Another summer weekend means another trip northward towards the provincial capital. This time we were camping southeast of the big city at Miquelon Lake Provincial Park. With four brand new, extra ply trailer tires adorning our trailer, we anxiously set out in hopes of finally making it to a campground without blowing any tires. I’m happy to report, that we achieved this lofty goal! Fingers crossed that the curse is finally broken.This is our third time at Miquelon Lake Provincial Park, as it has become the de facto campground of choice for a small family and friends gathering we do each year. This year, like last year, we rented one of the group areas rather than staying in the main campground area. We do this so we can let the hair down a bit and not worry about annoying the other campers. Also, this particular group area (#5) has its own cookhouse shelter and private flush toilet washroom. This is fantastic for little kids (washrooms), entitled adults (washrooms) and bad weather (cookhouse).
The cookhouse is of particular draw to our entourage as it includes a wonderful cast iron fireplace to stoke with fire when Alberta summer, as it often does, turns to semi-winter. The building is rather expansive and includes ample room for the four picnic tables inside. The large sliding barn door on the front can be opened up to air it out as well as making it easy access for everyone. If the weather turns sour or you want to escape the bugs, the building shuts up nice and tight while still providing a place to entertain yourselves.
Miquelon Lake is one of the more peculiar provincial parks we’ve visited thus far. I’m really not sure what to make of it nor have I ascertained why it even exists. It’s as if someone decided to build a world class campground and day use area but didn’t bother to check out the lake before breaking ground. The facilities here are tremendous and by my investigations, almost entirely unused. The reason for this seems entirely the fault of the lake which is absolutely not a swimming, summer fun kind of lake.
The lake itself is basically a large, shallow pond. There are no rivers or creeks feeding it so it is 100% meltwater fed and it seems water levels have been down for quite a few years now. The original beach area appears detached from the lake itself suggesting the lake is retreating in size. There is now a swath of grassy dunes between the beach and water and then a muddy former lake bottom area. The beach remains and is a surprisingly large, sandy gem of a beach though it looks to be slowly reverting to wilderness. It must have been quite the spot originally though I’m just speculating. The water itself is full of aquatic plants and algae, not to mention smelly and generally unpleasant looking. This just isn’t a place you’d ever want to swim.
That being said, it must have been at one time. Or at least the powers-that-be thought it could be. Most telling of this forgotten or ill-advised past is the outdoor shower area near the beach, presumably for washing off after a swim. Now unused and unkempt, it stands as a mysterious sentinel of a former glory.
There is also a huge, modern playground at the beach as well as a large grassy field for games and running around. Picnic spots dot the surroundings and again there was a large group enjoying this area playing and BBQ-ing. So the place is used, just not nearly in the numbers the infrastructure would imply.
If you like bird watching, though, this is the place for you. There are pelicans nesting here and lots of gulls and plovers. Twice we saw a majestic Bald Eagle soar across our group camping area on its way to and from somewhere. I felt like I could almost reach out and grab it. And those Pelicans truly are amazing birds. All day long you can see them high in the sky soaring in groups of two, three, four, or more like a squadron of WWII bombers. It’s an incredible sight and you’ll find yourself wanting to just sit in your reclining lawn chair watching the show overhead.
Dragonflies were plentiful during our July visit this year which also makes for an interesting visual display. Their presence, of course, means that mosquitoes are also aplenty and we soon learned that a generous dousing of bug repellant was necessary in the mornings and evenings. And for those not as keen on flying creatures, we found a few small frogs in the marshy spots in our group area.
The campground itself is quite nice. The sites are well sized and reasonably private. Some areas have better tree coverage though all are decently shaded. I would have no problem camping in them again and would do so were we camping alone. We just prefer the perks of the group area for our gathering.
A bike ride around the park on the respectable trail network took us to all corners of the park and through the various campground loops. The campgrounds were completely full of campers but I don’t know where all the people are hiding during the day. They aren’t at the beach in numbers large enough to account for all the trailers and I hardly saw many walking around or sitting in their sites. Perhaps there’s a special spot here that muggels don’t know about and can’t see? For all I know there’s a Quidditch tournament occurring right now at the beach/day area.
During the ride we stumbled upon the abandoned Comfort Camping area which now consists of the wooden skeletons of the former canvas topped cabins once available for renting. This looks to have been a nice, secluded area with private access to the water. Parks personal said that maintenance of the canvas tops became unaffordable and so this concept was shelved in favour of yurts built closer to the campground loops.
Like the other parks I’ve recently reviewed, there are pit toilets everywhere as well as newer flush toilets sporadically placed throughout the campground and day area. It’s stunning the number of washrooms here though I suspect the pit toilets are rarely used. Modern shower houses are also present in a couple locations throughout the campground loops. If our group area had showers in the private washroom, and there certainly is room for such a convenience, it’d be the best damned group area in the province!
In addition to the impressive playground at the beach, there are also smaller playgrounds in the camping loops. All of these were a short drive or couple minutes bike ride from the group areas which are spread out to the north of the park. This is great for privacy and separating the potentially louder group areas from the main campgrounds but did mean it took some effort to take the kids to play.
There is a large, active park centre here which strikes me as further evidence of the strangeness of this place. There is a room you can rent for meetings or presentations which I’d be curious to know who uses. There is a small interpretive centre here, a gift shop, and personnel present to answer questions. Nature programs are also offered to the campers at the amphitheatre nearer the main entrance. Our kids enjoyed one of these programs the Saturday night of our stay. There was also a Learn To Geocache program offered in the afternoon.
It really is quite the happening park if only I could find the people enjoying it all. We are here on a lovely, late July weekend, the sun is out and the temperatures are comfortable and yet the day use parking lot is practically empty. There are a few people at the playground and some large families having BBQs at the picnic sites, but the place is hardly packed nor are the picnic spots all being used. If it weren’t for the hundreds of trailers and tents clearly visible in the campgrounds I’d swear the place was almost deserted.
Perhaps the best indicator of how exceptionally facilitated this campground is comes from the fact that there are three separate dump stations; one for the group areas, one for loop A, and one for loop B/C. That is remarkable considering how many campgrounds and provincial parks have a single dump station for the entire park. As one of the few campers with an RV in the group areas during our visit, we gleefully pulled into an empty dump station and were on our way in no time. These dump stations cost $3 and are require payment at the station to open the lid to the dump. A machine taking coins operates each spot which is fine, I guess, so long as the machine is working.
Our visit included an added bonus from Mother Nature who whipped up a dramatic thunderstorm our first night there. Sitting around the campfire we watched the storm form as towering clouds thrust into the sky and a dramatic sunset lit up the base of these encroaching storm clouds. By midnight the rain started and we all retreated to our tents and campers where several hours of rain, thunder, and lightning lulled us to sleep. Ha, okay it kept us up but was well worth it.
The next night the rain stayed away and we instead enjoyed stars. The park bills itself as a bit of a dark sky preserve though I think this might be a bit of a stretch. The glow of cities can be seen in the far distance but the night sky is still a pleasure compared to that which we city dwellers typically see.
There is a lot to like about this place. The scenery is beautiful in its own “dead lake” kind of way. This isn’t a beach fun location, but it’s still well worth going for nature lovers or those wishing to camp in a nice place with good facilities but not a lot of people.
I remain perplexed about its very existence. This seems like an awful lot of money being put into a place that is drastically underused. Perhaps the lake was better twenty or thirty years ago? I have no idea. There definitely is a disconnection between facilities and usage here. Miquelon Lake is not a summer paradise. Sure, the kids find sandy spots in the dunes to play and they could certainly dig and have fun at the beach. There is a hand loading dock for canoes but there are no motorboats here. It’s a nice quiet spot that way. But if you’re looking for summer fun and action, this ain’t it.
I give it 4 out of 5 baby dill pickles but duly recognize that many will not reward it so highly. Bird and nature lovers will appreciate it more; swimmers and water lovers much less. It is family friendly but again, not in a “let’s go the beach and play all day” kind of way. We really like it for our family and friends gathering but I would be slightly less keen if we were camping alone in the regular campsites. Still, it’s an exceptionally facilitated park for the numbers of people who actually show up there. A hidden gem of sorts.