I catch myself asking “What were they thinking,” far too often while contemplating transportation infrastructure decisions. This is true of both recent and long ago constructs. And I did it once again while we were camping at Lundbreck Falls Provincial Recreation Area.
Lundbreck Falls is a modest but rambunctious waterfall in southern Alberta at the intersection of Highways 22 and 3. The former, a secondary north-south route through the province, and the latter, a secondary east-west route through the mountains (Crowsnest Pass), it’s kind of a major intersection as rural.
Currently, highway 3 parallels the Crowsnest River, in which the falls reside, to its north. But this is not its original path. The previous highway 3 (now 3A), portions of which remain, runs parallel to the river on its south thus requiring a bridge which remains in use to this day. It’s a sharp looking bridge and crosses immediately downstream of the falls.
Cars and trucks were not our first means of transportation, so you won’t be shocked to learn that a secondary CP rail line also runs south of the river. It too requires a bridge, this positioned immediately upstream of the falls. Lundbreck Falls sure was a magnet for civil engineers.
The windswept foothills of Southern Alberta are surely gorgeous, but they don’t exactly limit options for transportation channels. Why, for the love of God, did both highway and railway need to cross right here at this outlier of a waterfall? It makes no sense to me.
Lundbreck Falls Provincial Recreation Area is Noisy
The result of all this infrastructure is a rather constrained provincial recreation area. And a noisy one. Lundbreck Falls PRA resides in a strip of land between the river to the north and the old highway to the south. The new highway to the north and the railway to the south further emphasize these boundaries, the vehicular and train noise each produces a constant reminder of their existence.
In fairness, this rail line isn’t the worst we’ve experienced. It certainly isn’t as busy as the main CP line that follows the TransCanada Highway through Roger’s Pass. Based on our small sampling, though there are freight trains passing by, they do not run throughout the night, so your sleep will not be continually interrupted. Phew!
The highway, however, is a busy artery despite its secondary status to the TransCanada. It may lighten up through the night … again, phew! … but while the sun shines it’s a constant stream of motorcycles, cars, and transport trucks, the latter of which are not shy in using their engine retarder brakes. Most definitely not, phew!
Despite this snarky introduction to my review, in no way did I leave Lundbreck Falls Provincial Recreation Area with a sour taste in my mouth. Nor did I leave with a sweet or savoury taste either. The kind that begs you to refrain from toothbrushing for hours after eating in order to extend the joy such delicious food provides.
I feel rather meh about the whole experience. I’ve had plenty better, but I’ve also had worse. Not unlike a filling but forgettable meal with a pretty good dessert at the end.
Upper Camping Loop
As I alluded to above, Lundbreck Falls PRA is small. It consists of a rustic campground and a concise day use picnic area surrounding its namesake waterfall. Neither are sizable nor especially breathtaking but with the lovely falls and downstream gorge, it’s not void of visual appeal.
The campground, sandwiched between the Crowsnest River and highway 3A, is divided into three somewhat distinctive parts: an upper loop, a lower loop, and a walk-in tenting area.
The upper loop resides on a grassy plateau above the river valley. For the most part, it’s an open field with 15 campsites situated around the outer rim of the single loop.
Of those 15 campsites, 4 are grouped together as walk-in tenting sites. I don’t consider this to be a separate part of the campground because they essentially comprise an oversized regular campsite with a smallish parking area in front. Besides, a more legitimate walk-in tenting area exists in the valley which I’ll discuss in a few paragraphs.
The 11 back-in RV sites all have power. The tent sites do not. None of the sites have water or sewer. It’s a rustic campground and I’m honestly surprised any sites at all have power.
We ended up at campsite 11, which is found at the eastern edge of the upper loop. For the life of me, I can’t recall why we ended up with this site. Upon arrival, it didn’t strike me as the type of campsite I would have purposely chosen, though it’s hardly the worst at Lundbreck Falls Provincial Recreation Area.
On the plus side, it is long and private. There were no tall shade trees, but unlike the bulk of the upper loop sites, it was completely engulfed by wolf willow and other shrubberies and grass. This all but walled off our site from our distant neighbours.
On the negative side, site 11 is strangely narrow. The elevated gravel pad on which RVs and vehicles are expected to park, is only wide enough for said vehicles. We could not place the picnic table next to our trailer for meals beneath our awning.
Furthermore, the strip of mowed grass next to the gravel pad is only a few feet wide. It didn’t even encircle the firepit, thus leaving only the front half useable for bonfire viewing and marshmallow roasting. It truly is an oddball campsite.
Few, if any, other sites in this upper loop exhibit similar characteristics. The bulk of them are located on flat, open, mowed grass. The few others with similar wolf willow surroundings did not appear to have the same narrow parking pad.
I enjoyed the privacy of our site. Thankfully the mosquitoes were not yet horrendous given all the tall grass and shrubs. But if given a Mulligan, I think I’d choose a different, wider site with a more traditional layout.
Lower Camping Loop
The lower “loop” at Lundbreck Falls PRA is the core of the campground and is found in the river valley west of the upper loop. I use quotes around loop because the lower portion of the campground is not a proper loop. It’s a haphazard amalgamation of campsites and access roads showing little forethought in their construction.
As far as sheltered camping and visual appeal go, the lower loop is where it’s at. Conversely, many of the campsites are small and jammed together with zero privacy between them. In some instances, it’s impossible to discern where one campsite ends and the next begins.
That being said, there are a handful of gems that’ll tantalize your camper heart.
The lower loop has a total of 35 campsites. Most are back-ins but there are half-a-dozen or so straight pull-throughs with another 3 arcuate versions.
18 of these campsites have power and are almost exclusively located in the interior of the lower campground. The remaining sites, typically around the perimeter, do not have power. And like their upper loop cousins, none have water or sewer service.
What sets the lower loop apart are the trees. Plenty of towering cottonwood and/or poplar dominate much of the campground. Around the outside and towards the west end, there are some treeless, grass sites. If you want shelter from the sun, this is where you’ll find it.
About 9 campsites sit along the river’s edge, making them the prime spots for view. Only 2 of them have power, both being pull-throughs, but that’s a small sacrifice for the location.
Site 31 is arguably the best campsite in all of Lundbreck Falls Provincial Recreation Area. Hidden behind trees with an extra long driveway, it’s delightfully secluded from the remainder of the campground with open access to the river. It has no services, but damn if I wouldn’t aim to claim this spot every time I camped here.
Walk-In Tenting Area
I’ve designated the lower walk-in tenting area as a separate portion of the campground because it’s noticeably disconnected from the RV campsites. Residing in the same river valley, I suppose it could be viewed as nothing more than an extension of the lower loop. Look at me being a rebel.
The tenting area starts at a large, gravel parking lot at the end of the campground access road. If the upper tenting area parking lot is undersized, this lower tenting area parking lot is oversized. Perhaps it doubles as parking for the nearby day use area.
A dirt trail heading west from the parking lot takes campers to the walk-in tent sites. There are 8 in total, with 5 on the river side of the trail and 3 on the other side. The sites closer to the river provide nicer vistas but not all is lost on the other side of the trail where slight gains in elevation retain some sightlines to the water.
The tent sites aren’t overly large, but are nonetheless well defined with a gravel area, firepit, and picnic table. Often surrounded by shrubs and wolf willow, not to mention tall grasses and weeds, each site is mowed to facilitate use.
At first glance, these walk-in tent sites seem like a sweet deal, assuming, of course, you can sleep through the traffic, train, and waterfall noise. But then you realize that your tent campsite is accessed by the same trail everyone else in the campground uses to get to the waterfall. That … ain’t so sweet.
Facilities can be hit or miss at provincial recreation areas, and Lundbreck Falls is no exception. The upper loop has a single bathroom at the west end. It’s a dual stall pit toilet and, oh boy, is it a nightmare.
If one were being generous, they’d call it “vintage”. Although modern mobility bars have been added inside, these pit toilets harken back to a time when we viewed ourselves as no more than bipedal farm animals.
The toilets are nothing more than cheap plastic seats affixed to triangular concrete berms with gaping holes into pits of fecal hell. I can’t in good conscience describe these things accurately enough in this otherwise family-friendly publication. Needless to say, I chose to do my business elsewhere.
That elsewhere was in the lower loop where beautiful, new pit toilets have recently been constructed. Thank the heavens above!
Two magnificent bathrooms are located in the lower loop, one at either end. Yes, they’re still pit toilets, but compared to the antique abomination in the upper loop, they’re nirvana.
Each has two stalls with ample room. One is even designated as a handicap slash baby changing station washroom, having the handrails for mobility and a change table. The other stall may not have the extra amenities, but it is certainly large enough to accommodate a wheelchair.
The toilets are the more familiar green plastic rise with toilet seat. These appear to be ultra-modern with the hole being smaller than any I’ve seen yet. This minimizes bleeding eyeballs as there is very little to see while standing there relieving oneself.
If the very idea of pit toilets is just too loathsome and you decide to restrict yourself to onboard facilities, you’ll need to travel abroad to empty your tanks. There is no dump station at Lundbreck Falls Provincial Recreation Area. The nearest option is the Co-op in Pincher Creek, approximately 15 minutes away.
Potable Water or The Lack Thereof
Fresh water is equally lacking. With no dump station, there is obviously no convenient spot to fill up the potable water tank in your RV. What’s worse is that currently (as of spring 2023), all water sources at Lundbreck Falls are non-functioning.
Old handpumps in varying states of disrepair can be found throughout the campground loops. The pump in the upper loop is covered with a blue tarp. A pump in the lower loop is missing a handle. Both had signs stating the water was non-potable anyway.
Sadly, short of taking water from the river and boiling the crap out of it, there’s no water source at all for campers or day users. You’ll need to bring your own from home, or fill up at the Pincher Creek Co-op.
Trails at Lundbreck Falls
A singular trail connecting the upper loop to the lower loop and then connecting the lower loop to the day use area and falls makes getting around on foot relatively simple. It’s not a big place to begin with, so multiple, lengthy trails were never in the cards.
Primarily dirt now, there is evidence the trail was once a manicured, pea-gravel official trail. Portions of the trail extending westward from the lower loop retain some evidence of this gravel base. There are even wooden placards that once must have housed informative displays about Lundbreck Falls. Sadly, they are now barren of anything except the underlying wood.
The trail from the upper loop to the lower loop descends a hill into the valley. A few wooden steps are present here, again alluding to a past investment that has all but vanished. Being nothing but dirt, this trail surely gets slippery after rain.
As you head out of the campground proper, through the walk-in tenting area, the trail gets a bit more interesting as it passes beneath the highway 3A bridge. Here the trail widens and intermingles with the outcropping rock of the gorge below the falls. The trail also climbs out of the valley, back up to the plateau where the Falls Day Use area exists.
Though not shown on official maps, an additional trail is found on the north side of the river heading east from the Falls Day Use area and back down into the gorge/valley. This is a more robust trail with wider gravel pathways and wooden landscape tie stairs.
Adventurers and rockhounds will enjoy this trail as it takes you to some prominent outcropping of rocks along the river. Here you’ll find cool trace fossils and notice a draping syncline in the geological formation that creates Lundbreck Falls.
Day Use Areas
Being so close to traffic routes, and with the falls themselves, Lundbreck Falls Provincial Recreation Area is a nifty picnic spot for locals and passers-through alike. In fact, our first visit to Lundbreck Falls was just a short day trip to test out our newly purchased Pathfinder and see some pretty geology.
There are two day use areas, one of which is split into two parts, thus making three day use areas. You follow that?
The Lower Day User Area is down in the valley at the west end of the lower camping loop. It’s honestly not much more than a mowed plot of grass next to the new pit toilet. There’s a handful of concrete and wood picnic tables around a single firepit next to a large, bushy tree. An unusable water pump rounds out the accoutrements. I don’t know who would use this or even know about it other than folks in the campground.
Most day users will gravitate to the Falls Day Use Area. Straddling the river both at and immediately downstream of Lundbreck Falls, this day use area is much easier to access for road trippers.
The primary north portion is located immediately off highway 3A. It appears to have enjoyed some infrastructure investment recently, with new pit toilets being the most notable addition to this picnicking spot.
A decently sized parking lot provides parking for visitors who can take up one of several picnic tables for a nice lunch. Some have good views of the river and falls, including one notable picnic spot situated right on the side of the hill along the trail down into the gorge.
Chain-link fencing offers a protective barrier near the gorge drop-off and falls. I understand the need for safety, but I personally found this fencing rather distracting from the natural beauty of the place.
A couple designated viewpoints have been erected, including one that is a short but nonetheless unsettling platform overhanging the cliff. You’ll get some good snapshots of Lundbreck Falls from these lookouts as well as from the trails on either side of the river.
The old highway bridge and the train bridge make for nice images in their own right. Or they’re lovely additions to a broader waterfall composition. The same can be said of some farm buildings along the river. Still, if given the choice, I’d prefer that none of this modern infrastructure invaded the space. An unobstructed view of Lundbreck Falls must have been a treat with the mountains in the distance.
The south side of the Falls Day Use Area couldn’t be more different. It’s pretty much just a parking lot with the odd picnic table available next to some ratty shrubs/trees. The contrast to the north portion couldn’t be blunter.
Honestly, I don’t know why they even bother with picnic tables. It’s basically overflow parking for the nicer north portion. The catch being that you can’t easily walk from the north half to the south half. There is no footbridge. Aside from driving, you can only access the south side by walking over the old highway bridge. A nice view to be sure, but a pain in the ass for what is considered a single day use area.
Outdoor Activities at Lundbreck Falls
Fly-fishing is quite popular here and we saw several fishermen in the water hoping to catch some of the trout purported to live in the river. It’s certainly a pretty spot to spend your morning or afternoon trying to catch supper.
Beyond the waterfall and fishing, though, there is little else to do at Lundbreck Falls PRA. There is no playground, for example, so the little ones had better enjoy exploring the small gorge.
The lower campground has no open space for games aside from the small day use plot of grass. I suppose you could toss a baseball around with a youngster, but you won’t have space for grown-up ball toss or similar.
The upper loop has a large, open grass field within the confines of the loop road. It should be plenty of space for throwing frisbees or footballs, maybe even a daring game of bocce, but unfortunately the gophers have turned the entire field into Swiss cheese. You’re more likely to snap an ankle than score a touchdown.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
If you’re at risk of boredom, I suggest venturing away from Lundbreck Falls to take in some local flavour. There’s actually a hamlet called Lundbreck, just a kilometer or two away, and it looks to have a popular pub and even a microbrewery.
As enticing as a cold brew is, with kids along, we chose to venture further east to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. A 50-minute drive from the campground, Head-Smashed-In isn’t exactly close by, but it’s a worthy afternoon day trip.
This World Heritage Site protects an historical killing site of the Blackfoot indigenous people. For over 5000 years the Blackfoot used their guile and knowledge to stampede bison off the cliff in mass killings providing food and supplies to survive on their Prairie homeland.
The visitor centre is built right into the cliff face, a novel architectural feat if I may say. It blends in so well with the surrounding geology, you barely notice its presence.
Inside are multiple displays documenting the history of the Blackfoot people and explaining the details of the bison hunt. A small theatre offers a regular viewing of a re-enactment of the hunt. The film is informative and authentic but is a bit unnerving in parts (eating raw kidney … no thanks).
A modest gift shop has clothing, books, and first nations artwork available. Unfortunately, the café on-premises is permanently closed from the looks of it. Not sure if this is a covid leftover or from a lack of customers but be sure to bring snacks and water with you. It gets hot in these parts.
Conversely, the bathrooms are fantastic. Flush toilets, urinals, and sinks. Worth noting if you’ve been … umm … holding it in while at Lundbreck Falls.
Outside the visitor centre, two trails enable visitors to explore the buffalo jump itself. The upper trail resides on top of the cliff and is the shorter of the two. You can access it from the visitor centre which has elevators to help you get up to the top if your mobility is limited. The trail itself is flat and offers lovely views of the sprawling valley below.
The lower trail is much longer and loops through the wilderness at the base of the buffalo jump. Though easier to access, the trailhead is at the visitor centre entrance, it’s far from flat with many undulations along the looping path.
We explored both trails as neither are what I’d call a “hike”. Plenty of wildflowers and wildlife will greet you along the way. On clear days, the views even from the bottom trails are quite impressive.
If you’re not keen on traveling this far, Pincher Creek is a perfect compromise, being only 15 minutes from Lundbreck Falls. A small town, famed for its wind, there’s a surprisingly robust pioneer village in the town.
We attempted to check it out during our May Long camping weekend at Beauvais Lake Provincial Park but were stunned to find it closed. I’ll rant about this more in my Beauvais Lake review, but what kind of tourist attraction doesn’t open up on the first long weekend of summer? Seriously!
Bits and Bites About Lundbreck Falls PRA
By now it is surely no surprise that Lundbreck Falls Provincial Recreation Area has no registration office or store. You’ll need to bring everything with you, firewood included, or resort to purchasing it in Pincher Creek (or maybe Lundbreck).
There are a couple registration kiosks, one in each campground loop. The upper kiosk is accompanied by an information bulletin board but otherwise, you’re on your own. We didn’t see any parks personnel during our stay, though admittedly with our trip to Head-Smashed-In, we may have missed them doing their rounds.
Surprisingly, cell service is a bit sketchy. Lundbreck Falls is hardly in the middle of nowhere, nor is it hidden within towering mountains. I’m not sure what accounts for the poor service, but it’s worth nothing. You won’t be left stranded, but internet function may struggle.
The same can be said of radio which also lost vibrancy in and around the campground. This may not be the biggest concern in a world of digital music, but I’m kind of fond of listening to the radio while I eat in the trailer. Then again, what little radio I could get in these parts was all country, so perhaps it was a blessing in disguise.
I’m also suspect of the peacefulness at this campground. We had no issues during our early June visit, but there were several campsites filled with a large group of youths. They had beer pong set up and were enjoying their weekend. Thankfully, they caused no trouble during the night and kept quiet during quiet hours. Kudos to them.
Others might not be so polite. That upper loop is wide open and ideal for gathering friends. In many ways it is reminiscent of a group campsite. With no campground host and minimal parks supervision, it wouldn’t be shocking if a rowdy crowd showed up and disrupted the otherwise chill environment.
Even if the wild partiers are absent, there are plenty of wild animals at Lundbreck Falls. Most notable are the myriad gophers, particularly in the upper loop field. They were everywhere and not all were excruciatingly shy.
Plentiful gophers mean you’re sure to find birds of prey soaring overhead looking for an easy meal. We saw a couple of hawks but, as usual, my camera lens was not correct for the occasion. I’ll use the same excuse for not having a picture of the western tanagers zipping around the bushes behind our campsite.
While not as cute as gophers, mosquitoes are omnipresent. We lucked out in arriving prior to the worst of mosquito season. Or maybe it’s the abnormally hot spring that kept them at bay. The near constant breeze and/or wind of southern Alberta surely helps too.
Whatever the case, in early June we had some bugs but not so many as to ruin the experience. We enjoyed a campfire and hiked around with little discomfort. We’d regularly find eight or so on the screen door to the trailer desperately trying to get inside. We’d mock them and go about our business. I’m sure at some point in the spring/summer, they will get the last laugh.
Wildflowers also abound, though they’re in a brutal battle for supremacy with the dandelions. Wild roses are always beautiful, and they were in full bloom during our stay.
Likewise, the wolf willow was blooming. I’m familiar with the silvery leaves of this native bush, but I didn’t realize they had such a pungent odour when in bloom. My daughter thought the smell was great. I was less enthused, though it was far from gross. Nonetheless, the scent of wolf willow dominated our weekend save for the few moments inside pit toilets.
I enjoyed our weekend at Lundbreck Falls Provincial Recreation Area, but it’s just not the greatest spot. I much prefer it as a day use area than as a campground. As such, I’ll give it 3 Baby Dill Pickles out of 5.
Lundbreck Falls, the waterfall, is lovely. Well worth a day trip or a pitstop during a long drive. As a place to spend a weekend camping, however, it’s just too small, too noisy, and too rustic for my tastes. I don’t think of myself as a high maintenance camper, but the utter lack of water and those old upper loop pit toilets really got to me. If the recent improvements continue, my mind may sway a bit.
Still, as an escape from work, or life, there are better choices to be had. And close by, for that matter. Beauvais Lake and Castle provincial parks are not much further to get to. Nor is Chinook PRA, all of which are superior to Lundbreck Falls in my humble opinion.
But I can understand the appeal to some folks. Like I said, it wasn’t a horrible stay by any means. If you can’t get a spot elsewhere, you’ll enjoy this recreation area much more than staying at home.