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Heritage Camping at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site

“We’re going to camp in a tipi!” Sunshine told her grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, and anyone else we ran into. I smiled at her excitement, because I was nearly as excited as she was. Since booking our stay in the Heritage Camping at Rocky Mountain House Historic Site a few weeks before our visit, I’d been counting down the days until we arrived.

On Sunday afternoon, we bought some groceries and hit the road. The girls listened to an audio book while I followed the zigzag road to Rocky Mountain House. The National Historic Site is easy to find; there are big signs along the highway. It’s located just five minutes outside of town.

Arriving at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site

We checked in quickly at the Visitor Centre and then followed their directions to the Heritage Camping area. Two more staff members waited there to show us our tipi. When they left, we had the campground to ourselves. The girls ran circles and checked out the tipi while I unloaded the van.

A heritage tipi at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site

The tipi was bigger inside than I expected. After I ducked through the door, it soared upwards. I walkede around comfortably inside, without bending over. A bison hide spread out opposite the door, with a table and two chairs sitting on it. Our home sweet home for the next two nights:

Inside our tipi in the Heritage Camping at Rocky Mountain House Historic Site

The tipi had three sleeping mats, so all I had needed to pack was our sleeping bags. Sunshine and Lily each took a turn sleeping on the bison skin. Jade and Pearl shared one of the mattresses (when Pearl wasn’t sleeping with me).

We also had the Enhanced Heritage Camping Kit, a wooden box with pots, pans, plates, utensils, and even oil and spices in it. The blow tube came in handy for the fire. I used the “spider” frying pan to make bannock on our second night. And I attempted to make coffee in the kettle the next morning, but that failed.

the Enhanced Heritage Camping Kit at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site

Exploring the Heritage Camping Area

When our things were somewhat settled, we went exploring. A trail leads from the camping area towards the remains of Acton House, one of the Hudson’s Bay Company forts. Metal poles and wooden beams mark the outline of the fort, with signs describing what it would have been like 200 years ago. This is the only fort (of the five on the site) that has been “restored” to be viewed like this.

Girls exploring Acton House at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site

The girls wandered around the fort, climbed on the walls, and hid in the tall grass around it. However, it was a hot, sunny afternoon with little shade there. I was practically melting, so I suggested we find a cooler activity.

We wandered across the road to the trapper’s tents (which are also available to stay in). They are sheltered among the trees between the river and the road, where it was nice and cool. We peeked inside one tent. Like the tipi, it was made from heavy white canvas and had a board floor. Inside was two beds (slightly bigger than our sleeping mats in the tipi) and a box.

Exploring the heritage camping at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site

Then we were down at the river, which flowed fast and smooth. Some people rafted past, but the river was wide enough we barely noticed them. I let the girls go down the bank a bit, at the edge of a quiet backwash, and play in the water. The water and the breeze off the river made it pleasantly cool there. I stared upriver and thought about Charlotte Small sitting there, waiting for David Thompson to come paddling back to her.

Girls playing at the North Saskatchewan River

Finally I pulled the girls away from the river to get some supper. Our Heritage Camping kit included a flint and steel for starting the fire, so I gave it a try. And another try. And a few more tries. Sunshine took lots of pictures. I got a few sparks, but no fire started. So I pulled out my lighter.

All the supplies for making fire with a flint and steel

Not that we really needed the fire for supper. For this camping trip, I’d gone the simple route. While I was looking forward to trying to start a fire the traditional way, I knew enough about my fire skills to know I couldn’t rely on that. It took me long enough to start the fire with my lighter andย  few pages from the girls’ colouring book. So I planned no-cook meals for our stay.

Getting Ready for Bed in a Tipi

Once supper was finished, I was surprised by how quickly the girls wanted to get ready for bed. They were so excited to be sleeping in a tipi! I made them all take a trip across to the outhouse first. Then they got themselves ready for bed while I packed our food back into the van. Finally, I doused the fire and joined them in the tipi.

Our tipi at sunset - Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site

Pearl fell asleep first, with her usual nursing-rocking-cuddling routine. Sunshine read her book for quite a while (yes, my little bookworm brought her novel along on a camping trip). The other two wiggled and squirmed for a bit, until I started praying a rosary out loud. Then slowly, they settled down.

And once they were all asleep, we slept great. Pearl woke up for her usual feedings. As the night got cooler, I tucked her into my sleeping bag to keep her warm. Jade got up once to go pee and went straight back to sleep. In the morning, they slept in until 8 or 9, as they usually do.

We had a quick breakfast of chocolate protein shakes and peanut butter and honey sandwiches, and then we were ready to go explore Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site

…but I’ll tell you about that next week! Stay tuned to find out about everything you can do at this amazing place in Alberta.

You can also see all the fun we had in my YouTube video:

I received a complimentary two-night stay at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site and a Parks Canada Discovery Pass for the purposes of this review; all opinions expressed are my own. I really think you should go camping in a tipi at least once in your life. ๐Ÿ™‚

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