We get asked all the time: “Where do you recommend we camp for free in Canadian National Parks? Do we need to stay in campsites? We’re looking for the coolest, most remote locations. Can you help?!”
We get it! You’re renting a campervan for the freedom and enjoyment of living off the grid, getting to travel to remote locations without hook ups… to live the proper #vanlife. Which is totally cool! And we’re down for that. But there are a few things you need to know about unreserved free camping in Canada.
It’s an age old question and, quite honestly, the million dollar question. The simple answer is – you CAN dry camp, or free camp, or boondock at many places in the Canadian Rockies. It’s just not that easy. AND – those sweet, remote, locals-only secret spots are called “secret” for a reason – BUT they are possible to find and we’ll tell you how.
Is it legal to camp anywhere in National Parks like Banff or Jasper National Park?
Short answer – no. According to Parks Canada, RVs, campers, tents and the like are only allowed to set up camp in designated campsites and campgrounds. These are operated by Parks Canada and it’s employees, have dedicated sites, and services such as electricity, water and washrooms. They’re very nice, actually, and quite affordable starting at under $30/night.
The long answer – yes. There are areas of the National Park that that you can park a campervan overnight without anyone bothering you – so long as you don’t build a fire pit and “set up camp”. However, these are unserviced and there’s a small chance you may get asked to leave (but super unlikely).
Here’s a list of places in Canadian National Parks where you might be able to camp for free:
- Road-side rest stops that many truckers also use to stop overnight
- Parking lots that do not have signs that say “no overnight parking”
- Some commercial parking lots (but we recommend you ask for permission first)
- Streets of Banff (that’s the great thing about our campervans – they’re just like every other vehicle!)
- Secluded hideaway you find and no one asks you to leave (see below for resources)
Is it legal to free camp in Alberta and BC?
Short answer – it’s complicated.
Long answer – yes AND no. Each province has their own camping legislations and Associations which govern camping activities. In BC – access to free camping spots by visiting Sites and Trails BC website. Here, you’ll find access to hundreds of off the beaten path campsites. Most are outfitted with fire rings and picnic tables.
In Alberta – information on camping on public land can be found on the Government of Alberta Parks and Lands website. Here you’ll find maps, information and guides on where to camp for free and legally in Alberta, including the well known and expansive Bighorn Country Backcountry Public Land use zone just east of Banff and Jasper National Park. You must have a permit to camp on Public Land in Alberta.
Other Public Land Use Zones (PLUZ) in Alberta include:
- Bighorn Country (map) – East of Banff and Jasper National Parks
Ghost PLUZ (map) – West of Calgary off highway 1A, including Waiparous Creek
- Livingston (map) – Southwest Alberta along highway 22 north of highway 3
- Porcupine Hills (map) – Southwest Alberta, East of highway 22 near Mycroft Public Recreation Area
- Castle Provincial Park PLUZ (map) – Southwest Alberta, south of highway 3 near Castle Mountain
- Brule Lake (map) – East of Jasper National Park off of highway 16
- Cataract Creek (map) – Highly recommended for quick trips from Calgary. Southwest of Calgary off highway 22, in Kananaskis Country
Note: these maps may be dated – please check the main Alberta PLUZs website for more recent maps. Stays are typically limited to 14 days. Please exercise caution and leave no trace.
Alternatively, there are many Provincial campgrounds across the country that are super nice and offer all the amenities you need. Camping fees start at under $30 and you can reserve ahead.
Where do you recommend we find sweet, remote and Instagram-worthy places to camp overnight?
Short answer – they’re everywhere!
Long answer – Western Canada is full of amazing hideaways and hidden gems just waiting to be discovered. We’ve been to a few sweet, Instagram-worthy spots and we’ll be the first to tell you it’s well worth the work. Trouble is, it really comes down to what you’re looking for, how willing you are to work for your view and how “off the beaten path” you decide to trek.
We have an amazing community of Karma Campervan users that have found amazing spots to wake up in their campervan. A quick Instagram search for #GoodCamping will get the creative juices flowing.
*Here’s where we need to place our friendly reminder that it’s against our rental policy to drive on gravel and dirt roads 😉
Where else can you find free overnight parking in Canada?
Short answer – they’re everywhere!
Long answer – Just look for spots without “no over night parking” signs or, if you speak with a business owner and ask politely, chances are they’ll let you stay in their lot. Alternatively, the following are generally accepted places to overnight park in Canada:
- Grocery stores
- Cabela stores
- Bass Pro stores
- Roadside rest stops
- Truck stops
Apps and resources for free and paid camping in Canada
There are a number of amazing resources for planning your camping trip in Canada, especially when it comes to finding unreal camping spots. Here’s a list of our favourite resources:
- Campertunity (private property camping in Canada)
- Boondocking Canada Facebook Group
- Travel Alberta
- Alberta Provincial Campgrounds
- Hello BC (Toursim Association)
- Sites and Trails BC
- Camp in BC
- Travel Saskatchewan
- Harvest Host (annual fee – but yearly free parking at farms and wineries across North America)
- Fresh off the grid blog post link
- Boondockers Welcome
- RV With Me