Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Alberta Comfort Camping Destination Guide

I admire people who continue tenting as a family and who actually enjoy sleeping on the ground. It's natural, it's "real" and it's authentic. Unfortunately, the older I get, the less I appreciate the whole "authentic" camping experience and the more I long for comfort in the outdoors. We switched to a small trailer a few years ago and I've never been happier camping. We now get out most weekends from May through September and packing is infinitely easier without having to pack up absolutely everything Friday morning. The majority of our camping gear stays in the trailer with the last minute stuff getting packed up in an hour Friday afternoon. This has changed camping for us and has made it "fun!"

Trailer camping aside, the other style of camping that has grown on me over the last few years has been comfort camping. We've camped in canvas wall tents in late September, warm as can be while it dropped below zero at night, enjoyed yurt camping in the middle of winter while enjoying decadent 5-star cuisine, and have enjoyed countless nights in backcountry cabins year round when there was no way I was pitching my tent in the snow! We've tried tipi camping (which was super cool,) have camped in remote wilderness hostels where we were the only people for miles around, and have discovered cabins that would be awesome to bike into.

Comfort Camping in Banff National Park (photo: Parks Canada/ Paul Zizka Photography)

It's a big world when you start exploring and sometimes a bit of comfort means you'll get out there to explore more! It means you'll go camping year round, that you'll try backcountry camping, or that you'll find ways to introduce camping to friends and family members who may not be entirely convinced on the whole experience yet. Check out the suggestions below and choose one for your family this summer.




Canvas Wall Tents


If you still want to sleep in a tent but would rather sleep off the ground, canvas wall tents can be a great comfort option. Alberta Parks and Parks Canada both offer options here along with Sundance Lodges in Kananaskis.

Sundance Lodges


Located near Kananaskis Village, this family-run business prides themselves on attracting repeat visitors and groups year after year. Owner Sheryl Green says:

"We've been open for 25 years this summer and decided early on that the "family" was our target market. It's been great to see young children grow up and come back to camp with their families."
 
Families can camp in tipis, canvas wall tents called trapper's tents, or can make use of Sundance Lodges' unserviced tenting and RV campsites. Each trapper's tent includes a double bed with two single beds for a capacity of four people. The beds have foam mattresses on them so you just have to bring your sleeping bags and you're set to go. The trapper's tents also have a small kerosene heater and lantern (fuel supplied,) a picnic table outside, and a fire pit with a half grill.

You'll still spend most of your time outside, you'll be cooking outside, and you'll be steps away from great hiking and biking trails. The only big difference with this style of camping is that you get to sleep off the ground in a real bed, and you'll have a heater for chilly evenings or mornings. Trapper's tents are also much cozier in the rain, making Sundance Lodges a great place to come for those spring camping trips.

Please visit the Sundance Lodges website for more information on camping in a trapper's tent.

Trapper's Tent at Sundance Lodges,, Kananaskis (Photo: Sundance Lodges)

Parks Canada oTENTiks


Families can choose to camp in a canvas wall tent called an oTENTik in both Banff and Jasper National Park. (options available in BC as well) Each tent includes three beds and can accommodate up to six people. We enjoyed a weekend in an oTENTik at the Two Jack Lakeside campground in Banff and it was extremely comfortable. We got to enjoy a premier lakeside campsite while we sat next to our fire looking out over the water. The cabin had a small propane heater in it so we were toasty warm despite camping in late September over a chilly weekend.

Camping in style at Two Jack Lakeside, Banff National Park

I have now been spoiled and would never think of camping in a normal tent again in the early spring or late fall. Comfort camping is definitely the way to go and I can only imagine how comfortable one of these tent cabins would be in the middle of summer as well. OTENTiks are ideal for families with small children needing a bit more comfort and make for a lovely way to introduce non-campers to outdoor living!

Note that with oTENTiks, all cooking and eating must be done outside of the unit. You must also bring all of your camping gear. The only thing provided is the mattresses that you will sleep on and the heater in your unit. If you want something with more amenities, read further to learn about Alberta Parks walled tents which come equipped with cooking supplies and fridges.

For more information on oTENTik camping in Banff or Jasper National Park please visit the Parks Canada website.

Inside a Parks Canada oTENTik (Photo: Parks Canada / Paul Zizka Photography)

Alberta Parks Wall Tents


There are several provincial parks in Southern Alberta that offer comfort camping including Dinosaur, Writing on Stone, and Wyndham-Carseland Provincial Parks. Each of these parks has a handful of walled tents for families wanting to sleep off the ground or in extra warmth. Dinosaur Provincial Park has 7 units, Writing on Stone Provincial Park has 3 units, and  Wyndham-Carseland Provincial Park has 4 units. Each unit sleeps four people and includes the following:

  • Electric heater, fan, lights, electrical outlets
  • Cooking supplies and dishes with a small fridge, table and chairs
  • One queen-sized bed and a double futon (pillows and bedding provided)
  • A deck with furniture
  • A barbecue with propane
  • Fire pit
  • Picnic table on site
Comfort Camping in Dinosaur Provincial Park (Photo: Alberta Parks)

Note that there are no stoves inside of the wall tents and you have to cook outside using the barbecue provided. You may eat inside however which is a nice perk compared to the Parks Canada o'TENTiks.

For more information on comfort camping in Alberta provincial parks, visit this link to the Alberta Parks website.

 
Comfort Camping in Dinosaur Provincial Park (photo: AB Parks Ambassador Kelsy Nielson)


Yurt Camping


Wall tents not quite "glampy" enough for you? Check out the assortment of yurt camping options in Alberta then and get a true taste of luxury camping!

 

Mount Engadine Lodge Yurt, Spray Valley Provincial Park, Kananaskis


Mount Engadine Lodge is a front country lodge with a backcountry feeling. Located in the remote Spray Valley Provincial Park, you can drive up to the front door of this lodge from where it is a 3 minute walk through the woods to the property yurt.

Yurt-Camping at Mount Engadine Lodge, Kananaskis


A stay at the yurt (along with all stays at the lodge) includes all meals (breakfast, a packed lunch for your day's adventures, afternoon tea, and a decadent dinner,) with a side course of wildlife sightings in the meadow below.

The yurt sleeps four in bunk beds and includes warm duvet blankets in the summer. Inquire directly with the lodge regarding other bedding that you should bring. Other than the beds, there is nothing in the yurt aside from a small table (and a portable heater in winter.) Rustic nature of the yurt aside though, you won't notice the sparse amenities once you step inside the main lodge and taste the food. On our recent visit this past winter we slept in the yurt but spent the rest of our time in the main lodge. We had a lovely visit and I'm already planning another winter trip next year.

The cost for staying in the yurt is $125 per person per night but this includes all of your meals and children receive a discounted rate. A two night stay is also not required (something that's rare with luxury accommodations) so you can go out for a Saturday night and still enjoy two days exploring in Kananaskis.

Visit the Mount Engadine Lodge website for more information.

To read about our recent yurt camping experience at Mount Engadine Lodge follow this link to Yurt Camping in Kananaskis at Mount Engadine Lodge.

Summer at Mount Engadine Lodge

Alberta Parks Yurts


There are yurts in both Pigeon Lake Provincial Park and in Miquelon Lake Provincial Park. They are larger than the Mount Engadine Lodge yurt and include more amenities but you'll have to do your own cooking so it's a trade off. Pigeon Lake Provincial Park has eight yurts that can accommodate 4, 6, or 8 people. Miquelon Lake Provincial Park has four yurts that can accommodate 6 people.


Yurt Camping at Pigeon Lake Provincial Park (photo: Alberta Parks)

The Yurts include the following:
  •  An electric heater, lights and electrical outlets
  •  Cooking supplies and dishes with a small fridge, table and chairs
  •  Bunk Beds and Futons for 4, 6, or 8 people (depending on the size of the yurt)
  • A deck with gas barbecue
  • A fire pit
  • A picnic table
Yurt camping is easy and you just need to bring your bedding, food, and a camp stove (for outdoor cooking only) if you wish. Lawn chairs and flash lights are also recommended.

For more information on yurt comfort camping in our provincial parks please the Alberta Parks website.

Yurt Camping with Alberta Parks (photo: AB Parks Ambassador Kelsy Nielson)


Tipi Camping


Who isn't curious about camping in a tipi or hasn't wondered what it would be like to camp in the same traditional method as our ancestors (long before four-season nylon tents!) Fortunately there are a few places that will allow you the opportunity to experience tipi camping this summer.

Tipi Camping at Sundance Lodges, Kananaskis


Mentioned earlier under "Wall Tents," Sundance Lodges in Kananaskis also offers visitors a chance to spend the night in a Sioux Canvas Tipi. Small tipis sleep two people in a double bed, and large tipis sleep four people with one double bed and two single beds.

Each tipi includes wood-frame beds with mattresses (bring your own bedding,) along with a small kerosene lantern and heater (fuel provided.) Outside your tipi you will find a picnic table and fire pit with half grill for cooking.

For more information on tipi camping, visit the Sundance Lodges website.

Tipi Camping at Sundance Lodges, Kananaskis (photo: Sundance Lodges)

Tipi Camping in Waterton Lakes National Park


Waterton Lakes is the only national park to offer tipi camping in Alberta. And what a view you'll get from your site! 5 Tipis are located in the Crandell Mountain Campground on the scenic Red Rock Parkway.

Tipi Camping at Crandell Mountain is a natural experience so bring everything you would normally bring for camping. There are no beds inside these tipis and you will be cooking/living outside as you would with tenting. The only big difference with tipi camping (as compared to regular tenting) is the extremely cool opportunity to sleep in a traditional tipi.

For more information on tipi camping at Crandell Mountain, visit the Waterton Lakes National Park website.

Tipi Camping in Waterton Lakes National Park (photo: Parks Canada)


Cabin Camping


Moving up from wall tents to yurts and tipis, we arrive at cabin camping - the ultimate in luxury camping and a small step away from renting a house at your favourite lake or park. Below are three of the best options within Alberta Provincial Parks.


The Nest lodge at Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park


The Nest sleeps 10 people and features a full kitchen, private bedrooms, and indoor plumbing. This is as luxurious as it gets for camping.

For more information on the amenities included, visit the Alberta Parks website.

The Nest Lodge at Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park

Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park Cabins


Another great option in Northern Alberta, Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park offers visitors the chance to sleep in one of five lake front cabins on Lac La Biche Lake. Enjoy your own private deck from your home on Alberta's only island provincial park. (And worth noting, these cabins are open in winter too!)

The cabins sleep 8 people and feature a full kitchen. For more information, visit the Alberta Parks Website.

Island Camping in Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park

Cypress Hills Provincial Park Backcountry Huts (vehicle accessible in summer)


Open year round, Cypress Hills Provincial Park has three backcountry huts that are accessible by vehicle in the summer or fall season. We recently hiked into the Tom Trott Hut this past winter and it would be great for an early season biking weekend. The huts come complete with bunk beds and mattresses, kitchen tables and chairs, and include basic cooking supplies. Bring your own camp stove, sleeping bags, and drinking water.

Camping in a hut is a great way to get out with the family early season when it's too chilly for tenting. These huts are in great locations near hiking and biking trails and provide comfort for those who like to camp before the May long weekend or later into September. And if you visit the huts before the highways open in spring, you could have the cool experience of bike-packing into them. (on our list for sure!)

For more information on these huts, visit the Cypress Hills Provincial Park website.

To read my recent story on our experience, read Winter Fun in Cypress Hills Provincial Park, Alberta.

Backcountry Huts in Cypress Hills Provincial Park

 

Backcountry Cabins, Huts, and Shelters


Want to get off the beaten path and venture into the backcountry - without a tent? There are several options here from simple Parks Canada shelters (bring everything but the tent) to more comfortable backcountry cabins with the Alpine Club of Canada where you'll have kitchen facilities.

Backcountry shelters in Banff National Park


There are two backcountry shelters in Banff National Park. Both are extremely rustic and basically just give you a roof over your head. You'll find wooden platforms to sleep on, a couple of tables with benches, and a wood stove. That's it. However, if it's cool outside, it's much more comfortable to sleep in one of these shelters with your wood stove than it is to sleep in a tent and kids love these shelters.

We hiked into the Egypt Lake shelter last fall and enjoyed having a warm cabin to spend time in when we were hanging out a camp. Meanwhile the folks in the campground had to cook, eat, hang out, and spend every minute outside - while temperatures hovered near zero in the morning and evening.

Find out more here on the Bryant Creek shelter (en route to Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park in BC,) and the Egypt Lake shelter (located above the Sunshine Village ski resort in a beautiful location.) And for those looking at staying in a shelter, consider booking all 12 spots with another family. They are not big and you'll feel more comfortable sharing the space with friends.

Read about our fall backpacking trip to the Egypt Lake shelter here.

The Egypt Lake Shelter, Banff National Park

Alpine Club of Canada Backcountry Cabins and Huts


The Alpine Club of Canada maintains and operates over twenty backcountry cabins in the Canadian Rockies. Some require mountaineering access or serious rock climbing abilities for the approach, but others are accessible via easy hiking trails. A couple of the huts in BC are even vehicle accessible in summer.

Follow this link for a complete list of Alpine Club of Canada huts and cabins and to find out what amenities are included in each cabin. Most facilities have mattresses for sleeping on, kitchens with basic cooking supplies, propane lights and stoves. Bring a sleeping bag and food, and you are almost good to go minus a few other small items.

Elizabeth Parker Hut, Lake O'Hara


Recommended huts for families across the Alberta and BC Rockies:

The A.O. Wheeler Hut - vehicle accessible in summer from Glacier National Park, BC

Elk Lakes Cabin - vehicle accessible from Elk Lakes Provincial Park in BC or via a family-friendly hiking trail in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Alberta
 
Stanley Mitchell Hut - accessible via an easy hiking trail in Yoho National Park, BC

Elizabeth Parker Hut - accessible via Parks Canada bus to Lake O'Hara, Yoho National Park, BC and then a 5 minute walk

Stanley Mitchell Hut, Yoho National Park

And for families traveling with older children, take a look at these huts which offer a more challenging approach.

Bow Hut - accessible via a steep hiking trail in Banff National Park. Located along the Icefields Parkway and one of the only mountaineering huts accessible without a glacier traverse (recommended for strong hikers ages 8-10+ as there is one hard move crossing a large boulder over a chasm)

Asulkan Cabin - accessible from Glacier National Park, BC via a steep hiking trail (recommended for strong hikers ages 8+)

Conrad Kain Hut - accessible from Bugaboo Provincial Park, BC via a steep climber access trail.One ladder must be climbed en route, bolted to a cliff, and there are a few other narrow sections with hand lines to hold on to (recommended for strong hikers ages 8-10+)

Asulkan Cabin, Glacier National Park

Wilderness Hostels


Hostelling International Canada maintains 10 wilderness hostels across the Canadian Rockies. Each hostel is unique with varying levels of comfort. At HI Castle Mountain or HI Kananaskis you will find microwaves, indoor plumbing, and showers. Meanwhile at HI Hilda Creek you will find your own private cabin with no hostel manager on site and a backcountry experience waiting for you. Some hostels have private rooms, and others require children to be 6+ years old so that they can share dorm rooms with other guests.

A full list of all ten wilderness hostels can be found here.

HI Athabasca Falls Wilderness Hostel


Some of our favourite wilderness hostels for families are below:

HI Kananaskis - The hostel has 3 private rooms which sleep three people comfortably. Indoor plumbing and electricity

HI Mosquito Creek, Banff - The hostel has a private cabin for families with two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a common area. (Rustic hostel with no indoor plumbing. Pit toilets located outside)

HI Athabasca Falls, Jasper - The hostel has 2 private rooms for families located in cabins away from the main building. Each private room sleeps 5-6 people. Cooking is done in a common shared cabin. (Rustic hostel with no indoor plumbing. Pit toilets located outside)

HI Hilda Creek, Banff - This is a small hostel which only sleeps 6 people. Rent the whole hostel and enjoy your own private wilderness retreat. Note that his hostel is very rustic. Backcountry experience is required and there is no hostel manager on site

HI Hilda Creek in September

Read about some of our hosteling adventures here:

Hilda Creek - Moving on to Big Adventures - and the kids get to come along!

Mosquito Creek -  Autumn Camping at Mosquito Creek

Athabasca Falls - Spring Adventures in Jasper

Kananaskis - How to Plan a Kananaskis Biking Weekend 

HI Mosquito Creek

Additional Inspiration


For more inspiration, check out these stories on a couple of backcountry lodges we have stayed at in the Canadian Rockies. While they carry a big price tag, the experience is unparalleled.

Shadow Lake Lodge, Banff - Family Backpacking In Banff National Park - No Tent Required 

Sundance Lodge, Banff (under new ownership of the Banff Trail Riders) - Backpacking in Style - no tent, no sleeping bags, and no cooking!


Shadow Lake Lodge, Banff National Park

Special Thanks 


This post was written in partnership with Sundance Lodges in Kananaskis. You'll be hearing more about their great camping facilities in other upcoming stories.

Thanks as well to Hostelling International Canada, the Alpine Club of Canada, Alberta Parks, and to Parks Canada who continue to be huge supporters of this website.  Without their support, we wouldn't be able to have near the amount of fabulous adventures that we do as a family.

Finally, thanks to Mount Engadine Lodge for recently allowing us to try yurt camping for the first time. It definitely won't be our last time.


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