Camping tips from a novice

Camping was so easy when you were a kid. You just needed to show up. You never knew how much effort your parents put in, while you were out exploring the campground with the little boy from the next lot with the Spiderman shirt. But right now, I am the mom and I can’t let my family starve in the wilderness.

Apparently, there are laws against that.

Camping tips from a novice. Photo from Canva.

How to reserve
Like almost everything in my life, I turned to Google. The provincial park reservation site is incredible. It shows you the location of every campground in the province on an easy to read map. There are even photos of every single provincial park site in Alberta.

What to pack?
I over pack. It’s in my genes. I got a list of camping stuff and picked the brains of my friends. I packed the essentials and a whole lot more.

Sites like this helped.
That’s a lot of stuff.


Packing, Tetris-style. Photo credit Stacey Brotzel

With my husband threatening to take 2 cars, I took out some firewood (which you can buy at most campgrounds but it will be more expensive). Finally I managed to barely close my hatch. So with my kids packed in around the coolers and the chip bags…we were off.

Since I’ve returned home, I saw in a catalogue that you can pick up some cheap, soft roof top bags to shove your sleeping bags in, for around $100-$200. That would have been handy.

How to pick a spot?
We took the two hour drive north east to Garner Lake…near St. Paul. One old Trip Advisor review suggested it was in disrepair. Perhaps it was in the past but when we arrived it was beautiful. Well maintained. The bathrooms were clean, and close to our campsite. (Which is kind of a big thing to those who can’t stand and pee in the woods.)

Our spot was beautiful. Guarded by a canopy of trees. Lot #34. It also had a plug in. I didn’t know how important that was until after we arrived. I brought a kettle, which is much faster than boiling it on the fire or camp stove (a must). I didn’t know I would use so much hot water… for cooking, for washing dishes and filling my water bottle at night (that made cool nights bearable).


photo credit Stacey Brotzel

Also look for a campground with a good playground and hopefully even two. Garner has one in the camping area and one on the beach.

A good idea is to check on the Alberta Health services website for Blue/Green algae alerts. You don’t want to drive 2 hours to the lake and find out your kids can’t even wade in it. Garner had beautiful clear water and it was shallow enough that my 6 year old could go pretty far out and it wasn’t even up to her shoulders.

What to eat?
I love to eat. The second question I usually ask someone back from vacation is “what’s the best thing you ate?” Hot dogs and cheezies weren’t going to cut it. So once again, I consulted my friend Google.

Breakfast: I bought one of those cartons of egg whites. This one was south western flavoured. It was already seasoned with peppers in it so I didn’t need to lug around any spices. I brought a Ziploc full of boiled potatoes for hash browns cooked on a cast iron frying pan and I put bacon on the fire.

Photo credit Stacey Brotzel

Breakfast. Photo credit Stacey Brotzel

Lunch: I made campfire nachos. I modified this recipe by just bringing a can of Stag chili instead of hauling around ground beef. Delicious. I loved picking the crusty cheese bits off the side of the pan.

Campfire Nachos. Photo credit Stacey Brotzel.

Campfire Nachos. Photo credit Stacey Brotzel.

Dinner: Yeah…I did 3 courses. My stomach shouldn’t suffer because my heart yearned for the great outdoors.

Appetizer: I took a round of brie cheese, topped with pepper jelly (you can use any type of jelly), wrapped it in tin foil and put it on the campfire grill. It was a great rustic fondue with crackers.

Main course: I put steaks in a plastic bag marinated in some olive oil and garlic. No salt. (salt sucks the moisture out of them. Put it on before cooking). Then I froze them…to add to another ice pack in the cooler. I prepared the whiskey/shallot butter ( at home and wrapped it in plastic wrap. I also used the seasoned butter to grease my pan for the potatoes and eggs the next morning.

Dessert: This recipe I heard from word of mouth. It’s a split between a s’more and a fondue. I took 2 tubs of chocolate cream cheese. Topped it with marshmallows and chocolate chips and threw it into tin foil and on the grill over the fire. It took a while for it to melt. But once it did, everyone shoveled it in using graham crackers.

Campfire S'mores. Photo Credit Stacey Brotzel.

Campfire S’mores. Photo Credit Stacey Brotzel.

What to do?

We brought the new ‘cool’ game “Ladder ball”. Great to do outside. Cards. Books. Fishing rod. Garner Lake has a great walking path around the lake with information plaques about indigenous animals and plants. If you are planning on going for a hike…remember a bear horn or bell.

No doubt about it. Camping is work. And a work out. On Saturday, with regular activities around the campsite and about a 5 km hike I doubled my normal amount of steps (according to my Fitbit). I walked a total of almost 15 kilometers.

All the work is worth it come the evening, when your family is fed and happy and you finally relax. Over the crackle of the campfire, the payoff is the sounds of your kid playing superheroes in the trees with the kid in the Iron man t-shirt.

Found in Summer