Free camping, Boondocking, dispersed camping or wild camping – call it what you will – there are options aplenty for campers and RVers to find their own piece of paradise in Canada “off the grid”.
Are you a spontaneous traveller? If so, you may well be asking the question, "How and where can I camp for free in Canada?" Free or Wild camping is perfect for people who prefer a less rigid style of travel.
The benefits of wild camping are numerous.
- It’s a great option for last-minute trips when most established campgrounds will already be full
- You can be flexible – as long as you know the general area where you want to be for the night, and you know where dispersed camping is permitted, you can choose your campsite on the fly
- With wild camping, you can usually find a spot far away from others – giving you your own piece of paradise, often with a spectacular view
- Best of all? It’s usually free.
Wild camping can include a stealthy overnight stay on an urban side street – a place to rest your head en route to your main destination – or it might be a permitted overnight stop in a Walmart. But that’s not really camping. Camping is the true experience of being outdoors amongst nature, basking in the beauty of your surroundings and chilling out completely. If this is the type of wild camping you have in mind and you don’t mind roughing it a little, there are a ton of ways to find free camping in Canada.
So, where do you start when looking for RV camping alternatives outside of provincial, national park and private campgrounds offering serviced campsites?
Around 89% of Canada is crown (or public) land – either owned by the federal or provincial governments. While much of this land is in the far north, all provinces have crown land in the form of recreation and back-country areas that allow wild camping, usually for free.* Internet and cell service are usually non-existent, and you need to be completely self-sufficient when camping in an RV on Crown Land. Access is often via non-maintained or forestry roads, making many of these sites prohibited for those travelling in an RV rental. Make sure you check accessibility before you set out, and ensure your rental contract covers you for where you plan to go. *In some provinces - Alberta is one - payment is required to be able to camp on Crown land.
Some useful websites exist for locating free campsites on Crown and recreational land in Canada. Click on each province for more information.
Some smaller towns across Canada have areas, either formal or informal, where campers can stay for free or for a small fee. Some of these campgrounds have washrooms, while others may be a large field with no amenities but may have a great view. Ask the locals if free camping in their town is available (and don’t forget to support their businesses!)
Provided there are no signs indicating overnight parking is prohibited, you will find rest stops where you can overnight across the country. These are more like ‘convenience campsites’ but some have dumping facilities and an outhouse, and many have good views. The downside is that you can’t light a campfire, but they are a good option for those who may place more emphasis on the journey than the destination. Take note of any signs posted indicating maximum stay.
Visitor Information Centres
With permission, overnight parking may be available at larger Visitor Information Centres across Canada. Again, this is convenience camping however many also offer waste dumping facilities, freshwater fill-ups, and even free Wi-Fi.
There are useful websites and apps available for download to help you locate free and low-cost camping across Canada. Check out:
Freecampsites.net - a user generated platform with a mix of good and not so good suggestions
iOverlander – features user generated campsites and includes water and shower locations
Campendium.com - lists free camping, RV parks and provincial and national park across the USA and Canada.
Remember, free camping is a privilege, not a right. Wherever you choose to ‘wild camp,’ there is one steadfast rule which never changes – LEAVE NO TRACE. It is your responsibility to take your garbage with you, not destroy the vegetation around you and leave the area as if you’d never been there.
While tenting is an option, some areas only allow wild camping in fully self-contained RVs. There are many RV hire companies in Canada where you can rent an RV and it's always a good option to explore if you don't own one. CanaDream has seven locations across Canada and our friendly reservations Cast would love to help you choose the RV that's right for you. Wild camping might not be for everyone but, if you enjoy seclusion, flexibility, adventure and wide-open spaces, it might just be what you're looking for!