Crown Land Camping
Camping can be the pinnacle in relaxation, but for a variety of reasons many of us want an even more secluded experience than we expect at private and provincial campgrounds. What may surprise you, is that as an Albertan resident you’re allowed to use Crown Land (aka Public Land) for recreational purposes. There are 2 different types of public land which we will explain below. With some very minimal planning, you’ll be able to put your Alberta Residency to good use getting a more private, and spacious place to camp. This is great if you are an off-roader, have pets, ride horses, hunt/fish, or simply desire a more remote location. If you’ve gotten this far and that still sounds exciting, camping on public land is probably for you!
Types of Land
Public Land in Alberta breaks down in to 2 sub-categories – Agricultural Public Land and Recreational Public Land. With some small caveats, you can use either for camping. If you do plan to do activities like hunting, off-roading, or horse riding you’ll need to check with the province on which regulations apply there.
Agricultural Public Land
You can camp on Agricultural Public Land. If the land is leased under a Grazing License you won’t need to contact the leaseholder however if the land is leased under a Grazing Lease or a Farm Development Lease you’ll need to contact the leaseholder. For camping purposes there is really no benefit to camping on Grazing or Farm Development Leases, it is only advisable to camp on Grazing License land in the vast majority of situations.
Public Land (and Public Land Use Zones)
You can camp on ‘plain old’ public land with much the same restrictions as on Grazing Licensed Agricultural Public Land. Take a look here for more details on the exact areas and rules which qualify. Do note though, many areas which might appear to be Public land actually have a “Public Land Use Zone” in effect, which specifically limits what can and can’t be done on that land. Read more about the PLUZ system here.
EDIT: The link listed in this paragraph before July 2017 is no longer active. We’ve updated it to point towards the current PLUZ info page – at least as of July 2017.
Rules and Enforcement
All of the local laws of any jurisdiction you’re in will apply. However there are also some Public-Land-specific restrictions which apply, and as a recreational user you are required to ensure that you don’t interfere with the operations of the leaseholder. The special rules are all available here, but some highlights are:
- Park vehicles clear of driveways and access routes.
- Do not interfere with wildlife or grazing cattle.
- Obtain permission before lighting a fire.
- Leave gates the way you found them, and do not fill or bridge texas gates.
- Pack out ALL litter.
- Don’t damage the land it’s self or the property of other users and leaseholders
- Do not exceed the maximum vehicle width on roads or trails
- This is not a comprehensive list – read the regulations before using this land
If you do need police or emergency assistance out there, RCMP semi-regularly patrol most highways and the ESRD’s Wildland Fire Crews frequently check the ground situation of any smoke they see. It is not uncommon to have an exploratory visit from the fire crew during the first day or two, please keep in mind these folks are doing their job to keep our forests safe and need to investigate any smoke seen in the forest. As long as you have a ban-compliant fire (or no fire as the case could be) you shouldn’t have issues.
Getting out there
Roads will be inconsistent, and often change season to season on Crown Land. A working knowledge of orienteering and a good GPS is advised. You’ll probably want to let people know where you plan to go before you leave, and bring a friend the first few times you use crown land to get a feel for the lay of the land.
The ESRD’s website has a lot of information on PLUZ areas including a more detailed version of the map above, located here.
Special RV Considerations
Obviously there isn’t shore power or a bath house in the middle of the forest so you’ll be packing these things with you. As far as power goes, most public land users agree that a solar panel of some sort is a necessity for an extended stay though in my own personal experience a 6V battery setup is usually enough for a few days as long as you ration power. If you plan a long enough trip to fill your waste tanks you might also want to pick up a porta-tank so you can empty into that when you fill up. Make sure you have a plan in place for these things before leaving civilization:
- “Waste” Storage
- Emergency Cell Phone Access
Crown Land camping is personally my favorite way to camp, and for a lot of different reasons it is a great way to spend a weekend. With a little research and pre-planning you can enjoy your own personal wilderness. This guide isn’t intended as legal advice, and you should consult the provincial regulations before accessing any potentially public land. Happy Camping!