When last we visited Aspen Beach Provincial Park, back in August of 2014, our camping weekend was severely impacted by abnormally cold weather. If I recall correctly, we awoke to temperatures in the low single digits each morning and our afternoon highs only ventured into the mid-teens. Sunny or not, that is hardly the kind of summer weather one desires when camping at a lake while visions of beach frivolity danced through kids’ heads.
After a couple summers exploring other parts of the province, and country, we ventured back to Aspen Beach along with the same friends who joined us that first, ill-fated weekend. Bad luck stung us again, though thankfully, this time it was not the weather. When it came time to book sites for our chosen weekend, first minute and last minute scheduling conflicts conspired to relegate us to unserviced sites at the far, north end of Lakeview campground. This was not our first choice of location, nor second, third, or fourth, for that matter, and I’ll admit it tempered our anticipation in returning to Aspen Beach Provincial Park.
I shouldn’t have worried. Though our sites were seemingly in a different zip code relative to the heart of the campground, we remained a reasonable walking distance from the secondary beach and a moderate bike ride from the main beach and day use complex. More importantly, despite being up in the open, unserviced outskirts of Lakeview campground, our sites were huge. By all appearances, the park has cut the number of sites in this part of the campground by half and so every current site is comprised of two former sites. This makes for an odd but useful layout, especially if you’re camping with another family.
The sites were and remain pull throughs but they did not remove the former gravel pads from the now defunct sites. Instead, the former gravel pads comprise the fire pit area in the newer, larger sites. So each site has a pull through gravel pad for your RV, a grassy area, another gravel pad upon which the fire pit is located and then another grassy pad. The result is a large, albeit strange, double site.
Now, what makes this peculiar setup so appealing is if you are camping with friends. Since all the sites in this loop are/were pull through, you can set up your campers facing each other with two grassy areas and then a common gravel pad with fire pit. We found this to be a terrific orientation for our two families and so while we weren’t in the thick of things like we’d hoped, we ended up with a pretty sweet setup for the weekend.
Of course, with no services in this portion of the campground, most of the big RVs, including our camping partners’, brought generators to power the various gadgets folks can’t do without while camping. We aren’t what you’d call a hardy bunch. Despite my fear of generators, mechanical nuisances I despise, everyone with one was courteous and used them sparsely. That isn’t necessarily always the case, but it’s nice when it happens.
The biggest change between our two visits, by far, was the weather. Where temperatures barely crept into early pring range last time, we were afforded full-blown, summer heat this time. With sun blazing and temperatures inching towards the thirty degree mark, the weekend crowds were out in full force. This was something I speculated would happen on our first visit and I was bang on. Pat on back.
We ventured to the main beach for an ice cream treat, late afternoon on the Saturday and the people were EVERYWHERE. Boats, cars, trucks, bikes, people, people, people. It was exactly what one would expect from a summer resort hotspot in the centre of the densely-populated Calgary to Edmonton corridor. Our wait for ice cream was dangerously close to preposterous, but we survived and enjoyed our treat. That being said, the covered deck where orders are taken and delivered is a bit stifling. The shelter from the sun is pleasant but there is little air flow and with lineups in the very middle of the facility, there is constant traffic with people moving from one end to the other, cutting through those waiting in line. It’s not a brilliant design and when wait times swell to well over half an hour it can make for some tense moments.
The secondary beach, used only by registered campers unlike the main beach which is open to day users, is both smaller and less congested. But only just. With this lovely weather, everyone in Lakeview campground seemed to be at the beach and it filled up quickly. The sand part of the beach is quite small and the beachgoers sprawled onto the lawn behind. The handful of trees located in this park area were the first to be claimed by folks like me who hate the direct sunlight. It all felt kind of Caribbean resort-like with rows of sun-worshippers filling up every bare patch of beach or grass. Such compact accumulations of people aren’t my bag of taffy, but with a tree to shade me and some friends to chat with, I survived.
And the kids had a blast! They spent hours digging and creating elaborate sand castles in the small patch of beach they commandeered when we first arrived. When sand construction lost their interest, taking to the water with their air-filled toys was next on the list. The water was cool but refreshing on a hot day like this and the shallow, sloping shore made it easy for the kids to play in the water while the adults kept tabs from ashore. The designated swimming area here is large and does not go over tween-aged kids’ heads even 30 feet or more from shore. It may not be resort quality beach and lake, but for Alberta it’s not too shabby.
If I have one gripe from our second stay, it is the washrooms. Now, I appreciate that flush toilet complexes are located throughout the park and despite their age they still work and do the job. They just get quite dirty on busy weekends and I wonder if cleaning more than once a day might be in order. This isn’t disgusting dirty; the kind that gives you dry heaves. It’s just that the taps are the old style push-button ones that don’t stay on so people are constantly pushing the buttons to keep water flowing with their now wet hands. Add to this the fact that water pressure is borderline firehose level, and by midday the washroom floors are flooded with water in which campers have trudged through with muddy, sandy footwear. It all makes for quite the mess.
We used the showers this time since we were coating ourselves with sunscreen regularly. The showers are free which is surprising considering the size and location of this campground. Bearing in mind how many other Alberta provincial parks have pay showers in far less busy spots, it doesn’t make sense that these are free. Anyway, free they were and here again the one cleaning a day was a noticeable issue as the constant stream of campers cleaning up left a large, mess of sand, mud, and water in all the shower stalls. It can be so frustrating taking a shower to clean up only to have to navigate a maze of grime to get out.
Ultimately, for a long weekend with fantastic weather, and Canada Day to boot, our second experience at Aspen Beach Provincial Park was pretty damned good. This type of lake resort isn’t necessarily to everyone’s liking. The crowds, the boats, the noise, and the activity isn’t exactly relaxing and it certainly isn’t very “at one with nature”. But if you’re after a couple days at the beach with the kids and/or friends, Aspen Beach Provincial Park is a worthy option. There is lots for kids to do and plenty of facilities to accommodate campers and day users alike. The lake town of Gull Lake also adds to the flavour of the visit with local programs and vendors. And if you’ve forgotten something important, the town of Bentley is only 5 minutes away with groceries and beer available.
Based on our second time around, I reaffirm my 4 out of 5 Baby Dill Pickles rating for Aspen Beach Provincial Park. If water activities are your favoured way to recreate, this lake and park will have everything you need or want. If you’re after a quiet retreat away from the city, well, you might wish to look elsewhere and further afield. I suspect we will be back here again in the coming years. Hopefully, we finally enjoy one of the inner sanctum sites that look so appealing as we cycle past. But even if we don’t, the castout sites ain’t so bad.