Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Summer Planning: Where to Camp in the National Parks of Alberta

My previous Alberta camping story on the best provincial park campgrounds in Southern Alberta has been immensely popular but it was missing the beautiful national park campgrounds along with one very sweet private campground we love outside of Waterton Lakes National Park.

Without further introduction, below are the best places to camp in (or near) Alberta's mountain parks.

Camping in Waterton Lakes National Park

Waterton Lakes National Park

Waterton Lakes has to be one of our favourite places to go camping and it's an easy drive of under 3 hours. Go for a long weekend and make sure to read the following stories as you plan out your trip:

Camping in Waterton Lakes National Park

Family Fun in Waterton Lakes National Park

Paddling in Waterton Lakes National Park

Ten Awesome Things to Do with Kids in Waterton Lakes National Park

Hiking at the Waterton Springs Campground

In Waterton, the main option for camping is at the Main Town Site Campground. From here you can bike or walk around the town, launch a canoe right from your campsite, and easily head over to the town splash park or playground.

Biking the Kootenai Brown Trail in Waterton Lakes National Park

Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park

This is our favourite place to camp in Banff National Park and probably the best campground located within an hour's drive from the Calgary city limits. The campground you want to stay at is called Two Jack Lakeside (not Two Jack Main) and it offers premier lakeside campsites for those on the ball early enough to book the best sites.

Paddling on Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park

What's to love about Two Jack Lakeside:

  • Lakeside camping

  • Walk-in tenting at lakeside sites

  • Warm heated bathrooms with showers

  • Comfort camping in O'TENTiks

  • Close to the town of Banff

  • Family-friendly paddling on Two Jack Lake
Canoeing on Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park

To read more on this campground, read my story:  Banff Campground Review - The Good, the Bad, and the Awesome.

For more information on Comfort Camping at Two Jack Lake, read Comfort Camping in Banff National Park  and Comfort Camping in Banff - the Experience.

The reservation date for booking sites in the national park is always in January for the whole summer. More information can be found here on the Parks Canada website.  

Lakeside site and O'TENTik at Two Jack Lake in Banff

Tunnel Mountain Campgrounds, Banff National Park

These aren't the most scenic, remote, or private of campgrounds.  What you're getting here though is convenience (camping right in the town of Banff,) serviced sites with power if you desire this amenity, and enough space for a large RV if that's what you bring camping.

There are three campgrounds on Tunnel Mountain, and The Village I campground is where tenters or families with small trailers will want to be.  It's the most natural of the campgrounds and you will not be camped on pavement.  At Village II you'll be camping on pavement but you'll also have power for your trailer or RV (great for chilly spring camping.)  Finally, the Tunnel Mountain Trailer campground is where you'll find space for a large RV with service at every site.

Lovely private sites surrounded by trees on all sides at Tunnel Village I

For our family, the main reason to camp on Tunnel Mountain is for the mountain biking. The Tunnel Campground loop goes around the three campgrounds and is a great intro to children wanting to learn to bike off pavement. It's a great family ride with compact gravel and dirt.  It's also wide enough for parents pulling Chariots.

Mountain biking on Tunnel Mountain, Banff

There are also dozens of other mountain bike trails on Tunnel Mountain for riders of all abilities.  We love the Tunnel Bench Loop and the Bow Falls- Hoodoos Trail.

I've written about biking in Banff here:   

The Best Family Bike Trails in Banff National Park

Mountain Biking the Tunnel Bench Loop in Banff with Kids.

Trying to conquer the Tunnel Bench Loop

For more information on camping at Tunnel Mountain, read my story: Our New Favourite Campground in Banff.

Reservations follow the same process as for Two Jack Lakeside above and can be made in January each year for the camping season.

The bike trails are why you camp on Tunnel Mountain in Banff

The Icefields Parkway, Banff and Jasper National Parks

There's no "one" campground here that is best.  All of the campgrounds along the scenic Icefields Parkway between Lake Louise and Jasper are awesome. They are primitive (so don't expect showers,) and most of them don't accept reservations (so aim for camping mid-week during summer peak season,) but this is premier camping in Banff with views to die for.

Scenery of the Athabasca Glacier from the Wilcox Pass Hiking Trail, Icefields Parkway

If I were to pick my favourite campground along this scenic highway, I would choose Mosquito Creek.  It's located close to Bow Lake for hiking and paddling, close to Bow Summit and Peyto Lake (for more hiking and classic views,) and it's only a half hour drive from Lake Louise.

Bow Lake on the Icefields Parkway

For more information on the Icefields Parkway, visit this link to the Jasper National Park website.   Information on camping can be viewed at the Banff National Park website or the Jasper NP website.

Hiking on Parker Ridge, Icefields Parkway

Top Attractions on the Icefields Parkway for Families:

The Majestic Icefields Parkway from the Bow Summit Lookout

Recommended Reading:

Experiencing Awesome in Jasper National Park

Our Top Ten Favourite Things to do in Jasper

Glacier Skywalk Tour in Jasper National Park

Jasper National Park

After exploring the Icefields Parkway, you should definitely continue on to the town of Jasper and camp nearby for a few nights at least.  Our favourite two campgrounds are the Wapiti Campground  and the Whistlers Campground because they are at the end of the Wapiti bike trail and we can bike to town and back from camp.

Whistlers Campground has become our top choice right now because of the Whistlers Campground Bike Trail that meanders through camp, connecting several play areas to one big playground.

Read more about biking in Jasper here: The Best Family Bike Trails in Jasper, Alberta.

Hiking up Whistler's Mountain in Jasper

Recommended reading to find out about our favourite things to do in Jasper:

Our Top Ten Favourite Things to do in Jasper

Experiencing Awesome in Jasper National Park

Family-friendly Summits in Jasper National Park

The Best Family Bike Trails in Jasper

Easy family mountain biking in Jasper

For more information on Jasper, visit the Tourism Jasper website.

Campsites in Jasper can be booked for the whole summer season in January each year.  More information is on the Parks Canada website.

My beautiful Jasper as seen from Whistler's Mountain

All information on booking these great campgrounds can be found HERE


  1. Perfect timing! We're trying to make summer plans but ALL the places look beautiful. Your darn gorgeous photos. ; )

  2. Seriously using this guide to plan our entire trip through Banff and Jasper. Thank you so much for all of the AMAZING info!

    1. So glad to hear Becca. Have a great summer. Let me know if you have questions.

  3. Hey Tanya! Ok, so I'm going to take you up on the questions offer- I'm struggling to figure out what's worth it in this area for our 10 day trip to Yoho/Banff/Jasper. Me and my husband plan to drive from Spokane and camp our way through the parks coming in on August 6 and leaving the 16. Here are a couple things I'm wondering:
    1. Is it worth staying in Yoho for 2-3 nights and hitting some spots around there?? I was thinking Emerald Lake, Takakkaw Falls, Lake O'Hara day, and maybe even Lake Louise while we're over there. It seems like all of these would be convenient to Kicking Horse.

    2. I'm working really hard to reserve campsites at Two Jack Lakeside. Is it worth arranging the trip to make that happen?? *so sad I started planning after the reservation date opened!) I've heard it's really the best Banff Campground but wondering HOW good it really is.

    Here's a tentative campsite itinerary:

    Saturday - fly into Spokane around 10:30pm, drive to Bonners Ferry and sleep for the night.

    Sunday - up early to cross Canada border, arrive at Yoho early in the day to secure campsite

    Sunday, Monday, Tuesday night- sleep in Yoho and do attractions on that side of the park

    Wednesday daytime- drive up Icefields

    Wednesday, Thursday, Friday nights- camp at Wapiti in Jasper

    Saturday daytime- Icefields Parkway other direction, camp at Mosquito Creek for night

    Sunday, Monday- camp at Two Jack Lakeside in Banff NP

    Tuesday- drive down to Creston for the night

    Wednesday- fly out of Spokane

    I had initially planned this because I wanted to hit Two Jack Lakeside in Banff on a weekday:

    Saturday- fly into Spokane at night and sleep in Bonner's Ferry

    Sunday- drive to Yoho and secure campsite for two nights

    Sunday, Monday- sleep in Yoho

    Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday nights- Banff (Two Jack Lakeside)

    Friday- drive up Icefields

    Friday, Saturday, Sunday nights- Jasper NP (Wapiti)

    Monday- drive down Icefields, stay at Mosquito Creek for night

    Tuesday- drive back to Spokane

    Any thoughts greatly appreciated!!

    1. Hi, If you want to send me an email it's probably easier to answer your questions there. Thanks.
      koob dot tanya at gmail dot com

  4. Next time you're in the Banff/Jasper area, take a detour at Saskatchewan Crossing and take the David Thompson highway! There is a campground called Two Oclock Creek, near Abraham Lake. A nearby hike will be Siffluer Falls. Highly recommend! Beautiful area.

    1. Hi Jaylene. It's definitely on my list to spend some more time in that area. There are a few hikes I want to do in that area. Thanks.