Camping season is in full swing, and what better place to spend a night under the stars than in the glorious Canadian Rockies? World-famous for their scenery and their wildlife, and for good reason, the Rockies offer an outdoor adventure experience that every backroad explorer should check off their bucket list. Unfortunately, many campsites in the Rockies fill up quickly, with some getting reserved many months in advance. For those of us who do not plan that far ahead, finding a spot to spend the night can be a challenge. To help you out this camping season, we have put together a list of our favourite destinations for first-come, first-served camping in the Canadian Rockies, so you can enjoy this world-class outdoor playground without a reservation.
Banff National Park
Known as the crown jewel of Canada’s National Park System, Banff attracts visitors from all over the world who come to see the Rockies’ famous mountain peaks, ancient glaciers and turquoise lakes. There are numerous campsites scattered throughout Banff’s legendary wilderness, including five that are first-come, first-served. The largest of these is the Waterfowl Lakes Campground, which has 116 units and is easily accessible from the Icefields Parkway.
First-come, first-served camping in the park can also be found at Castle Mountain Campground (43 sites), Mosquito Creek Campground (32 sites), Silverhorn Creek Campground (45 sites) and Rampart Creek Campground (50 sites). Although these sites are first-come, first-served, it is best to arrive extra early to claim your spot due to Banff’s popularity. But, once you get there, it will be immediately apparent why the park is so popular – the scenery will take your breath away.
Yoho National Park
Although this park is much smaller than its neighbour, Banff, it is just as dramatic, with 28 mountain peaks over 3,000 metres (9,900 ft) high, including the 3,562 m (11,683 ft) Mount Goodsir. Equally as impressive, the 254 metres (833 ft) Takakkaw Falls are found in Yoho, plummeting down a sheer rock face in an awe-inspiring display of the forces of nature. Add to this the sparkling Lake O’Hara, which many call the most beautiful lake in the Rockies and the world-famous Burgess Shale Fossil Beds, and it is easy to see why Yoho National Park is one of the Rockies’ must-visit destinations.
As an added bonus, first-come, first-served camping is available throughout Yoho National Park, but be sure to arrive early! This includes the 88-site Kicking Horse Campground, the 44-site Monarch Campground, the 35-site Takakkaw Falls Campground and the 30-site Hoodoo Creek Campground. With the exception of Takakkaw Falls, all of these campgrounds are vehicle accessible.
Jasper National Park
The largest of the Canadian Rockies Parks, Jasper is famous for its sprawling icefields, towering mountains (including Alberta’s tallest, Mount Columbia), hot springs and thousands of kilometres of hiking trails. Visitors can also check out the Maligne Canyon, with sheer limestone walls rising to heights of 50 metres (165 ft) above the Maligne River and an interpretive trail that crosses over six different footbridges.
In addition to backcountry camping, there are over 1,770 vehicle-accessed campsites in the park, many of which are non-reservable. First-come, first-served camping can be found at Snaring Campground with 66 sites, the Kerkeslin Campground with 42 sites, the Honeymoon Lake Campground with 35 sites, the Jonas Creek Campground with 25 sites, the Icefield Campground with 33 sites and the Wilcox Campground with 46 sites. All of these campgrounds have firewood available, food caches and cooking shelters in case of uncooperative weather.
Willmore Wilderness Park
If you don’t mind putting a bit of sweat into your camping experience, then Willmore Wilderness Park is for you. With no road access, visitors to the park either hike or horseback ride in from the main staging areas at Rock Lake, Big Bergland and Sulphur Gates. Once you set off, you will have over 750 km (460 mi) of trails to explore, with first-come, first-served camping found at backcountry sites throughout the park.
These primitive campsites rarely offer more than a picnic table, but they make for a fine base for exploring Willmore’s immaculately preserved landscape. With abundant wildlife viewing opportunities, including 20% of Alberta’s bighorn sheep, legendary fishing and hunting, dazzling wildflower displays and more, seeing Willmore Wilderness Park for yourself is well worth the journey.
Height of the Rockies Provincial Park
Like Willmore Wilderness Park, there are no roads into Height of the Rockies, but there are several hiking and horseback trails that lead you into this stunning wilderness area. Once in the park, you can explore a landscape that includes 26 mountain peaks over 3,000 meters, over 60 alpine and subalpine lakes and the world’s highest concentration of mountain goats.
There are plenty of informal campsites spread throughout the park that are available on a first-come, first-served basis, including at Ralph Lake, Deep Lake, Driftwood Lake, the Palliser River and the middle fork of the White River. There are also two first-come, first-served cabins found in the park, with one at the north end of Connor Lake and the other at Queen Mary Lake.
Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park
Famous for hiking in the summer and backcountry skiing in the winter, Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is another wilderness area that has no road access, necessitating a hike or horseback ride into its core. Most people base camp at Lake Magog, where you will find the park’s largest campsite, offering 29 first-come, first-served sites along with water taps, food caches, cooking shelter and pit toilets.
Other campsites in the park include Mitchell Meadows with 3 sites, Og Lake with 7 sites, Porcupine with 7 sites and Rock Lake with 4 sites. All of these sites offer first-come, first-served camping, as do the rustic cabins found at Surprise Creek, the Mitchell River and Police Meadows. We recommend bringing along a fishing rod on your trip into Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, as Lake Magog offers excellent cutthroat trout fishing.
Kakwa Provincial Park and Protected Area/Kakwa Wildland Provincial Park
Found on either side of the Alberta/British Columbia Border and straddling the Continental Divide, the Kakwa Provincial Parks do have road access, albeit on remote and sometimes rough logging roads. In BC, access is via the Walker Creek Forest Service Road, while the Alberta side can be accessed from Two Lakes Road. This keeps visitor pressure on the parks low, and chances are you will have your campsite all to yourself, especially if you utilize the random camping permitted in Kakwa Wildland.
There are also established campsites at Dead Horse Meadows Recreation Area (2 sites) and at Kakwa Lake (12 sites), all offering first-come, first-served camping. While visiting the area, check out Kakwa Falls, which are the tallest in Alberta at 30 m (98 ft), or take in the otherworldly sight of the Moon Valley Sinkholes.
Kootenay National Park
Bisected by Highway 93, Kootenay National Park makes for one of the most scenic drives in the country, and it only gets more impressive if you take the time to park your vehicle and go out exploring. Gorgeous hiking and horseback trails abound, and the Kootenay River is a paddler’s dream. And, after a day of adventuring, you can soothe your well-worn muscles in Radium Hot Springs, which are Canada’s largest.
While the campsite directly next to the springs is reservable and fills up quickly, the vehicle-access Marble Canyon and McLeod Meadows have plenty of space for first-come, first-served camping, with 61 sites and 80 sites, respectively. There are also several first-come, first-served backcountry campsites in the park, including five along the 55 km (34 mi) long Rockwall Trail. These sites all offer outhouses, food storage and communal picnic areas.
Peter Lougheed Provincial Park
Although this park is accessible via Highway 40 it sees relatively few visitors, especially in comparison to nearby Banff. The Highwood Pass, Canada’s highest drivable pass, is found within the park, and it is not uncommon to see big Rocky Mountain game such as bighorn sheep and moose right from the comfort of your vehicle. Of course, there is plenty to explore off the beaten path as well, including an extensive mountain bike trail system.
The park also offers three first-come, first-served campgrounds, including the Canyon Campground (50 sites), Interlakes Campground (48 sites) and Lower Lake Campground (104 sites). For anglers, these are perfect base camps for sampling the park’s famous cutthroat and bull trout fishing.
Elk Lakes Provincial Park
Like all of the other Rocky Mountain parks, Elk Lakes is a dramatic destination, perhaps even more so since most of the park is located above the treeline. Access is via a well-maintained forest service road and there are limitless hiking options to explore once you make it in. There are several hike-in, first-come, first-served camping areas located within the park, including the Lower Elk Lake Campground which is found just 1 km from the parking lot and offers a food cache, fire pits and a toilet.
Other first-come, first-served campgrounds are found at Cadorna Creek and at Petain Basin, and random backcountry campsites can be found throughout the park. In addition, there are several recreation sites available on the drive up the Elk River Forest Service Road. Wherever you choose to camp, the beauty of Elk Lakes Provincial Park will make for unforgettable accommodations.
Hamber Provincial Park
One of the most remote parks in the Canadian Rockies, Hamber Provincial Park can only be accessed by air or by a steep and demanding 22 km (14 mi) hike from the Icefields Parkway. Those who do make it into the park can enjoy the jaw-dropping views around Fortress Lake, which was described by explorer A.P. Coleman as “the most marvellous lake imaginable” and is home to some monster-sized brook trout.
First-come, first-served camping is found at a number of backcountry sites along the shores of the lake, including at Fortress Creek, the Burn and East End. Be aware that this is prime grizzly bear habitat and don’t forget your fishing rod, either.
Mount Robson Provincial Park
At 3,953 metres (12,969 ft) tall, Mount Robson is the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies and is found towering over this park’s western entrance. The rest of the park is made up of 217,000 hectares (536,000 ac) of largely undisturbed wilderness, including the headwaters of the Fraser River. Mountain goats traverse the many cliffs and rocky mountainsides found throughout the park, while moose roam the wetlands. Deer, caribou, bears, elk and many other animals call this park home as well, and there are many trails for hikers to explore to catch a glimpse of the local wildlife.
For those wishing to stay the night in Mount Robson Provincial Park, there are a variety of camping options available. There are 36 rustic, vehicle-accessible first-come, first-served campsites at the Lucerne Campgrounds near the park’s east entrance. Robson Meadows Campground, located right next to the Fraser River, offers 95 first-come, first-served sites and Robson River Campground has 9 well-treed sites available on a first-come, first-served basis. Additionally, there are seven backcountry campgrounds found along the famous Berg Lake Trail.
You can find your way to these and many other campsites with the help of our Canadian Rockies Backroad Mapbook and BC & Alberta GPS Maps. Our industry-leading cartographic detail and easy-to-read topographic relief make these the maps of choice for recreationists and outdoor professionals across the country. Our Mapbooks and GPS Maps also contain detailed descriptions of campsites, hiking trails, paddling routes and more, all carefully compiled by our team of outdoor writers and researchers.
Here at Backroad Mapbooks, we are also very excited to announce the new release of BRMBmaps.com. Loaded with tens of thousands of Adventure Points of Interest (POI’s), hundreds of thousands of kilometres of trails, paddling routes, and ATV/Snowmobile trails in addition to rec sites and fishing locations, BRMBmaps.com is your one-stop Outdoor Adventure trip planning tool!
Did we miss your favourite first-come, first-served camping spot in the Canadian Rockies? Let us know! Share your Canadian Rockies camping adventures with us on Instagram using #brmblife for a chance to win prizes and be featured on our feed.