What you can or can’t do in Alberta’s public playgrounds is, to some degree, a matter of interpretation, but  the general intent is fairly clear and the guidelines are included below. These were taken from the Alberta Community Development web site in July, 2006.
Please visit the government site for current classifications.

Table of Alberta’s protected areas and their size





Provincial Parks




Wildland Parks




Willmore Wilderness Park (PDF)




Provincial Recreation Areas




Ecological Reserves




Wilderness Areas




Natural Areas




Heritage Rangelands





Kananaskis has three types of protected areas. Provincial Parks and Recreation Areas provide opportunities to make the wilderness more accessible. Wildland Parks are designed to limit access.

Alberta Land Classifications Descriptions

Updated July 3, 2003
Ecological Reserves are samples of functioning ecosystems protected for scientific research, education and heritage appreciation. Road access and facilities are not developed in Ecological Reserves.

Wildland Parks encompass large areas of natural landscape where human developments and interference with natural processes are minimized. Wildland Parks, similar to WilImore Wilderness Park, accommodate a wider range of outdoor recreation pursuits than Wilderness Areas, including hunting, fishing and the use of horses.

Provincial Parks are provincially significant natural and historical landscapes and features. A range of facilities along with interpretive and educational programs enhance opportunities for visitors to explore, understand, appreciate and respect the natural environment.

Wilderness Areas are large areas that retain their primeval character, unaffected by human influences. Visitors travel on foot to experience solitude and personal interaction with nature.

Natural Areas protect special and sensitive natural landscapes of local and regional significance while providing opportunities for education, nature appreciation and low intensity recreation. Facilities are limited to staging areas, trails and signs.

Recreation Areas cater to a wide range of intensive recreation pursuits in natural, modified or man-made settings. Most Recreation Areas have little or no preservation value due to the levels of facility development, intensity of visitor use and frequently small size.

Heritage Rangelands preserve and protect natural features that are representative of Alberta’s prairies; grazing is used to maintain the grassland ecology.

Alberta’s Parks & Protected Areas Site Classifications

Alberta’s parks and protected areas network includes a spectrum of sites ranging from intensively developed recreation areas to pristine wilderness. These sites provide opportunities for heritage appreciation, outdoor recreation and heritage tourism.

Alberta’s parks and protected areas are managed under three pieces of legislation: the Provincial Parks Act, the Wilderness Areas, Ecological Reserves, Natural Areas and Heritage Rangelands Act and the Willmore Wilderness Park Act. There are eight different classifications that provide varying degrees of protection and a range of opportunities for outdoor recreation. To view parks and protected areas legislation, visit the Queen’s Printer web site.

Ecological reserves preserve and protect natural heritage in an undisturbed state for scientific research and education.

  • Ecological reserves contain representative, rare and fragile landscapes, plants, animals and geological features.
  • The primary intent of this class 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.

Wilderness areas preserve and protect natural heritage, where visitors
are provided with opportunities for non-consumptive, nature-based outdoor recreation.

  • Alberta’s three wilderness areas (White Goat, Siffleur and Ghost River) are among the most strictly protected areas in Canada; no developments of any kind are permitted.
  • Travel in wilderness areas is by foot only.
  • Collection, destruction and removal of plant and animal material, as well as 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.

Wildland provincial parks preserve and protect natural heritage and provide opportunities for backcountry recreation.

  • Wildland 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.

Willmore Wilderness Park was established under its own legislation in April 1959; it is similar in intent to wildland parks.
Provincial parks preserve natural heritage; they support outdoor recreation, heritage tourism and natural heritage appreciation activities that depend upon and are compatible with environmental protection.

  • Provincial parks protect both natural and cultural landscapes and features.
  • They are distinguished from wildland parks by their greater range of outdoor recreation facilities, the extent of road access, and the interpretive and educational programs and facilities that are available to visitors.
  • Outdoor recreation activities that promote appreciation of a park’s natural heritage and cultural features are encouraged.
  • Provincial parks offer a variety of outdoor recreation opportunities and support facilities.
  • Interpretive and educational programs that enhance visitor understanding and appreciation of, and respect for, Alberta’s natural heritage (without damaging natural values) are offered in some provincial parks; these programs serve visitors of diverse interests, ages, physical capabilities and outdoor skills.
  • Automobile access is typically provided to staging areas and support facilities.

Heritage rangelands preserve and protect natural features that are representative of Alberta’s prairies; grazing is used to maintain the grassland ecology.

  • Carefully managed cattle grazing has contributed to the ecological integrity of very large tracts of the continent’s finest remaining prairies; heritage rangelands ensure ongoing protection while continuing the traditional grazing approach that has preserved these grasslands for so many years.
  • Limited opportunities may be provided for outdoor recreation; however, recreational use of heritage rangelands must be compatible with preservation of natural values and grazing management.
  • Recreational access to lands under grazing lease is permitted only with permission from the leaseholder.
  • In addition to Black Creek Heritage Rangeland, located in the Whaleback area in southwestern Alberta, there are six heritage rangeland natural areas in Alberta. Over time, these sites will be re-designated as heritage rangelands under the Wilderness Areas, Ecological Reserves, Natural Areas and Heritage Rangelands Act.

Natural areas preserve and protect sites of local significance and provide opportunities for low-impact recreation and nature appreciation activities.

  • 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, however, larger sites can be included in this class.

Most natural areas have no facilities and in those that do, facilities are minimal and consist mainly of parking areas and trails.

Recreation areas support outdoor recreation and tourism; they often provide access to lakes, rivers, reservoirs and adjacent Crown land.

  • 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 by localizing the impact of development and serving as staging areas.

Establishing Protected Areas

In Alberta, protected areas are established in one of two ways:

  • Provincial parks, wildland parks, heritage rangelands, provincial recreation areas, natural areas and ecological reserves are established by order in council (see A Spectrum of Sites).

Order in council

Orders in Council, issued by the Lieutenant Governor in Council, may deal with government administration, appointments to office, or the disallowance or reservation of legislation.

Lieutenant Governor in Council

The Lieutenant Governor in Council consists of members of Executive Council, or cabinet, and the Lieutenant Governor.