I’ve been wanting to camp at Fort Steele Resort & RV Park for three years now. This past summer, it finally happened, albeit for one night only.
My yearning to camp here was triggered during Covid. Outdoor activities had been greenlit, so my son and I went gold panning in Fort Steele, British Columbia. One of the BC government’s public panning reserves is located there, and we were determined to find our first-ever gold.
There are two campgrounds in Fort Steele, this one and the similarly named Fort Steele Campground. I chose to stay at the latter but knew I’d eventually have to try the former.
I knew because the owner of Fort Steele Campground has a bitter hate on for Fort Steele Resort & RV Park. Being the first, he doesn’t take kindly to the Resort & RV Park using a similar name for their campground. He also gets lots of folks mistakenly showing up at his place when they have reservations for the other.
Understandable frustration, sure, but the angst he harbours, is worrisome. It’s mentioned on the website and on signs at the entrance to Fort Steele Campground. And he’ll readily tell you all about it if you ask. Maybe even if you don’t ask.
When our inaugural gold panning trip was finished, I left Fort Steele with a few flakes of gold and a good experience at Fort Steele Campground. I also left with a hankering to see if Fort Steele Resort & RV Park really is inferior. In 2023, I finally found out.
FORT STEELE RESORT & RV PARK LOCATION
Fort Steele is a heritage town located 17.5 km northeast of Cranbrook in BC’s East Kootenay region. Recognized for being the first NWMP outpost in BC, Fort Steele is primarily a pioneer village type tourist attraction. There are a handful of residences and farms remaining in the area, but most of what remains of the once bustling town, is preserved in the official heritage town attraction.
Fort Steele Resort & RV Park sits on the northeast side of the intersection of Highway 93/95 and Wardner – Fort Steele Road. That highway is a major north-south route connecting the two primary east-west passes through southern British Columbia (Highways 1 and 3). It’s the proximity to this highway is one of the major claims made by the Fort Steele Campground guy that his spot is better.
FORT STEELE RESORT & RV PARK SETTING
Fort Steele Resort & RV Park lies on a flat swath of land that was likely open ranchland at one time. Much of the campground remains grass, though trees have been planted within. The northeast end is treeless while the southwest end is the most shaded. A small plot of forest exists on the west side.
All trees are conifers. Where thick, they leave a carpet of red needles on the ground. Elsewhere, they’re more solitary with branches removed at their bases allowing grass to grow beneath them.
FORT STEELE RESORT & RV PARK LAYOUT
The campground at Fort Steele Resort & RV Park is a preplanned, gridded affair, though it seems to have been built in two stages. All roads to and through the campground are gravel.
The initial four rows of campsites step northeastward from the office. These rows are oriented in a mild arcing nature from southeast to northwest.
The remainder of the campground rows are oriented north-south and are found to the north and east of the arced rows.
A large, tent-only area resides within the forest along the western edge of the campground. These tent sites are more organic in nature, and despite being numbered, have no definitive boundaries.
RV CAMPSITES AT FORT STEELE RESORT & RV PARK
Calling itself a resort seems a bit rich by my definition of the word, but with the majority of campsites having full services, I suppose it fits.
By the numbers, there are 166 total sites at Fort Steele Resort & RV Park. 44 of those are tent-only sites in the woods. Of the remaining 122, only 12 are void of any onsite services. A whopping 3 have power and water only. That leaves 107 campsites with power (23 with 50 amp, the rest 30 amp), water, and sewer.
To give you an even better appreciation of what kind of campground this is, fully 141 of the RV sites are pull-throughs. Only 25 have a back-in orientation.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a fully shaded campsite at Fort Steele Resort & RV Park. The arcuate rows have mature conifers, roughly one per campsite. The interior vertical rows have some as well, though not quite as mature. None of these will shelter your entire site and along the east boundary, the sites are completely open to the sun.
The unserviced sites are in this unprotected strip, which isn’t wholly surprising. The handful of seasonal sites are as well, and that is surprising. Surprising that anyone would want a seasonal site here in the first place (possibly seasonal workers). And surprising that they wouldn’t want a prettier location in the campground. Who doesn’t love trees?
All RV sites are level gravel with grass between them. The gravel pads are old with weeds and grass slowly reverting them back to nature.
Concrete and wood picnic tables sit atop concrete pads just large enough to accommodate them. Positioned in the grass beside the gravel pad, they are all but immovable.
The tent area at Fort Steele Resort & RV Park is the yin to the RV area’s yang. Much of it lies within a conifer forest with little engineering of site layout or location. The site numbers are affixed to tree trunks and only the wooden picnic tables give any hint of each site’s boundaries. It’s an organic, natural space that suits tenters well.
Ah, but is it a walk-in tent campground? Good question. We were placed in site 133 and told to park our vehicle as close to it as possible. That site is right next to a gap enabling vehicle access to the forest and deeper sites. There is no delineated tent area parking lot. I’m still not sure whether it is or isn’t walk-in.
The far north end of the tent area opens into a grass field. Only a couple of sites are located here, though the multiple picnic tables suggest there should be more. I much prefer the forest setting, but if you like sun, there is an option for you.
Our tent site was on a rise looking out at the RV park. The entire tent area was nearly empty with only two other groups in it the night we stayed. It was easy site find and all the trees, there was plenty of options for installing a tarp overhead.
FIREPITS AND PICNIC TABLES
None of the campsites, tent nor RV, have individual firepits. There are three communal pits in the campground, two in the tent area and one on the east side of the RV lot by site 76. I’m not a fan of this setup, but considering the ever-present wildfire danger in these parts, it’s not surprising.
I do wonder, however, how tenters are supposed to prepare food if they’ve packed expecting to cook over an open fire. Communal firepits aren’t ideal for such chores, and these have no grills to speak of. It’s an hibachi and Coleman stove only kind of place.
Apparently, you can rent a portable firepit from the office if you’re really keen on a personal fire experience. As we were only there one night, and it rained briefly, we weren’t looking for a campfire anyway. The fire ban just announced that day put a kybosh on it regardless.
Hidden away in the south end of the forested tent area is a single cabin available for rent. The log design with front overhang and porch looks terrific. It’s sheltered by trees, has a picinic table out front, and is close to the pool and store.
I was unable to look inside as it was locked up tight with curtains drawn. Pictures are available on their website, and they show a similarly rustic log cabin interior with bunkbeds, wooden table, small fridge, futon, and a dresser with mirror.
With so many campsites having sewer service, I suppose it isn’t surprising only one washroom exists. I still expected another, particularly because the existing one is attached to the store and therefore not ideally located for everyone in the campground.
The bathroom entrances are on the east side of the main building. Any old west ambiance the storefront instills is quickly lost when turning the corner and entering the bathroom. The decor is dated looking and there are hints of deterioration. The one urinal, for instance, just runs all the time.
There are 4 sinks with mirrors, a couple urinals, and several stalls including an accessible one. At the back is the shower area. It should be noted that these facilities are not reserved for campers alone. Anyone passing through can use them and I suspect the odd trucker or road tripper will stop in for a cleanse.
The showers were downright creepy. Located at the back of the bathroom, there is a large, open change area with benches and hooks on the walls. There is zero privacy here nor anyway to obtain it. You’ll be stripping down in full view of the sinks and anyone walking in the doorway.
Next to this change area are several “stalls” with curtains in front and half-wall dividers between. The curtains are mismatched, the floor, wall, and near-ceiling tiles are all different colours. And who in the hell wants to shower in a prison setting anyway?
Registered campers can use the showers for free, which is nice. Others are required to pre-pay at the store.
Continue around to the back of the building and you’ll find a coin-operated laundromat. It has three top-load washers plus an industrial front load. The two, harvest gold front load dryers are a blast from the past. A wash basin rounds out the offerings.
We were in desperate need of laundering our clothes by the time we were headed to Fort Steele. The mobile site for the campground made no mention of the laundromat so we reluctantly stopped in Cranbrook for an hour and a half of boredom while we cleaned our clothes.
Both the regular computer website and the free map/pamphlet for the campground indicate the existence of the laundry facility. If only the mobile version did likewise, we could have spent more time at the campground rather than a strip mall.
There is limited need for a dump station at Fort Steele Resort & RV Park. Only 15 of the 122 RV sites are without sewer service and the tent campers use the campground bathrooms. Nonetheless, those 15 campers are well served by a dual outlet dump station near the campground entrance.
It’s nothing fancy and looks to be free of charge. Not sure how often it gets used, but it is there. I wonder if passersby use it as well.
All but 12 RV sites have potable water service. Therefore, there are no additional water taps in the RV area of the campground. I’m not sure what campers do in those 12 unserviced sites, but I suspect their only option is to go without water or fill up their tanks at the dump station prior to setting up on site.
In the tent area, there are three faucets available. Two are in the heart of the forest and the third lies at the edge of the open area. That seems a little light considering the number of tent sites present. If they were all full, getting to these taps and using them could be a bit of a nuisance. As it was almost empty, we had little problem obtaining water for cooking and drinking.
Or we should have, anyway. During our stay both taps in the forest were connected to long hoses being used to irrigate the lawns in and around the tent area. This truly was a nuisance, and I ended up just using a tap at an empty RV site across the road from us. Had the RV park been packed, I’m not sure what I’d have done.
In a grass field between the south end of the campground and Walden-Fort Steele Road is the playground. It has a smidge of vintage appeal but is otherwise underwhelming. There’s a swing set, slide, and climbing apparatus, all metal and a couple of other oddities.
I’m sure imaginative kids could burn some energy on this stuff. I just found it all a bit old and plain.
On hot summer days, I’m sure the kids won’t even think about the playground anyway. Their attention will surely be turned to the swimming pool out behind the office/store.
Enclosed in chain link fencing and surrounded by a concrete patio, it’s a traditional rectangular pool, presumably with a deep end and a shallow end. I don’t know. We never got in the pool because the day we were at Fort Steele Resort & RV Park it was cool and rainy.
Just outside the enclosure’s entrance, there’s a homemade shower stall. You are required to wash off before entering the pool which is common at public pools. I’ve just never seen a homemade one like this. It was kind of amusing.
If communal campfires turn your crank, you might also enjoy communal dining. There are two picnic shelters in the campground, one at either end of the tent area. They’re open-sided affairs although the south version is sided by a shed on one end. Each has a concrete base and some wooden picnic tables.
The shelter at the north end is right beside the communal firepit. This would make for a great group gathering spot if you were camping with a bunch of friends or family.
A third picnic spot caters to folks just driving through town. It’s located in a small grove of trees right at the entrance. Within are some of the immovable picnic tables on small concrete pads. There is plenty of parking in front of it.
WILDHORSE PAVILION AT FORT STEELE RESORT & RV PARK
Forte Steele Resort & RV Park does not have a designated group campsite or area. It does, however, have the Wildhorse Pavilion, a massive three-sided shelter capable of hosting 120 – 160 people.
The main pavilion structure looks like a barn with the front yanked off. Attached is a full kitchen and bathrooms. You can host weddings or family reunions here, which is a great idea if camping genes run deep in your family. You also get access to all the campground recreational amenities, including the pool.
The pavilion is set back in a strip of fenced grass on the east side of the campground. I imagine it makes a wonderful setting for memorable photos with the ranches and hills in the background. The proximity to the campground, however, could prove annoying to campers that are not part of the celebration.
You won’t be doing any hiking at Fort Steele Resort & RV Park. Not within the campground or from the campground as it is not attached to any trail network. You can certainly stroll around if you need to burn off an overindulgence of potato salad, though. And when you do, you are likely to befriend the emus living on the neighbouring farm.
The farm in question is at the north end of the campground. I think the campground owners may actually own the farm since a road enters the yard directly from the campground. Regardless, the emus are quite curious and will head on over to say hi if you mosey on up to the fence.
WI-FI AND CELL SERVICE
Fort Steele is not far from Cranbrook and is on a primary transportation route, so cell service should be strong on most national networks. The resort does mention the availability of Wi-Fi but as is often the case in campgrounds, not all sites receive quality signal.
REGISTRATION OFFICE, STORE, AND GIFT SHOP
Fort Steele Resort & RV Park also serves as a rest stop. Who knows, this might actually be its primary purpose.
The large registration office, store, and gift shop complex with upstairs residence certainly serves the needs of passing drivers and locals. It’s an attractive, old west, saloon-like structure that fits the locality. With the aforementioned bathrooms, showers, and picnic area plus the gasoline pumps and propane, all that’s really missing is a restaurant.
The store is split into halves. One half is a robust convenience store, and the other half is a plentiful gift shop. I’m a bit surprised there is this much demand for gifts, to be honest. There isn’t all that much around to draw huge, souvenir buying crowds.
At the front desk, you can register for your campsite and make purchases as needed. They sell firewood for $13.99 a bundle or 2 for $25.99. Tax is added to this. Easily the priciest firewood I’ve encountered. No wonder they don’t have firepits on each site.
Like the firewood, everything in the store is a bit overpriced, but what choice have you got other than driving 15 minutes back to Cranbrook?
TRAFFIC NOISE AT FORT STEELE RESORT & RV PARK
The proprietor of Fort Steele Campground may be holding his grudge a bit too strongly, but he’s not wrong about noise. Being right next to a major highway is a significant detriment to Fort Steele Resort & RV Park. Sure, it gets them noticed, but if you’re in a tent, good lord your sleep is going to suck.
That was our experience and I’m grateful we only had one night of it. Big trucks pass by all hours of the night and local ding dongs like to take off from the intersection doing burnouts. I was so exhausted the next morning I was genuinely concerned about my ability to complete the drive to Calgary in a safe manner.
Then there is the train noise. We could hear the trains, faintly, at the other campground too, but here it is much more noticeable. Proximity does that.
There were no horns or banging noises, thankfully. Once in a while, we would hear a train move along the line with some metal-on-metal squeals. Mostly, though, it was just a regular churn of diesel engines that permeated in the background. Unless I misheard and this was one of the giant motorhomes in the campground purring away through the night.
THINGS TO DO IN FORT STEELE
What brings you to Fort Steele in the first place is unclear. The heritage town is interesting, but hardly the greatest pioneer attraction you’ll ever visit. It’s worth going to but one afternoon is plenty of time to take it all in (you can read more about it in my Fort Steele Campground review).
The public panning reserve is a draw, particularly for Southern Albertans who have zero gold in their home rivers. Fort Steele is the closest, surest bet for finding the yellow stuff which we did our first time here.
Cranbrook is nearby, of course, as are other summer hotspots along that highway 93/95 corridor.
FISHERVILLE GHOST TOWN
Then there is Fisherville, a ghost town also referred to as Wildhorse Creek Historic Site on some maps. Located approximately 7 km northeast of Fort Steele along gravel forestry roads, we decided to take a peek when our gold panning proved unsuccessful.
When I think of ghost towns, I imagine abandoned buildings and numerous artifacts just left behind for eternity. That isn’t the reality in Fisherville. The only man-made evidence you’ll recognize is the cemetery and an old, stone chimney in the woods. The remainder of a once booming town is long gone.
The road to Fisherville ends in a parking lot near the cemetery. From there you can follow trails to points of interest related to this former gold rush town. A local historical group has placed informative signage along the looping trail explaining what occurred here in the middle of the 19th century.
It’s those signs that will help you understand what all the rock piles are about. The buildings may be gone, but once it’s pointed out to you, the impact on the environment the miners had is stunning.
I’m not sure I’d make Fisherville a holiday destination. There just isn’t enough left. If you are in the area, however, add it to your list. Coupled with the heritage town in Fort Steele, you’ll have an interesting look into central BC’s past.
MY RATING OF FORT STEELE RESORT & RV PARK
I’m going to do something weird here. I’m giving Fort Steele Resort & RV Park 3.75 Baby Dill Pickles out of 5, which is a better rating than I gave Fort Steele Campground. But I’ll still recommend the latter.
Fort Steele Resort & RV Park has everything but a good location. This is especially true for tent campers. The tent area is right beside the highway and there is just too much traffic noise. You will not sleep well.
I’m also knocking pickles off the score for that unnecessarily uncomfortable shower setup. Seriously, who wants to change fully exposed to a stream of strangers. Gyms aren’t that awesome, people. Sheesh.
The playground is weak, and the campground layout is uninspired. Still, it’s a very amenity-rich campground and I’m sure plenty of people will find little issue using it as a layover on their mountain adventures. It really does cater to big RV clientele, and I can envision wonderful family reunions in that pavilion.
If I ever come back to Fort Steele to camp, though, I’ll be calling the grumpy guy first. I don’t fully understand his gripe with the naming. Both are named after the town. It’s not like a surname or catchy branding was plagiarized. None of which ultimately matters to me in the slightest. Just give me the least noisy tent camping experience and I’m all yours.