|The Beautiful Elbow Valley|
Choosing a campground before the May long weekend was relatively easy since we only had two options to choose from: McLean Creek or Gooseberry. And, since I'm fairly terrified of camping near an off-road vehicle area, the choice became even easier. Gooseberry it was! Gooseberry Campground is the first campground you pass by when you enter the Elbow Valley past Bragg Creek. Located right beside the visitor centre, it's a great campground for newbies to the area and makes for a great staging area to explore the whole valley.
|A typical campsite at the Gooseberry Campground|
What we liked about Gooseberry Campground:
- Early season camping possibilities - the campground opens at the beginning of May
- The campground is open into October for those wanting to extend their camping season through Thanksgiving (note to self - turkey frier and Thanksgiving camping trip at Gooseberry)
- There was a playground with a wide open meadow area for playing in - and we found no ticks when we were there. (always a plus!)
- If you are with a group it would appear from our experience that any number of trailers, tents and vehicles can share a site! This was a negative for us because it made for a noisy campground at times. However, it could be a plus if you were the noisy group wanting to cozy up on adjoining sites.
- No reservations required - something I look for in early season camping because I'm too scared to book ahead for fear it might be snowing.
|The meadow and playground at Gooseberry Campground|
What we did not like about Gooseberry:
- As mentioned above, the campground got noisy at night because the general rule of one trailer per site was not enforced - at all! I kid you not that we counted up to 5 or 6 vehicles on some sites with up to two trailers and multiple tents. (and no, these were not double sites)
- There are no hiking or bike trails accessible right from the campground so you have to drive to do anything. (it's a short drive to trailheads so not a big deal in the long run, but it is still a negative strike.)
|Testing out our new trailer|
Our original plan was to camp at the Paddy's Flat Campground or Beaver Flats Campground further up the valley until I discovered that the highway wasn't open yet past Elbow Falls. Were we to return now with everything open for the summer season, we would definitely choose one of these campgrounds. Both campgrounds feature trailheads for hiking and biking so you could potentially stay at your campground all weekend and never have to get into your car - something I look for when choosing the "perfect" camping destination. And as with Gooseberry, both campgrounds are non reservable so you can show up on any nice weekend and "hopefully" get a site. (go early on hot summer weekends and consider leaving on Thursday night if you want to ensure you get a site.)
|Taking a walk in the Paddy's Flat Campground|
If you are looking for a reservable campground so that you can drive out with peace of mind that you have a spot, The Little Elbow Campground is the only one that takes reservations in advance. While we have never camped here, trailheads abound from the campground and you could easily entertain yourself for a weekend without leaving camp.
|Little Elbow Campground|
No matter which campground you choose in the Elbow Valley, there are trails in abundance to explore on foot or on bike, rocks to throw in the Elbow River, waterfalls to visit, ponds to fish in, equestrian trails to ride on, designated areas for your off-road vehicles, and even secret little beaches.
|Playing in the Elbow River at the Elbow Falls Day Use Area|
Below are my top picks for family-friendly activities in the Elbow Valley. Head out for a day trip or bring your tent and set up a base camp for the weekend. I guarantee your family will not be bored! I have used the campgrounds mentioned above as a jumping off point for the activities below. I've also included links for trail directions, distances and additional information.
|Hiking on the Sulphur Springs Trail|
- Drive to the Allen Bill Day Use Area and have a picnic
- Hike the Fullerton Loop (Allen Bill Pond)
- Drive to Elbow Falls Day Use Area to visit the falls and play in the river
|Allen Bill Pond|
|Rest stop on the Fullerton Loop Hike|
Paddy's Flat Campground:
- Hike or Bike the Paddy's Flat Interpretive Trail
- Hike or Bike the Riverview Trail
- Hike or Bike the Sulphur Springs and Riverview Trail Loop
- Play in the Elbow River (secret beach located along the Interpretive Trail)
|Biking on the Paddy's Flat Interpretive Trail|
|Secret beach on the Paddy's Flat Interpretive Trail|
Beaver Flats Campground:
- Hike or Bike the Beaver Flats Interpretive Trail
- Play in the ponds along the Interpretive Trail
|Playing in the ponds on the Beaver Flats Interpretive Trail|
|Biking on the Beaver Flats Trail|
Little Elbow Campground:
- Hike the Powderface Ridge Trail
- Hike the Nihahi Ridge Trail
- Bike or hike on the Big Elbow Trail (good for Chariot hiking towards the Big Elbow Backcountry Campground. Go as far as you want and turn around.)
- Take your horse for a ride on one of the many equestrian trails in the area
|Chariot Hiking on the Big Elbow Trail|
|Hiking on Powderface Ridge|
McLean Creek Campground:
- Explore the public off-road vehicle area if you are into that kind of thing (I can't comment further or post photos)
Biking Note: The Paddy's Flat and Beaver Flats Interpretive Trails are not official bike trails. They are recommended for small slow-moving children only that will give way to pedestrians and who can handle some very easy mountain biking. The best family biking trail would be the Riverview Trail.
|Final shot of the Beaver Flats Hiking Trail|
Do you have other things you like to do in the Elbow Valley? We are always looking for fun new hikes and things to do close to home.