HomeCanadaCamp This (Sort Of) Secret Spot in the Heart of Alberta

Camp This (Sort Of) Secret Spot in the Heart of Alberta

It seems like everyone and their cousin has been to Alberta and back with amazing blue sky stories to tell. Wouldn’t you like to one-up them by visiting the places people rarely see? We’re talking about the hidden gems, the hard-to-reach rugged areas, and the hiking spots that make you truly feel ALIVE! If you like a (nearly) solitary experience of nature, set your GPS to the Spray Lakes.

This heavenly campsite in the mountains will undoubtedly become one of your favourites in Western Canada.

The Journey Is an Attraction in Itself

Lisa Marie Gaudreault @lisgaud

Step one: Make sure to download your route in advance because you will lose reception as you enter the National Park area. If you’re leaving from Calgary, you’ll begin your trip down the Trans-Canada Highway to Canmore. You can stop there and walk down Main Street (8th street) where you can enjoy microbreweries, various gift shops and specialty cafes.

After a nice visit downtown, you’ll get on Highway 742 for about 45 minutes. The drive is gorgeous, but be aware of all the winding turns! It’s not safe to stop at the side of the road, so resist the urge to park for photos. (Hopefully, your passenger takes nice pictures on the fly.)

Keep your eyes peeled for mountain goats as you pass Goat Creek. Then continue on Highway 742 to Spray Lakes Reservoir and follow the signs to the campsite (Spray Lakes West Campground.)

Travel Tip: You’ll need a reliable car with 4 wheel drive. Highway 742 is a classic dirt road and can be dangerous in bad conditions. Also, try to avoid driving at night if you can.

Check out: The Best Campervans For Rent In Calgary If You Want To Explore The Rockies This Summer.

First Come, First Served

Lisa Marie Gaudreault @lisgaud

Travel Tip: Arrive early, especially if you plan to camp during a busy period (like a weekend in July). It’s impossible to reserve your pitch in advance: you must go to the campsite and register.

Once you arrive, you can choose your site according to availability. There are 50 campsites in total. If a campsite is empty without a reservation sign, you’re free to pitch your tent! If you’re unlucky and no spots are available, you’ll might need to make some new friends. Maybe they’ll let you settle on their land and split the bill.

If you can’t find a way to spend the night, call it a day trip! Go for a hike on one of the beautiful trails. Then try back another time. Spray Lakes Campsite is open from May 19 to September 19.

After pitching your tent, you can register with the campground. Just don’t expect to pay by credit card. The registration consists of filling out a paper form and putting the cash in an envelope. We love that it’s so rustic! The cost of camping is $31/night.

Budget your costs to cover the number of nights you’d like to stay plus any firewood. Never bring your own firewood! You could interrupt the ecosystem by introducing invasive species to the area. Good thing the Park Ranger comes around a few times a day selling safe firewood.

The camping pitches do include a water pump; however, it is recommended that you bring your own drinking water. In terms of washroom facilities, the on-site chemical toilets are quite luxurious.

Camping in Bear Country

Lisa Marie Gaudreault @lisgaud

Bears are a fact of life with camping. Remember that it is you in the bear’s habitat and not the other way around.

  • Make sure your tent is far away from where you are preparing food.
  • Always keep your food in closed containers. The campsite offers lockers for this purpose. We recommend that you keep the food in your car.
  • Never leave traces of food. Even if you’re not very far away, make sure you put the food away in a safe place before you do anything else.
  • Don’t forget to bring your bear spray. Learn how to use it properly and always keep it on you. For more info, read Bear Spray Guide 101: What to do when crossing a bear on a trek?
  • Don’t leave anything scented in your tent. Even the smell of toothpaste is enough to attract a bear. If you have food remnants on your clothes, be sure to change your clothes before sleeping.
  • Before calling it a night, put away anything that might attract bears, such as beer cans (even when empty) and soiled camping cutlery.

On my last trip to Spray Lakes, there were warnings that a bear had recently been seen nearby. Sadly, bears are often killed if they get too close to humans. Please be responsible campers; we must protect these magnificent animals!

Hiking Around

Lisa Marie Gaudreault @lisgaud

Your only access to the trails in the area is by car. Remember, you won’t have cell reception, so it’s best to download the maps through your favourite app (mine is AllTrails Pro) in advance.

Moderate hikes according to AllTrails:

  • Rimwall Summit in Bow Valley Provincial Park (6.3 km ~ 2h34min)
  • West Wind Pass in Bow Valley Provincial Park (4.7 km ~ 1h10min)
  • Sparrowhawk Tarns in Bow Valley Provincial Park (11.6 km ~ 4h27min)

Challenging hikes according to AllTrails:

  • Windtower Trail via West Wind Pass in Bow Valley Provincial Park (10 km ~ 4h30min)
  • Ha Ling Trail to Ha Ling Peak in Bow Valley Provincial Park (7.2 km ~ 2h48min)
  • Old Goat Glacier Trail in Spray Valley Provincial Park (11.3 km ~ 3h49min)
  • Little Lougheed in Spray Valley Provincial Park (5.1 km ~ 2h17min)
  • Mount Lougheed Peak 1 in Spray Valley Provincial Park (10 km ~ 5h38min)
  • East End of Rundle in Spray Valley Provincial Park (5.6 km ~ 3h21min)

Spray Lakes Reservoir is definitely one of my favourite places in Alberta. For me, this campsite is the perfect mix of wild and contained camping. Here you can simply disconnect for the weekend and enjoy the stunning mountaintop views.

What is your favourite spot to camp in Western Canada?

You will also love: 11 Calgary Campervans and RVs You Can Rent to Explore the Rockies this Summer.

This article was originally published in French and adapted in English by Britney Claveau.

Lisa Marie Gaudreault
Lisa Marie Gaudreault
Je suis agente de bord, nutritionniste, professeure de yoga, rédactrice, mais surtout nomade. J’ai habité au Nicaragua et dans l’Ouest canadien. Voyager vient combler chez moi mon besoin de me renouveler sans cesse et ma curiosité insatiable. L'un de mes buts est d'éduquer les voyageurs afin qu'ils voyagent de façon plus responsable en accord avec la nature.
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