- A true Alberta Rocky Mountain hidden gem!
- A great alternative to the often busy National Parks.
- Be prepared to rough it a bit, this area doesn’t have many services.
David Thompson Country is a collection of 20+ provincial parks and recreation areas along highway #11, off the Banff-Jasper Icefields Parkway, Highway #93. The area is vast and feels far less crowded than the more popular Banff and Jasper National Parks next door. The corridor includes the ecologically sensitive Kootenay Plains, some awesome waterfalls, empty roads and loads of camping options.
You can access David Thompson Country from the west, off Highway #93 at Saskatchewen Crossing, at the expensive, but sometimes very much needed gas station the Banff end of the Icefields Parkway. People who love Banff and Jasper will often drive right by this turning without wondering… “what’s down that road anyway?” We certainly did! If you are approaching from the east, you access Highway #11 at Rocky Mountain House. Make sure you stop at Nordegg along the way.
The Kootenay Plains are protected for two reasons, the plains are both an Ecological Reserve and an Aboriginal grave site. This sub-region of the Rockies is home to many rare and uncommon plants, including unique grasslands, and plants like the Wavy Moonwart and Boreal Indian Paintbrush.
A lovely, easy hike in the Kootenay Plains area, this 5 km hike takes you into the backcountry to Siffleur Falls. The hike starts a short distance west of Two O’Clock Creek campground. The trail leads you across a vast open area, to a long narrow suspension bridge over the North Saskatchewan River. After the bridge wooden boardwalks help protect this sensitive ecological area. A second bridge, this time crossing the Siffleur River, takes you into the gorge towards falls. Be aware that there are some dangerous cliff edges along the way. Take care at the waterfall, tragically several people and dogs have lost their lives here. The trail continues passed the first set of falls to a second (2.5 km further) and third set of waterfalls (1.5 km further).
Some of the best sights along the David Thompson Corridor are off Highway #11, down pot-holed, gravel, dirt ‘roads’. The easiest one to access is Crescent Falls, at a mere 3 km of rough track. The waterfalls are a short walk from the parking area, and they are truly spectacular! We spent many years living in BC where we were spoilt by stunning waterfalls, but Crescent Falls really impressed us. Not only are they gorgeous falls to view but you can also fairly easily access the bottom of the first waterfall, a really unique experience.
Please note – access to the campground here is insane. Do not attempt in a campervan or any long vehicle, be smart and park at the big lot at the top. Once you go down the hill you will instantly regret doing so. We did!!! Learn from our mistakes.
Nordegg, Alberta is a cute little hamlet of 200 people, 100 km east of the Saskatchewan Crossing turnoff. The hamlet offers a few hotels, cafés, shops, a post office and beer cabin. Nordegg is also considered a ‘Ghost Town’. Home to Brazeau Colliers, once a booming coal mine, at its peak this area was home to over 2,500 people. Please note that the ‘Ghost Town’ mine site area is only accessible by guided tour, offered through the museum on weekends and holidays.
Abraham Lake is best known among local photographers for its turquoise blue colour and a frozen bubble phenomenon, caused by methane gas bubbles that get trapped below the ice as the lake freezes. This lake was artificially created in 1972 when the Bighorn Dam was constructed. The lake was named by Alberta students in a ‘Name the Lake’ contest. The lake is 32 km long and it’s shores are dotted with rough (unofficial) camping spots, popular with people traveling from Edmonton and beyond.
There are lots of camping options in David Thompson Country. We spent our first night at night Thompson Creek Campground. The closest campground to Banff National Park, it offered treed sites the banks of the North Saskatchewan River. We checked out a handful of different campgrounds along Highway #11. Our favourite campground was Two O’Clock Creek Campground, named for the time of day the river water is at the highest point. This campground may look small, but there is actually a massive group camping area behind it, which includes an awesome ridge trail. We spent three, fabulously windy, nights here. The campground consists of 22 unserviced campsites surrounding a small meadow.
When to Visit
We visited David Thompson Country during Canada Day long weekend. It was the perfect place to find a campsite without a reservation because it’s all first come, first serve. Most campgrounds are privately managed. They are mostly open May 1st to mid-October.
Who the heck is David Thompson?
David Thompson, aka the Stargazer, was the “greatest land geographer who ever lived.” Thompson was a British-Canadian fur trader, surveyor and map-maker who loved adventure. He travelled 90,000 km across North-America and he managed to map almost 5 million square km along the way! Other claims to fame include being the first European to navigate the full length of the Columbia River. “His contemporary, the great explorer Alexander Mackenzie, remarked that Thompson did more in ten months than he would have thought possible in two years. Despite these significant achievements, Thompson died in Montreal in near obscurity on 10 February 1857, his accomplishments almost unrecognised.” (Wikipedia)
We are grateful to our Canmore neighbours from Edmonton who recommended this incredible area to us. We are also very thankful to the nice young couple from Jasper that we met on the Icefields Parkway who recommend Two O’Clock Creek Campground. It really is the best in the area and we would have totally missed it otherwise. Thank you, kind people for sharing your gems!!
Top 3 Tips
- Prepare to be self-sufficient, bring everything you need.
- Arrive early, campsites and hikes can fill up by afternoon on weekends by mid-morning.
- Don’t forget your bear spray!
I loved my time in David Thompson Country. We camped at this really cool campground where it was super windy! The vast open wilderness was killer. There were incredible mountain views and lots of great wildlife scents. We went on a fun hike to a couple waterfalls. We had to cross this long skinny suspension bridge, my mom didn’t think I would make it, I sure showed her. At the waterfall, we saw our camping neighbour the young female Great Dane! She was nice, I liked her, but she was really big and she moved like a pony, it kind of freaked me out. I hope we get to camp here again.