Visit one of these day-use areas and plan a mountain picnic for the next nice weekend. Many of the picnic areas highlighted here have water features, so bring your swimsuits for a final dip before colder weather sets in!
Wedge Pond, Kananaskis. Located just beyond Kananaskis Village on Highway 40, this small pond is great for kids who enjoy playing in water. Spread a blanket out by the lakeshore while the kids play and snack on delicious food you’ve packed. You’ll also find a few picnic tables and fire pits, along with a short walking trail around the pond.
For families who enjoy biking, you can also access Wedge Pond via the paved Bill Milne Bike Trail. I recommend starting at the Kovach Day-Use Area below Kananaskis Village and biking to Wedge Pond for your picnic. It’s an easy return ride after playing at the pond. Total distance between the two day-use areas is 17 kilometres return. If this distance is too far to bike, an adult can bike back for the vehicle.
Forgetmenot Pond, Elbow Valley, Kananaskis. Drive 10 kilometres farther down Highway 66 toward the Little Elbow Campground where you’ll find this beautiful pond. There are fire pits and picnic tables. The pond is a great place to explore. Search for the hidden beach area underneath the suspension bridge. There’s sand and more than enough rocks for the kids to throw in the Elbow River.
Beaver Lodge Day-Use Area, Elbow Valley, Kananaskis. At Elbow Valley, there are a few picnic spots and a cute hiking trail that follows along the beaver ponds. Kids will love playing in the ponds, and the trail is fun for little ones on run bikes. There is one picnic table located near the largest beaver pond.
This day-use area is located within a kilometre of the Elbow Falls Day-Use Area, so you can visit both locations in the same outing. The kids will have fun playing in the river below the falls where there are plenty of rocks to keep them busy.
Buller Mountain Day-Use Area, Spray Valley, Kananaskis. Here you’ll find picnic tables, fire pits, and a lovely pond. Popular activities include easy family-friendly mountain biking from the Mount Shark Day-Use Area to Watridge Lake (3.7 kilometres one way on an old gravel road) or hiking to Chester Lake (4.6 kilometres one way).
Elbow Lake, Kananaskis. The trailhead is located on Highway 40 to the north of Highwood Pass, and the hike is 1.4 kilometres one way. The trail is Chariot- friendly, and there is wood at the campground. Bring marshmallows and hot dogs, and head here for an enjoyable day.
Ghost Lake Reservoir. This reservoir is located 20 minutes west of Cochrane. My family enjoyed a paddle up the reservoir and discovered the perfect beach! The beach is located where the Ghost River flows into the lake after paddling under the bridge and up the narrow part of the reservoir. With wind in your favor, this is an easy 20- to 30-minute paddle by canoe or kayak.
But wind can be a serious challenge on this lake, so choose a calm day for your picnic and plan a backup option. You don’t want to be stuck at the far end of the lake with a head wind, fighting to get back to your vehicle. Bring sand toys and a change of clothes for the drive home.
Johnson Lake, Banff. The sister to Quarry Lake, this is Banff’s local town beach. Bring your swimsuits, a blanket, and sand toys. There are a few picnic tables on-site but no fire pits. As with Quarry Lake, wear your swimsuits under your clothing or you will be changing in the bathrooms.
While at Johnson Lake, enjoy a peaceful paddle (bring your own boat or inflatable raft) or hike around the lakeshore in a 3.5-kilometre loop. Families who enjoy mountain biking will also find the trailhead for the intermediate Water Tower Trail here. The trail begins past the bridge on the right side of the lake. Follow the old road up to the water tower and continue on the single-track trail from there. It’s best done as an out-and- back ride. The trail is roughly a 6-kilometre return, if you stop at the high point above Cascade Ponds.
Banff Recreation Grounds, Banff. This popular picnic area is located near the Bow River in downtown Banff and has picnic tables and fire pits. There is a wonderful playground that will amuse a wide range of ages along with a bike park for your junior mountain biker.
From the Banff Recreation Grounds, you can access the paved Bow River Trail and bike or walk around Banff. You’re also close to the other amenities of Banff including ice cream shops, restaurants, and shopping.
Sundance Canyon, Banff. The paved Sundance Trail leads to a picnic site at the entrance to Sundance Canyon. There are bathrooms and picnic tables. The trail is 3.9 kilometres one way to the picnic area and entrance to the Sundance Canyon Loop (1.6-kilometre loop on a moderate trail, which has stairs and a few spots where you’ll want to hold a hand if hiking with young kids). The first part of the trail is Chariot-friendly.
This trail is also great for families who enjoy biking. It’s an easy ride up to the picnic area. There are benches along the trail for resting, and you can watch as people canoe down the Bow River beside you.
Tanya is a freelance writer and mom to an energetic 11-year-old 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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