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Winter camping in western Canada

Don’t put that RV away yet

Mist off Lake Lea, Bottomless Lakes State Park, New Mexico. — Kitrina Bryant photo

by Kitrina Bryant
Published January 2012

There is still fun to be had for RVers during the winter months–yes, even in Western Canada. All it takes is a couple of pieces of high-tech gear, careful planning and your good old-fashioned adventuresome spirit.

Now, before you write this off to “those crazy Americans from California,” let me tell you I am Canadian. So I guess that makes me only half crazy. Just recently my husband and I spent ten days touring our 19-foot Airstream (named Salt) through B.C. and Alberta in freezing cold and snowy weather, having a great time. Well, most of the time it was great. In the beginning I feared Alan’s experience of Canada would amount to lying underneath Salt wrapping pipes.

To set the scene, our travel dates were December 2, 2011, through December 12, 2011, when nighttime temperatures ranged from -18 C to -4 C (-2 F to 24 F) and, except for one gorgeous day in Calgary, the daytime highs were rarely above freezing.

The first bit of gear we installed was insulation under the bed. We didn’t need it to keep warm, but rather to keep moisture from forming between the mattress and the plywood platform. 

The next bit of gear was probably nothing new to most of you living in the north: heat tape. We (and by “we” I really mean Alan) installed heat tape around the grey and black tank exit pipes to ensure our ability to dump our tanks. Salt has heated tanks, but the exit pipes are left to the elements. Being only 19 feet long, Salt’s holding tanks are rather small, so we knew that we would have to dump over the course of our 10 days—not to mention the fact that we didn’t want them to freeze and burst.

Truth be told, Alan did this installation twice: once with heat tape and then, after we managed to short out the plug while attempting to defrost the lever in Calgary, he removed the original installation and re-wrapped the pipes using heat rope. This was in his opinion a much better solution, as you can wrap the rope around itself, making installation and coverage much easier. With this new installation came the ability to have the levers frost-free as well, so we were completely freeze-proof.

The planning required took us a little by surprise. Being on the road full time, we are used to just heading where we want to go. However, we now needed an electrical hook-up to help run the heater, since our solar panels--although great at charging the battery, computers and phones--could not keep up with the demands of a 24-hour heater. But with time and research we were able to locate facilities (some great, some just necessary) that offered full hook-ups even through winter. We usually prefer the solitude of a little-known campground or--better yet--boondocking over staying in RV parks, but we found plenty of solitude in RV parks in the winter.

Finally, you have to maintain a sense of adventure. Despite preparing your RV and your itinerary, problems will undoubtedly occur. I have never found anything that works better than a great attitude.

We had a great time out there enjoying the snow, including cross-country skiing in Nelson, so don’t let the cold stop you. For details of our itinerary and campgrounds visited, please visit our blog at

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