Camping 101: What to know before staying the night

There’s no better way to experience a national historic site or national park than by camping in it.

Read on for the camping types, amenities, and services to choose from at Parks Canada administered places. We also cover the essentials for new campers, tips on how to book your campsite, and some rules to keep in mind when you visit.

What type of camping is for you?

Do you prefer to spend the night in comfort, or get away from it all? From roughing it to home away from home, we have your camping style covered.

Frontcountry camping

A great option for beginners. Frontcountry campgrounds usually include:

  • washrooms with showers
  • kitchen shelters
  • electrical
  • sewer and water hookups
  • Wi-Fi access zones

Campgrounds may also be close to outdoor theatres, beaches, grocery stores, playgrounds and picnic shelters. Sites may have a fire pit, or access to a shared fire pit.

Frontcountry campgrounds are generally easy to access by car, and RVs are welcome in many locations.

A few locations also offer equipped camping: we provide the camping equipment you’ll need (tent, stove, lantern, etc.), thanks to our partnership with MEC.

Backcountry camping

Looking for more of a challenge? Try the ultimate outdoor adventure: you, your camping gear and the great outdoors. Your backcountry campsite might include:

  • a tent pad
  • picnic tables
  • outhouses
  • firewood
  • a fire pit

Most backcountry sites are not accessible by car, and you can expect to do some hiking, canoeing, or kayaking to get to them.

Comfort camping

‘Roughing it’ not for you? These options are available in many places - no assembly required:

  • oTENTik: A cross between an A-frame cabin and a tent
  • Yurt: A circular hut
  • Cabin: A small rustic house-like shelter - these vary in size
  • Overnight mooring: Moor your boat overnight in a historic canal

Looking for something more unique? Try these:

  • Ôasis: A teardrop-shaped ‘duplex’
  • MicrOcube: A one-room mini-cabin with a large picture window
  • Tipi: A cone-shaped canvas tent, traditionally used by Plains peoples
  • Historic stay: Sleep in a fort, a lodge, a period-style tent, a lockmasters’ or lightkeepers’ house or a period-style home

How to make a camping reservation

Ready to book your stay with us? Most of our campgrounds are reservable.

Two ways to reserve

Before you reserve

Some terms you should know:

Launch day
The day reservations open. Each location has its own launch day.
See the full list here

The campsite or accommodation you want to reserve.

Reservable Period
The dates for which you can reserve a site.

Operating Season
The dates a campground or offer is open to the public.

If a date is outside the Reservable Period but still within the Operating Season, sites are offered first-come, first-serve. Some sites also offer a limited number of campsites on a first-come-first-serve basis throughout the year. If you’re interested in this option, check with the place you want to visit.

How to prepare for launch day:

  1. Mark your calendar. Launch days can be busy! Make sure to be ready at the exact date and time that the location you seek is launching.
  2. Create an account. You can browse without an account, but you will need to have one to reserve a site. Access your account using GCKey or a third party sign-in option.
  3. Sign in to your account ahead of time to practice using the system. Using a laptop or desktop computer, you can search for sites on a map, in a list, or on a calendar - try all three to see if there’s one that works best for you. If using your phone or tablet, browsing options may be more limited. If you get stuck, try this detailed overview.
  4. Have a back-up plan, in case the site you want isn’t available on the dates you need.

When you reserve

On launch day, you can make reservations starting at 8:00 a.m. local park time (8:30 a.m. for parks in Newfoundland). The entire season will open for reservations at that time. You can even reserve your dates for more than one trip.

If your first choice isn’t available

A few things to try:

  • Click on the site to open the site description. Click on “Site Calendar” to see a monthly calendar overview of when that site is available.
  • Click on “Availability Calendar” to see a calendar overview of when all sites in that campground are available. If you want to stay multiple nights, and different sites are available for different portions of your stay, consider a night-by-night reservation.
  • Navigate to other areas of the campground on the map.
  • Use the breadcrumb links (example: Parks Canada > Central > Riding Mountain National Park > Wasagaming) to go back and choose another campground within that park.
  • Look at campgrounds in other parks by changing your park selection.

Some locations are very popular, and reservations fill up fast. Check out these recommendations for places you may not have thought of:

Services and amenities

Not sure of the difference between serviced and unserviced? Here’s a quick breakdown of what’s offered at our campsites.

Comparison between serviced and unserviced campsites
Serviced campsite Unserviced campsite
Always includes Electrical No facilities
May also include Water
Water and sewer
Shared washroom with toilets only
Shared washroom with toilets and showers
Best for you if You are camping in an RV that needs water, electricity, and/or sewer hookups You are camping in a tent or pop-up camper and don’t need water, electricity, and/or sewer hookups

Camping basics

Camping for the first time and don’t know where to start? Or maybe it’s been a while and you need a refresher? Parks Canada’s Learn-to Camp program has tools to help you plan a great camping trip.

Can’t decide where or how to camp? See all the options, organized by type of camping or by province.

Most importantly, stay safe during your camping adventure.

Camping rules and etiquette

Our protected areas are unique places and require unique rules to protect them. These include laws on permits, quiet hours, campfires, pets and more. Beyond that, follow these simple guidelines to ensure everyone has a good camping trip:

  • Respect the posted speed limits and remain alert while driving. Trees may obstruct your view and you should expect pedestrians (including children) and sometimes wildlife on the road.
  • Use roadways and pathways to travel to and from campground facilities (cook shelters, bathrooms, etc.). Cutting through a neighbouring campsite will disturb other campers and may cause damage to fragile vegetation.
  • Throw your recyclables and trash into marked bins. Help keep the park clean.
  • Follow "Pack In, Pack Out" rules. If you bring garbage into the backcountry (food wrappers, beverage containers, etc.) you must carry it back out when you leave.
  • Keep noise to a reasonable volume. Excessive noise is prohibited at any time of day. Respect other campers’ tranquility and campground quiet hours.
  • Keep your pet on a leash. This rule applies at all times.
  • Keep your campsite clean. Avoid attracting bears and other wildlife by keeping a ‘bare’ campsite.
  • Use a personal basin to wash dishes on your campsite. Do not use the bathrooms or potable water taps.
  • Use your own tub to wash laundry. Dump water down the outdoor sink, not inside bathrooms where space is limited.

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