Where to Camp, Hike and OHV near Calgary this Weekend

by - Thursday, August 03, 2017

The August long weekend is upon us! While August long usually has the best weather, it can also be a time of fire bans, bear warnings and OHV bans. Where then, can we play outside near Calgary this weekend?



Where Can I Camp Without a Reservation?

We are lucky to have several great first come-first served (FCFS) campgrounds near Calgary. If you can head out Thursday night, that is ideal, but Friday mornings are sometimes ok.

NORTH OF CALGARY

Your best chance of getting a first come - first served site is in David Thompson Country, 3 hours north of Calgary. Stay in a rustic campground (no showers, but most campgrounds provide free firewood), visit Historic Nordegg (be sure to try their famous pie in the cafe and sign up for a Mine Tour) and enjoy some fantastic hiking and fishing!  
  • For more information see my story Camping and Hiking in David Thompson Country: 15 mostly FCFS campgrounds to choose from. Thompson Creek is closest to the Icefields Parkway. Two O Clock Creek has nice views (but can be very windy). Goldeye Lake and Fish Lake are good for paddling and fishing.
Abraham Lake, David Thompson Country
For a unique camping experience, book a tipi or trapper's tent at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site. They also have unserviced sites (only $15/nt!) and equipped camping. Be sure to allow at least half a day to explore the historic site and visitor centre before hitting the beach at Crimson Lake Provincial Park.

Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site
Waiparous, north of Cochrane on Forestry Trunk Road, is popular with hunters and OHVers and has several FCFS campgrounds including Waiparous Creek, Fallen Timber South, Fallen Timber North, and Burnt Timber Campground. Please note there is a fire ban in the Waiparous/Ghost area.
  • My friend Amanda from Life in Alberta shares her experience camping and dirt biking at Waiparous Creek Campground here
  • Mockingbird Lookout is a popular hike in the area. See Hiking With Barry's trip report here.
Waiparous Creek Campground
Image Credit: Life in Alberta

WEST OF CALGARY

Please note that all of the following campgrounds have fire bans.

Sibbald Lake: Sibbald Lake is a large, basic (no hookups or showers) campground in the foothills. Most sites are spacious and shaded and not too far from the lake and hiking trails. D Loop does not allow generators, so it's really quiet. 134 FCFS sites.
  • Hike the Sibbald Flats Trail (1.6 km loop) to the site of a 1984 Sun Dance, or continue further to Deer Ridge (6.6 km loop, 300 m elevation gain). 
  • Sibbald Lake was not stocked this year, so anglers will have better luck at nearby Sibbald Meadows Pond. 134 FCFS sites.
Sibbald Lake Campsite
Gooseberry is located 10 minutes from Bragg Creek near the Elbow River. 
  • Visit Elbow Falls and Forgetmenot Pond, then hike to the top of Sunrise Hill for beautiful views of the Elbow Valley. 85 FCFS sites.
Bow Valley Provincial Park: Willow Rock Campground has some large RV sites near the road, and smaller, more private sites in the trees. This campground also has flush toilets and showers and offers close proximity to several trails in the park. 124 FCFS sites. If Willow Rock is full, continue further west to Bow River Campground with 59 FCFS sites.
Middle Lake, Bow Valley Provincial Park

SOUTH OF CALGARY

Please note that all of the following campgrounds have fire bans except Wyndham-Carseland.


Wyndham-Carseland, just south of Calgary, has 102 FCFS sites near the Bow River. Enjoy the nature walk along the river as well as fishing and paddling.

Lake McGregor is a popular beach and boating destination 2 hours from Calgary. Campsites are quite open, so bring a sun shelter or bug screen house. 100 FCFS sites.

Sandy McNabb (112 FCFS sites) and Bluerock (66 FCFS sites) are two other popular campgrounds close to south Calgary, but both have bear warnings at the moment.

BANFF NATIONAL PARK

Fire Ban in effect.

Banff has 4 FCFS campgrounds with unserviced sites: Castle Mountain - 43 sites, Mosquito Creek - 32 sites, Rampart Creek - 50 sites, and Waterfowl Lakes - 116 sites. Castle Mountain is on the Bow Valley Parkway and the rest are on the Icefields Parkway. Access beautiful hiking from these smaller campgrounds.

Peyto Lake Upper Lookout

JASPER NATIONAL PARK

Fire Ban in effect.

Jasper National Park has 7 FCFS campgrounds: Snaring - 66 sites, Kerkeslin - 42 sites, Honeymoon Lake - 35 sites, Jonas Creek - 25 sites, Icefield (tents only) - 33 sites, Wilcox - 46 sites, and Icefields Centre (RV & trailers only) - 100 sites. More info here.

Check out my story on Touring the Icefields Parkway with kids for things to do!

Hike to the Toe of the Glacier!

What About Random Camping?

Random camping is permitted > 1 kilometre from roads, provincial parks, and provincial recreation areas in Wildland Provincial Parks or Provincial Land Use Zones (PLUZ) only.  For example, you may random camp in Castle Wildland Provincial Park but not in Castle Provincial Park. Please note that "Random Backcountry camping is not permitted in some areas of Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park or Elbow-Sheep Wildland Provincial Park."

Picklejar Lakes (5 km one way hike) and Abraham Lake are a couple popular spots for random camping.

The 2nd Picklejar Lake
If you plan to random camp, be sure to pitch your tent more than 50 metres from a trails and practice leave no trace.

For more information, please see Alberta Parks - Random Backcountry Camping.

Where Can I Have a Camp Fire? 

Unfortunately, there are fire bans in all of the mountain parks (national and provincial), and most provincial parks south of Red Deer. One exception is Dinosaur Provincial Park (no fire ban as of August 3, 2017)! Check out my story Exploring Dinosaur Provincial Park for fun things to do there.

Dinosaur Provincial Park
North of Red Deer, there are currently no fire bans but fire danger remains high, so please keep campfire size small and dispose of cigarettes properly. Consider one of 15 campgrounds in the David Thompson Corridor! Many provide free firewood!

Check for fire bans before you go and heed them: 
If you would like to check the air quality index, you can at Environment Canada.

Where Can I Hike?

It's berry season and the bears are active where berries grow. Be extra bear aware and avoid areas with bear warnings and closures. See my Bear Safety Tips for Hikers and Backpackers for more information.

Some trails to consider include Ptarmigan Cirque, Black Prince Cirque, Cat Creek Falls (note there is construction in the day use so you will have to park across the road), Sunrise Hill (west of Bragg Creek), Ha Ling Peak and/or Miner's Peak, and Prairie Mountain.

Near the summit of Miner's Peak near Canmore
Noteworthy advisories near Calgary include Quarry Lake and Grassi Lakes in Canmore (bear closure), the Bill Milne Trail and Kananaskis Village trails (bear closure), Bow Valley Provincial Park (bear warning), Paddy's Flat Campground (bear warning), and Interlakes Campground (bear warning).

Check parks advisories before each hike as conditions change daily!

Where Can I ATV?

Please see Alberta Parks - Activities and scroll down to OHV Use for a list of locations allowing OHVs. North of Calgary - certain provincial recreation areas in Waiparous (north of Cochrane, up Highway 40) and Rocky Mountain House do not have OHV bans at the moment. There are OHV bans south of Calgary.


Check Alberta Parks - OHV bans before heading out.


For More Information

Please see my story Finding a Last Minute Campsite in Alberta.


Have a great weekend! Share your photos with me on Facebook @playoutsideguide or Twitter @playoutsidegal.

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