In July, I pulled up my big girl pants and took my kid’s camping by myself for the first time, and by the “first time” I mean like ever. Ever. We’ve never really gone camping in a tent, by ourselves in our lives. We didn’t even own sleeping bags.
Now, this isn’t to say we haven’t camped because we have, just with other campers (my family) who have all the things, like trailers, and sleeping bags. Our contribution has been usually booze and food.
We were invited to the Rocky Mountain House National Historical Park to go camping in their Heritage Camping site, and so, of course, we said yes (all hail adventures!!!!)*, and honestly, if you’ve never really camped before this is a really great way to get started.
The Rocky Mountain House National Historical Site is a not only a campsite, but also an amazing living museum. During the day you learn about the fur traders, David Thompson and Métis history, and during the night you stay in a Métis Trappers Tent which reinforces all the amazing things you learnt during the day at the museum. Educational win-win.
We stayed in a Heritage Métis Tent which is a canvas tent in the same style that the Métis used and is kept to be historically authentic by local organization Metis 845.
The tent includes two single beds (ok, this part isn’t historically accurate, but it makes it much more comfortable), a trunk with items I’ll detail below, two chairs and a table, bison hide rug on an elevated platform, again to make the experience more comfortable, and sleeps up to 5 people.
How did we do?
The first night, like most first nights in a strange place, was harried. It started out well intentioned with kids in their designated sleeping spots and then before you know it there are kids sleeping on top of your head, everyone in one bed, then everyone on the floor only to be woken up at 4 am wondering where you are. Despite all the “musical beds” in the night we all managed to sleep in until 8:30am.
In the morning we made breakfast (cereal and croissants we bought at the local Safeway because we don’t know about camping food yet) and I made a tea with our new camping stove we picked up at the Canadian Tire in Rocky Mountain House because we didn’t have that either.
First night and breakfast were a WIN!
There are 2 communal fire pits that service the 6 Métis Trappers Tents and to be honest I was worried about this more than was necessary, but as a newbie camper I had no idea about camping norms, etiquettes and I know little about the whole sub-culture of sleeping outside for fun.
The first night we were the only campers at the site and we made our own fire! Huzzah! It seems like a small thing, but camping on my own with kids, this felt like a victory, we could now, at minimum have s’mores. The campsite sells bundles of wood that you can purchase when you check in, but you’ll need paper and other supplies to get it started.
After that tremendous success, we went exploring to check out our surroundings and also to burn off some marshmallow/chocolate energy.
Though the museum itself is closed after 5, campers are welcome to go for walks along the trail.
If you’re lucky, the bison will be out in the paddock closest to where you’re camping.
You can see them best from the lookout about a five-minute walk from the campsite.
There is a LOT of history and artifacts to see around the campsite itself including Alberta’s Centennial voyageur canoe from 1967 as well as excavation spots from the original North West Fort “Rocky Mountain House” (that’s right, the original Rocky Mountain House).
You’ll also run into some Tipi’s, which, like the Métis Trappers Tents, can be rented to camp in.
The second night was even better than the first night of camping because the second night brought us….seasoned campers! Even better than that, it brought us seasoned campers with kids who could play with my kids! Our new neighbours knew how to build a fire in no time and by the end of the night we were making bannock on the fire like we’d been camping together all summer. Communal fire pit on the second night worked amazingly.
What you need to know
Here’s the absolute newbies guide to camping, at the Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site.
What to bring:
- Sleeping bags & pillows. If you don’t have sleeping bags, beg borrow and steal from family members and friends. We bought some and it got expensive fast.
- Warm clothes to sleep in, it got really cold at night.
- Water! We brought with us an 8L container from Save on Foods, but when you factor in washing your dishes, and making tea and the millions of cups of water kids drink, that only lasted us a day and a half. Be prepared to bring more than 8L.
- Cooking stove: since fire making for us isn’t second nature, we popped into Canadian Tire and got a cooking stove on sale as well as a little pan set (with a kettle for tea!!!). If you’re already a seasoned fire maker and are comfortable cooking on a fire, you might not need this.
- Paper to help get your fire going, and a lighter because the flint and steel they provide do not make a fire very fast.
- Food (and marshmallows and chocolate.. obvs)
- Cooler to keep your food cool.
- Fold up chairs
- Bug spray, sunscreen and all that good stuff you need when going outside
Sleeping in a Métis Trappers Tent costs $58.80 per site per night and each tent or a tipi includes a heritage kit (trunk) which provides the renter with the following:
- bison hide (we used this to put our sleeping mats on)
- period cooking kit and utensils (including a coffee pot you can use on the fire)
- flint/steel fire-starting kit
- bannock mix
- trapper’s tea, spices, oil and soap
The tents have two single beds, two chairs a small table inside and a picnic table outside.
Reservations & Getting there
You can’t currently book online so to reserve a camping spot at the Rocky Mountain House National Historical Site, you’ll need to call 1-403-845-2412 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can book a Métis Trappers Tent, a Tipi or coming soon, some real glamping in the form of Trapline Cabins! If you have a camper or your own tent and want to go camping are spots to hook up your trailer just outside the site for a really reasonable price.
Would I do it again? YES! The kids loved it, we knew they would but it took the big kids to make the leap and get some momentum to get it going. We’re looking at trying one of of the oTentik that Parks Canada has available that might be less “camping” and a touch more “glamping,” and we can ease our way into proper camping.
* I received two nights free at the Rocky Mountain House National Historical Site for but my thoughts and opinions are my own