Thursday, May 10, 2018

5 Reasons to Love Camping at the Bow Valley Campground, Kananaskis

We just returned from another great camping weekend in Bow Valley Provincial Park, and once again were reminded how much we love the Bow Valley Campground. Thank goodness we're returning in less than a month!

My Little Adventure Man loves camping in Bow Valley Provincial Park 

While there are many reasons to love Bow Valley Provincial Park in general, we especially love camping at the large Bow Valley Campground and have found it to have absolutely everything we could need for a comfortable weekend away from home.

Our riverside campsite at the Bow Valley Campground 

Introduction to the Bow Valley Campground 

When you pull off the TransCanada Highway at the Exshaw turnoff (Highway 1X,) you'll quickly come to an intersection where you'll turn left to get to the Bow Valley Campground. Turn right and you'll enter the Willow Rock Campground. (See the map here.)

We've camped at Willow Rock before, but we prefer the main Bow Valley Campground because you can make reservations in advance (Willow Rock is first come first serve,) and because the power sites for trailers are much nicer at Bow Valley. The only sites with power at Willow Rock are up beside the highway in the middle of a very windy field. - If you're a tenter though who hates making reservations, you will definitely want to check out Willow Rock.

Camping at Willow Rock Campground, Bow Valley Provincial Park

Once you've turned left off Hwy 1X, you'll pass by the Bow Valley Information Centre and the Middle Lake Day Use Area before turning right towards the main campground. Go straight instead and you'd head towards other day use areas and the Elk Flats Group Campground. (again, here is a map.)

Bow Valley Provincial Park covers a very large area and actually extends down Highway 40 towards Barrier Lake and Kananaskis Village as well. Within the Bow Valley Campground section of the park though you'll find multiple day use areas, hiking trails, a scenic walking path beside the Bow River, a paved bike path, and a beautiful little lake.

Biking past Middle Lake in Bow Valley Provincial Park

And now that you know "where" the Bow Valley Campground is, let me tell you "why" you'll want to find it and go camping here.

5 Reasons to Love Camping at the Bow Valley Campground

1. You can bike or hike all over the large campground and park

Within the Bow Valley Campground section of the provincial park you will find two day use areas (one with barbecue stoves,) 6 easy hiking trails, and 1 paved bike path. Cross the road into Willow Rock and you'll find another hiking trail (easily accessible from the campground by bike.)

There are hiking trails and walking paths close to every loop and campsite. Bring bikes and you could spend all day riding to the various trailheads without ever having to drive anywhere.

You can see a map of the hiking trails here or you can read about the trails here.

Hiking along the boardwalk on the Many Springs Trail 

Want to do a big loop around the campground? Try this combination of trails below:

  • Bike or walk to the Middle Lake Day Use Area and then complete the 2 km loop around the lake. (It's a very easy, flat walk) Make sure you lock your bikes up here if you rode over. The park does not allow bikes on their hiking trails.

  • From Middle Lake, leave bikes behind and  then continue on foot along the Elk Flats Trail (through the Elk Flats Group Campground) to the Many Springs Parking Lot. This is a 2 km trail with a few short rolling hills.

  • Walk around the Many Springs Loop, 1.3 km in distance, a highlight of the park's hiking trails. And if you time your visit right, you should be able to see a wide variety of wildflowers including several different kinds of orchids. (The flowers should be in bloom by late May to early June.) Look out for Western Wood Lilies as well through late June.

  • Back at the Many Springs Parking Lot, follow the trail down towards the river  and the Whitefish Day Use Area (the one with barbecue stoves.) Here you'll get on the Bow River Trail (2 km in distance.) This is a beautiful trail and we always try to get one of the riverside campsites you'll see on this section of your walk.

  • The Bow River Trail ends at the far end of the campground where you'll hop onto the Moraine Trail, 1 km in distance. This trail climbs back up to Middle Lake and we found a geocache on our last visit.

  • Back at Middle Lake, grab your bikes and head back to your campsite.In total, you will have done approximately 8.5 to 9 km of hiking (and the kids should be tired out.)

  • And if you don't want to start at Middle Lake, just hop onto the loop from the Bow River Trail in the campground and continue from there. You can start and end the loop anytime you want.

Resting at the Whitefish Day Use Area

And, here below is a map of the hiking trails mentioned for those who need a visual. I copied the map out of the book:  Popular Day Hikes in Kananaskis by Gillean Daffern - a fabulous book that I highly recommend if you plan on spending a lot of time in Kananaskis this summer.

And you can see the location of the campground (look for the black tent) in the image below as well.

Map of the trails around the Bow Valley Campground (photo: Gillean Daffern)

The trails above can be done individually as well or as point to point hikes (Middle Lake to Many Springs for example.) We especially like the Bow River Trail as an evening walk from our campsite (which was pretty much on top of the trail on our recent camping trip.)

One of our previous campsites beside the Bow River Trail 

And for families with little ones, most of the trails in the park are chariot-friendly. The Many Springs Loop is especially good (and wide) for chariots. Some of the trails have a lot of roots (the Bow River Trail for example) so the entire loop could be a bit rough at times, but would still be doable. And if you want a very smooth trail, there's always the paved bike/walking trail (see below.)

Early spring hiking on the Many Springs Trail (not normally this flooded)

And, looking for a good bike trail?

Make sure you head out for a ride on the paved bike path that starts from the camp store and heads down to the visitor centre. You'll climb to a beautiful viewpoint and then blast downhill to the visitor centre (where my husband sometimes meets us so that we don't have to bike back up to camp.)

The trail is just over 4 km one way, and kids will want gears on their bikes for the hill climbing (or will have to walk a few sections.)

The paved Bow Valley Bike Trail 

2. Many of the sites are very scenic with river views 

The photo below shows the site we've had for the last couple of camping trips to Bow Valley. Views aren't bad, are they!

Riverside camping at the Bow Valley Campground

We love the riverside sites with power, gorgeous views, and trees surrounding us. This is real camping here! No concrete RV park, no city noise, and plenty of space between neighbors.

The only noise you'll hear is from the trains that pass through the Bow Valley, so bring earplugs if you are sleeping in a tent. They don't bother us in our trailer.

Plenty of room for the trailer, a table and firepit, and the hammock

3. We love that we can reserve a campsite in the Bow Valley

Why is it such a big deal that we can reserve a site at the Bow Valley Campground?

Of the 5 front country campgrounds in Bow Valley Provincial Park, only two take reservations. And the other one that does, Lac Des Arcs, only guarantees you a site in the campground (not a specific site.) This would be frustrating for families wanting to book sites beside friends. And I like being able to choose which site I'll be in. (Not all sites are equal after all.)

Therefore, if you like to reserve your site, knowing you'll have a place to camp when you drive out Friday night, the Bow Valley Campground it is!

We like the peace of mind of knowing we have a campsite before we drive out

We also love that we can book a site with power at the Bow Valley Campground for our trailer. (And more importantly, there is less generator noise this way too!)

Of the campgrounds in the Bow Valley, there are 3 that have sites with power. The Bow River Campground doesn't take reservations though and Willow Rock, as already mentioned earlier, doesn't take reservations either - and only has power sites up by the highway.

So if you want a nice power site in a reservable campground, the Bow Valley Campground it is!

It's nice to have a campsite with power for early spring trips 

4. The Campground is a short drive from other areas and trails in Kananaskis

Below are just a few things you can do from your base camp at the Bow Valley Campground (if you're willing to go for a short little drive.)

  • Walk or drive across the road into the Willow Rock Campground and hike the Flowing Water Trail

  • Go for a hike on the Heart Creek Trail in the Bow Valley

  • Go rock climbing at nearby Heart Creek or at Wasootch Creek off Highway 40

  • Go for a hike at Barrier Lake off Highway 40 (the Prairie View Trail is beautiful in spring)

  • Hike up the lower slopes of Mount Yamnuska to a viewpoint called Raven's End

Prairie View Hiking Trail, Bow Valley Provincial Park 

Visit the Alberta Parks website for information on all of these trails.

Information on the Raven's End hike can be found here.

Yamnuska Hiking Trail to Raven's End

And, if you'd like a good guide book for the area, consider one of the following books:

- Kananaskis Country Trail Guide (Volume 3) by Gillean Daffern

- Popular Day Hikes in Kananaskis by Gillean Daffern

Amazon Affiliate Links

Spring hike on the Flowing Water Trail in Bow Valley Provincial Park

5. We love the close proximity to Canmore and Banff

If you want to explore the trails around Canmore, you'll most likely want to camp in Bow Valley Provincial Park. Otherwise, you'll be camping inside the town of Canmore itself (which I wouldn't exactly consider "nature camping."

Camp in the Bow Valley and spend your days exploring the trails around Canmore

We also love exploring around the Town of Banff from Bow Valley Provincial Park. Camp inside the national park itself and you'll have to make a reservation back in January (a little early for me,) and you'll also be camping on concrete if you want a power site near town.

Camp in the Bow Valley and drive to Banff for the day

Drive to Canmore or Banff and you can spend some time biking, hiking, playing at bike or skate parks, visiting the Banff hot springs or riding up the Banff gondola.

Personally, I like driving into one of the two mountain towns even just to have lunch or to grab a good cup of coffee.

Hiking in Canmore! Ha Ling Peak Summit

Bonus Reason 6. We love how close we are to Calgary 

Bow Valley Provincial Park is easy to get to Friday evening after work. We can even have dinner at camp.

Camp close to home and you can always call it quits early too if something goes wrong, somebody gets sick, or the weather turns bad. (Something that gives me peace of mind when we go camping early in spring.)

And, it's easy to get home early on Sunday in time to do some errands, get groceries for the week, or even tackle a bit of yard work.

You could even reserve your site for Sunday night as well and come home early Monday morning.

Camp close to home and spend more time exploring, and less time driving

Visit the Alberta Parks website for more information on camping in Bow Valley Provincial Park.

Campsites can be reserved at the Bow Valley Campground 90 days in advance of your first night camping. And if you don't want to reserve, there are several campgrounds that are first come first serve. (Good news for long weekends!)

Parting shot: Families exploring around the Bow Valley the Campground

Disclaimer: I am an Alberta Parks Ambassador. I received complimentary camping at the Bow Valley Campground. As always, all words and opinions are my own. 

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