When you think of camping, you think fresh air, family time and relaxation. Most campers are so happy just to reserve a campsite in a private and provincial campground for their holiday, but some more adventurous campers, they might want an even more secluded experience. 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 easy planning, you’ll be able to put being an Alberta Camper to good use getting a more private, and spacious place to camp. This is super fun if you are an off-roader, have pets, ride horses, hunt/fish, or simply desire a more private location. If this sounds exciting and makes you wanna start loading the trailer now, then camping on public land is probably for you!
Here are the types of land
Public Land in Alberta has 2 sub-categories – Agricultural Public Land and Recreational Public Land. 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 most situations. Watch out for cows! Trust me, if you see a large, black, animal that has a shape of a bear, don’t panic, it very well could just be a cow!
Public Land (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. Remember though, many areas which might appear to be Public land actually have a “Public Land Use Zone” (PLUZ system) in effect, which limits what can and can’t be done on that land. Read more about the PLUZ system here.
Yes there are Rules
All of the local laws of where you are staying will apply. There are also some Public-Land-specific restrictions which apply, and as a recreational camper you are required to ensure that you don’t interfere with the operations of the leaseholder. The special rules are all available here, but here are the Coles notes:
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 a 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 are all good.
Getting out there
Roads can be unpredictable, and often change season to season on Crown Land. Make sure you have a good GPS and that you let friends and family know where you are going, and do that before you leave.
The ESRD’s website has a lot of information on PLUZ areas including a more detailed version of the map above, visit here.
Some things to remember
There definitely will not be any power, so a 6V battery setup is usually enough, plus bring along a generator. Generators are super quiet now, so it won’t take away from the peacefulness but it will remind the bears that you are borrowing their home for a few days. Speaking of bears, remember to “bear proof” your area. Also remember to bring along extra fuel, and figure out where your cell phone works.
Crown Land camping is such a great way to camp, you really feel like your experiencing your own personal wilderness. With a little research and pre-planning you will have a great adventure!
Make sure to consult the provincial regulations before accessing any potentially public land.