I love camping and I’d camp all year long if I could get past the idea of camping in the snow! Once the first snowfall comes, I need a certain number of amenities before I’ll spend a night in the wilderness. Add children to the adventure, and most of us are not going to jump at the thought of pitching a tent in a snowdrift. Fortunately for us (hardy Canadian families wanting to get into the great outdoors year round) Hostelling International (HI) has the perfect solution with private rooms and cabins at several of their wilderness hostels. Here are our family’s favorite hostels to bunk down at in the winter.
Mosquito Creek, Banff National Park
The Mosquito Creek Wilderness Hostel is located on the scenic Icefields Parkway, 20 minutes away from Lake Louise. There is a private cabin on-site affectionately known as the “family cabin”. The cabin is divided into two private rooms with a sitting area and kitchen in the middle. Each bedroom sleeps five and has two bunk beds, one of them a double on bottom. The common area has drinking water, a kitchen stocked with basic supplies and dishes, heating and lights. While it’s definitely more rustic than staying at a mountain resort, your children will have plenty of great stories to tell when they return to school on Monday! They’ll earn bragging rights for how they roasted marshmallows outside in the snow at the hostel fire pit, how they had to put on their winter boots and jacket to go outside in the middle of the night to use the bathroom or how they had to pack their overnight gear from the parking lot to the cabin using a sled.
While staying at Mosquito Creek, you will be a short drive away from the many adventures that await you at Lake Louise, from downhill skiing to cross country skiing, snowshoeing, dog sledding, skating or sleigh rides. The possibilities are endless!
Note: If you want to have the cabin to yourself, you will have to find another family to join you on your trip and book both private rooms. Otherwise, you will be sharing the common area of the cabin. You are also allowed to use the fireplace in the main hostel should you want to light a fire inside rather than huddle outside in the snow.
Ribbon Creek, Kananaskis
While this hostel sustained damage during the June flood, they are expecting to be open for business again this November. Our family likes to book all three private rooms when we stay here and spend the weekend skiing, skating and snowshoeing around Kananaskis Village. The Village is a short drive or ski from the hostel, and there is enough to do in the immediate area to keep you busy for a week! Unlike Mosquito Creek, each private room is inside the main hostel building and you will be sharing kitchen facilities and the common room with other hostel users. We have never found this to be a problem, but it’s always possible that you could end up sharing the hostel with a Boy Scout troop or local hiking club.
The private rooms at this hostel only sleep three people so if you have a family of four+, you may need to book two rooms. Families with small children will be able to make do with a playpen for the youngest child. Small bedrooms aside, the main reason to stay at the Kananaskis Wilderness Hostel is comfort. You’ll experience indoor plumbing, lights, electricity and every comfort of home. The kitchen is very well-stocked with multiple stoves and ovens, fresh coffee provided and there is a lovely fireplace in the living room. On a cold day, you can huddle by the fireplace while the kids play and know you’ve found a home in the mountains.
While we haven’t tried it, you could also spend the day downhill skiing at the nearby Nakiska Ski Resort while staying at the hostel. This would be a great way to ski with young kids who tire after a few hours on the hill and need a rest. You could even return to the hostel for lunch mid-day.
Other family favorite wilderness hostels
HI Athabasca Falls, Jasper National Park - A cabin with two private sleeping rooms. Six beds per room. Shared main cabin with kitchen, fireplace and living room. Outside bathrooms.
HI Hilda Creek, Banff National Park - The best hostel for families that want to reserve a whole hostel since it only sleeps six. Winter survival skills necessary for this rugged hostel that resembles a backcountry ski hut. The property houses two cabins - one for sleeping, and one with the kitchen and common area. Be prepared to snowshoe or ski 500 metres to the hostel off the highway if there’s been fresh snow overnight.
For more information on Wilderness Hostels in the Canadian Rockies, visit the Hostelling International website at www.hihostels.ca.
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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