There’s nothing like climbing a mountain to teach a child perseverance, build self-confidence and drive home the message that, “Yes, I can!” After all, think of the beloved children’s classic with the little engine that pulls the train over the mountain for her first time ever to the mantra of “I think I can, I think I can…” Well, you can climb a mountain too! And so can your children!
There are many summits, ridges and viewpoints in the Canadian Rockies with less than 400 metres of height gain from top to bottom, and many of them are quite doable by children as young as three to four year olds. Some of them even have support to help you access the summit via gondola or aerial tramway. I will tell you about my top picks for first summits that you can do with your family this summer from Waterton National Park in the South up to Jasper National Park in the North. Make it a goal to try at least one of these hikes with your family and maybe you’ll find that you even enjoy climbing mountains together. You won’t know unless you try.
The Bear’s Hump, Waterton National Park
Originally known as “Bear Mountain” by the Blackfoot Tribe, this small hump on the lower slopes of Mt. Crandell offers an amazing view of the Waterton Lakes. It’s a short steep hike departing from the Waterton Visitor Centre that will leave you out of breath in spots, but families tackle this small summit every summer for the best view 2.8-kilometre (return) can provide. The elevation gain is small at 210 metres and most children ages four+ should be able to tackle the Bear’s Hump at a slow and steady pace. Just read your children the story of The Tortoise and the Hare before you take off and don’t try to race to the summit in a sprint.
Sulphur Mountain, Banff National Park
Here’s where we say, “Yay for gondolas!” With the price of a gondola ticket, you can reach within 30 metres of the summit of Sulphur Mountain and introduce even your two-year-old to climbing mountains. The Sulphur Mountain Vista Trail is a 2-kilometre return hike on a very good boardwalk. Note that there are many sets of stairs, so this hike is not stroller-friendly, despite the presence of a gentle maintained trail. The hike is also very busy in the summer, so my suggestion: go mid-week! And go early. Staying in Banff overnight? Try doing the hike in the evening when the day crowds have gone home and you’ll even save money if you book your tickets online. Also, while adult tickets may seem steep, know that children under six get to ride for free. For more information on the gondola, hours and pricing, visit www.explorerockies.com.
Tunnel Mountain, Banff National Park
This is a classic first summit in Banff and is located right within the town site off Tunnel Mountain Drive. With 4.6-kilometre return and 275 metres of height gain, it is slightly more ambitious than some of the hikes listed here, but it is well switch-backed and not as steep as the Bear’s Hump by far. It is an enjoyable family hike and most children three to four years old should have few problems ascending the mighty Tunnel Mountain. From the top, you will be able to sit on big flat rock slabs to have lunch while you look down on the entire town of Banff and Vermillion Lakes. I would encourage every family to try Tunnel Mountain as their first summit this summer! You’ll be conveniently close to amenities for ice cream when you reach the bottom as well.
Whistler’s Summit, Jasper National Park
This hike just may be the easiest way to access the alpine in a National Park thanks to the Jasper Tramway, which carries you almost 1,000 metres up a mountain with no effort on your part. Within a few minutes, you will be looking down on all of Jasper far beneath you. From the tramway upper terminal, it is just a short 3-kilometre return hike to the summit of Whistler’s Mountain. The elevation gain is also less than 200 metres making this a great first summit for families and young children. Many kids will remember this hike forever as the first mountain they climbed all by themselves! Children five and under are free, so this is another great summit to do with preschoolers. For families with school-aged children, family packages are available to make this a more affordable adventure. For information on tramway pricing, hours and tickets, visit www.jaspertramway.com.
Old Fort Point, Jasper National Park
This is a family favorite for us, and we never visit Jasper without making a quick run up the Old Fort Point. While not officially a “summit,” you’ll still feel like you are on top of the world as you look down on the Athabasca Valley from this prominent viewpoint. The trailhead is located very close to the Town of Jasper on the east side of the Athabasca River and if you follow the stairs straight up to the high point of the trail, you’ll be on top in less than an hour. Families with older children will likely even make it up in half-an-hour. Expect a height gain of around 100 metres if you go straight up and down. A longer 3.5-kilometre loop hike is possible to extend your walk as well, and you’ll find the height gain more gradual this way. For more information on this hike along with driving directions to the trailhead, visit www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/ab/jasper/activ/ete-summer/randon-hike.aspx.
Here’s to a summer of first summits and Happy Trails! Have fun and maybe I’ll even meet you and your family on one of these great summits!
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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