It’s that time of year again. The time of year when you have to plan out your summer of camping in the middle of winter. It’s crazy, but it’s the way it goes if you want to guarantee a site this camping season at one of the popular campgrounds. This year the parks will be particularly busy for Canada’s 150 birthday because entry to all National Parks is free! You can apply for a free pass HERE, or just drive up to the gates and receive a pass on your way through. If you plan a last minute trip and don’t have time to order a pass, it’s no big deal. You can enter as often as you like for free, you’ll just most likely save some time by going through the “pass holders” entry.
Here’s the basic layout of dates and times for all you happy campers wanting to ensure you get the exact site you want on the date you want.
National Parks in Alberta:
PARK: Jasper National Park- including Pocohontas, Wabasso,Wapiti, and Whistlers (including oTENTiks comfort camping)
DATE: January 10th, 8:00 a.m. MST.
WHY: Jasper’s Whistlers park is one of our family favourites. We go every year and enjoy it immensely. If you are looking for a long weekend, I suggest you refresh your browser right at 8am to start your search. Full service sites are in high demand anytime in the summer. Tenting sites do not fill up near as fast. Keep in mind not every site has a fire pit in the national park. Here’s my post on Jasper during the summer to check out for ideas.
PARK: Banff National Park- Lake Louise, Two Jack, Johnston Canyon, Tunnel Mountain
DATE: January 11th, at 8:00 a.m. MST
WHY: Banff is incredibly popular and there are so many good reasons why. Two Jack Lake is particularly awesome in my opinion. These campgrounds are busy all summer long, weekends and weekdays- Last year we had friends miss out on a campsite even though they were at the computer at exactly 9am.. But if you are looking to stay in mountains but away from the (bigger) crowds, other options include Bow Valley Provincial Park (see below) and Peter Lougheed PP which are both located in the mountains, but outside the National Park Boundaries.
PARK: Elk Island National Park- Astotin Campground
DATE: January 14th, 2016 8:00 a.m. MST
WHY: While Elk Island doesn’t have the popularity of the mountain national parks, Equipped camping is in high demand and is a great way to try out camping as a family without purchasing any gear. These sites will fill up quite fast, especially for popular dates. Here’s a post on why you should add Elk Island to your list of places to discover this year. And it’s the perfect year to check it out, considering there will be no fees this year and it’s so close to the city!
PARK: Waterton National Park- Townsite Campground
DATE: Thursday, January 12th, 2016 8:00 a.m. MST
WHY: If you want to try out Waterton and don’t want to risk not having a site at the popular first come first serve Crandell Mountian Campground, then this is your best option. Unfortunately, the campground is in the middle of the townsite and the sites are not private at all, buuuuuut the views, the ability to walk to anywhere in town you like, and the lake front location make it still a worthwhile visit. If you’d like to Tipi Camp at Crandell Mountain, reservations open May 10th by phone. Here’s my post on what makes Waterton great.
The link to book all of the above through the National Parks System is HERE
Alberta Provincial Parks-
The provincial park system is a bit different. Their system goes live on Tuesday, February 21st. However, you can only book dates up to 90 in advance of your departure date. So if you are looking for May long weekend camping, you can book on opening day. Then you can book up 16 days in a row.
Some dates to keep in mind when looking for a Provincial park to camp at-
February 13th @ 9am: Comfort Camping – reserve for the entire season. If you are wanting to try out the yurts, the canvas wall tents at Dinosaur, the cabins at Lac La Biche, be ready to book on this day. Especially if you are looking for a long weekend or a extended period of time, you need to be on the computer waiting to click on “book now” when the clock strikes 9.
February 6th @ 9am: Group Camping – reservable for the entire season
February 21 : Regular Campsites- these are restricted to the 90 day window
Then for the rest of the season you need to do some counting. For example, if you want to head out on June 30th to spend Canada day in a park, you’d need to book on April 1. I found this handy calculator to do the math for you at this website HERE.
Our favourite provincial parks include Dinosaur, Writing on Stone, Crimson Lake, Long Lake, Carson-Pegasus, Red Lodge, …just to name a few. We also love the Yurts at Pigeon Lake and the Cabins at Lac La Biche. But why not browse the Alberta Parks website, find something new and then book early to avoid disappointment! Last year our list included Thunder Lake, William A. Switzer, Crimson Lake, Peter Lougheed PP, Whistler’s, and Miquelon Lake. We enjoyed each of them for different reasons….but we are hoping for a little less rain this year!
The link to book Provincial Parks is HERE or you can call at 1-877-537-2757
Insider Tip- write the date and time to book your preferred site in your daytimer and or add it is an event on your phone with a alarm to remind you when it’s the right date and time to book.