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Dog poop, rowdy campers, smelly outhouses top Alberta Parks camping complaints

Campground reviews obtained under Freedom of Information request reveal what people love and hate most about camping in Kananaskis and the Calgary area.

Honest reviews reveal dirtiest, noisiest and least RV-friendly campgrounds near Calgary

Dogs, noisy campers, bugs, dirty bathrooms and a glitchy reservation system are among some of the most common complaints campers wrote about, according to Alberta Parks campsite reviews obtained by CBC News. (Alberta Parks)

Dog poop, noisy parties and dirty outhouses are among some of the worst things about camping in Kananaskis and southern Alberta, according to campground reviews obtained by CBC News. 

The 63,000-word document obtained through a Freedom of Information request reveal some of the most common visitor grievances reported to Alberta Parks through the department's official campground feedback form — with nearly half of the responses mentioning dogs at least once.

It took the province more than two years to release the results from the 2015 spring and summer seasons, citing privacy concerns. But even with all the personal information scrubbed, the candid responses still provide an interesting glimpse into the conditions of a dozen provincially-run campgrounds. 

Among the 400-plus campground reviews submitted between May and October 2015, the word "dog" is mentioned 270 times — more than any other keyword.

Dogs, dogs and dogs

In one notable review, a fight over dog feces in Little Bow led to a shouting match between campers and park staff, ending allegedly with threats.

"A member from the staff campground yelled at us, 'Clean up your f---ing dog s--t!'" the camper wrote. "To which another camper from there yelled, 'Go get a f---ing bag and clean up your f---ing dog s--t!'" 

In the review, the camper explained their dog had diarrhea, so they had trouble cleaning up the mess. 

"When we got back to camp my brother-in-law walked over to talk to them about using that type of language, to which the staff member basically threatened him," the reviewer wrote. 

More than half of the campsite reviews from the 2015 season mentioned dogs. It's the single issue that unites many campers. (Alberta Parks)

There were also many complaints about dogs running loose, dogs being too confined, dogs bullying other dogs, dogs trashing nature and dogs scaring children. 

Andy Rees, district conservation officer with Bow Valley Provincial Park, said dogs are required to be leashed on provincial campgrounds at all times, and owners are responsible for controlling them.

"If your dog is going to be barking all through the night, that's not going to go well with the other campers," he said. "You just need to be respectful."

Smelliest toilets: Elkwood

Dirty, smelly toilet facilities easily come in second among the most complained about issues.

And not a single campground from the report emerges unscathed. 

Elkwood in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in particular inspired the highest amount of disapproval. Around 10 per cent of its reviews mentioned smelly or dirty toilets as a problem. 

"I've been to a lot of campsites and I don't think I've had one as primitive as this for a long time," wrote one reviewer.

Several others described a stench so powerful, they were able to smell it from their campsites.

Buggiest spot: Little Bow

Few places in southern Alberta offer a "beach" experience quite like Little Bow, which draws both children and little critters.

The provincial park just south of Vulcan features a popular boat launch and floating pier on the Travers Reservoir. Campers love to bring their kids there, but quite a few were not surprised by the infestation of bugs.

One reviewer described cutting their trip short to escape the mosquitoes. 

Few places in southern Alberta offer a "beach" experience quite like Little Bow which draws both children and little critters. (Frank Hadley Collins/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

"The mosquitoes were awful," the person wrote. "We had English visitors with us who were covered in bites. We were booked in for two nights but only stayed for one because of this problem."

People also complained about mice and wasps. One reviewer said they had to move to another spot because the site they booked had already been occupied.

"A wasp nest in the tree was located right where our trailer would be parked," the reviewer wrote. "My three-year-old son was stung! I would've thought the site would have been checked before we arrived."

Least RV-friendly: Bow Valley

One of the most common complaints from RV users is the lack of details about the "manoeuvrability" of campsites in provincial parks: how difficult or easy it is to park and move a large vehicle.

The campground in Bow Valley — about five kilometres east of Canmore — is particularly tricky, even treacherous at times, according to some campers' responses. 

One reviewer said they had to make seven attempts to back into their site.

"There was an extremely narrow area," the person wrote. "I was unable to get our trailer levelled as there was a sharp drop off on the side of the power hookup."

RV users weren't the only ones frustrated by the terrain of Bow Valley Provincial Park. Several tent campers also complained about the exposed ridge. (Tyler Dixon/Alberta Parks/Flickr)

One of the sites was so narrow, the occupants were reportedly boxed in once they managed to park.

"We could only access through our bathroom door — thankfully we had one — since we could not properly or safely open our main door," they wrote. 

"This also meant we had absolutely nowhere to sit outside except at the picnic table."

RV users weren't the only ones frustrated by the terrain of Bow Valley Provincial Park. Several tent campers also complained about the exposed ridge. 

"My family could have been seriously harmed by sleeping in a tent on a ridge with high wind storms," the person wrote, adding their tent ripped as a result.

Most campers satisfied: Parks official

Despite all the complaints outlined in the report, Rees said the vast majority of camp users are satisfied with their experience.

"In 2016/2017 when we did the annual poll, we basically had a compliance rate of 91 per cent," said Rees, adding the campsite review form is just one of several ways for people to provide feedback to the government.

"We have 1.8 million camper visits annually," he said. "With that many people being in the campgrounds we're going to get complaints."

Despite all the complaints outlined in the report, officials say the vast majority of camp users are satisfied with their experience. (Alberta Parks/Flickr)

Rees said he reviews many of the complaints, and follows up with the reviewers whenever possible.

"Most of the time I try to talk to the individual. Most of the time they just want to talk about the issues. So just by taking the time to listen to their concerns or praises — that goes a long ways."

About the Author

Falice Chin

CBC Edmonton

Falice is an award-winning producer who's been working for CBC since 2006, including with the Calgary Eyeopener and now as senior producer of Edmonton AM. Her career has taken her across Canada and the Middle East. Falice grew up in China and has lived in 10 cities around the world. You can reach her at: falice.chin@cbc.ca