There are a wide variety of campgrounds in Banff National Park, and you can reserve a spot online for many of them at www.pccamping.ca or via telephone at tel. 877/737-3783. Very few last-minute spots are available; you must plan ahead, especially if you want to be near the town of Banff. Summer is especially crowded, for obvious reasons, so don't expect a lot of privacy at any of them from June to August.

Backcountry Camping

There are 50 designated backcountry campsites in Banff; their access varies greatly. Some are just a couple of hours from the trail head; others take a full day (20km/12 miles) just to reach. Remember: Most mountain hikes demand significant altitude gain, so don't budget your time and pace thinking this is a level stroll. Hiking up into Egypt Lake, for example, the first day is almost entirely uphill and strenuous until you reach the high alpine plains.

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Remember: You must have a Wilderness Pass (C$9.80 per day or C$69 for an annual pass) and a campsite reserved before you hit the trail. Some campsites are legendary among hikers all over the world, and the demand is great; campsites can be booked up to 3 months prior to your dates, and the most popular ones are booked for the season within a day or two. Contact the Banff National Park backcountry reservation line (tel. 403/762-1556). Don't expect much from these sites except a fire pit, an outhouse (maybe), and somewhere to hoist your food up out of reach of animals (an essential in the backcountry). Don't drink the stream or lake water to avoid Giardiasis. You'll need to either boil the water or use a water-treatment system. And you will certainly want to bring toilet paper.

Some sites can be reached from Banff townsite, by following the Spray Valley Trail. Sites at Egypt Lake, Shadow Lake, and Fish Lakes have their trail heads about a half-hour drive from town. There are also campsites along the shores of Lake Minnewanka, northeast of the townsite, which are accessible only by canoe. Families may like sites at Taylor Lake or Glacier Lake, which are accessed by relatively easy trails.

Farther up the Icefields Parkway, there are trail heads to more sites still in Banff (not yet Jasper). Consult the Banff website for full listings and maps at www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/ab/banff/activ/activ33.aspx. The Banff Information Center will also be able to help you out. A backcountry campsite costs C$10 per person per night, and there is a C$12 reservation fee. You cannot reserve backcountry sites online.

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Backcountry Huts

There is a significant amount of luck involved in reaching the backcountry huts in Banff National Park, operated by the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC), as they are few (there are six), small (most accommodate about a half-dozen people, max), and very, very popular. If you get a spot reserved at one, though, you'll quickly see what all the fuss is about. These are remote places, often along a towering bluff above a remote valley, or face-on to a glacier -- places you probably won't see any other way. Almost all are a good full-day hike or ski into the backcountry; as such, they're most often used by hikers on treks lasting several days or mountain climbers making an ascent of a nearby summit. And you must reserve ahead of time. If you show up without a reservation, you'll not be given a bed unless it is an emergency.

Some of the huts are comfortable cabins (the Castle Mountain Shelter, perched on a cliff called Goat Plateau, halfway up Castle Mountain, accommodates six people comfortably and has a propane stove; it's accessed by a challenging scramble up the mountain face and is closed in winter due to extreme avalanche hazard); others are just shacks. None have running water or power, and few are close to a water source -- so plan to bring that with you, too.

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Bow Hut, by measure of remoteness, is the "easiest" to access, though it's far from easy by anyone's measure. It's a 6-hour hike from the trail head at Bow Lake and a steady climb.

If you aren't a member of the ACC, rates are C$36 per person per night for a simple bunk and access to the facilities: some huts are subject to peak-rate pricing at certain times of the year. Rates for members are substantially lower. For more information on backcountry huts or on ACC membership, contact the Alpine Club of Canada (tel. 403/678-3200; www.alpineclubofcanada.ca). The site also lists what you should bring to a hut to make your experience as comfortable as possible. Remember, you must contact the ACC before you arrive. You can't just show up at a hut and expect to find sleeping room. You'll also need a valid Wilderness Pass from Parks Canada.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.