Monday, January 09, 2017

2017 Campsite Reservation Guide for Alberta and BC

It's January and it's time to start booking campsites. For the summer. Yes, in January. And yes, for the entire camping season. In January.

Anybody else excited? Horrified that we have to start planning this early? Angry? A mixture of excitement and horror? (that would be me.)

Fortunately for my family, I am a super planner and actually love pulling out the new calendar to schedule another summer season of awesomeness. For the rest of you, the good news is that you only have to make national park bookings now. Provincial campgrounds still give you time to enjoy the winter season first before jumping into summer.

This campsite has to be booked in January (Photo: Redstreak Campground, Kootenay National Park)

Canada National Park Reservations 

National Park campsites can be booked for the entire 2017 camping season beginning in January. There is no 90 day window. Book a site for any month this upcoming season in January. This includes comfort camping sites as well.

Below is the reservation launch schedule for national parks near Calgary:

Banff National Park - Wednesday, January 11th, 8am!

Jasper National Park - Tuesday, January 10th, 8am! (and backcountry campground reservations can be made as of January 25th, also at 8am!)

Waterton Lakes National Park - Thursday, January 12th, 8am!

Kootenay National Park, BC  - Thursday, January 12th, 8am!

Yoho National Park, BC - All campgrounds first come first serve. The Lake O'Hara Bus can be reserved for the entire summer season on April 20th at 8am.

All times are in MDT.

For full information on reservations in all parks, visit the Parks Canada website.

Camping in Yoho National Park

What you can Expect this year with Camping in the National Parks (and Tips for Getting the Site you want!)

  • Campgrounds will be busier than normal with free admission into the national parks this year due to Canada's 150th anniversary.  Follow this link to order your FREE National Park Discovery Pass.

  • You will want to book campsites the day that the reservation system opens for each park and at 8am sharp if planning on camping on weekends during the summer season. There will be more flexibility if camping mid-week or in the spring/fall months.

  • Be on the computer, logged in, and ready to go for 8am sharp!! Know which site you want and have it already up on your screen so that you can click on it at exactly 8am. (and if you prefer to book by phone, that is an option too.)

  • Tag team with friends to get sites you really want (especially if you are looking for sites side by side.) - Make sure you exchange all booking info. with your friends ahead of time because you can't hold more than one permit in your name for the same date/campground. If booking for friends, you'll want their full name and address with postal code. You'll also want to know the size of their trailer or tent along with how many people they will have on their site. (And if you are booking for friends who haven't committed yet, you can change the name on a campsite permit before you show up. You just need a good guess when you book as to which family you will  be camping with.)

  • Have your payment information handy. And know that you can't book more than three sites at a time. If you need to make separate bookings on the same day for different campgrounds, you'll want to have multiple tabs open on your computer and you will have to pay for the first campground before switching to the second one.

  • There are still several first come first serve campgrounds in Banff, Jasper, and Yoho National Parks.

  • Consider private campgrounds if you can't get into a national park campground or choose provincial park campgrounds just outside the national park. For example, in Waterton, we like the Waterton Springs private campground. For Banff, we like camping outside the park gates at the Bow Valley Provincial Park Campground. There are many private campgrounds in the Radium Hot Springs area if you can't get into Redstreak as well (including the Canyon RV Resort.)

  • Make sure there is a fire pit on the site that you are reserving. Some sites in Banff do not allow fires. You will be paying for a fire permit if your site allows a fire.

Waterton Lakes National Park is a fabulous park to visit with the family

Important Links:

Camping in Banff with a List of all Campgrounds

Camping in Jasper with a List of all Campgrounds

Camping in Kootenay National Park with a list of all Campgrounds

Camping in Yoho National Park with a list of all Campgrounds

Camping in Waterton Lakes National Park with a list of all Campgrounds 

Parks Reservation Service Website 

Road Trip to Jasper anyone?

Alberta Provincial Park Reservations

Reservations go live on February 21st for the 2017 camping season. Before you get too excited (or worried though,) you can only book up to 90 in advance of your departure date. This means if you want to camp over the May long weekend, you must book sites on February 21st. Otherwise, put your tentative trip on your calendar, count back 90 days, and mark the reservation date for that trip on your calendar.

Note that for the May long weekend, there are specific booking times for each provincial park to ensure that the website doesn't crash. (and yes, that has happened before!) Follow this link for a full list of times for each park.

Once May long weekend reservations have been made and the reservation system is officially open, reservations always start at 9am for each 90 day window. This includes group and comfort camping reservations.

All times are in local Alberta time.

Camping in Alberta's Provincial Parks (Photo: Beauvais Lake, Southern AB)


Special Dates:

May Long Weekend Camping - February 21st

Group Camping - February 6th (for the entire 2017 season. No 90 day window)

Comfort Camping - February 13th (for the entire 2017 season. No 90 day window)

Group camping at Twin Lakes, Crimson Lake Provincial Park

Special Tips:

  • Follow many of the same tips as per national park bookings above. Be religious about logging in before 9am and at having your site up on your computer screen ready to be booked. Tag team with friends (especially for group bookings) and pay very close attention to those 90 day windows!

  • Make sure everything is in your calendar with reminders! I even put reminders beside my computer, my coffee pot, and my bed the night before making a campsite reservation so that I don't accidentally forget.

  • If you don't get the site that you want, there are plenty of first come first serve campgrounds. Many campgrounds also have a small number of  FCFS campsites. A Full List of FCFS Campgrounds can be found here.

  • Consider booking a group site if you have at least 5 families coming with you. You'll get your own private campground or group area and will have lots of room for the kids to run around and play. Note that group sites do not have power or services for RVs so you'll have to either bring generators or camp off the grid as we do. Most group sites can be booked with a payment for 5 units but some require payment for 10 units so make sure you check the details before reserving a site. Full info. on group camping can be found here.

Spring Camping in Dinosaur Provincial Park

 Important Links:

Alberta Parks Online Reservation Information

Reservation website 

Comfort Camping in AB Parks  

Backcountry Reservations (also 90 days)

And, check out these two stories I wrote for Alberta's RV and Resort Magazine:

Group Camping Guide

Campsite Reservation Tips

Scenic campsite in Bow Valley Provincial Park

British Columbia Provincial Park Reservations

BC Parks has eliminated their opening day system and now goes with a rolling system of 4 months for all campground  bookings. (Last year it was 3 months.)

"In other words, on January 2nd, reservations (if available) can be made for any arrival date of May 2nd or sooner. Sites will then be available each day, 4 months in advance (ie, On January 3rd, you can book up to a May 3rd arrival, January 4th up to May 4th arrival etc)." - words from BC Parks reservation site.

Note that this is 4 actual months to the day so you do not need to count back the days as you would with AB Parks.

Beach Camping at Wasa Lake, BC

 For full information please visit the Discover Camping Reservation Service.

Other news, changes, and full booking policies can be read about on the BC Parks website here. 

Some provincial parks also offer group camping. Group camping reservations can be made up to 12 months in advance of the arrival date via the Discover Camping reservation service. Information on group camping can be found here.

And follow this link if you would like more information on backcountry camping and reservations.

Camping at Surveyor's Lake in Kikomun Creek Provincial Park

Backcountry Huts and Wilderness Hostel Reservations

Alpine Club of Canada huts and cabins can be booked a full year in advance as can wilderness hostels beds or private rooms.

This means that if you haven't booked anything for this upcoming summer, it might be too late. It is not too late however to start figuring out your winter plans for 2017-2018. Mark those dates on your calendar now if planning to book something for Family Day in 2018 for example.

For more information, visit the Alpine Club of Canada website or the Hostelling International website.  

One of the many ACC huts that you can book for your family (photo: Elk Lakes Cabin, BC)

Other Suggested Reading 

Camping in William A. Switzer Provincial Park

Mountain Bike Weekend in Banff at the Tunnel Mountain Campground

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