For many of us, the thought of staying in an organized campground is undesirable. You dream of camping in the untamed wilderness, undisturbed with not a soul in sight. You might actually get to observe wildlife that haven’t been scared off by the noise created in organized campgrounds. Wild camping in Alberta provides an opportunity to explore nature in a way that isn’t accessible by normal means.
Wild camping, also called Random camping, is the act of camping in a non-designated camping area. This could include car camping in an allowed area, or maybe it involves an expedition style trek that can take you miles away from civilization.
There are of course different rules and skills required to camp in the wilderness which will be covered in this post.
Check out my Wild Camping in Canada guide if you are interested in wild camping in general.
Before you set out on a wilderness camping trip, it is important to know the risks. Some of these areas are very remote and you should only partake if you have some experience traveling in the back country.
Where to go Wild Camping in Alberta?
This is probably the question you have. Where can I actually camp? And where can I find this information.
You are able to camp on any crown land that is not subject to conditions. It is also known a public land. Except for National Parks and Military Reserved Land, all Public Land in Alberta is managed by the Alberta Government. About 60% of all Alberta is Public Land. This means the there is an incredible amount of land available to camp in.
Public Land Use Zones.
Alberta Public Land Use Zone’s (PLUZ’s) cover any government own land that is available for public use. A variety of activities can be done including, Camping, Hunting, Canoeing, and Skiing. Unless there is a private agreement with a stakeholder, then you are able to camp on the land. Since There is a lot of land to cover, it is actually difficult to find one source to research camping areas. If you are looking for some areas to camp in, It is best to contact the local council. They will usually have a landownership map available which will list all the Public Land Use Zone’s in the area.
If you plan on car camping, or camping in an RV, than PLUZ’s are your best option
Wildland Provincial Parks
Wildland provincial parks, are protected like other Alberta parks, but they are devoted to back country activities. The perfect location for wild camping in Alberta.
There are some trails and primitive campgrounds available in some parks to help minimize human impact.
Click here for a list of Wildland Provincial Parks in Alberta.
There are 3 wilderness areas in Alberta. Wilderness areas are under strict regulations in order to protect Alberta’s Natural heritage. Travel in a wilderness area is strictly by foot. If you plan on camping in these areas then you will have to be prepared to hike on foot. Development of any sort is strictly prohibited so there are absolutely no facilities available.
For more information on different Wilderness areas, click here.
Rules and Regulations on Public Land
Each area might have its own set of rules, so it is important to check any rules and regulations regarding the area you are visiting. I have provided a list of some common rules. Most of which just involve leave no trace principles.
- Camp 30m away from a water source.
- You cannot camp within 1 km of a designated campground, or a road.
- Where vehicles are permitted, they are not allowed to travel off the trail or road.
- Limit your stay to 14 days
- Fires are permitted in most areas, except when there is a fire ban. It is recommended that you use a backpacking stove as they have less impact on the back country.
Willmore Wilderness Area
This is a unique area in Alberta in that it is governed by its own piece of legislation. It is also the second largest park in the Alberta park systems. The park is located North of Jasper. The easiest way to get to the park in from Grand Cache in Alberta.
It is an important area for many species of wildlife, including Mountain Goats, big horne sheep, grizzly bears, cougars, caribou, wolves and ungulates.
The Willmore Wilderness Area is legislated with the same intent as a wildland provincial park. So wild camping is permitted.
Wood Buffalo National Park
Canada’s Largest National Park. It is just a bit bigger than Switzerland. Located on the Northern Border of Alberta,
The Park also extends into the North West Territories.
Wild camping is permitted anywhere in the park, as long as you get a back country camping permit.
I Just thought I would add Bow Valley Wildland Provincial park since it is a popular area with a major highway going through it. It is located on the Eastern side of Banff. Since this area receives a lot of traffic, there are some additional restrictions in place.
Visit Alberta Parks to find out more.
Finding Your Way Around
Now that you know a little about where to camp. You might need to figure out how to get there. You guessed it, you are going to need a map. If you are going to go to more remote locations, I strongly recommend getting a topographic map, and a compass.
The National Topographic System have done all the hard work of surveying all of Canada. Their Grid System can be confusing at first, but once you figure it out its not so bad. The hardest part is figuring out which grid coordinates are associated with the area you plan on camping. Depending on how far you want to hike, you may need to purchase several maps.
Speaking of purchasing, Because a lot of these places are very remote, it can be difficult to the right map from a store. The NRCAN provides some information on where to purchase these maps.
Another thing to consider are the roads you need to take to get there. Depending on how remote you are traveling, the roads you need to take may not show up on google maps. Back Road Map Books, provides some very detailed maps which includes every road available.
There is an abundance of land available for wild camping in Alberta. Whether you want to car camp, or go on a multi day wilderness adventure, There are plenty of options to go around.
If you do plan on doing a more adventurous expedition, I highly recommend you do smaller trips to get experience first. Start by going somewhere close to home, or not too far away from your vehicle. Practice skills such as navigation, hanging a bear bag, or starting a fire. Wilderness first aid is also a good asset to require.