Camping in Canada is definitely an experience on its own - amazing pine forests for shade and protection from rain and wind, unexpected wildlife encounters, long Summer evenings around the roaring camping fire and sleeping under the stars.
Morning wildlife encounter in the campground - Jasper National Park
SUMMER CHILLY NIGHTS
However, when we booked our campsites in the Rockies and the Yukon at least three months before our trip (tent sites are booked out pretty fast in high season, especially July!) we have not properly checked night temperatures, thinking these would not much differ from the pleasant daily average temperatures of 22 degree Celsius.
We didn't take into account that during the night and especially early morning the temperatures in many Canadian regions drop to as low as 4 to 6 degrees Celsius, and if you want to sleep comfy and warm in a tent, consider a thick inflatable mattress and warm sleeping bags, especially if you can carry some extra weight in your luggage and vehicle.
Even better, consider the extra expense of hiring a minivan - warm nights guaranteed! Our camping gear was unfortunately not enough warm and did not insulate us properly from the ground so we had to wear every single layer we had to make it through the night (sometimes we even slept in the car to avoid shivering all night).
Chilly breakfast in the campground - Jasper National Park
Apart from the chilly nights camping has been lots of fun in Canada! Lots of wildlife to see around the campgrounds, mostly squirrels and crows and then the occasional deers and elks in the Rockies.
Parks Canada is doing a really good job in managing people - that’s right, they do need to manage people, not wildlife, as people are the intruders here and need to be educated. The golden rule is keeping a BARE CAMPSITE - this means not to leave any wildlife attractants unattended at any site in the campground. Attractants are not only related to food and cooking (coolers, food, garbage, dishes and pots, bottles and cans, barbeques,….) but also to toiletries (deodorants, toothpaste, shampoo…) and anything that has an odour.
So you have to store all your attractants in your vehicle (lock your car as bears are smart and have managed to open cars before), or in bear proof storage lockers if you’re cycling or backpacking without a car. Your garbage goes in wildlife proof garbage bins which are also tourist-proof apparently as so many people don’t manage to open them =)
And then, something obvious to most people but exceptions are still many: never ever feed wildlife!
Educational night with Parks Canada - Kluane National Park
Parks Canada gives you all the means to keep your campground as clean as possible - starting with signs everywhere, brochures and special evening programs to educate people. They even put up an electric fence around Lake Louise Campsite as few Grizzly bears travel close to the edge of the camping area - this year a Grizzly mum and her two cubs were hanging around there. In Two Jack Main campground in Banff the light of the kitchen shelter is switching on automatically every few minutes to scare off any animals during the night (and deprive those unlucky campers closer to the kitchen of some hours sleep =P ).
Bears and other animals can become habituated to human food and hence our presence and they can lose their fear of us. In particular, bears become a risk to us as they become bolder around people - when this happens, bears are more likely to stick around campsites and use roads or railways, increasing the risk to be killed. In some cases these habituated bears are transferred to another area far away from their original region, however there have been cases of bears returning to their home area no matter the distance. Therefore, most times these bears have to be destroyed, that is a more appropriate term meaning ‘killed’, unfortunately.
Bear proof storage lockers - Kluane National Park
In general campsites in Canada, especially in the Rockies, are very well organised and structured to welcome the big wave of tourists and locals alike in Summer time. You are basically assigned a designated camping area to pinch your tent which has space for parking and a table with benches for cooking (something we really liked, having only a small tent and no proper shelter to cook underneath). There are cooking shelters for each area of the campsites but sometimes you have to drive there if you’re far away and don’t want to carry all your stuff.
Almost all sites have fire pits and for 8/9 CAD per day you can use the firewood provided by Parks Canada (sometimes some logs need some extra chopping - so bring an axe if you want to use the fire pits).
In bigger campsites you’ll find flush toilets with even an hand drier - more basic and smaller campgrounds like in Kluane National Park would only have pit toilets.
In some campgrounds we even treated ourselves to hot showers! That’s really convenient as not all campgrounds are close to the main villages and you really need one after hiking all day.
Logs for campfire and their guardian - Tagish Campground (Yukon)
We actually haven’t done backcountry camping in Canada yet (meaning you`re not close to a road and you are in a remote area, usually reachable only by foot), however we gathered many info as we were almost going to set out on the Slim River West Trail to reach Observation Mountain in the Kluane National Park (Yukon) - weather and river crossing have scared us away as we felt we were not prepared enough.
In any case, the rule in backcountry camping is to set up cooking, eating and food storage areas at least 50 metres downwind from your tent and to avoid cooking and camping close to running water, thick bush, or berry patches, which are favourite spots for wild bears.If you do not have a bear resistant canister (you can rent one from Parks Canada in Kluane National Park), you have to hang your food and garbage between trees at least 4 metres above the ground. We saw some basic campsites with hanging poles which are pretty handy, otherwise tying a shoe at the end of your rope and using it to throw the rope high above your hanging line is a smart way of getting the job done.
Least but not last, pack out your garbage - do not burn or bury it as bears and other animals can still smell it and it happened bears have poked their nose in the fire pit because of the smell and got roasted.
Bear proof hanging pole - Kluane National Park