Free camping in Canada is known as boondocking, dry camping or wild camping, and free campsites can be found all over Canada.
Don’t let high fees and crowded campgrounds keep you from going on a backcountry camping adventure; free camping in Canada is totally possible and it will boost your budget.
During my recent camping trip, I stayed in some of the most beautiful camping spots for free. I didn’t feel like paying fees up to $40 to park my SUV at a campsite for the night, especially when I arrived late and left early the next morning. For this amount of money, I would rather enjoy the comfort of an Airbnb.
Since I published this article first, many free camping sites have changed to “No Overnight Camping”. Why would that be?
The email I received from a lady in Kincardine, Ontario, says it all. There is no overnight camping anymore in her county.
“We have seen many overnight campers here this summer littering our beach/road. Apparently, they missed reading the part on your website that recommends ‘leave no trace’. It is disappointing that these campers are not being respectful of our beautiful environment and that we pay very high taxes to be residents here.”
Please campers, respect the land that is still available for free camping and do not mess it up for the rest of us.
What you need to know about Free Camping in Canada
To enjoy free camping, you need to be ready for rugged conditions and do your research before heading out. You won’t find flushing toilets, running water and other luxuries you would find at official campgrounds. An old weathered outhouse with no toilet paper may be the only hint of civilization when you arrive at your free campsite.
Plan ahead and search for free campsites before you leave for the trip. Once you’re on the road wifi may be scarce and your camping options may become limited to your current location. It is less travel stress if you have a plan and you know where you will spend the night, especially when it’s getting dark.
Take the scenic route instead of the highway and you will have a better chance to find a wild camping spot. They are usually not located along highways.
Many free campsites are off the beaten track and the access road can be rough. Make sure that you have a suitable vehicle to get there safely.
To enjoy the wild camping adventure, you need to be self-sufficient. Many of the free campsites are secluded and off the beaten path. Others are in areas where you’re stuck between other free campers (parking lots, roadside stops).
Think about how to dispose of waste. You’ll have to do your part to preserve the beauty of the land. Respect the “Leave No Trace” ethical code.
Be wise and responsible about campfires and wild animals you may encounter. Be aware of water sources and trails so you don’t make a negative impact on them.
Although you will find recreational sites in all of the Canadian provinces, British Columbia is especially known for its many beautiful recreational sites, offering free camping with a fire pit, space for a tent, picnic table, and an outhouse. Many of those places you can drive to, other ones you have to hike in. Check the backroad map books before you go.
Some of the recreational sites are located in provincial or territorial parks, and others you can find on crown land. Crown land refers to the land owned by the government of Canada and there is lots of it.
Camping on Crownland
If you explore a backcountry road in Canada and you don’t come across “No Trespassing” signs, you are probably driving on Crown land.
Canadian citizens can camp on crown land for free for up to 21 days, non-citizens have to buy a permit. Because of different laws across provinces and territories, check your backroad map or camping app for details.
Camping in National Parks
At national parks in Canada, wild camping may be permitted if you buy the appropriate permit. Most of the backcountry campsites are secluded and far away from any road. To reach the sites you have to hike in and bring your own equipment. If you do find facilities, they are usually basic.
Truck Stops and Road Side Stops
At all the major highways in Canada, you come across truck stops, catering to long-haul truckers, as well as designated rest stops for drivers to be able to pull over and rest. Most of those places have toilets, bear-safe garbage bins and sometimes picnic tables. Unless there is a “No Overnight Camping” sign, you’re safe to park for the night.
I always park close to the toilet facilities, just in case I have to get up during the night. Road-side stops are convenient to crash for a night, but noisy next to the highway and trucks come and go all night.
Walmart and Supermarket Parking Lots
It is well known that many Walmart stores across the country allow RVs and other self-contained vehicles to stay overnight in their parking lot. The same goes for other Supermarkets like Superstore and Save On Food.
Not all Walmart and Supermarkets allow overnight camping, make sure to check on it before you park for the night. It’s an offered privilege if they do allow it and by no means a right, therefore be considered and keep a low profile. Don’t put up tents, tables and chairs and no cooking in front of your vehicle.
Of course, spending a night at a parking lot is not real camping, but it comes in handy at times when you just need a place to sleep for a night.
The problem arises if you don’t have a portable toilet in your vehicle. Between when the store closes and opens up in the morning is a long time to be without a bathroom. In my case, I usually don’t drink anything for hours to make sure I can hold on for that long, and in the morning I’m nearly dehydrated.
Arrive late and leave early is the game here.
My favourite Resources To Find Free Campsites
Purchase the appropriate backroad maps and download the camping apps below for a money-saving backcountry camping experience.
Backroad Mapbooks with recreational information. The backcountry maps are the ultimate outdoor adventure guides, don’t leave for the backcountry without them.
There is an abundance of land available for free camping in Canada but learn about the wilderness and how to prepare for it before you head into the wild. Practice your skills in navigation, campfire cooking, and wilderness first aid and learn about Canada’s wildlife.
If you have additional tips about free camping in Canada you would like to share, please leave a comment below.
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Yrene lives in the Okanagan, British Columbia, Canada, and is the founder of BackcountryCanadaTravel.com. She was born in Switzerland, lived and worked on different continents and has travelled the world. Yes, that's me, an Entrepreneur, wilderness nut and animal lover who prefers off-the-beaten-track places. I write about things I love. Mostely.
An excellent post with some great resources added for future reference. Crown land is a great option for isolated rustic camping get-a-ways. Thanks for sharing this post and I spotted you on Pinterest & have Pinned this to refer to down the road! Robert 🙂
You have to drive fair ways north of Toronto but there are many places within 2 hours, after the French River there are thousands of places. Where we go there are 2 dozen lakes teaming with fish and only 1 campsite per lake.
Thanks for this! I’m getting ready to embark on a few month road/camping trips throughout Canada. This may be a long shot but do you have more information about non-Canadians camping on crown land and recreational free sites. I’ve read that non-residents must have a permit for crown land!
Crownland camping rules count for non-Canadians as well. Most recreation camping sites are free, some ask for a low fee. So if you use the sites on the apps, the information counts for you as well. I hope this helps. Safe travel!
I am looking for free camping site around Ottawa or in Lanark county, Ontario ? Any suggestion please
I suggest checking out some apps for this.
Great site 👍
Please stop encouraging people to camp in NO CAMPING areas. The area near where I live has become a mess of paper, poop, and refuge from ‘free campers’. Signs have been put up by the county that are ignored – legal action including fines and court action will be taken if these lands continue to be abused by ‘free campers’. Use a campsite with facilities – that’s what the fees are for! Please stop your illegal action…yes, it is illegal to camp on roadsides in BC!
From tripadvisor: “You do have to use campgrounds in BC. You are not allowed to just pull over and camp anywhere.”
I do not encourage people to camp at illegal sites. I do understand your concerns. Many recreation sites in BC are legal and free. Please contact the free camping app administrators, that is where people find free sites.
Walmart in Huntsville Ontario- no longer permits overnight parking.
It’s a shame because it was a nice spot to stop.
They say the parking lot is owned by a different company and that Walmart just rents the space from them. So it’s not a Walmart decision. She gave me the name and number of the company if I wanted to inquire further. But there was no reply there.
Thanks for that info. I also find that more and more signs are showing up with “No Overnight Parking”. More rules and more restrictions in Canada.
Casinos will sometimes have large vehicle parking available and many of them are open 24hrs. Our local one has tractor trailers that park in one area. In the summer in another area it looks like a RV park sometimes with so many parked there.
Hi Linda, thanks for this tip. A Visitor Centre in Alberta actually mentioned Casino parking lots. Good to know, as long as all campers inquire first whether it is allowed, and be respectful.
I live in Northern Ontario and know of dozens of free sites, most are beautifully kept and people respect the beauty of nature. Most sites are on a lake, with a million dollar view. People looking for free camping should be grateful and leave the space as good as or better than they found it. It is disgusting that people take advantage of a good thing and ruin it for everyone else.
Yes, you’re so right. There are always some people who mess it up for the rest. Does Ontario have free recreational sites like we have here in BC?