Overview

Recreating on Alberta’s public land is a great opportunity for families and individuals to experience many of the natural opportunities Alberta’s public land have to offer including rustic camping experience and many kilometers of trails for various user groups to enjoy and explore.

For more information on the rules and what you need to know before you head out to recreate on public land, download a copy of the new Alberta’s Guide to Outdoor Recreation on Provincial Crown Land.

Know before you go

Follow the simple points below to respect the outdoors.

  • Take garbage with you - leave nothing behind.  Remember to dispose of waste properly, including human waste.
  • Keep distance from wildlife. Remember chasing wildlife is illegal.
  • Plan ahead and be prepared.
  • Travel only on trails open for your activity.
  • Leave all gates and fences as you find them.
  • Stay off private and leased land unless permitted.
  • Plan your route
    • Avoid waterways and shorelines.
    • Do not create new trails.
    • Cutlines are not necessarily approved trails.
    • Steer clear of pipelines.
  • Check weather and avoid wet, sensitive and alpine areas whenever possible areas.
  • Be aware of closures - Public land closures.
  • Choose routes with the hardest, most durable surface.
  • Be respectful.  Don't disturb artifact, fossils, livestock, property or wildlife.

Motorized users

Motorized users are outdoor enthusiasts who use Off-Highway Vehicles (OHVs) or, where permitted, road legal vehicles for off-road travel.

Motorized vehicles tend to be faster and larger than other means of outdoor travel.

  • Keep wheels out of streams, rivers, and lakes.
  • OHVs are not allowed on public roads.
  • Prevent the start of a wildfire - keep your machine free of debris.
  • Operators under age of 14 must be supervised by an adult.
  • Be sure your OHV is compliant. The unit must:
    • be registered
    • be insured
    • have a licence plate
    • have a head-light and tail-light
  • Have a proper exhaust muffler with spark arrestor.
  • Stay on established and well-defined trails even if in snow.
  • Don't spin or skid.
  • Respect reclamation and reforestation efforts - traffic in these areas kills vulnerable grass or tree seedlings.
  • Be courteous and share the trail with other users - travel slowly and yield the trail to non-motorized traffic.
  • Don't cut or mark live trees - use only well-placed nylon (rather than steel) winch straps to avoid damage to bark.
  • Wash your vehicle between uses to prevent transferring weed seeds between areas.

For best practices in using motorized recreation vehicles see:

The Alberta Traffic Safety Act defines an OHV as a (an):

  • amphibious craft
  • dune buggies
  • off-road motorcycles
  • quads and trikes
  • snowmobiles

Trucks, jeeps and modified 4x4 vehicles may not be considered OHVs.

Off-Highway Vehicle Helmets is the law

As of May 15, 2017, Canadian Standards Association compliant helmets must be worn by OHV users when riding on public land. Public land means Crown land, including areas that have been designated for public OHV use, public roadway and highway rights-of-way.

Non-Motorized users

Alberta’s public land provides a great opportunity for non-motorized recreationalist to get out and enjoy the outdoors. Following the information provided below will help enhance your outdoor experience and help maintain our public lands for future generations.

Collectively, non-motorized users are recreationalists who:

  • boat and access water for recreation activities
  • climb and cave
  • hike
  • equestrian (horseback ride)
  • bike
  • ski or snowboard
  • view and photograph wildlife

Hikers

  • Don't mark the bark – step over, rather than on, exposed roots to prevent damage to bark.
  • Spread out in alpine areas – avoid travelling single file to minimize trampling of fragile vegetation.
  • Yield the trail to horses.

Bikers

  • Ride only on open trails.
  • Building of ramps and permanent structures is prohibited except where written permission has been granted.
  • Ride while in control.
  • Yield the trail to other non-motorized users.

Equestrian users

  • Use weed free supplemental feed to prevent overgrazing and non-native plant infestation.
  • Avoid soft or marshy banks when riding or watering horses.
  • High-line horses to prevent damage to roots.
  • Locate holding areas at least 100 metres (328 feet) from water.
  • Avoid tethering horses to live vegetation to prevent damage.
  • Be alert for other trail users.

Boating and water access

  • Respect the shorelands. Avoid launching/landing in soft or marshy areas.
  • In a Public Land Use Zone (PLUZ) launching a boat is only allowed at designated boat launches.
  • A Pleasure Craft Operator Card (PCOC) is required to operate a boat with a motor.
  • A lifejacket or Personal Flotation Device (PFD) is required on board for each person on a watercraft (this includes human-powered watercrafts).
  • Avoid disturbing wildlife. Nesting waterfowl are particularly vulnerable to disruption.

Climbing and caving

  • Use existing or removable protection whenever possible. Avoid Drilling.
  • Be sensitive to trail erosion on steep approaches and fragile alpine areas.
  • Avoid anchoring to and stepping on exposed roots and vegetation to minimize bark damage.
  • Avoid disturbing nesting birds, bats and other creatures. Cave formations are life are vulnerable to outside contamination.
  • Avoid touching anything you don’t have to.

Skiers and snowboarders

  • Ensure adequate snow cover.
  • Avoid travelling on top of trees and other vegetation that may be broken or damaged by direct contact with skis.

Wildlife viewing and photography

  • Be aware of your surroundings, follow posted wildlife warnings or closures, and keep respectful of distance.
  • Any activities that you engage in should not disturb nests, dens, or result in wildlife altering their behaviour due to your presence.
  • Commercial photographers are required to obtain appropriate permits on public land and provincial parks.

Camping

Camping on public land is an exciting and enjoyable way for people to connect with nature and explore Alberta’s vast and diverse camping opportunities.

  • Camp in areas away from game trails, berry bushes, clover patches, streams, rivers, and lakeshores.
  • Choose areas that minimize damage to vegetation.
  • Do not camp where you will block or restrict trail access.
  • Do not camp on a pipeline.
  • Camp 100 metres from lakes, streams and ponds.
  • Camp at least 100 metres away from oil and gas well sites or facilities.
  • Check Public land closures for area and trail closures.
  • Limit your stay to no more than 14 days in the same location and ensure your camping facilities are temporary and portable.
  • Prevent the start of a wildfire. Never leave campfire unattended and remember to soak, stir and soak it again.
  • In a PLUZ, no camping or open fires are allowed within 1km of a Public Land Recreation Area (PLRA) or Public Recreation Area (PRA)
  • No exploding targets or fireworks are permitted.
  • Use portable fire receptacles for your campfire.
  • Camp or park on surfaces that are resistant to impact.
  • Share with other users.

Campfires and garbage should be 100 metres away from your tent and/or campsite. Garbage should be hung in a receptacle that is 3.5 metres above ground and that hangs 1.5 metres down from branch or cross-bar.

Safety

Be safe as well as environmentally responsible when recreating on public land. For more, visit:

Provincial legislation

Provincial legislation and regulations related to public land use

As a starting point, you should familiarize yourself with the provisions of the following regulations and statutes available:

  • Forest and Prairie Protection Act
    The Forest and Prairie Protection Act prescribes the provisions for "warming fires" on public lands.
  • Public Lands Administration Regulation
    The Public Lands Administration Regulation governs the public’s use of all Public Land Use Zones, Provincial Recreation Areas, Forest Recreation Areas and Public Land Recreation Trails.
  • Off-Highway Vehicle Regulation
    The Off-Highway Vehicle Regulation prescribes the operational requirements for Off-Highway Vehicles in Alberta.
  • Recreational Access Regulation
    The Recreational Access Regulations clarify the rules for recreational and exploration access on agricultural dispositions issued under the Public Lands Act, including grazing leases and farm development leases.
  • Traffic Safety Act (Part 6)
    The Traffic Safety Act establishes the legislative requirements for Off-Highway Vehicles in Alberta.

Additional legislation

The legislation and regulations above are most relevant to recreation on public lands, however, you may also wish to become familiar with the following:

Additional information

Leave No Trace Canada provides information on minimizing your impact while enjoying the outdoors.

Report bad behaviour – call 1-800-642-3800 if you see someone damaging or abusing Alberta’s public land.

Resources