Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Canadian Rockies with kids & a dog - accommodation, food & sightseeing

This summer my family went on a road trip from Vancouver, to the Canadian Rockies and back. 4 adults, 2 kids and 1 dog traveling in a van for a week: needless to say, it was a tremendous trip. Here are the places we stayed, and some things we dog- and kid-friendly things we saw and did along the way.

All the accommodation on this trip had to allow dogs, so I was a bit nervous about getting everything booked: especially since we were traveling in August, the busy season. I did manage it, but it was probably a good thing I made my reservations a few months ahead of time.
Sightseeing at Craigellachie.

View from the cabins at Glacier House.

Day 1. Vancouver to Revelstoke

This was the longest drive we did in one day on this trip. It took all day with stops for snacks, lunch, kids and dog to stretch their legs and so forth. But the scenery is wonderful along the way, and though it was a bit of an ordeal, in the end we got there and everyone was still sane. One of our stops was at Craigellachie, site of "the driving of the last spike" for the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885. There's an old train car there and a memorial plaque, as well as a small museum.

We stayed the night in Glacier House Resort, up in the woods and mountains just outside Revelstoke.

Our cabin was spacious with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a lot of space. There was even a hot tub on the deck! There's also a pool available for guests. It's all set in a beautiful area, and away from all the city lights there's a chance of beautiful starry skies if you're there on a cloudless night. As for wildlife viewing: there were bear warnings up, and though we didn't see a bear, we did see some bear scat the next morning. (The dog was most interested!)

The restaurant at Glacier House was very good, and the included "deluxe continental breakfast" the next morning was very good. Nothing super fancy, but tasty yogurt, nice jams, good bread, and outdoor seating available.

One of the stunning vistas on the way.

Day 2. Revelstoke to Banff

The drive from Revelstoke to Banff is pretty stunning and driving up into the Rockies makes for some grand scenery no matter what route you take. There are so many viewpoints and beautiful vistas everywhere you kind of have to let some of them go if you want to get somewhere in a day's driving...

At the end of the day, our dog - and the kids - were getting a bit squirrelly from riding in the car for so long, but it turns out that Banff has a pretty great fenced in off-leash dog park, which was a great bonus for us. Dogs are supposed to be on leash in most areas of the national park, and with all the wildlife around this is no doubt the safest option for dogs, grizzly bears, deer, elk, and whatever else you may encounter. The off-leash park is located on Hawk Avenue in an industrial area on the outskirts of Banff, but the park itself is rather large with lots of trees, mountain views, and lots of friendly local and visiting dogs. (Map available here.)

Our dog- and kid-friendly accommodation in Banff was a cabin at Tunnel Mountain Resort. It wasn't as spacious as our cabin at Glacier House, but still good. There's a decent pool and a hot tub, a coin laundry on site, another coin laundry across the road, and a small grocery store nearby. You can walk into downtown Banff from the resort (it takes about 20 minutes), which makes for a good doggie-walk, just be warned that it's a rather steep trek coming back!

There are so many restaurants in Banff, but we finally decided on takeout from Chili's Grill & Bar. The food was very good, and the restaurant looked nice as well when we picked everything up. The entire menu is available for takeout, and it made for an enjoyable meal back at our cabin.

Marsh Loop Trail in Banff.

Day 3. In Banff

We had one full day in Banff and we started it off by going for a walk. The Marsh Loop trail made for a nice hike for adults, kids, and the dog. This hike starts from the Cave & Basin parking lot in Banff, so it's very easy to access. There are beautiful views of the mountains, and of lovely green Bow River. The hike itself is an easy walk with no elevation gain and plenty of spots to take great pictures of the scenery along the water.

The view from the Banff Gondola.
After that we took the Banff Gondola up the mountain for some rather breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. This is a very busy place, and there will be lineups, so it's a good idea to head there as early as possible in the day. The kids absolutely loved the ride up the mountain, and the gondola actually welcomes dogs, much to my surprise. Even better, it turned out our furry guy quite liked the ride.

After that, we visited the ever-popular Upper Hot Springs, located very close to the gondola. No dogs are allowed in the hot springs pool, but the human travelers really enjoyed the visit. You can rent towels and bathing suits at the pool, or bring your own. Do bring your own soap and shampoo, though! 

We had been reading up on a few nice places to visit for dinner in Banff, but it turned out everywhere we had looked at ahead of time was either full or closed once we were ready to eat. Finally, we ended up at The Elk & Oarsman in downtown Banff. This is a rather busy and noisy place, but the service was friendly and the food was good, with a good kids' menu. Bison- and elk-burgers are available on the menu here!

Columbia Icefields.

Day 4. Banff to Jasper

This drive along the Icefields Parkway is famous for a reason: it's a spectacular drive, going way up in the Rockies with amazing mountain and glacier views everywhere you look. We had some rain and cloud swirling around us, but the weather did clear up enough that we got a good look at the fantastic landscape. And of course we took a stroll up to the glacier at the Columbia Icefields!

The Crossing Café.

Afterwards, we ate lunch at The Crossing, a cafeteria style restaurant located on the Icefields Parkway between Banff and Jasper. It's not a fancy place, but the food was great. Good sandwiches, good salads, and I'd also highly recommend the chili! There's also a very well-stocked tourist shop here, so if you're looking for souvenirs, you're in luck!

The view from our cabin at Tekarra Lodge.
In Jasper we stayed in a cabin at Tekarra Lodge. Tekarra Lodge is situated right outside Jasper (a short drive, or walking distance if you like a decent walk) and is surrounded by a nicely wooded area. It's a great place to stay if you're looking for something away from the town, and it is definitely both dog- and kid-friendly. There are all sorts of hiking trails around, the river is right there on one side, there are trees everywhere, and there was even a tantalizing "water hole" right behind our cabin: needless to say, the dog loved it.

The cabin itself was nicely furnished with a kitchen and small bathroom. No TVs at all - which can be a plus or a minus I suppose. However, the free wifi was definitely a plus. There's a coin laundry available on site, and the surroundings are beautiful. 

Tekarra Lodge is home to Tekarra Restaurant, a real gourmet establishment. The food was fabulous and it was nice to be able to just amble back to the cabin through the grounds when we had finished our meal. Even if you're staying elsewhere in Jasper, I'd highly recommend checking out this place.

Like Banff, Jasper also has a fenced in off-leash dog park. It's located near the railway crossing and the Home Hardware store. Not as big and fancy as the one in Banff, but great for giving the dog a good run if you bring a ball or other dog toy along.

Jasper in the morning.

Day 5. In Jasper

Jasper's wildlife was on fine display the next day. We saw elk, deer, and even caribou throughout the town when we headed out the next morning. No bears (fortunately or unfortunately), but plenty of those beautiful elk in closeup.

Jasper SkyTram.
Ground squirrel.
We headed out for a ride on the Jasper Skytram (dogs were allowed here, just like on the Banff Gondola), and wandered up the mountain a bit in the foggy weather. There are amazing views, of course, even on a somewhat foggy day, and there's also a lot of wildlife. We saw ground squirrels, pikas, and hoary marmots up close and personal.

In the afternoon the weather turned rather rainy and we decided to drive to Miette Hot Springs. This turned out to be a longer drive from Jasper than we had really anticipated (the last bit on a very winding mountain road), but the hot springs pool was good once we got there. It is a rather busy place, but it is nicely laid out with two large hot pools, and a couple of smaller cold pools. The kids had a great time and had decided that hot springs, and gondolas (or skytrams) were definitely the way to go when you're on holidays.

There are also a lot hiking trails in the area (the dog did get a walk there), so the place is definitely worth a visit and it was an excellent way to spend a rainy afternoon. 

We checked out Evil Dave's Grill for dinner and this was another foodie-hit. Yummy food, a great kids' menu, and the best brownie for dessert I've ever tasted. It was gluten-free and scrumptious.

View at Overlander Falls.

Day 6. Jasper to Kamloops 

This was when we left the Rockies behind. The drive from Jasper to Kamloops was an easy breezy trip. We had hoped for a good view of Mount Robson on the way, but no such luck: the clouds stubbornly shrouded most of the mountain. Instead, we opted for a short hike to Overlander Falls near Mount Robson, and ended up with a nice forest stroll and a good view of the roaring river. It was a short and nice walk for kids, dogs, and adults.

As we drove through Valemount and eventually into the Okanagan area, it was amazing to see how the landscape, geography and vegetation changed along the way: British Columbia is a pretty spectacular place. And when we eventually got to Kamloops, it was really, really hot. No surprise in August!

Going for a swim in Kamloops.
For dogs, Kamloops turned out to be quite the paradise with lots of off-leash areas. We chose to take our fur-ball down to the river, to an off-leash area at Overlander Park Beach. It was a beautiful place with a great view of the city across the water and a wide stretch of sand for dogs to run around on nect to the water. With the warm weather, evening sunshine, and some friendly local dogs to play with it was definitely a hit with both the humans and the dog.


We stayed at the Best Western Plus in Kamloops. This is a great hotel, and dogs are welcome in some of the rooms on the bottom floor. Our dog-friendly room was spacious and sparkling clean. It had a big bathroom, nice beds, and we were even able to borrow a food bowl for the dog (he'd been eating off borrowed plates until then). There is also a pool for guests to use.


For dinner, we headed to the closest White Spot restaurant. Sometimes, an "old reliable" is the best choice, and everyone was pretty tired by that point. The service was good and the food was tasty, as always.

Hill Top Gardens Farm and store.

Day 7. Kamloops to Vancouver

Breakfast at the Best Western Plus was tasty and plentiful, though there was really not enough room in the designated breakfast lounge for all the people who wanted to eat. The biggest hit with my kids? A pancake machine. Yes, indeed: a machine that makes pancakes at the press of a button. They even tasted good, and I think I might want one for my kitchen now.

On the drive home to and through the Fraser Canyon, we stopped at the Hilltop Gardens Farm and picked up some fresh peaches. It's a wonderful little place to stop at right on the side of the road. and I highly recommend if you're there in peach season!

All photos by me, Nils Gunnar Larsson, or Doug Haskins.

The two guidebooks I had on my Kindle for this trip were:

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Kids, reading, and books - 5 tips & 5 of my favourite quotes

Today is International Literacy Day, and to celebrate I'm sharing five of my favourite quotes about reading and books, paired with five tips for getting your kids into reading, and for enjoying reading with your children.

1. Bring books along when you're traveling
Books are fantastic travel companions - I never travel without books in my hand-luggage - and audiobooks can also be a great way to make time for a story or two on a trip (they can be great in the car or on the bus if you're prone to motion sickness, for example). 

The last few years though, I've been partial to e-books. A Kindle or other e-reader (the Kobo and the Nook are other options, for example) is a great addition to your luggage, no matter where or how you're traveling. An e-reader can be packed full of books for both you and your kids and still won't weigh down your bags!

2. Use a reading app on your phone, tablet, or other device
There are a lot of apps for reading and books available out there, including:

3. Let your kids explore fiction and non-fiction
Non-fiction books can really get some kids hooked on reading: every child's taste in books is different, and learning about animals, cars, the human body, space, bugs, volcanoes, plants, dinosaurs, or some other subject can entice kids to read, even if they don't feel like diving into fiction.

4. Don't worry too much about what your kids are reading, as long as they are reading
Even if they're reading something that might seem less "educational", just the fact that they are reading means they are forming a reading habit, and are becoming better readers. In the end, that is worth a lot.

5. Read to your kids at bedtime
Reading to my kids is one of my favourite things to do with them. Some nights it puts me to sleep as well as them, other nights I've been choking back the tears reading certain passages in certain books ('Charlotte's Web', I'm looking at you!.) My love of Tolkien goes all the way back to when my dad read both The Hobbit, and The Fellowship of the Ring to me as a child, so I know first-hand how important the parent-child bedtime reading habit can be.

Finally, here are a list of books that my kids have enjoyed, both more recently and when they were younger:
Find out more about International Literacy Day from UNESCO's website:

"Literacy is a fundamental human right and the foundation for lifelong learning. It is fully essential to social and human development in its ability to transform lives. For individuals, families, and societies alike, it is an instrument of empowerment to improve one’s health, one’s income, and one’s relationship with the world.

The uses of literacy for the exchange of knowledge are constantly evolving, along with advances in technology. From the Internet to text messaging, the ever-wider availability of communication makes for greater social and political participation. A literate community is a dynamic community, one that exchanges ideas and engages in debate. Illiteracy, however, is an obstacle to a better quality of life, and can even breed exclusion and violence.

For over 65 years UNESCO has worked to ensure that literacy remains a priority on national and international agendas. Through its formal and non-formal literacy programmes worldwide, the Organization works to realize the vision of a literate world for all."

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

School, special needs, and parenting

The school year is about to start, and if your child has special needs or faces other challenges in life, there can sometimes be added worries for both parents and children about school, and all the social activities that come with the school year.

I'm very lucky that my son has a wonderful school to go to, and a class where his abilities are allowed to develop and grow. Before my son came along, I was a lot less knowledgeable and educated about  the challenges children with special needs can face in school and society. One of the biggest things I've learned is that while "labels" for various conditions do matter to some extent, each child with special needs is unique: an individual and not a label. I no longer fear the "labeling" of my child as much as I once did, mainly because I now understand that no label can ever capture or limit who he really is.

I follow Ellen Seidman's blog Love That Max, which is about her family, and her son Max who has cerebral palsy. A few years ago, Ellen compiled a wonderful list of tips titled: What to teach your children about kids with special needs.

If you have kids, and even if you don't, this is a great read.

  1. Please don't pity me
  2. Teach your kids not to feel sorry for ours
  3. Play up what kids have in common
  4. Help kids understand there are many forms of expression
  5. Know that making friends with a kid who has special needs is good for both kids
  6. Encourage your kid to say "hi"
  7. Encourage kids to keep talking
  8. Keep explanations simple
  9. Teach kids respect with your actions
  10. Help kids see that kids who can't talk still understand
  11. Kick-start the conversation
  12. Don't worry about embarrassment
I also highly recommend the following blogs, all written by parents who have kids with various special needs. If you have kids, whether they have special needs or not, and if you want to broaden and deepen your knowledge of life and the world; if you want to challenge your preconceptions about special needs parenting, and read stories that will both teach you something new and touch your heart, these are great places to visit:
  • Mama Be Good - written by Brenda who blogs and writes about (and I quote): "Parenting, Shoes, Autism, Coffee, Kids, Shoes, Unschooling, Shoes."
  • Herding cats - A wonderful blog about raising kids, including a child with special needs.
  • Along came the bird - A great blog about raising kids and being a parent.
And if you're looking for travel tips for children with special needs, they are pretty much the same as for all kids, though each family and parent will probably need to tailor the advice and tips to their special situation.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Little adventures with my traveling kids in Västerbotten, Sweden

When we're away on holidays in Sweden, we always head out on excursions and adventures around the area. There's lots to see and do where we spend our summers, and you can read about some of our adventures this year here on the blog.

However, there are also smaller adventures going on every day, right on our doorstep. Here are some of those little adventures.

Finding a bonafide five-leaf clover in the grass. I could hardly believe it when my daughter brought this over. She just spotted it, right in the lawn and plucked it out. It's currently being dried, and will be mounted on the wall!

Enjoying the calm and the scenery on the lake in Mjödvattnet, outside Skellefteå. My son really loved relaxing on my aunt and uncle's raft. It was a sunny day, and the water's edge was populated by tiny water-striders running along on the surface. A great day, especially as long as the mosquitoes stayed away...

Admiring my aunt and uncle's door-knocker. Best invention ever, according to my kids.

A trip to "Hällorna" (roughly translated: "the smooth rocks") in Burvik, Sweden. This smooth rocky shoreline is a favourite picnic spot for locals and tourists. There are great views of the water and surrounding coastline, and over by the docks there's a great space for swimming. It can be reached by boat or by walking from the road.

Catching a baby pike off the dock. My daughter likes to catch (and eventually release) little fish from the dock, but this year was a first: she managed to catch several baby pike! They looked exactly like miniature versions of the adults, including that long, crocodile-ish snout and mottled green-grey skin!

Swimming! The water wasn't exactly warm here in Burvik when we arrived: 14 Celsius! But, the temperature can change pretty quickly depending on the weather and the currents, and towards the end of our stay it was 18, 19 Celsius. The kids love splashing around and jumping in from the dock. They even tried out the Swedish sauna a few times, though they weren't quite convinced that it's a good thing to sit in a super hot and steamy room for so long...

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Great adventures with my kids in Västerbotten, Sweden

Our trip to Sweden has been a lot of fun, as usual, this year. None of the crazy heatwave weather we had last year, but some very enjoyable days, and a lot of fun activities.

We are just outside Skellefteå in the county of Västerbotten in northern Sweden, and here are some of the fun things we've experienced so far!


Flea markets, auctions and second hand-shops of all kinds are a big thing in Sweden, especially in summer-time when you can see signs for "loppis" (flea market) almost everywhere: some more larger and more established places, while others are smaller ventures in people's yards or houses. You can find a lot of junk, and some treasures at a loppis! My daughter found this gorgeous necklace at the small "loppis" in Bureå, Västerbotten, Sweden. '

Bjuröklubb Nature Reserve

We also visited Bjuröklubb nature reserve. This is a great place to visit: there's an old lighthouse at the top of the cliff, there's a café, historical landmarks, trails, and beautiful views of the water from almost every angle. In the harbour near the lighthouse, there's a place to buy fresh and smoked fish from a local fisherman, located on a small boat. A highly recommended treat: the smoked prawns!

Björn Larssons Krukmakeri / Pottery
On the road to Bjuröklubb, you can also find a fantastic pottery shop: Björn Larssons Krukmakeri.

This local craftsman makes gorgeous cups, bowls, platters, and other items.

His small shop is worth a visit all on its own: the kids got to pick a shard of pottery each to bring home! I bought a new tea-cup and have been enjoying my morning tea even more since!


Fällfors is a small community near Byske on the coast of Västerbotten. It's located right on the river, and salmon fishing has been important here for a very long time.

There are two sets of fish-ladders to help the fish navigate the rapids and get up river, and once a year the local fishermen show off some old fish-capturing techniques here. The water is shut off for a portion of the fish-ladder and the salmon trapped in the pools are then taken out with a fishing-net. It's no longer used for large-scale fishing (only two salmon are taken out to demonstrate how it used to be done), but it's pretty exciting to see the huge salmon up close and personal!

There is also an old power-station to visit, with turbine and gauges still intact!

4H in Moröbacke

The local 4H organization in Moröbacke, just outside Skellefteå, is a great place to visit if your kids like animals. It's called Lilla Lyckan, and there are lots of different kinds of rabbits, pigs, goats, sheep, and ponies to be looked at and petted.


Another fantastic place to visit with kids is the old-time farm in Rismyrliden.

There are cows, sheep, goats, piglets... and a variety of old, traditional farm-buildings to visit and look at. You can learn how tar was made and how the houses were constructed. You can buy locally made dairy products, and taste some home-made bread and waffles in the small café. There's even a small gift shop with locally produced arts and crafts (and ice-cream!).

If you ask my kids though, the best thing about Rismyrliden are the kittens: this year there was a black one with a white "gem" at his throat, and a fluffy black and white one with a jaunty tail! You don't pay a cent to get in and enjoy the farm, but it's all powered by volunteer work and effort, so buying a coffee or ice-cream, or a bag of Rismyrliden-tea is a nice way to show your appreciation!

Finally, a reading tip from my kids:

If you're looking for a funny and heart-warming picture book, you can't go wrong with Guji-Guji, by Chih-Yuan Chen. It's sort of a twist on the old "ugly duckling" tale, and it brought laughs and smiles for my kids.
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