Tag Archives: campground

Places: Banff, Alberta

When growing up in Alberta, it was easy to take the Rocky Mountains for granted. They are always there, they aren’t going anywhere, and as a kid it was easy to downplay their sheer magnitude and beauty as we would drive through a couple of times a year on our way to Victoria or another destination. Moving out East, unless people have been, there is a general sense that the Rockies must be pretty impressive but that they can’t be too much different than the ‘mountains’ out here.

I was reminded this summer of how false that is and how truly amazing the Rocky Mountains are. As part of our prolonged driving trip, we tacked on three days to do a loop through Banff and up highway 93 toward Jasper. For sheer scenery, I would put this up against anywhere. The fact we had beautiful weather to enjoy it made it even better.

Banff, and the Rockies, is all about being outdoors so camping is the ideal way to visit. It is also much, much cheaper than the overpriced accommodation that abounds in the summer. We were very fortunate to score a beautiful site in the Two Jack Lakeside campground that is run by Parks Canada. This is a relatively small campsite that is located about 10 minutes outside of Banff. Booking for these sites starts in January for the whole summer and we were lucky to find a cancellation that allowed us to stay. For reference, we stayed on site #8 and if you do have the luxury of being picky, I would suggest staying on that side of the campground as sites have a bit more privacy and are located a little further apart.

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Site #8 – Two Jack Lakeside Campground

As we checked in to our site, we were provide of warnings of both bears and wolves in the area. Although a bear warning is pretty standard in the Rockies, I think this is the first time I have stayed in a campsite that was having a problem with wolves. Although we had no issues, the campground was subsequently shut down to tent campers about a week after we left because of persistent problems with one wolf.

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The view out our backdoor….ridiculous

We enjoyed our location on our first afternoon, hiking around Two Jack Lake and relaxing at our fire while a bunch of deer filled in behind our site. dscf5571

The next morning, we headed into Banff and although it is a pretty touristy, there were still many things we wanted to show the kids that I had experienced as a kid myself. We did a loop around the golf course before visiting the famous Banff Springs Hotel and having a picnic lunch on the grounds there. In the afternoon, we visited the Cave and Basin Historic Site and wandered some of the shops of the main street before heading up to the Banff Upper Hot Springs to relax in the warming, mineral-rich waters. For dinner, we visited a Banff institution, the Grizzly House Fondue Restaurant. This place has not changed since I visited as a child, and probably since many years before that but it was great and lots of fun.

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Banff Springs Hotel terrace

On our third day, we had to pack up our gear and head for home, or my parent’s place at least, but we chose to do so via Highway 93 which runs north towards Jasper. This highway is amazing with beautiful views everywhere you look. After a great roadside picnic lunch, we were greeted by a black bear in the ditch – who was in turn greeted by crazy tourists that were trying to take a selfie with it. Although that aspect does seem a bit like a theme park, there is still something really cool about spotting a bear in their natural habitat.

Our quick trip to Banff and the Rockies reminded me of how much I miss it, and will certainly ensure that we concentrate on making the effort to get there more often.

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Places: Achray Provincial Park, Algonquin

For many years I have heard great things about Achray Provincial Park. My former boss used to head to Achray summer after summer and talk about what a great spot it was. I determined last summer was finally going to be the year we made it up there and so five months to the day before we wanted to arrive, I woke up early and made my reservation on the Ontario Parks website. Later, I found some other local blogs such as Coffee with Julie that talked about what a great spot it was.

Although we had originally made our reservation for four nights, we ended up having having to cancel the first couple of nights due to pouring rain and some other commitments in Ottawa. Always one of the difficulties of booking five months in advance….

We left early Friday morning in perfect sunshine and stopped along the way for lunch at Lakeview Deli and Meatery in Cobden per the advice of another great local blog, A Peek Inside the Fishbowl.  Although I had read all sorts of horror stories about driving the gravel road into Achray once you get past the Algonquin gate, I can only think these were written by people who have never driven gravel roads. As a kid who grew up driving on all sorts of narrow gravel tracks, this is the Autobahn of unpaved roads. It shouldn’t dissuade anyone from visiting. Overall, the trip from Ottawa took less than three hours – a smooth ride.dscf4711

As soon as we arrived, I realized why people enjoy this campground so much. There are a very limited number of sites, about 45, and ours was a huge site that backed right on to the beach and the beautiful lake. The canopy of huge pine trees was idyllic. On the Friday afternoon, there were dozens of people heading out in canoes and kayaks for campsites around the lake and further abound that require a paddle in.

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Nice backyard

By the end of August when we went, the lake is plenty warm to swim in and we had no problems at all with mosquitoes – I don’t think any of us used repellant all weekend.

One of our neighbours had the most extensive camp setups that I had seen and had been staying at the park for two weeks. They were really friendly with kids about our age and were more than willing to share their awesome zipline setup and slack line. The kids were thrilled to see it and the only question we heard for the next 48 hours was whether we could get a zipline for the backyard.

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Zipline in action

On the Saturday, we rented a canoe from the camp store – I had worried that they might run out but the girl said they hadn’t sold out all summer so I guess that isn’t an issue. It seemed like most people used a service from outside the park that delivers them to the water’s edge. For the sake of convenience, and if only for a day or two, I would just rent one from the camp store again. We had a great day out on the water, mostly just exploring Grand Lake and enjoying a picnic on the other side.

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A fine group of paddlers

One thing about that camp store, and Algonquin in general, which  may also make it unattractive for some campers is that there are very limited supplies for sale and there is no easy access to another store or even to a restaurant due to the vastness of the park that surrounds you. For a change of pace though, I would say this is a great advantage.

Between the perfect weather and setting, this was one of my favourite weekends of the summer. The whole family had lots of fun, ate well, enjoyed the beach and were happy to finally explore this gem of the Ontario Parks system. We will certainly be back next year!