Camping in Jasper & Banff National Parks Without Reservations
Banff and Jasper National Parks in Alberta Canada are among the most visited National Parks in the world. With their unique landscape and stunning natural beauty, it’s no surprise why. When we started our research in May for visiting these two parks in August, we figured we’d be unable to get a camping spot inside either one of the parks. Just like parks in the US, Banff and Jasper book out a year or more in advance! Well, much to our excitement, we found through our research, that there are several first-come first-serve campgrounds in Jasper and Banff! With that being said, it’s not always easy to get one of those coveted spots. Here is how and where we camped in Jasper and Banff National Parks without reservations.
Jasper National Park
GPS: 53.015060, -118.082020
Acting as the overflow parking lot for campers unable to get into the actual Snaring Campground, this first-come first-serve lot is a great place to stay while exploring the northernmost areas of Jasper National Park. When we visited Jasper, the largest campground in the park was closed all summer due to renovations, so they turned this overflow area from just an oversized parking lot to more like actual campsites The key to getting a site in the Snaring River Overflow Campground, as with any FCFS (first-come first-serve) campground, is to arrive early. We pulled our rig in at about 9 am on a Saturday, and there was already a good-sized line of people waiting to get a spot.
The campground can accommodate RVs of all sizes. We had no issues with our 35-foot fifth wheel and camped among many motorhomes and fifth wheels larger than us. There aren’t really any amenities available at the Snaring River Overflow Campground except pit toilets and garbage dumpsters. There is a three-night maximum, but we were told by the ranger to let them know if we were interested in extending our stay. Cell service was nonexistent, but since we were all on vacation and not needing to work during our time in Jasper, that was more than okay. The views of the surrounding mountains and the fact that we were actually in Jasper National Park made up for any lack of services or amenities. We were just there to explore the park and soak in the beauty.
GPS: 52.634, -117.865
Kerkeslin campground was our second home base while exploring Jasper National Park. It sits in the shadow of Mount Kerkeslin and allowed easy access to visit Athabasca Falls and other must-see areas on the Icefields Parkway. The 42 sites within the campground are all FCFS. We arrived at about 9 am on a weekday and had no trouble finding an open spot. According to the park’s website, this is the most overlooked campground in the National Park. Not sure why, as it is great! What we did have trouble with was fitting into a spot properly. Kerkeslin states that it’s best suited for tents and RVs under 25 feet. We decided to give it a try anyway. As we were backing into a spot, a ranger reminded us of the max length but said if we were able to park without touching any green (tree branches or grass), she’d allow us to stay. We got into site #25 without any trouble.
There are pit toilets, drinking water, and firewood available at Kerkeslin. We did not have cell coverage at this campground. Before arriving, we used the free dump station outside of the town of Jasper to refill the freshwater tank and dump the black and gray tanks.
GPS: 52.21936, -117.22812
Our last home in Jasper National Park was located at the base of the Athabasca Glacier. It is an oversized parking lot located next to the Icefields Centre. While the site itself was nothing special, the views and access to some of the most amazing places in the park were very special. Again, we arrived at about 9 am on a weekday morning. There was plenty of room, but we are glad we came when we did because it quickly filled up. We are also happy we got there when we did because we were able to snag a spot that backed our big back window into an unobstructed view of the glacier, and it was one of the easiest spots in the lot to level our rig. The whole parking lot sits on a slant, so it’s difficult to get level in a majority of the spots. Being on the outside of the parking lot, backing up to the road and glacier, is prime real estate!
There are pit toilets, and that’s about it as far as amenities go. We did not have cell coverage, but the Icefields Centre has free Wi-Fi. We were able to sit outside of the Centre after it closed for the day and use the Wi-Fi. This is one of the most unique camping experiences we’ve ever had and would highly recommend calling it home for at least a night!
Banff National Park
GPS: 51.3274, -116.0377
We spent a long weekend camping in the Protection Mountain Campground in Banff National Park. This FCFS campground sits on the picturesque Bow Valley Parkway, just 17 km east of Lake Louise. Once again we got there in the morning but would’ve had no trouble getting a spot had we arrived later in the day. This campground has 72 sites and at the time of our visit, was closed to tent campers due to bear activity in the area.
The higher nightly rate is worth the amenities that come with the campsite: flush toilets, fire pit, picnic area, and a large picnic shelter for preparing meals. Cell service was, again, basically nonexistent. We got one bar of 4G from time to time. We absolutely loved this campground for exploring the Lake Louise area!
GPS: 51.1915, -115.5202
Man, did we luck out when we had the opportunity to stay at Tunnel Mountain Village in Banff for a week! This park is not FCFS, but we had read about other campers getting in at the last minute, so we took a chance. We arrived early on a Sunday morning and saw dozens of RVs on their way out. We figured it would be no problem to get a spot. Well, it wasn’t as easy as we thought, as the ranger did have to spend about 15 minutes moving some reservations around, but in the end, we got a spot!
Tunnel Mountain Village I has all of the amenities you need. Clean, hot showers, flush toilets, dump station, and my favorite amenity, large outdoor sinks for washing dishes. There is also a bus stop right in the park where you can catch a free ride to downtown Banff. From there you are able to take public transportation to anywhere in the National Park. We barely drove the entire week we stayed at Tunnel Mountain. Being in the town of Banff, we had full cell service.
We didn’t know what to expect trying to camp in Jasper and Banff National Parks without reservations. In August, nonetheless! But, with a little pre-planning and some early morning arrivals, we were able to snag a spot at every campground we tried. We absolutely loved these National Parks and can’t wait to go back! Looking for some family friendly hikes in the area? Check out our Hiking in Jasper & Banff National Parks with Kids blog post!