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DIY ‘Summer Camp’ on a Budget - Try a Walk on the Wild Side in Calgary this Summer!

Summer camp is full of new experiences, outings and activities that will leave a lasting impression on your children well into next year’s school calendar. What do you do, though, if you can’t quite cough up the money for a week at camp? Or, if you’re like me, you’re a stay-at-home parent and think just maybe you could create your own ‘week at camp’with other families and friends. Read on for my top five suggestions for things to do with the kids this summer as you seek to entertain the troops until school starts back up again.

1. Introduce your children to geocaching in Calgary’s parks and natural areas. There are several geocaching apps for the iPhone and android phones. I personally like the Groundspeak Inc. app, which syncs with your geocaching account created through geocaching.com. Getting started is very easy once you create an account and each cache you find is stored on your mobile app to help you keep track of your history. Once you have an account and a mobile app, head out to the nearest natural area or park and, guaranteed, there will be a handful of geocaches to find nearby. Start with the easy ones that are larger and work your way down in size as you get more experienced. And don’t forget to bring along small treasures or toys to leave in each cache if you want to trade for something that you’ll find inside.

2. Hike and bike the Paskapoo slopes east of WinSport Canada Olympic Park. You’ll need to buy a lift ticket to access the mountain biking trails at WinSport Canada Olympic Park this summer but the neighboring Paskapoo Slopes are free to access for families wanting to bike or hike to the ‘Big Rock’and many other interesting landmarks. Stop at Guest Services at WinSport, pick up a map for the ‘Eastlands’ as this area is affectionately referred to and head out for a tour of the slopes before development threatens to convert this natural area into a large retail district. This could be the last summer for families to explore this incredible area in our city, so seize the opportunity to bike or hike here now.

To access the Paskapoo Slopes and find the Big Rock, turn into WinSport Canada Olympic Park off the TransCanada Highway and drive straight up a gravel road from the lights following signs for the Scottish Shop. (This is parking lot #1 on the map.) Parking is along the side of the road and the trails begin below you. The ‘Ridge Run’trail takes you to the Big Rock at Junction D.

3. Explore one of our neighboring Provincial Parks. Our favorite Provincial Park near Calgary is Big Hill Springs Provincial Park, located 20 minutes away from the northwest city limits as you follow Highway 1A toward Cochrane. A small loop hiking trail takes you to waterfalls, natural springs and swimming ponds that are very refreshing on a hot day.

Also off Highway 1A toward Cochrane is our newest neighboring Provincial Park, Glenbow Ranch. We like to hike the short Tiger Lily Trail or bike down to the river on the paved trail. You can also sign up for family nature programs, and there’s an amazing events calendar on the park’s website, grpf.ca.

Finally, Fish Creek Provincial Park is located in the south part of the city, and is home to Calgary’s only public-use beach and lake with water warm enough for swimming. It’s a popular place on hot summer days, so go early to stake out some real estate under a tree on the grass. Fish Creek also boasts more than 80 kilometres of pathways for biking, hiking and walking. It’s truly a gem right here within Calgary city limits.

4. Join a Wild Family Nature Club. The Calgary Outdoor Playgroup Community is evolving and has become Canada’s first Wild Family Nature Club under the leadership of the Canadian Wildlife Federation. What this means for Calgary families is free parent-and-child programming, hikes, nature outings and meet-up opportunities to gather with other like-minded families that would like to spend time together outdoors.

There are two Wild Family Nature Clubs to join in Calgary depending on the age of your children and both can be found on Facebook. The Calgary Outdoor Playgroup Community targets families with infants through children ages one to six. The new Calgary Outdoor Adventure Group for Big Kids targets children ages six through 12.

Both groups can be found on Facebook with more information available on the Canadian Wildlife Federation website, cwf-fcf.org/en/explore-our-work/education/programs/wild-family-nature-club.

5. Discover a new favorite City park or natural area. The City of Calgary has almost 800 kilometres of pathways with over 5,000 public park spaces! That’s a lot of green space to get out and play in! Here are some of our favorite treasures, and information can be found on each park from the City’s website, calgary.ca/CSPS/Parks/Pages/Locations/Parks-pathways-and-natural-areas.aspx.

Bowmont Natural Area - Look for the natural swimming hole under the train trestle bridges in the community of Silver Springs. The closest parking lot is at the off-leash parking area beside the 85 Street Bridge bordering Bowness Park. From this parking lot, follow the paved pathway down to the river and walk east. (Note: The pond is also in an off-leash area and the river does get quite deep in summer. We’ve taken life jackets in the past on hot days when we anticipated swimming.)

Baker Park - We love playing Disc Golf here on the free course. Just bring a couple discs or Frisbees and follow the course around the park for an hour or so. Younger children can use balls on the course, and you can stop anytime the kids get tired. Follow normal rules of golf and let faster players play through.

Bowness Park - Newly renovated, this park now features a brand new playground and a paved bike trail that connects to Baker Park on the other side of the Bow River to make a family-friendly bike loop of approximately 3 to 4 kilometres in distance.

Nose Hill Park - There are some awesome geocaches to find up here, and we love biking or hiking into the quarry to play in the pond. To find the quarry, take the paved trail up to the top of the hill from the Brisebois and John Laurie Boulevard parking lot. At the top of the hill, follow old wagon trails and dirt paths farther north into the park and you’ll find the large gravel quarry and pond.

Griffith Woods - This Park is hidden in the community of Discovery Woods Southwest and is worth exploring to find the little pond with the stepping stones bridge. Follow the natural non-paved trails on the north side of the power lines from the west parking lot to find the pond.

Weaselhead Flats - The Weaselhead Flats natural environment park connects North and South Glenmore Parks. It’s located at 66 Avenue and 37 Street SW and has its own parking lot labeled ‘Weaselhead.’It’s one of our favorite hikes in Calgary and once you start hiking through the flats, you’d never know you were in the city. The trail follows the Elbow River and there are many areas to stop and play in the mud or sand bordering the river.

Tanya is a freelance writer and mom to a spunky six-year-old. 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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