There’s a first time for everything. This is absolutely true except for when it’s not. Forget things I have no intention of doing like, say, seeing how many ball bearings I can stick up a nostril; the dime scare of 1980 was enough nostril adventure for one lifetime, thank you very much. Forget also the things I very much wanted to do but the window for achievement has long since closed like, say, my first high school girlfriend; at 45 with a wife and two kids I’m comfortable ushering this into the not-going-to-happen category. Unless, lengthy prison sentence is not on my no-intention-of-doing list. Just checked, it is.
Then there are those things I never imagined could happen. These are the things that while certainly possible seemed so unlikely that they never came up in my first-time-for-everything internal dialogue. One such unlikelihood, or so I thought, was our entire family disliking a campground. And yet, that just happened.
Camping seems to be the one activity our entire family of four equally enjoys. The kids love it and eagerly await our next weekend away all summer long. My wife and I are similarly keen to scurry off on our next campground adventure. Excited kids certainly make great incentives but we don’t need much prodding.
As such we’ve had a gratifying experience everywhere we’ve visited with our trailer. Even the less appealing locals were fun, despite the challenges of trains and numerous other manmade or natural frustrations. I figured the joy of camping and the outdoors would ultimately trump any misstep Mother Nature or modern society lobbed our way. That assumption was crosschecked head first into the boards by Wyndham-Carseland Provincial Park, a turn of events I never saw coming.
Wyndham-Carseland is a small, and strangely shaped provincial park hugging the Bow River immediately below the Carseland Weir southeast of Calgary, Alberta. To be honest, I’m not sure why this park even exists but it is conveniently close to the city, especially the southeast of the city. That alone seems to be its appeal. We made it to the campground at Wyndham-Carseland Provincial Park in about 40 minutes pulling the trailer which is less time than it takes us to get to Aspen Crossing, a campground we’d previously determined to be exceptionally convenient. Those willing to tent or just looking for a day trip can make it even quicker with ease.
Such proximity to the city is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand this makes for a relatively easy, stress-free camping weekend for city folk, be they rookies, not as adventurous as more seasoned campers, or just looking for a quick escape. On the other hand, it also makes for a desirable party place for those looking to blow off a little steam near but outside the city. Case in point, there was a birthday party being held two sites down from us complete with decorations, music, and the token loud, obnoxious, drunk chick.
Thankfully this party confined itself to the daytime and early evening hours. I have no idea if park management kept a lid on the festivities or if the celebrators were simply uncharacteristically courteous, but there was no disruption of our sleep once the sun went down. For that I applaud them and it almost makes up for the fact that a stupid dog from their site literally attacked me as I was walking past at the end of a midmorning stroll.
Dogs are a common presence at campgrounds and I’ve come to accept this reality. I don’t particularly care for them or their owners who typically view them as quadrupedal miracles everyone desperately wishes to experience personally. My response to these hairy, attention-whore creatures floats across a scale from nonplussed to wanting to punt them across their owner’s site, but I’ve never actually been attacked by one. Hey, I guess there really is a first time for everything.
Aside from pets, the most predominant life form you’ll find at Wyndham-Carseland is, without question, birds. They are everywhere! And they are noisy! We have never heard a constant aural assault overhead like we did at this park. That’s not to say it was unpleasant. In a weekend that ultimately disappointed and was, frankly, boring, birdwatching was one outlet from the ennui. We saw white pelicans, double-crested cormorants, robins, tree swallows, yellow warblers, and a pileated woodpecker. If you like birds, you’ll enjoy the sights at Wyndham-Carseland but be prepared for the sounds as well. The birds are relentless from the crack of dawn until the final twinkle of sunlight fades away.
Despite its closeness to Calgary, Wyndham-Carseland is a barebones camping experience. There is no power, water, or sewer at any of the sites. Pit toilets are plentifully scattered throughout the campground but there is no shower house with flush toilets anywhere to be found. This is somewhat rare these days for Alberta parks and it would be nice if one could be added. There certainly is room for one. The pit toilets are admittedly unique having separate stalls for each pit just like you would find in a flush toilet installation. I’ve never seen such a setup before. Ah! First time for everything again.
The sites are located in three elongated loops along the river. Only loop A is reservable, leaving loop B and C to first come, first serve campers. Considering how close to Calgary this place is you can bet a pretty dollar that those first come, first serve sites are gobbled up quick. Like people head out Thursday or even Wednesday to lay claim to one, set up their unit and then return to the city until Friday arrives and they can actually go camping for the weekend, quick. Being a scheduling freak, we reserved a site in loop A.
The sites themselves are nice enough. Most are big, some are small. They all have level, gravel pads on which to park your RV. Some have mowed areas for green space while others don’t. You are by no means crammed in here like sardines but there isn’t always a great deal of privacy either. Our site was excellent with space between us and the neighbours so if you take your time you can find just what you desire.
There are tall cottonwoods here that provide nice shade while also providing homes for energetic tree swallows. Tall grass and weeds make up the bulk of the underbrush. We were a few steps from the Bow River and the trail that runs alongside the river for the length of the park.
A decent sized, newish playground is located in loop B for the kids to play on and is easily accessible from all three loops. Kids were making good use of it whenever we walked past. You will also find kids racing around the loop roads on their bikes.
There appears to be a great number more double sites here than we have noticed elsewhere which supports our conclusion that Wyndham-Carseland is much more social than typical Alberta Parks. By that I mean that the primary purpose of camping here is to be with friends drinking, eating, and enjoying the outdoors. This isn’t to say the place is a party spot in the sense that revelers run rampant but there were definitely a lot of groups here camping together and enjoying their day. So long as quiet hours are enforced, this is no issue. Still, I couldn’t help wonder if things don’t get a bit noisy some weekends, particularly the long ones.
In addition to the campground, there is a large day use area for picnics. Tables and fire pits are available in an open, mowed area at the west end of the park with views of the weir. A small playground is here as well for the kids to play on and a small (very small) store sells pop, chips, a (very) limited selection of camping essentials, and ice cream. The ice cream was nice and I’m sure the cubbyhole of a store is exceptionally busy on hot weekends but you’d be forced to drive to a nearby town (or back to the city) if you forgot something meaningful for your weekend.
There were a couple families enjoying the day use area while we were there and it struck me as a nice spot for such a picnic if you lived in the city. You can get away from the bustle without having to drive all the way to the mountains. Watching the water fowl as you enjoy a bbq with family or friends makes for a relaxing afternoon. You can even stroll up to the weir itself and snoop around a bit afterwards.
There isn’t much else to do, though. There is no beach anywhere and the river itself is hard to access even with just your toes were you so inclined. Next to the campground the banks are fairly steep and covered with fauna. A few places to scramble down to the water have been carved by persistent campers, but you won’t be setting up a lawn chair to watch the water flow by. Next to the day use area the banks have been reinforced with large boulders and (now dead) vegetation. This is presumably a response to the flooding that ravaged this entire area a few years back. It’s understandable but hardly pretty.
Nor will you fish, though if you stroll over to the highway bridge east of the park you can do your best to catch some supper. And if you prefer to cast your line from a boat, you’ll find yourself with limited options. Remnants of a boat launch are visible along the trail from the day use area to the weir but it is no longer in use nor accessible by vehicle. You could launch a canoe if you wished but we saw nobody doing this. And launching a canoe is impossible from the campground.
The scenery from the park is hardly inspiring either. Sitting at your campsite you’re insulated by the thin strand of nature along the river, but take a walk to the river’s edge, the day use area, or along the access road and civilization is everywhere. North of the park is a golf course complete with a course-side housing development. South of the park is farmland/ranchland but also a massive gravel pit no doubt feeding the seemingly endless sprawl of Calgary. These are realities of modern life but they sure kill the nature vibe quickly. It’s hard to feel like you’ve gotten away from the rat race when you can see and hear the rats a few paces away.
Similarly, you’ll hear traffic from the nearby highway and in the distance we even heard trains. Not the hourly hell that the CP mainline is through the mountain parks or along the TransCanada, but still enough to ruffle my anti rail-near-campground feathers.
Comfort camping is available with several large, permanent, tent-topped cabins erected at the end of loop C. I’ve yet to see inside one of these things but all were being used this weekend so they are popular for those without an RV or without a desire to tent.
Wyndham-Carseland also has a group camping area. We did not see it, however, because it is located 2km to the east of the campground on the other side of a busy highway. This is a peculiar setup for sure though the separation between the group areas and the main campground is likely appreciated when a particular group gets rowdy. I like isolated group areas for that very reason but this was a design I had never seen before. Gasp, more first times for everything!
Firewood is available at the office/store for $11 a bag and the dump station, located at the day use area, costs $6 per use and has those magnetic covers that force you to pay. Both prices seem a bit out of step with prices elsewhere. I’ve never understood why Alberta Provincial Parks don’t have consistent pricing for this stuff across the province.
Like so many campgrounds, it’s all a matter of what you’re looking for. We didn’t bond with Wyndham-Carseland like we have with almost every other campground we’ve been to. Having enjoyed many Alberta Provincial Parks over the years, this came as a bit of a shock to us and a disappointment. The proximity to Calgary makes it a tantalizing location for a quick getaway from the city. Everything else about the park, unfortunately, came up snake eyes in our book.
There just isn’t anything to do here. If you and your family/friends wish to sit around in the woods drinking, chatting, and just relaxing you’ll likely find Wyndham-Carseland to be a handy getaway from the city. I prefer something more, especially when it’s just the four of us camping. With no beach, a single trail, no interpretive centre, and not even a geocache to be found, Wyndham-Carseland just doesn’t offer much for those looking to play, explore and learn. I like parks that have a preservation purpose at their core. Interpretive Centres and trail systems to explore are wonderful and make for enjoyable weekends. I don’t really understand the purpose of this provincial park.
I’m giving Wyndham-Carseland Provincial Park only 2 Baby Dill Pickles out of 5. And I feel that is generous because we really didn’t enjoy our weekend there. We openly discussed coming home early though we decided to stay. Even the kids were unimpressed and they LOVE camping. I have no doubt that many folks find Wyndham-Carseland’s limited offerings perfect for their weekend recreational needs. We just expected more and as such are very unlikely to return here. With so many other, grander options around requiring only a little more driving time, we don’t need to compromise.