RV Camping Outside the Lines

September 7, 2016

The thought has probably crossed your mind: ‘Can we RV camp anywhere we want in Canada?’ What could beat the beauty and rawness of the great outdoors, your RV nestled under a massive tree in the BC rainforest, or parked overlooking a great expanse in the Canadian Rockies, or sitting ocean-side on PEI, within earshot of crashing waves and the distant spay of humpback whales.

Similarly, we often arrive at our destination only to find the campground is full, or maybe the destination is just a bit too far for our tired driver to reach.

The idea of pulling over to RV camp anywhere we want seems ideal, but in reality, there are some important regulations, laws and best practices to consider. Let’s take a look at this a bit closer.

Can I park overnight at a day-use area or rest stop in Canadian National and Provincial Parks?

If you’ve been dreaming of exploring a popular national or provincial park, but couldn’t get your hands on a campsite reservation, you’re out of luck. Day-use areas and rest stops in Canadian National and Provincial Parks are strictly no overnight parking, including many town sites within them, such as Banff or Jasper.

Can I camp on someone’s private land if there’s no one around?

Private property is just that – private. Camping on private property without permission is considered trespassing and can get you into a lot of trouble. However, it never hurts to ask. You may find some property owners perfectly happy to allow you to park your RV for the night.

Can I park my RV overnight on a city street?

Most city parking by-laws prohibit overnight RV parking on city streets, and some even limit the number of hours you can park during the day. Always check the bylaws before heading into town; not all parking regulations are posted.

Can I camp at a highway rest area?

Overnight camping is discouraged at highway rest areas, although not every stop has a posted ‘no camping’ sign. Many rest areas are dark and secluded; so consider your safety before pulling over for the night. If you’re in a bind, a truck stop may be a safer option, although potentially not a quiet one.

Can I park my RV in a big-box store parking lot’

Many a weary traveler has ended up in a Walmart parking lot, and for the most part, you can rely on them in a pinch. However, there are a few locations that do not permit overnight parking. Before you settle in for the night, check the parking lot for signs that prohibiting camping, or to be completely safe, pop in and ask the manager if overnight parking is allowed at their location. Remember to be respectful of the fact that it is a parking lot and not a campsite, so don’t start rolling out your Astroturf or setting up chairs.

Where I can I experience a true back-country RV camping experience?

True off-the-grid camping is waiting to be discovered in the rugged backcountry of our natural forests, outside of provincial and national parks, in Provincial Recreation Sites and Crown land. Access is often by rough forestry roads, so do your research before you go to determine if it is passable for your vehicle. The sites generally have no or very few services, and are free or very inexpensive but remember to respect the wilderness and pack out everything you take in, leaving no trace.

Some other tips’ Be sure to park on durable surfaces, be aware of wildlife in the area and respectful of other visitors. Some sites take a lot of online sleuthing to find, but within BC, Sites and Trails BC offers a comprehensive guide and most provincial government websites have information on the subject. Research your province’s regulations (some require permits) before you head out.

Here is a list of some private provincial campground associations, which will provide a full range of RV friendly campsites and information:

You can also visit this page for more lists of RV campgrounds from coast to coast!

Ultimately, us Canadians are an adventurous bunch and there’s no doubt many will try to RV camp anywhere they please. Truth be told, there’s not much anyone can do about it if you don’t get caught, but sometimes a polite inquiry will get you a lot further than trying to be sneaky ‘ and spare you the possibility of a rude awakening by security guards or police. No matter where you choose to set up camp, be respectful of the environment and public property, and consider your personal safety at all times. Now, get out and explore this wondrous nation we all know and love!

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