Now that we have a camper, we have been not-so-patiently waiting to check out as many campgrounds and parks as possible. Not many are open before the May long weekend, but Thunder Lake Provincial Park was, and they had reservations available. We’ve been struggling with how fast the online reservation systems are filling up this year, it’s been so hard to secure weekend-long campsites. I guess, like us, many folks see camping as a covid-safe and accessible way to travel and explore this summer.
Thunder Lake Provincial Park is located around 20 km outside of Barrhead, Alberta. Barrhead is about an hour and a half north of Edmonton and about an hour and forty-five minutes from the town we live in. It was just far enough to feel like a getaway, but close enough that we didn’t waste most of our camping time just driving to the place. Plus, I love the feeling of checking out small towns I’ve never been to before. They’re all so much the same (especially in Alberta– every small town has an A&W and a Chevy dealership) yet each has its own unique elements, from small businesses to landmarks to recreation areas. Barrhead was no different. Upon arriving in town, we grabbed a pizza from Freson Bros. and stopped in the liquor store for a bottle of wine and a case of beer. I found some locally produced moonshine and hard iced teas, so I grabbed those too and made reservations at the local distillery for the next day. When I researched things to do in Barrhead before our trip, I never even came across it. Sometimes you just have to get to a place before you find out what it has to offer.
We made our way to Thunder Lake Provincial Park and checked in. At first, our campsite looked disappointing, and I thought maybe I had mistakenly booked a tent site, that’s how small it appeared. But once we got the camper backed in and levelled out, we were in awe. The site was at the top of a steep, wooded bank, overlooking the lake. There was more than enough space for the camper and the truck. We didn’t waste any time getting firewood and setting up the folding chairs. When the park attendants dropped off our firewood, they commented that our site is undoubtedly the nicest one in the park. Score. (Lucky you, I’ll give away the secret– its site B-59!)
That night, we slept so soundly as the rain fell and made the most beautiful noise on the camper’s metal roof. I haven’t mentioned it yet, but this was also our kitten, Frankie’s, first-ever camping trip. She was a real trooper and settled in pretty well. We can’t wait to take her on so many adventures. She has been a wonderful addition to our little family.
The next day, we made a yummy breakfast scramble with eggs, potatoes, sausages, and peppers. It rained all day, but before it started pouring, we got out for a little stroll on the park’s beautiful trail system and along the shoreline. It was nice to be by the water again. I wish we had some kayaks; Thunder Lake would have been the perfect place for a paddle. Lately, I’ve been getting into geocaching– there is a really cool one inside the park, along the trails. Give it a try for yourself!
That night, after an afternoon of naps, reading, and crossword puzzles, Mack set up our awning for the first time so we could have another campfire, despite the rain. We didn’t have the poles for the awning (newbie mistake) so Mack picked up some clotheslines from the park shop which worked like a charm. We had Sri Lankan Kottu (this weekend’s country meal) for supper and enjoyed a bottle of wine. Frankie even came out by the fire for a bit and I’m sure she loved the warmth and fresh air as much as we did. This is our first Alberta provincial park, so we’re not sure if these are at every park or just Thunder Lake, but we were blown away by the fire pits. It sounds silly, but a well-designed fire pit makes a huge difference to the quality of the campfire! It’s heavy and solid, has good ventilation, and has a large grate that can swing over the fire pit for cooking. Way better than Parks Canada and many privately-owned sites we’ve visited.
Sunday morning boasted beautiful, sunny weather, so we went for another walk and this time explored the park’s day-use area. It has fire pits, picnic tables, a big sandy beach, a playground, and a volleyball net. It looked like a really fun place for action-packed days with family and friends. We made some french toast and then began to pack up. We’ve come to learn that it’s much easier to pack and unpack for a weekend in the camper than a weekend of tenting– except for having to visit the dump station. I won’t dive into any gory details, but we’ve got some plumbing issues to tackle in our 40-year-old camper… Despite that near-disaster, we had a fantastic weekend at Thunder Lake Provincial Park and we think that any family, solo traveller, couple, or group of friends would love this place. We’d visit again, hopefully with kayaks next time.
Fun tip: I love visiting non-chain, locally-owned convenience stores. They always carry the most fun, outrageous, and unexpected products. Some have retro vibes, others feel more dilapidated. All are equally fascinating. Check out this one in the hamlet of Campsie, right on the way into and out of the park. You can’t miss it.