Camping in Alberta: RV and Tent Essentials

The grassy bank of a turquoise lake with a dramatic mountainscape in the distance.

Lower Waterfowl Lake along the Icefields Parkway looking towards the campsites. Photo © Richard Taylor, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Color map of Alberta, Canada

Alberta

Those intending to camp or travel by RV are well catered to in Alberta. Calgary has a half dozen campgrounds spread around its outskirts, Edmonton has one near downtown, and almost every town, no matter its size, has a municipal campground. These facilities range in price from free to $20 for a tent site and up to $40 with hookups, depending on facilities and location. Often campgrounds in smaller towns are a bargain—it’s not uncommon to pay $20 or less for a site with hookups and hot showers. Except in major cities, reservations aren’t necessary—just roll up and pay the campground host or use the honor box.

Each of Alberta’s national parks has excellent campgrounds. At least one campground in each park has hot showers and full hookups. Prices are $15–37. A percentage of sites in the most popular national park campgrounds can be reserved through the Parks Canada Campground Reservation Service (450/505-8302 or 877/737-3783) for a nonrefundable $11 reservation fee. If you’re traveling in the height of summer and require electrical hookups, this booking system is highly recommended. The remaining campsites in the national parks operate on a first-come, first-served basis and often fill by midday in July and August. Banff, Jasper, and Waterton Lakes have winter camping but with limited facilities. Most provincial parks have a campground; prices are $17–38 depending on facilities available. Some have hookups, showers, boat rentals, and occasionally laundry facilities. In national and provincial parks, firewood is supplied, but at a cost. In the national parks, a nightly fire permit costs $8.80, which includes as much wood as you need. Throughout the foothills, campgrounds managed by the Department of Sustainable Resource Development have pit toilets, picnic tables, and a supply of firewood. Most are accessed along the Forestry Trunk Road. These cost $12–15 per night.

Campground Terms

Campground operators use a variety of terms to describe the services offered, and in this book I have tried to be as consistent as possible. Beginning with an easy one, an RV is any type of recreational vehicle, including a fifth-wheeler, motor coach, campervan, or camping trailer. A serviced site is a campsite that offers the individual unit access to power, water, sewer, cable TV, the Internet, or a combination of any of these five services. A site with one or more of these services is known as a hookup. Sites with a combination of power, water, and sewer are known as full hookups. In this book, if a campground offers power as the only service, the sites are referred to as powered. The difference between a tent site and an unserviced site (one with no hookups) is that RVs are permitted on the latter. “Unserviced” does not mean the campground itself lacks facilities such as bathrooms. The term dry camping is sometimes used to describe a campsite with no hookups. Boondocking can also mean camping without hookups, but more often means simply camping for free in an undesignated area. Finally, a pull-through campsite means you can pull right though, with no need to back in or out.

Also, many of the more popular campgrounds, including all provincial parks, charge a reservation fee of up to $10 per reservation. This is not a deposit, but rather an additional charge.

Backcountry Camping

Backcountry camping in the national parks and Kananaskis Country is $10 per person per night, while a season pass ($70) is valid for unlimited national park backcountry travel and camping for 12 months from its purchase date. Before heading out, you must register at the respective park information center (regardless of whether you have an annual pass) and pick up a Backcountry Permit (for those without an annual pass, this costs the nightly camping fee multiplied by the number of nights you’ll be in the backcountry). Many popular backcountry campgrounds take reservations up to three months in advance. The reservation fee is $11.70 per party per trip. Most campgrounds in the backcountry have pit toilets, and some have bear bins for secure food storage. Fires are discouraged, so bring a stove.


Excerpted from the Seventh Edition of Moon Alberta.

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