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 south of the 49th too, and those of us living and camping in BC know how lucky we are to have this all at our doorstep.
The firewood may no longer be free, and you’ll have to reserve a spot in high summer to enjoy the great outdoors, but camping in British Columbia 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’ve sharing ALL the goods on where to find the best campgrounds in British Columbia, and tips on how to book them.
Updated May 2020: A note about camping during COVID-19: Most British Columbia’s Provincial Parks will be opening for day use on May 14th. On June 1st, BC Parks will re-open most provincial campgrounds and backcountry camping. Discover Camping will reopen and accept camping reservations on May 25th.
- 1 The Best Campgrounds in BC
- 2 How to Reserve a Campsite in BC Provincial Parks
The Best Campgrounds in BC
Before we get started, some beginner tips. If you’ve never camped before, start slowly. The full equipment investment isn’t going to be cheap, so think about borrowing, renting or incrementally buying the must-have items like tents, sleeping bags, and a camp stove. Not sure how to pitch a tent? You can take a Learn to Camp course, in partnership with MEC and Parks Canada, where you’ll learn everything there is to know about tent camping in British Columbia.
Once you feel confident enough, give one or two nights a try at a local and 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. We’ve even got kid-friendly recipe tips to get you started on amazing camp cookery. Happy camping!
Camping in Vancouver and 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. The lake has a lovely sandy beach. Take a walk around the Lake, or go for a swim. You can rent canoes and rowboats. There are a wide variety of hiking and mountain trails with varying degrees of length and difficulty. Watch for plentiful animal life, including marmots, game birds, eagles, deer and even bears in summer.
Rolley Lake – Located in Mission, just over one hour’s drive from Vancouver, Rolley Lake is a scenic campground of 64 well-landscaped sites amidst second-growth pine trees. It can get a bit ‘party-ish’ on long summer weekends, so keep that in mind if you have young kids and value your sleep.
Joffre Lakes Provincial Park – You can only access the 26 backcountry campsites via a moderate 5.5 km hike, so efficient packing is of the essence. It’s worth it as the lakes and region are stunning. You must reserve a camping pad at Joffre Lakes, due to this park’s popularity. You’ll be turned away if you don’t have the necessary permit, so plan ahead.
Camping on the Sunshine Coast
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 – Accessible via 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.
Camping on Vancouver Island
Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park – This lovely campground offers great amenities and fun for families. There’s 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. Activity options include; walking and biking trails, a kids adventure playground, calm ocean swimming, and an amphitheater and interpretive centre.
Strathcona Provincial Park – The oldest provincial park in British Columbia is on the edge of some rugged, gorgeous wilderness. There are car-accessible sites in the large campground, as well as hike-in backcountry sites at Croteau Lake. If you want to go off-grid and hike for days, or just chill in amazing nature, head here.
Looking for more? Check out these camping options on Vancouver Island courtesy of our friends at Travel2Next.
Camping in the Okanagan
sẁiẁs (Haynes Point) Provincial Park – There have been some changes to this popular campground, but the great news is that it is still possible to reserve your own piece of waterfront heaven in warm Lake Osoyoos. Haynes Point is now known as sẁiẁs park. It is managed by the Osoyoos Indian Band as the area is now an archaeological site. It’s hot and 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 because every site is waterfront property. These are some of the best campsites in BC, bar none.
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. Truly one of the best campgrounds in British Columbia.
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.
Wells Gray Provincial Park – Located in the North Thompson Okanagan region, Wells Gray Provincial Park has something for everyone and every outdoor interest. There are many campgrounds within this park, and one of the most family (and fishing) friendly is Mahood Lake.
Campers and outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy the alpine meadows, waterfalls, mineral springs and glaciers. As well as the excellent birding and wildlife viewing. You’ll find hiking for every ability, ranging from short hikes on level trails to multi-day backcountry tramps where you’ll need a map and compass. You can boat, canoe and kayak, as well as book horseback riding, canoeing, river-rafting, fishing and hiking trips with local outfitters.
Camping in the Kootenay Rockies
Kootenay Lake Provincial Park – The deep and vast Kootenay Lake has several campgrounds dotted along its shores. We camped at Lockhart Beach on our road trip many summers back, and loved its isolation and easy access to the beautiful lake. Lost Ledge is a small and secluded campground on the northwestern shore of the lake.
Moyie Lake Provincial Park – A family friendly campground of 111 campsites located 20 kilometres south of Cranbrook off Highway 3/95. You can easily spend a holiday week exploring the 1,300 metres of developed sandy beach, backed by a large grassy area. There’s swimming, wind surfing, sailing, boating, wildlife and bird viewing and a variety of fishing experiences. Kids will love the adventure playground, and parents will appreciate the hot showers.
Camping in Northern British Columbia
Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park – Road trippers traveling the Alaska Highway will find a warm welcome at this campground. The big attraction is the public hot spring that is the second largest in Canada and open year round. The campground can accommodate RVs and vehicle reservations, as well as frontcountry campers on a walk in basis. The setting in a lush Boreal forest feels otherworldly, a perfect escape from it all.
Lakelse Lake Provincial Park – Wildlife watching opportunities abound at resettable Furlong Bay Campground in Lakelse Lake Provincial Park. There are 156 sites (50 of them with electrical hookups) at this lake campground that features sandy beaches and a roped-off swimming area in the lake. Take a walk on the nature trail loops, where you’ll see some of the 100 bird species and old-growth cedar, hemlock, and Sitka spruce trees. Adventurous visitors can try water skiing, windsurfing, fishing, canoeing, and sailing on the lake.
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How to Reserve a Campsite in BC Provincial Parks
Important Update: May 2020 – BC Parks will reopen most provincial campgrounds and back-country camping on June 1st. Discover Camping will reopen and accept new camping reservations on May 25th for arrival dates up to July 25th on a rolling two month basis. BC Parks is prioritizing BC residents in support of staying local and avoiding unnecessary travel. Non-BC residents with existing reservations should contact Discover Camping prior to June 15 to receive a full refund.
Reservations in the summer high season have become pretty much mandatory. While I occasionally mourn the days of free-wheeling spontaneous camping trips, I do like the certainty of having a spot when and where I choose to camp. DiscoverCamping is the BC Parks reservation portal. You can reserve campsites at those campgrounds with reservable sites (which is not all campgrounds), four months to the date of your arrival. Circle dates on your calendar four months from your desired camping dates, especially for those peak season long weekends in summer.
Do your research. Spend time online checking out maps and locations of campgrounds and sites ahead of time, to ensure you know where and when you want to camp. Many campgrounds may have first-come, first-serve sites, but they are few in number and you’re taking your chances by rolling up expecting a spot on a busy weekend. It’s just too risky, IMHO.
National Park Update
May 14th: Parks Canada has advised that limited visitor access and services will be offered at select national parks, national historic sites, and national marine conservation areas as of June 1, 2020. All camping facilities remain closed until at least June 21, 2020, while Parks Canada assesses whether and how these services might resume. Group activities and public events will be prohibited until further notice. All existing reservations set to take place prior to June 21, 2020, will be automatically cancelled and refunded in full.
For British Columbia’s seven National Parks, like Pacific Rim in Tofino and Glacier and Yoho in the Rocky Mountains, you need to access Parks Canada’s reservation site, which opens in early winter of each year. Again, planning early is very important if you want certain high season weekends. Our BC National Parks are stunning and camping spots are limited, so they get snapped up very quickly.
In addition to camping pads, Parks Canada sites offer yurts, cabins and other unique types of accommodations. In Metro Vancouver, an easy option is staying in a Gold Rush-themed oTENTik tent at Fort Langley National Historic Site. All you have to bring is your food and sleeping bags. It’s a good way to ease into the camping lifestyle.
Reservations for some backcountry recreational sites have also become mandatory. Recreation sites are very popular as many are off the beaten path, and hike-in only, like the uber-popular Joffre Lakes. Know before you go, because you will be turned away if you can’t show that you have a confirmed reservation. Talk about disappointing.
It pays to reserve your British Columbia camping holiday in advance during the busy summer months. Be sure to review any recent reservation changes by BC Parks at Discover Camping, or call at 1-800-689-9025.
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Photo credit: C. Laroye, Lancer Fan
Have you camped in beautiful British Columbia? What are some of your favorite places to get back to nature? Share your comment below.