Free Camping across Canada

Whenever Mike and I were planning our honeymoon road tour across Canada to Alaska I remember searching the web for blogs or any kind of information I could get on free camping.  I couldn’t find much.  So we decided to just go with the flow, hoping we would be able to free camp as much as possible and it turns out we never had to pay once!

The first night we had no idea where we would stay, actually every night was like that.  Our goal was to get to Lake Superior and for those of you who have never drove across Ontario, it’s HUGE! It’s pretty much half of your trip.  We managed to make it to Lake Superior and realized there are lots of options for free camping.  There are many little side roads that aren’t marked as roads, but they also aren’t marked as private property, and they are right on the water.  So the first night we stayed here:

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I must add that it is probably easier to free camp when you are sleeping in your vehicle.  A lot of the spots I am going to tell you about we would not have been able to pop up a tent.

Because Ontario is so huge and we wanted to enjoy some our time on Lake Superior, we spent a couple nights along Lake Superior.  One spot we arrived at in the dark and when we woke up it was too buggy to even cook breakfast there so we literally just used the area to sleep.  It was a Conservation area, which technically you are probably not allowed to camp at but because we got there after the sun was down and left right as the sun came up, it was fine.

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Ontario has so many lakes with rest areas along the lakes that the options for free camping are endless.  We decided to drive straight through Manitoba to Saskatchewan where we stayed with my Uncle.  It was a bit of a luxury staying with them compared to the back of the truck.  Saskatchewan would be the only province where free camping might be harder but rest stops are always an option when you are sleeping in the back of a vehicle.

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We went from Saskatchewan to Alberta where our first stop was the Bad Lands.  Growing up in Ontario, I have actually never not camped beside water.  I have always had the luxury of a fresh morning swim and using the lake water to cook our food or make tea.  This was the first time in my whole life where I didn’t camp by water.  But I’m not sure if I consider sleeping in the back of our truck camping anyways (it’s still up for debate).

We had the option of sleeping beside water in the badlands but noticed it was a bit of a party spot for locals and quite dirty so we drove around a little and decided to sleep at the HOODOOs parking lot.  What a beautiful view to wake up to!

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From here we went to Calgary to visit with our friends Randell and Erika so we got to stay there for a couple nights.  But if we didn’t have that option then we would just drive to where we stayed after we left there which was in the Kananaskis Country, just an hour outside of Calgary.  We spent some time whitewater kayaking in this area so we needed a place to stay.  We parked along side of a reservoir.  Many vehicles park here over night because they are in the back country camping.

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Next up was Banff which we thought would be hard to get away with free camping but after getting some beta from locals we found a parking lot at Jack lake (something like that – I’d have to check our journal).  The only thing about spending the night at this lake was we woke up to a full on party going on outside our vehicle.  Turns out it’s a popular local hang out and there were many vehicles coming and going throughout the night.  But, it was free and beautiful!

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Next up is Beautiful British Columbia.  With a lack of no camping signs there were more options in B.C. We found a neat little creek to sleep beside our first night.  I really like camping by water, if you can’t tell.

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Our next spot was just across the B.C./Yukon border.  The Yukon is also very easy to free camp in because it is just one huge territory of land.  The amount of wilderness is amazing.  Especially if you are taking the Alaskan Hwy, which you probably are because there are really only two main roads that go through the Yukon.  You could pretty much pull off the HWY and sleep anywhere.  And don’t let the word highway scare you.  You are more likely to get waken up by wildlife than you are by a vehicle.

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Another non water camping spot that was just outside of Whitehorse, Yukon.

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But I prefer the ones with water.  I want to say this was Kluane Lake? It reminded me of Lake Superior, lots of little pull over spots to sleep at.

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Because it stays light out so long in the Yukon in the summer time we found ourselves driving past midnight some nights.  Which is where the side of the road became our bedroom.

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We went to the Dawson City Music Festival and did what everyone else did, just slept in our vehicle along the side of the road.

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Alaska was fun for free camping because we got to spend the night at the same lake we paddled around glaciers! We also had company one of the nights where we ended up making friends with a family from Switzerland.  The man couldn’t resist joining us while we tried our best to play the Ukelele around the fire.

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I didn’t include all of our sleeping spots in this post because well, we didn’t take pictures of every single one and some of them were literally just the side of the road.

Here are some tips/recommendations/advice (from our personal experience) about free camping across Canada.

– Do not camp anywhere that says Private Property.
– The rest areas that says “no camping” are usually okay if you are sleeping in your vehicle, however if you are using a tent they are not okay (you may end up getting in trouble).
– Watch for random side roads especially along water
– Leave the area cleaner than when you got there
– Talk to locals, it never hurts to ask
– Know the fire regulations, make sure you are not having a fire when there is a fire ban on
-Pack for various weather situations.  Within 12 hours we went from wearing shorts and tshirts to sweaters and sweat pants and then to down jackets.

Other ways to help make your trip even more affordable.

-Bathe in lakes/rivers/creeks/etc…
– Another option for bathing is community centres with pools.  One of the best showers I had the whole trip was at the pool in Dawson City, Yukon and it was $2.
– Have a friend who lives on the way? Stay with them! Not only is it a great opportunity to visit but you will probably get a free shower too.
– Fill up your water bottles at rest areas, restaurants, or camp grounds
– Make your own entertainment.  Some of our best memories from our trip were sitting by the fire playing the Ukelele.
– Cook whenever possible.  Whether it’s a PB sandwich on the go or a full on chicken stir fry, not eating out will save you so much money.
– Fill up when you can.  Sometimes there are long stretches in between gas stations and it is cheaper to always stay full then to have to call a tow truck to bring you gas.

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Hope this helps someone and if not, well, at least I got to relive our honeymoon for a few minutes!

Free Camping across Canada is possible.