Can’t afford to jet off to the Caribbean or to some other tropical locale this winter? Plan a few family days or weekends in the mountains instead, and try some of these fun activities with the kids!
1. Go skating on a frozen pond or lake. There’s nothing like skating on a frozen lake or playing a game of pond hockey to make you feel like a true Canadian.
Below are my personal picks for the best outdoor skating experience in the mountains:
2. Learn to cross-country ski or fat bike at the Canmore Nordic Centre. The Nordic Centre is an ideal place to try cross-country skiing for the first time with rentals available on-site from Trail Sports (including toddler skis and sleds for towing younger kids).
Trail fees are in now effect, but the trails are immaculately cared for, and the lodge is a great place to warm up between loops. There is also a warming hut located approximately 2.5 kilometres from the day lodge in a beautiful meadow, accessed by a beginner trail that is relatively flat.
And for families with teenagers, you can also rent fat bikes for use on designated winter biking trails at the Nordic Centre. (Note: Trail Sports does not have children’s fat bikes for rent at this time.)
For more information, visit the Canmore Nordic Centre’s website, albertaparks.ca/parks/kananaskis/canmore-nordic-centre-pp.
3. Try snowshoeing in Kananaskis. Kananaskis Outfitters at Kananaskis Village rents snowshoes for the whole family. They can also provide you with trail information and maps for the nearby area or guide you on a special stargazing snowshoe tour.
For a good introductory outing, try the 2.5-kilometre village loop that starts behind the playground. The Ribbon Creek Trail below the village is another great option at 3 kilometres one way. (Hike as far as you want, crossing several snowy bridges, and return the same way.) Other trails can be found in nearby Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.
4. Hike, bike, or ski to a frozen waterfall. Troll Falls is a short and easy 3-kilometre return hike from the Stoney Trail parking lot near Kananaskis Village. The trail is generally well-packed throughout the winter and is wide enough for sleds. The outing is also great on snowshoes and is track-set for cross-country skiing.
Families with older youth or teens can also rent fat bikes from Kananaskis Outfitters to visit Troll Falls or can sign up for a guided fat bike tour. (Note: Kananaskis Outfitters has cross-country bikes for rent, but doesn’t have smaller ones to rent for children.)
For more information on rentals and tours in Kananaskis, visit the Kananaskis Outfitters website, kananaskisoutfitters.com.
And for families wanting to try fat biking this winter, you can also rent bikes from Nomad Mobile Gear Rentals in Calgary, with door-to-door service. (And word is that they will have a 24” youth fat bike to rent this winter!) For more information, visit nomadgearrentals.com.
5. Try winter yurt camping in Spray Valley. Mount Engadine Lodge is a front country lodge (accessible by vehicle) with a backcountry feeling. It is located far in Spray Valley, outside of Canmore, and you will feel a million miles away from civilization. Families can either stay in a luxurious two-bedroom cabin on-site, in a one-bedroom suite inside the main lodge, or take the experience to the next level with some introductory winter camping.
Spend a night or two in the Mount Engadine Lodge yurt, a short walk away from the main lodge. The yurt sleeps four people and your stay includes all of your meals while staying at the lodge.
For more information, visit the Mount Engadine Lodge website, mountengadine.com.
6. Climb a mountain and earn a free gondola ride down. Hike up Sulphur Mountain Trail in Banff and earn a free ride down on the Banff Gondola! Enjoy visiting the interpretive centre at the top, climb up the boardwalk trail to the top of Sanson’s Peak, and enjoy lunch in a mountaintop café with gorgeous views down over the Bow Valley. And when you’re ready to descend, just pick up a free one-way gondola ticket at the top. (Note: It is only free to ride the gondola down during the winter season until mid-May.)
The hike up Sulphur Mountain is 5.5 kilometres in length with 655 metres elevation gain. (Note: Ice cleats are recommended for all winter hikes in the mountains.)
For more information on the Banff Gondola, visit brewster.ca/attractions-sightseeing/banff-gondola/experience.
7. Hike a frozen canyon. Canyons are a fun place to explore in winter with frozen waterfalls around every corner. One of my family’s favorites is Johnston Canyon in Banff, which sees a lot less visitors in the winter. Hike to the Upper Falls in a 6-kilometre return trip to watch ice climbers in action. If you’re hiking with young children, you can hike to the Lower Falls in an easy 2-kilometre return trip.
And closer to Calgary, check out Grotto Canyon on Highway 1A outside of Canmore. Here you’ll get to experience hiking on a pure sheet of ice as the entire canyon floor freezes solid. Hike to the twin waterfalls in an easy 4-kilometre return outing. (Note: You’ll need ice cleats or micro spikes for all canyon hikes.)
8. Make snow angels in the middle of a frozen lake. My family loves taking a walk out into the middle of a mountain lake where we can play, have a snowball fight, or make snow angels. Near the town of Banff, we like to walk across Johnston Lake or Lake Minnewanka. For Minnewanka, follow the Lakeshore Hiking Trail to Stewart Canyon and then descend to lake level, returning across the lake back to the parking lot. (I strongly recommend staying off lakes as Spring approaches, and it’s always a good idea to check with a local visitor centre to make sure there is no avalanche danger from slopes bordering the lake you want to explore.)
9. Try tubing at a local ski resort. Every child loves sledding, so take it up a notch with a resort tubing experience! Based on my family’s experience, the best introductory (beginner) tube parks can be found at Nakiska Ski Area or at Lake Louise. From there, move up to the park at Winsport’s Canada Olympic Park in Calgary. And when you’ve mastered these parks, try the tube park at Mount Norquay for the biggest and fastest thrill!
For information on minimum age for participation, prices, and hours of operation, visit the individual
10. Learn to ski or snowboard as a family at Nakiska Ski Area. Nakiska offers a signature experience where the whole family can learn together in the same private class. Children need to be five or older to participate in a family coaching session, but other than that, this is a great option for beginner ski families wanting to learn to ski or ride together.
Naksiska also offers learn-to-ski or -snowboard group programs for children, ladies’ days, multi-week lessons, and more. For full information, visit skinakiska.com.
Tanya is a freelance writer and mom to a spunky eight-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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