Our visit to Dillberry Lake Provincial Park did not originate as a planned weekend camping trip. Realizing that our return home from Prince Albert National Park was a ten plus hour drive, we decided to break up the trip into two shorter five hour stints. Once that was decided, we further chose to include an additional full day of rest in the middle and why not. We were at the tail end of a fun trip and the chance to check out another park always appeals to us. Dillberry Lake Provincial Park was the closest campground to the halfway point and with that we had booked one last little camping adventure to finish up our tour of the flatlands.
The ability for Dillberry Lake to wow us was doomed from the start. Following immediately after Waskesiu Lake is basically a lost cause. Short of raining hundred dollar bills and firewood burning down into gold nuggets, any campground was going to fail to live up to the standards Prince Albert National Park set. But like the little engine that could, Dillberry Lake has just enough oddities to make it an interesting stay, even if it can’t compete with heaven.
First and foremost, if shade is a must for your camping enjoyment, then you’d best find somewhere else to stay. Large trees are not in the offering here. It is not wide open plains like at Grasslands National Park, but the Aspen forest here is stunted and never reaches 20’ in height. When the sun hits its midday peak, you won’t get much reprieve from the trees so make sure you have a good awning or a hat and lots of sun screen.
Natural areas like this one always intrigue me. It is admittedly ugly. Compared to the boreal conifer forests of the mountain parks or the lush deciduous forests back East, these stubby Quaking Aspens are unsightly. And yet, their very ugliness makes them oddly pretty. The ghostly, crooked Aspen and ratty, bushy thicket beneath make for a unique visual experience. It’ll never be postcard pretty, but it grows on you after a while. There’s something inspiring about the determination of these trees to even exist where they so obviously struggle to do so.
The terrain is rolling here so you can easily find an elevated spot allowing you to survey the surroundings. The sight of trailer tops popping out amongst the treetops in contrast with the broader vista is surprisingly enchanting. Sunsets and moonrises are also potentially stunning here. We hoped to catch a good one our second night but the clouds didn’t cooperate. The near full moonrise, however, was eerie and spectacular, unlike my attempted photography of it.
The sites at Dillberry Lake are serviceable but not terrific. Our pull through site was not very level but not so slooped as to require massive interventions when setting up the camper. Some typical levelling platforms will suffice in getting your unit level. All sites have a steel fire pit placed in a graveled enclave next to the gravel RV pad. They are surrounded by the stunted Aspen and thicket giving each a nice bit of privacy.
Sites are power or non-power, none have water or sewer. There is a small dump station near the entrance which could make for busy line-ups on Sundays when the campground empties out after the weekend. There is a donation box at the dump station for payment which is kind of funny.
Water taps are sprinkled throughout the three campground loops for filling up the trailer or pots. There was one very near our site and we used that to fill up the trailer prior to parking in our site. Water is available at the dump station if you prefer to fill up there and not block the campground roadway during busier arrival times.
Once again pit toilet huts are sprinkled throughout the campground loops of which there are three. One shower building exists for all three camping loops. A groomed trail network from all loops winds its way up to the shower complex. As well there is as a road and rough parking lot for those wishing to drive instead. Inside you will find five shower stalls, including a handicap stall, along with a single flush toilet and a single urinal. This is a bit odd considering it’s the only full service washroom in the park. Even with all the pit toilets around the park, it would have been nice to have another flush toilet or two considering the size of the campground.
That trail network extends elsewhere in the park and is surprisingly extensive for such a relatively small provincial park. Going for walks or bike rides either on the trails or along the park road network is easy and enjoyable. The rolling topography offers several appealing viewpoints of the surrounding countryside.
There is a massive group camping site here that is unlike any I’ve ever seen. It is a repurposed camping loop. It is a double loop format so the inner loop surrounds a large playfield, communal campfire, and shower/washroom. Yes, the group site has its own shower building. It was locked so I couldn’t see inside, but from the outside it looks identical to the one in the main campground building. This is bizarre to say the least. Why would they cannibalize a loop with a full service washroom and designate it for group use only?
The outer loop of the group site has actual individual campsites, many with their own fire pits and picnic tables but no services. They also do not appear to be maintained to any significant degree. The map indicates that this group site even has its own playground but that seems to have been removed which is a shame. With power and a rebuilt missing playground, this would be the greatest group site in the province. Include a cook shelter like at Miquelon Lake Provincial Park and it definitely would be fantastic.
The campground also houses a giant overflow camping area. This is a bit disconcerting. It appears to be nothing more than a huge field but why is it so big and does it even get used? And if it does get used regularly, then why confiscate an entire camping loop to use as a group area? If the place gets busy enough that this overflow area is housing campers I suspect the peace and quiet we experienced might be non-existent on such a weekend.
There is a main office but also self-registration booths at each loop for when the main office is closed. The main office has a very small confectionary “store” that’ll sell you chocolate bars, ice, or a little sand bucket collection. Staff is friendly and helpful but aside from an popsicle or a candy bar, you’ll have to buy your foodstuffs in the nearest town. There is a sign at the main office indicating that free Wi Fi is available in that building while you shop, though I can’t imagine there being enough things there to buy to make the time worthwhile for Wi Fi usage. Still, I suppose this is an option for a quick check-in on your social media and email if you don’t have a data plan.
The most stunning aspect of Dillberry Lake is easily the beach. Never would I have expected to find such a beach in these parts. The beach is very sandy, a morphed sand dune I believe. There are no rocks in it which is spectacular and it is remarkably soft. It almost felt like I was walking in cake icing. Water level is very high this summer, attested to by a park bench currently surrounded by water, so a large portion of the beach remains wet throughout the day regardless of how hard the sun beats down on it. This might be unpleasant for those looking to keep clean or put a towel down for sunbathing but it makes for awesome sand castle building.
Swimming is permitted and an area is roped off to keep boats out. The lake bottom in the swimming area is also sandy and free of rocks. It is also incredibly shallow. I was able to walk out to the rope designating the swimming boundary, approximately 200’ from shore (that’s a guess and I suck at guessing), and the water never went above my waist. This may not be great for those looking to actually swim or jump into the water but it’s terrific for families with little ones wanting to play in the water. Despite the surprising sandy beach and lake bottom, this remains a typical Alberta slough-style lake so swimmer’s itch is always a risk and signs are posted everywhere warning of it and telling you how to prevent it. We swam and had no issues.
The water itself is comfortable and after you get in it feels quite warm. It is a little murky, especially once a group of people are playing on the beach and the boats are churning up the water. There is a pollen-like. organic material on the bottom too which doesn’t really do anything but takes away from the beautiful sand bottom. The kids had lots of fun with their boogie boards and I even went in for a bit to play with them. We walked out to the furthest reach of the swimming area and got an up close look at what we think was a cormorant swimming alongside the boundary rope.
There is a large playground by the campground beach which is in good shape and got an immediate “ooh” from the kids. This is the only playground for the entire campground. It is a good size, modern, and located on a soft, sandy patch leading to the beach.
Directly across the lake from the campground is the day use area and boat launch. You can easily see this from the campground beach which gives you an idea of the size of the lake. The day use area is a huge grassy area with picnic spots, some cook shelters, the boat launch, a couple pit toilet buildings, a fish cleaning area, and a life jacket borrow area. A small swing and teeter-totter is located here as well. There is also another beach there that looks similarly sandy with a roped off swim area though we didn’t walk on it or use it to know for sure.
Peculiarities abound in these off the main grid provincial parks and Dillberry Lake has a cottage subdivision on the lake between the campground and the day use area. These are genuine cabins and cottages for a change so the big-money, city folk haven’t ruined this little cottage area. There are additional cottages back from the water in this area as well. I have no idea if any are available for rent as these are private cottages, not ones run by the park. There might be a dozen cottages in total and the few on the water look reasonably nice.
Wildlife was limited to water birds and insects and not much else, though I did briefly see a hummingbird and a chipmunk visited our site a few times. If nature and birds are your fancy, this place potentially offers up a novel experience based on the hummingbird siting.
For such a small park it’s a shame that a highway runs through the middle of it. Not a crazy busy highway, mind you, but one where you can hear when big trucks pass. Some of the park trails actually cross this road running from Lloydminster to Provost. The realities of parks being afterthoughts, I guess.
Quads, thankfully, are not allowed here, nor fireworks, so that keeps the place quiet, however, motorboats are allowed on the lake. It’s a small lake and they suggest that boats circle the lake clockwise for safety. You can see motorboats and jet skis docked by the lakeside cottages. There were some fishermen out on the water when we visited the launch in the morning. By the afternoon, when we were enjoying the main beach, there were a few boats on the water towing tubes and water skiers. The noise from the boats was present but not irritating. On a hot, mid-summer weekend this might not be the case as I saw no restriction on the number of boats allowed on the water.
What started as an afterthought, being nothing more than a pit stop in the midst of a long drive, turned out to be a pretty good time for us. After Cypress Hills, Grasslands, and Waskesiu, Dillberry Lake did an admirable job of mildly impressing me. I’m going to give Dillberry Lake 3.5 Baby Dill Pickles out of 5. No, it’s not the greatest park in the province. It has its deficiencies and we’d be hard-pressed to make a specific trip to camp there. It just doesn’t have quite enough appeal to justify the five hour drive from Calgary, although if that group area was tweaked just a bit I’d be all over taking a group of friends there much like we do at Miquelon Lake. Still, it has its charms and if we lived closer I’d have no trouble camping there or visiting for picnics and such. Sometimes these smaller parks and campgrounds in the lesser populated areas of the province offer a bit more pleasure than you would expect. Dillberry Lake fits that bill.