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Inspiration to Camp in the North

Living in Alberta, we’re lucky to have one of the most beautiful natural gems right in our backyard: the Rockies. Would you say that because you live in (or around) Calgary, you stick to camping adventures in the mountains or just south of Red Deer? I can see why. Would you believe me if I told you there are some wonderful non-mountainous campgrounds in the upper half of Alberta?

I live in Edmonton. Not that I’m complaining about the trek but camping in the mountains or any other campground in Southern Alberta is quite the drive. As a result, my family has spent many years venturing closer to home and up in Northern Alberta.

Come along with me as I tell you about some of my favorite camping spots that are not located in the Rockies and try to convince you to travel north:

Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park (Lac la Biche)

A water-adventure wonderland. This beautiful campground is situated on an island (yep, an island) roughly three hours north (and a little bit east) of Edmonton. The campsites are great, and the trails are even better! It has all the amenities you could ask for, notably a rental office for canoes, kayaks, and SUPs. My family really enjoyed the experience of canoeing around the island; we even made it to another island nearby! The beach is great for kids and there is a lot of shade and privacy at the campsites. Since I would argue that this is one of the most popular campgrounds in Northern Alberta, it’s difficult to get a spot. Plan (and book) ahead to check out this spot!

Carson-Pegasus Provincial Park: Give walk-in campsites a try! Switching direction now and heading northwest of Edmonton, Carson-Pegasus is a large campground with one of the best camping options (in my opinion): walk-in tenting sites. If you want to test the waters with backcountry camping but aren’t ready to abandon your car just yet, try heading to this beautiful campground! The walk-in sites are situated on

a peninsula of land on Mcleod Lake, giving you the privacy and peace of the backcountry. The campground also has a park for the kiddos, a beach, hiking trails, and bird-watching.

Garner Lake Provincial Park

Tranquil area with beautiful trails and campsites. My family has spent a lot of time camping at Garner Lake. A reasonable two-hour drive northeast of Edmonton and you’ve reached this little gem! If you can go without power, the un-serviced sites reward you with their beauty, size, and privacy (in the #40 to 60 loop). The powered sites are good too, though! The campground has fantastic trails, an awesome park, a large beach, and beautiful sunsets. There’s also a shelter with picnic tables and an enclosed fire pit for when it’s pouring rain and your wiggly child doesn’t want to sit in the tent or trailer anymore (that never happens though, right?). Garner Lake is a smaller campground and isn’t staffed 24/7. Wood is available for purchase only at specific times, so make sure you check out the wood pile when park staff are available! While there is no store at Garner Lake, there is a large convenience store about five minutes away should you forget anything important. My family loves that this campground is small and simple; it makes camping more of an adventure!

Minnow Lake

The group camping goldmine. I realize including a ‘group camping’ spot while in the midst of a pandemic is a bit of a joke, but I can’t help it! When restrictions are lifted and it’s safe to do so, if you’re looking for a great group camping area but don’t want to just hang out in a field with other families (some group camp spots aren’t great), book the group camp area at Minnow Lake. This spot is located about two hours west of Edmonton, close(ish) to Edson. There’s a large field enclosed with trees and some beautiful tenting spots tucked away in the forest. A short walk down the path to the lake and you’re greeted with a full large shelter, complete with a fireplace and picnic table. This would be fantastic for a group of families if the weather is rainy! Carry on down the path to be welcomed to a large fire-pit area with picnic tables and a gorgeous view overlooking the lake. This spot is all yours. Go ahead, let those kiddos be wild!

Long Lake Provincial Park

The most family-friendly beach/day-use area. While I don’t feel like I saved the ‘best’ for last, I did save Long Lake for last because it’s the most special to me. As a child, I got lost here. I ran down this big long scary lakeside trail and spent what felt like hours looking for my family. I remember it vividly. Me and my parents camped here multiple times every summer for years and it’s always been one of my favorites.

Now with my own son, I brought him to Long Lake for our first camping trip together. I now realize that big long scary trail was very short, and when I asked my dad recently about getting ‘lost,’ he said he didn’t know I was missing because I was only gone for about 30 minutes (interesting how the perspective of a child is so different!). Nonetheless, Long Lake is a shallow and warm (and long, surprisingly) lake with a white sandy beach that is located less than two hours northeast of Edmonton. This campground is made for families! The whole beach/day-use area has a fully-stocked store, water toy rentals (canoes, kayaks, paddle boats, etc.), a large field, volleyball nets, a great park, and a really nice (and not scary!) lakeside trail. There are a variety of camping loops as well, so you can camp in the tents-only area

(B loop) or in the more open, RV-friendly areas. I’ve camped in all of them with a tent and they’re all nice depending on the level of privacy you’re seeking. The C loop is a happy medium for families or the A loop because of its proximity to the beach. Check it out!

And it wouldn’t be a camping article unless we touched on a few topics I have found helpful to know over the years. If you’re relatively new to camping and are a little overwhelmed, here are some tips I recommend before hitting the wilderness:

  • Test your gear before you go! The most important ones to test are your tent, stove, mattress, and make sure your flashlights/headlamps are charged/have batteries (pack extra).

  • Bring enough propane, have a spare tire and jumper cables for the car, and pack a First-Aid kit. Sounds basic, I know. But my family has been in each of these situations while camping (sometimes prepared and sometimes not) and I tell you these things as a warning because it sucks to be stuck!

  • Prepare for all weather, even if the forecast doesn’t call for it! My family packs raincoats, toques and mitts, sunscreen, hats, bug spray, rubber boots, and sandals for every trip. After all, we do live in Alberta - the land of the occasional August snowfall and frequent weather fluctuations.

  • Bring your own toilet paper and hygiene products. Even if the campground says it’s stocked, having your own supply can keep you feeling clean when you realize that the sign did say ‘toilets closed for upgrades’ on the way in.

  • If you have never done it before, practice making a fire! Also, pack matches and a lighter, as well as kindling. If you’re buying wood, there’s also a good chance you’ll need an axe.

  • Know basic animal safety! My family carries bear spray to every campsite and look for animal sighting notifications. We also read the campground-specific rules and keep the site clean at all times.

  • Some items my family packs that may be forgotten (meaning I’ve forgotten, multiple times): extra bags (of all types), towels (kids are messy), rope for a clothesline, and a hammock if you have one.

I hope this was article helpful! Did I make you want to travel north? It’s hard to beat the Rockies, trust me (I drive the four-hour drive often). Sometimes, however, a change of scenery is just what you need, and these campgrounds offer different adventures and some great family-friendly options!

Carrie is the Marketing Manager for Kids Who Explore, a Social Enterprise founded in Calgary. Kids Who Explore aims to create a global community of families that are confident in the outdoors, foster positive energy in nature, and promote diversity and inclusion on the trail. Connect at kidswhoexplore.ca or Instagram.

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