UPDATED OCT 16, 2019
Nature is good for your brain, so unplug, pack up the MEC tent, and take a quick drive to the cheapest form of therapy on the West Coast: camping! With Whistler north, Okanagan east, Washington south, and Vancouver Island a quick hop west, we've got favourite campsites in every direction.
You know that picture of someone wearing flannel and a wide brim hat, paddling across a picturesque lake? That could be you at Alouette Lake in Golden Ears Provincial Park. The park has three campgrounds along the lake’s busy shoreline, but the boat access-only campsites are a hot ticket if you can get your hands on a canoe or kayak (rentals at the Alouette day-use area or at MEC). Paddle to Moyer Creek, The Narrows, or Alouette River on the Instagram-famous lake; or skirt Pitt Lake to camp at Raven Creek, or North or South Osprey Creek.
The lakes in Squamish are a little less obvious than the massive Stawamus Chief park. But they’re always worth the extra effort. While the families head to Alice Lake, take your floaties and beers to Cat Lake. This body of water can get noisy, but if you don’t mind sharing the rope swing or docks, it’s a real treat. Fitt Tip: wheelbarrows ease the walk in, and the campground is well-serviced with bear-proof lockers at every site.
Missed the boat on booking the West Coast Trail? Or looking for something a little easier on the legs? The Juan de Fuca Trail is your go-to. The 47-kilometre trail follows the west coast of Vancouver Island (nothing but blue between you and Japan!) to Botanical Beach in Port Renfrew. Trek from any of the four trailheads, or hunker down for some oceanfront camping and surfing at Sombrio Beach.
One look over Howe Sound and you'll forget downtown is only 45 minutes away. Turn off the Sea to Sky Highway past Lion’s Bay to find this waterfront gem featuring 44 vehicle-accessible campsites, as well as 16 walk-in sites. It’s an easy, popular little trip, and prime real estate for meteor shower nights (so we’d have to recommend to reserve early). There’s an easy lookout hike, nearby bike trails, and a couple of sunken ships for scuba divers.
Drive three hours east of Vancouver and you’ll hit E.C. Manning Provincial Park. Right smack in the middle of the Cascade Mountains, the park is an underrated outdoor mecca. The best news? At least one of the four drive-up campgrounds stays open through the winter. But for your fair weather friends, hit up the campsites around Lightning Lake. You can hike as little as 15 minutes to as much as six days, or you can stay waterside where general store snacks are a quick walk away.
The views from the Howe Sound Crest Trail are straight up spectacular. The 29-kilometre trail starts in the Cypress Bowl, overlooks Howe Sound, summits the iconic Lions, and treks down to Porteau Cove. Pack light for the steep uphills right out the gate to St. Mark’s Summit, and plan to camp at one of the four preferred spots 11 kilometres in. The trail is point-to-point, so drop a second car at the Porteau Cove parking lot or be prepared to call in a favour with a friend for a pick-up.
Pemberton—of Joffre Lakes fame (hiking to the turquoise glacier lakes is a must if you haven’t already)—is a quick 20-minute drive north of Whistler. Pop up the tent at the Nairn Falls campsite and you’ve got yourself a home base that has easy access to waterfalls, hot springs, and hikes through an endless backcountry. This site is a safe bet or a solid, late-night plan B if the spots at Joffre Lakes are taken.
Blonde raccoons. Prehistoric-looking moon snails the size of your fist. Not to mention a whole lot of history: native fishing villages, Japanese salteries, English sandstone quarries, and coal mines have all found a home here. It’s all packed onto a blip of a provincial park called Newcastle Island and is so worth the trip. Repeat this to yourself as your board your second ferry of the day (Vancouver to Nanaimo to Newcastle Island — bear with us here). Luckily, this ride is only 10 minutes out of Nanaimo’s inner harbour, and once you get to the island the 18 walk-in and five group campsites are very nearby. Fitt Tip: catch the public ferry from Nanaimo’s inner harbour to Newcastle Island during the summer, or hop on a private water taxi for the rest of the year.
Wine tasting and lakeside camping? Yes, please. Kelowna may be the Okanagan hotbed for wineries, but that title drags in the crowds, RVs, and bachelorette parties. Head south to Canada’s only desert to find a bit more breathing room. Campgrounds line Osoyoos Lake and all are within a 20-minute drive of over 10 wineries on the “Golden Mile” (Hester Creek, Burrowing Owl, and Moon Curser, anyone?). If you want to stay local, grab a spot at the Nk’Mip campground and make the 10-minute trek over to the Nk’Mip Cellars winery.
Tofino is about as West Coast as it comes: you’ve got old-growth rainforest, miles of sandy beaches, and the most chilled out, small town vibes in the PNW. You can do everything (surf! whale watch! hike the Pacific Rim National Park! bike Long Beach! get beers at the brewery!), or nothing (take long walks on the beach! storm watch! literally nothing!). It’s going to be a good time. Surfing in the winter or just a die-hard winter camper? Get yourself a plot by the beach at Mackenzie Beach Resort and justify the pricier rates by hopping in the hot tub to warm up after a day in the water.
Fitt Tip: not into booking months ahead? Search first-come, first-served (FCFS) campsites on the BC Parks camp reservation for a last-minute weekend trip.