With campgrounds overrun it might be time to look into free crown land camping

Campgrounds across Canada are bursting at the seams. So, if would-be outdoors folk want to get into the woods and pitch their proverbial tents, they need to get creative. Options include camping mid-week, trying to get a permit at lesser-known parks and conservation areas, or, another option — camping on crown land. 

Camping on crown land is free to Canadian residents for up to 21 days on any one site. 

Basically, crown land is owned by the federal or provincial government. In Canada, 41 per cent of land is federal crown land and 48 per cent is provincial crown land. 

Anyone camping on crown land needs to follow local rules regarding fishing, campfires and allowable recreational activities. As long as the land is not licensed for another purpose or designated for another use or anything like that, it is fair game. But, the trick is finding it. 

For example, the provincial government in Ontario publishes a Crown Land Use Policy Atlas. Another good option is to search for conservation reserves or provincial parks that are non-operating. There are many resources online that can pinpoint specific areas. 

This Ontario Parks map indicates dozens of non-operating parks and conservation reserves in the province. 

As an example take Raganooter Lake Conservation Reserve, which is a 311-hectare non-operating park in Parry Sound, which has sandy soil perfect for pitching a tent. 

In British Columbia, the BC Ministry of Tourism Culture and the Arts maintains more than 1,200 recreation campsites under it’s Recreation Sites and Trails BC program. The campsites are located around British Columbia for the camping enjoyment of residents and visitors to B.C.

Plenty of off-the-beaten-path camping in BC (Photo: Destination BC/Taylor Burk)


These sites, which include both free and paid options, could include a range of amenities such as fire rings, toilets and picnic tables. 

According to the BC website, “Many of the trails are set in spectacular natural settings, and in addition to providing access to beautiful destinations, they also provide users with a sense of enjoyment, fulfilment and accomplishment along the journey.”

To find a recreation site or recreation trail, the government provides a database searchable by activity, name, location, or interactive map. 

Here is a sample listing for a $15 site at Joyce Lake in the Columbia Shuswap Regional District available May 1 to Sept. 30.

And, of course, Alberta like every other province also offers crown land camping on what it dubs Public Land Use Zones. There are 19 such zones in the province including Kananaskis and Brule Lake. Stays are limited to 14 days.

But, perhaps recognizing the growth and subsequent impact of backcountry camping, the provincial government is set to introduce a fee system on recreational public lands. 

Fees generated by Bill 64, the Public Lands Amendment Act, could be used to improve, conserve and maintain the public lands.

After June 1, it is likely the crown land campers will need to purchase a Public Land Camping Pass, which could be pegged at $30 per year, or $20 for a three-day pass. Not free any longer, but still beats the crowds and the cost of traditional front-country campgrounds. 

Interested in exploring crown land camping, tap into the vast resources available online and make sure to be well-prepared and follow all the necessary safety measures before venturing out. 

Lead photo of Kananaskis Country by: Jeff Bartlett @photojbartlett


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