When and where to camp in Canada?
Welcome back to our second blogpost in our series about camping in Canada! Now we’ll just go ahead and assume you didn’t end up on this page by coincidence (but if so, make sure to read our first blogpost as well). You all know that we love the camping life. For one, there is this phenomenal feeling you get from sleeping directly under the stars. But there’s also the connection to nature, instead of WiFi, and the freedom to determine your own rhythm. So what better place to pick for some next level camping experience than Canada? Exactly our thoughts, so let’s get started: when and where to camp in Canada?
Canada has it all
As wide as it is tall, Canada is a huge country to travel and has very diverse climate conditions. Take Regina, capital of Saskatchewan province. This place recorded a temperature of -50° Celsius (in winter 1885 that is) and a maximum of 43° Celsius in July 1937. Note that this is the Canadian prairies, but these extremities can also be found in the Atlantic region where Arctic air and maritime air alternate. However, the prairies can be very pleasant during the summer months too, just as the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Region, where half the Canadian population lives (for good reasons). And if you really want to reassure yourself of nice outdoor weather, head to the West Coast. Here, the warm air from the Pacific Ocean stays in place because of the Rocky Mountains.
Of course, with only 2 months on the docket, we do not even aspire seeing all Canadian provinces. We won’t be hitting the north at all, but we do plan to travel from Montreal all the way west to Jasper National Parc and Vancouver Island from April until June. To our knowledge, these are the best months for moderate temperatures: no blizzards but no heat waves either!
Camping season in Canada
We prefer camping over all other means of overnight stays any day. But if we should believe the Canadians, camping season runs from Victoria Day in May until Labour Day in September, so April might still be a little tricky. Also remember to take daylight hours into account: in wintertime, you can only benefit from 8.30h to 16.30h, but summers are perfect for driving long distances with good light from 5.15h up to 22.00h if you’re lucky. Also, during the summer you get to prolong the outdoor activities that require some kind of vision, since outside of the big cities it gets very VERY dark at night. Unless you feel adventurous, and head north of the Arctic circle to the Land of the Midnight Sun. In this part of the Yukon, it is daylight 24/7 at the summer solstice!
But let’s say you’re planning an itinerary comparable to ours: arriving in Montreal, travelling to Toronto, then taking a train to Vancouver and renting a camper van to drive around and visit Banff and Jasper National Park and explore Vancouver Island. We’re getting excited already!
Tough decisions: where to go and what to do in Canada?
When dealing with limited time, you need to make choices. So how do you pick the places to go, when the possibilities are endless? Of course, if you travel by train (like we partly will), the route is laid out for you. We had some fun looking for tips, tricks and cheap train tickets, so make sure to read this useful blog by Eat Live Travel Write and make use of the special offers by VIA Rail Canada.
It’s the exploring we’re looking forward to most though! And there are some particular activities we don’t want to miss out on. Like spotting whales and bears and admiring the intense blue colour of Lake Louise. So in that case it’s only logical to rent your own means of transportation. This allows you to define your route by the well-know and hidden highlights that are on your bucket list.
For example, starting east in Toronto or Ottawa, consider a drive to the Niagara Falls and continue to Montréal or Québec and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where Jacques Cartier discovered the Gaspé Peninsula in 1534. Or head to the provinces of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Islands for some Canadian history. Admire Cape Breton and the panorama by Bras d’Or Lake, and help yourself to some fish in one of the small maritime villages while you are at it.
In these eastern parts you will also find some splendid wildlife broadcast. Whales and puffins near the shores of Newfoundland, for example. Algonquin Provincial Park and Maricie National Park: splendid views guaranteed as well. And if you really want to get adventurous, go looking for polar bears or beluga whales. Just drive up to Churchill close to the Hudson Bay, where you’ll find the subarctic Wapusk National Park.
Tons of things to do near to the Atlantic shores, but it’s the west that lures the most wildlife adventurers. And for good reasons! Obviously, Vancouver and Banff or Jasper National Parc with their deep blue lakes and striking glaciers are by far the most popular destinations. But the list of breath-taking places goes on and on: the Rocky Mountains, Glacier National Park, the Mount Rainier volcano, the Columbia River Gorge, the Strait of Georgia, Pacific Rim National Park, Icefields Parkway and of course Lake Louise…
Some cool online tips to plan your Canada trip
It sounds like we’re not making it easier for you, but not to worry. There are some excellent websites that worked out the best itineraries by desired activity and province. Trans-Canada Highway for example is a very basic but super informative platform that helps you sort out your route. Or take a look on the Roadtrippers website, where you can plan a journey, look up campgrounds on the way, and find places to rent camper vans. And they have an app as well! And for all the answers to your questions combined, there is Keep Exploring Canada, with everything you need to know from ways of transportation to city guides and cultural bases.
Booking campsites in Canada
Why all this planning beforehand? What if you just want to find out where the roads take you day by day? We agree that not knowing where you’ll end up at night is part of the adventure. But know that especially in summers campsites/campgrounds in Canada often are all booked up. Some even advise to make reservations three months in advance. Furthermore, campground prices are higher from June to August, and sites with the best facilities are often the most popular!
Don’t care about all the extra comfort and luxury? Go looking for Crown Land! These parts of Canada (that make up almost 89% of the land) are available to Canadians for public use. But non-resident can buy themselves a permit too. You are allowed to camp for free up to a maximum of 21 days. make sure to check the restrictions per province though. Some Crown Lands are designed as recreation sites and even have some basic facilities, others are more remote and difficult to reach. But, if you do locate one, you are welcome with a tent, a van, a trailer and an RV as well.
Tip: if you really get stuck, there’s always Walmart. Yes, really! A lot of Walmart stores allow you to camp overnight in their parking lots. Only with vehicles though, not with tents. And make sure to ask the manager politely. Casinos often have the same policies, by the way.
So how about Boondocking, also known as dry camping? Is it allowed to just put your tent, camper van or RV wherever, campsite or no campsite? There are a lot of places in Canada where you can camp this way for free. But, most of the time this does not go for the National Parks. Luckily there are enough land-owners who provide parking spots on their private property to campers: check out Boondockers Welcome for a lot in your designated area.
More useful websites on when and where to camp in Canada:
- More Free Campsites
- Camping Canada for campsites in any Canadian province
- Allstays for campsites by province and city
- Parks Canada for campgrounds in Canadian National Parks
- Motorhome Canada for RV campgrounds by province
- GO Canada, everything about the camping life in Canada for our Dutch readers
- And for some inspiration, the 30 best places to camp in Canada according to Huffington Post, 20 more unique camping sports by Cottage Life and the best campsites in National Parks according to Explore
So what’s it like, camping life in Canada?
We’re not the ones to give all the answers yet, as we are newbies just the same! But from the bit of research we have done, campgrounds in Canada can vary from all-back-to-nature with only fill-and-dump stations in National Parks to all facilities you can think of (swimming pool, WiFi, laundromat) in commercial parks. And of course there is permanent habitation in trailer parks too.
To get inspired, we love following other newbies who went on the same adventure as we’re about to. Take On The Luce for instance, with a First Timer’s Guide to Canada by RV Motorhome and a very pretty Pinterest page. For more insider’s knowledge, take a look at Those Who Stray, a website by some dedicated outdoor fanatics who like to share their experiences with you. And then there’s also Windigo Travels, who offer tours by destination or activity, if you want to get deeper into the what&where.
Last but not least, there’s always the Tourist Offices you can rely on while on the road. Every town has one of some sorts, but the most important ones are listed here.
So now we know when and where to camp in Canada, are we ready to get on the road? Not nearly! In our next few blogs we’ll get you up to speed on all the practicalities you need to get in order before departure or during the trip, and let you in on some handy tips and tricks for on the road. Keep following us!