Monday, June 23, 2014

Banff Campground Review - The Good, the Bad, and the AWESOME!

We camped in Banff National Park twice over the months of May and June, staying at two different campgrounds near the townsite of Banff.  We also spent a couple of nights in the park close to town last summer at a third campground.  Each campground was VERY different but only one can be the winner in this comparison review.





The Bad - Two Jack Main


We camped at Two Jack Main near the town of Banff last summer and had few positive words to say for this campground.  No playground, few amenities, no service or power at sites, views of trees...and more trees, sites that weren't leveled for trailers,  garbage left on our site when we arrived, and completely non reservable (making it really hard for us locals to actually plan for our weekend in the mountains.)  Add the fact that people were cooking in the bathrooms,  and I was less than impressed.  Oh, and the mosquitoes!! - which yes, can be bad anywhere, but sure didn't help with an already bad stay. To read the full review from last summer, check out my story that I wrote - Banff to Jasper - Camping in the National Parks.

And, I actually don't have a single photo of the Two Jack Main Campground.  There was nothing to take a photo of.  The photo below is of Two Jack Lakeside across the road - where you want to be, and should be.


Two Jack Lakeside across the road - where you want to be.

In defence of Two Jack Main, there's nothing truly wrong with this campground, and it serves its purpose as a place to sleep in Banff.   It's just that there's nothing awesome about it either.  There's no views from the campground, no lake, no hiking trail or bike trail in the campground itself, and there's honestly just nothing special about it. 

On the bright side, the campground has 380 sites so if you haven't made a reservation and can't get a site anywhere else, there's a good chance you'll at least get into Two Jack Main.  You're also very close to the town of Banff, Two Jack Lake across the road, Lake Minnewanka, and Banff's only beach at Johnson Lake.  If you have to camp here, use your campsite as a base camp and spend your days exploring.  You're still in Banff and it's still one of the most beautiful places in the world. (as soon as you leave camp.)

Lake Minnewanka, near Two Jack Main Campground


And also helping redeem this campground,  Parks Canada has set up 10 equipped campsites at Two Jack Main that are brand new this year.  Show up and find your tent and basic camping equipment waiting for you at your site.  Check the Parks Canada website at the above link for more information on this fabulous service.

Camp at Two Jack Main and spend the day exploring!

 

The Good - Tunnel Mountain Village


We camped in Tunnel Mt Village II in the town of Banff and it's basically a parking lot for trailers with a few trees behind your site if you're lucky.  You camp on pavement and there's virtually zero privacy from your neighbors.  Somehow though we liked it here.  We had power, we were close to all of the amenities in town (the campground is within 5km of downtown Banff), and we had great mountain biking trails that started right from our campground.  We also met some of the friendliest people we've ever met while camping.  The open feeling of the campground lends itself to getting cozy with your neighbors.  (which is good when you forget the ketchup.)
Tunnel Mt. Village II

Tunnel Mt Village I is an amazing campground though!!  Less of a parking lot for trailers and it feels more natural for tenters or families not requiring a serviced site.  In fact, after camping here this year (2015,) I'd almost move this campground up to the "awesome" rather than the "good."

Natural camping at Tunnel Village I (lots of trees, privacy, shade, and close to amazing  trails)

There's also an actual trailer court campground for those with large RVs up to 50' long and all sites in this campground are fully serviced.

This bike trail is right across the road from Tunnel Mountain Village

Top reasons to camp at Tunnel Mt Village:
  • Serviced sites for those wishing to have power (most campgrounds in Banff are more natural and do not have serviced sites.)
  • Bathrooms with running water, showers, and electricity at all three campgrounds
  • You are within 5km of downtown Banff from any of the Tunnel Mt campgrounds
  • You  are within close proximity to the Banff hostel should you wish to
    eat out rather than cooking 
  • The Banff Roam bus has stops beside the campgrounds so that you can go downtown for shopping or dining without having to drive
  • Hiking and biking trails are located right at your doorstep (no driving to access the beautiful trails on the Tunnel Bench)
  • Urban camping at its finest!  Perfect for beginners wanting a few extra comforts or looking to be close to town
  • All three campgrounds in Tunnel mt Village accept reservations in advance
  • There are over 1000 sites in the three campgrounds combined which almost guarantees you'll find a site last minute if you haven't booked. 
Trails like this near the campground are perfect for hiking or biking

**One thing to note when booking a site at Tunnel Mt. Village is that not all sites have fire pits.  If this is important to you, choose your site wisely.  (and there are still no playgrounds - same as Two Jack Main.)


The AWESOME - Two Jack Lakeside


We wanted to stay at the beautiful Two Jack Lakeside campground last summer SOOOO badly but couldn't get in because the campground didn't accept reservations in advance and we weren't there early enough in the day to snag a spot (despite the fact it was mid-week and we were there by noon.)  This year though things have changed and this paradise of a campground now takes reservations!!! Hence, we booked a site for a weekend in June as soon as I found out about the new policies.  (While jumping up and down screaming.)

Paddling on Two Jack Lake - walking distance from all campsites!

This is another campground that is close to the town of Banff and also within close proximity to Lake Minnewanka, Johnson Lake, and great hiking/biking trails.  All campsites are metres away from Two Jack Lake and our site even had a trail leading down to the water.  And did I mention that we paddle?!! (yes, we were ecstatic!)

Paddling on the calm waters of Two Jack Lake in Banff
Another draw for this campground is the O'TENTiks located at the water's edge.  Comfort camping never got so fine!  Tenters will also love the 23 walk-in tenting sites that sit right beside the shore of Two Jack Lake.  They are some of the best waterfront sites you'll find in the Rockies.

Comfort Camping at Two Jack Lakeside, Banff (photo:  Meaghan J. Ward)

This campground has no services or power but the bathrooms do have flush toilets and showers so it isn't completely primitive.

Lack of playground and services aside, the only true downside to this campground is its size.  There are only 64 sites and you'd better believe you'll need a reservation to get a spot here.  Sites can be booked 90 days in advance through the Parks Canada online reservation service.

Camping at Two Jack Lakeside

Other Banff Campgrounds


I have only covered the campgrounds near the Town of Banff in this review.  For information on camping at Lake Louise or on the Icefields Parkway in Banff, visit the Parks Canada website.  My top pick of campground near Lake Louise (if it took reservations) would be Mosquito Creek.  Sadly however, none of the campgrounds outside the Village of Lake Louise take reservations and you'd be hard pressed to show up in summer and find a site unless you can be at the campground by 10am.  If you can camp in June or September, you'll have better luck but some campgrounds along the Icefields Parkway open late or close early.   Mosquito Creek is still not open and it's almost the beginning of July as I write.

The best bet for finding a campsite outside the Banff Townsite area, is to camp at Lake Louise because it is 100% reservable and offers safe camping for tenters inside an electric fence to keep out bears. While the campgrounds at Louise can be busy and crowded, at least you'll be close to awesome hiking and biking trails, lakes to paddle, and scenery that will knock your socks off around every bend.

Moraine Lake, Lake Louise area

To read more of my campground reviews, go to the right hand side of my website in the side bar and scroll down to where it says "Popular Topics." Select the "Camping across Alberta" category or there's also a category for "Camping across BC." All campground reviews will show up for you to click on from here.

Also, visit this story:  Summer Planning - Where to Camp in the National Parks of Alberta

Camping in Banff is a classic Canadian experience!

10 comments:

  1. Hi Tanya. We have a group campsite reserved for this weekend, but it's near Lethbridge and currently closed due to high water. We're crossing our fingers and hoping it'll dry out, but in the meantime I've been looking for alternatives. I've never booked in the National Parks before and I was surprised to find that at Tunnel Mountain and Lake Louise, there are campsites showing as 'available', but when you click on them you get a message that the particular campsite is not reservable (which is obviously why there are still a bunch showing as available). You had said that Lake Louise was 100% reservable, so I'm wondering if this is something they just do for long weekends or if there are in face a few sections that are non-reservable? Sure wish they had a different color on the map (currently just red for unavailable and green for 'available' but they're not reservable)!

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    1. I hear you Amanda! And understand your frustration. I was checking campsites today too out of curiosity and noticed the same thing. Campsite shows green, looks free - and then you click on it and you can't reserve it. Thinking it's maybe just a glitch or something. I've never seen this before.

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  2. p.s. any ideas for where 5 families could camp on the July long weekend, given we are not available to go out and snag a spot before the weekend? Long shot, I know. Hopefully our site at Park Lake will come through because I can't think of any alternatives. We all have young kids, so driving around for hours hoping to find something is not really an option.

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  3. I found a backup plan! There were some sites (adjacent to each other) at Tillebrook for the last 2 nights of our planned 3-night weekend, so I booked them and plan to cancel them 72 hours in advance if our group site comes through (fingers still crossed). So we bought ourselves a little long weekend insurance for just $12 (non-refundable booking fee) per family. :-)

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    1. so glad you found something. Now pray it doesn't rain all weekend! We are supposed to be going north to Jasper and weather is looking iffy.

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  4. Hello, I know that you went in 2014, but were you indeed able to reserve a camping site in advance for Two Jack Lakeside? The website is somewhat confusing as it only lists Tentiks in Two Jack Lakeside as reservable. I suspect that this new in the past few years and they have not thoroughly updated their website. Thank you for your wonderful post!

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    1. Two Jack Lakeside and Two Jack Main are both reservable.
      You can start to make a reservation in January. The date should be listed on the reservation site.
      Once the reservation date has started, you can book your site for the whole season.

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  5. Thank you! I keep getting conflicting information on the website and even when I call and speak to a representative. It is good to hear from someone that has actually gone through the process. Thanks again!

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  6. Thank you from some Colorado travelers who were looking for just this information!

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