[twitter]Rochon Sands Provincial Park, Banff National Park
Driving Distance from Calgary: just over 2 hours [Google map directions] Camping Fees: $25 + $7.50 firewood license ($12 advance reservation fee)
Number of Sites: 74, all of them are unserviced
Facilities: Pit Toilets, Watersports, Boat Launch, Playground, Beach, Fishing
Nearest Town: Rochon Sands, 1 km | Stettler, 30 km
Cell Reception: Spotty
Rochon Sands Provincial Park, on the shores of Buffalo Lake is just a few kilometres east of Old MacDonald’s Resort. When I first moved to Calgary and asked people about places to camp with kids, this was the joint that was most often suggested. It is now how I camp.Private campgrounds vary so differently from Provincial Parks or National Parks. Ol’ MacDonald’s Resort is the Disney of campgrounds. It is less about the natural surroundings and more about all the things they have brought in to do. The fact a campground is called a resort should be clue enough. Train rides, candy store, petting zoo, mini golf, arcades and more fill the property. I go camping to try and unplug and explore, this place is not that.
Your mileage may vary, and Ol MacDonald’s is very popular. Friends have a standing reservation for a week there each August that they make a year in advance. When I tried to see what the fuss was and called in mid May for a late July reservation, I was SOL. No matter, I found exactly what I was looking for camping at Rochon Sands Provincial Park.
We chose one of the 5 walk in tenting spots, the other 69 spots in the campground are all larger and were occupied by big trucks and bigger rv’s and 5th wheels. Our tent spot was perfect. Heavily treed, we couldn’t see another tent in any direction, it felt like our own private spot in the middle of the forest.
A wild Saskatoon Berry bush towered over the back of our site and a few small ground squirrels poked their head in and out of the bushes throughout the weekend. They were very very tame and not afraid of us in the least. They would often come right up to Zacharie if he reached out his hand.
The pit toilets are next to the walk in tent section. The facilities had no lights and were very dark, even during the day. There are water faucets throughout the grounds.
The walk to the beach was quick and easy, although recent heavy rains flooded some of the pathways. Buffalo Lake is quite large and beautiful. There is heavy marsh at the end of Rochon Sands meaning a variety of wildlife call the point home. Keep your eyes out for white pelicans, ring billed gulls, piping plovers, red wing blackbirds, ducks, and bald eagles.
The beach itself at Rochon Sands is not really a beach. It was heavy wet sand, very pebbly, and while it doesn’t take much sand to get kids excited, this was about the smallest beach you’d consider taking your kids to. Our afternoon was grey and windy, so a planned dip into the cool lake wasn’t in the cards for my kids, but others braved the small sheltered bay to splash around.
The playground was where we spent most of our time climbing and swinging.
Rochon Sands is a summer village filled with cottages. There is a small park in the village with ball diamonds, and tennis courts. A drive-in grill is also there. 15km down the road in Erskine, you can find another restaurant. If you need a load of groceries, or other supplies, a 20 minute drive over to Stettler is a easy. We made camping at Rochon Sands our Saturday overnight spot before catching the Alberta Steam Train out of Stettler on Sunday morning.
You should note the lack of services camping at Rochon Sands Provincial Park Campground did mean the hum of generators from other sites went on long into the night. We couldn’t see them, but we could hear them.