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Camping – A Cultural Experience in Northern Alberta

June 18, 2021

There’s an unmistakable tranquility to the warm buzz of a summer afternoon near the lakes in Northern Alberta. Surrounding trees encapsulate the small clearing you’ve found — the wind rushes over the treetops, but the air is still as the sun gently beats down on your shoulders. The fall field crickets, elegant in their song, suddenly turn shy as you pass by their domain and wait until you’ve once again maintained your distance. To the passing traveler, the woods of Smoky Lake County and the Métis Crossing along the North Saskatchewan riverbanks is a blur in the distance of a calm set of historic sites. To those who have camped and trekked across the boreal forests of Canada, it is a node of respect, Métis cultural influence, and an appreciation of the natural world.

These are the possibilities that lie ahead for those looking to go on a camping trip for an experience that goes beyond being relaxing. It can be fulfilling, insightful, and inspiring all at once. Camping is one of the few ways that remain for humans to reconnect with the primal notions they once had because it requires you to view the landscape with a modicum of caution. You’re back out into the wild, essentially exposed to a beautiful yet harsh wilderness that demands both respect and attention with every step. The act of camping can be seen as a solitary or group activity — exploring the endless woods alone (with proper experience) can be entrancing, but experiencing the same feeling with family, a friend, or a significant other can be equally invigorating. Whether you’ve never gone camping before or have been on a camping trip hundreds of times, the vast Alberta wilderness offers a bounty of diverse ways to enjoy the simplicity of nature. From hiking the rugged Rocky Mountains and traversing the heavily forested northern Albertan terrain to fishing and meditating on the banks of serene lakes, camping involves much more than simply surviving the elements.

Plan Your Trip

Though the calming aura of Alberta’s backwoods calls to many campers, it is hardly a good idea to go in without a plan. Perhaps the most vital part of camping, preparing for the journey should not be put on the backburner. It’s fun to fantasize about your survivalist capabilities, however, this can quickly turn to panic once you drop into the heart of nature.

Regardless of the length, some of the things to keep in mind and plan for are knowing where you’re going, how to get there, reserving a campsite (if necessary), factoring in the time of year, and creating a detailed meal plan for each day.

Learn the Lay of the Land

With a wealth of information available to you, familiarize yourself with notable landmarks throughout the province. At the very least, ensure that you know your cardinal directions and could find a main road wherever you choose to begin your adventure. There are five national parks (Banff, Jasper, Wood Buffalo, Elk Island, and Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park) and well over 400 provincial parks to explore. Whether you choose to camp in these areas or not, knowing the landscape of the nearest ones can help ensure your survival, so it is integral that you generate a map that will guide you to your intended location as well as a more detailed map of the surrounding areas of the campground you’ve chosen.

Consider the Weather

The province of Alberta may be mild and relatively dry weatherwise for the majority of the year but carry out your planning like you’re expecting the worst heat or bitter cold each day. It’s likely advisable to hold off camping until late spring because of the bitter cold, although that choice remains yours.

Set Your Dates

Determine how long you plan on camping. Most campers usually want to spend somewhere between a week and a month camping, which is a good goal to set for yourself. If it’s your first time camping, a week or simply a few days will be more than enough because of the extensive planning involved for such a short time.

Choose Your Campsite

Selecting the appropriate campground begins with identifying the type of camping you intend to engage in — the most common options include cabins, tent, and RVs. You’ll also have to reserve your chosen camping site and check for other limitations and restrictions before arriving.

Create A Meal Plan

Lastly, meal plans for each day are essential to you and your group’s wellbeing throughout the trip. Even if you’re planning on hunting or foraging a bit for extra sustenance, bring plenty of food and beverages for the trip.

A Deeper Dive into Locations

Now that you’ve got most of the basics of camping planning and preparation under your belt, it’s time to explore what makes Alberta different from other camping experiences. Visiting local sites of Métis culture or hiking through the expanse that makes up Wood Buffalo National Park in the north all capture an entrancing view of nature. In their own ways, each of these excursions can create a deeper connection with the diverse ecosystems throughout Alberta.

Métis Crossing—A Camping Experience Like No Other

The culture of the Métis is integral to the natural world within Alberta, especially at the Métis Crossing campsite. Being fortunate to house several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, getting to know the ways and society of the Métis people is an enlightening experience. Participating in camping, an act that is centered around the idea of restoring a progressively altered connection to the natural world is a centerpiece of the Métis way of life. Recognizing the importance of Métis influence as First Nations people on the incoming fur traders of the 19th century is essential to understanding the history of Canada itself. There’s no hard or fast rule that you must learn these aspects of the Métis. However, it is impossible to separate the ecological, social, and economic impacts that the Indigenous Métis people have had on the Albertan wilderness. The very least an individual can do is set aside some time to reflect on the concerted effort put forth by their people to create the province so well respected today. Passing on their stories, native traditions, or even their Michif language are all ways that campers can show their respects while navigating the flawless forests and prairies.

To become further steeped in what you can offer the natural world, the Métis Crossing Cultural Gathering Centre has a multitude of activities that delve into the heritage of the Métis. This ranges from detailed workshops in crafting ribbon skirts, woven bags, trapper hats, and moss bags to being introduced to traditional hand weaving. Several programs further expand on the history of the Métis and other Indigenous peoples in Alberta, like the Tales from the Trapline, which features snowshoe travel and survival training along the Métis River Lot Farm. Additionally, there are daily experiences, namely Hiding in Plain Sight currently, which encourages visitors to research the storied history of the Métis from firsthand accounts and other factual or storytelling perspectives. All of this can be accessed at the Métis Crossing campgrounds, where it is also possible to reserve a lot for camping, participate in Paddle Into the Past on the North Saskatchewan River, and many other outdoor activities throughout the Spring, Summer, and early Fall seasons. Wherever you decide to camp, near Métis cultural sites or not, take some time to think respectfully about their customs of living in harmony with the world.

Wood Buffalo National Park

One final endeavour that can properly represent the majesty of the Canadian wilderness and is a bit different than the draw of Métis Crossing, is the endless corridors of trees and boundless lakes of Wood Buffalo National Park. Being the largest national park in all of Canada, camping within the borders of Wood Buffalo is an experience unlike any other.

With access to well-traveled and battered hiking trails, the unbridled natural sanctuaries, and the winding Peace River, there are a plethora of natural activities to round out any camping trip. Some hiking trails are worn, others are brand new, and the rest are lost to time. Assuming you’ve done your research and pay attention to your surroundings, any of these paths can lead to a wholly unique experience. The deeper you follow them, the greater the feeling of complete serenity becomes. Finding your way into clearings, be it at a lakeside or in the depths of an ocean of forest, can reveal a habitat untouched by humanity.

Finally, you could trek along the banks of the Peace River and watch as it flows into eternity at each turn. If you traveled long enough (well over 300 miles from the split at Slave River, plan accordingly), you would end up in the Town of Peace River at the Métis Nation of Alberta Region 6. This would be the perfect place to end your camping trip.

Provided that you plot out each step of your journey, accommodate for unexpected events, and pack appropriately, you can expect to have a great experience in the wild. Above all else, though, be respectful of the landscape and remember that humanity is no different from other animals in the larger picture. Taking these notions into account as you act will improve your experience during the trip and hopefully affects your whole lifestyle afterward.

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