Sometimes all you need is a simple tent and campfire.
But there are also times when an excursion into nature can be made ever-so-slightly-more enjoyable by little conveniences like running water, toilets and even beds. In Alberta, as in the rest of North America, glamping (glamour plus camping; also known as comfort camping) has been steadily gaining in popularity, and specialized accommodations, designed to increase the luxe level of one’s camping experience, are popping up at parks across the province. Here’s a primer on what to look for.
Melding an A-frame cabin and a prospector’s tent, oTENTiks are found at some Parks Canada campgrounds and usually include electricity, beds, tables and chairs—though no running water. For the five oTENTiks at Elk Island National Park’s Astotin Lake Campground, you can also factor in a fire pit, propane barbecue and picnic table, plus space for up to six sleepers in each unit. Washrooms with showers are a step away from the site, as is potable water and a kitchen shelter. Other oTENTiks can be found at Two Jack Lake in Banff National Park. They’ll also be featured at Jasper National Park’s Whistlers Campground when it reopens in 2020.
Pigeon Lake Provincial Park has gotten in on the glamping craze with yurts: The round, insulated rooms are mounted on wooden decks along the shore (and in this case, they’re also wheelchair-accessible). Campers bring food and bedding, but every thing else is supplied—including a gas barbecue grill. Equipped by Alberta Parks with electrical outlets, kitchen supplies, a small fridge and sleeping areas for four to eight people, yurts are also found at Miquelon Lake Provincial Park.
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Sleeping in a Métis trapper’s tent might seem like an authentic back-to-nature experience, but the ones at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site feature real beds. You’ll also find tables, chairs and a fire pit—and you can get into the spirit of things by using a period-appropriate cooking kit. Wrap yourself up in the provided bison hide and learn to cook traditional bannock, or brew trapper’s tea; the park staff offers both traditional fire-starting kits and a heritage cooking class.
Head out to Lac La Biche this summer and you’ll come across two traditional First Nations tipis, which have been set up along the shoreline at Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park. You’ll need to bring your own sleeping pads and bedding, and cooking will definitely be taking place outdoors, but it’s still a very comfy and one-of-a-kind experience. Rocky Mountain House ups the comfort quotient with chairs and tables for its tipis. This style of accommodation can likewise be found at Sundance Lodge in Kananaskis Country, Blackfoot Crossing near Calgary, and the Old Entrance B ‘n’ B in Hinton, among other locations.
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The Milk River Valley holds one of the most sacred sites in Alberta, Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park. Here you’ll find a more than ample safari-style tent complete with dining table, futon, bed and even an electric fireplace. Hang out on the deck, and make sure to check out the dazzling First Nations pictographs. You can also find similar tents at Dinosaur Provincial Park and Wyndham-Carseland Provincial Park, where you can sleep on a queen bed or futon, cook with a gas barbecue and lounge on a deck.
HOW TO RESERVE A CAMPSITE
Just how popular are these newfangled styles of camping? So popular that they’re often reserved well in advance. Keep in mind, though, that cancellations do happen, so if you monitor the Parks Canada and Alberta Parks booking sites, you may still snag a spot. And remember that flexibility helps, too: If you can camp midweek, or earlier or later in the season, that will also help your chances.