Due to the growth in Canadian Rockies backcountry camping, with very few exceptions, you will be required to stay in designated campgrounds. Mostly, these campgrounds have quotas on the number of people who can overnight there. All parks on a camping permit system require that backpackers indicate the campgrounds where they will be overnighting and the dates of occupation.
Banff and Yoho are the only national parks were random camping is permitted, but only in specific areas where visitation is low. In selecting a campsite in a random camping zone, you must be five kilometres (3.1 miles) from a trailhead, at least 50 metres (160 feet) off the trail, and 70 metres (230 feet) from the nearest stream or lake.
Campfires are only permitted at certain campgrounds, and only where metal fireboxes and firewood are provided.
Park visitor centres are your primary outlet for camping permits and information about backcountry campgrounds.
Parks Canada requires anyone overnighting in the backcountry to purchase a Wilderness Pass. These passes were instituted in 1994 to recover some of the costs of maintaining trails, backcountry facilities and warden patrols.
When you purchase a Wilderness Pass, you must specify the trails and campsites you will be using on specific nights during your trip. As of 2017, a Wilderness Pass costs $8.90 per person/per night. An annual pass is also available, which allows for an unlimited number of nights in the back-country ($62.40 per person/per year in 2017).
Lake O’Hara Campground in Yoho National Park is the most popular place for backcountry camping in the Canadian Rockies. For more information, check out the Lake O’Hara Travel Guide.
National park campsites and shelters can be reserved up to 90 days in advance of your trip by phone, fax or in person at Park Visitor Centres. A non-refundable fee is charged for this service.
In Banff National Park a fee is charged to stay at the Bryant Creek or Egypt Lake shelters ($6.40 per person/per night in 2018).
Most provincial parks have backcountry camping fees based on a per person/per night basis. Camping permits are required for all backcountry campgrounds in Alberta’s Peter Lougheed Provincial Park and for sites on the Berg Lake trail in B.C.’s Mount Robson Provincial Park. These permits are obtained in person at park visitor centres or in advance through special reservation phone lines.
Camping fees are collected on site at Lake Magog Campground and the Naiset Cabins in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, at Akamina Creek Campground in Akamina-Kishinena Provincial Park, and at Lower Elk Lake and Petain Creek Campgrounds in Elk Lakes Provincial Park.