Article and Photograph by Tany Koob
My family has been using group campgrounds for the past few years and we’ve found that it greatly increases our camping enjoyment. In a nutshell, a group campground is a large group camping area, sometimes located within a normal campground and sometimes set apart and completely private. Most group campgrounds can accommodate both tents or trailers and the cost breaks down to be roughly the same price per unit as it would be for camping in a normal campground. You’ll need at least 4 other families to come with you to cover the cost but most of us know at least a few friends we can invite. The big draw: privacy, quiet camping, and lots of room for the kids to run around and play.
How to book a group campground
If you want to stay at an Alberta provincial parks group campground, you can make a reservation through the Reserve Alberta Parks website. Reservations go live in February each year so it’s worth planning ahead to get the best site for your group. I regularly start planning group trips in January each year.
Special things to look for and to know when booking a group campground:
- How many families will you need to have? Most provincial park group campgrounds in Alberta will say “Rate/night 5 units” which means you need to have five families. In Kananaskis however, it is almost always based on 10 units which means you’ll need to find a fairly large number of families to come with you.
- Once you’ve paid up front for the first 5 units (or 10 if necessary), you will pay for any additional trailers or tents when you arrive at the campground. It is highly advised to bring the correct amount of cash with you for this as many campgrounds don’t accept credit card payments. The AB parks website will always tell you how many units total your campground can accommodate and what the price is for extra units above the first 5 or 10. For ease of payment, collect all money from your group ahead of time and pay for additional sites in one bulk payment (by card or cash) rather than having families pay individually when they arrive.
- Most provincial group sites do not have power. This means you will have to camp ‘off the grid’ or bring generators. I personally don’t allow generator use on my group trips out of respect for those tenting, so we go simple and do without our air conditioning, microwaves, and televisions. Of course you will create your own ‘house rules’ as you find what works best for your group.
- Some group sites have cook shelters and we’ve always enjoyed this amenity for rainy days. On a May long weekend I wouldn’t even consider booking a group site that didn’t have a shelter for group meals.
BC Parks also maintains a collection of group campgrounds in their provincial parks and you’ll find a handful of group campgrounds within the national parks. Many private campgrounds also accommodate groups with designated areas, allowing you to camp together with friends.
Why Book a Group Campground
There are many reasons for booking a group campground:
Safety: The children in our group are too young to run freely around a campground by themselves but in a group camping area, there is usually lots of open space so the kids can play and run around together. Many group campgrounds are even separated from the main provincial park campgrounds with a gate to help keep strangers out.
Down time for the parents: The kids in our group all play together so you don’t have to be actively supervising 24/7. The children entertain themselves and there are always eyes watching to make sure nobody is getting hurt.
Tons of support for novice campers: Camping in a group allows you to learn from the more experienced campers, to share gear, and to receive help as needed.
Team work and communal effort: The kids all have unique toys to share and adults can take turns supervising the herd, leading activities, cooking, or doing dishes. We all bring wood to contribute to communal fires and we share the cool stuff such as hammocks and canoes.
Group campgrounds are quiet: It can honestly be a salvation on a busy long weekend to have a private campground all to yourself! No noisy generators running past quiet time, no loud drunk neighbors (unless you invited them), and no stereos blasting dance music at midnight. It’s just you and a handful of good friends.
While it may be too late to start planning a group trip for this camping season, now is an excellent time to communicate with friends you camped with this summer and start planning for next year. Make a list of group campgrounds you’d like to try, gather a list of interested families, and make sure you know the date that reservations will go live in 2017. It could be as early as February.