Back when I was a young lad, long before international beer conglomerates were a thing and craft breweries were a rare niche, Canada had its very own major breweries. Okay, there were two of them, but those two had an inordinate impact on pop culture. They sponsored Hockey Night in Canada, for example. They owned expansion major league baseball teams. They also made lots of beer. And to promote all that that beer, they made beer commercials; hilarious, often sexist, usually tacky, extraordinarily, unforgettable beer commercials.
One of those beer commercials resurfaced as an earworm while I struggled to decide which campground in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park to reserve for our inaugural camping trip in this esteemed park. It was an old Molson Golden commercial set to the catchy Lovin’ Spoonful hit “Have You Ever Had to Make Up Your Mind?”
Like the schlub in the commercial, I too had to choose between two seemingly equal and appealing alternatives. His choice involved two very attractive women whereas mine involved two beautiful mountain campgrounds. I know, potato, potAHto.
Even now, as I write this review, that song won’t leave my mind. I suspect many of you have it in your head now too, along with a sudden craving for vintage Canadian beer. Might I suggest a Crystal.
As the only two campgrounds in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park accepting reservations for (some) campsites, my choice was a one-on-one battle between Boulton Creek campground and Elkwood campground. I chose to book a site in Boulton Creek, a few clicks further down the road from Elkwood. Proximity to the Boulton Creek Trading Post and its delicious ice cream shop tipped the scales.
Despite choosing Boulton Creek campground and never regretting it, a quick visit to Elkwood during our weekend adventure confirmed we wouldn’t at all have been disappointed had we chose Elkwood campground.
The two campgrounds are like sisters, twins almost (uh oh, that just triggered another earworm of sorts). Aside from some variance in amenities, Elkwood and Boulton Creek campgrounds are very similar.
Slightly smaller, Elkwood Campground has four loops, A through D, containing 130 campsites. Sites in loops A and B have power and water while those in loops C and D have neither. There are no campsites with sewer. Likewise, all sites are back-in; there are no pull-throughs or walk-in tent sites.
The setting at Elkwood is identical to Boulton Creek with all sites spaciously tucked away within a conifer forest. Lodgepole Pine dominates, I believe. This gracious distribution and upright canopy provide campers with welcome privacy from neighbours and shelter from the sun. Keep in mind, though, that there isn’t significant undergrowth amongst such pine, so don’t construe “privacy” with “freedom to shun pants.”
The sites come with large, level gravel pads on which to set up almost any size of RV. These pads spread out to surround a generous campfire area with steel firepit. A wooden picnic table completes the onsite conveniences.
All loops have pit toilets spaced throughout. Surprisingly, despite having fewer campsites than Boulton Creek, Elkwood campground has been blessed with two shower houses. I have no idea why. One is located at the confluence of loops A and B while a second can be found between loops C and D (or so says the map).
The former shower house is quite the attractive building, I must say. The interior is equally appealing with the expected accoutrements like urinals (men’s), stalls, and sinks. The showers require tokens to operate but have proper showerheads and appear to allow control of the temperature. I assume these too are token operated and that said tokens must be purchased at Boulton Creek Trading Post. They might also be available from the campground host, but I am only speculating so inquire yourselves.
The extra flush toilets might be a nod to the lack of a dump station within the confines of Elkwood campground. Boulton Creek has its own, but RVers staying in Elkwood must resort to using Canyon dump station on the main park road. It’s not too far away so hardly an inconvenience.
Fresh water can be retrieved at several water taps dotting the loops. RVs can fill up at the dump station. And of course, campers in loops A and B have water on site though there are an additional couple of “public” taps in these two loops as well.
One of the better perks to staying in Elkwood versus Boulton Creek is the existence of a playground. I docked Boulton Creek for not having a playground, so I was delighted (and frustrated) to discover one in Elkwood campground. Located at the entrance to loop B, it’s a modest, metal structure near identical to what exists in another Kananaskis jewel, Mt. Kidd RV Park. It won’t blow minds, but it will surely entertain the young’uns during meal preparations.
The other amenity highlight of Elkwood campground is the amphitheatre. We were surprised to discover the amphitheatre at Boulton Creek has been abandoned. Grown over with wild shrubs, a sign indicated all programing was presented exclusively at Elkwood amphitheatre. This was disappointing, but not surprising in these days of monetary restraint.
When we finally visited Elkwood campground and saw the amphitheatre, the reasoning behind it being chosen as the dominant showcase facility became obvious. This is without a doubt the most impressive amphitheatre we have ever seen in any campground anywhere.
Where we usually find a wooden stage of dubious stability in front of wood or metal benches modestly elevated as they recede, Elkwood’s amphitheatre is a large, landscaped, architectural creation with stadium seating, some of which resides beneath an actual roof. The stage is relatively modest but has an impressive staging area behind the main wall for costume changes and such (I assume). There’s even theatre lighting installed!
All of this will leave you utterly unquestioning the decision to move all presentations to this facility. I only wish we had come to see it earlier in our camping trip and known to have made the effort to come watch something. As it was, we never bothered so I can’t comment on the programing itself. Hopefully it lives up to the standard that the amphitheatre itself sets.
Despite the fancy amphitheatre and the existence of a playground, Elkwood campground is otherwise a slightly dressed down version of Boulton Creek. It’s not entirely rustic, but the lack of a store and social hub certainly limits its appeal to campers wanting a more comfortable weekend. Some, obviously, will appreciate this lesser atmosphere, but families wanting some creature comforts within walking distance will prefer Boulton Creek simply because of the Trading Post.
Which isn’t to say Elkwoodians are banned from the Trading Post. It would make for a vigorous family bike ride or a simple couple minutes of driving to fulfill your treat desires or pickup a forgotten meal supplement. Still, if a leisurely afternoon walk to an ice cream shop is a desired part of your weekend recreation, Boulton Creek is the superior location to Elkwood.
With no hub there is obviously no office either. Much like Boulton Creek, an unused registration booth stands guard at the entrance to Elkwood campground. A sign on the booth tells you to register at the campground manager’s site located near the entrance to loop B.
Similar to a campground host but with a far more impressive (industrial?) setup, these folks not only take care of camper registration they appear to sell firewood as well. Again, I have no idea how this actually works. I’m just making assumptions based on the giant cage of firewood on their oversized campsite.
Beyond the campground, everything remains the same as that which I shared in my Boulton Creek review. Elkwood campground is simply a few kilometres closer to the Discovery Centre and those same few kilometres further away from some of the day use areas.
If you are interested in the activities and amenities of this fantastic provincial park, like the Discovery Centre, I encourage you to read my Boulton Creek campground review which includes discussion of those very park highlights. Click here to read that review.
Although we didn’t camp at Elkwood ourselves, it was apparent from our brief snooping that the experience would have been near identical to the one we had at Boulton Creek. Based on this assumption, I give Elkwood Campground in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park the same 4.25 Baby Dill Pickles out of 5. Boulton Creek has the Trading Post and onsite dump station; Elkwood has a playground and the impressive amphitheatre. And really, the 3.5 kilometres between the two means that with modest effort these conveniences are essentially shared.
With so much stupendous beauty surrounding you, choosing one of these campgrounds over the other is so unimportant as to be comical. Pick one or the other and prepare to enjoy the lavish splendour of the Canadian Rocky Mountains in Alberta’s famous Kananaskis Country.