Camping in USA and Canada

Hello Canadians and Americans

hope you can help me here, im planning a road trip to Western USA and Canda including some "Flyover" states and Alberta and BC, Sept/Oct, is there a lot of campsites about ? can you camp anywhere or only in designated spots, whats the expected charges wil be and what facilities you can expect ?

if you have any experience or knowledge of this, please do tell me, thanks
semper said:
Hello Canadians and Americans

hope you can help me here, im planning a road trip to Western USA and Canda including some "Flyover" states and Alberta and BC, Sept/Oct, is there a lot of campsites about ? can you camp anywhere or only in designated spots, whats the expected charges wil be and what facilities you can expect ?

if you have any experience or knowledge of this, please do tell me, thanks
Hint: Don't call them flyover states to the faces of the natives unless you list "Squealing like a pig" as a hobby of yours.

Why don't you start with the National Parks?

California is excellent for the variety of scenery and landscape available within a few hours drive. For example you have the Giant Redwoods of Sequoia (you can go and pretend to be an Ewok, it's where they filmed the forest scenes in Return of the Jedi) only around 2 hrs drive from the desert of Death Valley, which will still be around 110 degrees on average in Sept/Oct. Joshua Tree is also well worth a gander. Most importantly for you, they're a relatively short dash from SFO and LAX (and Las Vegas is about 40mins East of Death Valley.) I'd strongly suggest making Grand Canyon a special trip in itself.

If you want to head to Utah (complete with polygamy and bizarre alcohol licensing laws), you might want to check out Zion and Brice Canyon.

The National Park sites tend to be fairly well equipped and supported, but you're going to need to get yourself familiar with various drills regarding bears, rattlesnakes etc. and all kinds of wonderful fauna and flora.

Aside from that, there are supposed to be some great spots along PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) and the Santa Monica Mountains are pretty cool and a 20 min dash to LA & Santa Monica, a lot of the places tend to deal more with the RV crowd, but I know of people that have done trips on motorcycles. I can help you out with the details in So Cal if need be, but I think Cali_Tanker is from up North and he'll know a lot more about that area than I do.
cheers for the quick reply , i didn't think the "flyover" comments wouldn't go down too well either, of course i would like to see the real America and the people there as much as i would like to see the west coast California beach etc, is it safe to camp in places not part of the national parks ?

is So Cal = south california ?


I live in Oregon, and if you have a chance, it's not to be missed. The time of year you say you're going is going to be a little cool in the higher elevations, but good for camping.
The coastal areas are sweet. Some of the beach resorts have yurts you can rent for a small fee, and the smaller seaside towns are nice.
Astoria, on the Northwest corner, is an old fishing/whaling town with a great maritime museum.
It's safe to camp anywhere there is an established campground (not just state/national parks). Some have issues with bears and the like, but as long as you follow proper precautions, no worries.
Fees almost always apply in state parks, and can be as high as $25.00 a night, but some of the smaller campgrounds on state lands are free, and are available on a first come, first served basis.

It also tends to be cheaper than CA.
Bears, snakes, coyotes, mountain lions (aka puma or cougar), extreme heat and possible extreme cold not withstanding (some parts of Sequoia shut down as early as the end of October because of snow- some peaks top out at over 15,000 ft.) it's pretty safe. There aren't that many gangstas in wild country.

They can get a little bit obessive in some areas about camping (esp cooking) at recognised campsites because of the threat of wildfires. By October scrub and forest in So Cal (Southern California) won't have seen rain for 7-8 months and things can get out of control in a hurry. Fires can move at up to 30-40mph up slopes. I've seen it happen and it's frightening even from a couple of miles away.

YankMarine is right. Oregon is stunning, although sometimes a little damp for my taste.

Don't forget the State Parks either here's Cali's website:
Part of the problem with California is it's pretty damned big. Although San Francisco is considered 'North California', it's actually only half-way up the state. For me to drive to San Diego is the better part of seven hours. Ft Irwin, where I go train on occasion, is at least an eight hour haul. Getting to the Oregon border from the South, (and it is nice up there, the trees really start about an hour, hour and a half South of Eureka) will take you another five or six hours. And that's not counting the various stops you'll want to make as you're doing it. (San Diego, maybe LA, Yosemite, Tahoe, San Francisco, Redwood Country, Wine Country)

I'm afraid I don't much like communing with nature. The only reason I do it is that it's the only place they let me play with tanks, so I can't help you on the campsite issue.



War Hero
I have taken several groups on trips through the Canadian Rockies. The Skyline Trail is the best one, starts at Maligne Lake (famous poster) and you finish close to Jasper. You will have to book yourself onto the trail with the park rangers as the campsites will only take so many bodies. They actually have toilets and the very useful bear bars to get your food up out of reach. Use them and don't keep anything edible (except you ) in your tent.
The bear thing is serious. If not for you, then for the bear. If the rangers find a bear that habitually moves into campsites searching for food, they will destroy it. Bears are quick learners and it can only take one food reward to promote repeat behaviour.

Keep food, mess tins, stove, soap, deodorant, sunscreen and toothpaste (anything that smells- even carrier bags and the clothes you cooked in) in the food storage lockers or up a tree- at least 10ft up and 4ft from the trunk. Don't cook anything with a strong smell and if there are no fire pits available (designated cooking areas) make sure you do your cooking at least 100yds from the tent. Dispose of any waste in the proper recepticles and, if you are away from an ablution block, do a shovel recce well away from the campsite. DO NOT BE TEMPTED TO HAVE A CHEEKY WAZZ NEAR THE TENT AT NIGHT. (Some people suggest as much as 200yds seperation between tent and sh1tehole.)

Don't leave your daysack/ bergen hanging around either- bears recognise them as a source of food. Ffs, don't leave food or wrappers inside your vehicle and try to avoid eating anything inside the vehicle while in transit.
Beware of banjo music.

And Sheriffs that look like Brian Dennehy.

Fortunately these do not generally migrate.

There are plenty of anti bear products and not all with a safety catch.
You don't say if you're an American/Canadian or not. If a Yank, it may not be a bad idea to have a large calibre sidearm (Nothing less than a .357 Magnum or .40) to deal with bears, mountain lions and the ilk. Curiously, under current law, you may be armed in National Forests but not in National Parks. Doing so in Canada could be tricky though, I'm not sure of their laws.




Having lived in Calgary, AB for a number of years and now living in Edmonton, AB, I have done my fair share of camping out here. Banff and Jasper are great places to see as is the Columbia Ice Field. For a convenient, well staffed and friendly campsite, I would recommend The David Thompson Resort ( I have led Adventure Training from there several times and have been treated like royalty each time. It is conveniently located between Banff and Jasper (each is about a 2 hr drive away), is about an hour from the Columbia Icefield and has craploads of trails, mountain hikes, horse riding, etc located all around it. As well, there is plenty of Crown land that you can camp on for free, however, you must make sure to leave no trace of your having been there.

If you have the time, the Drumheller, AB area is great as well, especially if you have an interest in paleontology and dinosaurs. The Royal Tyrrell Museum is a must if you have kids with you, but even as an adult, it is an outstanding museum of dinosaur atifacts.

Best of luck and if you need/want anymore info, just send a PM. Cheers and have a great vacation!
Hello Semper,

There are more places to camp in the US than you could probably get around to in an entire lifetime. Crabtastic is right. The best place for you to start is But you also need to know that when it comes to camping in the large, famous parks that get millions of visitors each year (like Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone ...) you probably need reservations several months in advance. Or else keep looking for a cancellation. When you contact the parks you are interested in visiting, ask about nearby Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, state, county, or privately owned campgrounds that may have vacancies if no sites are available in the National Park. You might also look for some kind of camp ground guide on the Amazon or Barnes & Noble web sites (That's what I would do if I actually wanted to camp somewhere.) Whether you camp inside the park or not, if you are going to visit more than one, you probably want to invest $50 in a National Parks Pass which gets you and a carload of your friends and relatives into any National Park in the US for an entire year.

Any "designated" campground is probably reasonably safe unless it's right on the US/Mexico border like Organ Pipe National Monument. But it will still be too darn hot to go there in Sep/Oct anyway.

California_Tanker is right about weapons in the National Parks. Only the rangers (my husband is one) are supposed to have them.

Have fun!


War Hero
In Alberta I suggest two places:

Banff National Park
Columbia Icefields (Jasper)

I just recently, April, returned from both. Both are beautiful. Banff is quite "quaint" and has a small town feel too it. You can't go wrong with either.

As for California, yeah, we have some nice places and all. However, most are very "touristy." I guess I get that from living here all my life. I prefer the more secluded, out of the way spots, so as not to run into alot of people. Of course, I am also very anti social :)
hp_sauce said:
C_T, are you serious about carrying a sidearm while on holidays camping? Umm, you would probably get taken down by the SWAT team if you did that in Canada. A 357 magnum in the campground where families stay and children play. What a scary thought. :( No, we believe in co-existing and protecting our wildlife rather than shooting them.
I have no problem with co-existing with wildlife. My problem occurs when the wildlife's idea of co-existing with me is when I'm being digested in their belly. There are a lot of critters with sharp claws and pointy teeth in the Great American Outdoors that might consider me 'tasty.' This is why openly carrying a firearm is lawful in National Forests and most rural counties. I'm not suggesting that you shoot every mountain lion you see, but I am suggesting that it's a lot better to have the opportinity to shoot one instead of wrestling with it if they decide that your five-year-old looks like a nice morsel. The Ranger policy of destroying any animal that kills a human is reassuring, but not particularly useful if it's me or a family member who was the initial victim.

It might do you some good to get a book on camping in general from a US/Canadian source, just because there are different skills and drills involved due to the natural hazards we've already discussed. (Bears, wolves, mountain lions, insects, snakes, fire, mudslides, earthquakes, rain like you have never seen in your life etc. etc.) Wild country over here is a long way away from the Lake District. If you're heading away from the really touristy bits of parks, you're going to have to keep your wits about you.
thank you for your tips so far, i will be sorting out details of my trips taking on board your tips cheers.


Also in Southern California are the Sierra Madre Mountains and the Laguna Mountains which have excellent camping facilities for either tenting, or cabin, whichever you prefer. (I prefer the tent)They're around outside San Diego area.


Be careful in some of those areas though, some folks in there are known to "make you squeal like a pig!" LOL
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