We made our way to Pigeon Lake Provincial Park for the Canada Day long weekend and things went awry before we even pulled the trailer out of the backyard, continued throughout our drive there, and failed to cease over the first night there. With reviews in no small part reflecting the mindset of the reviewer at the time of writing, this inauspicious start to our weekend does not bode well for Pigeon Lake Provincial Park.
It started with a simple deflated tire on the trailer. By the time we stopped for lunch, two-thirds of the way to the park, we’d discovered that this very same tire was literally shredding apart. Thankfully we discovered this pending catastrophe before it literally blew up on us. And while frustrating, this afforded me an opportunity to renew my man card by performing a roadside tire change. Alas, this was not the end of our misfortune.
A strange whistling noise plagued the interior of our SUV for the entire drive which upon arriving at the campground I discovered was (likely) caused by a severed hinge on the glass portion of our tailgate which left the glass hanging slightly askew. To make matters even worse, while simultaneously proving the rule of threes, a heavy rain overnight resulted in a large pool of trapped water in our awning stretching it all out of proportion. Thankfully, later that morning I learned that the awning was not in fact stretched, but had merely collapsed upon its support rails a bit and was actually no worse for wear. Things were turning brighter.
All these mishaps struck me as apropos considering that we had no intention of camping here in the first place. Back in March when it was time to book sites for this weekend we found ourselves scrambling to find a spot anywhere in the province since we’d forgotten that with the Canada Day holiday, everyone was booking sites starting Thursday night rather than the typical Friday night like we trying to do. Our original destination, Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, was long booked up and our scramble for a place to go led us to the last, lonely spot remaining here at Pigeon Lake. In retrospect, that miscalculation on our part should have been an omen.
Pigeon Lake Campground is located inside Pigeon Lake Provincial Park (duh!) along the western shores of Pigeon Lake. The park is actually made up of two packages of land, each with a campground. Zeiner is the smaller of the two and further to the north. We did not venture that way so this review focuses solely on the main Pigeon Lake campground and park. I also have no idea how this place got the name because I never saw a Pigeon anywhere.
Pigeon Lake is the third, and northernmost, of the three major (by Alberta standards) lakes along the Calgary to Edmonton corridor. It is a very popular spot for residents of the provincial capital and has significant cottage development particularly along the eastern and southern shores. It is also a popular fishing spot, Walleye being the popular catch, as can be attested to by the numerous boats anchored offshore throughout the day.
Sport boating is also popular and on sunny days you can hear the roar of speedboats ripping up and down the lake. Albertans like their toys and if it isn’t ATVs it’s boats and Seadoos. Fun of this sort abounds for water lovers which is a good thing because, frankly, the beach at Pigeon Lake Provincial Park is a huge disappointment. Having grown up in Southern Ontario and spent summers at Sauble Beach, my expectations for beaches are admittedly skewed and perhaps bordering on impossible to appease. As far as freshwater lake beaches go, you’ll be hardpressed to ever match those of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. That said, even by Alberta’s modest beach standards, Pigeon Lake Provincial Park is underwhelming.
I expected something similar to Aspen Beach on Gull Lake which we visited a couple summers ago. There, a large sandy beach is a huge draw for campers and local day users. On a sunny day the beach is overrun with sun worshippers and the nearby concession stand is bustling with hungry families. Pigeon Lake is about as opposite of that as you can get. The beach is smaller, rockier, and generally just blah. The nearby concession stand is closed up as no vendor was interested in running it which tells you how lacking in popularity this spot is. Again, this surprises me a fair deal. With the proximity to Edmonton, and the size of this park, I fully expected this to be a large, bustling beach in the summer. It appears that is not the case.
My son still found joy at the beach so it’s not without merit. He loves digging holes and hunting for cool rocks which you can actually do here since there are plenty. The weekend we were here the water in the roped off beach area was clear and comfortable to swim in though a short walk down the shoreline led to areas of algae and goop. The lake is fairly shallow and with the hot spring we’ve had and mild winter, the water is tolerable temperature-wise. At least I assume it is since people were in it. I tolerate nothing short of bathtub water, thanks.
Beach notwithstanding, there is a lot to love about Pigeon Lake Provincial Park. The entire campground is well-treed, with lots of Aspen and Poplar along with thick shrubbery and undergrowth. This provides ample privacy and separation between sites as well as modest shade. This is a welcome environment considering we’re not far from prairie farm and ranch land out here. It’s an oasis of “forest” that makes for an enjoyable camping experience.
The sites themselves are of decent dimensions with a hard-packed, level gravel pad to park RV units on. The sites vary in orientation but most can handle fairly large sized RV units if that’s your fancy. If you’re a typical Albertan, then it certainly is. Loops A (where we camped), B, C, and F are power only while Loops D and E are unserviced.
Many group areas are also available for larger numbers and are located both within the single camper loops (a bit odd) or isolated in their own secluded area (i.e. big field). Drinking water is available at the dump station or at several taps located throughout the loops. Each site has a picnic table and firepit. Firewood costs $8 for a feed bag sized lot of pine/spruce.
If tent or RV camping is not your bag of coins, there are yurts available for comfort camping as well. These are pretty much small cabins with decks and BBQs for those preferring a bit of civility in their wilderness enjoyment. They look like fun but I don’t know much else about them.
A decent trail network spiderwebs around the entire Pigeon Lake Park and campground providing ample opportunities for hiking or biking. The trails are all hard-packed gravel and are especially wide, almost single lane roads, so bikers and hikers have plenty of room to pass each other as they explore. So where the beach might be lacking, the opportunity to walk and explore is superlative. The trail along the lakeshore has several scenic lookouts with benches for resting and while they are appealing the trees have grown into the view a fair bit leaving the term “lookout” somewhat suspect. Trails away from the lake offer plenty of fun for bird watchers and mushroom pickers but be sure to pack your mosquito repellent.
There are modest playgrounds available for the kids to play on, one near the beach and another smaller one closer to where our campsite was located. There doesn’t appear to be playgrounds in all the loops, so some of the further afield loops are definitely a fair walk or bike ride to the playgrounds. The playgrounds themselves are fun and somewhat sophisticated, but definitely dated and showing their age. The gliders, for example, don’t work so well anymore and you just get the feeling that the entire infrastructure of the place is in need of a refresh.
Original pit toilets are dotted throughout the campground but (thankfully) modern flush toilets have also been built in convenient locations within the park. The modern washrooms are ideal for our needs and seem to be kept in good shape. Pit toilets are pit toilets and I avoid them like the plague when possible. A for fee dump station is on site for all loops to use. I suspect this place becomes quite busy on Sundays as the campground is quite large and plenty of RV’ers looking to dispose of their unpleasantness before heading home.
A fantastic, new shower facility is also present in Loop B which I promptly forgot to take a picture of. This facility services the entire campground and thus has several shower stalls along with sinks, urinals, and toilets. It looks tidy and a very recent addition to the park and undoubtedly much needed if there were no such facilities present beforehand. Showers cost $2 for 5 minutes
A large grassy area is located beside the large playground near the defunct concession stand. This would be a good place for tossing the Frisbee, football, or baseball as well as kicking the soccer ball around. The weather was somewhat gloomy when we visited so this area remained pretty quiet during our time there.
Overall, I didn’t hate our stay at Pigeon Lake Provincial Park despite our troubles the first day. The setting is appealing with the well-treed, and private sites being something I prefer. The trail network is wonderful and those looking for places to hike or cycle will enjoy this place. That being said, it’s hard to ignore the disappointment of the beach and closed concession area. This still bewilders me. It seems like a huge opportunity has been wasted somehow. Maybe artificially enhancing the beach is impossible?
Whatever the reason, this is a significant detriment to the campground and unless you have a boat, you’ll really leave disappointed with the water aspect to your weekend. Also, the playgrounds and benches and overall infrastructure of the campground is dated and worn. The place certainly needs some investment to bring it back to life. If Aspen Beach is to be used as a comparison, and I think that’s fair, then Pigeon Lake Provincial Park is the poorer camping experience.
The local community around the lake is vibrant and bustling with summer activities. It’s a wonderful resort area with Farmer’s Markets and community events every weekend over the summer. By any measure, this is a wonderful area. It’s too bad Pigeon Lake Provincial Park isn’t the gem it could be. I give it a regrettable 3.5 Baby Dill Pickles out of 5. It has potential but needs some work to up its rating.