Snow is swirling and dancing through the streets. Light and fluffy, it rests perfectly into the windowsills of the historic western buildings in Coleman, Alberta. As pretty as peering into a real life snow globe is, there’s so many Crowsnest Pass things to do this weekend that I’m starting to feeling antsy.
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Like so many of you are doing during this pandemic, I’m exploring my own backyard. With travel advisories encouraging us to stay within provincial borders, I’ve been looking for new-to-me areas, not too far of a drive from my home in Calgary.
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Crowsnest Pass Things To Do
Of course I’ve driven through the Crowsnest Pass dozens, perhaps hundreds of times, but have I ever stopped to stay and explore? Not really. There are literally hundreds of Crowsnest Pass things to do and righting past wrongs is the name of the game, which is why we’ve chosen to explore this pocket of Southern Alberta.
This is how my daughter and I find ourselves snug inside Country Encounters, a charming B&B, watching the snow swirl and settle in downtown Coleman, a designated National Historic Site. Though if I’m being honest, I did have my reservations about staying at a B&B.
Will I have hosts knocking on my door, telling me to hurry up and get to breakfast well before the agreed upon breakfast time? (It’s happened to me before!) Will I feel like I’m in a grandma’s fantasy suite complete with dried flower swags and frilly bedspreads? Blessedly, Country Encounters is nothing of the sort.
It has all the privacy of a hotel with all the desirability and amenities of staying at a close friend’s house. Our room (a suite, I’m thinking), sports a comfy a leather couch and oversized recliner chair in front of the fireplace. There’s a freestanding tub, mini fridge and microwave. Thoughtful touches include bath salts and four cookie jars to raid!
Best is we have our own entrance. We’re in our own little travel bubble, and despite visiting on a fully booked long weekend, never once run into other guests except in the dining room.
Breakfasts begin with fresh fruit, yogurt and homemade muffins, followed by bacon and eggs, and an impressive bagel spread another morning. Because the owners are certified chefs you can take a private demonstration cooking class. We watch Chef Dawn whip up drunken mushrooms, baked shrimp, cajun steak and more greatest hits from their tapas and wine bar, before devouring it all.
Fat Biking in the Crowsnest Pass
As lovely as the food is, we need to burn off some energy. Our first morning, we were up and at ‘em on a deal that seemed too good to be true. For $50 Sweet Riders will take you out for an hour or two fat biking tour, followed by a chocolate fondue back at Country Encounters. Bike rentals can be nabbed from Alpenland in Blairmore sub $30.
We meet Karey Watanabe from Sweet Riders at Allison Chinook Provincial Recreation Area – less than a 10-minute drive from Coleman. It’s a popular cross country ski area, but sports designated snowshoe and fat baking trails, too.
Karey led us onto Rainbow, a beginner loop that merged onto the Creekside trail, culminating in a 3 km loop. If you want to go further, you can ride around Allison Lake. There’s actually 24 km of trail here, so it’s easy to find fun stuff or have Kaley take you out to a different area.
Fat bikes are surprisingly light and super fun. Though it was winter, I felt warm the entire time. And happy. I thought I’d be a major grump, but being in the fresh air is like instant Prozac. We saw moose tracks! Snow twinkled from the trees as if a Kindergartener had thrown glitter upon them. It was so insanely pretty, I felt quite smug for having gotten out.
Afterwards, we tucked into a gorgeous chocolate fondue back at Country Encounters. (That’s part of Sweet Rider’s $50 deal.) I knew I’d be super hungry, so I also tacked on a cheese fondue. Platters of bread, apple, sausage, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus and brussel sprouts arrived for our dunking pleasure. I regret nothing. (Except perhaps not washing it back with a glass of wine.)
Frank Slide Interpretive Trail
Properly fuelled up, we were ready to hit the great outdoors again. One of the most famous attractions in the Crowsnest Past is Frank Slide. Back in 1903 part of Turtle Mountain broke away, and 110 million tonnes of rock barrelled down into the town of Frank, killing 70 people.
It remains Canada’s deadliest rockslide, with massive boulders still flanking both sides of the highway. In the summer months, you can visit the Interpretive Centre, but anytime of year you can wind your way through the rubble, along a 1.5 km trail.
Interpretive signage reveals interesting factoids, but the real showstopper are the chunks of limestone that anchor the trail. It’s incredibly surreal to traipse through the disaster site – unchanged since the slide occurred. As far as winter hikes go, it’s an easy loop that’ll take you through the rubble, around the side of a hill and underneath copses of evergreens in under 30-minutes.
Another quick and easy hike is Miner’s Path, about a five-minute walk from Country Encounters. Begin at Flumerfelt Park and follow the well marked trail hundreds of miners once used on their way to work at the McGillivray Mine.
The trail is studded with centuries old Douglas fir trees and if you look closely enough, you’ll spot metal spikes embedded in them. Lanterns were hung from these spikes to guide their way home. The trail meanders alongside Nez Perce Creek and culminates in Rainbow Falls, a gushing waterfall that’s just as cute in winter as it is in summer.
Science Ice Walk
We wouldn’t have learned all the interesting tidbits about Miner’s Path if it weren’t for Uplift Adventures. This outdoor adventure outfitter offers tours throughout the Crowsnest Pass and Waterton region led by certified guides and scientists. Enticingly, they run moonlit snowshoe tours on Friday and Saturday nights, but since this was
A) a family trip, and
B) taking place during a brutal cold snap…
We opted for a science ice walk, exploring along the canyon walls at Star Creek Falls.
Hiking with kids can be a chore and even more so in winter. Our guide, Heather Davis made it totally fun with lab coats and goggles for kids to don and plenty of activity along the trail – including watching bubbles crystallize when they land.
As non-locals on a new-to-us trail, I was grateful for the guide. Hiking Star Creek Falls in winter means you’ll be walking along a frozen creek bed, so it should come as no surprise there might be open pockets of water. And after a fresh snowfall, it’s quite likely you won’t know where those pockets are.
Star Creek is the ultimate winter hike for kids. My daughter leapt, slid and split as we burrowed deeper into the canyon. And lets not forget the rush of attempting to climb a frozen waterfall.
After our hike, we were all set to ski Pass PowderKeg, a super affordable local ski hill set smack dab in Blairmore. You can go night skiing here Wednesday to Friday, and beginners will be happy to note lift passes for the Bunny Hill are complimentary. Once you get up to speed, there’s 1000 ft of vertical spread over 27 trails. Sadly, the resort was closed due to cold weather and we weren’t able to test drive it.
Another option for skiers is Castle Mountain Resort, a 40-minute drive away. Castle is one of the unsung heroes on the Powder Highway, that infamous route through Canada’s southern Rockies known for its epic stashes of pristine powder.
Waterton in Winter
While the Crowsnest Pass is a destination in its own right, it’s also within easy striking distance of Waterton Lakes National Park. Waterton in winter is another underrated gem.
What makes Waterton so special at this time of year is all that it doesn’t have going on. Few people. No shops. In fact, only two hotels and two eateries are open. And that suited us just fine.
We meant to cross country ski at Cameron Lake, but the temperature wasn’t budging below -20°C. Instead, we bundled up and explored the ghost-like town. The lake itself is less than a 5 minute walk from either hotel. From there, it’s an easy hike back through town to suss out frozen Cameron Falls.
Waterton Glacier Suites
Nabbing hot chocolates from Vimy’s, we were soon toasty warm thanks to the fire and in-room hot tub at Waterton Glacier Suites. Here, each room comes with its own private balcony, microwave, mini fridge and Jacuzzi tub.
In hindsight I probably shouldn’t have opted for the romantic suite, but it sported a fireplace, and luckily, I’d packed a bathing suit so my daughter didn’t freak out when I hit the Jacuzzi (situated right beside the bed).
But you can’t keep us in for long. Despite the freezing temps, we chugged our way up Bear’s Hump – probably the most famous, must-do hike in Waterton. Parks Canada rebuilt and recently re-opened this trail, but I’d never attempted it in winter before. Traction cleats help, but aren’t a hard requirement. After approximately half an hour, you’ll be privy to the best views in all of Waterton Lakes National Park.
Red Rock Trattoria
Before falling into bed, we hit Red Rock Trattoria for dinner. This bijoux restaurant focuses on Italian classics, but you can still tuck into a juicy steak and some incredible roasted cauliflower. Not wanting our lovely dinner to end, I let loose and ordered dessert, savouring every mouthful of creamy gelato.
Compared to the stress of arranging dinner reservations, fighting for parking and waiting in line to enter the shops at other mountain destinations, a visit to this region of southern Alberta actually feels like a vacation.
If you’re looking for a relaxing, yet adventure filled weekend punctuated with good food and cozy accommodations, take this as your cue to head to either Waterton Lakes National Park or the Crowsnest Pass area. Novel and affordable, both deliver all that families look for in a winter break. Just don’t tell too many people, okay?
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