Camping in Canada | Packing List and Travel Tips
Updated: May 13
Looking for info on camping in Canada and what to bring on your trip? In this post, we cover Canada’s camping rules, our top camping site recommendations in BC and Alberta, what to consider when packing, and the essential recommended items that you should bring to make your experience all it can be. From the mountainous Canadian Rockies to Vancouver Island’s coastal camping, you will find all you need right here!
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We are Ine and Zac, an international couple traveling the world while connecting as many people as possible through our adventures. We have had many camping experiences across Canada in recent years, including car camping, front country camping, and backcountry camping. There are many variables to consider when camping in Canada and we have learned the hard way on many occasions. But we’ve boiled it down to the essentials now and hope this article helps you on your next Canadian outdoor adventure!
Camping in Canada
For this article, we only focus on camping in Western Canada. This includes National, Provincial, and local parks in both Alberta and BC. We chose to focus on these two provinces as that is where the majority of our camping in Canada has been so far and these areas also contain the most beautiful mountainous and coastal regions to camp. When planning your camping trip(s) in Canada, It’s important that you are up to speed with the camping rules in this beautiful country.
Canada Camping Rules
In Canada, there are a few rules to ensure a safe and respectable camping experience for all. We've broken down the top rules here as an overview, but make sure to visit the National and Provincial Park websites listed below to brush up on any additional rules specific to your campground before you go.
You must get a Discovery Pass to enter (and eventually camp) the National Parks. This can be purchased online in advance of your trip or you can buy it at the park station on your drive-in. The pass is good for one year and gives you access to 80 parks in Canada locations.
You need a camping permit for both backcountry and frontcountry designated camping zones. These permits generally need to be booked months in advance for peak season in both BC and Alberta. However, there are many first-come-first-serve campgrounds as well, which are listed under the National and Provincial park sections below. If you booked your campsite online prior to arriving, make sure you have your booking number available. For first-come-first-serve campgrounds, make sure you bring cash and add it to the envelope at the campground check-in prior to setting up your tent.
You must keep food in a food cache provided on campsite or plastic bag in a tree far away from your tent at all times that you are not eating (to avoid the bears).
Alcohol and cannabis have varying rules at all campgrounds. So check in with either the park ranger on-site or board notices at the entrance prior to camping at your desired location. Parks Canada, BC Parks, and Alberta Parks all say that cannabis consumption is allowed in registered campsites, but different provinces and municipalities have different restrictions. So make sure to check the official park regulations you will be visiting before you leave.
Quiet hours are generally from 11pm to 7am. During those hours, music, campfires, cannabis, and alcohol are prohibited. However, this can vary between campgrounds.
The majority of campgrounds allow pets, but usually, require them to be on a leash when in the campsite.
Fishing permit is required for all provincial and national parks if you want to catch fish.
1 person at the campsite must be 16 years or older.
Man-made wildfires are a huge issue each summer in western Canada. No fires are allowed at all when there is a fire ban in effect. Check here for BC fire bans currently. Check here for fire bans in Alberta currently.
Usually, you are allowed14 days to camp per campground for provincial and national parks per year.
Firearms and fireworks are not permitted in most Provincial or National parks in Canada.
How to book camping in Canada’s National and Provincial Parks
Booking camping can be a complicated process in Canada. There is not one single website or system where you can book everything from. Here, we've broken down our top 3 favorite campgrounds for Banff, Jasper, Yoho, BC Provincial parks, Alberta Provincial parks, and Vancouver Island along with clickable links to each one so you can book your site directly from there. The campsites usually cost between $15-$30 depending on if you are front country camping, doing backcountry, or taking the first-come-first-serve options.
National Parks reservations usually open in January each year.
For Provincial parks in Alberta and BC, you can generally make a reservation 4 months in advance for your desired campgrounds if they are not first-come, first-serve.
Camping in Jasper National Park
Our top 3 campsites in the area are:
Waipiti: Not too far from Jasper itself, this is a classy campsite near the river with hot showers and electricity!
Pocahontas: A fair drive from Jasper, this is a good campground if you want to be close to the Mietta Hot Springs. It’s near the edge of the entire Canadian Rockies:
Snaring: This is a first-come, first-serve option within 15 minutes of the town of Jasper and a great option if you’re in a pinch. Just watch out for the mosquitos!
For all campsite options in Jasper, click here
Camping in Banff National Park
Our top 3 campsites in the area are:
Tunnel Mountain: This has the best facilities of all camping in the Canadian Rockies in our opinion. Warm showers, firewood included, and only a short 2-minute drive into the town of Banff.
Two Jack Main: Only 12km from Banff, this is a great site to saddle up away from the hustle and bustle of Banff itself.
Lake Louise: A great camping spot that is highly sought-after, being so close to the famous Lake Louise and Morraine Lake.
For all campsite options in Banff, click here
Camping in Yoho National Park
Our top 3 campsites in the area are:
Kicking Horse: Located near the beautiful Iceline Trail in Yoho, Kicking Horse is the top campsite in the area
Lake O'Hara: This is the most beautiful area in all of the Canadian Rockies in our opinion. Stay here for at least 2 nights if you can. But you MUST book on the first day they open for reservations in January
Monarch and Takakkaw Falls: Both located near the main hiking trails in Yoho, Monarch is reservable with 35 sites and Takakkaw is first-come, first-serve
For all campsite options in Yoho, click here
Camping in Alberta Provincial Parks
Our top 3 campsites in the province are:
Dinosaur Campground: A great early season campground that showcases the badlands in the “hoodos” of Alberta.
Bow Valley Campground: The Bow Valley is situated very close to Canmore and is an awesome alternative just outside of the Canadian Rockies with stunning views and lakes.
Lillian Lake: This is one of the best backcountry campgrounds we’ve been to in Canada. Most spots include a wooden platform so you stay dry and you will have an awesome view of the sparkling green lake up close!
For all campsite options in Alberta Provincial Parks, click here
Camping in BC Provincial Parks
Our top 3 campsites in the province are:
Garibaldi Lake: There are 50 walk-in sites available here on the edge of one of the most beautiful glacial-fed lakes we’ve seen in Canada:
Berg Lake: There are four separate campgrounds available along the Berg Lake Trail. We recommend staying at the Kinney Lake campground for two nights and then hiking up to Berg Lake as a day trip in between from there:
Joffre Lakes: There are few places in the world where you can camp directly under a glacier. This unique campground has become very popular for a weekend trip from Vancouver, so book early!
For all campsite options in BC Provincial Parks, click here
Camping on Vancouver Island
Our top 3 campsites on the island are:
Sombrio Beach: This has the coolest vibe of any campground in Canada. You can camp on the sand and in the summer there are large groups of young people hanging out and enjoying life. There is even surfing here! This is not a reservable campsite and generally, there is always room somewhere on the beach.
Rathtrevor Beach: Another beach-front campground, this is a very popular summer camping destination due to the mountain views of Vancouver across the water and endless sandy beach walks
Goldstream Provincial Park: This campsite is located near some of the best local hikes on Vancouver Island near Victoria. They are also near the Goldstream River and can be a great experience during the annual Salmon Run
For the other top campsite options on Vancouver Island, click here
Free Camping in Canada
While the rules are hazy for free camping in Canada, the general rule is: don’t camp there if you are unsure if it’s allowed. The park rangers and police do monitor the main roads, back roads, and other illegal camping spots and they do give out tickets. However, there are some common camping spots you can camp for free at if needed in a pinch:
Camping on crown land is also allowed for 21 days per year for non-residents:
Freecampsites.net is also a great free camping website that you can use which may help you find other spots near where you are going.
What to consider when packing for camping in Canada
Time of year
Depending on which months you visit Canada, your experience will be vastly different. The entire country has four seasons throughout the year. In general, camping should be avoided during the winter months of December, January, and February in Canada. The temperatures are usually too cold for comfort in a tent and the heavy rain and snowfall make it difficult to enjoy your surroundings in the evenings outdoors at those times. Shoulder season runs from March-June and then October-November where temperatures can vary a lot during these months. In mountainous areas such as the Canadian Rockies or Strathcona Provincial Park, it is safe to bank on snow until July in the campgrounds. Thus, the ideal time to camp in Canada is July-September for the 4-month window if you are booking your trip.
Another key consideration when camping in Canada is the variable weather conditions. If you are camping anywhere near the mountains, be prepared for all types of weather no matter what time of year it is. It has been known to snow at times in the Rockies in September even though it is summertime. It can be hot one day and then storming the next. Or sunny during the afternoon and then pouring rain in the evening. We were stuck in a rainstorm in Banff for three days last year but then the next 3 days were the pure sun as we enjoyed Lake Louise and Moraine Lake in all their glory. On Vancouver Island and coastal BC, the conditions are generally milder and you can count on relatively stable conditions. However, a good rule of thumb before any camping trip in Canada is to bring equipment for all conditions. Even if the forecast says sun, bring your rain gear just in case!
Where you are reserving your campsite
There used to be a 3-month booking time prior to your trip. That no longer exists in many of the national parks. This means you have to book your sites early and hope for good weather that weekend if you want a guaranteed spot. We were lucky in the Rockies when we only reserved a few nights and for the rest, we found first-come-first-serve camping in the areas along the way. For provincial parks, the standard you are allowed to book your campsite in advance is 4 months at this time.
Style of camping
Depending on your comfort level for camping, you can choose between frontcountry or backcountry. Front country means that you can drive your car to the campsites and have the luxury of not carrying your gear to the site. Front camping generally includes toilets with toilet paper, firepits, and sometimes includes a shower. Backcountry camping almost never has showers and usually, you have to bring your own toilet paper to be safe. No matter what type of camping you do in a national or provincial park, you will always need to pay a fee.
The wild animals (bear safety tips)
There are black bears and grizzly bears all over BC and Alberta as well as wolves and cougars. It is common to see bears from the road eating berries and sometimes on hikes. You may also see bears at campgrounds due to a large number of people and food in one spot. While the majority of bears won’t hurt you, we highly recommend getting bear spray to avoid putting yourself in a situation that could be fatal if you’re not careful. You should also follow the below tips to ensure you are “Bear Aware” during your stay in Canada:
Always pack your food away in a food cache or bag in a tree (far away from your tent)
Make noise when hiking so bears are not startled when you are in the area
Keep your dog on a leash at all times
Stay in larger size groups when hiking and camping (4 or more is ideal)
Use officially marked paths and trails and follow all posted warning signs
If you see a bear, stay calm and back away slowly while talking to the bear in a low deep voice. Never take your eyes off the bear and do not return to the area you saw them.
Recommended camping gear for Canada
As you can see, Canada is a great country for camping. But it does require some planning and the right equipment to really enjoy the great outdoors here! We’ve laid out our recommended camping gear for Canada below but before you get your gear ready, make sure you cover yourself with travel insurance! Canada has vast wilderness with many wild animals and landscapes that can be demanding for hiking. No matter how careful you are, there is a chance you could get injured while in the Canadian outdoors. We recommend World Nomads travel insurance as it can be booked while you’re on the road and has great coverage for the adventurous reality of Canada.
We recommend this 3-person tent because it offers a little extra room to keep your gear dry and next to you while you’re sleeping. It is also very lightweight, which comes in handy when making the long treks across Canada. Fully waterproof, it also has a couple of storage spaces connected inside the tent.
It’s super important to have a tarp with you when you camp in Canada. As we mentioned, the weather can change drastically in a day, so you might get rained out. Having a tarp like this that is durable and waterproof will keep you dry all night long!
Hyke & Byke 15 Degree F Sleeping Bag
When we first started camping in Canada, we had no idea how cold it actually got at night here. We recommend going for a sleeping bag that is warm like this. It stays warm down to 15 degrees Fahrenheit and still breathes well. It is extremely light at only 2.7 pounds. It will allow you to camp in the mountains or next to the sea on Canada’s coast with no problem.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Venture Lightweight Camping Air Mattress
Another piece of essential equipment is a lightweight air mattress that will give you a good night's rest so you can get ready for multiple hour hikes. We recommend the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir because of its wave core construction as it provides twice the warmth of uninsulated air mattresses. It’s super compact and inflates easily too. We spent a whole summer in Canada recently camping with this air mattress and it never failed us once on our long backpacking trips.
Although not essential, it has been nice for us to have our coupler sheet while we’ve been camping. We each have Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad and having the coupler makes it really convenient to sleep next to each other. Before the coupler, our pads would split apart and slide all night, making for a more restless sleep as a couple.
A camping pillow will keep your neck supported and is something we’ve found really nice to have after long hikes. The Therm-a-Rest option has foam filling which expands into a 4-inch thick pillow for your head, neck, and back support in tents, cars, planes, and other tough-to-get-comfortable places. It’s super compact, so there shouldn’t be much of a space issue in your pack. The comfort is worth it when you set up the tent!
When you’re out in the wilderness of Canada, you definitely need a flashlight. Whether it’s for getting some light while you’re setting up the tent, finding the washroom in the evening, or just having for an emergency, it’s important to have a flashlight with you. This one is about the size of an iPhone 6 and is water-resistant.
Something we never think about until the last minute when camping is bringing a water bottle. But it’s extremely important, especially when you’re going on hikes that are longer than 2 hours. This collapsible bottle will help save space once you’ve finished your water and you can un-collapse it once you need to refill again.
The nice thing about hiking and camping in Canada is that you will almost always find a river or lake where you can fill your water bottle. However, you should never drink the water straight from the source, no matter how pure it looks. There could be bacterias in it. So it’s important you get some water purification tablets and use them before you drink from your bottle. Generally, you have to wait about 30 minutes after you’ve added the tabs and then the water will be safe to drink.
You never know what is going to happen out in the wilderness of Canada. It’s important to be prepared for the worst, even if nothing happens. We recommend this kit because it has 120 medical-grade items included in it and is FDA approved. It will get the job done for most situations in the wild.
In order to pack all your gear up the mountains and to the oceans for camping, you need a quality backpack. We recommend 50L capacity or more. This Osprey backpack was made for backcountry packing and has a ventilated tensioned mesh back panel with added adjustability for variations in torso length. There is also an integrated rain cover which is key for potentially rainy situations in Canada’s unpredictable mountains.
Canon is our favorite camera brand for traveling and capturing landscape photos. The EOS 80D is top of the line with a 5-point all cross-type AF system and great autofocus options. It also has great video modes and is very durable for a high-end camera.
We’ve been using the DJI Spark all across Canada in the past year. It has amazing 1080p cinematic video and 12mp photos. It’s been really easy to learn how to fly and fits in our backpacks easily alongside our other gear. It’s made for awesome moments capturing the unique Canadian wilderness around us! For more detailed comparisons of the best travel drones in 2020, check out this article.
Portable Hard Drive
Depending on how long you will be on your trip without your computer, you may need to backup your photos and videos remotely. This hard drive will give you that option to plug in your SD card directly and even has other USB charging ports on it so you can charge your phone and other gadgets easily while out in the wilderness.
GoPro Shorty Handle
If you’ve already got a GoPro, this handle will help keep your images stable and provide tripod support on the fly. It’s also small enough to fit in your pocket so you don’t have to worry about storage space!
We’ve been filming with the GoPro 7 for over a year now and it’s a great camera for hikes and adventures outdoors. However, we definitely need at least one extra battery when we go on hikes that are more than a few hours long.
When you’re camping, it’s definitely essential to have the right cooking equipment (unless you’re comfortable living off Cliff bars for a few days). The essentials we recommend is a mini-stove, non-stick pot, fork, knife, spoon, and cups. This kit has it all in one and packs down small for your Canadian camping adventure.
It is absolutely ESSENTIAL to have bear spray on your trip to Canada. The Grizzly Bear danger is real in Alberta and BC. We luckily haven’t encountered a grizzly yet, but have seen many black bears. Without the bear spray, you have to rely on luck that the bear is not interested in you. With the spray, if a bear approaches you, then you can fend it off up to 35 feet. The spray is 98% effective against bear attacks.
Insect repellent is another essential item for camping in Canada. We were attacked by mosquitos in the Canadian Rockies last year and could have used a stronger DEET. This one is 40-percent DEET. If you don’t want itchy skin, do yourself a favor and splurge on the heavy-duty repellent.
Good luck with your Canadian camping adventure! Comment below if there are products you love or tips you've found useful for your camping experience
If you are interested in finding more hidden gem camping spots and hiking in Canada, check out our Vancouver Island Adventure Guide article.