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Per 03-17-2019 08:29 AM

Random camping?

I would like to ask if you could recomend places to camp in backcountry, so called random camping where one does not need to book or need a permission, in Brittish Columbia and Alberta in Canada?

I should add and clarify we have no problem paying fees, and getting permits. But places where there is no risk of full booking where you do not have to book several months by phone before, where they are more freer to camp, less restrictions etc.

Me and me wife from Sweden want to camp in backcountry, with beautiful lakes, mountains, and a lot of wildlife, bears etc. Places with few tourists.

Are there some places like that you can recomend, and where you can drive a rental car on paved public road, to parking spaces, which can then be wandered out into the wilderness?

Thank you.

Best regards,


kellymcdonald78 03-18-2019 12:32 PM

In Alberta, you can random camp in Wilderness Parks and in Public Land Use Zones (PLUZ). Although I would avoid PLUZ as these are also open to off-road vehicles. The only rule is that you are at least 1km away from any road or Provincial Recreation Area (details here I'm most familiar with Elbow Sheep and the Don Getty Wildland Parks west of Calgary. No permits or fees are required

In the National Parks, there are some areas where random camping is permitted. Banff for example allows random camping in the remote eastern sections of the park (as well as a few other areas in the north of the park). The eastern areas are typically best accessed from the Forestry Trunk Road (Alberta Highway 940), however these are gravel roads and some of the access roads can be rough. You still require a permit from Parks Canada to camp within the National Parks. Things are less well defined for Jasper, and I don't believe random camping is permitted in Yoho and Kootenay NP.

In BC I'm most familiar with Height of the Rockies Provincial Park, which does allow random camping, however access is either through Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in Alberta, or through long remote forestry roads on the BC side.

I'll point out that many of these areas can be extremely remote, with little to no facilities. Trails may not be regularly maintained with unbridged stream/river crossings. The only place I'm aware that you can drive up on a paved road (Alberta Highway 66 and Alberta Highway 40), park and hike into areas where random camping is permitted is Elbow Sheep Wildland PP. Gillean and Tony Dafern have written series of excellent trail guidebooks covering this area (

Per 03-18-2019 05:55 PM

Thank you for the information Kelly Mcdonald.

Is Elbow Lake in Elbow Sheep Wildland PP?

On roadHighway 66 we can drive all the way to Nihahi Ridge Trailhead, right? Can we park the car there for some days and hike from there to Elbow Sheep Wildland PP, right?

If we go highway 40, on the other side, where can we park the car for some days?

What road and side of the park would you recomend for us to park? Which side are nearest attractions and are most convenient to park etc, would you say? Only paved road unfortunately.

Thank you.

kellymcdonald78 03-18-2019 10:25 PM

Elbow Lake is just inside Peter Lougheed Provincial Park so you would need to hike in an additional 1km from the backcountry campground to camp (you also can't camp within 1km of a backcountry campground in a Wildland Park). For this trail, I'd park at the Elbow Lake Trailhead

Along Highway 40 once you're over the Highwood Pass, there are many places you can park, Mist Creek, Picklejer, Lineham Creek, Lantern Creek etc. The trails to Picklejar and Loomis Lake are popular. Services are available at Kananaskis Village (about 40 km to the north of the Elbow Lake trailhead), this has everything from a high end Nordic spa, hotel, restaurants, horseback riding and even golfing. Fortress Junction (20km to the north of the Elbow Lake trailhead) has fuel and a convenience store. Highwood House (about 30 km south of the Elbow Lake trailhead) also has fuel and a small store.

Along Highway 66 you're good pretty much anywhere (again as long as you're 1km away from the road ). Most of it is PLUZ land so you can random camp. Offroad Vehicles are only permitted around MacLean Creek, so as long as you are north of the Elbow River you wont encounter them. This is a popular day hiking area so expect lots of people in the summer (these are some of the closest hiking trails to Calgary). For Nihanhi Ridge, there is trailhead parking at Little Elbow, there is no problem parking here for a few days (I've done a few multi-day trips from this trailhead). There is a small store at MacLean Creek, and you're pretty close to the hamlet of Bragg Creek which has full services.

Trails on the Highway 66 side will be easier as you're more in the foothills, only getting into the mountains proper past Little Elbow. There aren't a lot of lakes in this area, but many great ridge walks. Highway 40 puts you right in the middle of front and main ranges of the Rockies (in some places you're only 2-3 km from the Continental Divide. Vistas will be more impressive here, but the hiking more strenuous. There are several alpine lakes you can hike to. Some of these trails will involve chains or mild scrambling so make sure you research the trail before hand

zeljkok 03-19-2019 12:25 AM

There are many such areas in Rockies. Of course, if one would start advertising on public forums, they would soon stop being so special! But I'll give you 2 ideas:

1) See this report: I spent 2 nights random camping at lower Devon lake & didn't see a soul

2) See this report: If one continues down Pipestone valley (~2km east from Natural Bridge junction) there is turnoff to Douglas Lake. It is just out of BNP & you can camp random for free. It is amazing area with big blue lake, peaks to scramble and total wilderness. For fit person it is possible to get to Douglas lake in a day from Skoki trailhead @ Louise.

Per 03-19-2019 06:42 AM

Thank you very much Kelly Mcdonald, great information.

Thank you very much Zeljkok, also great information.

Zeljkok, where would you recommend us to park the rental car to get to Devon lake and to Douglas Lake?

esmeadows 03-19-2019 10:52 AM

Hi, Per. No one has yet mentioned Wilmore Wilderness Park:

Willmore is outstanding for long, spectacular ridge walks. Check our RaysWeb:

I don't think Ray is updating this site any longer, so some links don't work, but it is terrific for photographs and descriptions of the area.

I have backpacked and horsepacked into Willmore. On one trip of 10 days, we did not see another party until we crossed the Jasper boundary, and even then at only one campsite.

In wet conditions, the trails in the Willmore valley floors close to the trailheads can be quagmires at stream crossings due to horse traffic. But once you get away from the main trailheads, or if you travel along the ridges, conditions are pretty good.

The front ranges of the Rockies east of Jasper and Banff comprise mostly Provincial land with many opportunities for random camping:

I have horsepacked into Blackstone/Wapiabi and didn't see a soul for a week other than our group. Travel on foot through the Blackstone or Wapiabi gaps is tricky because the horse trails plunge in and out of the rivers without consideration. But it should be possible to find foot routes that don't cross so often. The rivers are wide and mostly pretty shallow in late season and it would be impossible to get lost if you followed your own path through the gaps.

The trailheads to all of these places are generally accessible by car. Some trailheads may require high-clearance vehicles. Once you have some candidate locations in mind, call Alberta Parks to ask about trailhead access:

I have found the Parks people to be very friendly and helpful about these things.

Have fun!


esmeadows 03-19-2019 11:03 AM

One quick note about Kelly's post. I don't believe that PLUZ regions are open to off-road vehicles. Some areas are open, but the great majority are not. Access by off-road vehicles is prohibited unless specifically permitted, and it's generally easy to stay away from those places to travel on foot or horseback. These areas offer incredible solitude compared to popular national park trails and are mostly undisturbed by motorized vehicles.


Per 03-19-2019 11:23 AM

Thank you for the information Scott. Well we will be driving a regular rental car so, but that sounds good. Do you also have some good recommendations about nice places, where you can drive on a paved road and then walk out into the wilderness, perhaps with some nice lakes and do random camping?

Per 03-19-2019 01:00 PM

Oh, sorry Scott I did miss to see your post about Wilmore Wilderness Park. I have read that there is paved roads to Grand Cache, and that we can access the park on foot from there. Did you go there?

Do you mean Wapiabi provincial recreation area?

Kokanee75 03-19-2019 01:22 PM

There are awesome (I guess) Provincial Parks in BC: Edziza, Spatzisi, Tweedsmuir, I suppose many more I have never heard of, look at google maps at the little green spots. Zoom in - they are not so little anymore.

Devon Lakes: there is a bus in Summer between Banff and Lake Louise (Calgary on weekends), and I would say you should try to explore a few of the "typical" areas as well - there is a reason for the popularity. At least you could frolic around for a week without a car. Avoid a long weekend for camping and look on short notice at the booking sites - the only good thing about the abandoned Wilderness Pass is that people will cancel more if they can't go I suppose.

But I'm glad you ask - 2 years ago I met two Swedish girls who thought it works like in Sweden - they took the bus straight from Vancouver to the Rockies and wanted to start hiking for weeks. ;-) What a shame, the many great BC-places they passed without stopping, ending up in the National Parks where everything is regulated and you can't go anywhere without a car - almost. They were pretty frustrated and ended up with the rental car driving too much til Yukon. But I suppose they still had a good time. Secondly they were also early in June with still a lot of snow, so there weren`t many safe places to go.

Oh, and also important: they learned that the bears are behaving differently as well compared to the Swedish companions - I got to know them because I surprised one that tried to get their backpack.

zeljkok 03-19-2019 01:50 PM

There are large parking spots for both Siffleur Wilderness - Devon Lakes (Mosquito Creek on Icefields) and Red Deer Lakes / Douglas Lake (Fish Creek above Louise). It is generally safe to leave the car overnight. But of course there is question of wasting money on rental that is now not used / parked for several days.

Kokanee75 has a good point about National Parks vs BC. Less crowds too. But when you are somewhere for the first time, you tend to focus on better known areas and then expand. I.e when I moved to Vancouver I started from Grouse and Seymour first, not Pemberton or Duffey peaks. Canada is known around the world for Rockies and you have to see places like Lake Louise, even if crowds nonsense works like bug repellent. Another example is Berg Lake trail. Stupidly popular in summer months (specially by Europeans). But you must see it. Just had discussion with someone local that climbed many obscure peaks, but was never @ Berg Lake. You have to go there. Period.

esmeadows 03-19-2019 02:58 PM

4 Attachment(s)
>> Oh, sorry Scott I did miss to see your post about Wilmore Wilderness Park. I have read that there is paved roads
>> to Grand Cache, and that we can access the park on foot from there. Did you go there?

It's best to enter on foot from Rock Lake Provincial Park:

The gravel road to Rock Lake is in good condition and is fine for any kind of vehicle. You can camp at the trailhead at the Provincial Park or stay at the lodge if you wish.

>> Do you mean Wapiabi provincial recreation area?[/QUOTE]

No, I mean the Blackstone/Wapiabi PLUZ that is adjacent to the recreation area:

Access via the Blackstone Gap provides quicker access the more trails, but requires a high clearance vehicle to access the trailhead. The trailhead near Wapiabi Gap can be reached by any vehicle, but requires a longer hiking approach.

You can random camp anywhere in the PLUZ, but you may wish to use an outfitter camp along Wapiabi Creek, of which there are many. Outside of hunting season, few of their camps will be occupied, maybe none at all. If you were interested in horse-assisted options, I have used Chungo Creek outfitters before and found them to be extremely accommodating.

When were you thinking of going?


Horsepacking through Wapiabi Gap
Attachment 265250

Vimy Patrol Cabin
Attachment 265252

Headwaters of Wapiabi Creek
Attachment 265254

Looking east toward Bighorn Range and Grave Flats
Attachment 265256

Per 03-19-2019 04:11 PM

Thank you Kokanee75 for those tips on Provincial Parks in BC, they seem very nice too. However, maybe a bit far away from the Vancouver area or the Calgary area. We may have the opportunity to visit Canada for 2 or 3 weeks, so we may not try to catch up with so much and such large distances?

Fun that you meet Swedish girls, funny story :) It shows I guess that one have to investigate and plan their trip more carefully and find out how things are before they travel.

Thank you zeljkok för that information.

Yes that sounds great point about National Parks vs BC. Yes we definitely want to see from the National Parks as well. Especially number 1: Moraine Lake in Banff. That must be the most beautiful lake and mountains in the world, look absolutely magical! When I googling Canada, pictures always appear on the lake, and that says something. But also as you wrote Lake Louise also very beautiful. And Berg Lake very beautiful too. Those I talked to, many says we don't get to miss to visit Berg Lake.

So we would like to visit at least Moraine Lake, Lake Louise and Berg Lake.

But we would like to do some random, totally backcountry camping in the wild, we few peoples and so on, at least one time, one place, one good area for some days. To get to experience the real wild Canada, once in our lives, it would be a dream come true.

So, the question I guess is what would be best for that, most beautiful, good wildlife, and paved roads for the renting cars. We dont mind paying for rental cars, in the parkings parking lots.

So if you could imagine that you were like us, just had 2-3 weeks, maybe just get to Canada once in your life and never come back. What had you chosen for National parks and random camping sites to combine during your trip?

Thanks again :)

Per 03-19-2019 04:18 PM

Thank you again Scott for that good information.

Well, I think in august or early september. Hope that is not too late?

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