It’s your responsibility to know the rules before you head out to enjoy parks, camp, hunt or fish, and operate off-highway vehicles or boats.
One positive thing to come out of COVID-19 is that more Albertans are exploring the beautiful outdoors of our province.
Before venturing out though, you should know about a few passes and permits. Otherwise, you may run the risk of a very expensive adventure!
If you want to spend time in any national park or Kananaskis Country and the Bow Valley, you need a pass. Vehicles travelling through do not.
Parks Canada issues passes for national parks in Alberta (Banff National Park, Jasper National Park, Waterton National Park, Wood Buffalo National Park and Elk Island National Park). You can buy a Discovery Pass, which covers admission to more than 90 national parks and historic sites for one year. These passes are available at any park gate or park visitor centre, or online. The price depends on the number and ages of the people using the pass. For example, a family/group pass is good for up to 7 people in a vehicle and is $139.40 (taxes included). If you are only planning to be in a park for a few days, you can buy a single-location pass.
If you want to spend time in any national park or Kananaskis Country and the Bow Valley, you need a pass.In the spring of 2021, the Government of Alberta introduced a Conservation Pass for Kananaskis Country and the Bow Valley. All vehicles parked at the provincial park and public land sites must have a pass. You can buy a pass online, or in-person at designated locations. The pass connects to up to two license plates registered at the same address. Annual passes and day passes are available.
Camping is a favourite Alberta pastime. But it is not as simple as pitching a tent on whatever flat piece of land you find! You cannot camp on someone’s private land or on Crown land unless you have permission to be there.
Alberta offers many campgrounds. Some you must reserve ahead of time, others are first come, first served. Some are government-run on Crown land, others are privately-run on private land. Some offer hook-ups for camping trailers and motor homes, others simply offer tent pads or space.
We also categorize camping as front country or backcountry. Front country camping includes individual and group campsites, walk-in tenting, equestrian camping and winter camping.
You cannot camp on someone’s private land or on Crown land unless you have permission to be there.Backcountry camping is accessible by foot, horseback or mountain bike. These sites are at least 1 km from the parking lot! There are designated backcountry campgrounds and random backcountry camping. There are rules about what activities you can do and where you can set up camp. You need a Kananaskis Conservation Pass to camp at designated backcountry campgrounds in Kananaskis Country. You can only random backcountry camp in certain wildland provincial parks and public land use zones. You also need a Public Lands Camping Pass to random camp along the Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
Visit the Alberta Parks webpage to find more info and rules about camping in Alberta parks and to reserve a spot. Or visit Alberta Campground Guide to find privately-run campgrounds in Alberta.
Fishing & Hunting Licenses
Hunting and fishing are legal activities in Alberta. But they are heavily regulated. So, before you grab a fishing rod and reel in your big catch, make sure you know what the rules are.
First, anglers (fisher folks!) and hunters must have an active Wildlife Identification Number (WIN). You use this number to buy licenses and wildlife certificates and to apply for draws for tags. Your WIN never expires.
To hunt some animals or keep some fish, you need a tag. This is a government-issued, pre-numbered ticket that allows you to keep a specified animal. The government uses tags for conservation purposes – so that animals are not hunted to extinction. If law enforcement officers find you with a catch or hunt that you do not have a tag for but should, there are serious penalties.
Anyone fishing in Alberta must also buy an annual fishing license from the Alberta government. There are a few exceptions. The following individuals do not need a license but must follow all rules and regulations in place:
- children 15 years and under
- adults 65 years and older
- a First Nations person who is defined as Indigenous under Canada’s Indian Act
A fishing license generally allows you to catch and release. You need tags to keep some fish. There are lots of other rules attached to the license too – where and when you can fish, types of equipment you can use, etc. Our recommendation? Read the latest edition of the Alberta Guide to Sportfishing Regulations before you go.
Two final notes about fishing:
- Fishing season runs April 1 to March 31 of each year. There are two free fishing weekends in Alberta (when you do not need a license to fish): Family Day long weekend and the weekend following Canada Day in July. You must still follow all rules and regulations, including knowing when you can and cannot keep fish.
- The rules can change each year. So, brush up before you head out in the spring.
Hunting is a whole other story! Hunters must also follow strict rules and regulations, including hunting licenses, tags, gun licenses and registrations, and more. Check out the latest edition of the Alberta Guide to Hunting Regulations for more information about hunting.
Off Highway Vehicle Permits
As of June 2021, there are no fees or permits needed to simply use an off-highway vehicle (OHV) on land regulated by the provincial government in Alberta. That could soon change. The recently passed Bill 64, The Public Lands Amendment Act allows for “fees relating to the use or occupation of public land, including the carrying on of activities on public land.”
For more rules and regulations, see our 2017 LawNow article (“How Are Off Road Vehicles Regulated in Alberta?”).There are lots of rules and regulations for OHVs, including where you can ride, how old you must be, and more. For example, if you are using an OHV on a highway (very broadly defined as anywhere people ordinarily operate vehicles), then you must follow the same rules as vehicles. As well, most OHVs must be registered and insured (with exceptions for OHVs owned by farmers for use on private land and for military vehicles). For more rules and regulations, see our 2017 LawNow article (“How Are Off Road Vehicles Regulated in Alberta?”).
The bottom line is, if you are going to use an OHV, you must understand the rules in the area you plan to ride. For Crown land, read Alberta’s Guide to Outdoor Recreation on Provincial Crown Land. You can also check with the local Alberta Environment and Parks office or a local OHV club for more information.
Boating Licenses and Registrations
The federal and provincial governments share responsibility for the laws about boating. Under Canada’s Constitution, the federal government can make laws about navigation, shipping and fisheries. The provincial government can make laws about water use, pollution, and activities that happen on the environmentally important riparian land that surrounds water bodies. In practice, the two levels of government work closely together on many of these things.
This spring, the federal government introduced new rules for watersports in Banff National Park to protect park waters from harmful aquatic invasive species. You need an inspection for all motorized watercraft. And you need a self-certification permit for non-motorized watercraft and water recreational gear – including canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, inflatables and more. Review the Government of Canada’s website before you head out!
This spring, the federal government introduced new rules for watersports in Banff National Park to protect park waters from harmful aquatic invasive species.You do not need a driver’s licence to operate a boat in Alberta. However, a person operating a boat with a motor that is ten or more horsepower must carry proof of competency. The most common way to prove competency is to carry a Pleasure Craft Operator Card, which you can get after taking an online course and passing a test. Information about how to apply for your card and answers to many frequently asked questions is available on the Transport Canada website. Operators of unpowered boats do not have to prove competency.
Boat with motors ten horsepower or greater must have a Pleasure Craft Licence. The licence must be on board, and the licence number must be displayed on both sides of the boat’s bow in visible numbers at least 3 inches high. There are no registration requirements for unpowered watercraft in Alberta. More information about Pleasure Craft Licences is available from Transport Canada.
Know Before You Go
The moral of the story? There is a lot of fun to be had outdoors this summer in Alberta. Just make sure you know the rules before you go!
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The information in this article was correct at time of publishing. The law may have changed since then. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LawNow or the Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta.
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