Saturday, March 07, 2015

How to Get the Best Campsite this Summer

The first long weekend of the camping season is fast approaching and provincial park campgrounds in Alberta are already taking reservations. Now is the time to grab your calendar and start that summer planning you’ve been putting off. Follow these tips below and you’ll be camping in some of the best sites this summer.

Ten tips to get the best campsite this summer

1. Book an entire campground or group use area

Many provincial parks in Alberta offer group camping and you’ll only need to find a group of five families for most of the campgrounds.  A lot of these group use areas are completely private and set apart from other campgrounds in the park. (Read: private campground for you and your best friends!)

Big Tip:  Try this for a long weekend and avoid the madness in the normal campground. Can’t get the group site you want? Try booking a double site, available at many campgrounds. This still allows you to share a large communal site with one to two other families. 

Read more about group camping here on the Alberta Parks Site.

Know that the "units" refers to the number of tents or trailers you can have for this site. Each campground will also indicate the minimum number of units you'll need to pay for. Most are just 5, but some are 10. (And while you can certainly have less than that number, you'll just be paying for that many families - even if you show up with less.)

Private  Group Campground at Twin Lakes, Alberta

2. Know when to camp

The quietest times to camp are in the spring and the fall. Campsites will also be quieter mid-week.

And something we've noticed: nobody goes camping the weekend before or after the May long weekend! These are golden weekends for solitude.

The busiest times to camp are long weekends and pretty much anytime the kids are on summer vacation.  

Best Tips: If you must camp on a long weekend, hike or paddle into a backcountry campground or hut, try walk-in camping, or book a group site away from regular campsites.

Read about backcountry cabins and huts here

Camping is very peaceful when you choose spring or fall weekends 

3. Know how to choose a quiet campsite

Does loud music bother you when camping? Hate generators?  Love solitude?

Check out these tips for choosing a quiet campsite:

  • Camp in the National Parks.  These campgrounds are always quieter than provincial park campgrounds

  • Choose a site in a power loop of the campground (even if you are tenting.)   Nobody will need to run a generator to power their microwave or coffee maker.

  • Choose a walk-in site if you want a real taste of natural camping without being walled in by large RVs.

  • Don’t camp next to playgrounds, bathrooms, day use areas or busy pathways unless you are ok with people running through and around your site well past dark.

Peaceful camping along the Bow River in Bow Valley Provincial Park

4. Choose campgrounds with amenities that are important to you

Depending on your interests or camping style, you’ll want to look for campgrounds that have bike paths, hiking trails, a beach, a playground or bathrooms with showers and electricity.  

Big Tip:  If camping in a national park, make sure you reserve a campsite with a fire pit.  Not all sites have one!  

Campgrounds with a beach are always a win with kids

5. Know what you’re booking

Look at campground maps and photos of the site you want to reserve before you make your booking.  Both Alberta Parks and Parks Canada have photos of the site you’ll be reserving so you can take a peak for “dangers signs.” 

Possible dangers:

  • bathrooms right beside or behind your site

  • a public pathway or hiking trail behind your site

  • busy roads or highways nearby

  • train tracks!! - trust me, watch for this one if you're tenting! (google maps will help here)

  • group use areas or double sites near your campsite (they are often quite noisy)

  • communal fire pits nearby

  • day use areas, a beach, or a playground in the proximity of your site (honestly, they are a double edged sword. Great for the kids, but very noisy.)

These factors above will all decrease the amount of privacy you have and could make your site noisy.

You'll have happy kids if you camp beside the playground (you won't have solitude)

6. Know your reservation dates! 

Provincial campground sites can be booked 90 days in advance of your first night of camping.  Mark your booking dates on a calendar and make sure you are on line or on the phone first thing in the morning.  

BC Provincial park sites can be booked 4 months in advance.

Campsites in the national parks on the other hand can be booked in January - for the entire season.

I booked this site in January for three separate trips in the 2019 summer camping season

7. Do your research

Talk to friends and find out what their favourite campgrounds are, read reviews, and ask around.

To read all of my personal campground reviews and see where I recommend going, check out my Camping Super Guide

I also recommend joining online camping groups where you can ask questions, make friends, and get practical advice. One great group in Alberta is the Alberta Happy Campers Group on Facebook. 

Discover hidden gems when you ask around, talk to friends, and join camping groups

8. Thursday is your friend

Planning on camping for the weekend at a non-reservable campground?  Take Friday off work and head out to the campsite on Thursday.  Your odds are much more favorable for finding a site!  

Big Tip:  You’ll find it easier to reserve a campsite too if you are able to go on Thursday and beat the rush by a day. 

Get the best campsites by leaving Thursday instead of Friday

9. Master the art of reconnaissance

Scout out future campgrounds you’d like to stay at when travelling.  Drive around campgrounds, write down the sites you’d like to stay in, or even get a map from the campground office and circle the best sites.  

Big Tip:  I keep all my maps from previous camping trips and they have my favourite sites marked down so I remember for next time. I also walk around every campground and circle new sites I'd like to try in the future.

When you find a site like this, you write it down!

10. Paddle your way to camp

There are some lovely backcountry campgrounds in Kananaskis and Banff that are accessible by water.  Rent a canoe for the weekend, load it up with your camping gear, and head out for a quiet camping trip where you’ll wake up to the sound of loons calling and fall asleep listening to waves lapping on the shore.  

In Kananaskis, check out Jewel Bay on Barrier Lake or the Point Campground on Upper Kananaskis Lake.  In Banff, check out LM8 on Lake Minnewanka.

Camping at the Point backcountry campground in Kananaskis 


  1. they just opened up for some of the camps sites in SK and we only go to one place , so we know where we like to stay - its actually a star party where everyone brings their telescopes during the new moon

  2. Ha! I totally walk around the campground with my map, circling the "good" sites for next time (and more importantly, X-ing out the awful ones)!

    1. yes! I love that, x-ing out the bad ones, lol!!