Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Review: Two Jack Lake Main Campground, Banff National Park

Bighorn Sheep near lake Minnewanka
Location: 20 minutes outside Banff town site
Website:  Parks Canada
Map: Parks Canada (scroll down)
Camping Facilities: Car Camping
Grade: B-
Stargazing: There are stars here?
Summary: Decent spacing for a National Park, but don't expect much scenery
Thoughts: Once you've spent some time car camping in the mountain national parks, your expectations begin to take form.  What you miss out on in privacy and remoteness, you gain in scenery.  You take the good with the bad, but the mountain scenery makes you forget the bad pretty quickly.  Therein lies the problem with Two Jack Lake's main campground (not to be confused with the Two Jack Lakeside campground); it's the opposite of your typical mountain park, decent privacy (not great), but the canopy blocks any potential for enjoying the mountain viewscapes.

A bit of privacy is provided by the well-spaced loops

Fixed-grill fire rings
- the bane of the national park camping experience
You might see some mountains
through the trees
The accessibility to other more scenic areas (Lake Minnewanka, Two Jack Lake, and all the other great spots around the Town of Banff) is undeniable.  The campground itself is just nice enough.  The main benefit is the price for unserviced sites, which as just under $20 before firewood.  Can't really beat that.  As well, the comfort stations have running hot water and flush toilets.

All told, nice sites, decent camping, less-than-stellar scenery, but good access to some of the highlights around the Town of Banff.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Review: Dinosaur Provincial Park

Coulee Viewpoint Trail
Location: 2 hours east of Calgary
Website:  Alberta Parks
Map: Google Maps or AB Parks Campground Map
Camping Facilities: Car Camping
Grade: C-
Stargazing: Good - especially given that it doesn't rain much
Summary:  Densely populated campground, book tours in advance, spectacular scenery only saving grace
Thoughts: Showing up at an Alberta park without reservations on a long weekend is like smoking a rack of back ribs in your tent in grizzly country during a seasonal berry crop failure - i.e. not advisable.  Throw in the unfortunate situation that you've come to one of the most popular parks for families in the province and you're even deeper in the molasses.  Those of you who have read some of my other posts have probably noticed I take a devil-may-care, spontaneous approach to car camping.  I generally feel like the good spots are usually gone by the time I decide to book a site, I just skip the booking process, save the fees and hope for a last-minute cancellation of a sweet site - I must admit, it rarely works out well, but sometimes good things come out of that strategy.  As it happened, Dinosaur failed to deliver with my approach.  Though, ignoring my poor planning for a moment, it failed to deliver in a lot of other ways too. 

View from Campground Area -
note puddles, flatness and tightly-packed sites
Campground Viewed from Above
- Privacy? Nay.  Scenery? Yay.
First, the place has to have some of the worst drainage I've encountered in a provincial park. I know, it's clay soil, it's flat as a laminated pancake and it really doesn't rain that often anyways, but the last thing that most folks want is to be splashing around in puddles on those chilly evenings in the arid climes.  Next, don't expect privacy.  Wide open, densely-packed sites are the strategy here, with park planners looking to pack the Albertans in tighter than a ring of figs.  Even with the loop design of the site layout that is typically more private (see Figure 2), the sites are so close together and lacking in good understorey that it's hopeless. Third, these had to be some of the worst smelling comfort stations I've ever experienced.  I don't know if these are due to the soils again, but holy ammonia, Batman!  If the sites weren't so close and the drainage so poor, I'd suggest a tree.

Lounging on coulees
Okay, complaining aside, there are some beautiful coulees here, with a few relatively easy hiking trails around for your enjoyment.  While the scenery is fantastic, if you don't have reservations for the guided hikes, your options are very limited.  On the long-weekend of our visit, the tours were booked up in advance, with none of them able to accommodate more than a couple from our groups.  You might have better luck on a regular weekend, perhaps outside of July and August, but be warned, planning will go a long way here, especially if you want to enjoy this park to the fullest.  Just bring suitable expectations for the quality of the camping.

River valley splendor