Contact Us

Chat & Email
Click to Chat
Connect With Us

Mandy Johnson: Alberta Parks Ambassador

Mandy Johnson: Alberta Parks Ambassador

Early this spring, I happened to notice Alberta Parks was accepting applications for brand ambassadors.  This piqued my curiosity, being as I am a huge lover and regular year-round user of Alberta’s provincial parks.  What exactly was a brand ambassador’s role?  It is to promote and support Alberta Parks’ provincial park system and encourage healthy, active outdoor lifestyles.  It is to encourage the fact that everyone belongs outside in these inclusive environments.  It is to explore some of Alberta’s many hidden gems and share these adventures with people.  The reward for taking on this assignment:  free camping in all but the most popular parks.

I submitted my application with much enthusiasm!  I was delighted to learn that I had been selected as one of nine ambassadors for 2023, the eighth year of the program and proud to learn I was to be the first senior ambassador. 

As we enter the month of July, I have had a little over two full months in my new role and I am loving it!  It combines so many of the things I love to do:  camp, hike, bike, paddle, geocache photography and exploring new outdoor destinations.

This blog post contains a brief summary of the parks and campgrounds visited.  I will update it throughout the year.  

Alberta Park #1:  Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park

Glenbow Ranch is just outside the town of Cochrane and less than an hour drive northwest of Calgary, along the Bow River. A day use park, Glenbow Ranch is a great destination for a picnic, where there are over 28 kms of paved & gravel pathways for hiking and biking. It has a great visitor centre with exhibits that describe the history of the lands. They run a very busy and varied day camp program. The park is a partnership between the Glenbow Ranch Foundation and AlbertaParks.  I went here in April, with the goal of seeing mountain bluebirds for the first time and I wasn’t disappointed!  The grasslands and forests of this park are home to many forms of wildlife.  It is a great place for Calgarians and Cochrane residents to get a regular dose of “nearby nature” and replenish their essential vitamin N.  This nature vitamin boosts our endorphins (happy hormones), reducing stress and also boosting our immune systems.  

Alberta Park #2: Bow Valley Provincial Park

I LOVE Bow Valley Provincial Park! This fantastic park is often overlooked by people who only have plans for nearby Banff National Park & the other mountain national parks. But this provincial park, located just off the Trans-Canada Highway, 20 minutes east of Canmore and under an hour from Calgary has so much to offer. In the spring months of May and June, the big benefit is the trails are snow free and dry long before many other trails in the region are ready. It is where the first spring flowers appear in the Bow Valley. On May 11,  we saw an endless number of prairie crocuses and a few potentilla along with the first crop of dandelions. The scenery is awesome and the bird life is prolific. This is a perfect hiking destination if you are looking for relatively flat, easy trails.  The accessibility of many of the park’s paved and gravel trails make them perfect for older adults and people with disabilities or mobility challenges.

 The park has a paved trail and quiet park roads perfect for early season cycling. There are some gorgeous campsites right along the Bow River. My favourite time to visit this park is late June or early July when the wildflowers are simply amazing, including some rarer species due to the unique landscape found here.

I lead guided hikes on a number of the trails in Bow Valley Provincial Park. 

Alberta Park #3: Evan Thomas Provincial Recreation Area

Evan Thomas Provincial Recreation Area is the largest provincial recreation area in Kananaskis Country. It emcompasses the Kananaskis Ski Area, Kananaskis Village, the Kananaskis Golf Course, the Kananaskis Wilderness Hostel, five day use areas and a whole network of hiking, biking and cross-country ski trails. For more about Evan Thomas PRA and what exactly a PRA is vs a Provincial park, here is a great article by the Friends of Kananaskis organization:

There are so many excellent hikes here, but one of my favourites and one I lead guided hikes on is family-friendly Troll Falls.  This hike features the cascading Marmot Creek, which tumbles over a number of waterfalls of varying sizes including one (Marmot Falls) that you can easily walk behind.  On the way back, we walk through a beautiful aspen forest into Hay Meadows, an important bird watching area along the Kananaskis River with gorgeous mountain views. 

Alberta Park #4 & Camping Trip #1:  Sibbald Lake Provincial Recreation Area

At the end of May I had my first camping trip as an Alberta Parks Ambassador. First of all - let’s be clear about what this campground is NOT. The lake is more like a small pond than a lake and it is ringed with mud and copious amounts of cattle dung. So it is not a place for swimming or paddling. What are the attractions? A vast network of trails for hiking and mountain biking from the campground and on nearby trails. Birdwatching, wildlife observation, geocaching, sunrise/sunset/starry sky photography. There is a good playground for kids and lovely, spacious, private campsites That is why I have come here for the second year in a row. As I am now a semi-retired senior citizen, my friend and I took advantage of coming here mid-week to find the park about 90% empty and the hiking trails we tackled, super quiet.  It is such an advantage to be able to visit Kananaskis Country mid-week before the busy summer season begins. 

Alberta Park #5: Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park

Grassi Lakes is a very popular trail in Canmore that falls within Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park.  It re-opened at the beginning of June after a one year closure to improve the parking and washroom facilities and to add some safety railings along the trail.

Despite a rather early start of 9 AM, the trail and Grassi Lakes, were quite busy. If you value a quiet experience this time of year, I suggest a start time of before 9 AM or after 8 PM.  People think that because this is a busy trail and quite close to town that they are unlikely to encounter bears . Wrong! I have encountered bears several times on this trail so don’t forget your bear spray.

Despite the new and larger signage, explaining the rock fall hazard, if you wander through the gate at the end of the second lake, people are still ignoring it. When I read the sign out loud to one group, the youngster replied, “helmets are only recommended and not required.” Once I had explained the tragic accident that happened there a few years ago, the parents finally decided that proceeding past the danger sign was not a good idea.

I recommend doing the trail in a clockwise direction. That way you do not miss seeing the waterfall and views down into the Bow Valley. It is also easier to climb up the steep staircase, rather than to descend it, then you can enjoy an easy walk back down the forest road.

An all-time favourite hike, this is one that I will do over and over.  I always enjoy leading guided hikes on this trail.

Alberta Park Camping Trip #3:   William Watson Lodge 

William Watson Lodge & campground was purpose built to perfectly suit the needs of persons with disabilities and  Albertans aged 65 plus along with their family members and friends.  Closed for two years during COVID, it received extensive renovations and added additional fully accessible cabins.  It is an outstanding facility fulfilling a great need to provide outdoor opportunities for an underserved population in a spectacular setting near the shore of Lower Kananskis Lake in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.  Having turned 65 last year, I was  absolutely thrilled to experience my first stay a cabin at William Watson for New Years 2023.  June marked my third visit to William Watson Lodge, this time camping in the gorgeous campground which features 14 accessible, full-serviced campsites which cost $16 per night to book.   Albertans with disabilities can book either a cabin or campsite for themselves and family/friends sharing their accommodations 120 days in advance.  Alberta seniors and out of province persons with disabilities can likewise book 60 days in advance.

Alberta Park #6:  Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

One of the largest provincial parks in Alberta, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park encompasses 304 square kilometres (117 sq mi) around Kananaskis Lakes. The park provides amenities for camping and fishing along with trails for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.  It is my favourite Kananaskis Country park and I have enjoyed all the aforementioned activities, except fishing but also star-gazing, kayaking and nature photography. In the middle of this park is where William Watson Lodge is situated (see previous post). Being about 90 kms from Calgary, it is also one of the busiest provincial parks.  So I tend to avoid this park during the peak months of July and August.  During those months in 2023, I will be off exploring some of Alberta's hidden gems. 

Alberta Park #7: Thompson Creek Provincial Recreation Area & Camping Trip #4 - Thompson Creek Campground

Thompson Creek Campground is found in Thompson Creek Provincial Recreation Area, 83 km southwest of Nordegg on Hwy. 11 or 8 km east of Saskatchewan Crossing. This picturesque recreation area is on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. There are over 50 well-treed sites, suitable for RVs and tents in the campground, maintained by friendly campground staff. A trail leads to scenic views of the river valley, right from the campground.  Just across the highway is the trailhead for Thompson Creek.  A short hike takes you to a pretty small waterfall while a longer 10 km hike takes you to spectacular Thompson Creek Falls.  This was a favourite hike, for sure!  The drive east along the David Thompson Highway features many scenic pullouts.  Abraham Lake, famous for its methane bubbles when the lake is frozen easy rivals Lake Louise for its cooler and beauty, less the masses of tourists.  It is an hour if you don’t stop to admire the scenery or rocky mountain sheep that frequent the roadside to get to the historic town of Nordegg.  

A great resource for exploring this area is The David Thompson Highway Hiking Guide by Jane Ross & Daniel Kyba. 

I was told the campground rarely fills mid-week, while it does fill up on weekends during July and August as it serves as an overflow camping area for tourists travelling up and down the nearby Icefields Parkway.  We were there the weekend of June 23 - 25th and the campground was at less than 50% capacity. I must say, conclusively, that Thompson Creek PRA and campground is one of Alberta’s hidden gems.  

To be continued!



What to wear & bring (Spring, Summer, Fall):

  1. Wear comfy casual clothes.
  2. Bring a warm extra layer & rain jacket, just in case.
  3. Running shoes are fine while light trail or hiking shoes provide even more support and are ideal.
  4. Please no flip-flops or sandals.
  5. Leave purses at home. A small backpack is a great bring-along.
  6. Don't forget your water, sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, insect repellent and your camera.

What to wear & bring (Winter):

  1. Wear a long sleeve t-shirt/thermal underwear top plus 1 or 2 layers (i.e.: light fleece top, heavier fleece top) & a wind/waterproof shell. Heavy winter parkas and snow pants are usually too warm.
  2. Wear winter boots or lined hiking boots. Icers, which go over your footwear to prevent slipping, are provided when necessary.
  3. Leave purses at home. A small backpack is a great bring-along.
  4. Bring water, gloves/mitts, a hat/headband, scarf/buff/neck warmer, tissues/handkerchief, sunglasses and don't forget your camera!

Reserve OnLine:

It’s as easy as 1-2-3! Simply click the "Book Now" button, select your preferred date to check availability, fill in your personal details and then make a secure payment via credit card. The system will automatically send you a confirmation of your session with the relevant details.

Liability Waiver:

Liability waivers are a necessary part of any commercial activity experience. I recommend that you take the time now to review this legal document that you will be required to sign before we start our clinic or walk together:

View the Waiver

Your Health & Physical Activity Readiness:

We ask guests who are experiencing cold symptoms and symptoms of COVID-19 to stay home and practice self-isolation under the direction of the appropriate governing body. For almost everyone, the benefits of physical activity far outweigh any risks. For some individuals, special advice from a Qualified Exercise or health care provider is advisable before becoming more active. This questionnaire is intended for all ages – to help move you along the path to becoming more physically active.

Please review this Questionnaire if you have concerns about your health or fitness level for participating in Nordic walking.

Cancellation Policy:

Full refunds are given if a cancellation is received 24 hours or more prior to the clinic or tour date. No refunds are given with less than 24 hours notice. Clinics/tours go rain or shine. If the weather is extreme, then it may be cancelled with a full refund given.

Malcolm Hotel

Canmore Public Parking


Parking is available on-street or in public lots throughout Canmore. It is a good idea to arrive early on busy days to locate suitable parking.

Malcolm Hotel - Onsite


Restrooms are available at the Malcolm hotel in the lobby.

Canmore Public Restrooms


Public restrooms are available within a short walk:

Canmore Public Restrooms - Trailheads


Public pit toilets are available at all trailheads.

Canmore Various

Where to meet:

Starting locations will vary seasonally with instructions included in your booking confirmation.


Parking options will vary by location with details included in your booking confirmation.

Tour Canmore

Various Canmore Trailheads

Canmore Walking Tour 1.5 Hour

Canmore Walking Tour 3 Sisters

Hikes Cognito Form

Winter Hikes Cognito Form

Chat Modal