Hike Bike Travel | Traveler and Outdoor Adventure Expert
Leigh McAdam is a Calgary-based writer, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 48,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada, and consistently receives over 135,000 monthly page views. She shares her enthusiasm for the outdoors as a brand ambassador for Sporting Life.
In short order I am heading off on a trip to Hokkaido – Japan’s most northerly main island. I have been warned by the group that invited me to be prepared for chilly temperatures. They obviously don’t live in Calgary where chilly takes on quite a different meaning.
Hokkaido, which is at the same latitude as Toronto, is famous for its spectacular mountain scenery, volcanoes, natural hot springs and ski areas. I am told that the average temperature in Sapporo in January is -3.6 °C – and I suspect that’s a moist rather than a dry cold which is always more penetrating, but still it’s not the -25°C temperatures we’ve been having for the last few weeks.
We can expect scenes like this in Hokkaido – Photo credit: David McKelvey on Flickr
Over the eight days I’ll be in Japan I have to pack for drift ice walking, downhill skiing, fat tire biking and snowshoeing – not to mention visits to onsens or hot springs, the Akan International Crane Centre and nightly dinners.
My goal is to take carry-on only so almost every piece I take will have to have multiple uses.
Here’s what to pack for Japan in winter – appreciating that it can be rainy, snowy, cold and sunny – though not nearly to the degree we usually see in Alberta.
After I’m back from Japan I’ll make any adjustments I deem necessary in the blog from my on-the-ground experience but I think I have enough clothes both to stay warm and to cover all the planned activities.
Note: Sporting Life has a major winter sale going on right now so it’s a great time to score some deals.
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Chances are high if you’re planning a visit to Patagonia that you’ll fly from Santiago into Punta Arenas, Chile – a seaside city known as the “end of the world.” It certainly has that sense about it. It’s both bigger, windier and more colourful than I imagined it to be with an overriding sense of loneliness about it, largely because I hardly saw a soul, except on the boardwalk late in the afternoon. Despite its location near the tip of South America, it’s still another 2,000 kilometres from Antarctica!
We only had two nights and a day in Punta Arenas before hopping on a bus to Puerto Natales – the gateway to Torres del Paine National Park. I’m glad we had the time, not only to recuperate from 24 hours of travel but to explore the city itself.
Punta Arenas is bigger and more colourful than I initially thought
Where is Punta Arenas, Chile?
Punta Arenas is located 3,100 kilometres south of Santiago via a three hour flight that only costs about $Cdn 150 per person. The city itself is on a peninsula overlooking the Strait of Magellan. Tierra del Fuego is on the far side of the strait.
From the modern airport it’s only a 20 kilometre ride to get to downtown Punta Arenas, and our lodging – Hotel Lacolet, located in a residential neighbourhood. From the hotel it was just five minutes on foot to get to a major bus company depot and a 12 minute walk to restaurants in the downtown area.
What can you do in Punta Arenas?
After one of those deep, drugged like sleeps you slip into after several long flights we were ready to explore Punta Arenas. Right off the bat we had a change in plans. The boat tour to the penguin sanctuary off of Isla Magdalena we had booked was cancelled due to gale force winds. It happens a lot so even if you’ve paid in advance you should have no problem getting a refund.
In chatting with another guest in our hotel over breakfast it was recommended to us that we visit the Nao Victoria Museum overlooking the Strait of Magellan. And so that’s what we did. The museum is home to replicas of famous ships including a full size replica of one of Ferdinand Magellan’s ships – the Nao Victoria. You’ll also see Darwin’s HMS Beagle and Shackleton’s James Caird. Allow a solid hour as its fun to explore the insides of all the boats. A visit will also get you thinking about how tough life would have been as a sailor, both in their spartan quarters and out on some of the most dangerous seas on the planet. No thank you!
The Nao Victoria Museum overlooks the Strait of Magellan
The Nao Victoria – the first ship to complete a circumnavigation of the globe
Replica of Darwin’s HMS Beagle
Can you ever picture yourself in this boat – a replica of Shackleton’s James Caird? It made the treacherous crossing from Elephant Island to South Georgia Island though one day it nearly sank from the weight of 15 inches of ice
Ancud – a ship that, claimed the Strait of Magellan on behalf of Chile’s under an 1843 mandate of the President of Chile, Manuel Bulnes
Hard to keep your balance with the wind – and the boat isn’t even moving
Our next stop was at the Reserva Forestal Magallanes – a short taxi ride away from Punta Arenas. A visit here offers some lovely hiking through native forest filled with coigüe, lenga and ñire trees. We planned a loop hike but ended up doing an out and back one as we found a side trail with lovely views back over the city and across the Magellan Strait, towards Tierra del Fuego. Allow at least two hours – more if you want to complete the loop. We had our taxi driver wait for us for a reasonable fee.
Walking through native forest in the Reserva Forestral Magallanes
It’s a treat to see wildflowers in January
View across the Strait of Magellan
Watch the portion sizes at restaurants in Punta Arenas, Chile
We were famished after visiting the museum and the park so had the taxi driver drop us off on a downtown street filled with restaurants. We wandered into one where all the chairs were covered with sheepskin. After battling wind for hours it was a treat to be warm and cozy again.
We loved the sheepskin covered chairs at a restaurant in Punta Arenas
It was apparent when we got our food that we had incorrectly divined what we were ordering. Portion sizes were monstrous (we found that on several occasions) so order half of what you think you need. John ordered empanadas and got a plate that belonged in a buffet line. Don’t forget to order the local drink – the pisco sour.
Our friend Scot a tad overwhelmed with his stew that could feed a family of five
Looks like 2 potatoes and half a sheep in this soup bowl!
After our monster meal we decided it was time to walk again. This time we made for the promenade along the ocean and spent the next few hours watching birds, getting our photos taken in front of the Punta Arenas sign and just taking in what life looks like on a summer Sunday in Punta Arenas.
Here’s a look at what you’ll see in Punta Arenas if you don’t mind walking.
While they look like penguins from a distance, these are masses of imperial or blue-eyed cormorants
The wind never seemed to let up
Impressive murals can be found across the street from the promenade
Look for the Monument of Immigration along the promenade
Photo op at the Punta Arenas sign
What a tough place to play basketball
By the time we’d finished walking the promenade we were ready to head back to the hotel. We’d had a very enjoyable day and I think we all came away with at least a sense of Punta Arenas. According to a guide we met on the O Circuit, I understand that there is a vibrant cultural scene, especially with regards to music. So should we ever return – perhaps on a trip to Antarctica as this city is the staging area for a trip south, we’ll check in advance to see what’s happening.
If you’re heading to Patagonia I recommend allowing a full day to explore Punta Arenas. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
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Fernie, BC is a true mountain town with a laid-back vibe and great community spirit. Most of the 5,000 plus residents live here because they want to. They like what the town has to offer, not just in winter but on a year-round basis; things like great recreation out the back door, excellent dining, loads of locally owned shops to visit and most of the services of a far larger town. If you’re a visitor to Fernie you may end up at the local realtor’s office, wondering how you can make this town a regular part of your life.
Downtown Fernie is just three blocks off the highway and a world away
Fernie is located in the Elk Valley in the southern part of BC. It’s only about three hours from Calgary and a two hour drive from Kalispell, Montana – a popular place to fly into for the American crowd. In winter it’s known as one of Canada’s premiere ski towns and from what I understand there is some excellent hiking in summer, but I have yet to try that.
Have a walk around downtown Fernie and you’ll discover colourful artwork
Based on a recent three day trip to Fernie, BC in the dead of winter these are the things I’d recommend doing.
Go downhill skiing or snowboarding at Fernie Alpine Resort
Fernie Alpine Resort, located in the Lizard Range is famous for its powder days. The first time I visited many decades ago – on long, skinny skis – I remember spending most of the day flailing away in the deepest powder snow I’d ever seen. My husband and I still talk about it. Fast forward to my recent visit and I have to say we didn’t luck out with quite the same conditions. Mother Nature decided to throw an Arctic air mass our way so it was so cold we passed on skiing one day when the wind chill hit -35°C. However, our son who was skiing there for the first time still commented on the size and layout of the mountain, pronouncing that it was definitely worth a return trip from Toronto. He loved the powder stashes a local on the chairlift told him about – and the sheer variety of terrain.
I’ve become a fan of weekday skiing
While we didn’t have any true bluebird days, the sun made several weak attempts at showing up so the visibility across the valley was good much of the time. The snow up high was fantastic but challenging down low. It was a reminder to get my edges sharpened so I’d have the confidence on icy patches.
Booking accommodation in Fernie with Fernie Central Reservations turned out to be hard to do with our dates. I organized this trip back in the fall but still had trouble – largely I think because we had one weekend day mixed in with weekdays. If you go I suggest booking either only weekdays or both weekend days along with whatever works for you on either end. We eventually found something but our choice was very limited – at least if we wanted to be on the mountain.
Beautiful backdrop for skiing at Fernie Alpine Resort
The Lost Boys Cafe at the top of the Timber Chair is a great place to warm up or have lunch
Daring to look over the edge of an avalanche prone slope
A Cat Ride, Snowshoeing and Lunch at Island Lake Lodge
Island Lake Lodge is best known for its cat-skiing program in winter. It’s extremely popular bringing in people from literally all over the world – though Canadians and Americans make up the bulk of the guests.
In the winter they also offer a winter gourmet two course lunch and spa program along with a snowcat ride up through old growth forest. (On the 7,000 acres of private land there are western red cedars that are 800 years old!) Either before or after lunch there is the option to snowshoe around the lake. While you likely won’t find yourself getting your heart rate up from physical exertion, you’ll still likely get a blast of happy hormones from being outside and communing with nature.
Lunch is first rate. Memorable really. I chose the daily soup and sandwich special and was quite literally in foodie heaven. The pork belly sandwich with a homemade chutney was divine. One of my companions also swooned over her duck confit on polenta. We split the dessert – a chai tea cake filled with flavour explosions. I’d return to the lodge another time just for the food.
While I didn’t have time to take advantage of any of the spa activities on this trip, I would at a minimum want to try out their saunas with a view of the forest, found in all of the cabins and the main lodge on my next visit. (See photo below.)
Where is Island Lake Lodge?
Call me clueless but I thought that Island Lake Lodge was near Island Lake – passed on every drive you do along Highway 3 near the Alberta – British Columbia border. It wasn’t until this trip to Fernie that I appreciated that the lodge is easily accessed from the western edge of Fernie where you see the signs for Mt. Fernie Provincial Park. It’s only about 10 minutes up that road to reach a parking lot and the snowcat. From our condo at Fernie Alpine Resort it took no more than 15 minutes.
Island Lake Lodge is easily accessible from the town of Fernie
Snowshoes are provided free of charge at Island Lake Lodge
Admiring the 3 bears (the mountain peaks) – quite the backdrop at Island Lake Lodge
A memorable lunch at Island Lake Lodge – squash soup and a pork belly sandwich with a delicious chutney
There is the option to cross-country ski or snowshoe into the lodge – and then this delicious dessert can be eaten guilt-free
Wish I’d had time for a sauna at the lodge
Island Lake Lodge reportedly gets 15% more snow because of its higher elevation and location than the ski resort
Cross-country skiing in the Fernie area
I had plans to go out for an hour of cross-country skiing at the Elk Valley Nordic Centre but I couldn’t summon the enthusiasm on the -35°C day. However, I was told that the town of Fernie is home to no less than 50 kilometres of groomed cross-country ski trails and from what little I saw, there will be a next time.
You can access trails at the Elk Valley Nordic Centre (turn off towards Mt. Fernie Provincial Park and you’ll find it in less than a kilometre), at Fernie Alpine Resort off of Parking Lot 4 and on the golf courses.
Tickets are just $10 per day at the Elk Valley Nordic Centre
On a sunny day the backdrop would be spectacular for cross-country skiing
Go for a spa treatment in downtown Fernie
I don’t spent a lot of time pampering myself but I admit to a strong love of pedicures and facials. My feet in particular take a beating with all the hiking I do (I always apologize to the poor person that has to deal with them) so when I was offered a service at Spa 901 on Fernie’s Main Street I said an enthusiastic yes. Over an hour I sat and relaxed while a woman from Australia gave me what I would call one of the top 5 pedicures of my life. The price – $60. That includes a hot stone massage of the lower leg and foot. In my opinion it’s one of the best deals I’ve seen anywhere.
If you’re visiting Fernie, leave your friends and family behind and nip in here (with a reservation) for an hour of bliss. Give yourself another 30 minutes to let your toes dry while you continue to relax in the meditation room.
One of the best pedicures and foot massages of my life at Spa 901 in downtown Fernie
Enjoy a tasting at the local distillery
Fernie Distillers, the first distillery in Fernie, run by a husband and wife team, is located a block off the main street at 531 1st Avenue. Inside, it’s got a great vibe that I could pick up on even though I was the only person in there late one afternoon. When you visit there are three liquors you can try – all named with a nod to the history and the weather of the area – No.9 Mine Vodka, Prospector Gin and Fernie Fog (a liqueur infused with Earl Grey tea).
Have a look at the stills, perhaps even chat with the distiller who is one of Canada’s only female distillers and enjoy a tasting before relaxing on their well-appointed and very comfortable couch (not shown).
You’ll find handcrafted spirits at Fernie Distillers
The other thing I’d recommend doing in Fernie, no matter what time of year you visit it to wander Main Street, lined with locally owned and run restaurants and shops. If you just drive through Fernie on Highway 3, you’d completely miss the great vibe of the downtown, something my husband has done on every other road trip we’ve made through this area. Don’t make our mistake.
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No one likes to get sick, especially while on a vacation away from home, even more so in a country where you don’t speak the language. Perhaps you’ve planned the holiday six months out, anticipating time on a beach, not beside a hotel room toilet. If you don’t get many vacation days, getting sick is even harder to stomach.
Fortunately most food you eat is safe
Is Canada a No Vacation Nation?
As a Canadian I think of myself as lucky when it comes to vacation time. But if I look at a 2017 Expedia study, what’s actually obvious is that Canada has one of the least generous allotments of vacation time in the western world. By law Canadians are permitted 10 working days of vacation for every year of employment. Workers in British Columbia have the most number of days off with a quarter of the working population stating that they have 22 or more days off. Nineteen percent of Albertans and Quebecers have 22 or more days off yet only 14% of Manitoba and Saskatchewan residents do. At the other end of the scale, 37% of BC workers have 14 or fewer days of vacation while if you work in Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, 34% of you have 14 or fewer days off.
Compare that do these numbers; Employees in France, Germany, Finland, Denmark and Brazil all enjoy 30 days of annual vacation. In New Zealand and Australia it’s 20 days and even in Japan it’s 20 days – though most of us know they don’t take much time off. The United States, a country I think of as being ungenerous when it comes to offering vacation actually allows 15 days.
A recent survey by Leger and Valneva indicates that more than one quarter of Canadians take fewer than their permitted number of vacation days off with millennials the most deprived group. And yet there are huge benefits to taking a vacation. Chances are you’ll be happier, less stressed, better rested and feel closer to your family or partner. Once you’re back at work there are benefits too: you’re likely to be more productive, focused and relaxed.
Why don’t we take all our vacation days?
In an ever frantic world, people perceive that their lives are too busy to take time off. For some, employers won’t allow it or there is no one to cover a staff absence. And of course money comes into play as well.
A beach holiday in Mexico or the Caribbean is very appealing during a Canadian winter
How to make the most of the vacation days you have
As a travel blogger, rest assured that I have never left a vacation day on the table – when I had them. But from personal experience I can also tell you a little planning goes a long way to having the best vacation possible. Here’s what I would suggest.
Educate yourself about the country you’re planning to visit. Find out beforehand if there’s a problem with the water. Should you drink only bottled or treated water? (Bring a water filter or purification tablets if that’s the case to cut down on plastic bottle usage.)
Plan a trip to your family doctor and/or a travel clinic 4 – 6 weeks before you go. Discuss risks of common travel-related illnesses including hepatitis A and B, typhoid fever and even yellow fever.
Make sure necessary vaccinations are up to date including tetanus.
Be sure to pack hand sanitizer – and wash your hands as frequently as you would at home.
Don’t forget the sunscreen, lip balm, insect repellent and long-sleeved clothing for trips to warmer countries like Mexico and any in the Caribbean.
You can still run into problems with contaminated food and drink at all-inclusive resorts
My experience with contaminated water/ food
I think of myself as someone with an iron gut. I rarely get laid low with anything other than a cold and can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been sick in the past four decades. Three of the past five times I’ve actually been sick were while traveling – and two of those times were on trips in Mexico including my recent trip to La Paz. I also got really sick for a day on a hiking trip in Ireland this past spring but so did over half of our group so we think that might have been norovirus.
On my first ever trip to Mexico years ago, before sanitation had improved, both my husband and I ate a salad and had drinks with ice – two big no-no’s if you’re trying to stay healthy. The next five days were spent within 50 feet of our beachfront hotel room in Puerto Escondido.
On my recent trip to La Paz again a couple of us got an intestinal bug – probably due to food since we were very careful with ice and water. I had to cut out of activities on a press trip one afternoon and spent a very uncomfortable night in my hotel room – and on the plane home the next day. You can imagine how much fun that was!
Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint where you actually pick up a bug
Interestingly it’s been estimated that between 30-70% of people traveling to a tropical and sub-tropical countries have diarrhea at least once, with it often lasting from three to five days. Needless to say, staying close to a toilet is not a fun way to spend your precious vacation time.
But there is good news. While you should always be smart around food and water, especially if you suspect sanitation is compromised, there is a vaccine available for both adults and kids to help prevent diarrhea caused by Enterotoxigenic ecoli. While ETEC is the most common cause of diarrhea in travellers to Mexico and the Caribbean, diarrhea can be caused by several different bacteria and viruses. You should talk to your health care professional about the various prevention options available.
Don’t ruin your trip. Visit your doctor, pharmacist or travel health clinic four to six weeks beforehand so that you’re armed with information and have all the necessary shots and vaccines you need. Now go have a great holiday and never let a vacation day go to waste again.
If you’ve been thinking about a trip to the Canadian Rockies this summer it’s time to swing into gear and make some plans. For those of you short on time or who hate the bother of planning the details of a trip, check out the following two Canadian Rockies packages offered by Air Canada Vacations. With a single phone call or a click on your computer you can have your holiday booked and on your calendar. If you’re like me, I always like something to look forward to.Why book a Canadian Rockies Tours with Air Canada Vacations
Not everyone has time to figure out the logistics of a week-long trip. On my recent hiking trip to Patagonia I easily spent over 30 hours poring over maps, figuring out buses, hotels and logistics. While it’s fun for some people, planning a trip is not everybody.
Booking a package vacation is both time and cost effective. With a call or a click you can have your flights, hotels, car rentals and guided tours looked after – and the pricing is better when it’s done as a bundle. A bonus of booking with Air Canada Vacations is all those Aeroplan Miles you’re going to collect for a future trip.
The Best of Banff and Jasper tour
The Best of Banff and Jasperoffers a guided hiking and camping package that starts and ends in Calgary. Over the nine day trip you camp in Banff, Yoho and Jasper National Parks – UNESCO World Heritage Site designated parks.
In Banff National Park there are two hikes planned. One will warm your legs up along the shores of Lake Minnewanka and the other will get your heart pumping – as it’s a full day hike that gets you above tree line and into a world of alpine lakes and meadows. If you’ve got energy to burn in the evening head into Banff for a look around.
It’s a spectacular hike along the shore of Lake Minnewanka
The next stop is Lake Louise – and a hike to a viewpoint. Then it’s onto gorgeous Yoho National Park, just a short drive away. Camp under the trees – perhaps listening to the crash of the magnificent Takakkaw Falls. For those of you who want an adrenaline rush choose the optional rafting trip on the Kicking Horse River (wetsuits included!) while dedicated hikers can enjoy an 18 kilometre hike over two passes – adorned with wildflowers and offering views of Emerald Lake.
Takakkaw Falls seen from the Iceline Trail
On route to the town of Jasper make frequent stops along the Icefields Parkway – one of the world’s most scenic drives. A hike is planned that offers an exceptional view of the Saskatchewan Glacier Hike – with an excellent effort – reward ratio as it’s a short one.
It’s an easy hike to get to this view of the Saskatchewan Glacier
In Jasper you’re spoiled for choice. Either join the guide on a hiking trip to Maligne Lake (you usually see lots of wildlife on the road in) that will get you to a 9,290 foot peak with a view – all things going well or choose a host of other activities including canoeing at Pyramid Lake, mountain biking or even a ride up on the Jasper Skytram for far-reaching views, including Mount Robson on a clear day.
There’s a high probability of having to stop your car while the elk cross the road in Jasper
On the return drive to Calgary stop at Wilcox Pass for one of the best hikes in the Canadian Rockies. Over the 11 kilometre return hike enjoy outstanding views of the Columbia Icefields and a very high probability of seeing bighorn sheep.
Fly home the next day with a camera packed full of great memories.
Spectacular views of the Columbia Icefields from Wilcox Pass
Hiking Escapes Through the Rockies Fly and Drive Package
On the second vacation package – Hiking Escapes Through theRockies Fly and Drive package head straight for Canmore, the gateway to Banff National Park. (Note: You must be at least 17 years old.) Stay in this charming mountain town for four nights in a one bedroom suite with a fully equipped kitchen so you don’t always have to go out for meals.
While in Canmore you have two excursions and the flexibility to explore on your own for a day. One excursion with a professional naturalist takes you into Banff (a gondola tour is included and I can attest to the fantastic views you’ll get from the summit) and onto Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. The second excursion takes you into Kananaskis Country, a wilder cousin to Banff National Park and a local favourite. Travel to Highwood Pass, Canada’s highest public road via the Spray Lakes Road. There’s a high probability of seeing wildlife including black and grizzly bears as well as bighorn sheep.
Be wowed by the beauty of Lake Louise
From Canmore head north to Saskatchewan River Crossing for two nights. From here you’re a stone’s throw away from some of the best hiking in the Canadian Rockies including Helen Lake, Bow Lake, Peyto Lake and the two hikes described above along the Columbia Icefields Parkway.
Views you get early on in the hike to Helen Lake
Next up is a four night stay in a fully-equipped cabin in Jasper. You’ll have no problem filling three days with hikes, canoeing on pyramid or Maligne Lake, a soak in the Miette Hot Springs (the drive there is worth the trip alone) or even a canyoning adventure!
Try canoeing or kayaking on Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park
The last day of the trip is the return drive along the Icefield’s Parkway to Calgary. I highly recommend a stop to do either the Wilcox Pass or Parker Ridge hike before continuing to Calgary. The Beauty Creek hike is also an easy one. In Calgary, there’s lots going on in the summer. Don’t miss a walk along the Bow River before enjoying Calgary’s vibrant restaurant and bar scene.
Some of the views you’ll get along the Icefields Parkway
In this package 11 nights of accommodation, a 12 day midsize car rental, three guided hikes, a float on the Athabasca River and a round-trip flight to Calgary is included – if the flight and package option is selected.
If you’ve never been to the Canadian Rockies, you won’t go wrong with either of these two trips. All the iconic spots have been included and there’s enough flexibility in both itineraries to visit places that speak to you. Visit Air Canada Vacations or call 1-866-529-2079 for all the package details.
Thank you to Air Canada Vacations for making this post possible.
Los Glaciares National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981, is located in the Austral Andes of Argentina. The gateway town is El Chalten, about a three hour scenic bus ride from El Calafate – where there is a decent sized airport.Los Glaciares National Park is best known for its day hikes rather than multi-day backpacking trips, though there is a three day trip that is recommended. There are seven main hikes in the park if you start in El Chalten – but the standout is the hike to the Fitz Roy Towers with the hike to Torre a close second.
We had three nights in the El Chalten area planned with a stay booked at the Patagonia Ecodomes – which I highly recommend. We knew we could hike into the park right from the back door of the Ecodomes but actually didn’t appreciate that it was the Fitz Roy Towers hike – one of the two top hikes in Los Glaciares National Park – that was the one available to us.
You can see the Fitz Roy Towers from the Patagonia Ecodomes
Los Glaciares National Park is notorious for extraordinarily high winds and crappy weather. We got lucky on the day we did the hike to the Fitz Roy Towers – as it’s considered dangerous when it’s windy and rainy according to the parks people.
After a leisurely breakfast we got going about 10 AM figuring it would only take us about six hours round-trip. It did not. We weren’t back until 6 PM though we did spend at least an hour up at the top soaking in the views and eating our lunch. All told we figure we hiked 20 kilometres with 610 metres of elevation gain. From the main trailhead in El Chalten the park suggests allowing four hours one way, so eight hours round-trip. That Fitz Roy hike is also 20 kilometres round-trip with 750 metres of elevation gain – so they’re very similar. They do meet up just before the Poincenot Campground.
Leaving from Patagonia Ecodomes to do the Fitz Roy Towers hike
The first 2.5 hours of hiking is very lovely – with most of it in a pretty forest following a river. The trail is in terrific shape and there’s really no need for heavy leather boots. As we climbed gradually towards the Poincenot Campground, we did enjoy the spectacular Piedras Blancas viewpoint of both the lake and glacier bearing its name. It was even more beautiful in the late afternoon light.
Entering the park – and there is no entrance fee
Lovely walking for several hours through open woods
Ogling this glacier at the Piedras Blancas Viewpoint
Close-up pf the ice which is so blue especially with the sun at this angle
Once we met up with the main trail we ran into the masses of people. The trail we hiked was positively quiet by comparison. From the intersection of the two trails it’s not long before you start climbing. While it’s only a 1,000 foot climb the steps are big and there’s a lot of stopping and starting to let people pass by. Look back and take in the scenery when that happens.
The start of a 1,000 foot climb
Walk through the basic Poincenot Campsite to get to Laguna de los Tres
Don’t forget to look back to admire the scenery
Unless the weather is atrocious don’t go expecting solitude
Almost at the ridge line
Once we got to the top the views were truly nothing short of jaw-dropping, especially if you make the extra effort and hike up to the knob to the left of the photo below. It’s quite obvious when you’re there. If it’s a high wind day be extremely cautious as these winds could literally knock you over the edge.
Spend some time wandering down by the lake. Peer over – on a low wind day – to the lake below the towers and marvel at the colours you see.
Hanging out just admiring the incredible view – and counting our blessings we got good weather
Hiking beside the lake to get the best view of the Fitz Roy Towers
John peering down into the lake beneath the Fitz Roy Towers
If you stay on the ridge you’d never know there was a lake here
Turn slightly to your right and you get this view
Splendid mountain scenery everywhere you look
This gives you an idea of the sheer number of people that have made the 6 – 8 hour return hike
Once away from the winds of the glacier it felt positively balmy by Patagonian standards
Truly exceptional hiking – especially for the effort – reward ratio
Full circle and back at the Ecodomes after about 7 hours of hiking
The hike to the Fitz Roy Towers is very worthwhile though I’d really recommend doing it during a good weather window. The trail is obvious, well-marked and easy to follow. The trail was litter free – which was great to see. Water bottles can be filled at a river near the Poincenot Campground – and I’d recommend purifying it just to be safe.
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Hiking in Alberta is incredible. We’re spoiled here with an abundance of outstanding day hikes to choose from. These 16 hikes described below give you but a taste of what is out there. With three national parks and the Rocky Mountains you can expect plenty of world-class mountain views, gorgeous high alpine lakes and with a little luck some wildlife sightings.
Unless you hit a weekday in the shoulder season, expect company on this hike. The boat runs until Thanksgiving weekend in October.
Distance: 17.4 km round-trip with a 690 metre elevation gain
Difficultly: Moderate Time needed: 5 -7 hours
Highlights: A boat ride to the trailhead, waterfalls, a gnarly section that includes a ladder, tunnel and chains, beautiful alpine lake with a beach at the end of the hike
Getting to the tunnel on the Crypt Lake Trail
You can walk all the way around Crypt Lake
Pretty hiking down a valley with waterfalls
Turtle Mountain, Crowsnest Pass Area
The one hike where you may feel a wee bit of tension at the summit as it is predicted that there will be another rock slide.
Distance: 6.2 km round-trip with 780 metres of elevation gain
Difficulty: Challenging Time needed: 3 – 6 hours
Highlights: At the top you can see where Turtle Mountain broke off to cause the Frank Slide in 1903. Superb views off the Frank Slide itself. Great view of the town of Blairmore and up and down the Crowsnest Valley. There is the option to scramble to the South Peak (where monitoring equipment is in place to detect movement) but it’s about an hour each way even though the distance isn’t great.
The airy view from the area where the mountain broke off
The sight of the Frank Slide several thousand feet below
Prairie Mountain, Kananaskis Country (Bragg Creek area)
I only do this hike in the winter or the shoulder season as there are definitely prettier hikes out there to do. But you can’t beat it for a work-out or to get your mountain fix as the trailhead is just 45 minutes from Calgary. It can be bloody cold and windy on top and ice-cleats are recommended in winter. It’s dog friendly.
Distance: 7.6 km with 726 metres of elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult because of the steepness Time needed: 3 – 5 hours unless you’re superhuman
Highlights: Prairie and mountain views; you can see Calgary on a clear day
Awesome view down the ridge and especially into a valley that is rarely seen
There is some scrambling to get to Opal Ridge
Grizzly Peak, Kananaskis Country from Highwood Pass
It shares a trailhead at the Highwood Pass parking area with the Pocaterra Ridge hike but the hiking experience is completely different. This one rewards with a tiny summit via a short ridge and a bit of easy scrambling. One of the best hikes in Kananaskis Country.
Distance: 9.6 km round-trip with an elevation gain of 518 metres to the col plus an additional 165 metres to the summit
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult (only at the very end) Time needed: 4-6 hours to the summit
Highlights: Larches in the fall; stunning views in the Highwood Pass area; fun watching people scramble on Mt. Tyrwhitt
Recently we had the opportunity to try out the brand new Recore performance mattress. While this isn’t the typical type of blog you’ll find on here, the reason we wanted to do a review boiled down to the fact that the mattress is designed for active people – it’s not just another mattress in a box.
We’ve taken some time before releasing this review as we really wanted to have a few weeks of sleep on this mattress before providing you with our honest account. And let me be clear, we were not paid for this review. We were gifted a mattress but received no extra pay to tell you simply what the company wants you to hear. This is our honest opinion!
We had really low expectations from a mattress that comes out of a box. We’ve been so ingrained with the idea that you need to go to a brick and mortar store to buy an expensive mattress with memory foam. I mean after all, the mattress industry is 109 years old. But after trying this mattress, I’m not sure we would ever go back.
Recore Performance Mattress Inside Box
There are a number of reasons we love it. To begin with, it is extremely comfortable. We also love that you can’t really feel the movements of your partner. It’s so subtle when my husband moves around that it doesn’t disturb me. Normally I wake up several times throughout the night when he is unsettled, but I have had some of the most consistent sleeps in years on this bed. He’s even been able to sneak out in the morning without waking me which never used to happen.
One of the other things we love is that the mattress doesn’t trap heat– it is super breathable. We did some digging into why this mattress seems to be better than most in this area and it boils down to a few things. First of all – they use a graphite foam which regulates thermal energy. Secondly, there are gel microbeads that ensure the heat doesn’t get trapped. And finally, the synthetic latex provides a cooler surface than memory foam.
A few other things that may be helpful if you are considering this mattress:
You have 120 nights to test the bed with a risk-free trial.
The cover is machine-washable so it’s WAY easier to clean than most mattresses.
It’s Canadian made!
It comes in a box! You can order it directly to your home and shipping is free for 99% of Canada. Only a few super remote locations have to pay a shipping fee.
Honestly, we really do love this mattress and will likely order one soon for our guest bedroom. Feel free to comment below with any questions and we’ll give you honest feedback! Here’s the link again in case you want to learn more: https://www.recorebed.ca.
Perfect Powder Makes Alberta Ski Resorts Incredible
The Canadian Rockies have legendary light airy snow and there’s no shortage of places to enjoy it. You’re actually spoiled for choice when it comes to Alberta ski resorts. Whether you’re a novice skier, a mogul maven or a backcountry buff, you’ll find plenty to love – both on the slopes and off. Here are seven amazing Alberta ski resorts to put on your hit list this season.
Banff Sunshine Village
With an annual snowfall of up to 9 metres (30 feet), it’s safe to say that Banff Sunshine Village gets more snow than most other Alberta ski resorts. The resort is also home to Sunshine Mountain Lodge, the only ski-in, ski-out hotel in Banff National Park. Sunshine Village has 3,358 acres of skiable terrain and a top elevation of 1,660 m (5,450 ft). There are 120 named runs on three mountain faces and the resort stretches between the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia. There are plenty of lifts including a gondola and a high speed quad chair with heated seats and bubbles. For après-ski fun, there’s a good restaurant and lounge at the slope-side lodge and several other restaurants in Sunshine Village. You can also head into the mountain town of Banff where you’ll find a distillery, bars, lounges and some great restaurants and shops. The signature snowshoeing experience is a great winter activity. In summer, you can hike to the Sunshine Meadows and enjoy the wildflowers.
Bluebird ski day at Sunshine Ski Resort – Photo credit: Banff Lake Louise Tourism
Lake Louise Ski Resort
One of the largest ski resorts in North America, Lake Louise Ski Resort has 4,200 acres of skiable terrain over two mountains. The longest run is 8 km (5 mi) long. This Alberta ski resort is fantastic for families or groups who have skiers and boarders of varying abilities. You can access beginner, intermediate and expert runs from every chairlift. There are 145 marked runs plus back bowls, ten lifts including one gondola and 5 chairlifts. The resort has a tube park, a terrain park and a fantastic beginner’s area. The top elevation is 2637m (8650 ft). There are several restaurants, cafeterias and lounges onsite for après-ski fun. First Tracks Ski & Snowboard Lessons is a unique ski experience that lets you access the mountain before it opens to the general public. The Lake Louise Gondola is used in the summer for sightseeing and grizzly bear viewing.
Gorgeous scenery every which way you look at Lake Louise
Looking towards Mount Temple from Lake Louise Ski Resort
Mount Norquay Ski Resort
Mt. Norquay is the closest ski resort to the picturesque town of Banff. It has 60 named runs spread over 190 acres of skiable terrain. This resort has some history with locals. The first ski lodge opened on Mt. Norquay in 1929 and the first motorized ski lifts were installed in 1942. The resort has 5 chairlifts, a terrain park, a tubing park and offers night skiing. In the summer, you can climb the via ferratato the top of the mountain. There are several restaurants and lounges on the mountain including the exceptionally good Cliffhouse Bistro. Note: You can purchase a tri-area lift ticket that lets you ski three Alberta ski resorts on a single ticket – Sunshine, Lake Louise or Mt. Norquay.
Don’t miss Banff’s best kept secret – the view from the top of one of the chairs by the Cliffside Bistro at Mount Norquay
Kelsey – Debbie’s daughter skiing at Norquay
Nakiska Ski Area
Built for the 1988 Winter Olympics, Nakiska Ski Area is only about an hour outside Calgary in Kananaskis Country. “Nakiska” is a Cree word that means “meeting place.” The resort itself is set on the east face of Mount Allan and has 64 named runs spread over 1021 acres. The resort is used for early season training by several alpine teams. There’s a terrain park and a tube park onsite and the resort offers guided snowshoe excursions. There are several options for on-mountain dining or you can head to one of the great restaurants or bars at the nearby Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge.
Skiing surrounded by the beauty of Kananaskis Country – Photo credit: Canmore Kananaskis Tourism
Just outside the town of Jasper, Marmot Basin has 91 named runs on four mountain faces covering 1720 acres. Marmot has 3,000 feet of vertical drop and the highest base elevation of all ski areas in Canada. The seven lifts can transport 12,000 skiers per hour, but the hill is never that busy. In 2017, the resort opened “Tres Hombres,” an incredible 45-acre area with advanced and expert off-piste skiing and snowboarding terrain. There’s also a good selection of beginner and intermediate runs to enjoy at this Alberta ski resort. There are three on-mountain day lodges and even more restaurants and lounges in the town of Jasper. There are also a wide range of activities for adventurous travelers to enjoy in Jasper in winter.
Extremely enjoyable skiing at Marmot
Castle Mountain Resort
Located in southwest Alberta just outside the town of Pincher Creek, Castle Mountain Resortis the hidden gem of Alberta ski resorts. The resort has 3,000 vertical feet and some of the longest runs in North America. It also gets a phenomenal amount of snow – 9 metres (30 ft) on average annually. There are 94 trails, 7 lifts and two terrain parks on two mountain faces. The resort also has one of North America’s only resort-based cat ski operations, the Powder Stagecoach. In winter, non-skiers can enjoy a tour on the powder stagecoach or enjoy a guided snowshoe adventure. The biggest event in summer is the annual Huckleberry Festival.
Morning before the lifts have opened at Castle Ski Resort
Skiing some of the easier runs at Castle
Canyon Ski Resort
In preparation for the 2019 Canada Winter Games, Alberta’s largest non-mountain ski resort underwent a $1.6 million renovation.Canyon Ski Resortimproved its terrain, widened ski runs, upgraded snowmaking equipment and updated the onsite ski chalet. The resort is now home to Western Canada’s best mogul site. There are 18 runs over 70 acres of skiable terrain. The resort has 6 lifts, a snow tube park, a terrain park and a lodge with a cafeteria and a lounge. Canyon is just outside Red Deer, Alberta’s third largest city.
Riding the chair at Canyon Ski Resort – Photo credit: Canyon Ski Resort
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This guest post was kindly written by Debbie Olsen, an award-winning writer and photographer and co-author of the national bestselling book, “125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta.” Check out her blog –wanderwoman.ca.
You don’t hear much about the Cariboo’s – a group of rugged, remote mountains in east-central British Columbia at the northern end of the Columbia Mountains, about 100 kilometres due west of Mount Robson Provincial Park. There’s a reason for that. Unless you have a helicopter or you’re exceptionally skilled in the backcountry, the area is basically off-limits.
Being whisked around this landscape is a huge thrill
But as a guest of CMH, owners and operators of the Cariboo Lodge, I am one of the lucky ones to experience not only their hospitality but some of the most stunning, rarely seen mountain scenery in Canada. I’d had a taste of their luxury heli hike experience a few years earlier in the Bugaboos, so I knew I was in for a treat.
You can look forward to mountain scenery like this when you visit the Cariboos
Getting to the heli-pad in Valemount
While many people who visit the Cariboo Lodge drive themselves to the helipad in Valemount (it’s just 90 minutes from the town of Jasper), there were many of us who spent the night in Banff and then hopped on a comfortable bus provided by CMH for the five hour scenic drive up the Icefields Parkway and on into Valemount. Thoughtfully, snacks and lunch were provided and the trip was narrated by the driver.
Once at the helipad we were given a thorough briefing by Trevor, our helicopter pilot for the next three days. The biggest takeaway for me – apart from staying far away from the tail – was not to let anything fly off my person – like ball caps, or scarves that could cause grave danger to the helicopter. And he assures us that there is no need to run.
It is always a thrill for me to fly in a helicopter
The thrill of a helicopter ride never gets old. What a pleasure it is to be whisked into a gorgeous mountain environment far removed from everyday life – in just 10 minutes.
We didn’t arrive at the lodge on the first day until mid-afternoon so with less than inspiring weather and a low ceiling for flying, the guides suggested an easy hike along the road just to get our legs moving. Post hike anyone who cared to could go for a swim in the pond. On a sunny day that’s a popular option.
The pond is very popular for swimming on hot summer days
Not interested in hiking? No problem. Get a massage. Head for the main living area – grab a drink and revel in the beauty. Or if you haven’t had enough exercise, head downstairs to the machines and climbing wall. Frankly I was happy to hike by day and relax at night.
The Cariboo Lodge
What it’s really like to heli hike in the Cariboo’s
Hikers are divided into groups – based on ability, hiking speed – and even weight so that the helicopter is balanced and each group is teamed up with one or two guides. Every morning you check what group you’ve been assigned too – and what time you need to be at the heli-pad. No one is late for the helicopter.
We’re whisked through a landscape of dazzling mountains to landing spots, sometimes on impossibly small pieces of outcrop. Seconds after everyone is out and the guides have unloaded packs from the cargo basket, we are left in silence. In the middle of true wilderness.
The guides throw themselves over the packs as the helicopter lifts off
We all get very good, very quickly at the huddle
Imagine wildflower-filled meadows with a backdrop of not one but many massive glaciers; waterfalls tumbling from 1000 metre-high cliffs; rocks that speak to the earth’s geologic history and lakes – an otherworldly colour of turquoise and blue. That’s the backdrop for 2.5 days of hiking.
I’ve been teamed up with John Mellis, the senior mountain guide at CMH, who’s perfected the art of getting everyone’s attention with a magnificent yodel followed by an easy smile. After a few words of advice, we’re off at a comfortable pace.
Our first day of hiking is sublime – truly one of the most magnificent in my life. I’m completely in my element and can’t stop grinning – especially as it’s a blue skies, see forever kind of day.
We were dropped off by the tarn
The day’s hike starts beside this beautiful pond in view of the North Canoe Glacier
Within minute’s of hiking on our first day we’re into scenery like this
Our lunch time stop in view of the Premier Mountains, named in honour of late Canadian prime ministers
Reveling in the view at lunch time
Afternoon hiking is even more magnificent
Massive glaciers everywhere you look
Does mountain scenery get better than this?
While the hiking is glorious it’s never overly strenuous
Mother Nature threw us a curve ball on the second day with a forecast of a 10% chance of rain with a side of smoke. Last summer British Columbia and the western US were hit with massive forest fires which of course translates to copious amounts of smoke. The forecasters were bang on about the smoke but we avoided any rain. While the hiking was still extraordinary the views of the famous Zillmer Glacier weren’t what they would normally be.
The smoky skies gave us a chance to focus on what was underfoot – cooked-up rocks in a myriad of colours including mica schists filled with garnets, massive boulders of quartz and mica so fine you could scoop it up by the handful.
All day long we hiked on “cooked-up “rocks that were fabulously weathered and full of mica
Hiking through the valley of the waterfalls to reach the lookout to the Zillmer Glacier
I took a lot of photos of my boots on the rocks because the designs were so interesting
Fortunately day three delivered with mostly good visibility and a stunner of a helicopter flight low over a glacier filled crevass. While there was still smoke it was a fraction of what we’d had the day before. And the landscape was like few other places I’d ever seen.
A surreal landscape
Everyone is having a grand time poking along the shoreline
Thank heavens we’re not relying on film anymore as everyone shoots a massive number of pictures in..