Camping is a perfect escape from our daily lives, allowing us to reconnect with nature and leave our worries behind. But with such a large variety of outdoor spaces to choose from, it’s hard to know where the best place is to pitch a tent.
Our Canada National Parks Camping Index has ranked Canada’s national parks, based on a detailed analysis of factors including the number of designated campgrounds, the number of designated hiking routes, Dark Sky preserves, annual rainfall, popularity, and their size, to provide a helpful guide to the best places to pitch up.
Coming out in the top spot as the best National Park for camping is Jasper in Alberta, which our research found to be the best place to sleep in the great outdoors due to its size, number of designated hiking routes, and potential for stargazing.
Other popular Canada National Parks ranking in the top ten include Banff, Prince Albert, and Waterton Lakes. Elsewhere, more rugged destinations that rated highly include Wood Buffalo, which scored well for its staggering size, designated campgrounds, and opportunity for stargazing.
Also, we know that there is something rather special about feeling like you are the first person to ever visit a place, and this can happen quite often with some of the more remote Canada National Parks.
But, with those very much off the beaten track, it’s not as easy as just rocking up and pitching your tent. The wilderness requires preparation and experience, which is why we have created a Canada National Parks Extreme Camping Index too, especially for those looking for something more on the wild side…
Read on below for the full results.
Canada National Parks Camping Index
Canada National Parks Extreme Camping Index
Both Canada National Parks Camping Indexes analyzed the following elements:
This one goes without saying. The most important element of planning a camping trip is actually finding somewhere to camp - and there are different options to consider! Frontcountry is probably the most popular type of camping as it allows you to drive your vehicle right up to the site. You then have the luxury of unloading at the exact spot where you are setting up camp. These campgrounds are often busier as they offer the most facilities and amenities, sometimes with luxuries like showers and flush toilets.
Alternatively, backcountry camping is done in the wilderness, away from facilities and amenities. Most of the time, you will have to hike, ski, snowshoe, canoe, or kayak to reach these sites and they often have very little in the way of amenities. And, in terms of offering the biggest number of designated campgrounds to choose from? Mingan Archipelago takes the prize, with 36 campgrounds on offer. Following the Quebec National Park is Prince Albert, Banff, and Waterton Lakes, with 20, 12, and 12 campgrounds respectively.
Those with no designated campgrounds made up the extreme camping list and Sable Island was completely omitted due to camping being prohibited. You can still visit for the day though if you want to see those wild horses.
Designated hiking routes
As far as activities go, camping and hiking pretty much go hand in hand, so it is important to take into account the number of hiking trails to explore. Although you can just wander as you please, we found out the number of designated hiking trails in each National Park, and Banff stole the show, with 38 more than second-place - Manitoba's Riding Mountain National Park. Unsurprisingly the most remote Parks have no designated hiking trails due to their wilderness and rugged landscapes. These National Parks are still very worth exploring though, offering breathtaking scenery, but make sure that you are well enough informed and prepared to deal with any unforeseen circumstances that can arise in remote areas.
Dark Sky Preserves
Of course, camping is all about being in the great outdoors and one of the greatest parts of this is the joy of stargazing. With cities ever-growing and more and more infrastructure taking over the countryside, it has become much harder to find places to camp that aren’t riddled with light pollution. For this category, we ranked the National Parks on whether they are designated Dark Sky preserves or not, with 11 of the 48 holding this status. According to the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, a Dark Sky Preserve is an area in which no artificial lighting is visible and active measures are in place to educate and promote the reduction of light pollution.
Average annual rainfall (mm)
Whilst temperature may not be an integral part of choosing a great place to camp, with colder climates offering plenty of brilliant options, rainfall is something that could certainly put a damper on a camping experience! Overall Ukkusiksalik, Aulavik and Quttinirpaaq had the least amount of annual rainfall with only 129mm, 152mm, and 158mm respectively.
Before you pack your bags though, it’s worth noting that the little rainfall is a result of their Arctic landscapes, and camping in these National Parks is recommended for experienced campers only as specialist equipment is required - hence why they are featured on the National Park Extreme Camping Index. In fact, the latter two National Parks recorded only 15 and 18 visitors respectively in their 2019/2020 attendance figures!
Size of National Park
Nothing beats beautiful surroundings and diverse landscapes when you’re camping. That’s why we’ve included the size of the National Parks, which is essentially the amount of space for exploring, as an important factor in our index. You could be in one of the most breathtaking places in the world with perfect, dry conditions but, if it takes you only 30 minutes to discover it all, is there any point in camping out overnight?
Taking the top spot for size is Wood Buffalo, with Canada’s largest National Park having an expanse of 44,972km2. It is also the second-largest National Park in the world. Whatever National Park you decide to camp in though, there’s no doubt that you’ll be surrounded by breathtaking beauty.
To create both our National Park Camping Indexes, we analyzed the following categories:
- Designated campgrounds
- Dark Sky preserves
- Designated hiking routes
- Average annual rainfall (mm)
- Size of National Park (km2)
Using the third-party sources as outlined in the source list below, we ranked each National Park in the above categories from first to last.
We then added every National Park’s score across all of the categories to get a total score and then ranked each park using this number to get their overall score.
The data was correct as of June 2021 and every step has been taken to ensure that the information used in the indexes is as accurate as possible. A full dataset is available upon request.
A full dataset is available upon request.
Great article! I had no idea about dark sky preserves and will keep this in mind when serving out future camping locations
Andrew McArthur says
Love the in-depth research don’t for our benefit.
Kirsten Kennedy says
Looks like a great place to visit, can’t wait to see it one day!
Lucien Picard says
Those sites look amazing!
Jen L says
Thanks for this, I will use it as a reference going forward when planning!
There is a ton of information that I will be using when setting up a camping trip in the future.
Shellie m Clark says
Great info thanks
Nicole C says
Good information on so many parks available everywhere in Canada
Jimi DeKett says
We loved going to Pancake Bay. Have you visited there? It might be a Provincial Park.
Viv Sluys says
We love camping and sure appreciate all this research you’ve put together! We do a mix of back and front country camping.
Dana Matthews says
A greatly researched and informative article. The charts are awesome.
Riding Mountain National Park is amazing!
Looking forward to camping in Canada again. Couldn’t go last year due to the pandemic. Fully vaccinated and ready to explore again!