Bow Valley Provincial Park is one of our favorite places to explore as a family in the Spring. The park is located 45 minutes west of Calgary just off the TransCanada Highway, and is the perfect distance for a family day trip or early camping trip when you want to try out your trailer for the first time of the year. By May, you can easily enjoy snow-free hiking in this park, enjoy wild flowers in abundance and soak up some early spring sunshine. Here are my top picks for ways to enjoy the park with your family this Spring.
Hiking: Our favorite trail in the park is the Many Springs Interpretive Trail located at the Whitefish day-use area. This 1.3-kilometre loop is perfect for small children, and is wagon-friendly should you want to transport younger kids this way. The trail is an explosion of shooting stars, lady slippers and calypso orchids by June, so make sure you bring your camera with you. Children of all ages will find the wetland area and pond with its bubbling springs to be of great interest and the boardwalk section is always a highlight.
The other trail that we love to do each Spring is the Flowing Water Interpretive Trail, located inside the Willow Rock Campground. This 2-kilometre loop trail again follows boardwalk sections through a wetland environment complete with beaver lodges and dams. You’ll also walk high above the Bow River with views to paddlers down below. There is one steep section with stairs, but the rest of the trail is wagon-friendly should you wish to carry your stroller up that one section.
If hiking with older children, try the Prairie View Trail, which starts from Barrier Lake on Highway 40. This trail gains 400 metres of height gain over 3 kilometres, but provides excellent views to the lake below, as well as across to Mt. Baldy. The hike is an annual Spring tradition for many Calgarians and most school-aged children would have few problems with the wide level trail.
Camping: To camp in the park, you can’t beat the family-friendly facilities in the popular Bow Valley Campground. Reservations can be made online at reserve.albertaparks.ca, and you can book 90 days in advance of your planned trip. If this park is full, you’ll usually be able to find a spot across the road in the Willow Rock Campground, which does not take advanced reservations. Go early if you hope to snag a spot on a weekend. Both campgrounds are located close to a myriad of hiking trails, walking paths, playgrounds and natural areas for the kids to explore. There is also a paved bike trail that runs through the Bow Valley Campground, and both parks feature nightly theatre programs.
Picnics: Our favorite spot for a picnic in the park is Canoe Meadows. You’ll find fire pits, tables and a picnic shelter at this popular site located off Highway 40. It’s also the jumping off point for the exciting Widow Maker hiking trail that follows the edge of the Kananaskis River, providing exciting views of the rapids and paddling action beside you. Note that you will be steps from the river, so the hike may not be appropriate for those with small children. For a safer option, you can follow the forest trail above the river that connects the Canoe Meadows day-use area with the Barrier Lake Visitor Centre. For more information on Bow Valley Provincial Park, please visit the Alberta Parks website at www.albertaparks.ca/bow-valley-pp/information-facilities.aspx.
Tanya loves hiking, camping, skiing and all things mountain-related. She is the author of the blog, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies, www.rockiesfamilyadventures.com, and the founder of Calgary Outdoor Playgroups on Facebook. More information about her playgroups can be found on her blog.
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