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Ultimate Canada Camping Guide

Planning to camp in Canada? The Canada Camping Guide includes information on different kinds of campgrounds, boondocking, and free camping. Find out where locals camp and how to avoid tourist crowds.

Canada Camping Guide – all you need to know

Canada is a Camper’s paradise and camping options are endless. Whether you want it wild or prefer camping in comfort, Canada has it all.

Who doesn’t dream about camping out in the great outdoors, far from the bustle of modern life? Nothing tastes better than a meal cooked over an open fire and nothing feels better than sitting at a campfire underneath a starry sky.

Still, as good as it all sounds, it is important to be prepared for any outdoor adventure. Believe camping can be heaven or hell, depending on how you prepare for it.

Remember the main rules: Travel Slowly – Camp Early – Don’t try to Fit Too Much in!

Why go camping in Canada?

There is something incredibly special about Canada’s backcountry. You sit by the campfire at night, surrounded by pristine wilderness, roasting marshmallows and taking in the solitude. However little time you might have for your Canada vacation, don’t miss out on a backcountry camping experience; even if it’s only for a couple of nights.

I spent countless nights camping in the Canadian wilderness and the magic has never worn off. The sense of space and freedom you feel cannot be described in words. Camping in the wilderness gives you this special peace inside you.

There is definitely no better way to travel in Canada’s backcountry than camping. Spending the day sightseeing and returning to a hotel at night is not the holiday I recommend.

No matter whether you are tenting or RVing, you will have plenty of choices of where to spend the night.

Plan your Camping Trip well

Backcountry Camping on a lake in Canada

It’s totally up to you what comfort level you would like during your backcountry camping trip in Canada. You can rent a camper or RV with all the camping luxuries. Or simply just throw your tent and sleeping bag in the back of an old car and start your trip. What type of camper or car you use should depend on the kind of roads you want to drive.

Plan your camping trip well. Once you decide on the route you want to take, also think about the food supply and what kind of camp meals you want to cook. For this, I have some meal suggestions for you!

Whether you have all summer for a camping trip across Canada, or just a week driving through the Rocky Mountains, camping in the Canadian backcountry is something you will never forget. The vastness of the place, the solitude and serenity, the Canadian wildlife, the campfire, and the millions of stars above you at night will be stuck in your memory forever.

How to find campsites in Canada

Rooftop camping Canada Camping Guide
Rooftop tenting and boondocking

Canada is a nation of campers and you can find campgrounds in every province and territory. Campgrounds are EVERYWHERE! No matter how remote the area is, if there is any sign of humans, there is somewhere to camp.

Most camp sites are in beautiful locations. Guaranteed you will see wildlife during your camping experience and get a taste of what the Canadian Wilderness is all about. Unless you travel in the off-season, you will be sharing your experience with lots of fellow campers.

Nearly every town in Canada has a Tourist Information Centre. Stop in and ask for a map and get information about camping and sightseeing in the area.

As you travel on Canadian back roads, you will find small towns, roadhouses and private property owners who operate campgrounds.

  • Privately owned Commercial campgrounds are mostly located along the main tourist routes in Canada. Stop in at a local Visitors Information Centre for a free Provincial, Territorial or local “camping in Canada” guide.
  • Parks Canada campgrounds are located inside the National Parks of Canada. They are owned and operated by Parks Canada. Due to spectacular locations inside parks, these campgrounds are extremely busy during July/August and reservations need to be made well in advance. For information on National Parks contact http://www.pc.gc.ca
  • Provincial Parks Campgrounds and Regional Campgrounds are inside Provincial or Territorial Parks/Regional Parks. They are owned and operated by a specific provincial or regional government. Because of their location, they can get also very busy during the summer. Some of these parks don’t take reservations, so it’s good to arrive early in the day to still get a spot. For information on provincial parks, check out the provincial government website.

Many of the National Park and Provincial Park campgrounds come with basic facilities, which include water, wood, pit toilets, picnic tables and fire pits. Some larger campgrounds offer showers, flush toilets, and dumping stations, etc.

But now let’s venture into the real backcountry camping, where you leave civilization behind.

Backcountry camping, making a campfire
Know how to make campfires responsibly

Recreation sites and trails

Some of my favourite camp spots are at recreation sites in Canada. If you like your camping experience more authentic and wild, simple and rustic, this will be the kind of camping for you. Recreation Sites are generally located in remote areas near rivers, trails, and lakes, accessed by gravel forestry roads or via hiking trails. That is where the locals camp.

Recreation sites are small and provide only basic facilities, such as fire pits, picnic tables, outhouses and boat-launching ramps where appropriate. Free camping is offered at many recreation sites. Especially British Columbia is a paradise for free backcountry camping and wilderness recreation.

These campsites are well used by locals and there is a chance that you arrive at a site you planned to camp, but it’s already taken. A few days before long weekends, local people go to these campsites with their RVs, boats, fishing gear and quads and set up camp next to mountain lakes. Most other campers arriving at the campsite will leave again and go and find the next lake.

These sites are always self-check-in. If camping is not free, you might be asked to deposit the fee into a drop box. At some sites, a park employee will come and collect fees in the evenings.

Backcountry Camping Yukon Canada
Recreation Campsite in the forest

Difference between Provincial Parks and Recreation Sites

The following comments are written by a local camper and are intended to be humorous satire and not a judgment on different values. He thinks that appreciating both sides of the fence will bring down the fence revealing a much larger meadow to graze on. Attitude is everything and the rest can be learned.

Reservations are only at National and Provincial/Territorial campgrounds. No reserving Sites at Recreation and Trails campsites, and they are cheaper too!

Provincial/Territorial Campsites:

  • National and Provincial Parks Sites are mostly RVs with retirees that like a formal, planned, routine structured existence no more than a 1/2 hour drive from shopping.
  • Dinner is a T-Bone Steak on a stoneware plate carefully centred on a cloth placemat paired with a Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • Their pampered poodle is curled up in Mama’s lap, a personal hot water bottle as the temperature drops.
  • The fire only burns for an hour or two after sunset. The camp chairs are positioned upwind of the fire, cold, but it avoids that obnoxious smoky smell getting into their crocheted sweaters. A pail of water will make sure the fire is out not making any more of that smelly smoke.

Recreation Sites and Trails

  • Recreation Sites have more tents with a younger crowd that likes to wing it and go with the flow. They’re never quite sure what they’re going to do next. Depends on the weather.
  • Dinner is hotdogs, homemade chilli with a beer served on a paper plate or flattened cereal box. Food is not wasted applying the 10 second rule and a quick blow.
  • Their lab/shepherd cross mutt can be found at the neighbour’s mooching. Campers throw their spark hole infested sleeping bags over their shoulders as the temperature drops.
  • They’re lucky to have a camp chair or dibs on the cooler for a seat. The fire will burn until the wee hours with embers lasting till mourning to rebuild. The campfire aroma brings back fond memories of past camps full of camaraderie, laughter, mishaps and shenanigans.
Two Grizzlies visiting camp
That is what you can expect in many parts of Canada

How to find Backcountry Camp Sites

Maps are an important part of any Canada Camping Guide. There are excellent resources and maps available to find free campsites.

The Backroad Mapbooks are excellent and I use them a lot. It is an Outdoor Recreation Guide, available for different regions in Canada and it’s worth the investment. The Backroad Mapbook covers logging and bush roads and a detailed trail system. It describes backroad attractions, fishing lakes, parks and recreation sites, wildlife viewing and lots more.

The backroad maps are also available for Garmin handheld GPS (global positioning system) devices. Or you can use their app and download it to your cell phone. These are excellent tools for navigating the way in the wilderness and through the woods.

Some really excellent Canadian camping apps for your tablet or phone are also available. AllTrail is my favourite app and my companion when I’m outdoors and helps me make the most of every outdoor adventure. The app is free to download with basic functions. You get a 7-say free trial for the pro version.

Provincial Government websites are a great resource for backcountry camping in Canada. For British Columbia, you might want to check out sitesandtrailsbc.ca

Boon Docking on Crownland

Boondocking is free camping out in the boonies and is also called bush camping. The definition of BOONDOCKS: rough country filled with dense bush. This is information you don’t find in many Canada Camping Guides.

Outside of the parks and away from recreation sites you can find many boondocking campsites and beautiful spots to put up for the night.

If there is no outhouse near your camp spot, dig a hole for human waste, away from any water source. Greywater also goes in there. Don’t forget to fill the hole with dirt before you leave the site.

Restrictions apply to private property! If you come across a sign “NO Trespassing” or ” KEEP OUT” that means the land is privately owned and you will need permission from the landowner before pitching a tent. Most Canadians in the Backcountry have guns in the house, so beware.

Leave No Trace – Protecting, preserving and respecting the Canadian wilderness, and all of the lands should be the commitment of each visitor to this beautiful land. If you are fortunate enough to experience our delicate wilderness ecosystem of ours, please respect it. The love of the country and the desire to care for the environment are part of what we hope to share and pass on to visitors to Canada. As you travel through the wilderness be sure to see what’s around you and enjoy the incredible flora and fauna.

Other FREE Camping in Canada

Part of the Walmart chain and some other supermarkets throughout Canada allow RVs to use their parking lot for a one-night stay free of charge. Walmarts located in Southern British Columbia have other policies. Therefore don’t forget to ask for the manager’s permission before settling in.

Many casinos are RV-friendly and might let you park for the night. Inquire about it beforehand.

Please be considerate and don’t spread out like you would on a campground. Don’t mess it up for others.

Backcountry Camping - Bear in a tree
Can you see him up in the tree?

WARNINGS!

  • WILD ANIMALS! Be careful with the wild animals! Never approach a wild animal of any kind, no matter how docile and non-dangerous it seems. Be sure you know bear safety tips and the difference between a Black bear and a Grizzly. It’s always good to make noise while in the bush. Also, read my site about Cougars and check out Canadian Wildlife.
  • Watch your campfire! Make sure they are put out before you walk off and don’t start them in areas where it’s not safe.
  • Temperatures in Canada can get extremely hot during summer. The Okanagan Valley, where I live is very dry and hot and we get hardly any rainfall in July and August, which makes it a real fire hazard.
  • Forest fires are common in Canada, mostly caused by lightning, but also by people. Most years the Government puts on a campfire ban for a few weeks to lower the risk.
  • Before you make a campfire, check if there is a fire ban restriction in the area, check with British Columbia’s Wildfire site, or check restrictions of other provinces.
  • Have the right camping equipment with you and be prepared for Canada’s unforgiving wilderness.

Enjoy the thrills of backcountry camping! Hopefully, you find my Canada Camping Guide useful.

Related Links

Winter Camping in BC, story and tipsTravel Guides to Backcountry Destinations
Camping in the old Ghost Town of Quesnel ForksHow to find Free Camping in Canada
Top 16 Canadian Camping AppsWhy I’m better off hiking alone
Canadian Wilderness DangerGeocaching – why every backcountry traveller should get hooked
Wilderness Road Trip PlannerBackcountry Outdoor Store

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