Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Vermilion Provincial Park - Campground Review (Northeastern Alberta)

Occasionally we venture away from our beloved Rockies and we head off to explore other parts of our amazing province. This was the case with the May long weekend where we ended up at Vermilion Provincial Park in Northern Alberta, 2 hours east of Edmonton.

Vermilion Provincial Park, Northeastern Alberta

Why Vermilion Provincial Park from Calgary

Camping in Vermilion Provincial Park
Northeastern Alberta would definitely seem like a strange location for a family from Calgary to head for a camping trip. After all, Vermilion Provincial Park is a 4.5 hour drive from Calgary (longer if towing a trailer.)

Consider though that it was a long weekend, that many of us would easily consider going north to Jasper (driving an equally long distance) and that many people have family in the Edmonton area, and it's not all that strange.

For us, we wanted to visit family in Cold Lake, Alberta and wanted to camp nearby. We didn't want to tow the trailer all the way to Cold Lake though, so decided to camp in Vermilion, 2 hours away. It seemed like a happy compromise, one that would allow us to travel further north on Saturday to visit the family as a day trip, and that would still allow us to explore around the provincial park on Sunday.

As a bonus to driving north to go camping, we got to spend two days playing in North-Central Alberta en route to and from camp. This included visiting two new mountain bike parks, one of our favourite playgrounds in the province with a great splash park, and an outdoor swimming pool with waterslides. (More on our road trip stops later in the story.)

A new park to explore in Northeastern Alberta

Would we Return to Vermilion Provincial Park

"Definitely" would be the short answer. This was one of those campgrounds we kind of hoped we wouldn't like because we knew what would be involved in a repeat trip (much driving again.)

Vermilion Provincial Park is a true hidden gem and if it were closer to Calgary, we'd  be camping here every year. We'd also be skiing here every winter! (My son is already begging for a return trip to try out the cross-country ski trails.)

Exploring the cross country ski trails of Vermilion PP on our bikes 

Camping in Vermilion Provincial Park 

Below is the campground description from the Alberta Parks website:

"This large campground has a range of sites, including unserviced, power, power/water, and sewer hookups, as well as pull-through sites. Some sites are separated by stands of trees, while others are open with trees for shade. All are suitable for RVs. Camp alongside the Vermilion River Reservoir to enjoy activities year-round. Walk, bike, or ski the trails, watch for birds and wildlife, or paddle in the reservoir."
Our tree lined campsite at the Vermilion PP Campground (backing onto the pathway)

We loved that the campground had 70 sites with power (20 that have full hookups with power/water/sewer) so we never heard a single generator the entire time we were at the campground.

We also loved how quiet the campground was. One never knows what to expect on the May long weekend, but it might as well have been mid-April for how quiet the campground was at night. And this wasn't because it was cold at night either. The temperatures were fantastic while we were at Vermilion and people were out enjoying campfires in the evenings ,but there was no partying! (None that we heard anyway.)

Large playground at the Vermilion PP Campground

Other things that we loved:

  • A fabulous playground, mini golf course, and splash park all located side by side in the campground. And while the splash park wasn't open while we were there, we definitely enjoyed the playground and mini golf course.

  •  Kids running around, biking in small groups, and moving around the campground on their own. The campground was small enough that kids could easily go to the playground on their own with siblings or friends. And since this wasn't a mountain campground, we really weren't worried about dangerous wildlife.

  • The campground is located on the Vermilion Reservoir where we saw beavers and several kinds of birds daily, enjoyed kayaking and stand up paddleboarding (bring your own boats,) and appreciated the views while biking and walking the ski trails through the park.

  • The campground takes advanced reservations and it's generally easy to get a site here. (I talked to one family who'd just booked their site, for the May long weekend, a few days earlier.)

A campground with a mini golf course right beside the playground

Biking around Vermilion Provincial Park

We explored nearly every trail in this park while we camped here. We hopped on our bikes and enjoyed hours of riding around the ski trails, along the lakeshore, and up to the backcountry group campground. And the ski trails are maintained for summer riding and hiking. They even mow the grass on them! 

The trails were all doubletrack (wide enough for double ski tracks in the winter) and relatively easy to bike (with some steep hills that could be walked by younger kids.) The only exception was the Cathedral Loop which I biked by myself one evening, and wow did I get a workout on the hills! (Though technically, it was still a wide ski trail and without any real challenges if you were fit enough to do the climbing.)

Biking the ski trails in Vermilion Provincial Park

There was also a nice paved trail that went from one end of the campground to the other, passing by and looping a small trout pond. This would be a great trail for families wanting a nice short bike ride.

Biking around the trout pond in Vermilion Provincial Park

Paddling on the Vermilion Reservoir

There are no official boat docks on the lake so plan to bring something small (a canoe, kayaks, or a stand up paddleboard) that you can easily launch from the shore.

We loved the absence of motor boats on this lake and found it very pleasant to paddle on.

The only word of caution I would provide is that the lake can get quite windy and you could easily find yourself casually paddling down the lake with the wind, and then discover a huge head wind for your return (one that would not be pleasant on a paddleboard.)

The reservoir quickly enters backcountry territory within 10 minutes of paddling towards the far end as well and there are no official roads between the campground and the end of the lake.

We got around the wind (and my son's short attention span for paddling) by arranging a shuttle and paddling one way down the lake. My husband was able to find a road down to the water on the far side of the lake by searching Google Maps. However, because I don't know if you can always drive this road or if we just got lucky, I'd suggest you do your own research if you want to try to set up a shuttle. Otherwise, go out for a short paddle and just don't try to reach the far end of the lake. 

Afternoon paddle on the Vermilion Reservoir

Visiting Downtown Vermilion

While you're camping in the park I encourage you to visit the downtown area of the nearby Town of Vermilion. The town has done a lot of work in recent years to revitalize the downtown core and to make it a memorable destination to visit.
We have been working diligently on restoring our many downtown historical buildings and filling them with locally owned businesses.  Our downtown is unique in the fact that it is still the central business district in our community, as we do not have any "power centres".  So in four square blocks we have new development in conjunction with our historical buildings making for a vibrant downtown that is one of the last walkable healthy downtown shopping districts left in the province. - Toland Cochrane, Burnt Rock Adventure Co.

You can even walk or bike from the provincial park into downtown Vermilion. Walk into town, browse through the local stores, have lunch at a restaurant downtown, grab a cup of coffee from one of the cafes, and head back to camp.

Road Trip Stops En Route to and from Vermilion 

Below are some of the suggested stops I have for you (based on experience from our previous road trips north from Calgary.)

Every trip north includes a stop here at the outdoor aquatic centre in Blackfalds

Broadmoor Lake Playground, Sherwood Park 

Please visit the Alberta Parks website for more information on Vermilion Provincial Park

Biking along the lakeshore in Vermilion Provincial Park

And please note that I am an Alberta Parks Ambassador. As such, I received complimentary camping in this park. As always, all words and opinions are my own. 


  1. Vermilion Provincial Park seems so charming and picturesque. It is definitely a perfect camping place which I have to explore soon. Is it possible to stay there in tents?

    1. yes, you can stay there in a tent or a trailer.