As a camping family we like to try as many new campgrounds as possible each season. Sometimes, we go for the old favourites or the ones that have group availability- but my favourite thing to do is explore new places to camp. This past Father’s Day weekend we stayed at Long Lake Provincial Park, a first for us. A few years ago, on my way home from North Buck Lake Provincial Recreation Area, I drove through Long Lake Campground to check it out and it seemed lovely, so I was excited to finally try it out!
In true spirit of our Alberta adventures this summer, we have been trying a lot of places that are new to us. Despite living in Alberta my entire life, there’s still a ton of places that are new to me and yet pretty close to home! This time we headed south east from Edmonton to Rochon Sands Provincial Park on the shores of Buffalo Lake Alberta. This is actually one of 3 Alberta Parks Campgrounds along this large lake, the other two being The Narrows and Buffalo Lake Provincial Recreation Area.
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 email@example.com. 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
I am all for crazy explorations across the country, but there is something to be said for close to home and easy. Sometimes I think we forget that there are beautiful treasures just waiting to be found, right outside our own homes. That is one of the reasons I love Wabamun Provincial Park. From my home in Edmonton, I can be there in just under an hour, door to campsite. When you are travelling with a little one whose bedtime will be destroyed by camping schedules you will SO appreciate this! Also, I love the fact that if we forget something really important, going back to get it is not the end of the world.
We spent Canada Day 2016 weekend at Wabamun Provincial Park and had a blast! There is so much to do, we had a weekend full of family fun. Here’s what we did!
Enjoyed our campsite!
Wambamun Provincial Park has over 270 individual campsites plus group areas. The ones with power are near the front in the first loop and then there is another section in the middle (Aspen and Deer Loops). The first loop is the one you want if you need power- the sites are much more treed than the other power loop. There are 5 loops past the power sites that are all unserviced. Though farthest from the beach, this is where I like to stay. I find the sites the most private and quiet towards the back. Do not let the large number of sites fool you, make a reservation because this campground fills up most weekends.
One of the great things about Wabamun Provincial Park is the family friendly beach area. It is accessible to anyone, not just campers, so it can get busy on those hot days. We’ve never had an issue finding a spot though, and we certainly are not early risers! You will need to drive to the beach from your campsite, unless you have older kids and maybe some bikes. Younger children will likely not make the walk and you will hate yourself for bringing all the stuff that you now have to carry. There is a large playground area, change rooms, bathrooms, showers, sandy beach, tons of space for picnics and grassy areas for games as well as a roped off swimming area. You can also launch your boat here as well, just down from the beach. When we were there the first week of July the water was clean and we didn’t have any issues with swimmer’s itch at all. For a lake this close to Edmonton, this is impressive! Please note though, that water conditions can change as the summer continues.
Trekking on the Trails!
There are tons of trails around the park. You can get a map online or at the check in office. Trails are all easily marked and well taken care of. One of the best trails, in my opinion, is the main one that follows all along the campground on the shore side. There are also smaller trails, like the one pictured below on the way to the playground!
One of the perks of staying in the back loops at Wabamun is that you can easily hike to the town site. It took us about 20 minutes with a 3 year old on his balance bike. There is a trunk road/service road trail, that does not allow cars, that you can take off the main campground road and then follow all the way in. Once at the town, we enjoyed watching the boats come in at the marina, checking out the fish being caught off the dock and taking in the small summer village vibe of the Town of Wabamun. One of the best surprises was the spray park and playground! This is right beside the public bathrooms and marina.
We usually do all of our own cooking when we camp, because usually there isn’t anywhere close to eat. But, with the town being so close we decided to stop for lunch on our hike. We ate at Jingls on 52, a really yummy cafe that only serves lunch and has one menu item per day, plus the all day breakfast option. It was delicious, only $5 and just like mama would make. Bonus, they also sell neat antiques and hand made items. After the spray park, we stopped for ice cream at The Social Brew. Amazing, but I caution you, do NOT order the double scoop unless you are a bottomless pit. It is ginormous!
One the best things about camping is leaving life at home behind for a few days. We really enjoy being able to disconnect and just be without a plan while enjoying nature around us. I am so thankful for close to home spaces like Wabamun for this opportunity!
I was selected as an Alberta Parks Ambassador. As such I help promote exploration and use of Alberta Parks around the province. All opinions are my own.
Camping in Alberta this summer? Consider checking out Jarvis Bay Provincial Campsite on Sylvan Lake! I am a lifelong Alberta girl and yet I have only been to Sylvan lake a handful of times. Last summer was my first camping trip there and I left wondering why I haven’t been frequenting this awesome location more! Now that it is on my radar I am confident we will be adding it to the regular rotation of Alberta camping spots.
Jarvis Bay Campground is less than 5 minutes away from the town of Sylvan Lake. This makes getting to all the fun and amenities the town offers super easy and convenient. It’s also nice that the campground is away from the town, as Sylvan Lake can get pretty busy and loud- think of it as your oasis. It took us just under 2 hours from north Edmonton to get there- my max travel time for weekend trips is about 3 hours- so this was perfect. I also like that you can easily meet up with friends from Calgary, as it is a nice half way point.
With 169 sites this campground is large. Don’t be fooled though, they fill up fast! If you are coming with the family a reservation through the Alberta Parks reservation system is a must. The sites closest to the front (by the playground and the registration office) are the ones with power. We stayed in one of these and it was nice to be a short walk from the park and be able to charge all the electronics! (Full disclosure, though I’m outdoorsy and like to get away from it all, we still use our phones and let our son watch shows on his iPad when camping.) The next time we camp here I think I would opt for a non powered site closer to the water. There are a select few spots (124-139) that have a water view with amazing sunsets.
This campground is built on a bit if a hill with cliffs looking over the gorgeous lake. The entire waterfront of the park has trails that give you great vantage points to see the water. Be careful and obey the signs and fences, the cliff is slowly eroding and dangerous if you go off the trail. Also, the cliffs are used as homes for local Garter snakes. We didn’t see any, much to my disappointment! Within the interior of the sites there are trails that go through all the loops so that you can shortcut your way to the playground or the water, depending on where your site is.
One thing that I found unique about this campground was the bathrooms. Most loops have FLUSH toilets and RUNNING water. This can make dealing with the bathroom with little ones so much easier and is really helpful for tenting campers. There is also a large shower house ($).
As I mentioned, the campground is built on a cliff overlooking the lake. This means there is no direct access to the shoreline. At first I was a little disappointed, but then I realized how close Sylvan Lake Provincial Park, the main beach in the town, is. It really was not a huge deal to pack up the truck and head in. Sylvan Lake Provincial Park offers 1.6 kms of sand and grass beach with a paved promenade along the water. There are flush toilets and change houses along the way as well. I was so impressed with the water quality- sandy bottom and clear! (Please be aware that water conditions in Alberta lakes can change at any time) The swimming area is roped off so you don’t have to worry about the many boats and watercraft touring around. Closer to the west side of the beach- near the water slides- there is a larger sandy area that is great for kids who love to build castles. The rest of the beach, towards the east is mainly grass as the water has been rising in recent years. This is a-ok for most moms who hate bringing home all the sand at the end of the day!
We only stayed for 2 nights at Jarvis Bay Campground, but we could have easily stayed for a week! There is so much to do. When in the town of Sylvan Lake, stop for ice cream at one of two Moo’s locations, grab a bite to eat at the many restaurants and check out the playground by the beach. There are golf courses all over the area, with one being less than 1km away from the campground. Also, we came across an amazing u-pick farm, Hidden Valley Garden, a 2 minute drive from Jarvis Bay Campground.
If you’ve been looking for a closer place to camp with easy access to city like amenities and a solid lake for swimming, this is it! To reserve a site head to the Alberta Parks reservation system here. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t find something on the dates you are looking for, keep checking back as many people change their reservations as the dates get closer. You can always try mid week too, if that’s an option, as it is far less busy.
Where are you going camping this summer? I would love to hear about your experiences! Send me an email- firstname.lastname@example.org.
*I was selected as an Alberta Parks Ambassador and as such I help promote and review provincial parks in the area and encourage families to get outdoors.