It’s almost the weekend and you want to go camping, but haven’t booked a campsite. Can you still go? If you’re flexible on location and timing, absolutely! While we usually book campsites several months in advance, there are ways you an score last minute camping (it’s worked for us a few times a year).
Here’s how to get a campsite in Alberta without booking months in advance:
1. Check for Cancellations
If you’d like to book at campsite at a reservable campground, check for campsites or cancellations 3 or 4 days before you want to travel. Alberta Parks allows cancellations up to 72 hours prior to 2 pm on your scheduled date of arrival and Parks Canada allows cancellations up to 3 days before arrival date prior to 11 am, so this is the easiest way to get a campsite at short notice.
Tips on finding a reservable Alberta Parks campsite
Enter your desired camping dates and type “all” in the ‘Search for’ box, then select “all campgrounds” to see what is available throughout the province. This will save you entering (or knowing) the name of each provincial park or campground that still has space. Reserve a campsite here.
|AB Parks Camping Reservation Site|
At time of writing, 3 days before the May long weekend, there were 61 spots available in Cypress Hills Provincial Park! 350 km from Calgary, the park has cell service (near Elkwater Lake), 11 reservable campgrounds, 1 equestrian campground, and 4 group campgrounds. Elkwater is a full service campground with 166 sites that is open year round. Firerock has 139 unserviced sites and power sites. See our story Camping at Firerock Campground for details.
For the best lakeside campgrounds in Alberta Parks, see this story.
Reservable Parks Canada campgrounds in Alberta
Check for cancellations and reserve a site at Parks Canada campsites at Parks Canada Reservations. Here are the reservable frontcountry campgrounds in each of Alberta’s national parks (reserve online unless otherwise indicated):
- Banff National Park: Tunnel Mountain Village 1, Tunnel Mountain Village 2 (open year round), Tunnel Mountain Village 2 o’TENTik, Tunnel Mountain Trailer Court, Two Jack Main, Two Jack Lakeside, Two Jack Lakeside o’TENTik, Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise Hardsided (open year round), Lake Louise Tent/Soft Trailers only, Rampart Creek, and Silverhorn Creek. Related post: Fun things to do in Banff this summer.
- Elk Island National Park: Astotin Lake, Astotin Lake o’TENTik, Astotin Lake Group Camping (Call the Visitor Centre to make a reservation.). See our story 14 Fun Things to Do in Elk Island National Park for trip planning inspiration.
- Jasper National Park: Whistlers, Wapiti, Wabasso, Miette (Pocahontas), Whirlpool Group Camping, Palisades cabins (open year round)
- Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site: Heritage camping (choose a cabin, tipi, or trapper’s tent), Rocky Mountain House campground (unserviced sites and walk-in camping). Read about our experience staying in a trapper’s tent in our story: Discover Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site.
- Waterton Lakes National Park: Townsite Campground is closed for the 2023 season and Crandell Mountain Campground is closed. Belly River Group Camping (call 403-859-5109 to reserve).
- Wood Buffalo National Park: Pine Lake Cabins may be reserved from May long weekend until September 30th.
2. Stay at a First Come First Served (FCFS) Campground
First Come First Served Campgrounds tend to be more rustic, with limited amenities, but often offer more of a wilderness experience since they’re a little further from busy areas. Tips for success: 1) Go midweek (Monday to Thursday); 2) Contact the Campground Operator at FCFS campgrounds to see when campgrounds typically fill up (e.g. Friday by 4 pm) to avoid disappointment; 3) Have a backup plan and bring directions to the nearest first come first served campground in case your 1st choice is full.
With FCFS campsites at 159 campgrounds, you are bound to find a campsite! We’ve had good luck short notice at the following FCFS campgrounds:
- Willow Rock, Bow Valley Provincial Park: This campground is one of the closest to Calgary (78 km) and boasts cell service, showers, flush toilets. 124 sites for tents and RVs. Hike the Flowing Waters Trail from camp!
- Goldeye, Thompson Creek, or Two O’Clock Creek in the David Thompson Corridor. There are 12 more campgrounds to choose from plus 4 group camping areas! Approx. 300 km from Calgary on the Icefields Parkway or Cowboy Trail. Sites are unserviced, no showers.
- Tanya Schwarz recommends Paddy’s Flat – 98 sites in the Bragg Creek area. Suzi Smart recommends Cataract Creek near Longview – 102 sites, Bleriot Ferry near Drumheller – 14 sites, and Chain Lakes near Nanton – 21 sites.
Parks Canada FCFS Campgrounds
There are some great first come first served campgrounds in the national parks as well. For details, visit Parks Canada Camping & Accommodations.
- Banff National Park: Protection Mountain is an unserviced campground on the Bow Valley Parkway with FCFS sites. Mosquito Creek and Waterfowl Lakes are unserviced campgrounds on the Icefields Parkway with FCFS sites. These campgrounds open in June.
- Jasper National Park has 7 FCFS campgrounds: Snaring – 62 sites, Kerkeslin – 42 sites, Honeymoon Lake – 35 sites, Jonas Creek – 25 sites, Icefield (tents only) – 33 sites, Wilcox – 46 sites, and Icefields Centre (RV & trailers only) – 100 sites. Wilcox opens May 31 and Kerkeslin opens June 21; the rest are open now! More info here.
- Waterton Lakes National Park FCFS Campsites: Belly River Campground has 24 unserviced FCFS sites; bring your own water. Open May 12-September 4, 2023. Expect high demand since Townsite Campground is closed for the 2023 season and Crandell Mountain Campground is closed due to wildfire damage.
- Wood Buffalo National Park: Pine Lake Campground has 20 unserviced sites with fire pits.
3. Get off the beaten path
Smaller, rustic campgrounds tend to fill up slower than their full-service peers. What they lack in plumbing (no showers), they make up for with dark skies and a closer-to-nature experience.
- The David Thompson Corridor has 15 campgrounds (plus 4 group campgrounds) to choose from. We like Fish Lake (reservable), Goldeye (FCFS), and Two O’Clock Creek (FCFS) best.
- Lundbreck Falls is great for fishing and exploring Crowsnest Pass trails and historical sites. 207 km from Calgary, 56 sites including 8 walk-in sites, power sites and unserviced sites, great fishing, pretty 12 metre high twin falls. No showers.
4. Try camping or glamping at a private campground or resort
While private campgrounds tend to be more expensive than national or provincial park campgrounds, they offer several amenities like tennis courts and wading pools or unique lodging like tipis, yurts, trappers tent, and geodomes.
- Elk Island Retreat, near Elk Island National Park, has a campground plus beautifully-appointed cabins, yurts, and geodomes.
- Mount Kidd RV Park is a full service campground in the heart of Kananaskis with large, treed sites, laundry, showers, a concession.
- Sundance Lodges, a short drive from Kananaskis Village, has tipis, trappers tents and unserviced campsites.
5. Be flexible
Everyone wants to go to Dinosaur Provincial Park this time of year, so if you don’t luck out with cancellations, try nearby Tillebrook. Modest, but well maintained Tillebrook puts you 42 km from Dinosaur and only 21 km from Kinbrook Island’s sandy beach. Can’t get a spot at popular Crimson Lake? Try Heritage Camping at nearby Rocky Mountain National Historic Site instead and day trip to the lake!
6. Enlist the help of friends and family
If a friend or relative can leave town early or already has a reservation, ask him/her to take your tent and save you a FCFS site at their campground. Note that your tent must be set up – parks policy is that you must have a sleeping unit (trailer, tent, camper van) on the site – and your friend/relative must pay within 30 minutes to hold your spot. Bring extra food and drinks to thank them for the trouble!
- Group campsites: This is a great option if you know a lot of outdoorsy families. Find an Alberta Parks Group Camping Area here.
- Walk-in camping: Walk-in campsites don’t fill up as quickly as traditional “front country” campsites, but the walk in is usually short and the sites are often prettier too! Check out our tips for walk-in camping and where to stay near Calgary.
- Random camping is permitted in Public Land Use Zones (PLUZ) and Wildland Provincial Parks with some restrictions. Note that random camping is NOT permitted in Alberta’s Provincial Parks or Provincial Recreation Areas. For more information, see Alberta Parks – Random Camping.
Have you been successful finding last minute campsites?
I am an Alberta Parks Ambassador and have received free camping at many of the aforementioned campgrounds, but all words and opinions are my own.