Vancouver Island is a prime destination for outdoor enthusiasts, with activities including wildlife viewing, touring coastal rainforests and exploring tidal beaches. Despite being the largest island on the west coast of North America, you will find yourself within a stone’s throw of a cove, an inlet or a harbour nearly at all times.
Not sure where to start your camping trip? We’ve got you covered with some front-country, backcountry and first-come, first-serve sites to help you get started on your journey.
Front-Country Parks and Campgrounds
Pacheedaht Campground (Port Renfrew), South Island
If you enjoy expansive sandy shoreline beaches, watching soaring eagles above you and the simplicity of life without cell service, Pacheedaht Campground might just be the place for you. Located on and operated by the Pacheedaht First Nation, the campground is accessed via the scenic Hwy 14.
Nearby are the tidal pools of Botanical Beach and Avatar Grove, home of the “gnarliest tree.” Take a trip to visit Big Lonely Doug, the towering Douglas fir standing alone in the middle of a clearcut forest. Don’t have an RV or a tent? No problem, the campground also has reservable glamping barrels pods complete with king-size beds with a view of the river. For camping rates and reservation, call 250-647-0090 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Nitinaht Lake Campground (Ditidaht First Nations), Cowichan
Few places in British Columbia are as well-known for windsurfing and kitesurfing as Nitinaht Lake. These water-bound athletes flock to the area in the summer for its thermal breeze and mountain range backdrop. Schedule a lesson with the on-site kiteboarding school, Elevation Kiteboarding, hosted right on the beach.
The park sites are clean, spacious and all within close proximity to a beach. This area of western Vancouver Island is also home to some of the oldest and most untouched old growth trees. Spend the day exploring Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park trails and end the evening on the beach watching kites fly by. The drive to Nitinaht Lake includes a forestry service road; proceed with caution. Advance reservations are mandatory this year; it costs $35 per night.
Buttle Lake Campground (Campbell River), Central Island
Camp in the heart of Strathcona Provincial Park and use the Buttle Lake Campground as your home base to explore the massive trails network located all throughout the park. There is no shortage of activities at this campground, and canoeing and kayaking are very popular on the lake.
If water activities are not for you, nearby Crest Creek Crag offers over 150 outdoor routes for various skill levels of climbers, and Kunlin Lake in the Gold River area has a multitude of mountain biking trails to discover. Fees vary, visit Discover Camping for rates and reservations.
Rathtrevor Beach (Parksville), Central Island
This list would of course be incomplete without one of the Island’s most popular and visited campgrounds, Rathtrevor Beach. One of the largest, with 174 vehicle-accessible camping sites and another 25 walk-in sites, it also features three shower buildings, flush toilets and a sani-station.
It is centrally located, family friendly and offers lots of recreation opportunities, including a white sandy beach. Come during March-April to witness migrating Brant Geese. Open year-round (limited services outside of the summer season) $35 per night, or $22 per night for walk-in sites.
Tourism Vancouver Island, Ben Giesbrecht
Surf Grove Campground (Tofino), Pacific Rim
Maybe carefree camping — dare I say glamping— is more your vibe. In that case, Tofino’s newest campground, Surf Grove, features amenities designed to make your camping stay enjoyable and easy.
Surf Grove is camping, but elevated. It is the only campground on Cox Bay, one of Tofino’s most desirable surfing locations, with over 800 feet of beach access. The campground has washroom facilities (including showers), beach yoga, an on-site surf company for lessons and rentals, Wi-Fi and even on-site RV rentals. Reservations required; prices range between $85-$250 per night.
Backcountry Parks and Campgrounds
Tourism Vancouver Island, Ben Giesbrecht
Sombrio Beach (Juan de Fuca Provincial Park), South Island
Sombrio Beach is a well-known surfer’s paradise on Southern Vancouver Island and is also part of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, a 47-kilometre wilderness trail stretching alongside the western shoreline. Sombrio Beach is located roughly at kilometre 39 of the trail but can also be accessed by a short Trailhead off Hwy 14.
There are three designated wilderness camping areas: East Sombrio, Main Sombrio and West Sombrio. Enjoy your weekend surfing waves or searching for the popular hidden Sombrio waterfall (hint, it’s at East Sombrio). Sombrio is open year-round, $10 per person per night; no reservations are required.
Phillips Ridge (Strathcona Provincial Park), Central Island
Created in 1911, Strathcona Provincial Park on central Vancouver Island was BC’s first provincial park and home to the Vancouver Island Mountain Range. While there are many back-country camping sites throughout the park, Phillips Ridge offers a glimpse of Vancouver Island’s tallest Peak: the Golden Hinde.
The trail to Phillips Ridge starts with a series of well-engineered switchbacks, into subalpine meadows adjacent to Arnica Lake (Arnica Lake also offers tent pads), and finally up to the ridge. It may be a sufferfest on the way up, but the view of a setting sun against the mountain range will soon make you forget your sore legs. Campsite 49.59862, -125.66933 (via AllTrails) No permit required.
Vancouver Island Tourism, Steven Fines
Cape Scott Provincial Park (West of Port Hardy), North Island
Located at the most northwestern tip of Vancouver Island, Cape Scott Provincial Park is a magnificent rugged coastal area, home to the Cape Scott and North Coast Trail. The park is characterized by numerous sandy beaches and 11 wilderness campgrounds.
Nels Bight is one of the park’s most popular backcountry camping destinations, and if you want to camp on your drive to the Cape Scott trailhead, you can pull into the Western Forest Products San Josef River Rec Site near the trailhead. Campers in Cape Scott should be self-sufficient and should be aware of bear and wolf advisories issued by BC Parks. Open year-round, no reservations required; $10 per person per night from May-September.
Spring Salmon Place Campground (Sooke Potholes Bike Tent Pads), South Island
Maybe you want to opt for a more lightweight camping experience this summer, so make it a bikepacking trip and leave the car at home! Located in Sooke Potholes Regional Park, this 67-site RV and tent campground is easily accessible by bicycle along the Galloping Goose Regional Trail, a 55-kilometre multi-use rail trail between Victoria, British Columbia, and the ghost town of Leechtown, north of Sooke.
Once at the campground, explore the trails, take a dip in the water on a hot day, or hike up to nearby Peden Lake. This campground is managed by the Capital Regional District and operated by T’Sou-ke First Nation. $25 per night May-September
Marble River Campground (Port Alice), North Island
While the default is often to camp at a beach or lakefront, Vancouver Island offers numerous scenic river campsites, including Marble River Campground, operated by Western Forest Products. Follow the 4.2 kilometre trail along the river, or explore nearby Port Alice, popular with kayakers, scuba divers and sport fisherman.
It is a well-maintained recreation site, but campers should be prepared to pack out their own garbage. Free BC Recreation Sites and Trails Campsite.