I’ll be honest. I’ve been a complete chicken about taking my kids camping.
My poor boys are 3 & 5 years old and this summer was the first time they slept in a tent. They LOVED it, of course, what kid doesn’t love camping?! So for our first camping adventure, our goal was to visit Drumheller, Alberta and find us some dinosaurs! To encourage their interest, we’ve been talking and reading about dinosaurs in advance of our visit to the Royal Tyrrell Museum.
Our adventure began in the Cold Spring Campground of EC Manning Provincial Park on the first massively rain/thunderstorm-filled night of the summer, where, if something could go wrong, it did. From a miscommunication over the fact I require flush toilets and showers (this site had neither), to setting up the tent in the rain with thunder and lightning bouncing off the surrounding mountains, to an air mattress which would not hold air, to rain permeating our tent walls, it is a minor miracle we didn’t just call it quits. Our trip was saved thanks to our enthusiastic boys who thought everything was funny and a normal part of camping! Our youngest loudly announced his love of outhouses and if I hadn’t birthed him I would seriously question whether we were related.
With nearly every possible disaster out of the way on our first night, our expectations had nowhere to go but up and the camping trip improved immensely. Our second night was spent at the Okanagan Lake Provincial Park North Campground, a perfectly gorgeous and perfectly dry spot! The boys spent many hours searching the lake for Ogopogo and finding collectables to add to their treasure boxes (snap-lid boxes to house rocks, feathers, shells, and anything else they felt needed to follow them home). The Okanagan is also wine country so a visit to Wild Goose and Blasted Church wineries made the 4 adults on the trip very happy. The lovely child friendly bistro at Wild Goose was a treat!
On our way to Glacier National Park just past Revelstoke, we stopped at the Last Spike in Craigellachie which holds a dear spot in my heart as one my multiple-great grandfather’s is actually in the famous Last Spike photo. We had a lovely picnic, talked about our family history with the boys, and watched trains rumble past the all-important landmark. Loop Brook campground was our home for the night. The beautifully maintained campsite has 20 spots which are available on a first-come-first-serve basis nestled in a valley of the Rockies alongside a glacier-fed river. I could spend countless nights here, which is a real endorsement given there are no showers! Most nights the rangers provide an educational session – generally kid-friendly – starting at 6:30pm.
Crossing the Continental divide we set up shop at Tunnel Mountain Campground in Banff and we headed off to Lake Minnewanka for an hour long boat cruise. The Banff/Lake Cruise is part of the Brewster Travel Canada company which also operates the Banff Gondola and Glacier Skywalk in addition to a variety of bus tours. The cruise is positively gorgeous. The majority of our cruise was spent learning about the wildlife that inhabit the surrounding mountains. A word of advice for parents of small children; be prepared for them to sit on your lap. The windows of the boat are surprisingly high; our little ones couldn’t see much unless they were perched on our laps.
When in the mountains, one can’t help but try to go up the mountains, so after our boat cruise we headed for Banff Gondola. A late afternoon visit ensured absolutely no line at the bottom so quickly found ourselves gliding up the mountain staring at the gorgeous Rockies surrounding us. The view is absolutely breath-taking.
We spent an hour up at the top; we had dinner at the cafe. Word of advice, if you are visiting on a Friday or Saturday night be sure to make a reservation ahead of time to take part in the Alpine Lights prime rib dinner; we didn’t have a prior reservation and no amount of sweet-talking got us a seat. The food in the cafe is standard burgers, fries, fish and chips; perfectly acceptable but nothing compared to a prime rib dinner! Now, the downside of going up the gondola at 4pm is the fact everyone is wanting to get off the mountain top at the same time. The line was unbelievably long but it moved quickly and ultimately it was only half an hour until we boarded.
Finally our day with the dinosaurs had arrived.
The Royal Tyrrell Museum was everything we were promised. Tons of information, dozens of skeletons, lots of buttons to push, and great workshops. Given that there is much to read and the concept “millions of years ago” is a lot for small children, I felt that the museum itself is geared more to older children, teenagers and adults. The workshops, however, are unbelievably wonderful for smaller children (and are parent participation). Our eldest was old enough to participate in the fossil casting workshop and is ridiculously proud of his T-Rex claw fossil. Both of our boys took part in the Dino Adventure hour which was lots of fun, but was clearly geared towards the 4 & under crowd. I look forward to returning when our youngest is 5 so he can participate more, perhaps even in the sleepover inside the museum!
Prior to our leaving Drumheller we took a quick drive along Hwy 10 to see the hoodoos. About 10 minutes down the road from Drumheller there is a pull off where you can learn a bit about the fascinating landmarks and tick them off your bucket list.
After our 3 hour drive back into Banff we were famished and thrilled to stumble upon Nourish Bistro; a vegetarian restaurant that produced drool-worthy food. The boys gobbled up their smoothies. The nachos with 28 toppings can not be missed. The food is served family-style and everything we ordered was divine!
Driving back to the Lower Mainland was done in a more efficient manner. We returned to Revelstoke staying at Martha’s Creek Provincial Park, which boasts a gorgeous setting on a lake, beautifully maintained campground, and a playground right on the beach. When in Revelstoke take time to visit the Train Museum. We go to a ton of train-things and this museum is the best one, by far! Our boys spent all of their allowance money on the train simulator; for $2 they “drove” a train from Golden to Field. They were in heaven playing with the throttle, putting on the brakes, laying sand on the track and more. I think they each drove the simulator 4 times….we were there for a while!
Our last day was the long haul from Revelstoke to home. We started with a stop at the Enchanted Forest. I don’t know how many times I have driven by the Enchanted Forest utterly convinced it is a tacky tourist stop. Was I ever wrong! This lovely attraction was started in 1938 by a woman creating whimsy in her private backyard. Once Roger’s Pass was opened she opened her garden to the public. Vignettes from various fairy tales are dotted throughout the untouched forest. The kids loved the slide down the back of the Little Old Lady Who Lived In A Shoe. The houses from the Three Little Pigs were my favourite and the brick house was big enough for parents to fit inside. Countless treasures are to be found at the Enchanted Forest.
The trip wouldn’t be complete with out making another stop at a more wineries for the adults! Arrowleaf, another favourite, and Gray Monk. A big shout-out to Gray Monk for making the kids feel welcome; while we sipped wine the boys got to try sparkling fruit juice in their own glasses. They were so proud to get to pick their own special juice bottle to bring home with them.
Camping is now in our vocabulary and the boys are super eager to go again! With a few weeks left in the summer we are going to put our new non-leaking tent to the test at least once more!