Campers in pursuit of paradise migrate to Vancouver Island as if on a pilgrimage. British Columbia’s magnificent parks and forests are praised world-wide for their spectacular natural beauty and peaceful, affordable campsites. Whether you carry your pack on your back, pack your trunk or drive your home, you’ll discover an outdoor utopia amongst our pristine alpine lakes, rugged mountainous interior and challenging coastal trails. No matter where you travel and which way you turn on Vancouver Island, there will always be a park nearby.
Campgrounds & RV Parks
Information on Provincial Park Campgrounds and Reservations, National Park Campgrounds and Reservations, Camping on Crown Land in BC Recreation Sites, Frequently Asked Questions on Parks and Campgrounds, and Provincial Park User Fees. Go to Campgrounds & RV Parks.
Top 10 Park Campgrounds on Vancouver Island
- Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park
- Miracle Beach Provincial Park
- Sproat Lake Provincial Park
- Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park
- French Beach Provincial Park
- Englishman River Falls Provincial Park
- Strathcona Provincial Park – Ralph River Campground
- Pacific Rim National Park – Green Point Campground
- Stamp River Provincial Park
- Goldstream Provincial Park
North Vancouver Island
With no private campground located beside Highway 19 from Campbell River north to Cape Scott, travellers must seek out a provincial or regional park, or Forest Service recreation site, if they want an alternative to a private campground. Elk Creek Recreation site is located about 500 meters north of the Hwy 19 turnoff to Kelsey Bay, on the west side of the highway (sign visible). The campground is a provincial recreation site maintained by the by Sayward Futures Society and is considered a wilderness camp, but does provide water, tables and outhouses.
Pockets of Forest Service sites occur around McCreight Lake, about 40 km north of Campbell River, as well as at nearby Pye Lake and Stella Lake.
A public campsite is located at K’husam Park in Sayward, offering camping and a washroom, but no electrical hookups. Information is available at the Sayward Village Office. Three private campsites are also available.
Marble River Provincial Park is west of Hwy 19 on the Port Alice road near the mouth of Alice Lake. It is nestled in a beautiful forest, and campers will find a boat launch and a beach for swimming.
Link River Regional Park lies 50 km west of Highway 19 on the Port Alice Road, on the west shore of Alice Lake near the southern end of the lake. Two forest service sites are located on the east side of Alice Lake, Alice Lake Recreation Site, and Pinch Creek Recreation Site. There are a series of recreation campsites at nearby lakes, including Kathleen Lake and Clint Beek Rec Site on Keogh Lake. North of Port Hardy, look for small sites off Highway 19 at Georgie Lake and Nahwitti Lake on the way to Cape Scott.
Schoen Lake Provincial Park is located about 12 km south of Hwy 19, north of Sayward. Set in the Nimpkish Valley, this is one of the most beautiful camping areas on the island. One of the best ways to experience this park is from one of the wilderness campsites on Schoen Lake. Farther to the west, Woss Lake Provincial Park is even more undeveloped, offering great backcountry exploration.
Cape Scott Provincial Park lies 60 km west of Port Hardy on a well-maintained gravel road. Most backpackers set up camp at San Josef Bay, on a sandy beach fronted by sea stacks. More experienced hikers face an eight-hour slog through some of the muddiest, most tortuous terrain of any trail in British Columbia to reach Cape Scott, a distance of 27 kilometres from the parking lot. Camping pads are provided at the campsite at Eric Lake on the Cape Scott Trail.
Raft Cove Provincial Park is located about 8 km south of Cape Scott Provincial Park, about 42 km west of Port Hardy. Dense western hemlock and sitka spruce blanket the shoreline, where you’ll find wilderness campsites on nearby beaches. This is an extremely exposed area, so come prepared to wear waterproof clothing on top of waterproof clothing in an attempt to stay dry. Raft Cove is located just south of San Josef Bay.
Central Vancouver Island
Miracle Beach Provincial Park is located 23 km north of Courtenay beside Hwy 19. It’s a 10-minute walk from the campsites to the extravagant expanse of cobblestone beach that gives way to hard-packed sand flats at low tide, where herons stalk, seals bark, and ravens and eagles call. What a chorus! The campsites are located in a second-growth forest of gnarly Douglas-fir, western red cedar, and western hemlock.
Elk Falls Provincial Park is near the union of the Quinsam and Campbell Rivers. This park has two different sections. The picnic/day-use area is located near the waterfalls on the Campbell River as it enters John Hart Lake. Campsites are situated 6 km away on the Quinsam river. A large stand of Douglas-fir surrounds Elk Falls, which present a lively sight during spring runoff.
Englishman River Falls Provincial Park is tucked away in the sheltering Douglas-fir forest 13 km southwest of Parksville. There’s great picnicking, summer swimming, and a 3 km walking trail that passes through a stand of maple trees to an impressive waterfall and gorge. Ocean beaches are nearby at Parksville and Qualicum Beach.
Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park, 19 km west of Parksville on Hwy 4, is quite similar in feel to Englishman River Falls Provincial Park. A wonderful quiet pervades here beside the Little Qualicum River and Cameron Lake. Although the two parks are quite close together, the forests that surround them are noticeably different. Here, at Little Qualicum, the soil is much sandier and drier (hence the lovely beach), which means that pine trees thrive better here than fir. As at Englishman River Falls Provincial Park, there are short walking trails to view the Little Qualicum Falls beside the clear green waters of the river. Swimming is excellent – except near the falls. Heed the warning notices.
Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park south of Parksville has acres of campsites to match its 2.1 kms of beaches. So good does the living get here that some families spend their entire vacation at Rathtrevor Beach, where the maximum stay permitted is 14 consecutive days. Small wonder, when all the comforts of home, such as hot showers, gas barbeques in covered beachside picnic shelters, and firewood, are included in the camping fee.
Strathcona Provincial Park offers vehicle/tent campsites at Ralph River campground and Buttle Lake Campground – Camping in Strathcona Park. Strathcona also offers fantastic wilderness camping in its 250,000 hectares of provincial park and hiking trails. Strathcona Provincial Park is a rugged mountain wilderness of over 250,000 hectares that dominates central Vancouver Island. Mountain Peaks, some eternally mantled with snow, dominate the park while lakes and alpine tarns dot a landscape laced with rivers, creeks and streams. Strathcona Provincial Park is accessible by vehicle via Highway 28 which passes through the northern section of the park and provides access to Butte Lake. Campbell River and Courtenay are the primary access points to the park with Courtenay providing two access routes to the Forbidden Plateau area.
Stamp River Provincial Park lies about 14 km north of Port Alberni. Take Beaver Creek Road north of Hwy 4 from the centre of Port Alberni, an easy drive. The park is often used by anglers who come to fish for salmon in the Stamp River. As at Englishman River Falls Provincial Park, there is a beautiful waterfall here that is sure to soothe even the most jangled nerves.
South Vancouver Island
Gordon Bay Provincial Park on the Cowichan Lake east of Duncan is a large park with 130 vehicle/tent sites. Reservations are recommended in July and August, when the sun shines brightest on this southern exposure. The lay of the land here traps heat, and daytime temperatures are hot by coastal standards. The rewards for being here in April and May in advance of the summer crowds include having your choice of campsites and witnessing the spectacular display of wildflowers that begin blooming in April.
Bamberton Provincial Park is located just south of the Mill Bay ferry terminal beside Hwy 1. The 47 vehicle/tent sites are located just beside Johns Creek on the hillside above Sechelt Inlet. Reservations are a necessity in summer, unless you are at the park entrance at noon when a number of first-come spaces may be available, depending on turnover. The one-two punch of a superb view and a sandy beach makes this park a knockout for lucky visitors.
Ivy Green Park and Campground in Ladysmith was formerly a provincial park and is now run by the Chemainus First Nations. The campground enjoys a beautiful location on Ladysmith Harbour, with a beach and shoreline nature trails.
There are five Forest Service recreation sites located on Cowichan Lake and along the Nitinat Main Logging Road. Two small sites – Spring Beach and Bald Mountain – are located on the north side of the lake across from Gordon Bay Park and are limited to those campers who arrive by boat, kayak or on foot. You could launch at Gordon Bay or hike in from the Marble Bay entrance to the park. Two spacious sites – Pine Point and Maple Grove – are situated on the north shore of the lake, west of the town of Youbou, while a third is located at Nixon Creek on the southwest side of the lake. All are easily reached by following either the North or South Shore Roads west of the community of Lake Cowichan.
The Forest Service recreation site at Nitinat Lake has the international cachet that you’d also find in select places such as the Gorge in Oregon or the Squamish Spit. Vans and trucks carrying board sailors from around the world, and decked out with roof racks for windsurfing equipment, occupy many of the rustic campsites beside the lake. You don’t have to brave the winds; just driving the logging roads west of Cowichan Lake qualifies you to stay here. This campsite is busy almost year-round. If it’s not the windsurfers, it’s the visitors to nearby Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park.
Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park: The 16,450-hectare park provides excellent opportunities for wilderness camping, which is allowed at several locations upstream from The Three Sisters in the Carmanah Valley, with walk-in camping available above the Valley where the Carmanah Valley Trailhead is located. Camping is also permitted during the summer months in the Valley on the Carmanah Creek’s exposed gravel bars. Campsites with tent pads, picnic tables and fire rings are provided beyond the parking area on the service road at the main park entrance. Short-term vehicle camping is permitted in the parking lot.
French Beach Provincial Park: Campsites are limited along the Sooke Basin section of the coast, in part because of the rugged terrain, but also because of its location. French Beach Provincial Park is the place many visitors head to for camping. It’s conveniently close to Sooke and a good place to stage explorations to a number of beaches farther north along Hwy 14. Campsites are well spaced and sheltered by a thick rainforest canopy, as well as dense salal thickets above the beach.
Fairy Lake and Lizard Lake Forest Recreation Sites are located a short drive north of Port Renfrew on the Harris Creek Mainline Logging Road. Numerous rough sites have been used for decades at Fairy Lake by holidaying forestry workers and fishers. Weekdays are usually fine, but summer weekends often get a little noisy if the rowdy crowds arrive. If you’re reluctant to take a chance, check out the Pacheedaht First Nations Campground on the shores of nearby San Juan Beach. The campground is located in Port Renfrew next to a wide swath of log-covered beach. West Coast Trail hikers overnight here before catching a ride to the trailhead.
Goldstream Provincial Park offers visitors to Victoria better camping than provided in any other urban centre in British Columbia. This is a showcase for provincial parks, and many visitors fortunate enough to stay a day or two here end up wishing they could take up permanent residence. The campsites are well spaced, close to all park amenities, including hot showers, and within easy walking distance of Goldstream River. The campsites are also separated from the day-use area of the boot-shaped park by a network of hiking and walking trails that provides a further degree of privacy, particularly in early fall when thousands of day trippers converge on the north end of the park to witness the annual salmon run.
McDonald Park (Gulf Islands NPR) is located beside the BC Ferries terminal at Swartz Bay in North Saanich. Although you’ll find a lot of marine traffic swirling around the area during the day, in the evening the pulse slows to a sleep-inducing rhythm, especially once the last ferries have sailed or docked for the night. The campground is tucked in between the Pay Bay Highway and the shoreline of Canoe Bay. Although this location doesn’t guarantee complete privacy, it admirably suits most traveller’s purposes.
Sidney Spit Marine Park is located at the north end of Sidney Island, just far enough offshore from the Saanich Peninsula to seem remote. You’ll share the park with thousands of shorebirds that populate the extensive tide flats and salt marshes, which sustain an astonishing spectrum of plant and animal life. You won’t find a softer surface on which to camp than the park’s white sand. The island is accessible only by boat, a 15-minute ride by ferry from Sidney.
Ferry service from Sidney to Princess Margaret Marine Park (Gulf Islands NPR) on Portland Island, about 4 nautical kms from Sidney, is also available for groups of 10 or more. You may find that the experience of visiting Portland Island is well worth the cost of getting there. Wilderness campsites are located at three places on the island. Freshwater is available from a hand pump located at the old Youth Crew camp. Note: Raccoons are numerous of Portland Island; be sure to secure all food supplies in containers (a tent is not a secure container!).
Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site: A Parks Canada initiative allows visitors the opportunity to stay overnight at Fort Rodd Hill, in sturdy tent cabins. Amenities include kitchen facilities, barbecues, picnic tables and bathrooms. After the grounds close, campers have the whole site to ourselves and are free to further explore the grounds. A Reservation through Parks Canada is required to stay overnight at Fort Rodd Hill.
Pacific Rim (West Coast)
Pacific Rim National Park: With almost one million visitors a year to Pacific Rim National Park, it’s important to have somewhere for them to camp, especially after they’ve driven all that way. With this in mind, Parks Canada maintains campgrounds in the park for both those who want a formal site and those who wish to be the wilderness. At the Green Point Campground on Long Beach, about 10 km north of the Tofino/Ucluelet junction on Hwy 4, you’ll find vehicle/tent sites, and walk-in sites on the beach, sheltered by thick stands of salal. More information on Camping in Pacific Rim National Park.
In addition, there’s wilderness camping in the Reserve at Pachena Bay Campground, about 5 km south of Bamfield. Fashion your own campsite here on the sandy surf beach at the north end of the West Coast Trail. Be sure to bring a tarp or two (plus plenty of rope) to help create a dry shelter for yourself. For more information on the campground, including fees, contact the Huu-ay-aht First Nation Administration Office, 250-728-3414.
Port Alberni hums with visitor activity during fishing season. The town operates the Dry Creek Municipal Park and Campground close to the waterfront on Napier Street in a pleasantly forested environment.
Stamp River Provincial Park lies 13 km west of Port Alberni on Hwy 4. The park overlooks an expansive body of freshwater with Mount Anderson rising to the south. The park sits beside a sheltered bay at the northeast corner of Sproat Lake. Many of those who camp here come to take advantage of the triple boat launch and large public marina. In fact, there are twice as many boat slips as campsites. As much as visitors are drawn west by the magnetism of Long Beach on the coast, Sproat Lake Provincial Park has a fine beach of its own, and much warmer water than the ocean.
Taylor Arm Provincial Park is a forested site on the north shore of Sproat Lake about 15 km west of Port Alberni on Hwy 4. The park features an astounding number of undeveloped campsites, and is particularly popular with groups such as the Boy Scouts. Hiking trails lead beside the lake onto the mountain ridges above the park, which are slowly beginning to regenerate after having being clear-cut in the 1970s.
BC Gulf Islands
Saltspring Island is the most densely populated of the Gulf Islands, and is also home to the biggest Gulf Island provincial campground. Ruckle Provincial Park is located 9 km northeast of Fulford Harbour. (BC Ferries links Fulford Harbour with Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island.) The park features as interesting blend of easily reached sites in a wooded setting overlooking Swanson Channel, with North Pender Island on the far shore.
The Ruckle family first homesteaded here over a century ago. Although they donated most of their property to the province for a park in 1974, the Ruckles still raise sheep on private land at the entrance to the campground. Visitors are welcome to visit the grounds where many old buildings have been restored. There’s a BC Ferries dock in Long Harbour with links to both Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island and Tsawwassen on the mainland.
Across the water on North Pender Island there’s camping at Prior Centennial Park (Gulf Islands NPR); reservations recommended, as well as paddle or boat-in sites at Beaumont Marine Park. Prior Centennial may be more accessible but the setting is tops at Beaumont/Mt. Norman (Gulf Islands NPR). Prior Centennial is located about 6 km southeast of the ferry dock at Otter Bay on the west side of Canal Road.
Although Montague Harbour Marine Provincial Park on the west side of Galiano Island was British Columbia’s first marine park, it has become just as popular with drive-in and cycle-in visitors as with boaters. In fact, you can make reservations for both vehicle/tent and walk-in sites. The park lies 8 km north of the BC Ferries dock at Sturdies Bay. Some of the walk-in sites are located in an ultra picturesque wooded setting on a small ridge above the harbour.
Until a disputed right-of-way reopens, you’ll have to boat to Galiano’s northeastern tip to reach Dionisio Point Provincial Park, 35 km from Sturdies Bay. Much of this park has a weathered-limestone shoreline, characteristic of both Galiano and Gabriola Islands. Boaters can choose to land at pebble beaches on either side of Dionisio Point and thus avoid the tidal currents in Porlier Pass.
Farther north, you’ll find walk-in campsites on Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park. The entire island is park and can be reached by foot-passenger ferry from Nanaimo’s inner harbour, near the dock from which the car ferry sails to Gabriola Island. It only takes several minutes to walk from the dock on Newcastle Island to the campsites. Note: The public ferry to Newcastle runs during summer months only; otherwise, catch a ride with one of the private water taxis that whisk travellers around the harbour.
There are no public or private campgrounds on Saturna Island, but Mayne Island does have two private campsites (no public campground or recreation site on Mayne Island).
Northern Gulf Islands: Because of certain inhibiting conditions in the northern islands – lack of water and garbage facilities, as well as tinder-dry forests in summer months – many islands have no public campgrounds. In most places, private accommodation must be arranged. In summer, reservations are highly recommended.
Fillongley Provincial Park on Denman Island is not particularly large, and it fills up quickly in July and August. There is no telling in advance whether you’ll find room here. The campground is located in a forested setting on the east side of the island, about 4 km from the ferry dock to Vancouver Island. Although the campsites are tightly packed together with only concrete dividers to separate them, the sand and pebble beach that fronts the park is spacious and provides ample opportunity for exploring and, in season, hunting for shellfish for dinner.
If you’d like to savour a Mediterranean-like climate, head for Texada Island and Shelter Point Regional Park. Texada may be a rugged island, but it does possess this jewel of a regional park midway along its west side, 27 km south of the Blubber Bay ferry terminal. Douglas-fir and western red cedar trees provide a fitting accompaniment to the beauty of the nearby beach with its exotic-looking sand dollars, sea anemones, and oversized moon snail shells. Most of the campsites are set back from the expansive sand and polished pea-gravel beach. A breeze blows almost constantly across the Strait of Georgia, but Shelter Point comes by its name honestly. Camping is especially good between April and October, when there are plenty of clear, warm days.
Cortes Island: After going to the effort to reach Cortes Island, your reward is finding a campsite on the southwestern corner at Smelt Bay Provincial Park, a heavenly setting on this picturesque island. Follow the island road 21 km from the ferry dock to the park, which is near Manson’s Landing Marine Provincial Park.
Quadra Island: There are only private campgrounds on Quadra, at Tsa-Kwa-Luten Lodge and R.V. Park, located on the southern tip of Quadra Island, at Heriot Bay Inn on the southeast coast of Quadra Island, and We Wai Kai Campsite near Rebecca Spit.