What’s the Difference between Campgrounds, Camping Areas and Random Camping?

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How to choose the best camping spot for your next adventure in the Nordegg & Abraham Lake region, from serviced campsites to crown-land camping.

Above: Morning views on the Kootenay Plains at the Cavalcade Group Campground

We’re fortunate to have a lot of options for camping in the region but that also makes it a little harder to pick, especially if you only have a few days to explore the area.

The first thing to consider is where you’ll be spending most of your time on tours, hiking and playing. The Thompson Creek, Kootenay Plains and Cline River areas are great if you’ll be heading out to the Columbia Icefields, exploring the shores of Abraham Lake or hiking popular trails like Siffleur Falls or Vision Quest.

On the other hand, camping in the Nordegg to the Bighorn Dam area is a great option if you are looking to include riding your OHV on the local trails, hiking trails like Coliseum Mountain or just to be closer to the services available in Nordegg.

The other consideration is what type of camping best suits your style: campgrounds, rustic camping areas or random camping.


Most of the campgrounds in the region are classic mountain campsites with somewhat smaller sites set a little further apart in some gorgeous settings. Most have options to accommodate a wide range of accommodations, from RVs to tents, but keep in mind that you’re not likely to find pull-through sites at most of these campgrounds. Typical amenities are gravel pads, picnic tables, fire pits and pit toilets. Firewood is available for purchase at most of these campgrounds.

The online campgrounds with serviced sites in the region are David Thompson Resort (power, water and sewer) and Fish Lake (power only). There is an RV sani-dump in Nordegg, behind the Nordegg Lodge, along with public showers at the Shell.

Most of these are first come first served with self-registration (cash only) while reservations are required at Fish Lake and available at Ram Falls, Upper Shunda Creek and David Thompson Resort.

So how do you choose which campground to stay at? David Thompson Resort is the only camping resort in the region including a restaurant, playground and mini golf on site. Fish Lake and Goldeye Lake are the quintessential foothills campground, located on the shores of stocked lakes that are popular for paddling and fishing. Two O’Clock Creek and Thompson Creek at the west end of the region offer the classic Canadian Rockies camping experience surrounded by mountain peaks.

Other campgrounds, like Harlech, Saunders, Beaverdam and Dry Haven, offer a more basic experience and are best suited if you’re looking for a simple place to spend the night.

Above: Tenting in the trees at Upper Shunda Campground
Above: The firewood shed at Two O’Clock Creek Campground
Above: Group site at the Cavalcade Campground

Group Campgrounds

These are the best options when you’re travelling with friends and want to make sure that you get sites close together. Most of these campgrounds have picnic shelters for your group to use along with larger firepits to gather around.

Some of these, like Cavalcade, were designed as group sites while most of the other ones are smaller campgrounds that Alberta Parks converted to group campgrounds only a few years ago.

All group campgrounds are managed by Alberta Parks and reservations are required. The minimum number of units is typically 5 for those sites.

Rustic Camping Areas

These are new additions to the region with work being done over the last few years to add roads, toilets and in some cases garbage bins to areas that were popular random camping spots. These changes were done to address some of the overuse issues that were happening in those places.

While rustic camping areas only offer basic amenities without picnic tables, firepits or designated sites they are located in some of the most scenic spots in the region including at Allstones Cove, Abraham Slabs, Preacher’s Point and Wildhorse Creek along the North Saskatchewan River.

Camping at these locations requires a Public Lands Camping Pass and all sites are available on a first come first served basis. The pass is $20 per adult for 3 days or $30 per adult for a full year (maximum of 14 consecutive days in a location). Keep in mind the pass must be purchased online or at a location that sells fishing licenses (the FasGas in Nordegg is the only one in the region). Since many of these sites are outside of cell services it’s better to purchase your pass ahead of time.

Above: Camping along the North Saskatchewan River at Wildhorse Creek
Above: Camping in a rustic camping area
Above: Camping along the shores of Abraham Lake at Allstones Cove

Random Camping

Random camping, aka dispersed camping, crown land camping or boondocking, is allowed throughout the region with a few exceptions. These include limiting your stay to 14 days, being at least 1 km from a provincial recreation area or provincial park and having a Public Lands Camping Pass. You can find out more details and check for current advisories on the Bighorn Backcountry page from the provincial government.

Most of the random camping spots along highway 11 between Nordegg and the Icefields Parkway are now rustic camping areas although a few popular spots remain undeveloped.

Backcountry Camping

Most backcountry campsites in the region have little to no development, except for pit toilets and bear-bins at some locations like Landslide Lake, Pinto Lake and Lake of the Falls. Random backcountry camping is generally permitted, except in the Kootenay Plains Ecological Reserve.

A Public Lands Camping Pass is required but all sites are available on a first come first served basis.

Join Us On A Guided Tour

Our scenic floats and guided hikes are the perfect match for your camping adventure.

From $80 per person
Whitegoat Falls Guided Hike
An easy half day hike to the pretty Whitegoat Falls near Abraham Lake where the creek has cut through the rock to create a double falls.
From $85 per person
The Icefields Scenic Float
Take in the views of Wilson Icefields from the North Saskatchewan River on this 1 hour float tour.
From $139 per person
The Kootenay Plains Scenic Float
Float through the golden plains of the Saskatchewan, from Whirlpool Point to Preacher’s Point. Enjoy the views of the open valley and mountains on this scenic section of the North Saskatchewan River.
From $185 per person
Glaciers + Fires Scenic Float
Explore one of the most dramatic sections of the North Saskatchewan River with glaciers as the backdrop as we float through an area that burned a few years ago.
From $110 per person
Coral Creek Canyon Guided Hike
This moderate hike takes us along two narrow canyons: the Coral Creek Canyon and the Cline River Canyon. We take our time walking along them to enjoy the views and surrounding mountains.

You Might Also Like…

Family Hiking Weekend on The Kootenay Plains
Head out for a weekend of easy family hikes, memories by the campfire and a little exploring in David Thompson Country and the Abraham Lake area.
What’s the Difference between Campgrounds, Camping Areas and Random Camping?
How to choose the best camping spot for your next adventure in the Nordegg & Abraham Lake region, from serviced campsites to crown-land camping.
Harlech Campground
Harlech is a small highway-side campground, reminiscent of the era when the Alberta Forestry Services operated most of the campsites in the region.
Fish Lake Campground
Fish Lake is one of the region’s largest campgrounds, set on the shores of Shunda Lake and only 10 minutes from Nordegg.

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You can find us at the Nordegg Canteen:
4 Stuart Sreet, Nordegg, AB, T0M 2H0

We acknowledge that the land on which we gather, explore and adventure is home to the Îyârhe Nakoda First Nation and the Smallboy Mountain Cree, part of the Treaty 6 and Treaty 8 Territories, part of the Métis Nation of Alberta Region 3, and has been the traditional meeting ground for many Indigenous Peoples since time immemorial. We are grateful for the stewardship of these lands along with the knowledge, traditions, and teachings that have been passed down through generations.

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