As far as family camping weekends go, this one was not off to the most auspicious start. Our Calgary weather, which had been 30ºC and sunny on Thursday, had taken a sharp nosedive to 5ºC – with pouring rain no less – by Friday lunchtime. Half of our parental team was still in Vancouver on a business trip and wouldn’t be joining us until sometime Saturday. I’d been burning the midnight oil all week, trying to meet a bunch of deadlines, while making myself available during the day for a myriad of field trips and playdates. By noon Friday, I had our camp food pretty much organized, but had yet to locate all our gear and hadn’t even started packing clothes. By 2 pm, I was a little further ahead, but my energy was flagging and I wasn’t feeling super excited about heading out for a weekend in the mountains.
Happily, despite all the obstacles looming over this excursion, I had one big ace up my sleeve… we weren’t heading out to pitch a tent at a soggy provincial campground. Instead, we were headed to Sundance Lodges in Kananaskis Country, AB, which offers trapper’s tent and tipi camping (as well as natural and secluded drive-in campsites). If I had to put up our tent on wet ground (with just the assistance of my 5- and 8-year-old kids), I would have postponed our departure until the next day. Knowing that a clean, dry trapper’s tent awaited us made it a easier to face hitting the road that soggy afternoon.
So I wrestled everything into the van, added the kids, and we headed out, making two return trips within 5 minutes for forgotten necessities (BBQ, pillows). Finally on the road, I remembered several more things I’d neglected to bring, but we pressed on.
And were so glad that we did! A lovely cozy tent in a beautiful forested setting awaited us. Our perfectly dry trapper’s tent had 2 twins and 1 double bed, and a kerosene heater that really took the chill off our weekend. When I originally booked our stay, I was tempted by the colorful and fascinating tipis, but while the tipis also have heaters, they don’t have a covered porch. I thought that an undercover eating area might be a bonus in June (you can’t take food into the tents or tipis in bear country), and given the weather I was very pleased with my choice.
A labour of love for the Green family, who constructed the campground in 1991 and continue to run the business onsite, Sundance Lodges is very much intended for the enjoyment of families and folks who like a quiet time in the beauty of nature. The campground has strict rules about noise between 10:30 pm and 8 am and disruptive ‘partying’ behavior at any time. And – in case you’re wondering – your whole family is welcome, with a nominal pet fee applied to your leashed pooch.
Campsites are located a brief walk from the Kananaskis River and we enjoyed exploring all the little trails within the campground, and hopping over to the small rocky islands within the river. We didn’t bring bikes on this trip, but the quiet one-way roads of the campground would be well suited to kids wanting to 2-wheel with their friends. You could also bike straight out of the campground on quiet paved roads to the Beaver Ponds Day Use Area, just a few minutes away.
Instead of biking, we hopped in our van for a sub-5-minute drive to the Stoney Trail trailhead and a lovely walk to Troll Falls.
Before heading back to camp, we drove just a little further to Kananaskis Village where we treated ourselves to a warm drink and a pastry from Starbucks. If we were staying longer, I think I’d be tempted to plan on a meal at one of several restaurants in the village’s Delta Lodge at Kananaskis (which we had previously seen only in winter).
If you’re a bit more adventurous than us and get dirty/sweaty/soaked during your outdoor adventures, there’s no need to worry about wallowing in your filth for days: Sundance Lodges features central heated washrooms with flush toilets, lots of sinks and free hot showers. There are also well-kept outhouses located throughout the campground.
It continued to rain off and on during our stay, including a heavy downpour during our 2nd night, but the tent stayed completely dry and the kerosene heater kept us warm in approximately 3ºC overnight temperatures. I still prefer camping in the sunshine, but when you can wait out the rain like this…
… a little cloudburst can be quite enjoyable!
And all that stuff I forgot to pack? Not a problem! The Trading Post had milk for sale (along with other typical camp groceries, camp equipment you might have forgotten, ready-to-drink coffee and hot chocolate, ice cream, firewood, ice, and lots of other useful things). We never did use our BBQ, because our fire pit was under a nice big tree, which kept us dry even when it rained lightly during our campfire cookouts. Flashlights also were a non-issue; we were lying in our canvas tent at 9:30 pm each night, joking about how someone needed to turn out the lights, because June days are really long in Alberta! Had we been up later and needed it, a propane lantern is provided upon check in.
In fact, I could have come even less prepared and still have been A-OK. Sundance Lodges offers rentals of dishes/cooking equipment (including a cooler, water jug and everything you need for washing up), bedding, towels, a campstove, and a cot for extra guests, so camping here can be truly turnkey. You could show up with a few groceries and your clothes and be all set (reservations always recommended!). That makes Sundance Lodges an excellent choice for families wanting a easy weekend away from Calgary, or for visitors from further afield who are traveling without any camping gear. If you’re passing through the area, I highly recommend camping in Kananaskis as a memorable experience, and Sundance Lodges as a terrific place to ‘make camp’.
This family plans to return to Sundance Lodges in the future, and next time I think we’ll try out one of those beautiful tipis. We’ll just bring a tarp and some rope (the better to rig up an undercover eating area) in case we run into another wet weekend! And next time I’ll try to remember to pack our pillows before we leave home.
Sundance Lodges Contact Details:
Hosts: Sheryl and Brian Green, and their friendly staff
Location: South of Hwy 1, on Hwy 40 in Kananaskis AB, just before the turnoff to Nakiska and Kananaskis Village