This summer we have decided to take advantage of the Parks Canada Annual Pass and spend some time exploring our National Parks. With Canada’s 150th Birthday Celebration coming up next year, Annual Passes bought this year are valid for TWO YEARS. The year long pass is a great deal as it was, but we were excited when this announcement was made. And for even more savings, we were able to buy our pass $10 cheaper with our AMA membership. My husband ended up making a quick trip to AMA the morning before we left for Banff to ensure we bought a July 2016 pass. This now gives us park access until the end of July 2018 – almost 3 full summer’s worth!
During our 7 day stay in Banff we were able to take in so many great natural sites and experiences. And, thanks to Brewster’s Epic Summer Pass, we were able to affordably visit a lot of the more exciting tourist attractions including the Banff Gondola, Banff Gondola, Banff Lake Cruise, Glacier Adventure and Glacier Skywalk
Here is a rundown of how we spent each of our sightseeing days and what you can expect to see in my future posts:
Day 1: Yoho National Park
Day 2: Kootenay National Park and Radium Hot Springs
Day 3: Banff Gondola and Lake Minnewanka Cruise
Day 4: Johnston Canyon Lower & Upper Falls
Day 5: Jasper National Park Glacier Adventure and Skywalk
Day 6: Bow Valley Parkway and Lake Moraine
Day 7: Peter Lougheed Provincial Park
Our first trip with our Parks Pass was an 8 night stay at the Johnston Canyon campground in Banff National Park. It had been a few summer’s since we had been to the mountains and stayed in a National Park, so we were excited for our week long getaway.
The Johnston Canyon Campground is conveniently located along the Bow Valley Parkway and is only about a 20 minute drive from the town of Banff. We chose the campground for its central location in Banff National Park, which allowed us to easily branch out in several directions for daytrips throughout our stay.
The sites were well maintained and came with the standard fire pit and picnic table. There were a lot of surrounding pine trees and the sites were spacious enough that you felt some privacy between neighbouring campers. The main roadways were also paved which made it easy for kids to ride their bikes around the loop. The only major thing really missing would be a playground for the kids.
One drawback of the location, that we had read in reviews beforehand, is the close proximity to trains. They were pretty loud when they came thundering through and whistling during the day, but we all managed to sleep through them during the night. They didn’t seem to sound the whistles at night and they were certainly a lot fewer and farther between.
Unfortunately there are no powered sites in the campground so we had to adjust our camping a little bit to accommodate for that. One major thing we did was to switch out our trailer bulbs to LED’s to reduce the amount of energy drawn there and we tried to use the lights as little as possible. Since we didn’t have a gas generator, we did end up having to power the battery back up with the vehicle a couple times over the course of the week in order to run the furnace. We had some rainy weather and we ended up needing heat in the night more then we expected. We did bring a solar panel along, but it didn’t work out with large trees and too many cloudy days.
Much to my dismay, one other thing the lack of power meant was no Keurig to make my morning coffee. I know, first world problems. I was happy to overcame this issue by picking up a handy coffee press from IKEA for $10. I am sure we will make use of this again on future non-powered camping trips.
Reservations are required for Johnston Canyon, and need to be made several months in advance to ensure your spot. The Parks Canada registration system opened in mid January this year and that is when my husband made our booking for this July trip. All bookings can be done by setting up an account through the Parks Canada website: https://reservation.pc.gc.ca/ParksCanada
Bathrooms and Showers
The bathrooms were all flush toilets and running water. The buildings were heated on those chilly mornings, and were kept well stocked and clean. There was also a sink outside each bathroom to wash dishes and try to maintain a “bare site” that didn’t attract animals.
There was a shower building in each of the loops, with two showers in each the men and women’s sides. I brought coins along, but was happy to see there were no costs associated with using the facilities. The water pressure was great, the water was warm, and there was even a wheelchair accessible stall available.
After having to pay for bundles of firewood at other campgrounds this season, we were delighted to see that the firewood was included with the cost of our campsite. There was a large pile to access near the shower buildings in each loop, and I noticed staff out splitting logs and ensuring the wood pile was well stocked each day.
At check-in we were given activity booklets for the kids. Parks Canada is currently running a Canada Xplorers program for the kids which encourages them to complete activities in the free booklet, and then allows them to bring it in to a visitor centre, historic site or evening campground program for a free souvenir. My kids were excited to complete their 6 activities and bring them in to the Johnston Canyon Bear’s Den Theatre for the Xplorers ceremony after one of their nightly theater shows.
At the ceremony, the kids each got their certificates signed and received a cute Parks Canada branded dog tag on a chain. My son proudly wore this for the next several days and is excited to try and get another when we visit Waterton and Jasper this August.
We were able to take in two of the shows at the Bear’s Den indoor Theatre. The kids had really enjoyed similar programs when we visited Marten River campground last summer, so we decided to check it out our first evening. The two girls doing the shows really seemed to love what they were doing and did a great job acting and getting the audience involved.
The theatre was a short walk from our campsite and the Johnston Canyon Amphitheatre is particularly nice because it is indoors. It is a bit chilly inside the cement building, but it was a nice place to escape on really hot, or rainy, evening for some free entertainment.
Our first evening there we took in Double Roe 7: A Trout on a mission. My son was excited to play the part of a rainbow trout in this fun spy themed show about Banff’s native Westslope Cutthroat Trout. Later in the week, we caught the Treks, Trails and Epic Tales show where Camden had first crack at costumes and got to play the Lynx as we learned about backcountry camping and the Healy Pass area.
There are Amphitheaters with shows at each of the Banff campgrounds, so definitely ask about the programming at check-in. The hosts also made their rounds to our campsite before the shows to remind people and encourage them to come out. It was great fun for kids and adults alike, and it was a great way to learn a bit more about Banff.
Johnston Canyon Hike
One other terrific perk of staying at the Johnston Canyon campground is that you are walking distance to the beautiful Johnston Canyon. It is an extremely popular attraction and we noticed that the parking lot, and road leading up to the parking lot, all filled very quickly each morning. It was nice to be able to walk over to enjoy the hike and not have to deal with the stress of parking.
We had a great stay at Johnston Canyon and I wouldn’t hesitate to stay their again. Just remember to make those reservations early!