Fortunate Calgarians are to have five remarkable campgrounds within a short commute. Fortunate that is, if you enjoy pure fresh air, clean mountain streams and wildlife at your doorstep, all within 40 minutes of Calgary’s western outskirts.
Just south of Bragg Creek, Alberta you will find Alberta’s own Highway 66. The highway itself is short but it winds its way through Kananaskis Country leading you to five beautifully managed campgrounds in the Elbow River Valley. These campgrounds are surrounded by some of the most spectacular scenery and recreational activities you can imagine.
The first campground you will come across as you enter Kananaskis Country heading west along Highway 66 is Gooseberry Campground. Actually, this campground is the one I’m basking in the Sun in as I write this on a balmy May afternoon.
We often choose to visit this campground with its 85 unserviced campsites early in the season before any of the other seasonal campgrounds in the area open. We enjoy the campground’s proximity to the water with many of its campsites within view and earshot of the Elbow River. You’ll often catch sight of the moose, deer and bears that live in the area.
Next on the list of campgrounds as you travel up highway 66, with a short 1 km trip south along the McLean Creek Trail, is McLean Creek campground, the area’s only year round fully serviced campground.
This reservations only campground during the high season is an excellent choice for campers looking for electricity to power their RV’s, or the convenience a small store or showers bring.
This campground offers ATV sites with direct access to the forestry off-road area. Not to worry, those without off highway vehicles have two camping loops all to themselves. While the ATV camping loops are quite a distance from the non- ATV camping loops, you will likely hear the drone of off highway vehicles day and much of the night.
As you travel further up the highway, you come across this oddly named campground. Located on the slopes overlooking the Elbow River this un-serviced campground with its 98 campsites offers close proximity to the river and beautiful walking trails.
For those wishing to climb one of the area’s most popular mountains, the Moose Mountain access road is just across the highway. Many hikers like to visit the fire lookout on this mountain, but don’t underestimate the hike’s difficulty. Pack enough food, water and bear spray and the hike can be an enjoyable one with spectacular views of the area.
Beaver Flats Campground
This is our favourite campground in the area. With the Elbow River forming a horseshoe around this campground, many of these campsites are right on the river. Cell reception is non-existent at this campground so you are peacefully undisturbed by any outside influences.
The 61 campsites here are unserviced. Included in that number are six great walk-in tenting campsites, away from the dust of the road.
The entire campground is located near a beaver pond that is a magnet for local wildlife and will provide the kids with hours of enjoyment.
Little Elbow campground is that last campground along highway 66, where the pavement ends and the road turns into the “Sibbald Trail”, a dirt road that takes you through some magnificent country before ending up near the Sibbald Lake Provincial Recreation area south of Highway 1. The Trail is now closed due to many parts of it being washed out during last years floods.
Little Elbow campground, boasts 140 equestrian and non-equestrian un-serviced sites and also has no cell reception. You get the feeling that you are on the edge of a vast wilderness (because you are) and many backcountry enthusiasts use this campground as their trailhead to travel further on foot, bike or horseback into the forest.
If you’ve never spent time in this area, I would highly recommend staying at one of the five campgrounds. The camping is rustic, with Mclean Creek campground being the only one with services, but you are close enough to Bragg Creek or Calgary to pop in for a bite to to eat, some groceries or even a night out on the town. Couple that with direct access to the backcountry, the Elbow River Valley is well worth a visit.