fiddle leaf photography
Jul 27, 2018
Is there anything worse than thinking you booked a kickass campsite, only to get there and realize that you’re in the middle of a wide-open field with not a playground or a sandpit in site for your kids to play in? Ok, yes, there are worse things (like snow in August, which I know from experience), but it’s still no fun to arrive in a place that doesn’t at all meet your expectations!
Over the past few years, I’ve done my fair share of camping with my little family and along the way I’ve been taking notes of the campgrounds we absolutely love and can’t wait to go back to. Some of our camping has been in tents and some in an RV, so my recommendations aren’t really specific to one or other.
My basic requirements are that the campground has:
Each year we generally do a trip that’s longer and we explore further, but for the majority of our weekend trips, we like the campground to be within 3 hours from the city so that we don’t have to plan a million car activities for the kids to do. My ideal is to have to only put one movie on for the girls and that we are there before it’s done. 🙂
We also like to stick to provincial parks for the most part as we’ve always had pretty good luck with them. I like to be able to look at the site online with the panoramic photos and know exactly what I’m getting into before I get there. (My husband calls this slightly anal. I call it being prepared and well researched! haha)
In no particular order, here are my favourite campgrounds that are fairly close to Edmonton.
I really feel like this campground is a hidden gem that too few people know about. But, then again, maybe I don’t want people to know about it as then it’ll be too booked up! The campground is just 20 minutes outside of Whitecourt and aside from a tiny bit close to the actual park, the rest of it is all double lane highway the whole way there – easy driving with a trailer!
The campground itself is really treed and is one of the most private campsites we’ve ever had, and it even had a lake view. McLeod Lake is popular for fishing, so there’s also a dock and boat launch in the middle of the park. The girls loved to hang out on the dock and watch people fish and use their nets to try and catch bugs. There is a small beach within the park, but it’s nothing to write home about. If you do go to this campground through, you have to go into Whitecourt for a day and hang out at Rotary Park. Rotary Park is HUGE with a playground, splash park, massive field and river slides, and the best part is that it’s all FREE. Bring your own tubes to the river slides and you can spend hours just going up and down them and easily have very tired kids on the way home.
Although this one is slightly out of my 3 hour time limit (it’s more like 3.5 hours), it’s still worth visiting. The campground itself is only 5 minutes outside of the city of Cold Lake, so if it happens to be raining during your visit, you can easily spend the whole weekend in town with no end of activities. The beach within the park is a decent size and was really quiet while we were there, and it also has a big playground and picnic area next to it. The sites are all quite treed and there are kilometres and kilometres of trails that are easily walkable, even with little ones in tow. We spent one of our days in Cold Lake hanging out at the big spray park and the beach in town (it’s huge) and then wandered around the marina with ice cream.
I do think Jarvis Bay can be a bit hit or miss depending on what weekend you hit it at, as it does have a reputation as a bit of a party campground. And yes, there were a few serious party sites while we were there, but the park wardens also do a great job of monitoring the whole campground. What wins out for us is the distance from Edmonton (less than 2 hours!) and the ability to escape the craziness of the town of Sylvan Lake. I should note here that my family had a cabin on Sylvan Lake for 20 years while I was growing up, so I’m well aware of how nuts Sylvan can get in the summer, and yet I also sort of love it as it feels very familiar to me.
The campground itself is well treed, has super wide roads (my husband loves this for backing up the trailer into the site) and has the best shower and washrooms that I’ve seen in a provincial campground. Everything is SUPER clean, which is really nice when you have kids who want to touch EVERYTHING – especially in the bathrooms. If you get up early enough, then you can head into town for the day, spend a few hours at the beach, and then escape the town back to your campsite laer in the afternoon.
This year we hit up Hidden Valley Garden, which is U-Pick just 5 minutes from the campground and the kids still rave that it was the highlight of our weekend. They loved picking pees, digging up potatoes and playing with the giant sandpit at the garden. The garden is cash only and on an honour system, so if you do plan on going make sure you have cash with you as you’ll want to get some veggies for sure.
If you’re going to camp at Pembina, I recommend going in the loops away from the actual river as they are much more secluded and private than the sites right along the river (which is more like an open parking lot). We went on a weeknight and had no issue getting a first come first serve spot. I really like that the campground is fairly small and is such a short drive from Edmonton. We spent most of our time hanging out at the river as we couldn’t drag the girls away. The water is shallow and runs slow so the kids could walk out fairly far without issue, but mostly they just liked moving rocks around and building little pools and dams. Pembina is a really popular river to float down, but our kids are still too small to do that, so I can’t speak to that aspect.
This campground is on Gull Lake, which is just east of Lacombe and is only about an hour and a half from Edmonton. I’m going to preface this one by saying that Lakeview is a great campground If you’re camping with friends who also have a trailer. There are tons of double spots and most of them are pull-through spots, which allows you to camp with friends awning to awning and feel like you’re in your own little world. If you’re on your own, the spots are quite open, so you might feel slightly exposed, but it’s still not horrible.
The kids loved that most of the roads were paved so they could easily ride their bikes and they also loved that there were 3 playgrounds within the one campground. The beach is large and fairly clean and the best part is that the water is incredibly shallow, so the kids can walk out for what feels like forever and only reach their waste! You can walk or ride your bikes into Brewer’s campground to access a larger beach, more playgrounds a concession that sells burgers, hot dogs and ice cream. Brewer’s Campground also has some really lovely spots, but I’d make sure to check out the photos on the reservation site first as some are completely open and some are in the forest, so it’s really hit or miss.
We’ve also camped at Pigeon Lake Provincial Park a few times (the main campground, not Zeiner), and although it’s nice, it didn’t make my list because the water is so unpredictable. It has had algae blooms every year we have been there (usually by late July), which just puts a slight downer on our trip as my kids are water babies and all they want to do is be IN the water.
If you also love to camp around the Edmonton area, I’d love to hear if you have any favourite hidden gem campgrounds. Share in the comments below!
And don’t forget – camping can make an excellent day in the life photo session. I get pretty excited about laying on gravel paths while your kids play or hiding in the trees to get just the right shot, so if you’re into a camping session at all, make sure to drop me a line and we’ll chat about making it happen!
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Lifestyle family & newborn photographer based in Edmonton, Alberta
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