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10 Tips for Winter Camping in Jasper National Park


By Calli Naish

Photo by Ryan Bray courtesy of Tourism Jasper


They say there are only two seasons in Canada: Winter and July. And while some Canadians curl up indoors only venturing out for their morning Tim Horton’s fix, the crazier Canucks refuse to miss an opportunity to get outside (even if it’s well below 0°). For those of you who need to test your cold temperature tolerance, here’s a list of winter camping tips (because being prepared isn’t just for the Boy Scouts!)


1. Location. Location. Location.


Photo by Jeff Bartlett courtesy of Tourism Jasper


Choosing the right place for your winter camping excursion depends on your experience, your equipment, and ultimately, what your plans are while you’re roughing it. Whether you plan on skiing, snowshoeing or just sitting fireside, there are 5 campgrounds in Jasper National Park that can accommodate your winter adventures.


Photo by Adam Greenberg courtesy of Tourism Jasper


For a detailed description of Jasper’s winter campgrounds, see the end of this post.


2. Pack Smart


Brian Catto, a Senior Parks Canada interpreter who organizes the programming at the Whirlpool Winter Hub (including the Learn to Winter Camp program), gives great advice for winter camping. He stresses that those who venture out need to understand that summer and winter camping gear are not the same. For example, most people who camp in the summer use a 1-season tent, but for winter camping you need a 4-season tent. Understanding these differences and knowing what to pack are essential to having an enjoyable winter camping experience.

If you are new to camping there are resources to help you get your packing started. MEC has put together a great Winter Camping Gear Check List and Parks Canada has a Winter Backcountry Equipment Checklist. Although these lists may include items above and beyond what you need for a short weekend camping excursion, they will help you build a customized list for your own trip. Add your fat bike and head to Pyramid Lake so you can try out the Pyramid Front Trail, or bring your skis so you can spend a day on the slopes at Marmot Basin.


If you have some unchecked boxes on your equipment list, you can find camping gear at any of these Jasper stores:

Totem Ski Shop and Everest Outoor Store sell tents, sleeping bags, various camping items, how-to books and even some packable snacks.

Gravity Gear sells camp stoves and fuel, as well as last-minute items like headlamps.

Wild Mountain sells tents and sleeping bags, including a sleeping bag that’s rated for -29°C!


3. It’s all in the Set-Up


Photo by Ryan Bray courtesy of Tourism Jasper


This tip is primarily for the tenters out there because if you are camping in an RV, you will have most of your set up already completed. No matter where you sleep, make sure that you have lawn chairs or foam pads for the picnic table so that you aren’t sitting in snow (try Heat-A-Seats for extra warmth).


Tent Tips

Dig a small area in the snow for your tent so that you have some shelter from the wind.

Pack down the remaining snow so that you have a flat surface for your tent and to prevent sinking in the snow at night. This will also prevent you from stepping in a soft spot of snow and tearing through your tent floor.

Stake that tent! Don’t be deterred by the hard ground, winter weather is variable and often windy so it is important to make sure your tent is secure. Though it is easier to drive stakes into the soft snow, you can purchase stakes that will push through the frozen ground.


4. Dress to Impress Stay Warm!


Photo by Jade Wetherell


The key to enjoying winter camping is never feeling too cold – this means layering! Brian Catto emphasizes the importance of knowing how to properly layer for winter weather. Lucky for you we have an entire blog (and article in our magazine) dedicated to teaching you how to layer for winter warmth. Make sure that you pack extra layers so that you always have a dry change of clothes. Also, throw an extra set of mitts and a spare toque in your bag because cold fingers and ears will seriously bring down your pro-winter vibes.


Facing a drop in temperature you aren’t prepared for? Stop in at Löle, Jasper Source for Sports, Totem Ski Shop, Everest Outdoor Store, Edge Control Ski Shop, Gravity Gear, Wild Mountain, or On-Line Sport for some last-minute layers.


5. Sweet dreams are made of heat


Photo by Ryan Bray courtesy of Tourism Jasper


The only thing worse than feeling cold is feeling cold when you are trying to sleep. To prevent a night of tossing, turning and shivering, you will need:

The right tent – the only tent for winter camping is a 4-season tent.

The right sleeping pad – those super comfortable, air-filled camping mattresses create a cold layer of air between you and the ground. For winter camping choose a sleeping pad with an R-value of 4 or more.

The right sleeping bag – you will need a sleeping bag that’s rated for the cold temperatures that you expect while camping. Brian notes to keep in mind that the accuracy of these ratings will vary from person to person. If you are the type of person who gets cold in September and stays that way until May, you’ll want to be prepared with some comfortable layers you can wear to bed.


6. Get Active


Photo by Ryan Bray courtesy of Tourism Jasper


If you are going to brave cold nights, make the most of your sunny days! There are tons of great activities in Jasper National Park that will let you explore and get your heart pumping, including cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, snowshoeing, and fat-tire biking.


Photo by Jeff Bartlett courtesy of Tourism Jasper


If you don’t have your own equipment for an activity that you want to try, you can rent!

Edge Control Ski Shop (cross-country skis, skis/snowboards)

Everest Outdoor Store (snowshoes)

FreeWheel (fat bikes, skis/snowboards)

Gravity Gear (skis/snowboards, snowshoes)

Jasper Source for Sports (cross-country skis, fat bikes, skis/snowboards, snowshoes)

Totem Ski Shop (skis/snowboards, snowshoes)


7. More than Marshmallows


Photo by Chris Hendrickson courtesy of Tourism Jasper


Sitting around a fire and roasting marshmallows might be the most iconic camping scene of all time, but winter weather takes round-the-fire moments from quintessential to essential. Fires are perfect for drying out your ski socks and warming up before calling it a night. Check out Leave No Trace for campfire guidelines and make sure that you are prepared with fire starters, paper, kindling, and an extra lighter.


Once you’ve built a roaring fire, throw on some fire resistant apparel before settling in for campfire stories; you don’t want to find holes in your GORE-TEX ski jacket in the morning. Wool is naturally fire-retardant so it’s a good time to pull out that oversized itchy wool sweater from grandma.


8. Don’t be Hangry


Cold weather and active days are going to leave you hungry, and making meals in mittens isn’t an easy task. Quick and easy meals will help you avoid hanger-fuelled moments that you might regret later. Single pot entrées, freeze-dried meals and no-cook eats are great options for winter camping meals. Plus there is no better way to wake up on a wintery morning than with a warm bowl of instant oatmeal and a hot cup of coffee.


If your campsite does not have water, don’t worry! You are surrounded by an abundance of it and, since you will likely need boiling water for much of your cooking, melting snow won’t even add a step. However, it’s important to remember that melted snow and clean drinking water are not the same thing. Boil snow for at least 10 minutes and consider using water treatment methods before drinking.


9. Let there be Light (and Power)!


It gets dark early in the winter, which means if you aren’t prepared for nightfall you will be setting up your camp stove, lighting your fire, and making your dinner in the dark. Although accomplishing all this sans light would be highly impressive and would likely earn you a nod from Bear Grylls, it is going to be worth your while to have a few extra flashlights and headlamps kicking around to light up your nights.


We all know that nothing kills a cellphone battery faster than cold weather. And while you might pride yourself on your lack of iPhone reliance, it is important to be able to call for help in case of emergency. Plus you will want to take pictures while you are out exploring. A portable power pack is small, packable and will keep your phone functioning long enough to snap a few shots of the winter wildlife and National Park scenery between selfies.


10. Turn up the Heat


You’ve probably noticed that the general theme of these tips has to do with keeping warm. Really this is the best advice anyone can give you when it comes to spending your days and nights outside in the cold Canadian winter. Here are a few additional notes on keeping your body temp up while you are accessing your rugged winter side:


Hand/foot warmers – instant warmth for frigid toes

Hot water bottles – pour a little of that boiled snow into a hot water bottle for added heat when you snuggle into your sleeping bag

Sleep with your boots – there is nothing worse than putting your warm feet into cold boots. Take the liners out of your boots and wear them while you sleep or put your boots in a waterproof bag in the bottom of your sleeping bag.




Camp on Campers!



Photo by Nicole Gaboury courtesy of Tourism Jasper




Wapiti Campground

Location: 5.6 km South of Jasper just off of Highway 93


Camping Style: RV/Tent


Suitable For: New campers


This frontcountry campground is a great place for those who are new to winter camping as it is close to town and has all the amenities of home including electrical, washrooms (with showers), and potable water. Each site has a fire pit, and firewood is included with your daily fire permit (just grab it from the pile). It’s also great for those looking to get out skiing as it is on the way to Marmot Basin, so you can be first on the road and first on the hill!



Whirlpool Winter Hub

Location: 21.4 km south of Jasper, just south of Marmot Road on Highway 93A


Camping Style: RV/Tent


Suitable For: Active families


A frontcountry campground great for active families because of the 25 km of groomed cross-country ski trails that begin from this location! The campground is also home to the Whirlpool Winter Hub where Parks Canada hosts a variety of interpretive activities on Family Day weekend. This campground is further from town than Wapiti and does not have electrical, potable water or flush toilets, making the winter camping experience a little more rustic. However, the sites do have fire pits and firewood is provided with your daily fire permit.


Note: Sites at Wapiti and Whirlpool Campgrounds are available on a first-come, first-serve basis, so it is recommended that you arrive early! These winter campgrounds are self-registration and daily fire permits are required.



Hidden Cove

Location: 4 km down Maligne Lake, 48 km from Jasper at the end of Maligne Lake Road (cross-country ski or snowshoe access only)


Camping Style: Tent


Suitable For: Experienced campers with prior cross-country ski/snowshoe experience


This is a great backcountry campground for small groups or families with older kids who are able to manage the trek in. The site has 4 tent pads, a fire pit, a grey water pit, a cook shelter, picnic tables and food storage lockers. Access to this site requires travelling over the frozen Maligne Lake so only plan to winter camp here between mid-January and early April. And make sure you read these guidelines on safe ice travel before heading out.



Big Bend

Location: 7.8 km south of Sunwapta Falls, 55 km south of Jasper on Highway 93 (access by cross-country ski or snowshoe)


Camping Style: Tent


Suitable For: Experienced campers with prior cross-country ski/snowshoe experience


Another great backcountry option for experienced cross-country skiers in small groups. The site has 4 tent pads, a fire pit, food storage cables and picnic tables. The trail follows a wide fire road and the campground is close to the Athabasca River with views of Dragon Peak.


Note: A permit is required for backcountry camping. You can obtain a permit online or by calling 1-877-737-3783.



Wilcox Winter Campground

Location: 107 km south of Jasper just off Highway 93


Camping Style: Tent


Suitable For: Experienced campers who are comfortable accessing the location by snowshoe (when conditions require)


Staying at the Wilcox Winter Campground allows hardy campers to stay in the Columbia Icefields (Parks experience the icefields parkway in winter). Wilcox Creek Campground is a frontcountry campground during the summer months, but is considered backcountry in the winter as camping is only permitted at the Wilcox Pass Trailhead. There are no amenities available at this location.


Note: A bivy/camping permit is required to camp at the Wilcox Winter site call 780-852-6176 for more information.



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