Where to Camp for Free in Alberta
Camping can be an affordable option for adults or families to enjoy rest, relaxation and recreation. Thankfully, there are many places you can camp for free or at a very low cost in Alberta, including:
- Public Land Use Zones
- Wildland Provincial Parks
- Alberta Provincial Parks
- Municipal campgrounds
- Private property (with the owner’s permission)
Free Camping in Alberta’s Public Land Use Zones
Public Land Use Zones (PLUZ) are crownland intentionally set aside for recreational purposes. There are 19 PLUZ in Alberta and each one has its own rules.
Keep in mind that provincial and national parks are not crownland and you cannot random camp – you must register and pay to stay in a designated campsite.
As of 2021, only two PLUZ are free to access in Alberta (Holmes Crossing and Whitecourt Sandhills). The Government of Alberta introduced the Public Lands Camping Pass which must be purchased if you plan to camp on any public lands along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains south of Grande Prairie. You can view the map of where the Public Land Camping Pass applies here.
An annual pass is $30 per person, or you can purchase a 3-day pass for $20 per person. Kids under the age of 18 are free and there are some exemptions for some First Nations, Metis and a few other groups. There’s also a $3.25 processing fee and a one-time purchase of $6 to $8 for a Wilderness Identification Number when you purchase a pass.
Here are the 19 PLUZ in Alberta:
- Holmes Crossing (Free)
- Whitecourt Sandhills (Free)
- Coal Branch
- Athabasca Ranch
- Brule Lake
- Cataract Creek
- McLean Creek
- Porcupine Hills
- Panther Corners
- Bighorn Backcountry
- Upper Clearwater/Ram
You should check each individual PLUZ for its rules around random camping as well as for any area closures or warnings.
Free Camping in Wildland Provincial Parks
You can camp for free in any of Alberta’s wildland parks. However, you must camp at least one kilometre from any road or backcountry facility and some areas require permits or have restrictions. In most wildland provincial parks, motorized vehicles are prohibited so you will only be able to tent camp. If motorized vehicles are allowed, give the wildland park a call to see if you’re allowed to random camp with your RV.
Keep in mind that if the wildland park is located within the Kananaskis Conservation Pass zone, you will need to purchase a pass.
Free Camping on Agricultural Public Land
Agricultural public land is crownland used for grazing or agricultural purposes. Leasers of this land must allow recreational access so long as the activity doesn’t disrupt the land or livestock. Keep in mind there will likely be restrictions regarding motorized vehicles and camping is not always permitted.
You must get permission to cross or camp on all agricultural public land – you can call 403.310.5263 for assistance. You should contact the leaseholder at least two weeks before your planned trip.
For more information about camping on agricultural public land, visit this Government of Alberta webpage.
Free Camping in Kananaskis
The Kananaskis Conservation Pass was introduced in 2021 meaning camping in Kananaskis is no longer free. However, it is still relatively affordable at $90 for an annual pass that includes two vehicles and $15 for a day pass per vehicle. There are also some exemptions and discounts available.
After you’ve purchased the pass, you are able to camp for free in the Kananaskis Public Land Use Zone or wildland parks but only if you’re on foot, bike or horseback as motorized vehicles are not allowed. Your campsite must be at least one kilometre from a provincial park, provincial recreation area, or road. There are some areas you are not allowed to camp in and some places require registration (although it’s still free).
If you’re camping in an RV, you’ll need to find a campground.
For an excellent guide to random camping in Kananaskis, visit the Friends of Kananaskis.
Low-Cost Camping in Alberta Provincial Parks and Provincial Recreation Areas
Alberta offers six unserviced campgrounds located in provincial parks or provincial recreation areas for free. While most other campgrounds come at a cost, you can get a campsite for as little as $10 per night. You can view a list of Alberta’s low-cost provincial parks here.
Some provincial campgrounds are also free or available at a reduced price during the off-season.
Reservations are made through the Alberta Parks reservation system online or at the campground itself on a first-come, first-served basis.
Low-Cost Private or Municipal Campgrounds in Alberta
There are few campgrounds that offer camping for free in Alberta. However, there are low-cost campgrounds in the province, mostly run by municipalities or counties. Here is a list of campsites offered for under $20 a night as of January 2022:
- Bashaw Municipal Campground – For $20 per night, you can get an unserviced site with access to washrooms with running water! Firewood is also supplied.
- Beartrap Lake – There are five FREE campsites available on a first-come-first-served basis.
- Braconnier Dam – Has unserviced sites for $20 per night. There are outhouses, potable municipal water, fire pits and picnic tables.
- Chepi Sepe Campground – Offers unserviced sites for $18 per night ($25 for powered sites). There are showers, a cookhouse, a sanitation dump, picnic tables and fire pits.
- Clear Lake Campground – First-come-first-served campsites available for $20 per night. There is non-potable water, a playground, washrooms, fire pits and picnic tables. The campground is also on a lake.
- Demmitt Campground – There are 15 unserviced sites available for $20 per night. There is no potable water but there are fire pits, a day use shelter, outdoor restrooms and firewood is included.
- Double Dam Golf Course & Campground – An unserviced campground is only $18 per night. You can upgrade to a powered site for $30 per night.
- Emerson Bridge Park – Tenting sites are available for $15 per night and RV sites are available for $20 per night. Cheaper rates are available for off-season and Monday through Thursday. There is a playground, flush toilets, potable water and more amenities.
- Empress Uptown Campground – Unserviced sites are available for $15 per day (serviced sites are available for $22 per day).
- Fayban Campground – $5 per night for an unserviced site in this small campground. Located just off the highway in a pretty river valley with trees and fields. There are picnic tables and washrooms.
- Founders Park/Irricana Campground – An unserviced site is only $15 per night ($25 per night for power and water). There are washrooms, showers, a playground, and more amenities.
- Grassy Lake Community Campground – Camp for $10 per night for an unserviced site or pay $20 per night for 15 amp power or $30 for a full-service site. There are paid showers, a playground, potable water, and more amenities.
- Imrie Park – An unserviced site is $20 per night (powered site is $25 per night). This campground has excellent walking trails, a cookhouse, picnic tables and fire pits. You can reserve ahead of time online.
- Johnson Park – A self-registration first-come-first-served campground for $20 per night (cash only). There are outhouses as well as picnic tables and firepits at every campsite. This campground is open year round and has great access to walking/snowshoeing trails.
- Magrath Jubilee Park – Pay $20 per night for an unserviced campsite. There are washrooms with running water (in the summer) as well as two camp kitchens with wood stoves.
- Moody’s Crossing – There are 16 unserviced sites with fire pits and picnic tables available for $20 per night. There are outhouses and garbage disposal as well.
- Peter Fidler Park Campground – Unserviced campsites available for $15 per night ($22 per night for serviced campsites). There is a boat launch, walking trails, washrooms, showers and more amenities.
- Ribstone Campground – An unserviced campsite for $5 per night. There are picnic tables and a shelter.
- Severn Dam – A free campground without any official campsites operated by Wheatland County. There’s no water but there are fire pits, pit toilets, picnic tables and dumpsters.
- Thorhild Centennial Campground – First-come-first-served unserviced sites for $20 per night. There are washrooms, picnic tables, a cookhouse and the campground is located next to the community pool.
Rates can change without notice. It’s best to call or book online (if possible) to confirm the price. Many of these campgrounds are only open seasonally.
Camping for Free on Private Property in Alberta
You can always ask for permission to camp on private land. However, you can be denied access for any reason.
We recommend getting permission in writing, clearly communicating your plans and following leave no trace principles if you’ve been given access to camping on private property.
Areas You Cannot Camp for Free in Alberta
You cannot random camp in national parks, provincial parks, or provincial recreation areas. You are also not allowed to camp on the roadside. You must have permission to camp on leased crownland and private property. If in doubt, contact Alberta Parks or pay the fee to camp in an official campground.
Be Prepared When Camping for Free in Alberta
If you’re camping for free in Alberta, it’s important that you are:
- Aware of any area closures.
- Obeying any posted signs.
- Understand the specific rules of the area.
- Camping at least one kilometre from a road or provincial park or recreation area boundary.
- Only staying in one place for a maximum of 14 days.
- Camping at least 30 metres from any water source.
- Taking all garbage with you and leaving the area as you find it.
- Obeying any fire restrictions and taking precautions to prevent the start of wildfires.
- Not disturbing wildlife and vegetation.
- Getting a permit if you plan to gather firewood.
- Aware of fishing and hunting regulations and have the appropriate licenses.
- Being respectful of other campers.
For more tips on camping on crownland, see this guide. Keep in mind that there may not be cellphone service and you can be very isolated. It’s important to be prepared!