Responsible Freedom Camping in Canada

Responsible Freedom Camping in Canada
on Jun 25, 2018

Your guide to camping for free in Canada

Renting a motorhome in Canada is one of the best ways to explore this expansive country. The second largest nation in the world, there is so much nature and open space to discover in Canada, and yet many locals and tourists will stick to the main cities such as Vancouver and Toronto along the southern border. We at Motorhome Republic urge you to take the road less travelled and camp your way around this outdoor wonderland! All you need to think about each night is where to park, and we’re here to help you do just that for the best price (or sometimes no price!).

Freedom camping, or camping for free, is possible in Canada, you’ll just need to know when and where you are permitted to park for the night to avoid any fines for mistakenly parking in the wrong spot.

Keep reading to learn how to camp for free in Canada, and do so responsibly while still enjoying every minute of your travels.

What is freedom camping in Canada?

A man jumps off a dock into the water at sunset in Canada

Standard camping is when you park your campervan in a designated campground and pay a fee for the convenience of a range of facilities such as power hookups, bathrooms, and cooking facilities. The opposite is freedom camping, where you park somewhere along your route away from designated amenity-filled camping grounds, for free. This is legal in many areas but prohibited in others, so the trick to freedom camping in Canada is staying within the law for a seamless RV holiday.

How to be a responsible freedom camper in Canada

A motorhome parked on the highway beside snow-capped mountains in Canada

It’s one thing to freedom camp legally, and another to freedom camp lawfully AND responsibly. When everyone is responsible for how they camp, it means this experience can remain free and accessible for future travellers and generations to come. Here’s how you can do right by your fellow camper now, and in the future:

● There are some designated areas for free camping. When you find one, read all signs on arrival and be careful to follow any rules such as maximum time limits.

● It can be much more convenient for you to rent a motorhome with on-board bathroom facilities (self-contained), and it’s also beneficial for when you free camp in areas with no public bathrooms. If you don’t have a fully equipped RV, dig a hole at least 30 cm to dispose of your waste.

● Never clean dishes in waterways or lakes, as the detergents can harm local plants and wildlife.

Three people paddle a red canoe in Emerald Lake, Canada

● Remember that it’s simply proper campground etiquette to be mindful of your noise levels around other campers, especially at night and early in the morning.

● Never leave so much as a toothpick behind: you must take out everything you take in to an area where you camp, even if it means taking smelly garbage away to dispose of properly in the next public waste bins you see.

● Never feed wildlife or leave food out where wildlife may find it.

● Be extremely wary of lighting campfires. Canada often suffers extreme wildfires caused by human negligence, so adhere to any restrictions on fires and if in doubt, do not light one.

A Canadian lakeside campfire after it has been put out

● Avoid parking on roadsides. Cars driving at night may struggle to see your camper in the dark which is a real hazard on narrow roads.

● If you leave your motorhome to explore on foot, always hide valuables from view, lock all doors, and if you can, take your passports with you.

● Carry additional reserves of drinking water with you. When you head into the wilderness, it may be some time before you find fresh water again.

● If the local authorities ask you to move your campervan for whatever reason, do so quickly and politely.

Where you can (and can’t) freedom camp in Canada

Verdant green grass and trees in front of a mountain in Canada

Canada is an increasingly popular destination for freedom camping thanks to the vast number of places where you can park a campervan for free overnight. Especially during the summer months when it’s warm enough to park without plugging in for heat, this makes for an extremely affordable adventure of a lifetime. That said, you will need to abide by all local laws to make sure you wake up to the sounds of birds and nature rather than an officer knocking on your window. Here are the main areas where you are and are not permitted to camp for free in Canada:

● Start by looking for Crown Land. Almost 90% of Canada is designated as Crown Land and is available for residents to use for free, and for visitors to use for a small fee. That said, each province has different rules, some of which make it free for visitors who work in Canada or who rent a motorhome from a Canadian company. Note that you are only allowed to camp for a total of 21 days in the year per site, and some areas of Crown Land do have ‘no camping’ signs.

● Never park on private property without the express permission of the landowner.

● Some Wal-Mart stores allow campervan travellers to park overnight. You will need to get permission from the store manager to stay - and do note there are no facilities provided on site.

● Note that unlike areas in the US, parking overnight in rest stops is not permitted in Canada. You may notice other travellers parking in these areas, and while it is up to you whether you risk it, you may be woken up in the night and asked to move on.

● In British Columbia, there are a number of recreation sites where you are permitted to park for free. These areas are generally found away from the main roads next to rivers and lakes and do not tend to come with many facilities. Also, they are often found on forestry roads, which can be tough for a campervan to access, so ask around, check online for conditions, and turn back rather than risk getting your RV stuck.

● If you’re unsure where to start, try looking on Free Campsites, but note that this is a user-generated website so the information may not always be 100% accurate or up-to-date. It pays to cross-check with local tourism offices.

A motorhome drives a winding road in the mountains in Canada

When ready to hit the road, pick a Canadian motorhome itinerary (or two) and get started! Don’t forget that there are plenty of standard campgrounds along the way as well, so you can always splash out for a night or two for the extra luxuries a campsite can provide.