Camping in the CANADIAN ROCKIES with KIDS: Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper, Alberta
Updated: Jun 20, 2020
It is touristy, crowded and everything is expensive. Definitely way more than 13 years ago when we were here last. Unless you are a fan of slow line ups, (we are NOT!) forget going to Lake Louise or Moraine Lake during the day in peak season...the parking lots fill up by 5:30am! I guess it is to be expected, considering it is arguably one of Canada's most popular destinations. And despite how busy and chaotic it seems today, the surrounding nature is no less spectacular than it was before.
We learned the trick to seeing the popular lakes in peak season, is to go in the evening...the later, the better. We went around 8pm and didn't have any trouble finding a parking spot. Lake Louise at sunset is pretty magical. We may not have had the ideal lighting, but we were ok with not getting that perfect photo. The peace and quiet with the stillness of the lake more than made up for it.
Moraine Lake was still busy in the evening, but at least we found a parking spot without a problem. It's about 10-15 mins short hike to view this stunning lake. If you only had enough time to check one of the two lakes, our pick would definitely be Moraine Lake. It was our very first time visiting, and we were not disappointed.
Camping in BANFF
We stayed 4 nights at Tunnel Mountain Campground (Village 1)
The Bad: By far, the busiest, loudest campground, especially in the evenings, when people return to their sites at the end of the day. Lots of newbies and multi-family group campers. There were line-ups for the showers, (only 2 per washroom) and the bathroom outlets were occupied with everything from phones, laptops to kettles and rice cookers. Due to the large volume of campers, cleanliness was a big issue. If you camp here just as a means to save money, cover all the major sights nearby, and you don't expect a tranquil outdoor experience, then it might be ok for a few nights.
The Good: close to the village, free firewood included, and our site was large and private. Lots of easy trails nearby. We had a nice day trip to Two Jack Lake (photo below), did some light hikes around the area, and visited friends in town.
Camping in LAKE LOUISE
3 nights at Lake Louise Tent Campground
The Bad: Most of the sites are small and exposed. Even with an electric fence surrounding the campground, Parks Canada is extremely strict about their Bare Campsite policy, and not leaving any animal attractant unattended even for a minute. (This is for all of Banff and Jasper) While this isn't a bad thing at all as it protects the wildlife and humans, it was a bit of an inconvenience to pack and unpack the car each time we left for an outing, or even just to go to the bathroom if you are by yourself. They go around checking campsites very regularly. Also, you are not allowed to bring firewood from outside, but for $8.90 they sold us soggy, unflammable wood. (You pay first at check in, then help yourself to the woodpile, so we didn't know ahead of time)
The Good: Clean, new-ish shower facilities, just not enough of them. Flush toilets. Nice cook shelters with sinks and outlets. Very close to town, easily accessible by bike. The nightly interpretive programs (summer only) at the amphitheater were very educational and entertaining for the kids. They had this in Banff as well. Lots of easy bike riding nearby for the kids.
Camping in JASPER
We stayed 3 nights at the Wabasso Campground. Jasper was our favorite town.
The Bad: Gross weather. No showers.
The Good: Our site was large and private.There is a playground, and clean, new-ish bathrooms with flush toilets and a sink outside for washing dishes. The campground itself was a lot quieter than Banff and Lake Louise, even though it was full.
Amazing sights like Athabasca Falls and the noticeably retreating Edith Cavell Glacier nearby. The best part was the WILDLIFE viewing! You are more likely to encounter animals in and around Jasper than Banff and Lake Louise. No electric fences or barriers here. Pictures below of black bear passing by the playground and an elk near our campsite. Mountain goats and big horned sheep also seen from a distance while driving via the Icefields Parkway.
WARNING: Weather can be extremely unpredictable. We were there in mid July and it was very COLD at night. We also had rain for more than half the time we were there, including a major thunderstorm in the middle of the night that blew off tarps and unpegged canopies from novice campers at neighbouring sites. A good waterproof tent and a tarp are a MUST as well as warm clothing and a decent sleeping bag.