Quiet campsite with outdoor lights

Hidden gems: 6 awesome campsites in BC

BC’s mountains, islands, beaches, rivers and valleys make it paradise for anyone who’s itching to get out of town and into the outdoors for a night or two. While many of the province’s most well-known campsites can fill up fast, there are plenty of sites you can visit for a quiet mini-getaway that still have relatively easy access. Tip: mid-week is a great time for peaceful camping.

To help you figure out where to camp in BC with your family or friends, here are six quieter – and perhaps lesser-known – places to start.

E.C. Manning Provincial Park

Hiker at Manning Provincial Park

This vast provincial park is just three hours from downtown Vancouver, and is home to four drive-in campgrounds, four lakes and tons of trails. If you’d like to do some exploring on your camping trip, bring your hiking essentials because there are lots of possibilities. Hiking options range from 20-minute walks (on the appropriately named “Twenty Minutes Lake Trail”) to six-day backcountry hikes. Though most of the elevation trails are covered in snow until late June or early July, Manning Park is a rewarding spot for hiking and camping filled with swimming holes to cool off in when the warm weather strikes.

Ready to explore? Check out our guide to camping in Manning Park.

Saltery Bay Provincial Park

Bench overlooking the water at Saltery Bay

This provincial park, located on the Sunshine Coast just 1km north of Saltery Bay ferry terminal, has 42 vehicle accessible campsites under a shady forest canopy. Pack a bathing suit if you like ocean dips during summer months (the beach is rocky, but there are some sandy spots at high tide by the day-use area). The shallow offshore waters at Saltery Bay also offer divers from the chance to see diverse marine life, underwater shipwrecks and caves.

You can reserve your spot before you go through Discover Camping. If reservations aren’t available, some campsites are up for grabs on a first-come, first-served basis. Just try and get there early enough to snag a good spot.

Otter Lake Provincial Park

View looking out from tent

If you’re looking for a campsite by the water, Otter Lake is the spot. This Okanagan gem has drive-in campsites that give you a secluded feel with easy access, and all the sites are reservable in summer so you can plan ahead. The surrounding mountain range includes many canyons and flowing streams, and the park is pleasantly sparse, with a picnic and day use area. The campsite was established in 1963, and I’m not sure much has changed since. If you’re planning on exploring the surrounding canyons, make sure to bring your hiking must-haves so you can make it back to camp.

Kettle River Recreation Area

Kettle River in BC

A quick 45-minute drive from Osoyoos and 90 minutes from Kelowna, Kettle River Recreation Area has 114 campsites to choose from. This recreation area has been reopened since last summer and is officially taking reservations again following the Rock Creek fire in 2015. Want to see if there’s room at this site? Do a quick check-in and book a spot online. Don’t forget to pack a flotation device and PFD to drift along the Kettle River up to Rock Creek so you can enjoy a sunlit river float (make sure to check the water levels before you head out).

Gulf Islands National Park

Sunset on Pender Island, BC

While some national parks see millions of visitors a year, others can be quiet escapes from the city. Gulf Islands National Park has a number of sites that are only accessible by paddling in, but there are also some frontcountry options if you’re new to camping and want an island experience. McDonald Campground near Sidney is a good homebase to explore the area, and nearby Sidney Spit Campground is accessible via a walk-on ferry for a mini-backcountry feel. On North Pender Island, try Prior Centennial Campground, which has just 17 sites and a disc golf course.

Pick up your Parks Canada Discovery Pass from your local MEC store before you visit.

Plan some island-hopping with our guide to camping in the Gulf Islands.

Strathcona Provincial Park

Though most of the camping in Vancouver Island’s Strathcona Provincial Park is considered backcountry, there are some lesser-known frontcountry spots available. The park covers 250,000 hectares of mountainous wilderness and is mostly undeveloped. As most visitors to the park are there for longer treks, you likely won’t cross paths with many frontcountry campers. Located on the Elk River, about 48km from Campbell River, the Buttle Lake campground is a top drive-in spot if you want to replicate the quiet of the backcountry but don’t have the time to trek too far.

Where to find these parks

Map of hidden gem campsites in BC

Map of park locations

A few more tips before you go

Before planning any camping trip, get to know the Leave No Trace tips to keep the parks in top shape for the campers coming after you. If you’re new to camping, and are still stocking up on your outdoor gear, check out MEC gear rentals to get you started. Once gear is sorted, the question becomes: where to escape to next?

Photos: Shutterstock / Deyan Georgiev, Shutterstock / Marina Poushkina, Shutterstock / karamysh, Shutterstock / riekephotos, Shutterstock / Florian Lubich

Steph Ortiz, writer
Steph Ortiz

Writer, half-marathon runner, cultured traveller, rookie surfer, climber of mountains and recent owner of a splitboard.