By: Nicky Pacas
If no one has a temper tantrum or slams a car door, did a family vacation even happen?
We’ve all been there: excited for a family trip. The bags are packed, the hotel or campsite is booked, the car is gassed up — what could go wrong? It turns out, a lot! As much as we love our families, sometimes it seems impossible to survive a vacation with them. Luckily, we’ve compiled some tips and suggestions to help you maximize your trip and minimize your stress. Surviving a family vacation? Piece of cake.
1. Don’t Over-plan: Don’t plan on doing everything during your vacation; give yourself time to enjoy each activity and leave a little wiggle room in case you want to linger on a hike or on a canoe ride. Planning too many activities can make you feel frantic and leave you feeling like you might need a vacation after your vacation.
Using a tour company can alleviate the stress of dealing with details on your holiday. Because tour companies know the Canadian Rockies like no one else, you can trust that your adventures will be well-planned and organized. You might even be able to try something you wouldn’t have access to without a guide.
For early risers, book a Morning Wildlife Tour with Maligne Adventures in Jasper. Since most wildlife sightings occur early in the morning or later in the evening, depend on the expertise of the guides to get you to the right places to see mountain fauna (they have a 95% success rate) during a three-hour tour by vehicle.
For rock lovers, book an experience with Canmore Cave Tours and explore water-worn passageways and the beauty that hides beneath the mountainous landscape. A guide and the right equipment gives you access to the places that go unseen by most. Cave Tours typically have a minimum age requirement of 10 years old, but some educational offerings are accessible to all ages.
If you aren’t sure what hike best suits the abilities of your family members, get in touch with White Mountain Adventures for guidance on their hiking packages. Don’t see anything you like? Book a private or custom tour for an expertly arranged experience.
2.Know your Limits: if you have never climbed a mountain before, don’t plan on summiting the highest peak for your first activity. Start with reasonable activities that allow you to test your comfort level and skills before trying something bigger.
Whenever possible, pick an experience that offers variation so as to accommodate everyone’s abilities. Banff Trail Riders hosts two different (but equally fun) ways of getting to their Cowboy Cookout at 3 Mile Cabin: by wagon or by horseback. For family members aged 8 and older, the horseback ride is a guided tour along the base of Sulphur Mountain. For family members younger than 8, or for those who aren’t as keen to ride a horse, the wagon ride gets guests to the cookout after a scenic tour along the Bow River. No matter how you get there, you’ll all be eating together.
Not everyone can hike to great heights. For the best alternative to hiking, see our hot tip on gondolas and chairlifts.
3. Pack your Snacks: Don’t rely on eating a big breakfast or a big lunch to get you through your activities in the Rockies; nothing ruins a great day like being hangry. Packing small, easy-to-eat snacks can be a life-saver when you’re out on the trail and still far away from the parking lot. Visit the bulk section of the grocery store to stock up on nuts and dried fruit to put in your backpack. Energy bars, beef jerky and bananas also make good trailside treats. Remember to pack out your wrappers and peels so that you don’t leave attractants for the wildlife in the area.
For a family-friendly restaurant that is perfect for pre- and post-adventure fueling, visit Communitea in Canmore. With a friendly and healthy menu for kids (and a play area to keep them occupied), adults can indulge in a meal for themselves. Bonus: Communitea opens early (8am) and celebrates Friday with cupcakes!
4. Pack your Clothes: The weather in the Canadian Rockies is predictably unpredictable; it can be hot and sunny at the base of a mountain, but windy up top. Make sure that you bring layers so that you can plan for sudden changes in weather. Having extra clothes also makes it easy to move between activities without having to first stop at your hotel room or campsite.
For a list of shops that will outfit you for the mountain weather, see pages 91, 98, 104 and 156 of our magazine. Don’t forget your sunscreen! On page 26, see some of our favourite products to keep your skin protected from the elements.
5. Think about Interests: Do you love water activities? Do your kids love water activities? Sometimes the things we’re interested in doing are very different from the things the rest of the family enjoys. Make sure that you balance everyone’s interests, even if that means going to a museum for an afternoon instead of riding bikes. Chances are that you will be able to persuade your family members to do the things you enjoy if you show the same interest in their desires.
If you are up for adventure but the rest of your family wants to cool down in the water, why not make the best of both worlds and go whitewater rafting? Jasper’s Whitewater Rafting takes clients (kids must be at least 6 years old) through exciting rapids for speedy adventure. Jasper Raft Tours offers a gentler alternative to whitewater rafting through their tours designed for the entire family. With local guides who have grown up in Jasper or lived in the town for a long time, visitors are led on a sightseeing adventure down the Athabasca River.
6. Have a Plan B: In Lynda Pianosi’s book, Take a Hike with Your Children, all of the hikes that Pianosi recommends have a “Plan B”—each hike is close to a playground or interpretive centre so that if your kids won’t budge beyond the trailhead, you can still make the most of your location.
Pick up a copy of Lynda’s book at Café Books in Canmore. Some of our favourite hikes include the Fenland Trail in Banff, Cougar Creek in Canmore, and Morraine Lake Shoreline in Lake Louise. The Red Squirrel Trail in Jasper is close to the townsite and accessible for all walking abilities.
Try turning your adventures into a treasure hunt by finding as many of Parks Canada’s Red Chairs as you can. The Red Chairs have been placed in special locations around Banff and Jasper National Parks, and are meant to encourage people to connect with each other and with nature. Some are easy to find, others require a little more effort, but all of them are worth the views they provide. There are 13 Red Chairs locations in Banff National Park, and 7 locations in Jasper National Park. Visit the Parks Canada website for the exact Red Chair locations.
Bonus: youth (17 and under) receive free admission to Parks Canada places this year. That means free admission to all national parks, national historic sites, and national marine conservation areas operated by Parks Canada!
7. Find Time for Yourself: this is your vacation, too! Make sure that you set some time aside so that you can get some exercise, some alone time, or maybe even a meal at a restaurant that you’ve been eyeing. Take advantage of locations that have childminding or hotels that offer babysitting services.
If you need to take a little time for yourself but you aren’t travelling with a babysitter (let’s be honest, most of us don’t), there are still ways to keep your kid(s) occupied while you try some exploring or activities of your own.
Take advantage of the child daycare services at Lake Louise while you enjoy the Lake Louise Summer Gondola or an open chairlift. The daycare is fully licensed and will take kids as young as 18 days! Full day and half-day rates are available.
At Elevation Place in Canmore, get a workout in at the pool, in the gym or at the climbing wall while your little one enjoys the “Lil’ Bears Den” childminding services. A maximum stay is two hours and children must be between 6 months and 7 years old. If your workout lasts under two hours, take advantage of the Good Earth Coffeehouse on site and relax for a while—you’ve earned it.
In the Canadian Rockies, survival isn’t about being the fittest; survival (especially on a holiday with your family) is all about planning. But once you’ve made the plans, don’t forget to relax and enjoy yourself!