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Kinbrook Island Provincial Park – A Prairie Oasis

Kinbrook Island Provincial Park – A Prairie Oasis

When Alberta Parks got the go-ahead back in May to open parks for camping at half capacity beginning in June, I was intent on getting some reservations to parks and backcountry campgrounds I’d never visited before. A getaway to local provincial parks may not be as exciting as travel to far-flung places around the globe, but I am truly thrilled just to be out of Calgary and exploring a new part of Alberta.

Kinbrook Island Provincial Park, near Brooks in eastern Alberta is the first reservation I nabbed, and the first park we have camped in this year. While I didn’t pick the best campsite, we did have a very enjoyable 24 hours out of the city – drinking wine while listening to non-stop bird song and an evening nature walk that was both beautiful and rewarding with the number of birds sighted. Come the morning we launched our kayaks and enjoyed a few hours of easy paddling on Lake Newell.

Lake Newell is a man-made reservoir that was filled in 1914 with the construction of the Bassano Dam. The lake is large, boasting over 66 square kilometres of surface area. It won’t be the prettiest lake you’ve ever seen, but in the prairies it’s a treat in the summer to have water to swim and play in. Its waters are clear and warm – so it’s the perfect destination for young families wanting some beach time, or for anyone who has a penchant for boating in the summer.

Welcome to Kinbrook Island Provincial Park
Welcome to Kinbrook Island Provincial Park

Where is Kinbrook Island?

The park is about a 2.25 hour drive east of Calgary. Drive the Trans-Canada Highway to Brooks, turn south onto Highway 873 and follow it for 13 kilometres to reach the well-signed Kinbrook Island Provincial Park turn-off. Anyone who has driven to Dinosaur Provincial Park, has in all likelihood been through Brooks, so most of the drive will feel familiar.

If you need any last minute camping or food supplies you’ll find them in Brooks.

Camping at Kinbrook Island Provincial Park

The park offers over 160 campsites in non-COVID-19 years, most with power. Right now parks are operating at half capacity – though with the spacing of the campgrounds I’m surprised that they can’t go a little higher – say two thirds capacity so more people could enjoy a getaway. There are lots of large trees, so chances are pretty good your campsite will have some shade.

When I booked our campsite, I hadn’t picked up that there was a cottage subdivision and a road behind our campsite. I wouldn’t recommend B -20, 22, 25, 28, 30, 31 or 32 along with F-77, 78, 79, 81 and 83 – if you prefer not to hear car traffic behind your campsite.

Knowing what I know now, I would choose to camp in the I or G areas so I could enjoy the peace and quiet and be closer to the lake. Fortunately when you’re only camping for a night, it doesn’t matter too much.

When we drove into the less than half full campground, we were met by three deer grazing on the grass. It got better. The minute we hopped out of the car the bird-song started – along with flashes of yellow and orange flitting by. We had Baltimore orioles, warblers, along with western and eastern kingbirds in abundance right off the bat. John would happily have wandered off for hours with no thought to getting a tent up or a meal prepared.

This campground enjoys large, well-spaced campsites. While all shower services are closed during COVID, washrooms are open. I found them to be very clean and non-stinky. In our case toilet paper and hand sanitizer was provided though you’re told to take your own.

It is hard to get a campsite this year with vastly reduced numbers of sites available but there may be cancellations and going forward, campsites are booked 90 days out. You can check online here. There is a reservation fee of $12 and a cost of $37/night with a hookup. I find the Alberta Parks website to be cumbersome and not intuitive, but the good news is even today, I found open campsites in August. 

We're met with deer wandering around the campsites
We’re met with deer wandering around the campsites
If I went back to Kinbrook Island Provincial Park I'd want I-136 or I -137 to be near the Nature Trail
If I went back I’d want I-136 or I -137 to be near the Nature Trail
I wouldn't recommend our campsite B-25 in Kinbrook Island Provincial Park as we had a cottage subdivision and road traffic
I wouldn’t recommend our campsite B-25 as we had a cottage subdivision and road traffic behind us
There were a couple of Plains garter snakes in and around the outhouse in the B Camping area
There were a couple of Plains garter snakes in and around the outhouse in the B Camping area

The beach in Kinbrook Island Provincial Park

The highlight of the park for many visitors is the beach. In summer I suspect you need to show up early to carve out your space. There’s a shallow slope in the water so it’s ideal for youngsters who just want to frolic at the water’s edge. I was amazed at how warm the water was in early June! 

Nearby are washrooms and a playground – and as you can see in the photo, shade trees aren’t far away.

The beach is a major destination in Kinbrook Island Provincial Park especially with young families
The beach is a major destination in Kinbrook Island Provincial Park especially with young families 

The Kinbrook Island Loop via the Marsh Trail

A walk on the Marsh Trail, especially in the evening light, is a total delight. You can do an out and back hike or a 6.4 kilometre loop but that requires some walking on the road into the park – and the road doesn’t have much of a shoulder. 

Pick up the trail beside campsite I-136 and follow it until you reach the first observation tower. The birding is phenomenal with a mix of shorebirds, gulls, and song birds. In the evening it can be a bit buggy so don’t forget the bug spray.

The Marsh Trail turns away from the water at the tower (a misnomer as its just about 8 feet above grade) and while not quite as obvious, there’s a definite track to follow. Continue on it to reach the Kinbrook Marsh Trail – accessed via a short gravel road off the road into the park.

On the next section of road we were captivated with the sound of American bitterns – a bird that we still haven’t seen but what a treat it is to listen to. If you hear something that sounds a bit like a frog in an echo chamber, oonk-a-lunk, and you’re in a reed-filled area, then it could well be a bittern.

The start of the Marsh Trail by campsite I-136
The start of the Marsh Trail by campsite I-136
It's a flat easy walk on the Marsh Trail
It’s a flat easy walk on the Marsh Trail
Looking back towards the campground in Kinbrook Island Provincial Park
Looking back towards the campground
It may not look like much but on an evening walk we saw almost 40 bird species
It may not look like much but on an evening walk we saw almost 40 bird species
A rest stop with a bit of a view of Lake Newall
A rest stop with a bit of a view of Lake Newell
Looking out to Lake Newall in the distance
Looking out to Lake Newell in the distance
Lots of great smells in this area
Lots of great smells in this area especially of sage and artemisia
Masses of wildflowers
Masses of wildflowers
We thought we were going to get caught in a storm
We thought we were going to get caught in a storm – but didn’t
From the road into the park you can access Kinbrook Marsh
From the road into the park you can access Kinbrook Marsh
Phenomenal birding in June along the Kinbrook Marsh Trail
Phenomenal birding in June along the Kinbrook Marsh Trail

Birding in Kinbrook Island Provincial Park

Approximately 270 bird species have been sighted in the park. Be sure to ask at the camping check-in kiosk for their bird list. John counted 42 species but there were another half dozen that he couldn’t positively identify.

Some of the birds to look out for in Kinbrook Island Provincial Park are white pelicans, Caspian and common terns, eared grebes, coots, black-necked stilts, seven species of flycatchers, seven species of sparrows and 20 species of warblers.

The Baltimore oriole was one of the first birds we saw in the park
The Baltimore oriole was one of the first birds we saw in the park – Photo credit: John McAdam
The western kingbird
The western kingbird – Photo credit: John McAdam
Yellow-headed blackbirds were everywhere in Kinbrook Park
Yellow-headed blackbirds were everywhere in the park – Photo credit: John McAdam
Female red-winged blackbird
Female red-winged blackbird – Photo credit: John McAdam

Boating on Lake Newell

Boating is extremely popular on Lake Newell though we were the only ones out in kayaks. Motorboats are popular – for exploring the lake, waterskiing and as a means to go fishing for northern pike and walleye. We also heard seadoos when we arrived. 

It felt great to be out in our kayaks – which we haven’t used since we kayaked in the Broken Group of Islands a few years ago. The scenery isn’t much to look at around Lake Newell as there isn’t a lot of relief – or trees, but still it was a treat to use our paddling muscles and be out on a body of water.

Kayaking on Lake Newall may not be as pretty as a mountain lake but its still good to be out
Kayaking on Lake Newell may not be as pretty as a mountain lake but its still good to be out
We found a deserted beach where we could stretch our legs
We found a deserted beach where we could stretch our legs

For more information on Kinbrook Island Provincial Park visit the Alberta Parks website.

Further reading on provincial parks in Alberta

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

A visit to Kinbrook Island Provincial Park in eastern Alberta

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

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