It had been a long day of running. In fact it had been over 50km of running the Mount Assiniboine trail in prep for the 100 km Iron legs ultra race in Bragg Creek. They were tired and driving back to camp at their beautiful mountain view campsite that they had reserved for a second night by way of the self-registration. They were ready to relax beside the campfire before heading to bed in Dusty the VW Van. When they arrived at the campsite at 9:00pm, their spot had been taken by another tent and it appeared that their bin filled with odourless gear was gone. A few minutes later, they found out that a Parks Conservation Officer had given their reserved site to another camper who had arrived and was looking for a site at the fully booked campground.
Alberta Parks is cracking down on people reserving sites without actually spending the night at the campsite. They are frustrated with the number of Calgarians that come out on a Tuesday or Wednesday just to reserve a site for the weekend. But what happens if you are actually using the site during this time and when you come back, your site is gone? Well they don’t completely kick you out. They will put you into the overflow gravel parking lot with others who didn’t make it out of the city in time to get a site….
So why did this happen to these two campers that were actually using the campsite?
Part of the problem and why their campsite was taken away is because they were sleeping in their campervan. Alberta Parks requires you to have a tent located on the campsite at all times. A tent is required even if you check off that you are sleeping in a van or camper on the self-registration form and put up the reservation sign on your site’s post. So when the Conservation Officer came by and noticed there was no tent on site, she took away the reservation sign and their gear bin and gave the campsite to the other campers.
So how can you camp in Alberta Parks with a campervan and avoid losing your campsite and $30 fee?
Typically when you go and camp at an Alberta Parks campsite you will find a campsite, then fill out a self-registration form. Part of that form is put into a box with the payment and the other section is attached to a pole just outside the campsite to indicate you have reserved the campsite.
Following these steps does not mean that you will get to keep your campsite if you leave the site during your stay without a tent on site. If you’re sleeping in a camper van, it is sort of counter-productive to also bring along a tent and set it up. In order to avoid losing your site, you must put up another sign stating that you are indeed using the site. Some may think that this is a little redundant. For good measure, try to find a camp host and tell them that while you may be out enjoying the hiking trails late into the day, you are using the site. This will help ensure that the site is not given away to anyone else.
The future of camping in a campervan
After talking with a few Alberta Parks individuals it did not seem hopeful that they would try to educate the public on their new plan to give away campsites if there was no tent. They will tell you that there is indeed a small section indicating that you must have a tent on site at all times. This is interesting because why even have a section to click off that you are sleeping in a van if they require you to have a tent as well. It also did not look like they were going to update their process to allow camper vans to leave their site and go explore without having to fear they would lose their campsite.
For now, if you just check the campervan check spot on the self-registration form, then expect that you will need to stay on your campsite all day or risk losing it. The better solution of course is to go find your campground host and tell them that you will be sleeping on the site for all of the nights that you paid for. Then, just hope that they don’t give it away!