an absolutely stunning waterfall. At the top, you can take off your shoes and dangle your feet in the icy waters while you enjoy a picnic lunch. Be careful not to get too close to the edge of the falls or the fast-flowing river and make sure children stay behind the guard rails.
Another family-friendly hiking option in the area is the Allstones Creek Hike (four-km trail; follow Allstones Creek bed up to the falls). Smaller children may not be able to do the entire hike, but will enjoy throwing rocks in the creek and observing the fascinating geological formations surrounding it.
Getting there: Kooteney Plains Provincial Park is located east of Icefields Parkway (Hwy 93) on Hwy 11. It is about a two-hour drive from Red Deer to the trailhead, which is well-marked and located just past the provincial park day use area.
Where to stay: If you want to stay overnight, the Two O’Clock Creek Campground in Kootenay Plains Provincial Recreation Area is excellent for family camping. Another good choice is the David Thompson Resort Campground (www.davidthompsonresort.com). The resort has a playground, mini-golf, Frisbee golf, restaurant, pub, store and gas bar. There are a variety of accommodations including motel units, RV rentals and camping sites.
Path of the Glacier/Cavell Meadows Hike, Jasper National Park
The Path of the Glacier Interpretive Trail is ideal for families with younger children. This 1.8-km paved circuit trail has good interpretive signage and leads to the base of the Angel Glacier. The geology in this area is fascinating. Families with older children and teens will wish to go on and enjoy the more difficult 4.8-km Cavell Meadows hike. Hiking to the meadows takes about three hours, but is worth it. The meadows are famous for their wildflower displays and there are great views of the glacier and the valley from this trail. Remember to dress in layers. It is colder at higher elevations in the Rockies.
Other family-friendly hiking options in Jasper include Maligne Canyon (3.7-km trail; east of Jasper on Maligne Road) and Athabasca Falls (a short paved trail; 30 km south of Jasper Townsite on Hwy 93A). Athabasca Falls is a good short hike for younger children but be sure to hold onto them at the lookouts.
Getting there: Jasper is about a five-hour drive northwest of Red Deer.
Where to stay: The National Parks Service operates several campgrounds in Jasper. The most popular one with families is Whistlers Campground or Wabasso Campground. You can reserve in advance at: pccamping.ca. There is also a hostel (www.hihostels.ca) and many family-friendly hotels in Jasper. The Jasper Park Lodge (www.fairmont.com/jasper) is wonderful for families if you can afford it.
Tips for hiking with kids:
• The family that plans together, hikes together: Kids love to plan. Involve your children in the planning stages of your hiking trips — where to go, what to eat, and what to take with you. It will help to engage them and get them excited about hiking.
• Start small: Start with short easy hikes and work your way up to longer ones. If you start with a trip that is too long and arduous, it may turn your kids off of hiking.
• Be a good Boy Scout: Be prepared by bringing along water bottles, snacks, sunscreen, bug spray, hand wipes or alcohol-based hand cleanser, a personal first aid kit (bandages, ointment etc.), pocket-sized Kleenex, and a trail map if possible.
Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story who we might interview, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, T4R 1M9.