Chris Jones knew exactly where he would drop to one knee and pop the question to his lady love. The Calgary-based couple has a favourite “glamping” spot on the edge of a pristine meadow in Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park in southern Alberta, where they go to unwind after a busy work week. So, in September 2019, he proposed in front of their luxury outfitted canvas tent.
“It’s a beautiful space where we have watched as a family of deer rest during the day,” says Jones. “She said ‘yes,’ by the way.”
Glamping – or comfort camping – pairs the rustic charm of camping and the surroundings of Alberta’s vast landscape with glamourous creature-comfort perks that commonly include things such as running water; a raised bed with linens in a canvas tent, yurt, or the like; and a barbeque, mini-fridge and other conveniences that are more luxurious than traditional tenting amenities.
“There is a lot of market room in this space for people to innovate and make money.”
– Peter Casurella, executive director of the SouthGrow Regional Initiative
“The demand for prairie camping in southern Alberta is rapidly accelerating. We’ve seen a massive spike for summer camping sites, glamping sites, cabin and RV rental sites, or condo-ized sites across the region,” says Peter Casurella, executive director of the SouthGrow Regional Initiative. “There is a lot of market room in this space for people to innovate and make money.”
The Jones’ favourite getaway in Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park is located about 350 kilometres southeast of Calgary near the Alberta-Montana border and is situated among the 26 communities that make up the SouthGrow Regional Initiative.
But Writing-on-Stone is not the only provincially run park in the province with a handful of comfort camping sites available. There are at least four parks across central and northern Alberta that are all within 300 kilometres of Edmonton, and another four parks within 350 kilometres of Calgary across central and southern Alberta that offer cozy cabins, yurts or medieval-themed canvas tents.
Dinosaur Provincial Park is one of those parks and it sits about 220 kilometres straight east of Calgary. Shauna Deschamps, business operations coordinator for the Dinosaur District, says the demand for the UNESCO World Heritage site’s wall-tent style units is so high, they book up almost completely for the season in February when reservations become accessible online.
“It’s very special to see people come from around the world and camp in Dinosaur Provincial Park,” she says. “For many of our guests, it’s the first time they have experienced camping. For those who arrive from parts of the globe where camping is not necessarily part of their culture, it’s a wonderful thing that we can offer them when they visit.”
Deschamps adds that glamping also benefits the local economy when the campsites are located near towns.
“Instead of coming in for a day visit, people are extending their stay. They are bringing in money to local restaurants, local grocery stores, shopping and other businesses, and they’re looking for other sources of entertainment,” she says.
For Jones and his now fiancée, the appeal is being able to leave the city lightly packed, drive up to a ready-made campsite and jump right into their nature activities without needing to buy all the paraphernalia that is required for traditional camping, load a car or RV, and set up a site. They often spend their mornings hiking and then relax back at their site on the patio or around a fire – just like traditional camping. At the end of their stay, they simply get back in the car and head home to the city, no dismantling and packing up required.
“It reduces the stress of camping a lot. There’s a permanent wood floor, an electrical hookup, raised bed, fire pit and dining room table, flush toilets nearby,” says Jones. “At different times in my life, I’ve had all the gear and tried all sorts of camping; and right now, this is just so nice. We have busy work lives and to be able to just arrive and wind down in nature is what we’re looking for.”