Anyone who comes to BC knows exactly why we call it Beautiful British Columbia. Everywhere you go, there are mountains to climb and trails to explore. It is an outdoor lover’s paradise. Every year, more and more people head out camping in BC. Even as a seasoned camper myself, it can be hard to find all the information you need to know in order to go camping and respect BC’s camping rules.
Whether you live in the busy streets of Vancouver, the wild north of Prince George, or the rocky roads of Fernie, this BC camping guide will provide you with everything you need to know to secure yourself a jaw-dropping campsite for the summer.
Note this guide was updated in September 2022.
Reserving Provincial Sites
Booking provincial campsites can get competitive. The whole summer can fill up within a couple of weeks of bookings becoming available. However, if you are acquainted with the BC Parks’ reservation rules and systems beforehand, you should have no trouble securing a wonderful camping spot for the summer.
Before The Reservation
There are tons of amazing provincial parks across beautiful BC. Which one do you want to go to? Before bookings open, it’s important to know exactly where and when you would like to go. That way, you get to spend your time booking rather than searching. You can begin searching for provincial parks on the BC Parks Map or through their alphabetical listings.
If you plan on camping during the busy season, after May long weekend to September, you want to have your dates locked down way in advance. Reservations are allowed to be made up to two months in advance of your arrival date. For example, if you’re looking to book for Canada Day on July 1, you can make those reservations on May 1. Reservations for the next day of inventory are made available at 7:00 AM.
Group camping dates (minimum 15 people or more) have different timelines. If you’re looking to book a group site, these can be made 12 months in advance.
The maximum stay for most campgrounds is 2 weeks. If you plan on camping longer, you will have to go to another location.
Scout Your Campground
For the actual campsite in the campground, it’s important to know everything you want ahead of time. Some campsites are by amenities such as washrooms and water taps. Other campsites are larger and better for RVs while some are close to the water. Figure out what aspects of a site are important to you and scout out which spots at the campsite you would like. You can browse campsites by putting your provincial park and dates of choice into the new BC Parks reservation system. Be sure to pick a few in case some are taken when you are making a reservation.
If you’re unfamiliar with the different types of site names (double site, standard site, etc.) check out the site name definitions here. It’s also important to know that there are limits to the number of people per campground. 1-4 adults (anyone 16 years or older) or 8 people including children are allowed per one vehicle accessible campsite. If you’re camping party is larger than this, you will have to book additional sites.
You will also be required to have an account with BC Parks. To make things easier, set up your account ahead of time on the BC Parks website here.
Making the Reservation
If you have done everything I mentioned to get prepared, making the actual reservation is the easy part! Camping reservations are made on the BC Parks camping website. The very front page will prompt you to enter your provincial park and the dates selected.
The next page will then take you to select your campsite. Once you have a campsite selected, a hold will be put on it for the duration of your checkout, guaranteeing that no one else will have your spot.
To make the reservation, you must be of 16 years of age or older. Have a credit card in hand as you will be paying for the reservation fee, the camping fee, and optional additional vehicles upon making the reservation. The person whose name is on the reservation must be the one camping to claim the spot!
A helpful tip, the interface has the tendency to crash during exceptionally busy booking times. Try using the mobile interface instead of the desktop one as it will load quicker.
What to Do If There Are No Spots Available
It happens to all of us. We go to find a camping spot and there’s absolutely nothing available. Whether it is a last-minute camping trip or you simply forgot to book ahead of time, there are still a ton more options for you to get outside and go camping!
Set a Camping Alert
There may still be the hope of getting a provincial park site even though reservations are full. People cancel their reservations all the time and you may be lucky enough to nab their spot. In response to the overwhelming amount of people who try to book a site in BC and can’t, a BCIT Mechanical Engineering Assistant Instructor developed a brand new tool to help alert you when your campsite of choice is available. The website is called Camp Alert. Another similar service is Campnab and it has more options that extend across North America.
Try to Get a First-Come-First-Serve Site
Another approach is simply going to the site when you want to go camping. Almost all provincial sites have spots that are saved on a first-come-first-serve basis. Of course, there is no guarantee that these spots will be available.
To have a better chance of securing one of these spots, try going camping mid-week instead of on the weekend. In addition, go at check-out time when previous campers are just leaving. Checkout time at provincial campsites is 11:00 AM. However, you’re allowed to arrive as early as 7:00 AM. The further away from a city you are, the better your chances of getting a first-come-first-serve site.
Make sure to bring cash on hand for the camp fee as a credit card is not always accepted.
Go To a Designated Recreation Site
Recreation sites are public campgrounds that are located on crown land outside of provincial parks. Oftentimes a little more rustic, they are located in some of the most beautiful and remote parts of BC. These basic campsites often have picnic tables, fire rings, outhouses, and sometimes boat launches. However, they do not have any potable water or electrical hookups available. All these sites are available on a first-come-first-serve basis (with some having reservations if monitored by a camp host).
Some of these sites have fees between $10 – $15 a night to help pay for maintenance. There are also some sites that have no fee.
Since these sites are often accessed through gravel forestry roads, always check for road conditions prior to driving. The BC government provides resource road safety information and updates it regularly. In addition, be sure your vehicle is properly equipped to handle such roads.
Find a Private Campground
You’d be surprised at how many private campgrounds there are! While they’re in many towns and cities, there are also campgrounds just outside provincial parks. In contrast to provincial parks, private campgrounds often boast extra amenities such as big washroom facilities, swimming pools, laundry facilities, sports courts, and more. Each one is different!
Go RVing Canada is a great resource to help you find a campground. They let you search by region along with other search filters such as RV camping, outdoor activities, food and drink, and more.
If you don’t find something you like there, you can also try searching on Google for campgrounds in the area that you are interested in. Many local regions will have a map of nearby campgrounds. I like to check out reviews and pictures beforehand to see what the campsite is like. Some are mostly a place to park your RV while others are located in beautiful forested spots along rivers and lakes.
Each campsite will differ in how to make reservations or if they accept walk-ins or not. Check out their website or give them a call before you head over.
Camp on Private Land
If you are only interested in securing a campsite with a guaranteed reservation, camping on private land is another great option. Similar to Airbnb, Campertunity is a website that allows individuals to list their own property as camping sites. You can filter by items such as RV hookups, pet-friendly, outhouses, and more. While there may not be a ton, the website is new and quickly growing. Plus, there are already quite a few BC gems listed!
Additional Resources You May Find Helpful
Local guidebooks are a great resource if you plan to do a lot of camping or want to find the hidden gems of an area. Trail Ventures BC provides recreational trail maps and Backroad Mapbooks provides outdoor recreation guides for BC with detailed maps and recreation points.
iOverlander, an app and website, is another mapping tool that will help you find local campsites and other amenities such as dump stations and RV mechanics.
This is just scraping the surface of all the ways to enjoy the outdoors and camp. Even if all hope seems lost in securing a site where you wanted, there are plenty of beautiful places to camp in BC. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. In addition, I would love to hear about your favourite BC camping spots and tips and tricks to get a good camping spot in BC.
More BC Camping Tips:
- Chasing Waterfalls at Nairn Falls Provincial Park | Campsite Review
- Porteau Cove Provincial Park
- Forest Bathing at Golden Ears Provincial Park
- Tenting at Ruckle Provincial Park
- Tenting Oceanside: Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park