BC’s Best (Off-the-Radar) Campgrounds

Forget to book a site for this weeken? Escape the crowds by visiting one of these lesser-known BC camping hot spots

BC’s provincial campgrounds are notorious for being full all summer long. But before you give up on camping this weekend, there is some good news. When spontaneity bites don’t assume you’re out of luck. Instead, read through the following list of lesser known campsites and get packing.

Vancouver Coast and Islands

Sidney Spit, Gulf Islands National Park

Much of what makes Gulf Islands National Park special is only accessible from water, and that includes this campground at the north end of Sidney Island. But for this campground you don’t need your own boat to access it. A passenger ferry from the town of Sidney Vancouver Island shuttles campers back and forth four times a day with enough room for all your camping gear. Once on the island, set up in one of the 29 campsites a short walk from the dock, many looking out from the forest across the beach grass and onto the ocean. Sit back and enjoy the sunset, hike around the Lagoon Trail and pick out dozens of water birds that flock here, beachcomb for hours on the almost endless sand beach or at low tide, check the tide pools for treasures.  pc.gc.ca

Photo credit: Go Haidagwaii.com/Flavien Mabit

Gray Bay, Sandspit

Haida Gwaii may be out there in the north Pacific, but the island’s campgrounds still get busy. Not so much this one. A half-hour south of Sandspit, Gray Bay is right on the Hecate Strait, the shallow sea separating the archipelago from the mainland. A mix of gravel and grass sites are a short walk to a sand beach. At low tide the sand extends far out and the shell picking is excellent. On either end of the beach are trails leading along the coast—one to Secret Cove and another to Cumshewa Head—passing numerous historic First Nation sites along the way. The campground and shoreline are part of the Kunxalas Heritage Site/Conservancy, an area of important cultural value to the Haida. gohaidagwaii.ca

Sunlund By-the-Sea, Lund

The charming seaside village of Lund is literally the end of the road. The small town on the Sunshine Coast is the beginning of the PanAmerican Highway (though some say the PanAm starts at Deadhorse, Alaska) and the long distance Sunshine Coast Trail. It’s also a jumping off spot for sea kayaking and yachting in Desolation Sound and the Discovery Islands. A short walk from the marina—the centre of town—is this campground. It mostly caters to RVs and vans, with only a couple of tent sites, but outside the long weekends there’s almost always vacancy. It’s a great base for exploring the wilder end of the Sunshine Coast, the eclectic shops of Lund, or a last night before heading south on a longer expedition. sunlund.ca

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Photo Credit: Destination BC/ Boomer Jerritt

Ralph River in Strathcona Provincial Park, Campbell River

You won’t find many campgrounds with bigger trees providing shade than at Ralph River, deep in Strathcona Provincial Park on Vancouver Island. About an hour west and then south from Campbell River, the campground sits on the east shore of Buttle Lake surrounded by the highest mountains on the island. Lined up in the shade of towering old growth Douglas-fir, hemlock and redcedar, the sites are pleasant and shady; expect improved tent pads, roads and toilets this year and next. Several excellent hikes head off into the rainforest and up mountains nearby and there’s swimming, canoeing and fishing on the lake. A little longer drive than other campgrounds nearby, Ralph River tends to be quieter and even on the rare event that it’s full there’s an overflow area, so few are ever turned away. bcparks.ca

Owl Creek Recreation Site, Pemberton

Private and BC Parks campgrounds within a few hours of the Lower Mainland tend to fill up fast, but the more rustic BC Forest Service Recreation Sites campgrounds are much quieter. This is one of those just east of Pemberton and a short drive off paved roads. There are actually two sites here, one on the Birkenhead River and one closer to its confluence with Owl Creek. Both are open grassy areas with stands of trees, including fruit trees, the legacy of a former homestead. Beyond exploring and fishing along the two rivers, the Pemberton valley is full of recreation: farm tours, mountain biking trails all over the valley, excellent day hikes in Garibaldi Provincial Park, endless activities in Whistler just 40 minutes south, hot springs and paddling on local rivers and lakes. sitesandtrailsbc.ca

Cariboo Chilcotin

Blue Lake Resort, Boston Bar

The Fraser Canyon area is stuffed with activities: fishing, hiking, rafting, air tram, and swimming. With trails of its own, a motor-free lake, great swimming and lots of shade, Blue Lake Resort is a good base for exploring it all. In a hanging valley above the town of Boston Bar, the campground and cabins are centrally located for the area’s activities and are an easy drive from the Lower Mainland. A lot of the campground’s sites are too small to accommodate longer RVs, so there is often availability for more compact campers, vans and tents, even on busy weekends. bluelakeresort.ca

Silvertip, Hope

Nestled in the North Cascade Mountains between the town of Hope and the Canada/U.S. border is Skagit Valley Provincial Park. Full of steep mountainsides, rainforest, rivers and more than 50 kilometres of trail there’s plenty to do in this park. The Ross Lake campground is the busier base, but there are two other campgrounds. Whitworth Horse Camp is reserved for equestrian campers exploring the park’s horse friendly trails. There are corrals, hitching posts and a trail leading right onto a multi-use trail leading deep into the park. And there’s the more rustic Silvertip, right on the Skagit River. It is popular with anglers during prime fly fishing season but quieter during the summer, when the river’s pools make great swimming. It’s a good base for hiking into the alpine on the Skyline Trail or deeper into the park along the Skagit River or other hiking routes. bcparks.ca

Photo Credit: BC Parks/Iain Robert Reid

Tunkwa Provincial Park, Logan Lake

Many trout fishermen know that the two lakes in this provincial park are among the top places to catch rainbow trout in the province. The Freshwater Fisheries Society stocks both Tunkwa and Leighton Lakes with rainbow trout every year and runs a Learn to Fish program here. The three campgrounds, Tunkwa, Leighton and Leighton North, sprawl across the grassland and into windbreaks of trees. Beyond fishing in Leighton and Tunkwa Lakes the grasslands are easy to wander. Keep an eye out for moose, deer, yellow-bellied marmots and the plentiful bird species that love the marshy shoreline. And if you fall in love with the place, it’s one of the few parks that allows long-stay camping. bcparks.ca

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Kootenay and Rockies

Fort Steele Resort & RV Park, Cranbrook

More than 150 years ago, 5,000 people lived in Fort Steele. Today, it’s mostly a heritage town, recreated to look and feel like it did back in its gold mining days. This campground is nearby, a good base for exploring the East Kootenays. Within a 30 minute drive are the recreation hubs of Kimberley and Fernie, excellent fishing on numerous rivers, whitewater paddling, hiking, gold panning, golfing, the amenities of the small city of Cranbrook, plus all the mining history that shaped this area. Because it’s in between it all, the campground flies a bit under the radar, plus there’s lots of room for all camping styles—120 RV and 50 tenting sites. fortsteele.com

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Camping and RVing BC Coalition

Lemon Creek Lodge, Castlegar

Just outside the Kootenay town of Slocan, Lemon Creek is surrounded by mountains. Hiking trails lead up nearby peaks like Idaho and Alps Alturas and into wild settings like Dennis Basin. The rivers run free and clear for rafting, floating and fishing. The backroads are ideal for road biking and there are old rail lines turned bike paths. That’s just the beginning for this recreation paradise. It’s a haul from Vancouver—eight hours—but once at the resort, life is easy. The 28 camping sites sit in a grove of fruit trees and in the shade of ponderosa pine. There’s a restaurant on site as well as cabins and lodge rooms and the laid back town of Slocan is a short drive away. lemoncreeklodge.com

Mount Sir Donald, Glacier National Park

This campground may be frontcountry but it’s backcountry in services. No electricity, no running water, no fire pits, no flush toilets. The plus side to the sparse amenities is that it’s rarely full, even when the park’s two other campgrounds fill. The 15 sites are first come, first served. Once you’re set up, make the short drive to the Roger’s Pass Discovery Centre, a visitor centre and museum to the area’s railroad and snowy history. Then head out on one of the many hikes. Sitting in the middle of the Columbia Mountains, trails tend to be either flat walks in the valley or quad burners to impressive views of the park’s namesake icefields. pc.gc.ca

Mclead Meadows, Radium

Kootenay National Park is the often forgotten fourth in the mountain parks, overshadowed by the busier and showier neighbours of Banff, Jasper and Yoho. That’s a good thing. The hiking trails are quieter but no less spectacular with plenty of ice and rock to admire. And the campgrounds tend to be less busy, too, especially McLeod Meadows. Even though it’s right on the Kootenay River and Highway 93, in a grove of pine trees, the campground is often passed by for those in nearby Radium or other sites in the park and beyond. That is too bad, because the campground is an ideal base. Beyond the park’s excellent hiking, there’s whitewater paddling on the Kootenay—right out front—and mountain biking at nearby Nipika Lodge. pc.gc.ca

Northern BC

Carp Lake Provincial Park, McLeod Lake

In the geographic centre of the province, two hours north of Prince George, this provincial park is best known for its world-class rainbow trout fishing. There’s a boat launch at the campground, making it easy to explore the convoluted shoreline with islands and bays to explore. Fly fisherman should explore the interpretive trail along the McLeod River. As for the camping, Carp Lake is family friendly with a playground, horseshoe pit and picnic shelter. If you enjoy hiking, plan to do the short hike to War Falls. For more solitude, anyone with a boat can camp in one of the lake’s three-island campsites. While all the sites are busy on long weekends there’s usually room the rest of the summer. bcparks.ca

For more info: Read more on tips and tricks to find a last minute campsite in B.C.

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