Friday, May 01, 2015

Our 5 Favourite Campgrounds (within a 3 hour drive of Calgary)

We spend many (most) of our weekends camping in the summer, and by the end of August we are usually so tired of driving that we swear to camp closer to home next year!  We never keep to this decision come the following season but we do have five favourite campgrounds that are all within a three hour drive of Calgary.

Below is information on these great camping spots along with photos and links to other stories I've written on the areas. I've also included some honorable mentions at the bottom because they are just a teeny bit past the 3 hour drive cut off. (and worth driving the extra half hour for!)

Camping in Crimson Lake Provincial Park (photo:  C. Schaus)

One - The Campgrounds of Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

It's less than a two hour drive to reach this gorgeous provincial park in Kananaskis Country and there are several great campgrounds to choose from.  Canyon Campground is our favourite but it doesn't take reservations which complicates things in the busy summer season.  To make it easy on yourself, make a reservation for Boulton Creek or Elkwood and you won't have to drive out on Wed. night looking for a spot for the weekend. 

Playing on the Canyon Interpretive Trail

Both Boulton Creek and Elkwood can be reserved 90 days in advance and accept on line bookings.  This makes it easy (and fair) for anybody wanting to go camping.  Just count back 90 days from when you want to go camping, put a note to remind yourself on the calendar, and then get on the computer first thing in the morning.

Why we love camping here:
  • Great paved bike trails
  • Lots of family hiking
  • Paddling opportunities on Upper or Lower Kananaskis Lake
  • Paddle-in camping at the Point Backcountry Campground
  • Interpretive programs and evening amphitheater shows 

Biking in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

For more information on camping in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park visit the Alberta Parks website or read these stories below:

The Best Place to Bike and Camp in Kananskis - Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

 Camping in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

Peter Lougheed Provincial Park for Families

The Best Family Campground in Kananaskis (Canyon)

The Annual  Family Backcountry Trip (the Point)

How to fit 7 People in a Canoe (the Point)

Paddling on Lower Lake, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

Two - Redstreak Campground, Kootenay National Park

We love camping across the British Columbia border in the town of Radium Hot Springs.  It takes about  three hours to drive here from Calgary and it's a scenic drive through Banff and Kootenay National Parks.  Great mountain biking, a pump track and bike skills park, hot springs, amazing hiking, a lake with a beach, and a river that's great for novice paddlers all await you when you go camping in the Columbia Valley.

Mountain biking in the Columbia Valley on the Old Coach Trail

While there are many campgrounds in the Columbia Valley between the towns of Fairmont Hot Springs and Radium Hot Springs, we like camping at the Redstreak Campground which is a national park campground located right in the town of Radium Hotsprings.   There are walking trails that take you from the campground down into town or over to the hotsprings and it's a short bike ride to the local pump track and bike park.

Playing on the Pump Track in Radium Hotsprings

A short drive away from the Redstreak Campground, you can drive to the Town of Invermere to play at Lake Windermere or start your float trip down the Columbia River.  You can also drive down to Fairmont Hotsprings for more swimming and hiking opportunities, or you can head out in search of some great mountain biking.

Playing in Lake Windermere, Invermere

All information on camping at Redstreak can be found on the Kootenay National Park website.  Reservations can be made now for the whole summer (and there are still lots of availabilities) on the National Parks Reservation website

Paddling the Columbia River from Invermere to Radium Hot Springs

Information on family biking, paddling and hiking can be found in my following stories:

Exploring the Columbia Valley Wetlands - By boat, bike, and hike

Biking the Columbia Valley

Autumn mountain biking in the Columbia Valley

Want Spring?  Go West to the Columbia Valley

Pump Tracks and Mountain Bike Parks

Hiking on Mount Swansea, Invermere

Three - Dinosaur Provincial Park

I feel like I've written about this park a thousand times.  It's that awesome!  Sadly, we aren't going this year but we've made the trek south to Dinosaur Provincial Park many many times.  It's about a 3 hour drive from NE Calgary (longer from the west side) and it's an incredible place to camp with the kids.  I also love that you can reserve 90 days in advance and there are many campsites so competition isn't too intense.

Camping along the Creek in Dinosaur Provincial Park

Everything I can say about Dinosaur has already been said in my previous stories so please read the following stories if you want to see why we love it here so much and visit the Parks reservation site to book sites.

Camping in Dinosaur Provincial Park

Hiking in Dinosaur Provincial Park

Hiking in Dinosaur Provincial Park

Wild about Dinosaur Provincial Park

Camping in the Alberta Badlands

Biking around the Badlands of Dinosaur Provincial Park

Four - Crimson Lake Provincial Park

This is a lesser known campground for folks from Calgary but once you go, you'll want to camp here every summer.  Crimson Lake Provincial Park is located approximately 2.5 hours from Calgary near Rocky Mountain House in Central Alberta.  It's a scenic drive along the David Thompson Highway and the lake is beautiful for boating, fishing, or swimming.

Playing in Crimson Lake, Crimson Lake Provincial Park

Reasons we like this campground and provincial park:
  • Great sandy beach with shallow water for playing in
  • Playground right beside the beach that's got a lovely soft sand base
  • Mountain bike trails everywhere!  The Amerada Trail around the lake is super easy for families with a few hills to challenge older riders, and we like the harder trail that goes from Rocky Mountain House to Crimson Lake
Biking from Rocky Mountain House to Crimson Lake
  • The group campground at Twin Lakes is one of the nicest group campgrounds we've ever camped at. 
  • Paddling on the North Saskatchewan River near Rocky Mountain House is exciting but still family-friendly for experienced paddlers (here is a map - we put in at the Brierley's and took out in town.)
  • You can go visit the Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site or even bike there from town.
Paddling on the North Saskatchewan River near Rocky Mountain House

For more information, check out the Provincial Park website and you can make reservations on the Parks Reservation Site.

Also, read the story I wrote last year:  Crimson Lake Provincial Park:  Hidden Gem in Alberta Campgrounds.

Lakeside Camping at the Twin Lakes Group Campground

Five - Waterton Springs Campground, Waterton Lakes National Park

Waterton Lakes National Park is another gem that's easily reached within a 3 hour drive from Calgary.  Our favourite campground is Waterton Springs which is just outside the park gates where it's a bit quieter.

Running around the Natural Area at the Waterton Springs Campground

I've written dozens of stories about this amazing park and campground, and the links are all below.  Please read the following stories to see why we love this park so much and call the campground directly to make a reservation.  Reservations are accepted in May for the whole summer. 

Biking in Waterton Lakes National Park on the Kootenai Brown Trail

Previous Stories I've written on Waterton Lakes:

Camping in Waterton Lakes National Park

Family Fun in Waterton Lakes National Park

Crandell Lake Hike, Waterton Lakes National Park

Paddling in Waterton Lakes National Park

Ten Awesome Things to Do with Kids in Waterton Lakes National Park

Paddling on one of the Waterton Lakes, Waterton Lakes National Park

Honorable mentions (campgrounds located just a bit further from Calgary)

There are a couple more campgrounds that deserve a mention but they are slightly outside the 3 hour driving range I tried to stick to for this story.  Below are the two honorable mentions that I highly recommend visiting for a long weekend.

Turtles everywhere when you camp at Surveyors Lake in British Columbia

Surveyors Lake Campground, Kikomun Creek Provincial Park

Kikomun Creek Provincial Park is located just outside the Town of Fernie across the border in British Columbia.  The drive is interesting through the Crowsnest Pass area and it's worth stopping at the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre en route.

Peaceful morning paddling on Surveyors Lake

I love turtles so this park was a winner for me right from the start!  Painted turtles swim in the calm waters of both Surveyors and Hidden Lake, and you can paddle free of noise from motor boats in beautiful Surveyors Lake.  Hidden Lake is more of a hiking destination and you really wouldn't want to paddle in it.  Walking around the lake to look for turtles is a huge highlight while camping here though.

Turtles in Hidden Lake, Kikomun Creek Provincial Park

The beach at Surveyors Lake has nice sand for the kids and the water by the beach is shallow for kids to play in.  There's also a dock for jumping off of in the day use area.  Boats can be rented from Campers' Beach including paddle boats.

Playing at the beach at Surveyors Lake

Finally, we love mountain biking here on the old rail trail or we drive into Fernie for the day and go biking there.

Family Mountain Biking at Surveyors Lake

To reserve sites at the Surveyors Lake Campground, go to the BC Parks Reservation site.

To read more about this area, check out my previous stories:

Camping in British Columbia - Kikomun Creek Provincial Park

The Best Family Bike Trails in Fernie, British Columbia

Biking on the Pump Track in downtown Fernie

Writing on Stone Provincial Park

Another honorable mention, this campground is amazing but just outside the three hour driving range.  It's about a 3.5 hour drive from Calgary - worthy of a long weekend camping trip.  We love this park for the opportunities to go hiking in the Alberta badlands with less "rules" than you'll find at Dinosaur Provincial Park. 

Climbing Hoodoos and Cool Rocks in Writing on Stone Provincial Park

When you hike in Dinosaur, you'll see signs everywhere telling you to stay on official trails, to stay off the hoodoos, to avoid climbing the fun rocks... but in Writing on Stone you have more freedom to hike wherever you want.  This is good news for kids!!

Hiking in Writing on Stone Provincial Park
I wrote a story on our previous trip to Writing on Stone Provincial Park so I'm hoping you'll read it below for more information and to see a lot more photos than I can post here.  To make a reservation for this campground, visit the parks reservation website and book 90 days in advance.

Camping in Writing on Stone Provincial Park

A beautiful place for a family hike in Writing on Stone Provincial Park

Other Great Campgrounds Near Calgary

Obviously, this list was not comprehensive and there are a lot of other amazing places to camp near Calgary.  For more suggestions, check out the following stories:

The Best Provincial Park Campgrounds in Southern Alberta

Where to Camp in the National Parks of Alberta


  1. It's encouraging that you liked Redstreak. Maybe we will have to give it another go. We went 3 summers ago and haven't wanted to go back. We were there in July, and it had to be one of the worst campground experiences we've had. The sites offered little privacy and the amount of very late night (early morning?) drinking and smoking by neighbors was plentiful (i.e., and all day binge). Not really the environment you want to bring the littles to. Maybe we just managed to go on a doozy of a weekend, but it was an area I'd like to explore more, and it sucked that we hated that campsite so much. Glad to see you had a very different experience.

    1. We'll be spending a week there this summer so I certainly hope we have a good experience Kathleen. Sorry for your bad one. Hopefully it's very different if you go again. Usually Parks Canada cracks down on partying pretty hard.

  2. Hi Kathleen. Kathleen sorry you and your family had such crappy experiences there. We have gone several times to Redstreak and found lots of shade and peace. "G Loop" has no fires and that was easier on our lungs. More mature people seem to be there and less big dogs (we do love dogs though...but...).

    Glad you are going to give it another try. My husband says that in all his years of camping, Redstreak has been the best campground.

    Anyways, all the best to you 2 ladies! We are so blessed to have this area available to us.

  3. I wish I could travel the world.......... thanks for the dream

  4. Pender island is great, especially if you go when there is a band playing at the pub because it gets all the locals out to party. They have camping near the beach right in front of the pub. They have a disc golf course in the Forrest too which is really cool.

    1. A little far from Calgary, but thanks for the inspiration and the suggestion. We'll have to add it to our list.