Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The 5 Best Waterside Campgrounds Near Calgary, Alberta

As a member of many camping and outdoor groups, I participate in a lot of conversations around where to find the best campgrounds, and usually the number one focus is water! Families are looking for waterside campgrounds where they can roll out of their tent and immediately launch their canoe without carrying or driving it to the lake. Families want to sit back at their campsite and watch the kids play in the lake - right in front of the tent. And families want to spend the day at a campground beach, chilling, and cooling off on hot summer days.

North America's Best Waterside Campgrounds

While lakeside campgrounds are not especially plentiful in the Canadian Rockies (shocking I know given how many lakes we have,) there are a few campgrounds that do stand out for water-based activities, swimming, and beach time. Below are my top 5 picks for BEST waterside campgrounds near Calgary. Some are mountain based and others are located further north in the Alberta prairies, south in the Alberta Badlands, or over the border in beautiful British Columbia.

Make sure you continue to the bottom of this story for suggestions on other awesome waterside campgrounds across North America as shared by members of my outdoor family blogging community.

Learning to kayak while camping lakeside

The 5 Best Waterside Campgrounds Near Calgary



One - Two Jack Lakeside, Banff National Park

Two Jack Lakeside has 64 reservable sites and is located only an hour outside Calgary. This extremely popular campground in Banff has no power sites for RVs so expect a natural camping experience.  Reservations can be made early in the season and are absolutely necessary if you want to camp here during the summer season.

Paddling on Two Jack Lake, Banff

What's to love about Two Jack Lakeside:

  • Lakeside camping with some sites right on the lakeshore (the walk in tenting sites are especially beautiful and close to the water)

  • Comfort Camping options (families can camp in wall tents called O'TENTiks)

  • Beautiful scenery on the lake! It's recommended that you rent a canoe or a couple of kayaks and bring them with you. (No rentals on site)

  • Premier camping in Banff National Park close to the Town of Banff

  • Easy access to hikes, lakes, and scenery along the Lake Minnewanka Loop Road where the campground is situated (read this following story to find out about what you can do in the Lake Minnewanka area)

Our last campsite at Two Jack Lakeside (Tent to Lake)

Special Notes: Some sites back onto the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive Road and are less ideal than the sites that back onto the lake. Also note that there is no beach and that the water is glacial in temperature.

If you can't get into this popular campground, try to get a site across the road at the Two Jack Main Campground. At least you'll be in the same area and you can still launch boats from the public day use area on Two Jack Lake.

For more on camping in Banff, read my story: The Banff Campground Review.

Lakeside Comfort Camping at Two Jack Lakeside


Two - Interlakes Campground, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

Interlakes Campground is the most challenging campground to get a site at in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park - for good reason. This beautiful campground is located right on the Lower Kananaskis Lake with approximately half of the 48 sites situated right next to the lakeshore. To get a site here in summer you'll have to come mid-week because reservations are not accepted in advance.

Canoeing across the Lower Lake in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

What's to love about camping in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park:

  • Regardless of which campground you get a site at, you can drive to great hiking trails, launch a canoe at two beautiful lakes, hike into prime backcountry campgrounds, and access paved bike trails great for the whole family.

  • There is a paved bike trail that connects most campgrounds in the park, connecting you with the Boulton Trading Post for snacks and ice-cream, playgrounds, trailheads, and lake shores for playing at.
Biking on the paved trails of Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

Special Notes: There is no beach in this mountain park and the water will be glacial in temperature should you decide to jump in.

Also, know that you are definitely camping in bear country here! It is not uncommon to see trails closed for bear activity or to see a bear walk through your campground. Children need to be supervised at all times and I wouldn't let them roam the campground alone. Make lots of noise when on trails, carry bear spray at all times, and keep a clean campsite.

Hiking in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

For more on camping in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park check out the following stories:

Peter Lougheed Provincial Park for Families 

Camping in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park 

The Best Place to Bike and Camp in Kananaskis 

Summer Planning: The Best Provincial Park Campgrounds in Southern Alberta 

The Best Family Campground in Kananaskis

Also worth considering is the Point Backcountry Campground. It's a short paddle to the campground (it took me 20 minutes on a stand up paddleboard) and the campground is unbelievably beautiful. Read more at The Annual Family Backpacking Trip. It can also be accessed in an easy 3 km hike.

Lakeside backcountry camping at the Point

Three - Crimson Lake Campground, Crimson Lake Provincial Park

There are many great lakeside campgrounds in Central Alberta but Crimson Lake is our favourite because there's more to do than just hanging out at the beach. There are bike trails, hiking options, and other fun things to do in the Rocky Mountain House area. This campground has 173 sites with power for RVs and all are reservable in advance which really helps families planning ahead.

Lakeside camping in Crimson Lake Provincial Park

Reasons to love Crimson Lake:

  • There is a beach with sand for the kids to play at and there is a great playground that's also built on its own small sandy play area.

  • There's a great walking/biking trail that circles the lake for when you tire of beach time

  • Groups can camp at the lakeside Twin Lakes Campground which has its own private dock and rocky beach area. It's the best group campground we've found in Alberta

  • There's fun mountain biking to be had between Rocky Mountain House and Crimson Lake

  • Families can visit the Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site for a day, and can even bike here on a well maintained trail

  • Fishing is great on both Crimson Lake and Twin Lake

  • Families with canoes or kayaks will enjoy peaceful paddling on nearby Twin Lake which doesn't have the big motor boats found on Crimson Lake. The more adventurous can also try paddling down the North Saskatchewan River from the National Historic Site back into Rocky Mountain House.

Biking around Crimson Lake Provincial Park

Special Notes: There are no actual lakeside camp sites at the Crimson Lake Campground. You will have to walk to the lake and to the beach. The closest you will get to camping right beside the lake is if you book the Twin Lakes Group Campground. Here, you can store your boats right on your own private beach and launch at will without transporting the canoe every time you want to go out.

To read more on this provincial park please check out this story: Crimson Lake Provincial Park - Hidden Gem in Alberta Campgrounds.

Lakeside camping at the Twin Lakes Group Campground

Four - Writing on Stone Campground, Writing on Stone Provincial Park

The Writing on Stone campground in Southern Alberta is a little different from the others featured so far in that you'll be camped on a river. There is a great beach with sand and families can float the river in tubes from one end of the campground to the other on a hot day. At higher water levels, there's also great canoeing and kayaking from this provincial park on the Milk River. We staged day trips on the river from the group campground in Writing on Stone and had a fabulous weekend.

There are 19 unserviced sites and 45 sites with power for RVs. There are also two group campgrounds and several comfort camping units. All sites accept reservations in advance.

Playing at the beach at the Writing on Stone Campground

Reasons to love Writing on Stone Provincial Park:

  •  Amazing hiking and camping in Alberta's badlands surrounded by hoodoos and funky rock formations!!

  • Awesome paddling on the Milk River from above the campground back to camp, or from camp down to the next bridge

  • Fun tubing and floating on the river through the campground

  • Writing on Stone Provincial Park is a National Historic Site and the valley contains the "largest concentration of First Nation petroglyphs (rock carvings) and pictographs (rock paintings) on the great plains of North America." - Read more here.

Hiking in Writing on Stone Provincial Park

Special Notes: Children should obviously be supervised closely when swimming in a river as there is a small current. Also, temperature here can be a concern in summer (think desert camping) so it's ideal to visit in spring or fall when it's a bit cooler.

Groups will enjoy the group campgrounds here. We like Site A for its large field, communal fire pit, and cook shelter. It's ideal for several families camping in the grassy field with room for trailers in the parking area out front.

Paddling on the Milk River in Writing on Stone Provincial Park

Five - Surveyors Lake, Kikomun Creek Provincial Park, British Columbia

Surveyors Lake in Kikomun Creek Provincial Park is our favourite lakeside campground within a 4 hour drive from Calgary. It is located just outside the mountain town of Fernie in British Columbia and is extremely popular! Plan to make a reservation well in advance if you want to get a site here in the summer. The campground has approximately 100 sites but note that there are no power sites here for RVs. If you don't like generator noise, it might not become your favourite campground because many people like to run their air conditioners on hot days here (and in summer, it is usually very hot in this park.)

Beach Time at Surveyors Lake

Reasons to love Surveyors Lake and Kikomun Creek Provincial Park:

  • Swimming and paddling with painted turtles in the peaceful Surveyors Lake (no motor boats permitted)

  • This park is located in a very arid, sunny part of the province - perfect for days at the beach

  • There is a gorgeous sandy beach at both the campground and at the day use area (with a dock for jumping off of at the day use beach)

  • There are boat rentals at Campers Beach (including paddle boats and stand up paddleboards)

  • There are great mountain bike trails around the campground

  • There are cabins available in this provincial park for those seeking a bit more comfort

  • Nearby Lake Koocanusa is great for motor boats and related water sports

  • You're near Fernie for fabulous mountain biking, hiking, and day tripping (There is a leisure centre with swimming pool, spray park, restaurants and shopping)

Painted Turtles in Kikomun Creek Provincial Park

Special Notes:  There are no lakeside camp sites. You will have to walk to the beach (even if it's only a two minute walk.) If you have boats, drive them to the day use beach to unload them. Then lock them up to a tree when done (but leave them there while camping for quick access.)

Also, try to avoid booking a site next to a "double site" because they get very noisy. Technically, they are designed for two families to share (think, one large site) but I've seen up to five families sharing one double site. (I may have tried this myself once...)

Biking around the Surveyors Lake Campground

For more on camping at Surveyors Lake, check out these stories I've written:

Camping in British Columbia: Kikomun Creek Provincial Park

 Another Great Camping Trip to Surveyors Lake, BC

Stand up paddling on Surveyors Lake

Other Great Waterside Campgrounds Across North America

Find Your Inner Glamper at Santa Barbara's El Capitan Canyon - Jennifer Fontaine

"Nestled between the picturesque Santa Barbara mountains and the vast Pacific Ocean, El Capitan Canyon offers families 300 acres of camping, cabineering and luxurious yurts perfect for adventure and relaxation."

Family Approved: Best Waterside Camping Campground location: Highland Lakes, Stanislaus National Forest, Northern California - Chasqui Mom

"Escape to the California Sierras, to Highland Lakes for a more rustic car-camping experience with the beauty of lakes and lovely mountain peaks."

Vancouver Island’s Best Seaside Campgrounds - Play Outside Guide

"Beautiful beaches, old growth forests, and charming towns await you on Vancouver Island. Camp seaside for the best Island experience!"

Camping and Swimming at Sand Hollow State Park - Kid Project

"Camping with close access to National and State parks, slot canyons, plus crystal blue water and cliff jumping out your tent door! Check out Sand Harbor State Park in Utah!"

Best Waterside Campgrounds in North America - Mountain Mom and Tots 


  1. Kinbrook Island near Brooks has a pretty nice beach as well

    1. It's on our list. Must get there one of these years. Sadly, it's so close to Dinosaur and we always end up going there.