The arrival of summer usually means one thing: time to head out into the great outdoors and make the most of Canada’s fabulous natural spaces. However, with the world still in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, many family vacation plans have been cancelled or postponed due to border restrictions.
Alberta Health announced that “non-essential travel outside the province is not recommended,” and it looks like this advice is likely to be in place throughout the summer. On the other hand, local authorities have also reversed the decision to close 17 provincial parks and recreation sites across Alberta in order to “give Albertans more opportunities to camp and connect with nature as we all recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.” With regional and international travel off the agenda, there’s never been a better time to explore Alberta’s natural wonders!
Luckily, our province has one of the greatest outdoor playgrounds in all of Canada, if not the world. Amid the Rockies, Kananaskis, Banff, Canmore, Jasper, and Waterton, you’ll find towering peaks, lakes painted in baby blue hues, and campgrounds nestled in the thick of the wild. What’s more, these natural wonders aren’t just tailor-made for extreme outdoor enthusiasts, they are also perfect for families.
What’s the best way to plan your summer travel adventures in Alberta? Richard Campbell, with 20 years of experience in the outdoors, has a young family, and founder of 10Adventures, 10adventures.com, one of Canada’s biggest outdoor websites, which provides free route guides for intrepid explorers and families alike, shares his tips on how to plan the ultimate family-friendly getaway in Alberta.
Plan ahead. First things first: pull out your calendar, your computer, or phone, and start making reservations. Advance planning is more important than ever this summer, as local campgrounds and sites are likely to book up quickly.
If you’re thinking of booking a campground for a weekend camping trip, you may find it difficult to find a space. Campbell suggests avoiding the busy weekend campgrounds and heading out mid-week to avoid the crowds.
If you aren’t able to get a reservation, “instead of traveling at the weekend, start your family adventure on a Tuesday or Wednesday, and head for a quieter campground that doesn’t take reservations,” advises Campbell. You’ll find many reservation-free campgrounds along Icefields Parkway or in Southern Alberta, and traveling mid-week means you’ll have much less competition for the perfect camping spot.
You can also take this time to explore more ‘off-the-beaten-path’ areas in Alberta, such as the east, south, and north - try to cover and experience as much of Alberta as possible.
Many of the provincial parks recently opened by the Alberta Parks authorities have campgrounds that operate on a first-come, first-served basis. We all tend to flock to the Rockies, Kananaskis, or Banff, but why not give something new like Elk Island National Park and Cooking Lake a go?
If you’re unable to visit a campground mid-week and would rather have your reservation confirmed, book a hotel or a condo! Most places, including Banff, Jasper, and Canmore, have rooms available as more and more establishments open their doors to local visitors.
To top it off, you’re likely to find some great deals and prices on accommodation are better than they have been in years, as international tourists are unable to visit Alberta. It’s definitely understandable to feel worried about COVID-19 lingering on surfaces, but you can always book a condo for a week, bring some cleaning supplies, and sanitize the unit once you arrive. Further, reduce your pandemic fears by bringing and making your own food in your condo.
Take a staycation. If you’re totally against booking a condo or going to a campground, it’s still possible to stay home and embark on exciting family getaways. Doing day trips may not be the best move for your carbon footprint due to increased driving, but mini adventures grant you the chance to feel protected from COVID-19.
Campbell is a huge advocate for family hiking excursions, and he’s completed many great family hikes near Calgary, 10adventures.com/10-best-family-hikes-in-canmore-kananaskis, with his young family. This list of hikes covers many trails in Kananaskis, which Campbell believes is a great place to ease your family into outdoor expeditions. The exciting sights paired with kid-friendly trails and an average of one- to two-hour routes make these great day trip options.
If you’re looking for a stroll tailor-made for young families, try the Quarry Lake Hike in Canmore. The 3-kilometre loop boasts the ideal elevation for little ones: 15 metres. If they get bored hiking the circuit, you can always stop, have a picnic, and have fun splashing around in the lake. Note: the water can be a little chilly!
Once you’ve completed the Quarry Lake Hike, head to Grassi Lakes in Canmore. With an elevation gain of 185 metres and a 4-kilometre loop, this hike may sound harder on paper, but it’s definitely considered a classic family hike, especially for young beginners.
Families with preteens and teens may enjoy Picklejar Lakes! This trek takes around three-and-a-half to five hours and has 500 metres elevation. The 10.5-kilometre distance may induce sweat, but the views dotting the trail will force you and your family to forget that you’re carrying your legs through a mountain.
Try backpacking. A family backpacking trip doesn’t have to mean heading out on a long hike into the depths of the wild. There are plenty of family-friendly backpacking excursions that are easy to reach!
Campbell suggests checking out these three spots in Kananaskis: Elbow Lake, Point Campground, and Lillian Lake.
If you’re with young kids, you may want to consider Elbow Lake as your first backpacking excursion. You can reach Elbow Lake Backcountry Campground after trekking for just 2 kilometres. Eventually, the wide path will dissolve, and Elbow Lake will glimmer in front of you. The campsite is just to your right! If camping, you will have to drink water from the lake, so be sure to bring filters or treatment along.
You can entertain your kids by going on a variety of day hikes in the area if you plan to stay for more than one night.
With borders closed across the globe and non-essential travel restrictions blanketing Canada, there’s no better time than now to explore Alberta.
Lukas’ passion for wildlife and nature has carried him to many countries of the world. He loves hiking the best trails on earth and sharing his experiences through writing and hopes it will help more people to start their own adventures and appreciate the world surrounding them a little bit more. To find hiking trails and adventure tours in the most stunning places on earth, visit 10adventures.com.
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