Camping (I’m talking about a tent here) tends to lose its lustre when children are brought into the fold. At least it did for us. That early morning light creeping through the tent’s nylon walls. The unsuccessful shushing of the toddler who begins babbling at 5 am. That’s what led us to throw in the towel. Fortunately there’s an entire world of comfort camping out there. Some call it glamping, I call it heaven. Here are a few of my favourite luxury outdoor accommodations in Alberta.
Wheel Estate camper and trailer rentals
I never understood why people invest in campers. They’re expensive and a hassle to deal with off season. Apparently over 1 million travel trailers in Canada only get used 14 days a year. For real. Even in season, where do you park the massive beast? Tally up your insurance costs and storage fees, and you might as well spend a week at a resort instead.
For those folks who love the novelty of camper camping, but don’t want to shell out for their own trailer, Wheel Estate comes to the rescue. This nifty online service allows trailer owners to rent their units to verified guests. Owners earn money by listing their trailers for free and renters get use of a camper without the hassles of ownership. It’s a also a cool way to test drive units you’ve got your eye on. Think of Wheel Estate like Airbnb for outdoorsy folks.
Safari tents in Dinosaur Provincial Park
The Comfort Camping suites in Dinosaur Provincial Park are in a word: amazing. You get to spend the night in this massive safari-like tent in one of the world’s most significant dinosaur sites. This is a world renowned fossil park, and no other site in the world comes close to the number of dinosaur fossils or complete skeletons found.
Each tent is decked out with a fridge, proper bed and even an electric fireplace. They’ve got cutlery, lights and a couch, too! Eve and I spent some time in one of these tents, but weekend availability is pretty hard to come by. Still, there are plenty of mid-week options available this summer. If you can only get away during the weekend, consider venturing a tad further from Calgary at Writing on Stone.
Comfort Camping in Southern Alberta
Further south, Writing on Stone Provincial Park is another excellent camping option. The campground is paces away from a natural sand beach, where you can swim or tube. And you’ll love all the shade provided by those towering cottonwood trees in the Milk River valley. Each canvas tent has its own private deck, fire pit and barbecue. It’s pretty much the same set up as at Dinosaur Provincial Park, but this sacred site contains the largest concentration of First Nations pictographs in North America.
Tent-cabin combos in our National Parks
Three National Parks within striking distance of Calgary: Banff National Park, Jasper National Park and Elk Island National Park offer Equipped Campsites. You can read more about my experience with Eve in an equipped site in Banff at Two Jack Main Campground here. Essentially, you get a six-person tent set up for you with a sleeping pad, stove, eating utensils, pots and lantern provided. You only need to bring your sleeping bag. And food. And mama might require wine.
These three National Parks also offer oTENTiks. These tent-cabin combos are equipped with a bbq, bunk beds and electric plug-ins. It makes camping such a breeze, you’ll wonder why you ever pitched a tent.
Stay in a tipi in Waterton
Two traditional First Nations tipis are set up at Crandell Mountain Campground in Waterton Lakes National Park each summer. You have to bring more gear for the canvas tipis (sleeping pads, cooking utensils, etc…) but staying in such a unique shelter makes it worth it. For those who don’t want the fuss of packing, equipped campsites are also on tap at the Townsite campground.
Yurts at Pigeon Lake
Pigeon Lake was the cool lake when I went to University. And by cool, I mean warm. This is a warm lake, where all the cool people cabined. Sorry for the confusion. Here, you’ll find insulated yurts (round tent-like structures) that are mounted on a spacious wooden deck on the shores of the lake. In case you’re not in the know, Pigeon Lake is an hour away from Edmonton and about a two hour drive from Calgary.
Back to the yurts, they’re set up just like a hotel room, only you bring the bedding. They’ve got so many bed options, and I especially love how they’re wheelchair accessible. Now if you really, really want four solid walls around you, check out The Village at Pigeon Lake. Here, you’ll find a hotel, spa, some really good restaurants and lots of fun shops. I’m so enamoured by this complex it’s on my spring bucket list.
Rocky Mountain House trappers tents
You’ve got plenty of options at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site for heritage camping experiences. Campers can spend the night in a First Nations Tipi or Métis Trappers Tent (real beds in this one). To get you in the mood, Parks staff offers fire starting kits and even a period cooking class. I recommend having the kids watch the cooking class, too. If only so they realize just how hard it is to cook a marshmallow without burning it.
Rent a cabin in the woods
Still not convinced camping is your thing? Head up north, way north, and rent The Nest. Ideal for larger groups and family reunions, this timber frame lodge is situated in the Boreal forest at Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park. It’s an actual cabin, so you won’t have to deal with sleeping upon uneven ground, and you’ll stay toasty warm inside should it rain. It’s got a wood burning fireplace in the great room plus laundry facilities. If that’s not an ideal bolthole for families, I don’t know what is.
Have you ever gone glamping? Where are your favourite spots to rent?