“The mountains are calling, and I must go.”
If you spend any amount of time on a road in Alberta, Canada, after May 1st, chances are you will meet the caravans of residents hauling trailers and all name of toys for enjoying rough roads and back country. We are masters of camping, we’ve got packing down to a science and we make a mean smore. Camping is more than just a pastime here, it’s a way of life. Many of us grew up listening to stories around the fire, spending lazy days at the lake, canoeing with fishing lines cast out, or screeching around the bend as we hit a wake at full force on a tube, radio blasting, thumbs up to go faster.
Over the years, our family has transformed from mornings in the tent and hotdogs over the fire, to a trailer with heat and queen sized beds. Our last adventure saw us testing out our brand new shower and bbq. I told Mr. B that we’ve officially become backcountry “glampers”.
Over the last month, I haven’t blogged much. I was so bogged down with preparing our teenager for her first set of final exams and trying to survive the last weeks of lunch packing and spelling tests, that I felt as if I were drowning. I get so excited to travel, but it’s not often I actually feel a “need” to get away from what is a very fortunate life. However, last week I could not wait to head to our favorite mountain hideaway. I craved a world with zero cell service and no defined daily routine. It was going to be just us and the soul refreshing Rocky Mountains, completely unplugged, reconnecting to nature and eachother.
SO WHERE DO WE GO??
Directions to the exact spot we camp would be like sharing Grandma’s secret recipe. It’s one of those places that remains a hidden gem, a place still untouched by tourists and the online reservation system. It’s where you can go last minute on a long weekend and still find solitude. But I can share the general area as it’s filled with these magical spaces, and allow you to discover your own secret pocket of paradise.
Abraham Lake is the epitome of glacier lake beauty. Located between Nordegg, AB and the Banff Park Boundary, Alberta’s largest man made lake will take your breath away with colors that rival any Caribbean Shoreline. It’s just colder…as in, fresh off the Saskatchewan Glacier cold. The lake is a result of the Bighorn Dam, a favorite destination among families who love to quad and fish in the summer, and view the incredible ice bubbles that form during the winter.
The land along the lake lies just outside the boundary of Banff National Park, and is dotted with official campgrounds, as well as public use land. Barely visible roads snake off of the highway towards the water, leading the adventurous to unparalleled scenery, offering up space in which to spread your wings and whatever gear you’ve brought along.
So why do I love camping so much? It’s about watching my daughters learn how to cast or spend time digging holes in the mud, exclaiming that their filthy faces are “just part of it all, Mom.” It’s enjoying a coffee with Bailey’s in the morning as the sun hits the mountain face, or staring up at thousands of stars as the day comes to a close. It’s the friendly family setting fireworks off next to our site to celebrate Canada Day, the cheerful and exhausted hikers wishing eachother a safe jouney and the roars of thunder as a storm echoes through the valley. It’s life simplified, allowing nature to be both your guide and your opponent. I am so thankful to have a family who embraces each and every moment.
HIKING IN THE AREA:
We have done several family hikes in this area, and the routes are endless. I will start by reminding you that any hiking adventure should be done safely and responsibly. You are in physically challenging and potentially dangerous terrain, and adhering to rules, and being properly prepared is a must. You are also in bear country. We choose to carry a bear bell. Bears are more likely to attack if surprised, so the constant noise can help reduce this risk. We also invested in a can of bear spray. Another option are bear bangers. We’ve never come across one while hiking, but bears and cougars are a real thing here, and you need to be educated and prepared.
For a detailed hiking checklist, visit: Parks Canada
Oh, and I should mention we take Bentley, our beagle. He’s a ferocious protector, as you can clearly see.
HIKE 1: SASKATCHEWAN GLACIER TRAIL
Details: 15 km Return. Moderate Rating. Voted a 5 star hike. Unmarked, Unofficial Trail. Elevation Gain of 275 meters. 5-6 hours return trip.
This hike has been one of our favorites. It is located within Banff National Park, so you will require a park pass. The entrance is along the postcard perfect giant bend of the Icefields Parkway, near the popular Athabasca Glacier. On the lower end of the bend is a small side road with a crumbling concrete bridge, and you can park here. The trail is an old road from the 1930’s US Army’s 87th Mountain Division. The best place to get on is at the rear treeline, close to the river, and larger parking lot on the other side.
The Saskatchewan Glacier is the very source of the North Saskatchewan River. While the hike is not particularly challenging vertically, it is a long stretch for youngsters. Is it worth it? Absolutely. The scenery is stunning, and we found ourselves completely alone with nature.
We enjoyed lunch, taking in 3 waterfalls within our view. Evidence of others enjoying the hike were seen in a lone tent and the many truly Canadian Inukshuk’s built along the stretch of a previous rock slide.
The girls were exhausted at this point, so we remained and rested on a giant rock, while Mr. B completed the final kilometer to view the lake and the glacier itself.
*** This valley is one of the only accessible routes through the valley and grizzly bears pass through here, so you do need to be aware.
HIKE 2: KINGLET LAKE
Details: 15 km Return. Moderate to Difficult Rating. Voted a 4 star hike. Marked, Official Trail. Elevation Gain of 800 meters. 5-6 hours return trip.
The Kinglet Lake trail is located just west of the 2 O’clock Creek Campground, and the trailhead marker is just off the David Thompson highway. As we were still exhausted from the previous day, we chose to only do the first couple kilometers that led to stunning panoramic views of Abraham Lake and the ranges beyond.
HIKE 3: ALLSTONES LAKE
This is one of our most challenging hikes to date. We had no idea what to expect, and each report on distance and elevation change is vastly different, varying from 8 to 13 km return with an elevation change ranging from 500-800 meters. What I know for a fact is that it’s a whole lot of vertical, with several passes that tested my “mother-bear” instincts for safety as we crossed goat trails along the side of a cliff that dropped hundreds of feet below us. Needless to say, I invoked the “Do not look down, hold my hand, do not let go” rule. I may even have said a little safety prayer….or seven.
When we finally reached the top, we were rewarded with a small stocked trout fishing lake, the brilliant emerald colors dulled due to the clouds. We met plenty of hikers spending the night up here, some of who do it as a Canada Day tradition every year. With having lunch and trying our hand at fishing for 20 minutes, we were about 5 hours return. I am proud that we accomplished it, that we never gave up, and the entire way back down I found myself wondering “how on earth did my kids do this?”
HIKE 4: SIFFLEUR FALLS
Details: 8 km Return. Easy to Moderate Rating. Marked, Official Trail. No bikes or horses allowed. Elevation Gain of 146 meters. 2-3 hours return trip.
Located close to Abraham Lake, just off the David Thompson Highway is the popular Siffleur Falls hike. This hike is relatively easy and so picturesque. Following a boardwalk and a suspension bridge, you will find yourself along the North Saskatchewan River. At the 4 km mark you will reach the Siffleur Falls viewpoint, where you can take in views of the gorge and falls. 2.5 km further in is the second set, followed by 1.5 km to the third set.
*** I cannot stress enough the importance of staying within the guard rails, and taking the signs seriously. The danger is very real, and there have been lives lost for those who do not heed the rule of safety first.
OTHER NOTABLE ITEMS FOR THE AREA:
- Fishing can be plenty of fun, but be advised that adults require a license, and that certain areas have strict guidelines. Check HERE for regulations.
- For a more in depth area hiking guide, visit Albert Wow but always remember that various sites will provide various details, and that this is just a guideline.
- Abraham Lake Public Use Areas do not have facilities of any type, it is true back country. There is food, supplies, accomodations and gas services located at the David Thompson Resort as well as at Saskatchewan Crossing, which is located in the park boundaries.
- Please do your best to be best friends with nature. Do not be disrespectful by cutting trees for firewood, and while there are no park regulations, please be considerate of those around you. Also, ensure you store food safely as to not attract wildlife.
- If you are canoeing or boating, wear a lifejacket. We witnessed a very close call as we watched two young men without life jackets cross the very swift and ice cold river, only to tip themselves. They were fortunate to be close enough to the far shore to get out, and manage to save their canoe and their lives.
- Be Fire Safe. Forest fires have caused massive and devastating damage in Alberta. Know the fire hazard level and adhere to fire bans.
While we have been fortunate enough to travel to many far off lands, there is nothing that brings me more peace and happiness than this area. Camping is about bonding and living a simpler life, if only for a few days. It’s throwing schedules out the window, trading the every day for the extraordinary, a chance to challenge ourselves, to explore and most importantly, to recharge our very core as we place our feet onto nature’s terrain.
This place. These People. Living this life for these moments.