Thursday, February 05, 2015

Summer Planning: Group Camping in Alberta

Group campground reservations open next Monday, February 9th, in Alberta for the entire summer so I thought this would be a good time to grow my series on Summer Planning.

Group Camping in Southern Alberta

Questions you may have:

How do you book a group campground?
How many people do you need to have in your "group" in order to book a group campground?
How is a group campground different from a normal campground?
Are group campgrounds best for tents or trailers?
Why should I consider booking a group campground?
How much does it cost to book a whole campground?
Do you have any suggestions for best group campgrounds in Alberta?

One of my favourite lakeside group campgrounds in Central Alberta with a private beach

Group Camping in a Nutshell

A group campground is a large group camping area, sometimes within a normal campground and sometimes set apart and private.  Most group campgrounds can accommodate both tents or trailers and it's about the same price per unit as it would be to camp in a normal campground. You'll need at least 4 other families to come with you to cover the cost but most of us know at least a few friends we can invite.  The big draw:  Privacy, quiet camping, and lots of room for the kids to run around and play - without fear of them getting hit by cars speeding through the campground.

This campground near Crimson Lake has lots of room for trailers and RVs.

How to book a group campground

First, to book a group campground you'll need to go to the Reserve Alberta Parks website, create an account, log in, and then try really hard to be ready to go by 9am on Monday, February 9th.  If you are even half an hour late logging in, you will find selection for popular weekends slim for the pickings.

A couple things about the Reserve Alberta Parks website:  First, when you go to the website, you'll see a "welcome board" with news.  Hit "close" or you won't be able to do anything on the site.  Then, go to the left hand side of the website and select "group camping area" for camping type. Choose your arrival and departure date, geographical area if you want, and hit "search."

When you select a campground it will tell you how many families you need for a minimum booking.  Just look where it says "Rate/night 5 units"  It's usually a number of 5 but in Kananaskis it's almost always 10.  A unit is a tent, RV, trailer, etc.  I find it hard to find 9 other families to commit to a camping trip in February so I tend to go with campgrounds that only require 5 units.

If you have more than 5 families that's fine but you will only pay for the first 5 units up front.  The additional money will be collected per unit when you check in at your campground or at the provincial park campground gates. (note, they prefer to collect all additional money as one lump sum and not individually by each camper when they show up.)

A very sweet private group campground in Cypress Hills Provincial Park

For a good example of what to expect when looking for a group campground, follow this link to the Aspen Beach "Lakeview A Group Camping Area" at Gull Lake.  You'll see that you need a minimum of 5 units (or will be paying for that many anyway - you could show up with only 4) and that you'll be paying $195 per night for those first 5 units.  Extra units are $29 per night.  The website gives you information on when the campground opens and closes for the season, if there is a cook shelter, if there are power sites (usually there are not,) and - very important, it will tell you how many sites total there are.  For this campground there are 50 sites total. That means you will have a very large area and can allow friends with big RVs to come with you. It even gives you the maximum RV length that will fit a site.

To look at ALL group campgrounds in Alberta, go to the Alberta Parks website at this link to group camping page. It's highly recommended you have at least a few choices for where you want to camp when you log in on Feb. 9th - and that you know your dates.

If you miss the February 9th booking date you can still continue to make reservations all summer long.  Just don't expect to get a spot at a popular campground on the August long weekend if you try to book in May!

Our private beach in Central Alberta at a beauty of a group campground

Why Book a Group Campground

There are many reasons for booking a group campground:

Safety:  The children in our group are too young to run freely around a campground by themselves but in a group camping area, they can run wild and we can sit back and relax. There is usually lots of open space and the kids can all play and run around together.  Many group campgrounds are even separated from the main provincial park campgrounds with a gate to help keep strangers out.  

Down time for the parents:  The kids in our group all play together so you don't have to be actively supervising 24/7.  The children entertain themselves and there are always eyes watching to make sure nobody is getting hurt.

Tons of support for novice campers:  Camping in a group allows you to learn from the more experienced campers, to share gear, and to receive help as needed. 

Team work and Communal Effort:  The kids all have unique toys to share and adults can take turns supervising the heard, leading activities, cooking, or doing dishes. We all bring wood to contribute to communal fires and we share the cool stuff such as hammocks and canoes.

Group campgrounds are quiet:  They can honestly be a salvation on a busy long weekend when you have a private campground all to yourself!  No noisy generators, no loud drunk neighbors (unless you invited them,) and no stereos blasting dance music at midnight.  It's just you and a handful of best friends.

The Hammock:  Party Central for the Kids

Choosing the BEST Group Campground 

I wish I could tell you where you should camp and give you my personal favourites for group campgrounds but I can't.  (or won't)  I wrote about one of my favourite group campgrounds a couple years ago and haven't been able to get spots here since!! 

Suggestions though:
Start with the geographical area you want to camp in.   Read my previous story on Summer Planning:  The Best Provincial Park Campgrounds in Southern Alberta.  That should be a good start.   Many of the featured campgrounds (Dinosaur, Little Bow, Cypress Hills, Kananaskis, Writing on Stone...) have great group areas nearby.

Size Matters.  Check the total # of sites and make sure it will be big enough for your group.  If the campground only accommodates 8 units, you should probably assume that is only 4 trailers at most. 

Look at Maps!  Look for a campground map on the Alberta Parks website so that you know where the group campground is situated in relationship to the area and other campgrounds.  Some group campgrounds are in the middle of a regular campground and others are completely private - which is what you probably want! 

Checking a map will also tell you how far you are from water, beaches, hiking trails, bike trails, etc.  If you're out in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do, the kids might get bored.

Group Camping in Writing on Stone Provincial Park

Finally, talk to friends and get their suggestions, join a group trip already being planned, or scout out campgrounds this summer for next year.  Warning though, if you are going to go driving through a private group campground to take a peak, please drive slowly so you don't hit our children!!  Also, respect that we have paid for the campground for the weekend and we probably don't want you coming in to look around.  Sunday afternoon is generally a good time to take a look when campers are preparing to go home. 

Group camping in Kananaskis
To read all of my stories on how to make family camping EASY, and for more on where to camp in Alberta and British Columbia, go to "popular topics" on the right hand side of this website and use the pull down tab to select the category you want.