Every summer tens of thousands of people’s summer vacation includes camping in Jasper National Park. And what about you? This post will give you some basic starting points for choosing a campground to make sure you get the most out of your trip to this beautiful park.
And, in case you’re burning to know the answer to this question- Do you need a reservation to camp in Jasper National Park? …yes you do, probably. More details to follow:)
Update for the summer of 2021:
With all that’s happened this last year, and all that is yet to happen… what does camping in Jasper actually look like for the summer of 2021?
Well, here in Alberta, as of July 11th, all restrictions have been lifted. So, at this point, camping is back to normal.
Here is the Park’s Canada Jasper Covid-19 information page for up-to-date information.
Camping in Jasper – What are your options?
Perhaps I’m a bit biased, living here and all, but Jasper really is a lovely place to stay and visit. There are a handful of camping options and many other sleeping choices if camping isn’t your jam. Below you’ll find a basic list of camp sites within Jasper National Park.
For your convenience, you’ll find your campsite options broken into two groups: those where you can reserve a spot, and those where you cannot. (This information is accurate for the 2021 season. Things can always change with Parks Canada and I recommend you check out the reservation system for up-to-date info).
If you happen to have a big RV and / or expect to partake in the camping luxuries of water and electricity the campsites at the top of the list are your best options. But if you’re happy tenting or have a smaller unit, you will have more luck finding spots at the first-come sites.
Jasper Campgrounds that accept reservations
If you are planning on camping in Jasper National Park for the 2021 season, the system will open on Friday April 9th, 2021 at 8am. Do be aware that reservations for different national parks and frontcountry / backcountry options open on different days.
Words of caution: be quick! The camping spots fill up fast. Like, really fast! Last year I was on my computer 10 minutes after the reservation system opened and many of the popular campgrounds were already 75% full.
This following paragraph used to begin by stating these three main campsites all look pretty similar. Well, this is no longer the case.
Parks Canada has been busy removing the dead Pine Beetle trees and planting new trees. And, in Whistlers and Wapiti particularly, this has resulted in some pretty barren areas.
However, all campsites are an okay distance from your neighbor (except the winter camping section at Wapiti – these are very snug and close). And so while you will likely be able to see what they’re eating for dinner, you won’t be able to smell it.
Whistlers Campground (services, opening July 12th, 2021)
Whistlers Campground is the largest campground with close to 800 sites. It is closest to town and has all services including water, sewage, electricity, playgrounds, running water and flush toilets, shower facilities, and interpretive programs. You can also access the bike trails to get to and from Jasper townsite.
Currently, Whistlers is the only campground with full hook-up sites. They also have a number of pull-through spots for large units. If you want a full-hook up site for the busy summer months of July or August, you should be planning to make your reservations within the hour of the reservation system opening.
Whistlers has undergone upgrades these past 2 years. From the highway we can see that many many trees have been taken down. Be aware that if you book into the fully serviced loops you’ll be quite exposed without any large trees on your sites. But, you’ll have a nice new bathroom to use and the roadways will be freshly paved… and you won’t be at risk of having a dead tree fall on you or your camper!
Since we’re not allowed into the campground yet, I don’t know what the rest of the sites look like tree-wise.
Wapiti Campground (services)
Wapiti Campground is also close to town, Wapiti is the second largest campground with just under 400 sites. Serviced winter camping is available here. They have some electric sites, running water, flush toilets, shower facilities, and a nice and big playground. Wapiti sits beside the Athabasca River and has a lovely walking path along the river and access to a bike trail into town.
Over the winter of 2020/21, Parks has been busy removing dead trees from Wapiti campground. And, Wapiti is looking quite ravaged. In fact, we cancelled our camping trip here this year once we got to see our site and that there were no trees for shade or tarps.
Wabasso Campground (services)
Wabasso Campground is further from town (about a 25 minute drive to the town of Jasper) and can be less busy at times. Cell reception might be sketchy at this campground. They do have some electric hook ups, running water, flush toilets, and a playground. Wabasso is also situated along the Athabasca River and has lovely trails along the water as well as large sandy beach areas along the river when the water levels are lower.
Parks Canada has also been removing pine beetle killed trees here.
Pocahontas Campground (no services)
Pocahontas Campground – Pocahontas is close to Jasper National Park’s eastern gate (about a 40 minute drive to the town of Jasper). There are no services here, but they do have flush toilets. There is no cell reception, but you are close to the Pocohontos Lodge, hotel, and restaurant which may have a phone for use if needed.
First-come / First-served Jasper campgrounds
If you happen to want to camp at one of these sites which don’t accept reservations, then there’s nothing you can do but cross your fingers and arrive early. Generally, the campgrounds further from town are less busy.
Arriving around check-out time (11am) can be helpful in getting a spot. Also, if you are driving around in your RV during the day you’ll want to bring something to visually claim the site by setting up a shade tent or camping chairs. (Although, I’ll admit, I once witnessed an eager camper remove my camp chairs and chuck them into the bush… so he could claim the spot!)
None of these campgrounds have running water or flush toilets. I believe all have have drinking water taps.
Other than Snaring’s overflow area, many of these following campgrounds are not ideal for large RV units. Parks recommends nothing over 25-27 feet. They tend to have large overhanging trees, narrow roadways, and uneven, small parking areas with limited space for maneuvering.
Snaring River Campground
Snaring River Campground is closest to the town of Jasper. It is a popular campground for last-minute campers. They do not accept reservations for this campground, and use the overflow area here when all other campgrounds are full. Snaring campground sits beside the Snaring River and it is lots of fun to play along the rocky shore . Cell service is hit-and-miss here. There is no running water and pit toilets only.
In the last few years Parks Canada has upgraded the ‘over-flow’ area of Snaring. Many of the sites in the overflow are very close and crowded, but the sites along the periphery may have some trees, privacy, and a wall of trees. Campfires are not permitted in the overflow area of Snaring.
Kerkeslin Campground is an often overlooked campground, but is a beautiful spot. It is conveniently close to Athabasca Falls on the Icefields Parkway. There is a large sandy beach along the Athabasca River and can be fun for kids to play on the sandy shore (if the water is low). It can feel more secluded here and is often less busy. There are only pit toilets at Kerkeslin.
Honeymoon Lake Campground
Honeymoon Lake Campground – As the name suggests, this campsite is at Honeymoon Lake, further down the Icefields Parkway. Unfortunately there is not a beach at this site, but the lake is great for paddling. There is also a very large climbing rock that younger kids will have fun playing on and around. This campground only has pit toilets and no running water.
Jonas Creek Campground
Jonas Creek Campground is Jasper National Park’s smallest campsite with only 25 sites. It is closer to the Icefields Center and can be cooler because of this. There are pit toilets only.
Icefields and Wilcox Campgrounds
Columbia Icefield, and Wilcox Campgrounds – These campgrounds are smaller with just under 100 sites combined. They are both close to the Icefields Center and because of their high elevation and proximity to the glacier, expect it to be cooler here all times of the year. There are no hook-ups or flush toiltets, but Wilcox does have a sewer dump station. Icefields campground is tiered up the hillside providing many sites with views of the Columbia Glacier and can be a lovely spot to tent at.
The Icefields campground is listed as a tent-only site; however if I remember correctly, we have seen small vans and tiny trailers in here. But, do know that maneuvering space is very limited.
Icefields Center RV Site: This is a large paved parking lot that holds 100 RVs. Hookups and firepits are not available here. This site is listed for trailers and RVs only. While you might be camping in a parking lot, you do get a great view of the Icefields.
Do you really need to reserve a campsite for Jasper National Park?
Well, ultimately, this is up to you. My advice? Yes, you need a reservation. I can’t image how upsetting it would be to travel all this distance just to spend the day driving around to all the non-reservable sites trying to find availability.
Do I make reservations? I sure do! And I hate it actually… how can we know our schedules for next summer so early? Craziness! And, then to coordinate our uncertain calendars with the busy uncertain calendars of our camping friends, ludicrous! But, we love camping. Our friends love camping. We want some decent camping spots.
And, the only way to get the great camping spots in Jasper National Park is to reserve those spots when the reservation system opens up. And, thousands of other campers know this too! So, here are my top three tips for you and your family: Reserve! Reserve! Reserve!
Oh, by the way, if you happen to have not reserved and you’re here looking for a place to spend the night, remember that camping in road-side pull-outs is illegal, as is spending the night in parking lots… even if you get the impression from Facebook groups that this is an okay thing to do.
I hope that this post has encouraged you to both consider camping in Jasper National Park, but also encouraged you to get your summer planning in order and make that very important reservation as early in the year as possible. You won’t regret it! (and even if you do, there’s a reasonable cancellation policy – which really aught to not be so reasonable, but that’s a whole other topic). Happy Camping!