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5 easy steps to planning a successful hike with the grandparents

Grandparents love to be included in family outings and many fit seniors enjoy hiking near Calgary. To make a hike enjoyable with extended family members though, I have discovered a few things that greatly contribute to a successful outing.

First, keep it close to home

Most grandparents aren’t going to want to get up at 6am and then drive 2 hours just to go for a short family hike. Fortunately, there are some great trails close to Calgary so you can get a leisurely mid-morning start, head out for a fun ramble, and still make time for coffee or ice cream afterwards. (Bonus: start with brunch first and then head out for an afternoon hike!)

Suggestion for hikes:

  • Big Hill Springs Provincial Park. Located off the 1A, west of Calgary (featuring waterfalls, a creek to play in, and a short loop hike).
  • The Cochrane Ranche. Located off the 1A in Cochrane (featuring pleasant hiking along a creek and the chance to see the famous Grandfather Tree, a 300-year-old White Spruce.
  • The Fullerton Loop, Elbow Valley. This 7km return hike is accessed from the Allen Bill day use area parking lot off Highway 66 in the Elbow Valley, south west of Bragg Creek. For a shorter hike in the same area, consider hiking the Paddy’s Flat Interpretive Trail from the Paddy’s Flat Campground further down the highway (park beside the gate if the campground is still closed before the end of April and hike down.)

Second, preparation before you reach the trailhead is key

The first thing you’ll want to confirm is whether there are bathrooms at the trailhead. If not, plan a stop at a visitor centre or coffee shop along the way. I also like to look up trail conditions on the Alberta Parks or Parks Canada website so we’re prepared for mud, ice, or a wet trail. Knowing if there’s a bear warning or closure for the trail is also key!

Suggestions for hikes:

  • Bow Valley Campground Trails. Located off Highway 1X near Exshaw from the TransCanada Highway, you’ll find a great network of trails for a half-day hike. Park at Middle Lake if the campground isn’t open yet at the end of April and proceed from here on foot towards the Many Springs Loop. Best of all, you can choose to hike the campground trails or on the paved roads if everything is wet and muddy, and there are bathrooms at the Middle Lake parking lot. There are other bathrooms spread out through the park as well at each day use area (all connected by hiking paths.)

Third, always focus on the après-hike experience

I have learned that there either needs to be a coffee shop on the trail, at the trailhead, or very close to the destination for a fun stop after the hike. Add a place that sells ice cream and you’ve chosen a five-star hike!

Suggestions for hikes:

  • Johnston Canyon, Banff. Enjoy a pleasant 5km round trip hike to the Upper Falls and reward the group with coffee, ice cream, or a cold drink at the end of your hike from the café located beside the trailhead. Note this trail can still be quite icy if you visit too early in the season so check the trail report.
  • Canmore riverside trails. There are beautiful trails along the Bow River in Canmore and you’re never far from downtown Canmore for coffee, ice cream, or even lunch! There’s a small parking lot on the far side of the bridge over the river we like to start from (by the town boat launch). From this parking lot, you’re a short walk from the West Canmore playground as well. Most trails are not paved but they are flat, relatively flat, and great with balance bikes or strollers.
  • Ribbon Creek or Troll Falls, Kananaskis Village. Hike the Ribbon Creek Trail or go for a walk to Troll Falls and then drive up to Kananaskis Village for coffee or treats after. We love the coffee shop in the Kananaskis Lodge and there are pretty walking trails around the lodge as well.

Fourth, it’s never just about the “walking”

Kids get bored when they’re just out for a walk. Add bridges, a creek, a trail they can bike (while you walk alongside), a pond to play in… and suddenly it’s a great adventure!

Suggestions for hikes:

  • Heart Creek Trail, Bow Valley. Located off the TransCanada Highway east of Canmore (features many bridges, a creek to play in, and a waterfall)
  • Beaver Flats Trail, Elbow Valley. Located off Highway 66, south west of Bragg Creek from the Beaver Lodge Day Use Area or via a short walk on the closed highway from Elbow Falls if you visit before May 15 (features a creek, beaver dams, and a great opportunity to bike on the highway when it’s closed to vehicles. Kids may enjoy using balance bikes on the Beaver Flats Trail as well.

Finally, be inclusive in your trail choice

Maybe one of the grandparents doesn’t have the best balance and would benefit from having a paved trail to walk on, your preschooler is stuck to his or her balance bike and won’t leave home without it, and you have a younger child that could use a stroller coming along. Believe it or not, there is a hike for this!

Suggestions for hikes:

  • Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park. Located off the 1A, west of Calgary (features a paved trail through the park or natural dirt trails including one along the river) – note the paved trail descends a large hill at the beginning and then you’ll climb it to get back to the parking lot.
  • The Sundance Trail, Banff. This paved trail starts from the Cave and Basin National Historic Site in Banff. Walk (or bike) to a day use area with picnic tables at the entrance to the Sundance Canyon. It is 3.7km one way to the canyon with an optional 1.7km loop through the canyon (not paved).
  • Riverside trails in Banff. Park at the Banff Train Station and then enjoy a pleasant walk around the Town of Banff on the paved riverside trails. Opportunities are plentiful for ice cream, coffee, or snacks as well. You can even combine your walk with lunch at one of the restaurants downtown.

Have a great day exploring as a family!

Tanya is a freelance writer and mom to an energetic teenage boy. She loves hiking, camping, skiing, and all things mountain related. She is the author of the blog, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies, Feeling Social? Follow on Instagram @MountainMomYYC. 

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