Home to mountains, prairies, badlands, foothills, and boreal forests, there are so many incredible opportunities for camping in Alberta. Whether you long for the sounds of a loon calling out over a foggy lake or dream of waking up and admiring the many peaks of the Canadian Rockies, camping is one of the best ways for getting back into nature.
In this camping in Alberta guide, we’ll help you navigate all your options, whether it’s going full adventure mode and heading into the backcountry, or pulling up your campervan into a fully serviced campground.
As someone who grew up in Northern Alberta and has lived in Calgary for more than 15 years, I’ve spent a great deal of time camping next to beautiful lakes, forests, and mountains. It can be a lot of work, especially when you’re first getting started, but every time I find myself surrounded by nature, I wonder why I don’t do it more often.
For those looking to go camping in Alberta, there are lots of options. From alpine conditions in the mountains to desertic conditions in the Alberta badlands, Alberta is one of the best places to go camping.
When to Go Camping in Alberta
Oh the weather outside is weather…
I’ve always loved this quote from the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall. It’s funny, but when you think about it, it has a lot of truth to it. The weather is what it is. It can change on a dime, especially in Alberta, and each season has its pros and cons. Generally speaking, however, camping is best when the weather is on its best behaviour, so we totally understand trying to time your camping season appropriately.
While the weather in Alberta can vary from north to south and from east to west, the best time to typically go camping would be from early June until mid-October. People do go spring camping before the May long weekend, but almost always, May long weekend brings anything from frost to snow to rain and hail. After the May long weekend, the weather tends to stabilize as best it can, and the ultimate heat lasts from mid-June until the end of August. September can also be a beautiful month. It’s a little cooler, but the fall colours are wonderful, and camping in high heat is not always the best option either. After mid-October though, one can expect chillier weather, some rain, and potentially some snow. Again, if you’re prepared, it can also be a great time to go!
Also, such is the case anywhere, the best weather means more crowds and higher prices, so factor that into the equation as well.
Common Questions about Camping in Alberta
Can you camp anywhere in Alberta?
Anywhere? No. You can’t camp on someone’s property or on a city street or a business parking lot and so forth. Random camping is allowed in wildland provincial parks with some restrictions and recommendations such as not being within 1 kilometre of a road, provincial park or provincial recreation area boundary. Otherwise, it’s best to stick to paid campgrounds, whether they be private campgrounds or those managed by national parks and provincial parks. There are also lots of public land for camping, which we’ll talk about below.
Is tent camping allowed in Alberta?
Of course! However, it depends on what you mean by that. If you’re asking if you can pitch a tent anywhere you want, then no, it’s not allowed. Tented camping is only allowed in designated camping areas or on some crown land, including the backcountry. The maximum number of motor vehicles, tents, recreational vehicles and trailers permitted on a campsite is three.
Is random camping allowed in Alberta?
Random camping is allowed in certain parts of Alberta’s crown land. These areas are sometimes referred to as PLUZ zones as they are also more open to people using drones and other things like ATVs, though that is not always the case. Random camping is free but is unserviced. This has led to some issues, such as at Preacher’s Point in Abraham Lake where random campers have left such a mess behind, including trash and fecal matter, that the county is likely to impose a fee in the coming months. In other words, if you do go random camping, please leave no trace.
When can I book camping in Alberta?
This depends on where you’re trying to book and for when. Alberta Parks typically opens for reservations in early March, allowing you to book up to 90 days in advance. Parks Canada typically starts in January, although they switched to April in 2021 due to Covid. Private camping has different hours and free camping is sometimes available year-round. Best to determine where you want to go and start from there.
Alberta Camping Options
If you’re new to camping, you might not realize all the different options there are. The most common type of camping is front-country camping, where you pull up in your car or truck and pitch your tent or park your campervan right next to a fire pit and a picnic table. These are convenient for a number of reasons, but it’s not your only options. There’s also backcountry camping for those looking for an adventure, fully-serviced RV-style camping sites, city camping sites, and a plethora of options spread out between Parks Canada, Alberta Parks, private campgrounds, and even free camping on crown land. We’ll explain each of them below with more info on how to get started.
Backcountry camping is the type of camping you need to go hiking to enjoy. This means packing a backpack with everything you need, including a small lightweight tent and all your food, and then venturing out into the wilderness to find a campground (or a piece of land) that’s away from highways and cars. This type of camping takes a little more preparation and depending on how deep you’re going, you may want to learn some backcountry skills as well, or go on a tour. Alberta has some of the most spectacular backcountry camping in Canada.
Probably the most common type of camping, this is the type of camping where you pull up in your vehicle and pitch your tent in the same place. Another option is bringing an RV or a campervan. These sites usually have a picnic table, a fire pit, and possibly power as well. There’s usually an outhouse nearby or a full bathroom, as well as options for buying firewood. These are managed by Alberta Parks or Parks Canada.
Camping in Private Campgrounds
This is the same thing as front-country camping but they’re owned privately rather than by the provincial or national park service. Some of these campgrounds, especially those near towns and cities, typically offer an incredible array of amenities such as showers, laundry facilities, playgrounds, and pools. They are not typically for those looking for a true adventure but more for those looking to go camping with much of the comforts found at home. However, this is not always the case.
Free Camping on Crown Land
Alberta, and Canada in general, is home to a lot of crown land, which is essentially land belonging to the British crown. It sounds silly these days but that’s still how it works in Canada. However, crown land essentially means the same as public land. This land is “owned” by all Albertans, BUT the responsibility of managing and administering these landscapes is tasked to the provincial, and in some circumstances, the federal government.
Much of this land is sort of open to the public without the restrictions seen in provincial and national parks. This includes free camping without any services. PLEASE learn how to take care of yourself and take care of your waste. Due to the ignorance of many people over the last year, some free camping, such as that in David Thompson Country, may now carry fees due to people leaving both their trash and human waste behind.
Where to Go Camping in Alberta
Whether you’re looking to camp in a national park, a provincial park, or maybe just a campground within a city or small town, these options below are some of the best.
Alberta National Park Campgrounds
National parks are popular. We’ve focused on the four most popular national parks below. Another option is Wood Buffalo National Park, which is 5x the size of Yellowstone. However, this national park is far north and hard to reach. In fact, to make it to the only front-country camping option, you need to drive through the Northwest Territories. So, we’ll focus on the most popular options below.
Banff is one of the most popular places in Canada due to its sheer beauty. Surrounded by mountains, forest, lakes, and rivers, it’s a truly beautiful spot to go camping. However, it’s also incredibly popular and often sold out months in advance during the warmer months. Personally, we don’t like to book campgrounds six months in advance, but if camping in Banff is on your bucket list, you may have to do just that.
There are about a dozen campgrounds in Banff National Park. The reason we say “about” is because the same campground is often divided into different areas, such as trailers, tents, or their oTENTiks. Popular options include Tunnel Mountain, Two Jack, Johnston Canyon, Castle Mountain, Protection Mountain, Lake Louise, Mosquito Creek, Rampart Creek, Silverhorn Creek, and Watefowl Lakes.
Although more isolated than Banff, Jasper National Park is just as popular when it comes to camping, which means booking well in advance is a must. Jasper is one of our favourite places in Canada. Not only is the town beautiful but there’s so many things to do in Jasper and it’s at the top of the Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper, making it one of the top road trips in the world.
Campgrounds in Jasper include Snaring, Wapiti, Whistlers, Wabasso, Pocahontas, Overflow, Wilcox, honeymoon Lake, Kerkeslin, Jonas, Icefield, and Icefield Centre RV. There’s also a number of backcountry options as well.
Although slightly lesser known than places like Banff and Jasper, Waterton Lakes National Park is quite busy during the summer months. This is partially due to its location being so close to Montana but also due to its incredible beauty. However, many campgrounds were severely damaged in the wildfire of 2017. For this reason, many are closed as of now but some remain open, as well as many options for backcountry camping.
Campgrounds in Waterton include the Townsite Campground, Belly River, Crandell Mountain, and Goat Lake.
Elk Island Camping
Located just 40 kilometres from Edmonton, Elk Island is not only a beautiful day trip from Edmonton but also a great place to go camping. It’s not a huge national park but it does have a few options such as Astotin Lake Campground, Oster Lake Backcountry Camping, and comfort camping options such as oTENTiks and equipped campsites.
Rocky Mountain House National Historical Site
If you’re looking for something truly unique, consider spending a night or two at the Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site. It’s not often that Parks Canada adds a campground into a historic site but Rocky Mountain House is one place where it fits the experience perfectly. Home to a former Hudson Bay Trading Post, this living museum offers the chance to camp in tents, cabins, or trappers tents. We chose the trappers tents, which was a pretty cool thing to do after learning about the trappers and the Metis during the day. To add to the experience, the trappers tent camping option includes the chance to start a fire using a flint and stone and bake bannock over the campfire. Highly recommended!
Alberta Provincial Campgrounds
Did you know that Alberta has more than 90 provincial parks? That’s a lot of nature and a lot of camping opportunities. We’re obviously not going to list them all out here, but we’ll certainly show you some of the popular options to get started.
For campgrounds requiring a reservation, booking typically opens in early March and can be booked up to 90 days in advance. For the comfort camping options, you can make reservations up to 180 days in advance.
Spray Valley Provincial Park
Home to 6 campgrounds and some of the best views in Alberta, Spray Valley Provincial Park is a great place to experience Kananaskis camping. It’s only about 20-minutes from the town of Canmore but feels like you’re in the middle of nowhere. One of our favourite campgrounds in Spray Valley Provincial Park is Spray Lakes West Campground. We love Spray Lakes and can be found camping here at least a few days each summer. It’s an incredibly beautiful location and it’s first-come-first-served, which means you don’t need to book in advance. That also means that if you try coming on a Saturday, you might not find a place. Come early or come during the weekdays. There are 50 unserviced sites and some are quite secluded. They cost $29 per night and wood can be purchased on site.
Other campgrounds in Spray Valley Provincial Park include Eau Claire, Lillian Lake Backcountry, Ribbon Falls Backcountry, Ribbon Lake Backcountry, and Rummel Lake Winter Backcountry.
Peter Lougheed Provincial Park
Another amazing place to try Kananaskis camping is in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. Home to 13 campgrounds and a number of day-use areas, this is one of the best places to witness the beauty of the Canadian Rockies. One campground that’s on our bucket list is the Kananaskis Interlakes Campground, which offers lakeside campsites that are just begging us to bring our paddleboard. The lake is good for fishing and paddling, but there are also trails nearby for hiking and cycling.
The other 12 campgrounds include Boulton Creek, Canyon, Elkwood, Lower Lake, William Watson Lodge, Mount Sarrail Walk-in Tenting, Aster Lake Backcountry, Elbow Lake Backcountry, Forks Backcountry, Point Backcountry, Three Isle Lake Backcountry, and Turbine Canyon Backcountry.
Castle Provincial Park
Castle Provincial Park is the newest park in the province and is also in the Canadian Rockies, not far from Pincher Creek and the Crowsnest Pass. There’s a number of beautiful lakes, trails, and campgrounds to choose from. We actually featured Beaver Lake while on assignment back in 2018. There are a number of bookable campsites here, as well as backcountry camping, comfort camping, and free first-come-first-serve camping (this will likely change soon).
Campgrounds include Beaver Lakes Mine, Castle Falls, Castle River Bridge, Lynx Creek, and a variety of options for backcountry camping.
Dinosaur Provincial Park
If you’re looking for a place where pitching a tent might involve finding some prehistoric bones, then Dinosaur Provincial Park is the place to go. Okay, while you’re unlikely to find a dinosaur skeleton in your campground, archaeological digs are still happening in the area and bones are being found all the time. I mean, they don’t call it Dinosaur Provincial Park for no reason. Plus, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unlike other provincial parks, there is only one campground here and it has 122 campsites, many of which are powered. Comfort camping is also available.
Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park
If you’re looking to get away from the tourists and if you love birds and quiet towns, perhaps a trip up to Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park should be in the cards. Located in Lac La Biche, a region we recently featured in a travel video, this place is home to a massive lake and a beautiful slice of nature. It’s about 2.5 hours northeast of Edmonton and is about halfway to Cold Lake Provincial Park, which is also home to a massive lake and a dozen campgrounds. The park has 72 powered campsites available at just $41 per night, as well as the option for comfort camping.
Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park
Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park has been on our bucket list for years but is often sold out in advance. Plus, as travel vloggers, we’re always on the road exploring places across the country and just haven’t had the chance to visit here yet. I think 2021 is the year though. What makes this site special, besides being in the beauty of the badlands, is that it’s a recent UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to indigenous rock art. The site is open year-round with 64 campsites ranging from $29 – $37 per night depending on if it’s powered or not, and even has a beach right along the Milk River.
Private Campgrounds in Alberta
While provincial and national parks are almost always top of mind when it comes to camping, there’s also hundreds of private campgrounds around Alberta, some of which are in cities, towns, and other popular areas.
Want to camp in the dinosaur capital of the world? Drumheller is a beautiful spot in the Alberta Badlands, which is home to the world-class Royal Tyrell Museum, the world’s largest dinosaur attraction, and all sorts of beautiful natural scenery. Options here include Dinosaur Trail RV Resort, River Grove Campground and Cabins, Hoodoo RV Resort and Campground, Pope Lease Pines, Little Lake Fish Campground, Dinosaur RV Park, Badlands Campground, Handhills Highcountry Hideaway, Bleriot Ferry Campground, and Horseshoe Canyon Campground.
If you do happen to find yourself camping in Drumheller, don’t forget to check out our guide to the best things to do in Drumheller.
Aspen Crossing Campground
We’ve worked a lot with Aspen Crossing over the years, creating videos to promote their train excursions, which include themed events like train robberies or Sunday brunch. It’s actually a really cool experience, but to add to that, they have a big campground with options for staying in your RV, a tent, or for a truly unique experience, spending the night in a luxury train caboose! The campground is open year-round and rates range from $23 – $35 per night. The caboose cost somewhere around $120 per night. Amenities include coin showers, full-service RV sites, flush toilets, group camping sites, and a playground.
Upper Shunda Creek Campground
For anyone that follows us, you’ll know how much we love Nordegg and the David Thompson region. It’s right in the middle between Rocky Mountain House and the Icefields Parkway and has so many wild adventures to offer. For camping, one of the top options is Upper Shunda Creek Campground, which has sites starting at $22/night. Guests have access to outhouses, a water pump, firewood, a campground store and trailer rentals. Nearby Nordegg also has a variety of amenities including some food options, gas stations, showers, laundry services, and more.
Half Moon Lake Resort
If there’s one thing Alberta is short on, it’s lakes and beaches. However, Half Moon Lake Resort is a good option for that lakeside vibe. Camping starts around mid-May and features washrooms, a playground, convenience store, coffee shop, group camping, and more. Sites are on the expensive side starting at $45 per night, but there’s also more amenities here than most campgrounds.
Activities include paddle boarding, boating, canoeing, kayaking, hiking, biking, and some sports such as pickleball, basketball, and mini-golf.
Calgary West Campground
If you didn’t think a city of more than one million people could have a campground, think again! Located on the cities far west near WinSport and Calaway Park, Calgary West Campground offers camping from mid-April until mid-October. It’s a huge campground, with 120 full hookup sites, 120 water and electric sites, and even 80 spots for tents. That’s more than 300 camping options so don’t expect a quiet serene experience. However, you’re in one of Canada’s biggest cities and at less than $40 per night, it’s actually quite reasonable. In addition to the location, you’ll also find a pool, picnic tables, showers, laundry facilities, a playground, mini-golf, and even a free shuttle!
Crown Land Camping
As mentioned in this article, crown land camping is free, at least for the time being. This land is sort of owned by the public but managed by the government. These spots can also be popular for using drones, as well as ATV’ing and things like that. They can also be used for camping but keep in mind that there are no services. You won’t find an outhouse, running water, or any other amenities.
There are essentially two types of public land in Alberta. These are Agricultural Public Land and Public Land Use Zones. For Agricultural Public Land, you do not need permission if it is under a grazing license, but you do need permission if it is leased. It is more popular to use the PLUZ areas (Public Land Use Zones). These are the sites popular with drone enthusiasts as well, and many of them are in beautiful areas of the province.
There are 19 PLUZ areas in Alberta, covering around 11,200 square kilometres. Each zone is managed with different rules and regulations. Many of these are located in the mountain areas of Alberta’s west, but not all of them. We recommend checking out the PLUZ maps provided by the Alberta Government to get up-to-date information. In addition, you can call Alberta Environment and Parks at 310-3773 for more information on any of the above.
Some popular areas to get started include:
Abraham Lake in Bighorn Backcountry
Having worked with David Thompson Country a lot over the past two years, we know this area very well. It’s one of our favourite spots in the whole province. One of the most popular sights is Abraham Lake, which is a massive turquoise-coloured man-made lake in the summer and a frozen winter wonderland made famous by the ice bubbles in the winter.
It also has some popular free camping, such as that at Preacher’s Point. It’s really hard to find a more beautiful site. However, as we’ve mentioned throughout this camping in Alberta travel guide, the popularity of this site has caused concerns, which may result in fees very soon. Many people just don’t realize that this site is not maintained, which means all your garbage should be taken with you.
Also worth noting is that you should NOT go on the lake, whether in a boat, paddleboard, kayak, or any other water vessel. This lake is dangerous due to the high winds that can easily reach 100 km/h on any given day. You can, however, fish from shore.
Castle Provincial Park
It’s not often that free camping is available in a provincial park, but due to its recent stature of becoming a provincial park, there are still some opportunities at the moment. Available on a first-come-first-serve basis, campers can take advantage of many free rustic campsites at Castle Provincial Park. There are loads of hiking opportunities and ATVs are not permitted, which makes it all the more peaceful.
If you don’t mind camping where many ghosts have been sighted, this is the place to go. Just kidding, we don’t actually know where the name came from. This area is close to Cochrane, Calgary, and Banff National Park, giving you the chance to camp for free near one of the busiest national parks in the world. It has a beautiful man-made lake, which is great for boating and fishing, and is very close to amenities should you need something.
For more information on all the PLUZ zones, such as the Kananaskis, McLean Creek, Upper Clearwater/Ram, Job/Cline, Brule Lake, visit the Alberta Government PLUZ page.
More Resources for Camping in Alberta
While we aim to be the #1 resource for all the best things to do in Canada, there are other sites that are focused on camping. Below are more resources to help you go camping in Alberta.
Alberta Parks: We’ve linked to them throughout the article but if you’re looking to learn about camping in provincial parks, this is the place to go.
Parks Canada: If you’re looking to go camping in a national park or on a national historic site, you’ll want to visit their site. In addition, you’ll need a parks pass.
Backcountry Skills: If you plan on venturing further out into the wild, it’s a good idea to learn some backcountry survival skills. Another option would be finding a group tour and going out with professionals. Also, bring bear spray and do not keep food near your tent.
In addition, don’t forget to enjoy some of the many things to do in Alberta!