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From Halloween to ski season: Family fun to spice up your autumn weekends

It’s hard not to feel a bit nostalgic for summer when the leaves have all fallen from the trees and the darkness of late fall starts to set in. Fortunately, there is no shortage of fun out there to pursue through the months of October and November while we wait for ski season to begin.

Add some of these fun activities and events to your calendar this fall to spice up your weekends and spend some quality time together as a family.

Celebrate the fall harvest with a day on a farm

Harvest Pumpkin Fest is back on weekends at Butterfield Acres in northwest Calgary through the month of October. Tickets can be purchased online and are valid for a two-hour segment on the farm. Families can visit the farm animals, enjoy a wagon ride through Scarecrow Alley, and choose a pumpkin to bring home. Costumes are encouraged.

In northeast Calgary, Cobbs Adventure Park is open through the end of October and their popular Field of Screams event runs Friday and Saturday nights. Daytime admission includes a kangaroo petting zoo (with up to 60 wallabies and kangaroos along with other small animals and reptiles) tractor rides, and family-fun games.

South of Calgary, Granary Road is a fun family destination with their Active Learning Park, a giant outdoor playground with farm animals, themed play areas with climbers and slides, as well as several ziplines. Visit weekends in October during their Harvest Days Festival or attend Pumpkin Fest, which runs October 22 and 23. Adults will also enjoy the farmers market on site with many unique vendors.

And finally, if the family wants to get lost in a giant corn maze, The Calgary Farmyard, southeast of the city, is the place to go with more than 35 attractions, animals to visit, and wagon rides. Families can visit during the daytime or come at night during their Harvest Lights event where the farm is lit up with thousands of lights through the month of October.

Cruise the paved bike trails around Banff and Canmore

If you haven’t biked the Legacy Trail yet between Banff and Canmore, seize the opportunity now before the snow comes. The trail is 20km one way and is easiest if ridden towards Canmore. An adult can always ride back for the car if you don’t want to ride both directions. For a shorter ride, consider the Sundance Trail from the Cave and Basin National Historic Site in Banff. This one is less than 10km round trip and if you bring a bike lock, you can hike further up Sundance Canyon in a 1.6km walking loop. 

Go waterfall chasing in Kananaskis 

Waterfalls are spectacular in any season, and two of our favorites are very easy to reach.

Troll Falls – Start at the Stoney Parking Lot below Kananaskis Village where it’s a short 3km round trip walk to reach the beautiful Troll Falls on a wide easy trail. You can also continue to the Upper Falls for another kilometer return. The trail to the Upper Falls is steeper, but there are handrails and you’ll get the opportunity to walk underneath a beautiful waterfall. 

Cat Creek Falls – This is a short 2km return hike to a very scenic waterfall. Plan a picnic or bring some hot dogs and marshmallows for a wiener roast at any of the nearby day use areas. Sites that have had firepits include the Cat Creek Day Use Area, Fitzsimmons Creek Day Use, and Lantern Creek Day Use Area. 

Visit the Alberta Parks website or the All Trails website for directions for both hikes.

Visit an eerie cave for a Halloween-themed hike 

From the Heart Creek Parking lot, it is a short 2km walk (one way) to the Heart Creek Bunker, a small cave that was originally dug out of the mountain during the Cold War era to house important documents. The cave is colorfully decorated with mysterious graffiti, befitting a Halloween themed hike (with costumes if you’re so inclined). Visit the All Trails website for directions at alltrails.com/trail/canada/alberta/heart-creek-bunker

Play tourist for a day in Banff

Plan a day trip to Banff with a ride on the gondola, a walk along the river, or a short hike up Tunnel Mountain. The town is much quieter in October and November, making it an excellent place to take the family! We often plan half-day autumn trips to Banff with a relaxed start, lunch in town, and then a short hike. It’s a great way to plan a stress-free day in the mountains.

You can also get into the Christmas spirit by visiting the Banff Santa Claus Parade, scheduled for November 19 this year. We usually try to have an early dinner before it starts at 6pm and like to stay in town for the night.

Families can also plan an entire Christmas-themed day in Banff by visiting the Christmas Market or the Banff Gondola for their Spirit of Christmas event, always an annual highlight for my family with visits from Santa on top of the mountain.

Experience wild skating on a mountain pond or lake

November is a magical month that locals in Canmore and Banff refer to as “skating season.”  Many of the lakes freeze over but are still snow-free and clear for perfect gliding across the teal green ice. Johnston Lake on the Lake Minnewanka Loop Road outside the town of Banff is the local favorite and if you time your visit right (mid to late November,) you’ll find hundreds of families out for a day of skating from one end of the lake clear across to the other end.

Parks Canada has a great page on their website that goes into more detail about skating on the local lakes. It also features specific instructions on how to measure for ice thickness. I highly recommend reading the information before heading out so that you are aware of any and all hazards associated with outdoor ice skating. 

The information can be found at pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/ab/banff/activ/patinage-skating

Plan your first downhill ski trip of the season

Nakiska Ski Area is open weekends by Halloween some years, and by mid-November most years. The beginner terrain isn’t usually ready until December, but there’s excellent intermediate skiing off the Gold and Olympic chairs early season for some warm-up laps to stoke excitement for the upcoming season.

Lake Louise, Sunshine Village, and Mount Norquay also open by early December each season with more beginner terrain available. 

Happy exploring! There’s fun to be had in every season.

Tanya is a freelance writer and mom to an energetic boy. She loves hiking, camping, skiing, and all things mountain related. She is the author of the blog, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies, rockiesfamilyadventures.com.

 

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