There exists a universe where we camped at Castle Falls Campground. This is not that universe.
It was close, though. For a few lingering minutes I had even placed a Castle Falls campsite in my checkout cart. We’ld spend one night at Castle River Bridge and a second night at Castle Falls. But when it came time to click the payment button, the allure of electricity coupled with a growing disinterest in setting up and tearing down a campsite twice, won the day.
A pity, that, because I think I’d have enjoyed Castle Falls Campground more. Not that it’s overwhelmingly different than Castle River Bridge Campground. Both are relatively small campgrounds located in bends of the Castle River in Castle Provincial Park. In fact, they’re a short ten-minute drive down a gravel road from each other. It’s just that Castle Falls struck me as a bit prettier, all things being equal.
Oh, and fewer mosquitoes. By no means can I confirm that with certainty but based on a stroll through Castle River Campground, the bug density was significantly less intrusive than at our site, if campers lounging around in shorts and tank tops are to be trusted. Perhaps they’re just less wimpy than I?
Regardless, I made our Castle River Bridge bed and slept in it, itchy welts and all. Castle Falls Campground became a simple morning adventure for us, a delightful one, mind you, but nothing more. These are my observations based on the couple of hours we visited and brief wandering through the campground.
Castle Falls Campground is home to forty-six campsites spread between three loops. The road entering the campground terminates at a day use area parking lot that separates these loops. The bulk of the campsites are found in the main loop and south river loop to the right while nine sites are found to the left in the north river loop.
The campground is set among a variable wooded area of aspen, spruce, and poplar. Privacy and shade vary. None of the sites are wide-open but some are certainly less sheltered than others. Closer to the river, for example in the south river loop, the trees are bigger and more populous resulting in greater shade and privacy. Shrubs, like wild rose, add to the separation between sites in the more open spots.
Most campsites at Castle Falls Campground are back-in style but a few arcing pull-throughs are available in the main loop. There is some elevation change as you navigate the loops retreating from the river. Nothing dramatic and the campsites themselves are nice and level, but this isn’t an entirely flat area.
None of the sites come with any services. There is no water, power, or sewer nor is there a dump station (the Co-op in Pincher Creek is the closest option). Upgrades seen at Castle River Bridge Campground have not been implemented here yet, either. There are no comfort camping cabins or fancy, stone-clad pit toilets.
The pit toilets are nonetheless fine, appearing to be somewhat newer despite the bland exteriors. With two stalls per unit, they still show gender segregation unlike the brand new unisex structures seen elsewhere. I didn’t require use of these toilets so cannot comment on their stench. I suspect they are not much different than those at Castle River Bridge; not dreamy, but not gross.
There are two hand water pumps, one in each of the southern loops. The small north lake loop does not have its own water pump though it does have its own pit toilet. Considering the advisory not to drink this water anyway, this hopefully isn’t a critical issue. Most of us will have brought fresh water from home. Or should have.
Everything has been turned upside down in 2020, so like Castle River Bridge, Castle Falls Campground is now available by reservation only. Normally it is a first come first served campground, the registration kiosk and message board at the entrance confirming it as such. Whether it reverts to fcfs or stays reservation-only remains to be seen in coming years.
I personally prefer reservations. Castle is a long drive from Calgary, one I would be reluctant to make without assured campsites available. Those more local to the park would likely not mind if this inconvenience kept us big city folk away.
As with the other campgrounds in Castle Provincial Park, there is no playground. There was, however, an enterprising camper present during our short visit (or in the past). In the northern lake loop, someone has affixed a rope swing to a large tree in the loop median. I have no clue if this swing remains a permanent feature at Castle Falls Campground or if the genius who made it took it home when they left. Either way, it’s a testament to the adage that where there is a void, humans will fill it.
Recreation beyond your own campsite is pretty much limited to two activities; hiking and fishing. The river offers clear but fast flowing mountain waters in which to cast your line. I assume fly fishing is the proper means of doing so as the rough, quick waters would be tricky for trolling or bobber fishing.
Hiking is the more likely activity considering the extensive, former off-highway vehicle trails present in this part of the park. To the northwest, beyond the Carbondale River, those trails remain open to quads etc., but here such vehicles are no longer permitted. The trails still exist, of course, and are well suited to hiking and mountain biking. Since we were only visiting for a couple hours, we passed on any hiking and instead spent our time exploring along the river.
The river, after all, is the reason this campground exists. The namesake falls were a bit of a disappointment. More rapids than actual waterfall, they are nonetheless a pretty sight once you’re over the letdown of no grand, cascading falls.
Easily accessible from the small day use area, the outcropping rocks provide a scenic observation point to take in the entirety of Castle Falls. I imagine this spot gets quite crowded during summer weekends thereby limiting the likelihood of stranger-free picture taking. During our Tuesday morning in June visit, this wasn’t a problem though I did still have to wait ten minutes for a couple of young women relaxing on a prominence to leave my line of sight.
The view up the river is appealing and the sound of crashing, tumbling water is ever-present. Keep that in mind when choosing your campsite if you’re a light sleeper. A handful of sites in the south river loop are close to the river which, though lovely, might limit your ability to snooze soundly.
We had a great time exploring the riverside beside and below the falls. There wasn’t much in the way of gravel bars for rockhounding near the campground itself, but a short hike northward brought us to an abrupt, ninety-degree turn in the river. Here a large, flat outcrop and associated bars offered us plentiful rock hunting opportunities as well as excellent site lines up the river valley with mountains in the distance. We also discovered a little, brown frog desperately hiding in the rotting organic matter at the bottom of a puddle.
The day use area itself is reasonable enough for a midday picnic. There are picnic tables and firepits immediately adjacent to the parking area surrounded by small trees. If you venture through the trees, a grassy area opens up with nice views of the Rocky Mountains, a far more appealing view for a picnic in my opinion.
With no cell service, Wi-Fi, store, or even firewood for sale, Castle Falls is fairly minimalist camping. It’s a nice spot and relatively easy to get to if you don’t mind a few miles on gravel. On the way you will pass Designated Camping Areas in which campers are doing for free what you are paying to do. As I mentioned in my Castle River Bridge Campground review, this is a bit odd and as far as I know, unique to Castle Provincial Park. Your mileage may vary as to whether it is fair.
Were I able to do our first visit to Castle Provincial Park over again, I think I’d spend at least one night at Castle Falls Campground despite the nuisance of moving a trailer mid-trip. I just liked this place. Some of the campsites are quite desirable, namely those beside the river or the one remarkably, isolated (and therefore private) site in north river loop that appears to have been plunked down all by itself in the middle of nowhere.
I’ll give Castle Falls Campground 3.5 Baby Dill Pickles out of 5. It will appeal to some more than others. If they ever get electrical service to it, my rating would go up. A playground would be nice to add too; there’s certainly room. Those who prefer a more rustic experience with the intent of hiking or biking around the wilderness already rate it higher than I have. I totally get that. Go and decide for yourself.