Once a year, usually during the last two weeks of July, my cousin and his wife pack their trailer, load up their kids and their dirt bikes and head off to the headwaters of the Oldman River to do some random camping, biking and fishing.
Their destination of choice is the headwaters of the Oldman River northwest of Maycroft Alberta.
They discovered many years ago that random camping Alberta’s forest land use zones offers peace and tranquility, an opportunity to get away from it all and is a great place to unwind and enjoy a camping experience that is second to none.
May they forgive me for telling you about their favourite camping area!
The Oldman River, which flows east across Alberta through Lethbridge, eventually meeting up with the Bow River to form the South Saskatchewan River, starts far up in the mountains west of highway #940 or the Forestry Trunk road, a road developed and maintained in order to provide access for fire crews should a forest fire require their attention. Now its a random camping Mecca.
These upper reaches of the Oldman River, west of #940, can be accessed via several different routes; either by heading north of Coleman, or south at the Junction of highway #940 and #40 or by using highway #532 (locally known as Johnson Creek Trail) or highway #517 (locally known as the Maycroft Road) each west of highway #22. Each has its merits; it all depends on how long you’d like to travel the often dusty forestry trunk road to get there.
Our preferred route coming from Calgary is to access the area using the Maycroft Road via highway #22. This road takes you northwest along the Oldman River, through the “gap”, where the Oldman punches through the last of the Rocky Mountains on its way out onto the prairies, and onto highway #940, where you travel north for a short time, past Dutch Creek Campground, before meeting up with the Oldman River Road.
As you travel west of the Forestry Trunk road, along the 27 km long Oldman River road, you will come across numerous random camping spots for the choosing. We wouldn’t suggest taking the first campsite you see since over the length of the road there are some prime camping spots, but hauling your RV over this “improved” road can be hard on the equipment, so keep that in mind when choosing a spot.
Besides the draw of camping a world away from everything else, this area provides some great fishing. Although the river in these parts can be narrow in places there are some great spots to fish and anyone with some patience and a little know how can easily catch enough for supper.
This area also provides some amazing opportunities to pull out the dirt bike and explore. With many of the roads and trails, inaccessible to most vehicles, taking you high above the valley floor be sure not to forget your camera.
This particular stretch of the Oldman River is extremely popular camping area for campers from all over Southern Alberta, so be prepared to have neighbours, particularly on weekends.
As always, if you’re headed up this way, be sure to pick up a good map. We have explored the forestry trunk road often and have on many occasions relied on ours to get us “unlost”. Not only that, a good map will help you explore the area to its fullest. I’m sure there are others out there but the source we rely on is the Backroad Mapbook of Southern Alberta. Our tattered and torn version of the guide was worth every penny.
It should be noted that the random camping areas of Alberta have been in the news for several years for the people it attracts and the mess they leave behind. It has been my experience that the vast majority of people who use this area to enjoy with their families far outnumber those that would leave their trash where they dropped it. That being said, do your best to leave our campsite as clean, if not cleaner that how you found it and we will be able to enjoy this area for years to come.
Before you do head out, be sure to checkout Alberta Environment’s excellent blog post on camping in the wilderness.
Have fun exploring the Forestry Trunk road and all of its side roads, and hey, if you see my cousin and his wife up there come the end of July….don’t tell them where you heard about this camping area!