Friday, February 26, 2021

Discover the BEST Cross-Country Ski Trails around Calgary this Winter

While skiing for the sake of skiing is great, I'm partial to choosing trails that offer beautiful views, fun hills, cool landmarks, or even picturesque snowy bridges.

Below is a fun challenge that should motivate cross-country skiers of all abilities to get out there and discover the best trails near Calgary this winter.

Skiing across the Spray River on the Goat Creek Trail from Canmore to Banff 

Cross-Country Ski Challenge to Discover the Best Trails around Calgary

Challenge One. Ski from Canmore to Banff 

The Goat Creek Trail is an intermediate/advanced trail and it is approximately 18.5 km in length one way. Most people start on the Canmore side from the Goat Creek Trailhead where you'll lose more height than you gain (435 m lost to 160 m gained) skiing to Banff. 

There are three spectacular bridges along this trail and you'll want to stop for photos at each one. If you have novice skiers in your group consider walking down to the Goat Creek Bridge. This is the crux of the trip with a sharp turn right before you reach the bridge.

Goat Creek Bridge on the Goat Creek Trail

Most people ski this trail one direction with a car shuttle. We like to leave a vehicle at the Bow Falls parking lot in Banff because the Spray East Trail is more downhill than the Spray West Trail (and you have to finish on one of the two trails to reach Banff.) 

If you don't want to set up a shuttle, strong skiers can start in Banff and ski to the Goat Creek bridge and back.

Beauty of  day on the Goat Creek Trail near the Goat Creek Trailhead 

Make sure you check the recent grooming report for this trail. I've skied it when it was recently trackset (and lightning fast) and I've also skied it when it felt like we were backcountry ski touring. 

You can also see a map of the trail on All Trails

Crossing the Spray River on the Spray East Trail in Banff

Challenge Two. Ski across the border into British Columbia 

It's pretty cool when you can ski across the border into the next province and we have two trails here that allow you to do so.

Skiing to the Great Divide at Lake Louise (beginner-friendly)

The Great Divide Trail starts at Lake Louise in Banff National Park and ends at the Lake O'Hara Parking lot in Yoho National Park, BC. You'll know when you cross the border at the Great Divide because you'll ski under a giant arch welcoming you to BC.

The trail is 14 km return if you ski to the arch and back. If you were to go all the way to the far parking lot, you'd be skiing 20 km return.

My son and I like to ski the trail one-way from Lake Louise to Yoho. My husband drives to the far end and skis back to meet us. 

Follow this link to download a map of the winter trails in the Lake Louise area.

Check the recent grooming report for Banff and Lake Louise here

The Alberta - British Columbia  Border at the Great Divide 

Skiing to Elk Pass in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis (Intermediate)

The Elk Pass Trail follows a beautiful creek and you'll end at the border of AB and BC, again with a big arch welcoming you to the Elk Valley of BC.

The trail is just under 6 km one way and climbs 200 metres. Novice skiers will find a few of the hills challenging, and you definitely need to know how to snow plow coming down. (If any of the hills are icy, it's always acceptable and safe to walk them.)

See a map of the trails in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park here. 

See the grooming report for PLPP here. 

For variety, we like to take the Fox Creek Trail on descent. It eliminates two of the big hills as you go around them instead of up and over.

The Alberta - British Columbia Border at Elk Pass

Challenge Three. Ski to the top of a fire lookout

Skiers not afraid of a good climb will be rewarded with amazing views over the Kananaskis Lakes from the top of the Lookout Trail in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis. 

This is an intermediate/advanced ski trail with steep climbs and descents.

Climbing to the Site of the Kananaskis Fire Lookout

To reach the site of the fire lookout (which is still active in summer months) you'll park at the Boulton Creek Parking Lot and climb up the Whisky Jack Trail. At the top turn right and continue to the junction with the Lookout Trail. The trip is approximately 12 km return and you'll gain 400 metres of height. 

Looking down on the Kananaskis Lakes from the Fire Lookout Site

See a map of the trails in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park here. 

See the grooming report for PLPP here. 

It's always a Winter Wonderland on the Kananaskis Lookout Trail

Former Lookout Site: The Sunburst Trail at Ribbon Creek, below Kananaskis Village, provides access to the former Hummingbird Plume Lookout Site where you'll find the remains of a small cabin.

This is another intermediate/advanced ski trail and you'll need to be strong at climbing and descending steep hills. 

Start from the Stoney (Troll Falls) Trailhead and make your way to the Skogan Pass Trail. Alternately, start from the Nakiska Ski Area where you'll find a connector trail starting from the Bronze Chair. (We park at the last overflow parking lot, north lot number four, and walk up the road towards the maintenance area to reach the bronze chair.)

Hummingbird Plume Lookout Site

Once you're on the Skogan Pass Trail you'll climb to the junction with the Sunburst Trail. For a loop, continue to the High Level Trail and descend the Sunburst Trail after visiting the lookout site.

The shortest access to the lookout from Nakiska is approximately 4.5 km one way. You'll climb 400 metres from Ribbon Creek (less if you start from the ski hill.)

See a map of the Ribbon Creek Trails here. (You'll want the north map.)

See a grooming report for the trails here. 

Views over the Kananaskis Valley from the former Humminbird Plume Lookout site

Challenge Four. Find a hidden snow couch 

You're skiing across a snowy meadow when suddenly you spot a complete living room, made entirely out of blocks of snow! It's always a magical discovery and worth stopping for at least a snack break.

Couch Headquarters at West Elk Pass has been the most heavily visited couch site over the past couple of winters. To reach the site follow the trail to Elk Pass as described earlier in this story. Just after the junction with the Blueberry Hill Trail (before the big climb up to Elk Pass) start looking for a skier-set trail heading off to the right, down into the meadow. Follow the tracks south to a large meadow. Couch HQ is located at the beginning of the meadow (left hand side.)

Finding West Elk Pass requires easy ski touring so you'll want to wait until other users have created a trail through the meadow if you're on skinny skis. Trail breaking could be quite challenging if nobody has gone ahead of you for a month. 

Note that while you are off trail here, there is no avalanche danger and West Elk Pass is safe to visit. It's a beautiful place, even if you don't find the couches.

How's this for a lunch spot! (West Elk Pass Couch HQ)

To find out about these creations, it's best to join the Cross Country Skiing YYC group on Facebook or follow the Skier Roger website for updated trail reports. 

Stopping to visit the Fork and Meadow Couch further south from West Elk Pass 

Other couches to search for:

East Elk Pass - I haven't been here yet, but apparently you should look for ski tracks heading south from the Tyrwhitt Trail in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park (at the bottom of the last climb up to Elk Pass.) If you follow the tracks, they will lead to East Elk Pass and a newly built snow couch. 

Last time we tried to find this trail it was buried under snow and nobody had been there recently. We weren't up for a trail breaking challenge on skinny skis. This would be considered ski touring to reach the pass and will be much easier if you have other tracks to follow.

Fairview Loop - Last winter, 2021, we found a beautiful snow couch in a meadow off this popular trail at Lake Louise.

Pipestone Pond - There is  usually at least one snow couch located on the Pipestone Trail network at Lake Louise. Usually one is built on Pipestone Pond in the middle of the trail network.

Snow couch on the Fairview Loop, Lake Louise 

Follow this link to download a map of the winter trails in the Lake Louise area.

See a map of the trails in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park here. 

At the time of writing most couches are located on trails for intermediate level skiers. The Pipestone Pond couch though can be accessed via a beginner-friendly ski trail.

Disclaimer: A lot of work goes into creating this masterpiece works of art. Please leave them in the same condition as you found them (or better if they need digging out and re-shaping.) Please don't let your children trample or destroy them.

It's also never a guarantee year to year that our master builders will be out creating snow furniture. 

There's usually at least one snow couch on the Pipestone Trails at Lake Louise

Challenge Five. Ski across a frozen lake 

Once lakes are well frozen, there are two that I love skiing across. Wait until January for both and check trail reports to make sure they are in condition. If they are ready to go, you'll see ski tracks across them. Both lakes have a shoreline trail as well through the trees when the lake is not frozen.

Skiing across Lake Louise (beginner-friendly)

There is an official groomed trackset ski trail that crosses Lake Louise to the far end where you'll get to see frozen Louise Falls.

From the falls you can climb up to the shoreline trail and return on that trail for a loop of 4 km. The forested trail above the lake is also groomed and trackset.

Read more about the Lake Louise Loop here

Skiing across Lake Louise 

For more of a challenge start at the Village and climb 200 metres up the Tramline Trail to reach the lake. The trail is 4.8 km one way and follows a 3% grade. It'll feel like work going up, but it's a ton of fun coming down. (My son and I often ski down with my husband meeting us at the bottom.)

Check the recent grooming report for Banff and Lake Louise here

Tramline Trail, Lake Louise 

Skiing across Emerald Lake to the Alluvial Fan Trail (beginner/intermediate)

This one's a little farther from Calgary for a day trip past Lake Louise into Yoho National Park, but the location is spectacular. You can either follow the forested "Horse Trail" along the shoreline of Emerald Lake, or when frozen, you can ski directly across the lake (which is what I like to do.) The Horse Trail is groomed and trackset but the lake is often skier tracked.

At the end of the lake you can ski the 4 km  groomed Alluvial Fan Loop (clockwise) and then return back across the lake for an 8 km return ski. The trail is never technically difficult although there are a couple of creek crossings on snow bridges that could be interesting for a true beginner skier. (That being said, the scenery is so beautiful I encourage everybody to try this loop.)

Skiing across Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park 

I also suggest lunch at the Emerald Lake Lodge while you're here. If you're up for more of a challenge, you can also ski the Connector Trail from the Natural Bridge up to Emerald Lake. This would add on an additional 18 km round trip (unless you have two vehicles and can ski down the Connector Trail one way.) Alternately, it's a pretty trail as an out and back to the meadow after you've had lunch at the lodge.

The trails are groomed by the Kicking Horse Ski Club. See a map of the trails here

You can find trail grooming information here. 

For information on accommodations or lunch at Emerald Lake Lodge, visit their website.

Skiing the Alluvial Fan Trail at Emerald Lake

Challenge Six. Ski across a large snowy meadow

A meadow looks very similar to a lake when it's snow covered and these two trails below have beautiful meadows you'll want to ski across. Both are beginner-friendly and you'll want to time your visit for a sunny day.

Bill Milne Trail, Kananaskis

Start at the Kovach Pond parking lot and ski the Bill Milne Trail out and back as far as you want to go. The full trail is just under 10 km one way but the prettiest part is between Kovach Pond and the golf course. It climbs every so gradually on the way out from the pond towards Wedge Pond and then it's a fun glide back. (You won't notice the climbing, but you may notice you have less glide than normal on the ski out.)

See a map of the Ribbon Creek Trails here. (You'll want the south map.)

See a grooming report for the trails here. 

Skiing across the gorgeous meadow on the Bill Milne Trail in Kananaskis 

Banff Avenue, Canmore Nordic Centre 

This beginner-friendly trail is 3 km one way from the day lodge to the beautiful meadow. Normally there's a lovely hut here where you can warm up and have lunch. (It's closed right now due to Covid restrictions.)

If you want to ski beyond the meadow, the trail continues for another 2.5 km. It is generally groomed and trackset daily. Trail fees are required to ski here.

Skiing across the meadow at the Canmore Nordic Centre on Banff Avenue

When you're done skiing, there's also a skating rink and sledding hill (both free to use.)

For intermediate skiers, you can return on the Meadowview Trail for an 8 - 10 km loop. Beginner skiers can also return on the Banff Loop which doesn't add much extra distance but provides variety.

You'll find the daily trail report here and find information on trail fees here. 

Skiing across the meadow at the Canmore Nordic Centre

Challenge Seven. Find a new favourite loop to ski 

Most skiers generally find loops more interesting than out and back trails. They're also a great motivator because you're committed to finishing the loop if you want to get back to the parking lot. (Otherwise it can be tempting to turn around early.)

Below are some of my favourite loops:

Loop 1: Bow River Loop, Lake Louise (beginner-friendly)

The 6.6 km Bow River Loop is great for skiers of all abilities and is too beautiful to dismiss (even if you normally ski longer distances.) You'll cross two beautiful snowy bridges at the far end of the campgrounds and I love the peacefulness once you get away from the village.

Bow River Loop, Lake Louise

The last time my family skied this loop we started at the lake and skied the Fairview Trail down to the Moraine Lake Road. From here, my husband climbed back up to the lake on Tramline, and my son and I skied down Tramline to the Station Restaurant parking lot. My husband met us at the Station where we had lunch, and then we all skied the Bow River Loop together. It made for a pleasant day of connecting trails around Lake Louise.

Check the recent grooming report for Banff and Lake Louise here

Follow this link to download a map of the winter trails in the Lake Louise area.

Snowy day on the Bow River Loop at Lake Louise

Loop 2: Skier Bob Special, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park (Intermediate)

This is an 18 km loop combining 5 different ski trails. Starting from the Boulton Creek parking lot you begin with a 200 metre climb up the Whisky Jack Trail. Once you get to the top things begin to improve and you're rewarded with a gorgeous ski across the Tyrwhitt Trail, one of the prettiest ski trails in the park. 

You'll reach the top of Elk Pass after 8.4 km of skiing. After this, it's mostly all flat or downhill on the Elk Pass Ski Trail to the junction with Fox Creek. You finish the loop on two single track trails, Fox Creek and either Moraine or Boulton Creek.

The Tyrwhitt Trail is one of the prettiest in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

There are several picnic tables spread out along this loop so breaks are easy if you're feeling tired. Signage is also clear at every junction so you should never have to worry about getting lost.

See a map of the trails in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park here. 

See the grooming report for PLPP here. 

The top of the Elk Pass Trail on the Alberta/British Columbia border

Loop 3: Moose Loop, West Bragg Creek (Intermediate)

For a great ski near Calgary, head out to West Bragg Creek where you'll find a large trail network. There are many popular loops here but the Moose Loop has always been one of my favourites.

The loop can be accessed via a few different trails but the shortest version is made with the Mountain Road and the Moose Connector for a 10 km outing. And it's best skied counterclockwise. 

Stronger skiers can create a bigger loop with West Crystal Line - Moose Connector - Moose Loop - Mountain View West - Mountain View - West Crystal Line. This loop is approximately 14 km.

You can read about the West Bragg Creek Trails here and download a map.

See the latest trail report here.

Cross country skiing close to Calgary at West Bragg Creek

Loop 4: Ribbon Creek - Kananaskis Village (Intermediate)

I love the Ribbon Creek Trail for the views and for the fun downhill section to the creek in all its steep twisty goodness! You'll need to be able to snowplow around steep switchback turns.

The loop that I always ski is 10 km in length and includes the following trails which you can see on the map below: Hidden - Coal Mine - Ribbon Creek - Link - Kovach - Terrace.

Viewpoint on the Ribbon Creek Trail

This loop climbs up to Kananaskis Village if you're inclined to go inside for lunch or coffee, and then it's a fun rip back down to the creek.

See a map of the Ribbon Creek Trails here. (You'll be using the north and south maps.)

See a grooming report for the trails here. 

Descending the Ribbon Creek Trail is a blast!

Skiing along Ribbon Creek on the Link Trail

Challenge Eight. Ski from Baker Creek to Castle Junction on the Highway 1A

This has become an extremely popular trail and many skiers have expressed confusion over how to piece it together and where to park. I became obsessed with the trail as well last winter and skied parts of it three times.

Most of the trail is beginner-friendly other than the section from Castle Junction to Castle Mountain Lookout which should be rated as intermediate because of several hilly sections (one hill is especially steep and narrow on descent skiing towards Castle Junction with several twisty turns.)

Skiing along the Highway 1A in Banff 

As you can see from the map above, the full traverse is approximately 15 km. I recommend trying to set up a shuttle so you can ski it one way, and if you do so, you want to ski from Baker Creek to Castle Junction because the trail trends downhill in that direction.

Read more here where I've described the entire ski traverse:

Skiing under the cliffs of Castle Mountain along the Highway 1A in Banff 

Check the recent grooming report for Banff and Lake Louise here

Follow this link to download a map of the winter trails in the Lake Louise area.

Skiing across a beautiful meadow between Castle Lookout and Baker Creek

Stay overnight for easy access to the trails along the 1A at the Baker Creek Mountain Resort! The resort has cozy cabins and suites, many with kitchenettes and all with fireplaces (including wood burning fireplaces in the cabins.) The largest cabins fit up to 5 people.

By staying at Baker Creek, you'll also be very close to either the trails at Lake Louise or the trails near the Town of Banff. 

Cozy cabins at Baker Creek Mountain Resort

And if you book your stay between January 17th - 30th, you can also ski the special Lake Louise to Banff Loppet Course. The section from the Lake Louise Campground to Baker Creek only gets groomed for the loppet and so you can only ski between Lake Louise and Baker Creek during this time.

Visit the link above to register for the loppet, being held virtually this year, so pick a day and ski whenever you want without having to compete with a large group of other skiers on the same day.

Last year my family skied from the Lake Louise Campground to Castle Lookout in a day for a total distance of 22 km.

The full distance from Lake Louise to Castle Junction is 34 km.

Note if you stay outside the time frame above, you can still ski from Baker Creek to Castle Junction. It's only the Lake Louise - Baker Creek section that gets groomed specifically for the loppet.

Skiing the Lake Louise Loppet Course between Louise and Baker Creek

Challenge Nine. Test your speed and skill on the Skogan Screamer

Nobody "loves" climbing the 600 metres up to the top of Skogan Pass in Kananaskis but intermediate/Advanced skiers will definitely enjoy the descent! It's as close to downhill skiing as you'll get on skinny skis and what can take 3 hours to climb up usually takes an hour at most to ski down.

Depending on which route you take (or where you start) the trip to the top of Skogan Pass is at least 17 km return but you won't really be exerting much effort on the way down, so it's more 8+ km of climbing and then an hour of snow plowing back down.

My favourite part of the trail is a 1 km long section known as the Skogan Screamer where you'll fly down a narrow twisty section of trail screaming all the way. (Hopefully happy screams.)

Skogan Pass and the end of the groomed ski trail

Start from the Stoney (Troll Falls) Trailhead and make your way to the Skogan Pass Trail on connector trails heavily trampled from hikers heading for Troll Falls.  Alternately start from the Ribbon Creek Trail and access the Skogan Pass Trail from there. Avoid the "Hidden Trail" which will take you through the Nakiska Ski Area. 

Regardless of where you start, you'll reach the junction of the Hidden and Ruthie's Trails (See the map below) and the beginning of the Skogan Screamer. En route to the top of the pass you'll also pass the Sunburst Trail junction (mentioned earlier as the trail you'd take to reach the Hummingbird Plume lookout.)

After the junctions with the Sunburst and High Level Trails, you have another option: go straight for Skogan Pass, or take the Skogan Loop (a longer, much hillier trail.) I never have the energy to take the loop and just go straight on the Skogan Pass Trail. It's usually all I can do just to make it to the top of the pass.

See a map of the Ribbon Creek Trails here. (You'll want the north map.)

See a grooming report for the trails here. 

My son first skied the Skogan Pass Tail at age 9

Challenge Ten. Pick a "big for you" distance, height, or difficulty challenge

I've been obsessed with trying to reach 30 km this winter and it's become my personal goal. I have another friend working her way up to 15 km (and it's her first winter on cross-country skis.) Some of you are intrigued by a certain trail and are determined to check it off your list this winter.

Whatever the goal, pick a challenge that's right for you and set out to make it happen before spring arrives. 

Need inspiration? Make sure you've joined the Cross-Country Skiing YYC Facebook group. 

Pick a challenge and get out there this winter! (Photo: Blueberry Hill, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park)

Additional Resources 

The Best Beginner Cross-Country Ski Trails near Calgary 

Family Cross-country Ski Trips - Our Favourite Destinations near Calgary

Monday, February 22, 2021

2021 Campsite Reservation Guide for Alberta and BC

Here we go again! We're still making reservations for ski resorts, and now we're thinking about the summer camping season as well. Ready or not, it's time to pull out that calendar and to start planning for the May long weekend - and beyond.

Camping season is almost upon us for another year!

National Park Reservations 

National Park campsites can be booked online for the entire 2021 camping season beginning in April this year. (which is a change from previous years when you had to book in January.)

There is no 90 day window. Book a site for any month this upcoming season in April. 

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

Banff National Park - Monday, April 12th, 8am MDT! (and backcountry campground reservations can be made as of April 16th at 8am.)

Jasper National Park -  Friday, April 9th, 8am MDT! (and backcountry campground reservations can be made as of April 16th also at 8am!)

Waterton Lakes National Park - Tuesday, April 13th, 8am MDT!

Kootenay National Park, BC  - Tuesday, April 13th, 8am MDT! (and backcountry campground reservations can be made as of April 16th at 8am.)

Yoho National Park, BC - Tuesday, April 13th, 8am MDT!  (and backcountry campground reservations can be made as of April 16th  at 8am.)

Mount Revelstoke National Park, BC - Tuesday, April 6th, 8am PDT! (backcountry campground reservations can be made on the same day.)

Glacier National Park, BC - Tuesday, April 6th, 8am PDT! (backcountry campground reservations can be made on the same day.)

Soon! We'll be camping in the sunshine again soon.

Special Reservations for Lake O'Hara in Yoho National Park: 

Backcountry Campsites at Lake O'Hara can be reserved online for the entire summer season as well starting on Tuesday, April 27th at 8am MDT!

*Note that reserving spots on the bus to Lake O'Hara for just a day has gone to a lottery system. You can enter the lottery between April 1-30, 2021. More information on the lottery will be found here on the Lake O'Hara website. - To enter the lottery, follow the link above from a computer. It won't work from your phone without a lot of searching.

For full information on reservations in all parks:

Visit the Parks Canada website. You can also visit individual parks from this link to read up on the campgrounds.

We love camping in the national parks!

NEW FOR 2021!

  1. We're still in the midst of a pandemic. I've tried to reflect accurate information here, but double check everything! I expect dates to change, some campgrounds to open late (or not at all,) and for things to exist in a constant state of mild confusion. Most bathrooms should be open in provincial/national park campgrounds but showers may not be open in all parks. (And if you're camping at a private campground definitely check to see if bathrooms will be open.)

  2. Whistlers Campground in Jasper was closed for the 2020 season. Plans for its reopening date are still up in the air for 2021 but it should be open this summer. Check back in May on the Parks Canada website.

  3. The Crandell Mountain Campground in Waterton remains closed following the Kenow wildfire. The Townsite Campground is the only one that will be open again for 2021.

  4. As of 2020 there is a campground in Mount Revelstoke National Park. Information on reservations can be found above.

  5. As of 2020, reservations can be made for two campgrounds in Glacier National Park. Information can be found above. 

  6. Comfort camping should be open again this year. The Banff NP and Kootenay NP websites list o'TENTiks opening as of May. The Jasper o'TENTiks will open when Whistlers Campground opens. Comfort camping can be booked at the same time as regular campsites.

  7. There are currently 2 campgrounds available for reservations on the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park. More information can be found above. 

  8. Reservable shuttles to Moraine Lake and  the Lake Louise lakeshore will be online this summer.  Reservations can be made as of Wednesday, April 28th at 8 am MDT for the entire summer.
Camp in Mount Revelstoke National Park's brand new campground this summer!

Tips for Getting the Site you Want!

  • 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. 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.)

  • 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 the national parks if you don't get a site.

  • 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, you can camp at nearby Beauvais Lake Provincial Park. For Banff, we like camping outside the park gates at the Bow Valley  Campground. There are many private campgrounds in the Radium Hot Springs area if you can't get into Redstreak as well.

  • Make sure there is a fire pit on the site that you are reserving. Some sites in Banff and Jasper do not allow fires.


The Bow Valley Campground is an excellent choice near Banff National Park 

Alberta Provincial Park Reservations

For 2021, online reservations open March 4th for individual campsites and March 5th for comfort camping. Group camping remains closed at this time, due to COVID-19 gathering restrictions.

Starting on March 4th, individual campsite bookings can be booked up to 90 days in advance of your planned arrival date. Sites that are already available within the 90-day window can be reserved on this day as well. This means that on March 4th, you can book sites for arrivals on or before June 2nd, 2021. (and yes, this includes the May long weekend!)

Because the May long weekend is such a popular time to camp, launch times on March 4th will be staggered by region.

9 am South region
11 am Kananaskis region
1 pm Central region
3 pm North region

Online bookings open at 9 am for each launch and can be made at the Alberta Parks reservation site

Once the launch has been started and the reservation system is officially open, reservations always start at 9 am for each 90 day window. This includes group and comfort camping reservations.

Comfort camping bookings can be made up to 180 days in advance of your scheduled arrival date (starting on March 5th when the launch system goes live.)

Backcountry camping is already open for bookings at the website above. These sites can be reserved up to 90 days in advance of your scheduled arrival date.

All times are in local Alberta time.

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

Special Dates

May Long Weekend Camping - March 4th for individual campsites 

All Individual Campsites - March 4th (with a 90 day window)

Group Camping - Not currently applicable for the 2021 season

Comfort Camping - March 5th (up to 180 days in advance of the scheduled arrival date.)

Backcountry Camping  - Backcountry campsites can be booked any time with a 90 day window

All reservations can be made online.

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 most 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

Comfort Camping in AB Parks  

Backcountry Reservations


Peter Lougheed Provincial Park is a beautiful place to camp in Kananaskis 

British Columbia Provincial Park Reservations

There have been a lot of changes here since the Covid outbreak started last spring. BC Parks has also changed their reservation policy only allowing campers to reserve sites two months in advance instead of four months (as was the previous policy.)

Beach life at Kokanee Creek Provincial Park, West Kootenays

The BC Resident Advantage for 2021

The biggest Covid related restriction can be summarized below:

"Due to the ongoing pandemic, we are not yet able to return to business as usual. B.C. residents will have priority access to camping reservations for the entire summer season. For the purpose of accessing priority reservations, a B.C. resident is someone who resides in B.C. Visitors will need to confirm they are a B.C. resident before booking a campsite. For those of you coming from out of province, reservations start July 8." - BC Parks

So in a nutshell, if you're from Alberta, you'll have to wait until July 8th to try booking campsites in a BC provincial park. (Note this is for provincial park campgrounds only. Alberta residents can still camp in the national parks or in private campgrounds across BC.)

Albertans are also still allowed to enjoy provincial parks in BC for day trips (so you can drive in to use the beach and park at a day use area,) and Albertans can still take advantage of  first come first serve (FCFS) campsites.

Basic Booking Policy and Rules for 2021

"On Monday March 1st at 7am PT, backcountry reservations will be available for the full 2021 season for the Berg Lake Trail and the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit. 

On Monday March 8th at 7am PT, most frontcountry and backcountry reservations will be available and can be booked up to two months in advance of your trip." - BC Parks


NOTE RE LONG WEEKENDS: If you want to camp in a BC provincial park over a long weekend, you must make your reservation for all nights of the long weekend.

You can NOT plan to show up on the Saturday (even if in the middle of a road trip where you're traveling outside the normal weekend period.) You must be able to camp in the park Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night of the long weekend, and you must show up on the Friday night! You can not book for Friday, planning to show up on Saturday (or hoping to cancel the Friday later.)

Follow this link for more information on operating and reservable dates for each park.

And review the full Covid policies for the 2021 camping season.