Camping under the stars
It's no secret.
British Columbia has some of the most well-designed, best-located provincial (state) campgrounds anywhere in North America. We've camped all over this great land (and in the south too), and we who live and camp in BC know how lucky we are to have this all at our doorstep.
The firewood may no longer be free, and now we're being charged the HST, but camping remains the cheapest and most fun family holiday you can have (without crashing at your parents' cottage - but where's the freedom in that?).
We're happy to share our love of camping (and our favorite spots) with you and your family. If you've never camped before, start slowly (the full equipment investment isn't going to be cheap), and give one or two nights a try at a local & well-established campground near your home. That way, if you and your family have an awful time, (doubtful, if you like the outdoors at all), you can drive home in the middle of the night.
Vancouver & the Lower Mainland
Alice Lake - One hour from Vancouver along the Sea-to-Sky highway, just north of Squamish. Amenities: Situated on beautiful Alice Lake, fishing, canoeing, swimming, sandy beach, picnic tables, bike trails, showers, trail around the lake for walks, more challenging mountain hikes nearby, a kids playground, horseshoe pits, generous camp-sites. Very popular - book early!
Cultus Lake Provincial Park - Located one hour from Vancouver near Chilliwack in the Fraser Valley. Easily accessible from northern Washington. There are four campgrounds to choose from in this well-situated lakefront park. Amenities: Showers, flush toilets, swimming, boating, biking, hiking, and horseback riding trails. Due to its central location to the Lower Mainland, this is a very popular and very busy campground, all summer long.
Golden Ears Provincial Park - One and a half hours east of Vancouver in Maple Ridge. One of the largest campgrounds in BC. Three family-friendly campgrounds to choose from, of different sizes (we prefer Gold Creek and the smaller North Beach). Large Alouette Lake is great for swimming, fishing and boating. Kids playground (at Alouette Lake beach), biking & hiking trails (some very challenging), showers & flush toilets.
(EC) Manning Park Provincial Park - Three hours drive east from Vancouver. A vast, wilderness playground of outdoor activities in winter and summer. Five campgrounds to choose from, the largest being Lightning Lake, which also has full-service showers and flush toilets. There is a sandy beach, and a walk around the Lake, where you can also swim, and rent canoes or rowboats. There are a wide variety of hiking and mountain trails with varying degrees of length and difficulty. There is much animal life to view, including marmots, game birds, eagles, deer and even bears in summer.
Porpoise Bay - In less than 45 minutes, the Langdale Ferry takes you from the Lower Mainland to the Sunshine Coast. Just north of Sechelt is this very popular and good-sized campground. Amenities: a clean air policy is in effect, so there are three communal campfires (meet your site neighbours!), showers and flush toilets, a kids playground in the day-use area, sandy beaches, tidal zones and an isthmus for exploring.
Saltery Bay - Two ferries from Vancouver to the Sunshine Coast, 25 km south of Powell River. At this small campground, you get a real taste of the rainforest, and are roughing it close to nature. No showers, pit toilets only, lots of wildlife, tidal pools and a rocky beach to explore, with a mermaid beneath the waters! Very popular with day-use scuba-divers, who dive to find the bronze mermaid and admire the abundant sea-life.
Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park - In two words: Camping Utopia. A huge sandy beach, a rocky beach, a large intertidal zone, (crab races!), gorgeous sunsets, large & private camp-sites, showers & flush toilets, nature rangers & interpretive programs in summer, a kids playground, biking & running trails, kite-flying, bird-watching, and close to Parksville & related town amenities like playgrounds, grocery, liquor and ice-cream stores.
Miracle Beach Provincial Park - Up-island, between Courtney and Campbell River. Family-friendly large campground on spacious & sandy Miracle Beach. Flush toilets, but only one hot shower facility, walking and biking trails, a kids adventure playground, calm ocean swimming, and an amphitheater and interpretive centre.
Haynes Point Provincial Park - Only 41 campsites, and every one is your own piece of waterfront heaven in warm Lake Osoyoos. Extremely popular and thus very difficult to reserve a spot (but so worth the effort). It's hot & dry in Canada's only desert climate, but when you're camping at Haynes Point, cooling off means taking two steps from your tent into the lake. All manner of lake-sports here; swimming, fishing, boating, and water-skiing. There isn't a built playground, but the kids won't miss it one bit. Pit toilets and no showers, but swimming every day in the warm lake can count as bathing. Due to its popularity, you can only stay here seven days in a calendar year - it's that great.
Shuswap Lake Provincial Park - A large family-friendly campground along the shores of beautiful Shuswap Lake, east of Kamloops. Amenities: showers, flush toilets, a kids adventure playground & large grassy area for soccer or ball games, swimming, fishing, boating, canoeing, biking & walking trails, an amphitheater with great nature programs by Park Rangers. Located close to cottage country, and amenities such as a convenience store, mini-golf centre, and an ice cream parlour.
This is by no means a complete list. Where is your favourite BC Provincial Park campground, and why is it special to your family?
[travellingmom tip: It pays to reserve your British Columbia camping holiday in advance during the busy summer months. New this year is a site-specific reservation system, for reserving that perfect campsite by the lake or near the playground. But mind that others may covet that spot as well! You can book up to three months in advance of your arrival, online at Discover Camping, or call at 1-800-689-9025.]
Photo credit: Lancer Fan, Victoria