Planning a bicycle tour

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Planning a bicycle tour

Postby Raybo » Mon Jun 03, 2013 11:57 am

I am planning my next bicycle tour from Missoula, MT to Jasper Alberta, Canada. I will be leaving just after July 4th. To see the planning I've done so far, see my tour planning page.

I'd be interested in any information someone might have about the, somewhat, remote area I am planning on riding through.

Does anyone have any experience of Indian Days in Browning, MT? Specifically, how crowded might the town be?
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Re: Planning a bicycle tour

Postby Hikes_With_Dogs » Mon Jun 03, 2013 3:45 pm

I have no suggestions but GOSH that sounds like a fantastic trip. I spent 2 weeks in Banff/Jasper 2 years ago and it was absolutely stunning. Have a wonderful time and I can't wait to see your photographs and blog when you get back!
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Re: Planning a bicycle tour

Postby texasdiver » Mon Jun 03, 2013 5:45 pm

No suggestions either but it does sound like a great trip.

I did read your packing and tool list with interest as I'll be doing an 800+ ride with my daughter this summer. I have to admit that I needed google to figure out what a "Hypercracker" is. Turns out I carry a Stein tool which does the same thing.

You're riding some pretty remote country to not carry a spare tire...just tubes and boots. I've blown out the sidewall on touring tires before when descending at high speed in the heat on heavily loaded bike, although that was somewhat long ago before the newest gatorskins and such were on the market. I don't know how likely that is today. But I always do long tours with a foldable backup tire. I also bring a backup phone/ipad battery. I have this one which works well. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B009USAJCC Frequently I find no decent charging options while camping. I also carry a splitter plug kind of like this so that I can charge everything from one plug in a restaurant or campground http://www.homedepot.com/p/t/203750910? ... =203750910
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Re: Planning a bicycle tour

Postby Random Poster » Mon Jun 03, 2013 6:17 pm

Just some random comments:

The road from St. Mary's to Waterton is very curvy and can be a rather steep grade. The road is narrow too, so be prepared for drivers who are looking at the scenery more than at the road itself. The border crossing at Hwy 6 (which is the one closest to Waterton) is very small and I've never had much of a wait there.

If you are staying in Waterton, the Bear's Hump provides a nice, but very steep, hike up a hillside right by the Parks Canada visitor centre, where you can see all of the townsite and back into Montana. The Red Rock Canyon drive provides the best wildlife opportunities--everytime I've been, I've seen at least one bear near the roadside. Not sure it is really safe for a bicycle. Food offerings are a little pricey in Waterton (there is a small grocery-type store in town, but even it has some pricey offerings). There is a camp ground right in the townsite very close to the lake. As I recall, due to wildlife hazards, that is the only campsite that does not require hard-sided campers and allows tent camping (but don't quote me on that).

Waterton and the surrounding area can be (and often is) very windy. Until you get to Canmore, the winds can be very rough as they come off the mountains. Summer isn't exactly windy season, but you never know.

It sounds like you are planning to go up Hwy 22 and over on Hwy 40. Consider stopping in Longview at the Longview Jerky Shop, if that type of food appeals to you. I personally think that the press that they get is better than their food. The scenery on 22 and 40 is among the best in Southern Alberta, in my view.

If you are so inclined, the McDonalds in Canmore (it is very near the hospital and the visitor information centre, near the last exit into town off of the TransCanada highway) may have the best views that I've ever seen from a McDonalds.

Once you enter the entrance gate into Banff Park, there is a very good bike pathway that is adjacent to, but not right up against, the highway. It pretty much takes you all the way into Banff (the town). From there, I don't know about the availability or route of the bike paths. [ETA: Banff townsite, in my view, is not worth a stop, but there are plenty of camping, lodging, and food choices and I'm sure that there is at least one grocery store there (although grocery prices would undoubtedly be cheaper in Canmore). Banff is a mountain town that is wholly indistinguishable from any other random shopping town. I'm sure it was lovely 30 years ago; today it isn't. The crowds in July may be overwhelming.]

You might as well stop by Lake Louise (and its nearby cousin, Moraine Lake), but to see Lake Louise requires going up a very steep road. I don't like driving up it; biking up it would give me a coronary in no time. Moraine Lake is overwhelmed with visitors, particularly on weekends, and parking can be very hard to find. Biking would likely be easier, but again, watch out for drivers who are looking more at the scenery than at anything else. (As a complete aside, I fully endorse a night's stay at Chateau Lake Louise, but only on the gold floor; the rest of the hotel isn't particularly worth the money; food at the Chateau is pricey, staying on the gold floor gets you a substantial breakfast and evening canapes that can substitute for dinner). [ETA: (1) If the Chateau isn't your thing, there is a charming hostel in the Lake Louise townsite--I think that it is a YHA---and an adjacent restaurant (Bill Peytos' Cafe) that I find to be a decent value. There may be a small grocery store in the Samson Mall (not really a mall, more like a strip centre, and it is in the parking lot where the Parks Canada visitor centre is located); (2) If you wish to see Lake Louise, see it before 10:00 when all of the day trippers come to visit; (3) If you visit Lake Louise, you might want to consider doing a teahouse trek as well. I personally think that the Lake Agnes teahouse is superior to the Plain of Six Glaciers teahouse, but to each their own (both offer somewhat meager food options and lots of tea choices, but bring cash and expect prices to be a little high for what you get). Either way, the hike is not difficult (particularly not for someone who is in the kind of shape that I'd expect you are in), and once you get to the teahouse, the views are hard to beat (Plain of Six Glaciers gets you pretty close to Victoria Glacier, which is the glacier at the end of Lake Louise; Lake Agnes gets you up looking down at the Chateau, next to another lake (Lake Agnes), and in a bit of a 3-sided mountain bowl). From Lake Agnes, you can continue upwards to the Big Beehive or the Little Beehive; the latter gets you a majestic view looking back and over the TransCanada highway, a railroad, and other mountains, the former gets you a view looking down over Lake Louise.*]

There is a Parks Canada visitor centre just off the TransCanada highway going towards the Lake Louise townsite (such as it is). It is worth a visit for the maps and information on animal sightings.

Going up the icefields parkway to Jasper, the best scenery (in my view) is from Lake Louise to the Athabasca Glacier. Lots of side stops on the way up there (Peyto Lake, for starters...). There is, as I recall, another Parks Canada visitor centre in the hotel/restaurant/museum across from the Athabasca Glacier. Once you pass the Glacier, however, the scenery becomes "more of the same" and, frankly, I just wanted to get to Jasper.

In Jasper, a decent little eatery is the Bear's Paw Bakery and its companion, The Other Paw. Jasper is a lot less crowded than Banff, but the main street offers the same kitsch.


* In case it isn't clear, Lake Louise is perhaps my favorite place in Alberta, and probably one of my top 3 places in the world.
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Re: Planning a bicycle tour

Postby Raybo » Thu Jun 06, 2013 9:55 am

Random Poster

Thanks for such good information about the area. This is what I was hoping for when I posted this!
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Re: Planning a bicycle tour

Postby Raybo » Thu Jun 06, 2013 10:02 am

texasdiver wrote:I did read your packing and tool list with interest as I'll be doing an 800+ ride with my daughter this summer. I have to admit that I needed google to figure out what a "Hypercracker" is. Turns out I carry a Stein tool which does the same thing.


I've only used it at home but have fixed broken spokes on the road. I got something stuck in my rear gear cluster on my last trip and started to take it off, which I was able to simply pull out the stuck part. It is one of those things I carry and hope never to have to use.

You're riding some pretty remote country to not carry a spare tire...just tubes and boots.


I've never carried a foldable tire and will ride this tour on new tires just to prevent problems. Actually, the main problem I had on my recent Texas trip was running out of tire patches. It turns out there is some art to patching flats!


I also bring a backup phone/ipad battery. I have this one which works well. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B009USAJCC Frequently I find no decent charging options while camping. I also carry a splitter plug kind of like this so that I can charge everything from one plug in a restaurant or campground http://www.homedepot.com/p/t/203750910? ... =203750910


I have a (heavy) back-up battery that works for my iPhone but not the iPad. I'm not worried about the iPad, as I only use it in camp and its charge lasts for a long while. The iPhone I use all the time (listening to audio books) and it will run out of charge if I don't plug it in daily. But, the battery is heavy (well over a pound) and it is hard to justify.
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Re: Planning a bicycle tour

Postby hsv_climber » Thu Jun 06, 2013 10:48 am

Raybo,

If you'd have some time left then you might consider a day trip to Yoho National Park. It is only 15 miles off Icefield Parkway.
http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attractions- ... umbia.html

Takakkaw Falls (less than 20 miles from Lake Louise, but I don't know how good that road is for a bike) look majestic.
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Re: Planning a bicycle tour

Postby Random Poster » Thu Jun 06, 2013 11:41 am

hsv_climber wrote:Raybo,

If you'd have some time left then you might consider a day trip to Yoho National Park. It is only 15 miles off Icefield Parkway.
http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attractions- ... umbia.html

Takakkaw Falls (less than 20 miles from Lake Louise, but I don't know how good that road is for a bike) look majestic.


The Falls are majestic. It isn't hard to stand and sit at the base of the falls for hours just watching the water come down. There are a few picnic tables alongside the river and near the falls that make for a good lunch spot, and there is tent camp sites less than 1/2 a mile from the falls (never seen the sites fully taken, but if you are there during a long weekend, they may be). [ETA: There is also a hostel--the Whiskey Jack Hostel--nearby, but the campgrounds are closer and might be cheaper]

That all being said, the road to the Falls contains a seriously steep and narrow switchback (no trailers permitted, and how tour buses get up it is beyond me) about halfway to the falls. Walk your bike up it instead of riding it, if at all possible. It will be safer for you, and for any vehicle that is coming down the switchback. The road itself is usually in good condition, but is not marked for bike lanes and has numerous curves and inclines. A fit person should not have any great difficulty in traveling the road.

There are numerous hiking (and pehaps mountain biking) trails that connect the Falls to other sites in Yoho (Emerald Lake, for one; getting to Lake Louise may be possible (I don't have my trail map with me), but it would be a long hike/bike--and it wouldn't be suited for a road bike---and would likely be rated "strenuous" and require traveling in a group due to bear hazards). I mention that only because the road to the Falls is right off of TransCanada, and the part of TransCanada that connects Lake Louise to the turn-off road for the Falls is (i) always full of tractor-trailers (oddly, you don't seem to see all that many of them going to Banff, or going west past Golden, but in that little corridor between Lake Louise and Golden there sure do seem to be a lot of them!); (ii) busy with traffic (I wouldn't call it bike-safe by any means*); and (iii) relatively speaking, steep (you pass the continental divide at the Alberta-BC border).

* Last summer there was lots of road construction on this stretch of the highway--it appeared that the road was being expanded and/or lane divided for a bit. How far the road construction has progressed, I can't say (in the winter, I tend not to go farther west than Lake Louise), but maybe the road shoulders are more bike-friendly now, at least for a short while.

If you go to Takakkaw, you might as well stop on the way at the Spiral Tunnels and watch the trains do their thing (namely, spiral through a tunnel and curve back around on itself). There is a turn-off/side parking lot on the side of the TransCanada for viewing.

If you camp at Takakkaw, consider taking a day hike to one of the interior falls---Twin Falls, Laughing Falls, or what have you, or perhaps do the iceline trail or highline trail. In July, there should be enough snow runoff to keep these more minor falls full and flowing, and the trails should be reasonably clear.
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Re: Planning a bicycle tour

Postby Random Poster » Thu Jun 20, 2013 5:51 pm

I don't want to be an alarmist, but there is some serious flooding going on right now in Canmore, Black Diamond, Turner Valley, and Bragg Creek--all areas that the OP would go through, or at least near. Hwy 1 and 1A have been washed out to some degree in the Canmore area. It looks rough from what I've seen, and the rising rivers are said to headed towards Calgary today and tonight.

I don't know what is going on in the Waterton Lakes area, but Crowsnest Pass (just north of there) looks very rough and may be closed down soon due to washouts of Hwy 3.

I mention this because even though the OP's start date of July 4th is still two or so weeks away, I would not be surprised for the after-effects of today's flooding to spill over (no pun intended) for several weeks in terms of road issues and possibly requiring slight changes in the intended course. Just a head's up to the OP (and any others who may be planning similar trips) that the weather in Southern Alberta can--and does--change rapidly and to monitor the weather conditions.

[ETA: Various photos of today's flooding can be see at this website: http://forum.calgarypuck.com/showthread.php?t=128530 Just click through the thread and you'll see photos of Canmore's flooding and those in surrounding areas. The town of High River, which is also mentioned several times in the linked thread, is too far east to be of any concern to the OP.]
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Re: Planning a bicycle tour

Postby Random Poster » Thu Jun 20, 2013 6:06 pm

Random Poster wrote:* Last summer there was lots of road construction on this stretch of the highway--it appeared that the road was being expanded and/or lane divided for a bit. How far the road construction has progressed, I can't say (in the winter, I tend not to go farther west than Lake Louise), but maybe the road shoulders are more bike-friendly now, at least for a short while.

If you go to Takakkaw, you might as well stop on the way at the Spiral Tunnels and watch the trains do their thing (namely, spiral through a tunnel and curve back around on itself). There is a turn-off/side parking lot on the side of the TransCanada for viewing.

If you camp at Takakkaw, consider taking a day hike to one of the interior falls---Twin Falls, Laughing Falls, or what have you, or perhaps do the iceline trail or highline trail. In July, there should be enough snow runoff to keep these more minor falls full and flowing, and the trails should be reasonably clear.


As a follow-up to the above, I was at Lake Louise last weekend and tried to visit Takakkaw Falls. Moraine Lake is fully open for tourists. No snow on the roadway at all. None on the roadway to Lake Louise itself from the townsite either.

Road construction just past Lake Louise to the B.C. border (and slightly into B.C.) on Hwy 1 is still going on strong. The shoulders are in good shape for bicycling for all but about 1 or 2 miles, where there is very little shoulder availabilty due to the road construction equipment. The speed limit in this area is 50 km/h anyway, so it isn't like traffic is going all that fast anyway (and depending on the construction, there may be many stop-and-go points).

The turn-off to the Spiral Tunnel is on the west-bound side of Hwy 1; you can still access it if you are going east-bound, but you'll have to cross oncoming traffic and I wouldn't advise doing so on a bike.

Bear in mind that once you hit the BC border, it is literally a downhill ride to the Takakkaw Falls turnoff (the official name of the road is the Yoho Valley Road, I believe). Driving it, you can lift off the accelerator and just coast down. I mention it just because if you are going back to Jasper, you are going to have go back up the hill on your return to Lake Louise.

The Yoho Valley Road to Takkakkaw Falls was closed just past Cathedral Lodge (an upscale hotel in the park), so I couldn't get to see the falls themselves (or any of the campsites in that area). The road closure point was before the switchbacks, so I assume that it was/is still snowbound. So much for me getting to see the falls in full-flow form (Grrrrr...). Surely in July they will still be going strong!

Since there was very little snowpack on the trails to the Lake Agnes Teahouse in Lake Louise and on the trails around Moraine Lake, I assume that the trails around Takkakkaw Falls will be passable in July this year (subject, of course, to the flooding mentioned in the post above, which may be affecting Yoho).
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Re: Planning a bicycle tour

Postby Raybo » Thu Jun 20, 2013 6:19 pm

Thanks for the update. I wasn't aware of the problems, though I did see that it had been raining in Missoula, my starting point, for the past week or so.

I'm not sure what I can do about this at this point other than wait and see. It is hard to believe that the main roads would be closed for an extended period, but that depends on how long it rains, I guess.

I have a 2 night reservation at the Lake Louise Hostel (snore, I mean, dorm room) so I am hoping to hike or bike around as an off-day activity while I am there.

I sure hope the weather cooperates. Nothing like riding a bike in a rainstorm to make one appreciate sitting on a couch at home!
No matter how long the hill, if you keep pedaling you'll eventually get up to the top.
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Re: Planning a bicycle tour

Postby Epsilon Delta » Thu Jun 20, 2013 6:33 pm

Raybo wrote:I sure hope the weather cooperates. Nothing like riding a bike in a rainstorm to make one appreciate sitting on a couch at home!

There's always hail or snow. :shock: Though it's still better than a good day at the office.
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Re: Planning a bicycle tour

Postby Random Poster » Thu Jun 20, 2013 6:35 pm

Raybo wrote:Thanks for the update. I wasn't aware of the problems, though I did see that it had been raining in Missoula, my starting point, for the past week or so.

I'm not sure what I can do about this at this point other than wait and see. It is hard to believe that the main roads would be closed for an extended period, but that depends on how long it rains, I guess.

I have a 2 night reservation at the Lake Louise Hostel (snore, I mean, dorm room) so I am hoping to hike or bike around as an off-day activity while I am there.

I sure hope the weather cooperates. Nothing like riding a bike in a rainstorm to make one appreciate sitting on a couch at home!


Usually by the second week of July* it is mostly dry in Southern Alberta, all the way through to late September, save for the occasional hail storm event.


[*This time roughly corresponds with Stampede in Calgary. From what I've been told, it has never rained on the Stampede parade, which officially opens up the Stampede celebrations, but I find this slightly hard to believe]
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Re: Planning a bicycle tour

Postby Random Poster » Thu Jun 27, 2013 4:21 pm

To the OP (and anyone else who is interested), this link shows the current road status in Kananaskis Country:

http://www.albertaparks.ca/kananaskis-c ... e-map.aspx

A larger map can be seen here:

http://www.albertaparks.ca/media/408945 ... ge_map.pdf

Clearly, there has been lots of road and bridge damage due to the recent floods. No word on how long it is going to take to repair it all.

I think that I heard that TransCanada has just re-opened from Canmore to Banff, but it is just 1 lane each way and the max speed is 50 km/h. Even on a bicycle, expect delays.
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Re: Planning a bicycle tour

Postby Raybo » Sat Jun 29, 2013 11:57 am

Thanks for the link.

I have been monitoring the flood and its aftermath. I won't be in that area for another three weeks. But, seeing the extent of the damage, I might have to cut the trip short or take some long detours that involve bike unfriendly roads (Hwy 1).

Given that July 1 is the official opening of the summer vacation season in this area, I hope that they are able to get enough of the roads repaired to allow people access. It wouldn't surprise me if they fix them enough for cars but not allow bikes. So, I might end up busing a lot of this area.

Oh well.
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Re: Planning a bicycle tour

Postby skatterZ » Sat Jun 29, 2013 3:48 pm

Don't know if direction of trip is negotiable, but might want to check prevailing winds.
I once did a month long bike camping trip in Netherlands and discovered that I went up wind most of the trip.
With all of those neat windmills, it should have been a clue that it was windy.
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Re: Planning a bicycle tour

Postby Browser » Sat Jun 29, 2013 11:35 pm

Raybo - Get a copy of "Ride the Divide" (RidetheDivideMovie.com). Documentary of a 2700 mile mountain bike race from Banff through Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico to Mexico border. Just 15 riders started and most rode alone through the wilderness. Some great footage of the Canada, Montana sections. Plenty of snow, plenty of bears. Nice preview of your trip. Stay warm and stay uneaten....
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Re: Planning a bicycle tour

Postby Raybo » Sun Jun 30, 2013 11:04 am

Virtually all the roads going into Kasanaskis country are closed or seriously damaged. It is hard to believe that in 3 weeks things will be fixed. I'm sure that cars, trucks and RVs will be given priority and may be allowed without giving access for bicycles. But, this is the high tourist season, so some effort will be made to fix things, if only temporarily.

I am considering my alternatives. As I see it, there are two. One is to head north and east from Pincher Creek toward Cochrane and then west to Canmore. This is lots of prairie riding and not so interesting. Two is to head west from Pimcher Creek through Crowsnest Pass, a major and farm area with the wind coming from the west (70 miles of headwind?), to Fernie and then north from there (the ACA route).

Any thoughts on this choice would be appreciated. The good news is that I can put off this choice until I get to Pincher Creek.
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Re: Planning a bicycle tour

Postby Random Poster » Sun Jun 30, 2013 6:23 pm

Raybo wrote:Virtually all the roads going into Kasanaskis country are closed or seriously damaged. It is hard to believe that in 3 weeks things will be fixed. I'm sure that cars, trucks and RVs will be given priority and may be allowed without giving access for bicycles. But, this is the high tourist season, so some effort will be made to fix things, if only temporarily.

I am considering my alternatives. As I see it, there are two. One is to head north and east from Pincher Creek toward Cochrane and then west to Canmore. This is lots of prairie riding and not so interesting. Two is to head west from Pimcher Creek through Crowsnest Pass, a major and farm area with the wind coming from the west (70 miles of headwind?), to Fernie and then north from there (the ACA route).

Any thoughts on this choice would be appreciated. The good news is that I can put off this choice until I get to Pincher Creek.


Option 1 would involve taking Hwy 22, correct? Or are you thinking of some other route? Hwy 22 is called the cowboy trail and is reasonably scenic, particularly around Black Diamond and Millarville. Both were impacted to some extent by the floods, but the roads are passable from what I hear. They just don't get a lot of press coverage right now--most everything is either on Calgary or High River. Millarville has a decent Farmer's Market on Saturdays, but it costs money to just get in. In Cochrane, stop at McKay's for ice cream--the store is downtown and it is wildly popular.

If you go through Fernie, you are correct in expecting a lot of wind. You'd probably pass through Frank Slide, which may provide a camping opportunity and a slight diversion. The Crowsnest Pass is not particularly high, and Southern BC is quite pretty, but that route is really quite a detour. My wife loves Fernie, I don't see the appeal (although, I do have to say, the McDonalds there has a good view of the mountains too)-it is mostly a ski town. The roads in BC are generally very good and smooth (a consequence of BC's high gas tax, I suppose), but they aren't particularly bike friendly in that I can't recall seeing any bike lanes or wide shoulders on them. Plus, in and around Fernie are a lot of mining operations, so there are some big trucks and semis on the road. To get from Fernie to Banff, I assume that you'd take 95/93? I've never been on that road, but I know many Albertans who have second homes in Inveremere and Fairmont Hot Springs and around, so I presume it is a pretty area. It's just a bit of a detour to go that way. From what I've seen of BC, it generally reminds me of New Zealand, so if that is what you are looking for, that may be the way to go.

Still, don't totally discount going up 22 in Alberta. It is a pleasant weekend drive from Calgary, and it isn't pure prairie riding as there are several mountain views along the route. Of course, in BC, you are essentially in the mountains. All things being equal, I'd probably opt for the BC route, but the detour time and headwinds would certainly give me pause.
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Re: Planning a bicycle tour

Postby Random Poster » Sun Jun 30, 2013 6:29 pm

One more thing about BC: they have much nicer tourist information centers than Alberta does. They are seemingly in every little town and each usually contains a lot of information. BC's signage is better than Alberta's as well. I have no idea what their provincial parks/campgrounds are like, but based on the previous comments, they are probably better than Alberta's too.
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