Great Places to Camp: Tunnel Mountain Campground, Banff

It is a challenge to find campgrounds that are open at this time of year.  In Alberta and BC they generally don’t open until May (and sometimes June) and many are closed again in September.  An exception to this is Tunnel Mountain II campground on the outskirts of Banff.  It is one of the very few that is open year round.  I found this out last year when I had the itch to get away during spring break with the kids, while hubby was on a 2 month stint in Vancouver.

Usually in March in the middle of the Canadian Rocky Mountains it is still winter, with a good amount of snow on the ground.  Last year was an exceptionally short and warm winter, so the kids and I decided to go explore.  I booked the site before we went.  I was not imagining we would be sharing the area with other tenters, but I did imagine that there would be some winterized RV’s and I didn’t want to compete.  Pre-booking wasn’t necessary at all.  We almost had the non-powered area to ourselves except for a couple of other brave tenters.  I was hoping like crazy there would be no snow on the ground, and thankfully there wasn’t.

We set up our tents – actually the big girls did.  They wanted the challenge of doing that themselves. Pitching TentA lot of the campground was blocked off – there were just a few roads available to camp, which left a lot of room to scooter & run uninhibited. Scootering in BanffLogistic’s were a little challenging for me.  I had a toddling 1 year old that needed to be watched closely, and I didn’t feel comfortable with my boys (5&7) going off to the bathroom on their own since they were a little distance away.  I tried to get them to travel as a pack.  If one needed to go, they all needed to go.  Sleeping wise, we had two tents.  The big girls (10&9) slept with their little brother, and I squeezed me, my 7 year old and a crib/portacot with my little one into the other tent, and we had a tonne of blankets to keep us warm during the -5C nights.   Tenting with kidsThere was more wind than I had counted on which made it hard to keep the two smaller ones warm while we were outside.  We used the shelter for our meal times.  For this solo parent mission, it would have been a lot easier, and saved a tonne of time doing dishes, if I brought disposable plates. Eating while Camping

Other than playing at camp, and walking around Banff, these are the activities that we did:


I had read about a winter adventure on a blog and it was the pictures of Johnston Canyon that got my brain thinking about us going to Banff for ourselves.  The lower falls are just over 1 km from the parking lot so perfectly do-able for us distance wise, but pretty challenging walking on glare ice.  We didn’t have spikes on our boots, and they really were necessary in some places.  Kids in Johnston Canyon Johnston Canyon BanffTo get a close up view of the Lower falls, you crawl through the tunnel behind the kids. Lower Falls Johnston Canyon Tunnel at Johnston Canyon Tunnel Johnston CanyonAnd you pop out on a ledge on the cliff edge, about 10m high, behind a barrier in very cramped quarters.  It was all a little nerve-racking for me trying to keep my eye on all the kids.  We didn’t linger.  I felt like we needed to be somewhere a little safer!  There was only time for me to snap one pic of the falls. Lower Fall Johnston CanyonWe tried to go to the Upper falls which was still nearly 2 km away.  We went a ways, but the trail was steeper, more icy and had just a flimsy barrier that didn’t protect the kids from slipping under the rail and off the cliff if they were sliding on the ground.  I didn’t feel very agile on my feet, and able to help the kids as well as I would have liked, with small fry on my back. We had one close call and my nerves were a bit rattled so we turned around and headed back to the car.  I would like to go back again in the middle of winter when it is a true winter wonderland, with some boot spikes AND hubby!!


The kids requested to find a playground in Banff township, which we did.  Time there was cut short when they noticed that over the fence was a bike jump park with a teeter totter.  I had to drag them away after they spent about an hour trying to balance it!
Kids on Teeter Totter kids on teeter totter


A part of my intention to check out Banff was just to get a lay of the land for future visits.  I knew there wasn’t a whole lot I could do on my own with the kids.  So we drove around and checked out a couple of different lakes, one of them being Two Jack. Two Jack Lake Kids Playing Two Jack Lake Log crossing Two Jack LakeIn the summer, Banff gets more visitors than I could possibly bear.  Coming in March, in shoulder season, was a good option for us!

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