Teenagers, a wolverine, and intense stream crossings 

By Jane Marshall

Alberta Parks defines random backcountry camping as: “Camping that involves hiking, biking, paddling or horseback riding to a camping destination that does not have established facilities.”

My kids’ response to my suggestion of random camping: “Yes!”

They loved the idea of hiking, then finding some isolated place to set up camp. So we drove south to Castle Wildland Provincial Park. AKA: Backcountry paradise.

It’s a relatively new park — established in winter 2017.

Rules and Regulations

  • No need to book or pre-register your trip
  • No permits required
  • Random camping is FREE
  • Must camp 1km from the road or from another provincial park or provincial recreation boundary.

Alberta Parks Tips

  • Camp at least 50 meters from any trail
  • Minimize your impact

There’s little printed literature about the park. I had 1 massive map (Adventure Guide and Topographic Map of Southwest Alberta) which I’d purchased the year prior at the Beaver Mines General Store. Other than that, we used my Garmin InReach satellite device to guide our way.

We decided on a hike called Andy Good Basin.

It was just me, Ben (16) and Julie (12), as my husband was working.

Not far up the trail, amidst a forest of deciduous trees, we spotted something. Our first ever wolverine sighting. We took it as a good omen.

We climbed to where the trees began thinning, then set up camp. Ben built a fire and tripod and we spent the night drying our wet boots and scavenging firewood.

Random Camping in Castle Wildland Provincial Park

The next day we broke camp and climbed higher yet, past an old grey landslide of tumbled stone, to a rolling alpine meadow.

Flowers were everywhere. The meadow was teaming with yellow glacier lilies. Columbine flowers bobbled on thin stalks. Julie took over 100 photos of mountain flowers. In her, a botanist was born.

They chose just the right spot to pitch our tent, settling on an area near some sheltering spruce.

Then — they surprised me. While I dealt with finding bear-safe food storage, they set up camp. They erected the tent and organized sleeping bags. Something within our family had shifted. My kids were taking care of me.

Random Camping in Castle Wildland Provincial Park

When It Rains, It Pours

But the trip wasn’t all smooth. Soon, the rains came. We spent 2 nights beneath torrential rains, sleeping to the (not very relaxing) lullaby of water on nylon. In the days, everything got soaked despite our good waterproof gear.

We spent our days exploring, surviving, building a lean-to, and doing outdoorsy stuff. All the arguments of siblings in the city were replaced by helping each other out.

The rain storms had melted the high snows, and on our way down, the real adventure began. We had 7 crossings over Ptolemy Creek, and the creek was now a torrent. What had been rock hopping and log balancing on the way up was now super intense.

Ben would make his way across, drop his pack, then ferry across both mine and Julie’s.

Yet at one crossing, it was just too much. He had to walk across a series of rain-soaked timbers. The water had risen shockingly high. As he reached the other side, he looked back at us and yelled, “No way.” Even Ben, adept at parkour, had been tested.

Julie and I went upstream, found some shallows, then trudged through the raging water. We  high-fived and threw and our arms round each other. Yet to get to Ben, there was still a deep and un-passable pool.

We were forced to hike up a steep embankment with our packs. Julie went first and I spotted her in case of a fall, but when the elastic of my pack cover got caught on a branch, it was Julie who rescued me.

By the end, my nervous system was shot. And I was so, so proud. All the things I’d taught my kids for years (love of nature, enduring discomfort, seeking adventure) were now present in them.

We were a team.