by Leanne Guenther
I grew up on the Canadian prairies. We don't get a whole lot of rain. When it does rain, it's usually violently spectacular -- hail , thunder, lightening -- or beautiful -- sun showers and double rainbows.
I love when it rains!
Although we live on the prairies, we're pretty close to the Canadian rockies. Rainy days are some of my favourites to visit Banff National Park because the park is quite a bit quieter, I have a cute raincoat and once you get onto the paths in the evergreens, it's cool, but usually not wet. The rain usually isn't heavy enough to make it through the thick evergreen foliage to get the floor of the forest wet.
Now, of course, if there's lightening it's a different story but for some reason lightening seems to be more common on the prairies than it is in the mountains. And once autumn hits, it's pretty rare altogether because the weather just isn't warm enough to generate thunderstorms.
For Darren's birthday this year, we headed up to Mount Norquay on a gently rainy morning. And yes, this is another tip from a local for those of you visiting the Banff National Park. Although the Banff gondola is awesome, if you don't fancy an hour long wait to get up and a two hour wait to get back down you can visit some of the less busy (but still awesome) gondolas close by!
Banff National Park is very busy. Even on a cloudy Monday in September, the traffic can be hectic!
Lake Louise has a great open air chairlift with quite a nice animal museum up at the top not to mention a terrific view of the lake.
Kicking Horse (near Golden) has a closed Gondola that takes you up to a great restaurant plus hiking trails, mountain biking trails and a via ferrata. We spent a great evening up there this summer staring at the stars during the Perseids meteor shower.
Mt. Norquay has another open air chairlift with a cute restaurant called Cliffhouse Bistro. It's a short drive from the Banff gondola so if you decide you just aren't up to the gondola wait you can use Mt. Norquay as your backup plan (although traffic to the gondola can be quite a nightmare so I just skip it altogether on busy summer days and check out Norquay instead). Parking at Norquay is free and the road in is winding but paved and well maintained.
For the rest of this chat, I'm going to focus on Norquay!
The Norquay chairlift is quite short compared to most of the others. This can be a blessing or a curse. You don't get quite as long a ride, but if you're travelling with children and aren't sure how they'll enjoy the experience a shorter journey can be a life saver. It still gets you up high enough on the mountainside to enjoy a bird's eye view but it doesn't get you to a mountaintop like most of the others do.
Hiking Around Norquay
When I travel with young children, I like to keep my hikes fairly short as there's a decent chance I'll end up carrying someone at some point, hehe. Stoney Squaw Mountain hike is just 4.5km through lodgepole pine forests. If you do the hike first, you can head up the chairlift afterwards for lunch at the top of the mountain. It's a lot of fun and kids tend to like riding the swingy, but safe feeling lift up while watching for bears below!
If you're game for a longer trek, you can try out Cascade Amphitheater which is a 15.5 km trip (though you can always turn back sooner to shorten the journey).
If you're really fit (and skilled), you can continue past the Cascade Amphitheater and make it all the way to the top of the Cascade Mountain summit. I've never done this, it's a full day hike/scramble that takes you nearly 10,000 ft above sea level. The summit is only for experienced hikers (don't take your children!) but it's fun to try to spot hikers on the trail with the kids and a pair of binoculars!
All of these hikes are less busy than the more well known hikes in and around the Banff townsite. They have enough traffic on them that you'll see other people but not so many that you'll feel like you're in a constant line of hikers!
After the hike, I like to visit the Cliffhouse Bistro which is located at the top of the chairlift. It has a wood stove that sits along one wall but manages to make the whole space feel cozy ...
... and large windows that look down the mountain. We saw our first snow of the season out those windows today while we were celebrating Darren's birthday.
Although they do have healthy options, Darren chose the "norchos" which are Mt. Norquay's version of nachos, loaded with Montreal Smoked Meat, jalepenos, bacon, cheddar cheese and feta cheese. They were yummy and extra salsa/sour cream were on the house. They also gave Darren a free birthday beer from a local brewery. It was a great way to celebrate.
The End of the Day
On the way back down, the rain was a bit heavier but they provided purple blankets for us to sit on (to avoid the wet seats) and to cover up with. The staff were really friendly and accomodating ... something else we notice on rainy visits is that everyone smiles more. Fewer crowds and just those brave souls willing to venture out in imperfect conditions.
Don't get me wrong, I would have preferred if mother nature had cooperated to give Darren a beautiful sunny autumn day for his birthday but we brought our rain gear and had a terrific time!
I love it when it's sunny and I love it when it rains! Of course, I love it when it snows too!
How to Make a Rain Painting
What you need:
- paper plate
- water soluble markers (children's markers)
- Scribble whatever design you'd like on your paper plate with a few different colours of markers
- Set your plate outside in the rain for as long as you like (we just did it for 2 minutes or so). You can put it on a cutting board or cookie sheet so it's easier to carry back inside.
- Bring it back inside to dry.
Disclaimer: As always, my opinions are my own. I don’t get free stays or umbrellas for writing my reviews. Darren did get a free beer, but that's because it was his birthday! No one involved is ever even aware I’m doing it.
You might also enjoy visiting these sections on DLTK's Sites:
- Rainy Day Activities
- Forest Animal Crafts and Activities
- About Alberta Canada (including worksheets)
All photos in this blog post are copyright Leanne Guenther or are used with permission.
Wife, mom and the woman behind the scenes of the DLTK's Crafts for Kids websites. The websites are a terrific hobby -- run by (me) Leanne, a mom with two girls as my official craft testers and my husband as my technical support. DLTK are the first initials of each of the people in my family (I'm the L!). Whenever we send out little cards or whatnot, we sign 'love DLTK' ... when I started the website I used the initials. Had I known the website would get actual strangers visiting it, I would have picked a less mysterious name but we're all stuck with it now!
You can view my other blog posts here.