My friend Anna says getting a campsite near Calgary is “like The Hunger Games” but with some planning and flexibility, you can score good campsites this summer. Here are our top tips on getting a campsite in Alberta.
Disclosure: I am an Alberta Parks Ambassador, but all words and opinions are my own.
1. Reserve campsites as soon as possible
There’s peace of mind in knowing you have a campsite waiting at the end of the drive. To get a site in Alberta Parks or Parks Canada campgrounds, book your campsites as soon as possible. Camping booking dates are as follows:
- March 4, 2021 for Alberta Parks campsites up to 90 days in advance. Did you know Alberta Parks has 9,000 reservable campsites? Reserve at: Reserve.AlbertaParks.ca
- March 5, 2021 for Alberta Parks Comfort Camping up to 180 days in advance. Reserve at: Reserve.AlbertaParks.ca
- April 9-16 for national parks campsites and O’tentiks, tipis, cabins – for the whole camping season. Reserve campsites at Parks Canada Reservation Service.
- Private campgrounds often take reservations up to a year in advance.
Booking Campsites in National Parks
When booking Parks Canada campsites, on opening day you will be placed in a queue before 8 am. At 8 am, you will be assigned a random spot in the queue. After 8 am, you will be placed at the end of the line. You can book up to three camping trips on Parks Canada ON A COMPUTER* but you must reserve all campsites first, then pay for them within 20 minutes of reserving your sites! After you pay for your last campsite, you will be placed back in the queue. So reserve all campsites first, then pay! You can save time by logging in the night before and scouting out potential campsites (good idea in case you have to reset your password so you don’t lose precious minutes on booking day).
*You can book multiple camping trips from your phone if you select “full site” at the bottom of the screen before you book campsites, however, the user experience isn’t great so we recommend booking from a computer.
2. Have a backup plan
Make your own long weekend: If your favorite campground always books up for the long weekend, go the week before or after and take a day off work. We like going Thursday to Sunday so we don’t have to deal with traffic on the drive out; plus, the campground is a lot quieter!
Go a bit further… Campgrounds close to big cities are always busy. If you don’t mind driving a bit further, there are several amazing – and peaceful – campgrounds to enjoy. We’ve had good luck getting campsites in Castle Provincial Park, Cypress Hills Provincial Park, and David Thompson Country.
Other options include: walk-in tent sites (requires better packing but you get a secluded site with no RVs in sight), comfort camping, or RV rentals. Parks Canada and Alberta Parks are offering comfort camping this summer! See more info below.
3. What if you can’t/don’t want to reserve a site?
Check for cancellations: Check on Monday or Tuesday before the weekend for cancellations. Parks Canada and Alberta Parks require 72 hours notice for a full refund. We’ve gotten great campsites by doing this!
Try for a FCFS site: Take Friday off and get a First come first serve campsite (you’ll have better luck if you head out Thursday night). Did you know Alberta Parks has 5,000 FCFS campsites?
Reserve a walk-in tent site: Walk-in sites are often the most scenic and secluded! You need to be prepared to put all food, dishes, and items with a scent (lip gloss, bug spray, etc.) in the bear locker though. It’s good preparation for backpacking!
Go after the weekend or midweek: Arrive Sunday at checkout to get a FCFS site or cancellation. Check out for Alberta Parks is 2 pm. Check out for Parks Canada is 11 am.
4. Backcountry and random camping
Reservations are required for backcountry camping at designated backcountry campgrounds. Visit Alberta Parks | Backcountry Campgrounds or Parks Canada (search by park) for more information.
Random camping / wilderness camping is permitted in permitted in wildland provincial parks and public land use zones. In Alberta, you must be at least one kilometre from the road, trail, or park boundary, be self-sufficient, keep fires in fire rings, and pack out all trash. For trip inspiration, Google Free Camping in Alberta.
There are certain areas outside the provincial and national parks, where you can camp for free. Do some research before you go to make sure you aren’t on private property, and pack out all trash/waste so others can enjoy the area after you leave. This is a good option if you are self sufficient and want to save some money and enjoy some solitude. I grew up camping on forestry roads in BC and will never forget how quiet it was and how bright the stars were.
In closing, there are several options for camping in Alberta, no matter how spontaneous you are (or not). This year, we’re planning on staying at a few of our favorite campgrounds, as well as some that are new-to-us. Have fun exploring our beautiful province and let me know if these tips helped you get a campsite!
- Camping in Western Canada in 2021: Booking Dates, What’s Open, What’s New
- Alberta Parks’ Best Lakeside Campgrounds
- Camping Pack List
- How to choose camping bedding (includes baby bedding)
- Peter Lougheed Provincial Park Hiking and Camping Guide
- Camping in Castle Provincial Park
- Hiking and Camping in David Thompson Country