By Jane Marshall
Random camping. Free camping. Wild camping. These are all names for one of my favourite activities.
What is it?
Definition: Camping at a wilderness destination with no established facilities.
Think of random camping as a deep dive into the wilderness. It means no toilets and no services. It’s just you, mother nature and all her creatures. Random camping = roughing it.
Random camping in the Job / Cline Public Land Use Zone (PLUZ), Alberta.
Even though random camping isn’t easy or always comfortable, COVID-19 is propelling people to try. Its popularity has massively increased as we try find COVID-safe things to do this summer.
Read this CBC article to learn about the rise in popularity.
Know the Terms
Wildland Provincial Park: Land that’s protected by the Government of Alberta. You are allowed to random camp with no permit.
PLUZ (Public Land Use Zone): Public land managed by the Government of Alberta. Each PLUZ has specific regulations; some lands can be used for motorized recreation (snowmobiling and OHV use), while others are for hiking and horseback riding.
- Click here for a complete list of all Alberta PLUZ areas and their individual regulations
- Click here to learn about the general ethics of camping on public land
Wilderness Area: Provincially designated areas that provide limited opportunities for nature-based recreation such as backcountry hiking and camping, wildlife viewing and mountain climbing. NO DEVELOPMENT is allowed. These are zones for people who prefer true wilderness and self-propelled travel.
There are three in Alberta:
Leave No Trace: A set of principles to protect nature.
- Learn the Outdoor Ethics set out by Leave No Trace Canada
*Random camping is allowed in National Parks, but you must buy a permit and camp only in designated areas. Click, then scroll down to read the regulations and get links to designated random camping areas.
Prepare and Plan
Now it’s time to choose where to go. There are so many options in Alberta!
My top favourites:
- Castle Wildland Provincial Park
- Bighorn Backcountry —5,000 square kilometres of public lands east of Banff and Jasper National Parks
- This link has all the regulations and a map showing PLUZ areas
- White Goat Wilderness Area — get really wild. This area is random-camping and foot traffic only
Entry Creek, near Lake of the Falls, Job / Cline PLUZ, Alberta.
With the boom in random camping interest, more and more info is available online. Try:
Once you’ve chosen an area, use Google Earth to understand the land.
- Look for a water source
- Know your directions
- Remember that you likely won’t have cell reception, so take a map and screen shots
- Study road closures and know if you need a 4 by 4 vehicle
Consider your Safety
- Have a spare tire and know how to change a flat! (This just happened to me in the Kananaskis while random camping!)
- Consider taking a satellite device for regions without cell service
- Leave your trip plan with a family member
- If backpacking, leave a note on your dashboard
- If backpacking, know how to safely store food. Bring bear bags/canisters and store them away from your campsite
Happy planning, and happy random camping!