As every responsible parent knows, this should be done while social distancing ― there’s still a pandemic to survive ― a feat that is doable thanks to those provincial parks that are now open to visitors.
As Alberta Parks ambassador and blogger Amanda McNally can attest, parents and kids can take a break from cramped daily life for pretty spectacular results, especially in the popular Kananaskis Country area.
Pets are just as thrilled by the wide expanses of recreational area available.
The provincial government announced significant changes affecting over a third of the provincial parks in March, decisions that have been met with widespread criticism: several parks and recreation areas will be fully or partially closed for 2020, with 164 sites sold off.
The rest re-opened a month ago for day use, with limited facilities and no programming. Campgrounds are off-limits until June 1 and even then, only to Albertans and only registered campers; if you haven’t reserved a visit already, the current wait-list stretches until late August.
Given the lack of planned events (or running washrooms), it might be best to curb your little one’s enthusiasm before buckling their seatbelt in. Alberta Parks advises people to head home if they pull into a full parking lot.
Should your family get lucky, good news! These parks are home to breathtaking sights and vibrant wildlife that will make kids forget their screens for once.
Note: Before visiting any of these parks, be sure to check Alberta Parks for updates on any closures and COVID-19-related restrictions, as measures are still changing. Always be aware of safety guidelines while visiting.
O’Brien Provincial Park
Where: 16 km south of Grand Prairie
Family-friendly activities: Riverside picnics at this park have a majestic backdrop of towering trees, making lunch a highlight in its own right. Families will find it easy to eat faraway from others, as picnic tables are spread out among the trees.
With a variety of fish calling the Wapiti River their home, youngsters who feel called to the scaly side of zoology won’t run out of new underwater friends to point at.
Bow Valley Provincial Park
Where: 59 km west of Calgary
Family-friendly activities: Towering mountain views, walks by water, and glimpses of eagles appeal to visitors of all ages. Intensive rock-climbing might be out of the question for most children, but amateurs of any size can traverse the park’s stone trails with ease. To encourage exploration, the park’s Middle Lake Trail guide offers handy tips for spotting signs of wildlife.
Big Hill Springs Provincial Park
Where: 40 km northwest of Calgary
Family-friendly activities: Do go chasing waterfalls at this park teeming with natural springs. It’s the ideal place to impart geology lessons, as the flowing waters over the years have resulted in the fascinating rock formation known as tufa. It’s lumpy limestone, sometimes appearing in unusual structures and adding to a fairyland-like atmosphere.
Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park
Where: 44 km east of Milk River, Alta.
Family-friendly activities: First Nations legacies are literally engraved into this park’s features, which preserves Blackfoot pictographs and carvings for future generations to learn from. For families looking to enrich their experience, the park’s brochures can provide context to the beautiful markings. And while ferocious in appearance, the rattlesnakes populating the area are described as “timid”: the reptiles are happy to be left alone and should rarely be a problem, as long as tiny feet stay on the trails.
Bragg Creek Provincial Park
Where: 47 km southwest of Calgary
Family-friendly activities: If your family loves getting around by pedal power, a bike ride from this park to the picturesque waterfalls at Elbow Falls makes for a great day adventure.
These are just our picks for notable parks kids can venture to, as the province has plenty of options worth adventuring in. Just be sure to pack your own hand sanitizer and toilet paper; the great outdoors may be calling, but the great backdoors deserves better than a scratchy leaf.
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