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By: Zdenko Kahlina
Vacation under the stars – Camping in the Rockies!
Are you a Canadian who’s never seen their own country!? Do you hail from outside of Canada, and have always wanted to visit the great-white north!? There is nothing more Canadian than camping… sleeping in a tent, small van or a big RV… it is all about spending time around a campfire in the great outdoors.
Whether you are new to Canada or you’ve just never pitched a tent before, with the hot summer forecast, summer is the perfect time of a year to try it out. The camping essentials consist of everything you need for sleeping, eating and finding your way around in the dark (flashlights, lanterns and camp fires). The most important things are that you are comfortable, equipment is easy to use and you enjoy your experience. For example, it is important to have a tent big enough for a number of people with you, and the one that goes up in a less than one minute.
Before you go looking for a campground, there are certain skills and helpful equipment you should know about. This is what my blog is about.
Pros and cons of RVs versus tent camping
If you’re new to camping or just want to try a different type, there are some good aspects to both RV and tent camping. All you RV people may be saying no to camping in tents because of the luxuries you have in your RV, but you’re missing out on some great experiences. And you tent campers may be saying no way to RV’s because it just doesn’t feel like camping when you have most of the luxuries you have at home.
One main difference is of course the most obvious, bathrooms. Most RV’s have bathrooms with holding tanks you can empty on your way home. With a tent, unless you’re in a high end campground, you have to use the great outdoors or walk to the public restrooms. A little inconvenient for some and for others part of the experience.
Second is running water. Running water is available in an RV, but when tent camping your limited to the lake, stream or spicket that may be on or about your campsite. Less work for RV campers but when you’re out “roughing it” not having this luxury is something that may be appealing to you.
Third is you may feel safer in an RV than in a tent. Many people think they are safe from bears and wildlife and it may be true for smaller critters but when it comes to bears you’re not any safer in an RV as a bear can open it like a tin can. Tents will give you a more outdoors feel and can be more desirable for true campers.
Ways to Make Summer Camping More Comfortable
Families with young children—and/or a grownup who absolutely must take a shower every single morning—don’t often go on camping trips. That’s too bad, because camping is a fun, inexpensive, and memorable way to spend time together. If the idea of waking up in the woods appeals to you, but you aren’t excited about hiking with a heavy pack and eating freeze-dried soup out of the packet, then ‘glamping’ (glamorous camping) might be the answer. There are plenty of ways to ‘glam’ the trip without overloading your packs—or spoiling the outdoorsy experience.
Go car camping
Perhaps it’s time to open your mind to another kind of camping: car camping. True, you’re not deep in the woods, you’re surrounded by other campers, and you’re not exactly pitting your wits against the elements. But you’re sleeping in a tent, that you pitched (one complete with pillows and a reading lamp), you’re cooking outdoors on a grill, or a camping stove, if the campground doesn’t allow open fires. If you want to, you can take day hikes from there.
Make yourself at home
If you car camp, you’re not carrying everything on your backs, so bring along a few luxuries that will ensure a good time. Grownups, for example, might want a real coffee cup from home.
Hike smarter, not harder
You know what makes you feel tired when you’re hiking? Being last! Being first makes you feel excited and energetic. So switch things up every now and then. If someone is slower than the rest of the group, give them a head start after each rest break. Also: If a grownup tells a ghost story, that will take your mind off the hike. Marching songs work, too.
Cook and charge
Planning to use a camp stove, in addition to (or instead of) campfires? The new BioLite camp stove, which was originally developed for use in developing countries where firewood and fuel is scarce, is pretty neat. It’s lightweight and folds easily, boils a liter of water in under three minutes by burning twigs and pine cones, and it charges cell phones and LED lights!
Include a fireproof glove
A fireproof leather glove—which you can buy from places that sell wood-burning stoves—is helpful for moving logs around within a fire. It’s also useful when you want to snap dead branches and twigs off trees without injuring your hand.
Pack raincoats—even if there’s no rain
Why? Because it might rain anyway, and even if it doesn’t, raincoats are an excellent protection against mosquitoes in the evening. Also: pack a warm hat, even in the summertime; it will keep you warm while you sleep.
Plan your fun in advance
When packing for a camping trip, we often focus on our hiking, eating, sleeping, and toilet needs. But on a mellow, low-effort camping trip, you’ll spend most of your time sitting around the campsite. You might want to bring a deck of cards, multiple sheets of song lyrics (from old-time campfire songs to Beatles and ABBA tunes) for sing-alongs, and an exciting novel to read aloud. Kids with a snarky sense of humor might prefer a lame novel, to mock.
Campgrounds are safe places to bike, and a bike makes every trip away from the campsite—to take a shower, or fetch kindling—quicker and more fun. I usually go for longer bike rides, to familiarize with the area as I always like to explore.
Don’t forget coins
Showers, laundry, and other campground amenities require coins, so stockpile ’em in the weeks before you leave home.
Camping for a week in the Rockies
Several years ago we explored the Rocky Mountains, the frozen tundra and all the way into the prairies. It was truly the trip of a Lifetime! This blog describes a one week trip to the Canadian Rockies, including Canmore, Banff, Yoho National Park (B.C.), Lake Louise, Jasper, Mt. Robson provincial park (B.C). We show exactly what to do in this timeframe, where to stay, how much it will cost, and how to save money. If you are planning on spending one week in this area, this is for you.
Note: Remember to fill up your gas tank in Canmore, it is cheaper and will give you enough gas to reach Jasper, with lots left..
This is a campsite at the David Thompson Resort (about 45 kilometers west of Nordegg on the David Thompson Highway). It’s a place for fun rather than function. The campground store sells liquor and fireworks. You do the math. There is a chapel on site so you can beg forgiveness for whatever you have done in the campground the previous evening.
The position of the picnic table in the picture is not the result of lens distortion in my camera. The table is actually tilted at an extreme angle. The whole campground is on the side of a hill. There are no flat spots for a tent. Although the David Thompson Resort advertises that they accept tents, all the campsites are gravel RV pads. For $24 and cold showers that cost another $1 you are better off in a government campsite with no showers and an icy, glacier-fed stream, even if it’s cold out (and on this day it was +1 degree with rain mixed with snow). The campground restaurant was nice for breakfast.
This place is 122 km north of Lake Louise and/or 108 km south of Jasper. The road goes up through Sunwapta pass. There are actually a few stops along the way, with great views. The weather was not the best for us.
A must stop for sure. You can drive nearly all the way there on the left side of the road, or you can go to Visitor centre and go on a bus that actually goes on top of the ice. We did not take the bus, but chose to walk. Again, you are quite high here, so you will get out of breath, it is not for the not too fit. Also, it is quite cold and windy. Temperature was around 8C, with hard bone chilling wind.
After going near the ice, we went to the visitor centre to eat our snacks, in a heated place, as well as to use the washrooms. Had a nice espresso there.
Athabasca Falls and Sunwapta Falls are very nice stops too. Leaving the exceptional Columbia Icefields and Athabasca Glacier, the Icefield Parkway drives past superb glacier and mountain vistas to two impressive waterfalls. The first, named after from local word for turbulent waters is Sunwapta Falls where glacial ice-melt veers sharply and powers through a narrow cleft in the rock to a deep canyon.
Sunwapta Falls Canyon
Sunwapta Falls is a waterfall of the Sunwapta River located in Jasper National Park, Canada. A torrent of plunging water not far from the Icefields Parkway, Sunwapta Falls is just one of the many waterfalls in Jasper created by hanging valleys.
It is accessible via a short drive off the Icefields Parkway that connects Jasper and Banff National Parks. The falls have a drop of about 18.5 metres. Sunwapta is a native word that means turbulent water. It is most spectacular in the late spring when the spring melt is at its peak. Caution – Mist from the falls covers surrounding rocks with a slippery film of water. For your own safety, do not cross the railings. Bears are often seen along trails and roads in the park.
Hanging valleys were formed when glacier ice receded 8000 years ago, leaving behind broad U-shaped valleys. Larger valleys were carved deeper than smaller ones and in places where the two meet, the smaller valleys “hang” at a higher elevation. This is an excellent place to find waterfalls. At Sunwapta Falls, the smaller “hanging” Chaba Valley and larger Athabasca Valley join in a spectacular stepping waterfall that has carved a deep limestone gorge out of the rock some metres below the footbridge.
Sunwapta Falls is also the trailhead for a 25-km hike that takes you to isolated Fortress Lake and Hamber Provincial Park. The trail passes through the Chaba River burn area, legacy of a 1967 wildfire. The fire rejuvenated a large portion of the subalpine forest along the Chaba River Valley and is now one of the best bear and moose habitats in the park.
Jasper Accomodation: Pine Bungalows
We arrived in Jasper around 2PM and headed straight for our accomodations. We stayed at the Pine bungalows for 2 nights. This was the most expensive accommodation at $220 per night for a 2 room cabin with 2 Queen beds, plus kitchen and dining area, and bathroom of course. Kitchen is great, but it does not have a microwave, which was sorely missed. I commented about this at checkout and was told that they wanted to keep the “rustic” style, or something to that effect, which is non sense as the place is really nice. There are several types of cabins, some bigger, some smaller. Ours was number 69, close to the water. We met a nice family vacationing from England next door, they were staying there for a full week.
Check in and checkout were a breeze, no surprises. Staff was pleasant and helpful. Note: the coffee they give you has a built-in filter!
Jasper has a couple of food markets. We only went to Robinson’s, right on Jasper’s main street (you can’t get lost in Jasper!). It has pretty much everything you need, including a deli counter, a good (but not the best) variety of frozen foods. Jasper is a nice little town. It does not have the tourist and fashionable feel of Banff, but neither does it have hoards of people that Banff has.
This is a small drive from downtown. There is a nice little island to walk to and around.
Horseshoe Lake is located 25 kilometres south of Jasper on the Icefields Parkway. It is a popular day-use area, where many go to cliff jump. This is the second time we have stopped here when travelling through Jasper Park. This time it was on Labor Day weekend. There is parking on the east side of the road, but just a pull off and not a lot of room for big vehicles. We were pulling a trailer and were lucky to have one whole side to access, but had there been vehicles parked on both sides, we would not have been able to stop (unless you park on the highway). There are the usual out houses at the parking lot – use at your own risk!! There is a 5 minute walk down an easy trail to the lake and then you can walk to the end of the lake.
It is very picturesque and the water is the most amazing color of the glacier water, blue / green. The colours here are amazing, mostly because of the depth of the lake. I believe the highest cliff jumping spot is about 25 meters. Horseshoe Lake is an easy walk out to a pretty little lake. Right beside the Icefields Parkway, and just minutes south on the Jasper. If you’re looking for a short stop and some good photos, this is a nice place for it. Nothing really outstanding, but there are good views of the lake and the mountain behind it.
The kids liked climbing on the variety of rock formations in the area. There are steep rock cliffs on the south side of the lake, so caution must be taken. You can easily access the lake from the north side. If you are there at lunch time, take a picnic, find a comfortable rock and enjoy the scenery!
Swimming is allowed at Horseshoe Lake, but at your own risk. Visitors are advised that there are natural hazards at Horseshoe Lake including high cliffs, unsure footing and extremely cold and sometimes shallow water. Visitors are responsible for their own safety. That information can also be found on signage around the site.
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