Campground etiquette: 8 ways to be a considerate camper

With mosquitoes galore, campers don't need another nuisance to ruin their outdoor fun. Our guide to camping etiquette will ensure you're a courteous camper.

By Stephanie Zolis

Campground etiquette: 8 ways to be a considerate camper
Photography by Janis Nicolay
Styling by Heather Cameron
 Canadians are unmistakably polite and we love to camp. Sounds like a recipe for courteous camping, doesn't it? You'd be surprised how many camping taboos we commit while enjoying the great outdoors. But upholding our nation's reputation in the face of bugs, rain and spotty cell service is as simple as abiding by these eight camping etiquette tips.
 
1. Minimize your footprint
Those who appreciate nature should try their best to preserve it. That means respecting plants and wildlife while camping. Even using dead tree branches as firewood can have an impact on the ecosystem and take away from the park esthetic, says Annique Maheu, visitor experience manager for Pukaskwa National Park in Ontario. Instead, use the firewood provided at Parks Canada visitor centres and refrain from touching plants or animals.
 
"We encourage everybody to bring their cameras and take a photo so you can remember what you saw," says Patti Vickers, a spokesperson for Banff National Parkof Canada's visitor services operations.
 
Also ensure that non-natural items aren't left behind when leaving your campsite. "Bring washable cutlery and plates," says Vickers. "We have outdoor sinks that campers can use to clean up their supplies after they've finished eating."
 
2. Adhere to quiet hours
If you're visiting a national park, you'll be asked to keep the noise down from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., what Parks Canada considers to be quiet hours. But inexperienced campers often don't realize how loud they actually are. "Because there are no ambient noises around," says Vickers, "even a quiet conversation really carries when you're in a tent." 
 
While other parks might not enforce quiet hours per se, that doesn't mean their noise policies are more relaxed. "We got rid of quiet hours over 30 years ago," says Bruce van Staalduinen, manager of operations with Ontario Parks and a former Algonquin Park ranger. "Now it's no excessive noise at any time. Some provincial campgrounds don't even allow radios."
 
3. Waive your Wi-Fi
"It's more and more common to hear a cellphone ring in the wilderness," says François Duclos, manager of visitor experience planning with Parks Canada, which is slated to introduce Wi-Fi hotspots to 15 to 20 national parks and sites this year. Billed as an amenity to attract young campers and working parents, the hotspots will be located in visitor centres and serviced campground loops in "front country" grounds (those with amenities like electricity, water, sewage and on-site parking), says Duclos. 
 
Only a handful of national parks, such as Pukaskwa and Newfoundland's Gros Morne, currently offer hotspots. But according to Duclos, roughly half of front country sites fall within reach of 3G or 4G cellphone data coverage.
 
Campers who choose to forego Wi-Fi service in favour of an authentic camping experience won't likely see fellow campers posting selfies to Instagram as a result of the project if they stick to outlying areas. Wi-Fi accessibility will be tailored to each site and the types of visitors it attracts. "If you have to light your fire to eat something, this is probably not where you'll get your email," says Duclos.
 
Nevertheless, the potential for user conflict exists. Connected to a 4G network or Wi-Fi hotspot? Keep in mind that many of your fellow campers visit national and provincial parks to escape technology, not to use free Wi-Fi.
 
4. Defecate discreetly
"In the backcountry campgrounds, human waste and disposal can be a problem," says van Staalduinen. When thunder boxes (portable outdoor toilets) aren't available, don't leave your business behind for others to see. "Dig a small trench or hole and use that, then cover it and let it decompose naturally," says van Staalduinen.
 
5. Prevent pet peeves
Families that bring their dogs (or cats—yes, Vickers has seen felines on Banff's campgrounds) to pet-friendly parks should keep them leashed at all times, says Vickers. That way they won't disturb other campers and will stay safe. Also find ways to keep your dog or cat content (with toys, treats and attention) to keep it from barking or meowing, and ensure pet dishes don't attract wildlife, says Vickers.
 
6. Put the lid on light
"There are some folks who light up the forest all night long," says van Staalduinen. "They may be disturbing other people. They're certainly disturbing the animals."
 
If you've set up halogen or construction lighting, expect a visit from the park warden or campground staff. Also be mindful of automobile headlights, which can flood surrounding campsites.
 
7. Control your kids
If "inside voices" is a common command in your household, it can be difficult to rein in children's excitement while outdoors. Ensure your kids are respectful of fellow campers by monitoring their activities and maintaining consistency, says Vickers. "Keep your home routine as much as possible—mealtime, naptime, things like that. If you stick to your schedule, it tends to be easier for everybody."
 
Parents should also find constructive outlets for kids to expend energy, for example, through the Parks Canada Xplorers hiking and discovery program, says Maheu.
 
8. Mind your motors
Automobiles and RVs can create noise and debris, so limit driving, stick to designated roads and obey speed limits—30 kilometres per hour in national parks. "We encourage people to park their vehicles once and then walk," says van Staalduinen. "They don't need to drive to the comfort station that's 150 feet away."
 
For more expert tips and advice, easy-to-make recipes and fun activities, check out our guide to camping in Canada.
 
 


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