Camping in the Canadian Rockies
One of the most popular and least expensive ways to stay in the Canadian Rockies is by camping. Campgrounds are located in all national parks and throughout Kananaskis Country. Private campgrounds are located along all major highways leading into the Canadian Rockies.
National Park Campgrounds
Sites at most national park campgrounds can be reserved through the Parks Canada Campground Reservation Service (877/737-3783, www.pccamping.ca) starting in mid-January, and it’s strongly recommended that you do reserve if you require electrical hookups or want to stay at one of the more popular campgrounds, such as Two Jack Lakeside. Some national park campgrounds are first-come, first-served, including all campgrounds along the Icefields parkway and those in Yoho National Park. You will need to arrive early to ensure a spot, especially at Waterfowl Lakes (Banff National Park) and Kicking Horse Campground (Yoho National Park). The official checkout time is 11am, so if you don’t have a reservation plan on arriving at your campground of choice earlier in the day than this to ensure getting a site.
National Park Campgrounds
Every weekend throughout summer, thousands of Calgarians flee the city for the mountains. Kananaskis Country (and Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in particular) is the most popular destination. Even with 2,100 campsites in 30 campgrounds, sites fill fast. Reservations are taken for many Kananaskis Country campgrounds through www.reserve.albertaparks.ca. Reservations can be made up to three months in advance of your stay. Other campgrounds are first-come, first-served, but you’ll need to arrive early to get a site, especially on Fridays.
Due to the growth in Canadian Rockies backcountry camping, with very few exceptions, you will be required to stay in designated campgrounds. Mostly, these campgrounds have quotas on the number of people who can overnight there. All parks on a camping permit system require that backpackers indicate the campgrounds where they will be overnighting and the dates of occupation.
Banff and Yoho are the only national parks were random camping is permitted, but only in specific areas where visitation is low. In selecting a campsite in a random camping zone, you must be five kilometres (3.1 miles) from a trailhead, at least 50 metres (160 feet) off the trail, and 70 metres (230 feet) from the nearest stream or lake.
Park visitor centres are your primary outlet for camping permits and information about backcountry campgrounds.
Parks Canada requires anyone overnighting in the backcountry to purchase a Wilderness Pass. These passes were instituted in 1994 to recover some of the costs of maintaining trails, backcountry facilities and warden patrols.
When you purchase a Wilderness Pass, you must specify the trails and campsites you will be using on specific nights during your trip. As of 2019, a Wilderness Pass costs $8.90 per person/per night.
Lake O’Hara Campground in Yoho National Park is the most popular place for backcountry camping in the Canadian Rockies. For more information, check out the Lake O’Hara Travel Guide.
National park campsites and shelters can be reserved up to 90 days in advance of your trip by phone, fax or in person at Park Visitor Centres. A non-refundable fee is charged for this service.
Most provincial parks have backcountry camping fees based on a per person/per night basis. Camping permits are required for all backcountry campgrounds in Alberta’s Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, for sites in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, and for sites on the Berg Lake trail in B.C.’s Mount Robson Provincial Park. These permits are obtained in person at park visitor centres or in advance through special reservation phone lines.