After visiting the Canadian Rockies this past year I am absolutely sure that the best way to discover this spectacular region is to go by campervan.
But when it comes to planning your camping trip to the Canadian Rockies things can become a little tedious. I found all the information online incredibly overwhelming and half the time the internet was only referring me to actual camper rental websites.
There are several ways to interpret a camping trip in the Canadian Rockies. There are those that travel around by car and just want to pitch their tent. Others turn to a campervan, which has most necessities and drives like a minivan. Or you can go for the all out luxury camping experience by renting an RV, also called a motorhome, which is pretty much a house on wheels and needs to be charged every couple of days.
Planning a camping trip, researching campgrounds, and finding campsites that will be your second home during your vacation is pretty exciting. But it can also be challenging, and after seeing the map of campgrounds in Banff and Jasper, even overwhelming.
Finding the right places to stay in the Canadian Rockies is a crucial part of organizing your trip. And you’ll need to collect a lot of information to be able to do so.
In this guide I will give you all of the information that I gathered when planning our own trip. From our favorite campsites in the Canadian Rockies to all of the little details that you’ll need to know about.
Wether you’re a seasoned camper or it’s your first time ever that you dive into the concept of camping this guide will have you covered!
A Complete Guide To Camping And Campgrounds In The Canadian Rockies
Things to know before you go camping in the Canadian Rockies
If it’s your first time visiting the Canadian Rockies, chances are high you’ll want to visit some of its National Parks like Banff National Park, Jasper National Park or Yoho National Park.
To camp at one of the Canadian National Parks you need to know the following
- There aren’t any private campgrounds in the national parks, which means that Parks Canada manages all campgrounds inside the parks. Parks Canada is an agency of the Government of Canada that protects and presents Canadian natural and cultural heritage.
- There is no “free camping” in Banff, Yoho and Jasper National Park. You are only allowed to stay in designated sites.
Three things you need when camping at a National Park in the Canadian Rockies
- A Parks Canada Discovery Pass – This allows you entrance to all Parks Canada destinations for the year and is only $145.25 for a family ($72.25 per person).
When purchasing your Parks Canada Pass make sure to calculate in enough time for shipping. You don’t want it to only arrive in your mailbox after you’ve already left for Canada.
All you need to do is attach it to your rear view mirror and you’re good to go!
- A camping permit: Some campgrounds in Banff, Yoho & Jasper accept advanced reservations for camping permits online. Others are first come, first served. The cost varies between sites and between amenities present.
💡 TIP – If you reserve your camping spot online you’ll need to pay a reservation fee of $11. This is a nonrefundable fee. Then if you need to cancel or make changes, you have to pay an additional $11 fee.
- A fire permit – Of course this one isn’t obligated. But for $8.80 per site per night you can buy a fire permit at the campsite kiosk. But for instance we never took one and saved some money during our trip this way.
What type of camper are you?
That’s pretty much the question you need to ask yourself when planning your camping trip to the Canadian Rockies.
There are three possibilities for camping in the Canadian Rockies:
- Rent a car – For renting a car I love using SunnyCars to find the best rentals. And with SunnyCars you don’t have to worry about getting extra car rental insurance cause it’s already included. You can also save a lot of money by booking your rental well in advance.
This also means that you’ll be camping by pitching a tent.
- Rent a campervan – A campervan is a great solution if you want to sleep in the car on a real bed, but you don’t feel like driving a big RV. A campervan normally also comes with basic cooking and cleaning equipment.
For choosing a campervan you should look at Outdoorsy or RVShare. Both of them are like AirBnB in the car rental industry.
You only need a driver’s license category B for this type of vehicle in Canada.
- Rent an RV – This is a great compromise if you want the freedom of sleeping in your car but the comfort of a hotel room.
For choosing an RV or motorhome you should look at Outdoorsy or RVShare. Both of them are like AirBnB in the car rental industry.
You only need a driver’s license category B for this type of vehicle in Canada
In all cases, you must be 21 years old or older to rent a car, campervan or RV and you must provide a credit card in the name of the principal driver.
Frontcountry versus backcountry camping
Frontcountry camping is the most popular type of camping in the Canadian Rockies. It’s also the easiest (and often cheapest) way to spend the night in the Canadian Rockies.
Most frontcountry campsites offer amenities such as restrooms, picnic tables, showers, potable water, containers, foodstorage boxes…etc.
If it’s your first time visiting the Canadian Rockies and you want easy acces to your campsite then chosing a frontcountry campground is the way to go.
Prices for night vary from $15 to $38 per night per site depending on the location and facilities of the campground (some are with electricity and hot showers, others hold only basic dry toilets).
One site can be shared by up to 6 people and two cars.
Frontcountry camping is available for tents, small campers, big RVs, and trailers.
If you’re searching for a remote way of camping and you truly want to feel one with nature then backcountry camping is more your style.
The biggest difference between frontcountry and backcountry camping is that the backcountry campgrounds are not accessible by cars.
If you want to go backcountry camping in the Canadian Rockies you’ll also need a Wilderness Pass. This is a permit where you have to pay for each night spent in the backcountry. A Wilderness Pass costs $8.90 per person/per night and can be purchased when you make your booking.
Another thing you need to be aware of is that you need a reservation prior to your arrival. So make sure to book them in advance.
Do I need to reserve a camping spot from before?
Well this pretty much depends on the time of the year that you are visiting.
Visiting in June or September? You can get away with not booking frontcountry campgrounds from before. We were only turned down once but already found another campground 10 minutes later. If you want to go camping in the backcountry you will have to make your reservations well in advance.
Visiting in July or August? This is peak season in the Canadian Rockies and I advise you to book your campsites, both frontcountry and backcountry, well in advance. Especially if you want to stay at the more popular campground close to Banff and Jasper.
How to reserve a campsite in the Canadian Rockies online
For online reservations, visit the Parks Canada official website or call 1-877-737-3783 . As Canada is a bilingual country, you will be asked to select either English or French before continuing to the site.
First, select the reservation type. Usually, it’s either the Frontcountry Camping, Parks Canada Accommodations, or Backcountry Camping.
Then select for which park you want to make a reservation: Banff, Jasper, Yoho,…
Next you need to select your arrival date, the amount of nights you wish to stay and how you will travel: tent, camper or RV?
And now you’re ready to find a campsite!
Later in this article I will also list all of the campgrounds that we stayed at during our trip.
How to score a campsite in the Canadian Rockies without a reservation
Every single day checkin for a campground starts at 2pm. So your chances of scoring a campground will be the highest if you drive up around that time or a little from before.
Once you’ve secured your campsite you can simply drive back out and keep on exploring.
Phone Apps to find campsites in the Canadian Rockies
Phone Apps are a great way to look for campsites while you’re on the road, and there are a bunch of apps to choose from.
Here are our favorite apps that we used during our trip:
- Allstays Camp & RV – This is a one time fee app ($9.99). One of the most complete and popular camping apps of all time that helps you find and filter places and services with or without internet. Simply scroll over the map and you’l get all of the camp sites in the neighborhood as well as their amenities and amount of places.
- WikiCamps Canada – Another app that will make traveling through Canada and finding a campsite that much easier. The best part is that it works completely offline.
Our favorite campgrounds in the Canadian Rockies
Banff National Park
- Two Jack Lakeside Campground
- Mosquito Creek Campground
- Tunnel Mountain Village
Yoho National Park
- Kicking Horse Campground
Jasper National Park
- Wapiti Campground
- Snaring Campground
- Kananaskis Interlakes Campground
- Spray Lakes West Campground
- Capilano River RV Park – Not a favorite but a necessary one for our trip.
For National Parks, bookings open in January for the summer season, and Provincial park bookings usually open up in early March.
Bear safety while camping
Traveling to the Canadian Rockies means that you’re traveling in Bear Country. Both Alberta and British Columbia are home to both grizzly bears and black bears. Bears are extremely sensitive to human disturbance and activity. Avoiding an encounter is the best way to protect both yourself and bears.
Make sure to always pack your bear spray and know how to use it.
When camping make sure you always store away all of your food in containers when you’re done cooking.
Ensure human and pet food, garbage, dirty campstoves, recyclables, toiletries and all other smelly items are locked away in a metal bear-proof container provided in the park, your car or hung from a tree away from your campsite.
Dispose of grey water in designated areas, away from your camp site.
If you spot a bear don’t approach it, never feed it and never get between a mother and her cubs.
Camping at Kananaskis
The area of Kananaskis isn’t located in a National Park. But visitors do require a Kananaskis Conservation Pass ($90/year for 2 vehicles), which can be purchased through the Alberta Parks website. You can also buy a daily pass at $15/day but this only registers 1 vehicle.
The money from these passes goes towards trail maintenance, forest management, emergency services, and avalanche monitoring, so it’s money well spent.
All personal and commercial vehicles parked in parks and public lands in Kananaskis Country and the Bow Valley corridor require such a pass.
But no matter where you choose to camp you will absolutely have an incredible time! I absolutely LOVED our time in the Canadian Rockies and both of us are eager to return one day! Even that Christof usually doesn’t like to visit the same region twice he would gladly make an exception for the Canadian Rockies!