A little cold weather is no reason to pack up your camping gear – especially when you live in or are visiting Alberta. Winter is actually a great time to break out your tent and enjoy the outdoors.
No crowds means the natural world is even more tranquil. Combine this with how many beautiful campgrounds stay open year-round and you’ll want to pack up your long johns and a warm winter sleeping bag to head out on the weekend.
Winter campsites don’t usually require reservations, which usually means they’re filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Wherever you go, remember to bring lots of layers and follow our tips to stay warm and sleep warm.
Here’s where you can find some of Alberta’s best winter camping:
Chain Lakes Provincial Park
Where: Municipal District of Ranchland
Even though the town of Nanton is less than 40km away, Chain Lakes Provincial Park provides a feeling of seclusion – which is perfect if you’re looking to recharge your batteries. And speaking of batteries, you may as well power-down your phone because you’ll have to drive 10 minutes out of the park to get any reception. There’s a payphone on site for emergencies (and a satellite phone is another option you could bring), but otherwise, you’re blissfully cut off.
After a day outside hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, you can get cozy in one of the heated shelters, which come equipped with gas stoves so that you can warm up with delicious, hot beverages.
Other nearby attractions are Head-Smashed In Buffalo Jump and Frank Slide Interpretive Centre. If your trip is delayed until the summer months, you can add Bar-U Ranch to your list. Open May through September, you can visit this national historic site for free in 2017 with a Parks Canada Discovery Pass – pick up your free parks pass at MEC stores.
Big Elbow Provincial REC AREA
Where: Sheep River Valley Area, Kananaskis Country
Hugging the eastern slopes of the Rockies, Big Elbow Provincial Recreation Area is your winter camping pick if spotting wildlife is an essential part of your adventures. The valley it’s in is named for the bighorn sheep that roam the area, but the Big Elbow Backcountry Campground also offers nature fans the chance to keep an eye out for elk, moose and deer without the summer crowds (pack your binoculars). You can also strap on some skis or snowshoes and explore the surrounding Sheep Valley trails (pdf). Campsites offer outdoor fire pits and free firewood, so you can warm up under the stars after a day of exploring.
Beauvais Lake Provincial Park
Where: Pincher Creek
Infinitely peaceful Beauvais Lake Provincial Park provides a spread of sprawling winter scenery for the cold-weather camper. Big mountain views make this park a popular year-round destination – though winter brings a special feeling of peace and quiet. For wildlife watchers, keep an eye out for signs or tracks of deer, moose, rabbits or maybe even a wolverine. With a number of dog-friendly trails and cross-country skiing options, Beauvais Lake is a perfect choice for those who want both beautiful wilderness and a healthy dose of exercise.
Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park
Where: Milk River, Alberta
This one’s a bit of a drive from the Rockies, but the Milk River Valley makes it well worth the added effort. Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park offers some of the finest winter camping in Alberta, and also has the largest concentration of rock art on the North American Plains – some of which might be as much as 5000 years old. The park features over 60 campsites (some with electricity) for winter use, and there are hoodoos and trails that follow the Milk River. It’s a sacred area and the Milk River Valley is home to more First Nations pictographs (rock paintings) and petroglyphs (rock carvings) than any other park in North America.
New to winter camping?
Or need ideas on what to pack? Check out 26 winter camping tips beginners should know. Now bundle up, get out there and have fun until your eyelashes get frosty.
Wherever you go, always leave a trip plan. If your destination takes you into the backcountry, make sure you have all the appropriate winter backcountry safety essentials and avalanche training. And of course, remember to follow Leave No Trace principles – they apply year-round.
Images: Danny Xu / Shutterstock, Blazej Lyjak / Shutterstock, Pexel