Thursday, June 08, 2017

Whitney Lakes Provincial Park - One of Alberta's Best Kept Secrets!

Have you ever set out to visit to a new campground, secretly hoping that you wouldn't like it, and that you wouldn't need to return? That was Whitney Lakes Provincial Park for us. And the only reason I had hoped I wouldn't fall in love with this park - the 5+ hour drive to get here from Calgary.

Stunning scenery from the esker above Borden Lake, Whitney Lakes Provincial Park

Despite my best attempts not to fall in love with Whitney Lakes Provincial Park, a park located in the middle of absolutely nowhere in NE Alberta, the inevitable happened and we now have a new campground on our growing "favourite campgrounds" list.

Sunset at Ross Lake, Whitney Lakes Provincial Park

How and Why we Ended up Camping in NE Alberta

We had decided not to go camping for the May long weekend this year and to visit family in NE Alberta instead. It seemed like the safe bet given the high chance for snow and rain over the long weekend. Somewhere early May though we decided we wanted to camp while visiting my husband's family and that we would actually have to make a campground reservation somewhere.

We grabbed a map and started looking at provincial park campgrounds near Cold Lake (the destination we needed to visit for at least a day to spend time with our family.) We didn't want to drive quite as far as Cold Lake while towing the trailer so we chose Whitney Lakes Provincial Park (an hour away from Cold Lake and the perfect driving distance for a day trip.)

Fortunately, we found a campsite in the Ross Lake Campground, Alberta Parks booked our site for us (a perk of being an Alberta Parks Ambassador,) and we were on our way to explore the great unknown in NE Alberta!

My son fell in love with the beach and playground at Ross Lake

A Provincial Park that Offers EVERYTHING

Name a sport that you would like to do while camping and I'm pretty sure you can do it at Whitney Lakes.

Paddling and Water Sports (motor or self-propelled)

Mountain biking


Swimming and Beach time

Birding and Wildlife Viewing

Backcountry Camping


And, in Winter - Cross Country Skiing

Did I miss any outdoor sports or recreational activities??

We enjoyed biking the trails between Ross and Whitney Lake

 Our Efforts to Visit Every Lake in the Park

Whitney Lakes Provincial Park has four lakes within the provincial park boundaries. Ross Lake and Whitney Lake are easy to visit because they both have campgrounds on them with beaches, playgrounds, and great trails linking the two.

We played at the beach at both lakes, we biked between the two lakes on the 2.5 km connector trail (add another 3km for biking along the individual trails at Whitney and Ross between the two beaches,) and we enjoyed beautiful camping at Ross Lake.

Ross Lake is the premier campground in the park with power lakeside sites (one that's on my list for next year because it's right beside the beach and playground!) - Hello perfection!!

Enjoying the beach playground at Whitney Lake

The next lake we visited was Laurier Lake, a short drive away. We made a very quick stop at the boat launch to say that we "saw" it, but next time we visit the park, we'll drive to the parking lot at the far north corner of the park and we'll hike to Laurier Lake for the best views of the backcountry side of this pretty lake. The easy-access part of the lake is your average "cottage lined" lake and I felt like we missed the more rugged natural part.

Our favourite lake of all was Borden Lake, only accessible by hiking the backcountry trails from one of the parking lots at the far north end of the park.

Hiking above Borden Lake in the north corner of Whitney Lakes Provincial Park

We hiked 4.6 km (round trip) on the Glacial Esker Trail until we were on a beautiful ridge overlooking Borden Lake.

And because you're probably asking yourself what an "Esker" is (I know I did), below is a quick definition:
"Eskers are long narrow ridges of sand and gravel left behind by melting glacier ice." (Source: AB Parks brochure from the park)
Hiking the glacial esker to the viewpoint over Borden Lake

The hike along the esker was absolutely spectacular! We saw a beaver, a moose, and numerous birds. We felt like we were way off in the backcountry somewhere, and the scenery was every bit as beautiful as that of our local parks in Kananaskis (even without mountains!)

The end of the esker in the middle of Borden Lake

Why We'll Return to Whitney Lakes Provincial Park 

The 5+ hour drive aside, we would definitely return to this gorgeous park! And I recommend you take the trip out sometime this summer too.

We look forward to visiting so that we can paddle on Borden Lake (there's road access to the lake as you drive up to the north part of the park.)

This lake begs to be paddled!

We look forward to spending more time hiking the other backcountry trails we missed this time.

We enjoyed biking around the trails and especially liked the Ross Lake Trail that bordered the lake.

We loved camping here and enjoyed the beautiful sunsets every night!

Nightly sunset over Ross Lake

Finally, the beaches were awesome with tons of beautiful sand and playgrounds, right on the beach! And next time, we'll come a little later in the season so we can swim. (The water was a wee bit chilly in May!)

Can't beat a beach-front playground!

If you feel up for leaving a comment, I'd love to hear which campgrounds have surprised you and made it onto your "return list." I'm always looking for that next hidden gem.

Please visit the Alberta Parks website for more information on Whitney Lakes Provincial Park.

We spent a lot of time at the playground in our campground
Disclaimer: I am an Alberta Parks Ambassador and receive free camping. All words and opinions are my own.

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