Legislation & Regulations
There are three main pieces of legislation that provide legal direction and guidance for managing Alberta's park system:
The Provincial Parks Act has a number of regulations that provide guidance around specific activities and restrictions in provincial parks, wildland provincial parks and provincial recreation areas.
The Provincial Parks Act
has the following regulations:
For a summary of the main regulations governing visitor activities, see regulations affecting visitor use of Alberta's parks.
Ministerial orders establish fees for services and provide for temporary park closures, travel restrictions, liquor bans and other such restrictions.
The seven classifications in the Alberta parks system are described below.
For more information: the current parks system.
The Land Reference Manual includes a complete listing of all lands currently under the administration of Parks Division of Alberta Tourism, Parks & Recreation.
- Wilderness areas preserve and protect natural heritage while providing opportunities for non-consumptive, nature-based outdoor recreation.
- Wilderness areas are established under the Wilderness Areas, Ecological Reserves, Natural Areas and Heritage Rangelands Act.
- Alberta's three wilderness areas (Ghost River, Siffleur and White Goat) are among the most strictly protected areas in Canada. No developments of any kind are permitted.
- Travel in wilderness areas is by foot only.
- Collecting, destroying and removing plant and animal material, fossils and other objects of geological, ethnological, historical and scientific interest are prohibited.
- Wilderness areas provide limited opportunities for nature-based recreation such as backcountry hiking, wildlife viewing and mountain climbing.
- Hunting, fishing and the use of horses are not permitted in wilderness areas.
- List of wilderness areas
- Ecological reserves preserve and protect natural heritage in an undisturbed state for scientific research and education.
- Ecological reserves are established under the Wilderness Areas, Ecological Reserves, Natural Areas and Heritage Rangelands Act.
- Ecological reserves contain representative, rare and fragile landscapes, plants, animals and geological features. Their primary intent is strict preservation of natural ecosystems, habitats and features and associated biodiversity.
- Ecological reserves serve as outdoor laboratories and classrooms for scientific studies related to the natural environment.
- Public access to ecological reserves is by foot only. Public roads and other facilities do not normally exist and will not be developed.
- Most ecological reserves are open to the public for low-impact activities such as photography and wildlife viewing.
- List of ecological reserves
Wildland Provincial Parks
- Wildland provincial parks are a type of provincial park specifically established to preserve and protect natural heritage and provide opportunities for backcountry recreation.
- Wildland provincial parks are established under the Provincial Parks Act.
- Wildland provincial parks are large, undeveloped natural landscapes that retain their primeval character.
- Trails and primitive backcountry campsites are provided in some wildland parks to minimize visitor impacts on natural heritage values.
- Some wildland parks provide significant opportunities for eco-tourism and adventure activities such as backpacking, backcountry camping, wildlife viewing, mountain climbing and trail riding.
- Designated trails for off-highway vehicle riding and snowmobiling are provided in some wildland parks.
- List of wildland provincial parks
- Provincial parks play a key role in preserving Alberta's natural heritage. They support outdoor recreation, heritage tourism and natural heritage appreciation activities that depend on and are compatible with the natural environment.
- Provincial parks are established under the Provincial Parks Act.
- Provincial parks protect both natural and cultural landscapes and features.
- Provincial parks are distinguished from wildland parks by the greater range of facilities and the extent of road access.
- Provincial parks offer a variety of outdoor recreation opportunities and support facilities. Outdoor recreation activities that promote appreciation of a park's natural heritage and cultural features are encouraged.
- Interpretive and educational programs are offered in some provincial parks. These programs enhance visitor understanding and appreciation of and respect for Alberta's natural heritage and must be conducted without damaging natural heritage values. These programs are designed to serve visitors of diverse interests, ages, physical capabilities and outdoor skills.
- List of provincial parks
Provincial Recreation Areas
- Provincial recreation areas support outdoor recreation and tourism. They often provide access to lakes, rivers, reservoirs and adjacent Crown land.
- Provincial recreation areas are established under Provincial Parks Act.
- Provincial recreation areas support a range of outdoor activities in natural, modified and man-made settings.
- They are managed with outdoor recreation as the primary objective.
- Some areas are intensively developed while others remain largely undeveloped.
- Many recreation areas play a significant role in management of adjacent Crown lands and waters, serving as staging areas to provide access to a range of outdoor recreation opportunities on adjacent lands and water bodies.
- List of provincial recreation areas
- Natural areas preserve and protect sites of local significance while providing opportunities for low-impact recreation and nature appreciation activities.
- Natural areas are established under the Wilderness Areas, Ecological Reserves, Natural Areas and Heritage Rangelands Act.
- Natural areas include natural and near-natural landscapes of regional and local importance for nature-based recreation and heritage appreciation.
- Natural areas are typically quite small, although some are quite large.
- Most natural areas have no facilities. Facilities that do exist are minimal, consisting mainly of parking areas and trails.
- List of natural areas
Willmore Wilderness Park
- In addition to the seven classifications within the Alberta parks system, Willmore Wilderness Park is a unique area. It was established in 1959 and is managed under its own legislation, the Willmore Wilderness Park Act.
- At 4,597 square kilometres, Willmore is the second largest park in the Alberta parks system.
- Willmore represents some of the best habitat for a number of wildlife species. It is estimated that 20% of Alberta's mountain goats and bighorn sheep are found in Willmore. Other species include grizzly bear, mountain caribou, cougars and wolves. The windswept front ranges in the eastern part of Willmore are critical winter habitat for ungulates.
- Willmore Wilderness Park is similar in intent to wildland provincial parks.
How Parks and Other Areas Are Established
In Alberta, parks are legally designated in two ways.
- Provincial parks, wildland provincial parks, heritage rangelands, provincial recreation areas, natural areas and ecological reserves are established by order-in-council under their respective Acts. Orders-in-council are issued by the Lieutenant Governor-in-Council.
- White Goat, Ghost River and Siffleur wilderness areas and Willmore Wilderness Park were established in legislation. Their boundaries are described in "schedules" under their respective Acts.
Section 7 Land
- The Provincial Parks Act also provides for designation of lands to be managed under the Act that are not established as parks or recreation areas.
- These lands are "declared" under the Provincial Parks (Section 7 Declaration) Regulation. They are described in Schedules to the regulation.
- Specific provisions of the Act and regulations may be applied to each land parcel declared under section 7 to provide for management of those lands.
- Section 7 is used to address interim management of lands:
- that have been acquired for park purposes but are not yet designated; or
- where activities not permitted in a park are being managed until such time as the activity is completed and the lands can be designated.