After last weekend’s misadventure we were eager to get camping with our new trailer tire and new tailgate hinges. There’s nothing quite like the excitement of repaired vehicles hitting the open road. Well, okay, not really, but we were definitely hopeful of an uneventful trip to our next camping destination, Wabamun Lake Provincial Park, west of Edmonton. That hope was abruptly dashed as we passed Innisfail, which for those unfamiliar with Alberta geography, is well short of our near Edmonton destination.
A fairly loud and sudden thump soon followed by black shards of tire visible in the passenger side mirror was proof positive that, yup, another trailer tire had blown. To compound our escalating exploding tire mystery, this second blowout occurred in the exact axle location as the week prior, though not the repaired tire. Long story short, after much consternation, a trooper of a spare tire, and plenty steering wheel-gripping stress, we eventually arrived at our campsite some seven hours after we had left home. This was definitely not our anticipated travel plan nor was it a relaxing way to travel. So once again I am charged with reviewing a campground under a less than optimal frame of mind.
Wabamun Lake Provincial Park is tucked in between the Yellowhead Highway and Lake Wabamun, west of Edmonton, in the onset of the boreal forest. I get the feeling this area is Edmonton’s summer playground as there are lots of signs for golf courses along this stretch of highway. Proximity and the forested surroundings make this an ideal place for city dwellers to enjoy a little nature. It’s certainly a different environment than that we encountered at Pigeon Lake. Flat scrubby Aspen bush has turned to undulating Conifer forest.
We are in the main (and presumably original) camping loop nearest the entrance to the park. The sites are nice but noticeably smaller than we’ve had at other provincial parks. Our site, for example, is up a sight incline which required a bit of jiggery to level our RV front to back. Our trailer is only 23’ long, hardly a monster by today’s standards, so it is important to pay proper attention to site accommodation limits when booking.
Also, some of the sites are a little closer together though they still have decent privacy between each. This is not to say we are in the modern sardine can campground layout, far from it, but it does feel a little tighter than we’re used to. Our campfire, for example, is really close to the trailer so we have to close the trailer windows along the side nearest the fire so that smoke does not infiltrate the camper. A minor nuisance and likely reflective of a campground laid out when people were more disposed to tent camp or have small, single axle trailers. And it should be noted that not all sites are this tight. Others are bigger and have more space around them. It’s just that none are as expansive as we’ve seen at say Mount Kidd or even Pigeon Lake for a more recent example.
Wildlife surrounds us again, especially birds. I’m learning to hate birds. At Pigeon Lake we were continually interrupted by the call of the white crested sparrows. At least that was a pleasant song, albeit persistent. Here we were awoken by the harsh screams of crows seemingly from atop our trailer! Definitely not the wake-up call I desired after our harrowing trip here.
A quick walk around this camping loop confirms that this spot is very popular with families. Kids are everywhere riding bikes, playing games, or just running around. I encountered one site filled with people having an elaborate lobster boil. And yet, despite all this fun and reverie occurring throughout our loop, there was no difficulty getting to sleep that evening as people were polite and quiet when they should be. We even saw park officials touring around presumably keeping an eye on the situation which is a welcome though rare experience of late.
Our loop is home to pit toilets. My god I hate those things. As my ability to hold my breath degrades with each passing year my loathing of these things increases exponentially. There really is no excuse for a large provincial park 30 minutes from the provincial capital to remain reliant on open holes filled with shit. Ugh! There are flush toilets in one spot at the day use area and in the shower house, but none of these are a convenient walk from most, if not all, campsites. Other provincial parks we’ve camped at have had flush toilets added amongst the various camping loops. It’s unclear to me why Wabamun Lake lacks this basic and welcome update, but I would hope it comes sooner than later.
Wabamun Lake has an expansive and quite nice day use area. It is no surprise that even on a relatively cool and cloudy summer Saturday the beach the surrounding picnic areas were filled up with families and friends enjoying their weekend. A pleasant, ethnically diverse crowd was busy enjoying BBQs, swimming, snacking, laughing and smiling. It was quite an uplifting sight in light of the tensions in our world.
The beach is both big and surprisingly sandy by Alberta standards. There were still rocks, sure, but by comparison to Pigeon Lake, this was a nice beach. It was much more in line with Aspen Beach and is undoubtedly a popular spot for Albertans to take in some summer fun on nice weekends. The roped off swimming area is very shallow and clean making an easy and safe place for kids of all ages to play both in and out of the water. There is a boat ramp, dock, and trailer parking area next to the swimming area. This portion of the lake is but a small nub on the northeastern tip of Wabamun Lake and those with boats are able to easily find their way to the large main body of the lake for water sports and fishing.
Behind the beach lies a large, grassy area with picnic spots and many families just claiming areas for BBQs and gaiety. When we were there, a lively sugar sack race was occurring. A small snack shack is present where you can buy hot dogs, ice cream treats and some other snacks. Or you can do as most and bring your own. Two playgrounds are also present at the beach for the kids. One is for the sub 5 crowd and the other 5-12 year olds. Both are decent and fun but showing a bit of age. They aren’t vintage, just faded and a bit worn, but nonetheless well received by the dozens of children playing on them.
By all accounts this is an excellent way to spend a summer day, if only it was closer to the campgrounds. This is my biggest gripe about Wabamun Lake Provincial Park. You really need to drive from the campsites to the beach/day area. This is true of all the loops. You could potentially bike if you weren’t taking too much, but a walk would be a bit a strain. This is especially true if you hope to take a full afternoon’s worth of food and fun along. I felt lessened the camping convenience and experience of the park.
As mentioned, there is a large shower building centrally located but again not really close enough to walk to from most camping loops. It’s a large, modern shower building with multiple stalls plus full bathroom facilities. Showers are pay per use.
There are several group areas throughout the park. I briefly attempted to check these out but was a bit confused about their location and configuration. This either indicates that they’re somewhat silly or fantastic. Either way, they aren’t your typical open grassy area afterthought.
By now you must be getting the picture that this is a rather spread out park. Facilities are clumped together but the various clumps are significantly separated from one another. This has pros and cons according to your expectations when camping. It also provides ample opportunity to bike around or walk though the trail system is nothing like Pigeon Lake’s. And it is hilly so be prepared to work at it, especially if you’re biking. As an out-of-shape lump I found cycling around to be a chore. Walking around geocaching, on the other hand, was quite enjoyable.
The roadways throughout the park are in rough shape. The gravel around our loop isn’t so bad, but the main roadways into the park, by the main office, and leading to various areas of the park were paved at one time but have not been maintained. They are now half gravel, half asphalt and riddled with potholes and patches making for a bumping mess of a drive into and around the park.
I’d be remiss to mention that the park is quite close to a major four lane highway that is heavily trafficked much of the daylight hours and into the early night. We could certainly hear the traffic in the evening though it isn’t overwhelming. It’s nothing like the noise you’ll endure in mountain parks or those near the CPR mainline heading into BC from Calgary, but it’s there and a reminder that you aren’t very far off the beaten path.
The main entrance has a small store and wood for sale in the usual $10 for a feed bag’s worth. The dump station is pay to use as well but runs on an honour system. The cost is $3 which you pay when you register upon arrival though I have no idea how they’d ensure you don’t use the dump station if you don’t pay. There is only one dump station with 3 spots so on Sunday when leaving the lineup was several trailers deep.
The weather during our visit was not the best, this appears to be the summer of rain in Alberta, but I’m confident this place is packed during hot summer days. And rightfully so. The proximity to Edmonton, not to mention the ease of highway access for all Albertans, coupled with the expansive and enjoyable day use area make Wabamun Lake Provincial Park a good spot for a day trip or a camping weekend. I would certainly return in the future. I’d love to give this campground a higher rating, but those pit toilets and the distance of the camping loops from the beach are significant negatives. I recommend Wabamun Lake with 3.75 Baby Dill Pickles out of 4.