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One ugly incident, involving a temper tantrum and a flying sippy cup splattering the inside walls of a tent, was enough to convince my husband and me that camping with four kids really wasn’t worth the effort. That was more than 10 years ago, and since that time, our family and camping have both changed. Our kids are older now, and these days there are so many different kinds of camping that it requires a modifier — backcountry camping, car camping, RV camping or comfort camping.
Of all the possible descriptors, the word “comfort” sounded the most appealing to me, and when I heard about a new comfort camping option in Alberta’s Banff National Park, I wanted to give family camping another try. After more than a decade, there was still some resistance to the idea. My husband was concerned that we didn’t have enough equipment, and my teenage daughter was convinced that sleeping in a campground was more like an episode of “Survivor” than a real vacation. Our teenaged boys, who had all participated in the Boy Scouts, were mostly concerned that comfort camping would be too wimpy for them — and were convinced that they would rather sleep in an actual tent.
Comfort camping comes in many different forms, and the Parks Canada version in Banff and Jasper National Parks consists of special accommodations called “Otentiks.” The name is a take on the word “authentic,” and the units, which are situated in some of the prettiest campgrounds in the parks, are a cross between a tent and a cabin. Each wooden-floored unit sleeps six people and comes with beds, foam mattresses, electrical lights and outlets, a wood stove, pots and pans, a table and chairs, a propane barbecue and a fire pit.
We found a private camping equipment rental service called BacTrax in Banff that provided sleeping bags, camp chairs and just about everything else we needed. We were even able to get a tent next to the Otentik to satisfy our boys. A convenient setup and takedown service meant that the tent and everything else was waiting for us when we arrived at the campground.
In Banff National Park, the Otentiks are located at Two Jack Lakeside Campground, one of the most spectacularly scenic spots in the Canadian Rockies. Things couldn’t have been more perfect for our first night — our campsite had a wonderful lake view and the water on the lake was so smooth that we could see a perfect reflection of the surrounding mountains on its glimmering surface.
We attended the park ranger’s interpretive program in the early evening to learn about the animals native to this part of the Canadian Rockies and then spent the rest of the evening relaxing around the campfire — roasting marshmallows and making s’mores. There is no cell phone access, no Internet, no television and no computer, so we just sat around and talked and laughed together.
The next day it started raining, so we went into the nearby town of Banff and explored the museum before heading 45 minutes west on the highway to Lake Louise. Miraculously, it was not raining in Lake Louise, so we did a family hike up to the Lake Agnes Tea House.
Back at the campground later that evening, it continued to pour. Though their tent was dry, the Boy Scouts decided that they preferred comfort camping during a rain storm and spent the night in the Otentik with the rest of the family. As it turned out, comfort camping was a good fit for everyone. If Parks Canada could learn to control the weather, we would be out there every weekend.