Pitching your tent by a sandy lake beach, roasting marshmallows around a roaring campfire, sleeping under the stars, stepping from your RV to a wilderness hot spring or bivouacking on an alpine meadow after a long day on the trail — there are as many great reasons to camp as there are campsites in British Columbia.
Camping, whether by tent or RV (recreational vehicles), car, kayak or backpack, is one of the most popular ways to holiday in BC. And it isn't just about roughing it or saving money (though there is that). Sleeping under canvas is, for many people, the best way to access this province's spectacular landscapes and to enjoy a whole range of outdoor activities, from hiking and kayaking to mountain biking and whitewater rafting.
Camping is also a big part of the culture here. You'll see people of all ages and all walks of life at campsites, from young families and city professionals on weekend breaks to seniors who live and travel in their RVs for months at a time.
BC Parks recorded 2,315,411 campsite visits in 2012 — that's a lot of camping for a province of only four and a half million people. Not surprising considering that BC Parks manages nearly 1,030 protected lands covering approximately 14.4% of the entire province making it the third largest protected areas system in North America.
Campsites fill up, but rarely feel crowded, as numbers are limited and sites are well spaced. In backcountry, forest service and marine park campsites, chances are you won't see a soul.
There are over 10,000 vehicle accessible campsites in BC's provincial parks and protected areas. Of these, campsites in over 90 of the more popular parks can be reserved through BC Parks' Campground Reservation Service, Discover Camping (www.discovercamping.ca; 1-800-689-9025).
Most reservable sites are vehicle access sites, welcoming cars and RVs. A typical pitch is roomy and shady, separated by a stand of trees from its neighbours. Most have a fire pit (though campfires are not always permitted) and a picnic table. Washrooms (with either flush or pit toilets), potable water and firewood (for a fee) are all within walking distance. There are no water hookups for RVs in provincial park campgrounds and electrical hookups are only provided in a very few parks. Pets are permitted at most vehicle accessible campgrounds, but not always permitted in other parks, especially in backcountry areas.
Many provincial parks also have walk-in campsites (a relatively short walk from parking) as well as rustic backcountry sites for hikers. Marine parks have sites accessible only by boat or kayak.
There are also seven national parks in BC. Campsites in two of them — the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve on Vancouver Island and Kootenay National Park in the Kootenay Rockies — can be reserved through the National Parks Camping Reservations Service at www.pccamping.ca or 1-877-737-3783.
Private campsites are found throughout BC, near popular beaches, lakes and hot springs, or near major highways or towns; some are part of resorts with other types of accommodations. These typically have RV hook ups and may also have such amenities as laundromats, beaches, cafes, playgrounds or pools.
BC is also home to more than 1,200 Forest Service Recreation campsites now operated by the Recreation Sites and Trails Branch of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Resource Operations. Accessed by unpaved forest service roads and typically near lakes and rivers, these campgrounds are small and rustic, without hookups or running water, but do offer outhouses, fire rings and picnic tables. Some are free, others charge a nominal fee;none accept reservations.
Wherever or however you choose to camp in BC, one thing is assured, it's the best way to get up close and personal with this province's amazing landscapes.