Aspen Crossing Campground was the first campground to which we intentionally returned back in the early days of our RVing career. Like other spots we sought out as we gathered our camping legs, Aspen Crossing was an easy, relatively short drive from our home. It quickly became a favourite.
Trains were part of the draw. With very young kids in tow, being able to walk around, and eventually ride, working rail stock appealed to our family. As it did for good friends of ours who, also with young kids, joined us there for a weekend of camping each spring.
Our two families were particularly fond of the Father’s Day event Aspen Crossing hosted. Games, bouncy castles, and a pancake breakfast made this already special Sunday a little more so. For a couple years, this weekend and location became our thing.
But as always, times change. Our friends eventually swapped their own trailer for the luxuries of a cabin. With that impetus, and my yearning to see new and varied camping locations, not to mention our elevated confidence in traveling with our trailer, we stopped going to Aspen Crossing a few years ago.
Each year as I plan out our upcoming summer excursions, I’m reminded of our times at Aspen Crossing. More exotic locales ultimately win the day, but I always wonder if we should go back sometime. Check out what has changed since those naïve, early days of camping.
This summer, when the idea of taking an exploratory day trip after dropping off my daughter at horse camp came about, Aspen Crossing Campground was first on my ‘must see’ list. Together with George Lane Municipal Campground in High River, my wife and I would spend a delightful morning reminiscing at old haunts followed by a (hopefully) delicious lunch at our favourite Mossleigh, Alberta destination.
Ch Ch Ch Changes
As we approached Aspen Crossing from the west, one thing quickly caught my attention. The trees had grown. A lot. Yes, I know trees grow, but this campground in a part of the Western Canada where trees aren’t exactly a fixture of the landscape. Wheat and canola dominate the fields and not too far away, irrigation becomes necessary. Starting from literally bald prairie, I hadn’t expected vertical flora to have grown so much. I was happy to be proven wrong.
That was far from the only change to be found at Aspen Crossing Campground. They have certainly been busy here since our last camping foray several years ago. Where once an abandoned, run-down farm house stood in a ratty, unkempt field now stood a fully renovated and landscaped “home” containing a tavern and escape rooms.
We didn’t get a chance to look inside, tavern hours not being designed to accommodate noon hour sight-seers on a Tuesday, but from the exterior the place looks fantastic. Surely the envy of many a farmer near and far.
Some new trains have found their way to Aspen Crossing, including a big, red CP diesel engine that now handles much of the excursion train workload and a rare, century-old steam engine salvaged from Prince Alberta, Saskatchewan that will be refurbished.
The Diefenbaker dining car restaurant has also undergone some changes since we last dined there. The interior has been renovated and now offers traditional dining tables and chairs in place of the original, u-shaped booths. I’m particularly fond of this improvement as the booths were too shallow to properly sit across from each other. You ended up staring across to the other side of the car, an uncomfortable and unnatural eating arrangement.
A large, deck has been added to the far side of the dining car, extending onto a lovely grass and garden area. With the car itself blocking views of the asphalt parking lot, this delightful patio area makes for a perfect summer lunch spot. The food was equally delicious and provided us the perfect finale to our little road trip.
The restaurant hours remain longer and more accommodating than those in the tavern. I’d love to slip out for another visit and check out the tavern when it’s open, but you won’t go wrong with the restaurant for any meal. Good food, good service, and appealing, unique surroundings.
More New Things
As for the campground, well, that’s changed quite a bit too. For one, like the trees within, it has grown substantially. 35 new, fully-serviced sites have been added to the north side of the campground in what had been an ugly former tree growing area. This adds to the availability of what has obviously become a popular, local tourist spot.
The new sites also compensate for the conversion of 20 original campsites into seasonal sites. I’m not sure when this change happened as I’m pretty sure all sites were non-seasonal back when we camped here. Some of these seasonal sites are in the core of the campground, including spots we once camped in. Those are now wonderfully vegetated and private spots and I wish they were still available to us weekend warriors. I can understand why they’ve become seasonal.
A new, second bathroom facility has been built in this new campground area adding to its convenience despite all the sites having sewer. Unfortunately, I didn’t enter them to check if they had showers. Kind of a bonehead moment on my part but I was still marveling at the changes.
There are still a couple group sites here and while they are attractive, with robust, enclose picnic shelters, their location is in amongst the campground. I prefer my group sites isolated so that I’m not constantly concerned about noise volume. Not everyone expects this, I realize.
If there was one weak spot at Aspen Crossing back in our visiting days, it was the playground. Located behind the registration office in the main amenities building, the original playground was a rather dilapidated wooden affair that didn’t much interest the kids.
I was delighted to see this has been replaced by a larger, metal contraption that would undoubtedly prove more interesting to children. Although it is new, it isn’t an industrial manufactured ordeal like those found at schools and other campgrounds. Not that those are bad, but this decidedly more homemade looking playset fits better with the passionate hobby feel of the entire place.
The remaining amenities at Aspen Crossing remain ideal for such a facility. The main registration office includes a modest store packed full of treats, food, toys, and emergency camper parts. The attached laundry and bathroom facilities are clean and modern. About the only thing missing is a pool. Hey, a boy can dream.
One of the feathers in Aspen Crossing’s campground cap are the caboose cabins, which can be rented and offer a full mini-cabin experience for glampers and romantics. We stayed in one for our 13th anniversary and enjoyed it immensely. It was nice to see a third caboose is now refinished and available for use. At the time of our visit, this third caboose was still pretty much a wreck.
The growth at Aspen Crossing Campground is impressive but not limited to the physical structures. The events list has also grown with multiple new train excursions available to visitors. They’ve even added a summer music festival in support of Stars Air Ambulance, which is a fantastic idea. Featuring local acts covering genres from bluegrass to country to rock & roll, I hope this August festival and fundraiser remains a staple of their schedule.
Is It Time to Go Back to Aspen Crossing Campground?
With all the changes, I am strongly considering a return to Aspen Crossing for a weekend. The kids are older now and would find the various activities available interesting and enjoyable. I might even convince them to try out the music festival which surely must be a fun outing for families and friends.
But even if camping there doesn’t fit our schedule, the proximity of Aspen Crossing to our home makes it a terrific place to escape the city for a nice drive and bite to eat. I admire the owners for creating this unique place in an otherwise lowkey part of the province. It truly is the fruit of a fascinating passion. For that alone, Aspen Crossing Campground is worth 5 Baby Dill Pickles out of 5. Give it a try. There’s more to camping in Alberta than the Rocky Mountains and Aspen Crossing is certainly one of the more unique alternatives you’ll ever find.
And don’t forget, Aspen Crossing remains a functioning nursery. You can buy plants, shrubs, and trees here in the spring/summer. The welcoming commerce building is still filled with witty and beautiful gifts as well as a fun, rural museum all adding to the downhome ambience of this inspired prairie camping resort.