Saturday, January 5, 2013

Review: Columbia Icefield Campground, Jasper National Park

Location: 1 hour south of Jasper
Morning view from Site #13
Website:  Parks Canada
Map: Jasper Park (Parks Canada) or Google
Camping Facilities: Rustic Car Camping and Walk-in Camping
Grade: A
Stargazing: Good but not amazing (though it should be...)
Summary: What car camping should aspire to be
Site #13, with log stools, recessed from the road
Thoughts: Given the likely demand for car camping at this location, being right in the heart of Jasper National Park, along the Icefields Parkway, and adjacent to the Columbia Icefield Family Craziness Centre, the existence of this modestly-developed, peaceful, non-electric campground is a bit of a low-impact miracle.   All car campground designers should endeavor to produce work of this quality, where users will find a greater degree of privacy, beautiful scenery, low noise (most sites are reasonably far from the highway), easily accessible services (toilets, firewood and water) and opportunities for socializing.

A warming hut inside the campground loop
Facilities are rustic but generous.  There is an ample number of latrines, which are built on concrete slabs and are spotless (hand sanitizer is provided for those who desire it).  There is also a warming hut in the NW corner of the loop, which I imagine is great on the early spring nights.  This campground includes radial walk-in campsites, stemming off a single car-camping loop.  The views from the sites on the western side of the loop are outstanding, where you can watch the sun set on the glacier-capped mountain range across the highway.  The rest of the loop is probably more sheltered from road noise from the Parkway, but without the mountain views.  The water is a reasonable walk from all sites, though it might be a bit cumbersome for those using the walk-in sites (though they're all close to a mountain stream that provides the drinking water, you'll just have to treat it yourself).

A walk-in campsite
The walk-in campsites to the SW seemed a bit claustrophobic, but without the understory, you'll lose privacy.  The ones to the SE (up the hill, on the north side of the stream) are a little more open, if that's what you want, and are closer to the treated water station.  The site pictured here is one of the SW sites, across the bridge on the south side of the stream.  I don't think any of these sites have views, but are more secluded than anything you'll get on the main loop.  But they all have tent pads (just as the car camping site do) and are pretty spacious.
Drinking water source - a mountain stream (pristine!)

We ended up on site #13, which we selected based on its view, and because it was sheltered from its neighbouring sites (as sheltered as car camping gets).  It's hard to beat the view from this site.  The only issue is the traffic noise, but you won't hear too much of it at night, when traffic dies down (especially in the off season). This is an honor system campground, where you are expected to deposit your fees into drop box for collection by park staff.  National parks allow you to provide a credit card number, so you don't have to carry exact change (which we found was an issue with some parks we stayed at in BC).

Given the options available after Labour Day, this is probably your best bet for car camping.  The only administrative problem we found when we arrived, we found that the contract for the firewood supply had run dry by that point in the season (late Sept; guess there weren't many fire bans that summer?).  We were essentially pick scraps of kindling from the wood pile, but the plus side was that staff posted a notice telling campers that they weren't expected to pay for the use of these scraps.

One bizarre note; we were camping in early fall, with cold nights and a new moon, yet we could hardly see any stars.  I'm not sure which phenomena were at work here, but it didn't make any sense, especially since there aren't any lights for many kilometres away.

Bottom line: this is the best campground south of Jasper on the Parkway.

P.S.  Stay away from site 12A - it's probably the least private site and on top of that, everybody strolls through it to access the outhouse.

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