British Columbia is a paradise for campers of all stripes and abilities. Focus your summer plans with these top picks for families, friends and adventure junkies.
Best For Families
Illecillewaet Campground, Glacier National Park
Let the tourist hordes flock to Banff – families in the know cruise to less-visited-but-equally-scenic Glacier National Park, located between Revelstoke and Golden. Local all-ages hikes include the short Rockgarden Trail, which teaches about the area’s ancient geology, and the accessible Hemlock Grove Boardwalk. Make it a learning vacation, too – the Illecillewaet Campground is set at the summit of Rogers Pass, and many of the sites feature a view of the namesake glacier (look for interpretation that illuminates its shocking recession). Planning-impaired families can breathe easy: all campsites in Glacier National Park are first-come, first-served. Car camping from $21.50 per night.
Bella Pacifica Campground
Bella Pacifica, Tofino
Of all Tofino-area shores, Mackenzie Beach is the best for kids. Tucked into a protected bay, the waves here are much milder than at nearby locales like Long Beach or Cox Bay, yet they still offer enough whitewash for skimboarding and boogie-boarding. Bella Pacifica, a private property, is the prime campground for accessing this soft-sand shoreline – many of its 181 sites are right on the waterfront, and all are secluded among the lush Sitka spruce and western red cedar Vancouver Island is famous for. Bonus: it’s just a five-minute drive to Tofino for easy resupplying. Car camping from $46 per night June–September.
Best for Groups of Friends
Clearwater Lake Campground, Wells Gray Provincial Park
Wells Gray Provincial Park is a North Thompson highlight reel: flowery meadows, azure lakes (one is actually called “Azure Lake”), thunderous waterfalls and soaring summits.
In short, it’s sure to please even the fussiest of groups. Canoeists love Murtle Lake, the nation’s largest paddle-only waterbody. Hikers should head to 12-kilometre Trophy Mountain Alpine Meadows Trail. And easygoing sightseers can take a short ramble to view 141-metre-high Helmcken Falls. The park’s Clearwater Lake Campground also offers options – drive-in camping (both reservable and first-come, first-served) as well as two rustic log cabins, added in 2016. Car camping from $23 per night; cabins $53 per night.
Cheakamus Lake/Singing Creek Campgrounds, Garibaldi Provincial Park
For groups looking to branch out from their RVs, Garibaldi Provincial Park’s Cheakamus Lake and Singing Creek campgrounds offer a gentle introduction to hike-in camping. From the trailhead, just a 15-minute drive south of Whistler, an easy 3 km path leads to the shoreline of emerald Cheakamus Lake. Many of these 10 primitive sites are in close proximity to one another; great for multi-tent collectives. Backpackers can sleep easy knowing a safe retreat to the car is just 45 minutes away. Singing Creek is 4 km farther, hosting seven secluded sites. Backcountry camping $10 per person, per night.
Best for Adventure Seekers
Destination BC/JF Bergeron
Gwaii Haanas Backcountry Campsites, Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve
Home to the Haida people for 13,000 years, this protected area, whose full name is “Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area and Haida Heritage Site,” merges natural treasures with a rich human story. Most travellers visit the remote park, set at the southern tip of Haida Gwaii, on guided boat or float-plane trips. But experienced paddlers can load up their kayaks and ply the misty coast on self-supported expeditions. Whale, eagle and sea lion sightings mark every day; nightly camping is at random – choose whatever sandy beach looks inviting, practising “leave no trace” ethics and bear-aware tactics. No fees for 2017, but visitors must attend an orientation.
Della Falls Backcountry Campground, Strathcona Provincial Park
Welcome to BC’s first provincial park, stretching over 250,000 hectares of jagged mountains and verdant rainforest on central Vancouver Island. Of all the challenging backpacking routes within, Della Falls Trail impresses most. Access to the trailhead is via a 45-minute water taxi (or daylong paddle) across Great Central Lake. Then, a 16 km trail leads to a backcountry campground located near Della Falls. Cascading from 440 metres above, it’s among the highest waterfalls in North America. Camping free; water taxi from $125 (dellafallswatertaxi.com).
This article originally appeared in BCAA Magazine, Summer 2017.
Campsite Booking Tips!
- It’s not too late for this summer. Many campgrounds offer first-come, first-served sites—if yours does, arrive by 9 a.m. and you’ll likely secure a spot.
- Mark your calendar for next year. BC Parks offers campsite reservations up to four months in advance of your arrival (discovercamping.ca). Parks Canada’s BC campgrounds open for summer-season reservations in the first week of January (reservation.pc.gc.ca).
- Remember September. Weekends and holidays can book up months in advance. Back-to-school days ease campground pressure, and BC weather is often warm and dry throughout the month.
- Save by booking online. Online reservations are the norm for provincial and national park campgrounds. BC Parks charges a non-refundable fee of $6 per night (to a maximum of $18) for online reservations. Parks Canada charges $11 to use their online system. Phone reservations have additional fees (BC Parks, $5; Parks Canada, $2.50). Fees also apply to reservation changes.
- Choose your site wisely. You’ll likely be reserving a specific campsite, so study the site map. Does your spot have a waterfront view? Are you too far from (or too close to) washroom facilities? If you change your mind and switch sites on arrival, expect to lose up to two nights’ deposit, plus the reservation fee.
- Need to cancel? BC Parks offers refunds (less reservation fee) up to seven days before arrival for many sites. Parks Canada offers refunds (less reservation fee) up to three days before arrival.
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