Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Three New Alberta Parks Campgrounds to Visit

It feels like we haven't visited a lot of new campgrounds over the past few years because we have so many favourites - and tend to visit them annually. This year however, we made the decision to try at least two or three new campgrounds. We chose to visit one new campground in Southern Alberta, one in Kananaskis, and one that would be closer to Northern Alberta. We recommend all three campgrounds featured below and hope you will add them to your family's camping list.

Beauvais Lake, Southern Alberta (paradise for fishing, biking, and hiking)

Little Elbow Campground, Kananaskis

This campground is located in the Little Elbow Provincial Recreation Area and is one of the only campgrounds you can make a reservation at in the Elbow Valley.

Views from the Big Elbow Trail in the Little Elbow Provincial Recreation Area

Highlights of camping here:

We can be at camp Friday night in time to roast hot dogs over the fire for dinner. The Elbow Valley is a short drive past Bragg Creek and this is ideal for families who work late Friday or just want someplace close for their weekend getaway.

There are many mountain biking and hiking trails around the Elbow Valley. This is a great place to camp for active families. Popular nearby hiking trails are Nihahi Ridge, Powderface Ridge, and the Beaver Flats Interpretive Trail.

The Elbow River is a lot of fun to play in with secret beaches hidden near most campgrounds and enough rocks to entertain the children for hours.

There are several easy mountains and ridges that you can climb in the Elbow Valley. We personally like Nihahi Ridge, Forget me not Ridge, and Prairie Mountain for big hikes.

Hiking on Nihahi Ridge

Why we would return:

We love adventure base camping where we can walk or bike out of our campsite and get onto great trails without having to drive. From the Little Elbow Campground you can hike the Nihahi Ridge Trail or bike the Little Elbow or Big Elbow Trails.

Mountain biking on the Big Elbow Trail

What we did on our recent trip to the Little Elbow Campground:

We hiked Nihahi Ridge all the way to the South Summit (a challenging scramble best suited for older children,) and we biked a short section of the Big Elbow Trail.

Intermediate scrambling on the Nihahi Ridge Trail

Campground details:

For more information on this campground, please visit the Alberta Parks website here.

For information on mountain bike trails in Kananaskis, visit Trail Forks Website and look for trails in the Elbow Valley, on Moose Mountain or in West Bragg Creek.

Beach below the suspension bridge in the Little Elbow Campground


Beauvais Lake Campground, Southern Alberta


Beauvais Lake Provincial Park is located approximately 2.5 hours south of Calgary near the town of Pincher Creek. The Beauvais Lake Campground has both serviced and unserviced sites along with a special walk-in tenting area. There is also a group campground here (where we stayed.) Reservations can be made in advance.

Biking around Beauvais Lake on the South Shore Trail

Highlights of camping here:

This is a paradise of a campground for families who enjoy fishing, paddling, hiking, and mountain biking. There is also a small beach with playground.

The park has over 12 hiking trails around the lake and some of them are suitable for biking on as well. Our favourite for biking was the loop with the Chipman Creek Trail and the South Shore Trail combined with some paved riding between the Beaver Creek Day use area and the North Shore Day use area.

The lake was very quiet and made for beautiful canoeing or kayaking (stand up paddleboarding in my case) without loud motor boats since there was a 12km per hour speed limit for all power boats.

Paddling on Beauvais Lake

Why we would return:

We enjoyed the quiet paddling experience we had on Beauvais Lake and loved the bike loop around Beauvais Lake.

We also enjoyed being situated so close to many other parks we could visit within an easy day trip. From Beauvais Lake you can easily visit Waterton Lakes National Park for a day trip, Crowsnest Pass for a visit to the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre, or Beaver Mines Lake for hiking and beach time.

Visiting the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre in the Crowsnest Pass

 What we did on our recent trip to Beauvais Lake:

We biked around Beauvais Lake, we paddled on the lake, and we spent time with friends in the Homestead Group Campground.

We also took a day trip to Beaver Mines Lake to climb Table Mountain. You can read more of that adventure here: First Summits - Table Mountain, Beaver Mines Lake.

On our drive home, we stopped at the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre so that we could learn more about Canada's deadliest rock slide from Turtle Mountain. The movie we watched brought the fateful night to life for us and I know for myself, I won't be able to drive through the Crowsnest Pass again without thinking about the families who got caught in the slide that night.

Hiking on the Table Mountain Trail, Beaver Mines Lake

Campground details:

For more information on Beauvais Lake, please visit the Alberta Parks website here.

Playground and beach at Beauvais Lake

Gregg Lake Campground, Northern Rockies

We recently spent a few nights camping at Gregg Lake in William A. Switzer Provincial Park located near Hinton in the Northern Rockies. Hinton is only a one hour drive away from the town of Jasper in Jasper National Park so we combined our trip with a few days camping in the national park too.

Kelley's Bathtub, Jarvis Lake

 Highlights of camping here:

There are many different camping options for all different users and preferences of camping style. We chose a power site at  the Gregg Lake Campground but friends wanted to be closer to the lake and chose an unserviced site in a different loop at Gregg Lake. The Jarvis Lake Campground offers a more natural camping experience with 25 unserviced sites. Cache Lake and Graveyard Lake also have small campgrounds with unserviced first come first serve sites. 

The park has two group use areas as well at Beaver Ranch and Pine Bay.

All campgrounds can be seen here on the Alberta Parks website

Along with camping, there are several opportunities for recreation within the park. The most popular ones are fishing, paddling and power boating, hiking, and mountain biking.

Beach playground at Gregg Lake

Why we would return:

We traveled five and a half hours north from Calgary to reach this campground for one main reason; We wanted to paddle the Jarvis Creek Canoe Circuit.  

Jarvis Creek flows out of Jarvis Lake and then passes by Blue Lake, through Cache Lake, by Graveyard Lake and then into Gregg Lake at the end of the circuit. Not really a "circuit" since it's not a loop or anything, it's still a route that passes by or through 5 lakes. 

Most years, paddlers will complete the "interpretive" part of the tour from the end of Jarvis Lake to Graveyard Lake where they take out. This short distance takes 1.5 to 2 hours return if you paddle back upstream to reach your vehicle. 

Paddling on Jarvis Creek

We were incredibly fortunate though in that water levels were exceptionally high! We were able to paddle the entire circuit from the Kelley's Bathtub Visitor Centre on Jarvis Lake all the way to Gregg Lake at the very far end. The full trip took us 3.5 hours one way with a break at Cache Lake. During the entire trip we only had to carry our kayak over the boardwalk at the far end of the Bathtub, over the highway after Jarvis Lake, and over the old bridge near the Trout Pond. Other than that, we ran right over every beaver dam and flew off waterfalls on the other side of each one. It was super fun.

If you are going to do the section past Graveyard Lake check in with the Visitor Centre to find out how deep the water is, how much portaging you will have to do, and how "wild" the creek currently is. We had one crazy ride and I wouldn't recommend the full circuit right now for novice paddlers. There were countless sweepers, we got stuck on top of a stump, and we faced some of the tightest turns I've ever had to navigate around (while ducking under tree branches and paddling through rapids as we'd round a corner and shoot under a bridge or over a beaver dam.) 

Anyway, the canoe circuit made the trip for us and we'd return for it any day!

Easy paddling on the interpretive part of the Jarvis Creek Canoe Circuit

What we did on our recent trip to William A. Switzer Park:

We biked the Gregg Lake Trail (super fun 3.5 km mountain bike loop) - make sure you ride it clockwise heading down on the longer trail and back up on the shorter trail.

Mountain Biking on the Gregg Lake Trail

We kayaked the canoe circuit and I took my stand up paddleboard out on Gregg Lake. I tried to paddle up Jarvis Creek a ways from here but didn't get very far because I haven't figured out how to SUP up over a beaver dam yet.

Paddling through the reeds at the far end of Gregg Lake to reach Jarvis Creek

We took a day trip to Hinton to hike the Beaver Boardwalk, Canada's longest freshwater boardwalk, and we visited the Hinton Mountain Bike Park. It was awesome!!!

Rainy day hiking on the Beaver Boardwalk in Hinton

Campground details:

For more information on William A. Switzer Provincial Park, please visit the Alberta Parks website here.

Note that there are paddleboard, canoe and kayak rentals available in the park at both Jarvis Lake and Gregg Lake as well. 

Please follow this link to see a full list of hiking and biking trails in the park.

Scenic kayaking on Gregg Lake

I hope you'll research these great Alberta Parks Campgrounds and make plans to visit one over the next year or two. They are all great for active families and offer a wide range of recreational activities for you and your children to enjoy.

Playing at the Hinton Mountain Bike Park near William A. Switzer Provincial Park

Disclaimer: I am an Alberta Parks Ambassador and as such received free camping at these three campgrounds. All words and opinions are my own and I wasn't paid or required to write a favorable review for any of these parks.

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