For many Canadians, the word ‘camping’ evokes memories of their childhood spent at a lake learning to swim, riding bikes around a campground chasing cousins and friends, going on family nature hikes or catching that first fish with Grandpa. Meanwhile, many of us didn’t grow up camping and it can be very intimidating to get started. You may have questions like: “How much gear do we have to purchase if we want to at least try camping one time?” “What if a bear tries to get into our tent?” “What if the baby wakes up at 2am and won’t go back to sleep?” “What if our toddler screams the whole night?” Before you know it, you may have a very long list of questions…
I personally didn’t grow up camping, but have grown to love this popular summertime activity over the past several years, and I can assure you that every trip gets a little bit easier. First though, you have to get started.
Try comfort camping or book an ‘equipped’campsite. Parks Canada has started placing tent style cabins called O’TENTiks in some of their more popular campgrounds. These small cabins offer sleeping for up to six people, comfortable mattresses and a heater to ensure your first camping experience is a pleasant one. Two Jack Lakeside in Banff is the closest location where you can try comfort camping, and it’s one of the best campgrounds in Banff with lakefront camping, showers and nearby amenities in the Town of Banff. While you’ll still need to bring sleeping bags and food, you won’t need much else, so this is a great way to ease into camping without investing in a lot of equipment.
Parks Canada also offers a new service called ‘Equipped Camping.’Together with Mountain Equipment COOP, Parks Canada has equipped 22 campsites at the Two Jack Main Campground in Banff. Each site comes with a six-person tent fully set up, sleeping pads, a stove with propane and a lantern. Bring your sleeping bags with food for the weekend and you’re ready to go!
Rent or borrow. Suzi, of Suzi Smart Photography, loves camping with her family and suggests that you rent or borrow as much as you can for the first couple times out. “If you enjoy it, slowly invest in the best equipment that you can afford. Nothing is worse than equipment that leaves you wet and cold.”But first, you want to make sure you actually like camping. Mountain Equipment COOP and the University of Calgary Outdoor Centre are both great places to pick up tents, sleeping bags and sleeping pads to get you started.
Stay close to home. There’s comfort in camping close to home in case you need to bail and pack up early in the morning. Many families with young children also recommend camping close to a town such as Banff or Jasper. If camping doesn’t work out, you can always find a hotel room for a night and salvage the trip. Finally, if you don’t feel up to cooking all of your meals at camp, you can retreat into town for breakfast or for a pizza at dinnertime. The Tunnel Mountain Village Campground is great for this in Banff as it’s located beside the Banff Hostel and Cougar Pete’s Kitchen.
Start with warm-weather camping. Giulliana is a mother of two and the owner of Jugando Spanish Centre for Kids. She recommends making sure you find a warm place or that you choose a very warm weekend to camp. “There’s nothing worse than camping for the first time and being cold.”For this reason, many families like camping in Southern Alberta in Dinosaur Provincial Park or Little Bow Provincial Park. Both parks can be warm enough for camping by mid to late May and will have much warmer mornings and evenings than campgrounds in the mountains.
Make it fun for the kids.Suzanne, of Run Bikes YYC, is another Calgary mom who loves camping with her family. She recommends camping near water because kids love to play near streams or lakes. Campgrounds in Central Alberta at Crimson Lake or Gull Lake are excellent for this with sandy beaches and warm weather.
Suzanne also suggests starting in the back yard! “Have a campfire, make some s’mores. Create some great memories so the kids will be excited to venture farther from home next time.”
For information on camping in Banff National Park and to make a reservation (which is highly recommended for the summer season), visit pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/ab/banff/activ/camping.aspx.
For information on camping in Alberta Provincial Park Campgrounds and to make a reservation (again, highly recommended), visit albertaparks.ca/albertaparksca/visit-our-parks/camping.aspx.
Note: There is comfort camping offered in many Provincial park campgrounds too. For information, visit albertaparks.ca/albertaparksca/visit-our-parks/camping/comfort-camping.aspx.
Tanya is a freelance writer and mom to a spunky six-year-old. She loves hiking, camping, skiing and all things mountain-related. She is the author of the blog, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies, rockiesfamilyadventures.com.
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