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Ah, the camping life! Hiking and living it up in the great outdoors, roasting marshmallows by the campfire and gathering up the kids for a walk to the nearby beach or lake. There’s some of the best camping in BC and most beautiful campsites in the world in Canada’s most western province. Whether you’re looking for mountain views, oceanside spots or laid-back lakeside retreats, camping in BC means you’re spoiled for choice. Over the years, much has changed when looking for campgrounds in BC. This guide to BC camping reservations will help you navigate your way through the Discover Camping BC reservations system and help determine how to secure a campsite for your family and friends.

tents overlooking lake in summer

Discover Camping with BC Camping Reservations

Campgrounds in British Columbia are managed by BC Parks and its contracted operators. BC Parks camping reservation service uses the Discover Camping reservation system to accept camping reservations for those campgrounds that accept advanced reservations. 

Some campsites are first come, first serve, but most of the largest and most popular campgrounds are reservable in advance. Reserving a campsite is essential in the summer months, when camping in BC is at its peak. 

You can reserve a campsite by going onto the Discover Camping site. If you’re car camping or RVing, click onto Frontcountry reservations, and search by campground or park. Know your arrival date, number of nights stay, people, the style and length of camping equipment – tent, van, RV – in order to find a site that will work for you. Then check availability to see whether the site is available. It sounds simple, yet it’s become more challenging each year.

When to book camping in BC

As with many things, obtaining a campsite reservation is about timing.

For 2022, BC Parks is anticipating a spring timeline for BC Parks camping reservations open for acceptance for all its park offerings. 

In the past years, you could reserve a site four months prior to arrival, i.e. February for a May camping trip. Since the pandemic, that timeline has been shortened to two months in advance, and British Columbians have had priority and access to book provincial camping site reservations before other Canadian residents.

Some year-round offerings (Porteau Cove and Garibaldi) are available for booking throughout the winter months, while walk-in winter campgrounds like Lone Duck at Manning Park do not require reservations.

The BC provincial parks camping reservations system takes the spontaneity out of camping at the most popular provincial parks, at least during the high season. It requires you to do some advance camping planning. My advice is to set a iCal or Google Calendar alarm, or circle dates on your calendar two months from your desired camping dates, especially for those peak season long weekends in summer.

green tent in forest in summer

Where to Camp in BC

British Columbia is a large province. There are more than 1,000 provincial parks covering more than 14 per cent of British Columbia’s land base. While you may be tempted to pick and camp at the closest campsite near your home, remember that you’ll be competing with many other people who have the same great idea. 

Think about heading further away from town and booking a site at a more remote provincial campground. The bonus? Less people and a campground and area that’s new to you and your family.

Over the last three years, 1,205 new campsites have been added to the system. In December 2021, a fully serviced RV park opened in E.C. Manning Provincial Park near 20 Minute Lake. The project is the first of its kind witih fullr water, sewer, electric hook-ups at everyl site, as well as a heated shower building.

In 2021, the B.C. government announced $5 million in projects in 24 provincial parks, including upgrades to popular trails, bear caches, water systems and electric vehicle charging stations. Things are improving slowly and that’s wonderful, but truthfully, it’s not keeping up with the explosion in demand. We need more access to more outdoor spaces.

red tent at sunset overlooking water

Backcountry Camping in BC

If you really want to get out and experience the wild outdoors of British Columbia, the beauty of the backcountry is a tempting choice. Leave vehicles and people (mostly) behind as you carry everything you need in your backpack to explore the mountains and valleys of BC. Be sure to pack out all of your waste as well, maintaining a ‘leave no trace’ policy in the fragile wilderness ecosystem.

BC Parks allows for backcountry camping permits to be pre-purchased online up to two weeks in advance of your arrival date in select provincial parks. However, permits are not reservations and do not guarantee you a site when you arrive. Check out BC Parks’ backcountry map to find sites and hiking routes.

The online pre-purchasing of permits is only available for periods when fees are charged for overnight backcountry stays. Parks will be available for selection two weeks in advance of their first opening date each year. Parks available year-round will display for selection year-round.

Reservations for some backcountry recreational sites have also become mandatory. Recreation sites are very popular as many are off the beaten path, and hike-in only, like the uber-popular Joffre Lakes. Know before you go, because you will be turned away if you can’t show that you have a confirmed reservation.

It’s important to note that the past two summers have seen a massive increase in people heading out into BC’s backcountry. While it’s great to see people being active and enjoying nature, too many have been poorly equipped, inexperienced, and disrespectful of the places they’re camping and traveling in. 

Always travel within your ability and prepare for your trip. Read up on where you’re going, including the weather forecast, and what you may need. Be bear aware, and leave no trace.

Self-serve registration facilities are still available at most designated trail heads and access points. All pre-purchased backcountry permit sales are final. No changes or refunds are permitted.

man canoeing on river of golden dreams whistler

Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit

Bowron Lake Park is a large wilderness area located on the western slopes of the Cariboo Mountain Range. The world-renowned Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit encompasses a 116 km chain of lakes, waterways and connecting portages.

If you’re thinking about attempting the circuit, you should already have some wilderness canoeing experience, or hire a guide. This is not a beginner canoe circuit route. 

Bowron Lake Park offers two canoe trip options:

  • a circuit of all ten lakes (usually 6 to 10 days)
  • a tour of the lakes on the park’s west side (usually 1 to 3 days)

BC Parks notes that special rules apply to Groups (defined as 7-14 people). Groups must follow a fixed itinerary of 8 days/7 nights for the entire circuit or 4 days/3 nights for the West Side. Only one Group is allowed to start a trip each day. 

The number of departures is limited each day to protect visitors’ experiences and their impacts on the park. Note: upon arrival, all park visitors must attend a mandatory orientation session.

two people sitting at camp table with tent

Camping at BC’s National Parks

British Columbia is home to seven of Canada’s National Parks, including; Pacific Rim National Park Reserve in Tofino, Gulf Island National Park Reserve, Mount Revelstoke, Kootenay, Glacier and Yoho National Parks near Banff in the Rocky Mountains, and Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve on Haida Gwaii.

In order to reserve a campsite at BC’s national parks, you need to access Parks Canada’s reservation site, which opens in early winter of each year. Again, planning early is very important if you want certain high season weekends. British Columbia’s National Parks are stunning and camping spots are limited, so they get snapped up very quickly.

In addition to tent camping pads, Parks Canada sites offer yurts, cabins and other unique types of accommodations. In Metro Vancouver, an easy option is staying in a Gold Rush-themed oTENTik tent at Fort Langley National Historic Site. All you have to bring is your camp food and sleeping bags. It’s a good way to ease into the camping lifestyle.

No matter how you want to experience camping in BC – in a tent at a provincial park campground, hiking in the backcountry of the Garibaldi mountains or on the wild west coast of Pacific Rim National Park in Tofino – plan ahead, pack well, and prepare for fun in BC’s magnificent outdoor spaces.

Photo credits: Pixabay

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