Whether you’re looking for an extraordinary beach, a lakeside retreat, or a mountain escape, there are campgrounds on Vancouver Island that are perfect for you. This post will help you figure out where to go and where to find the best places to sleep under the stars on Vancouver Island.
- Camping near Victoria on South Vancouver Island
- Gulf Islands Camping
- Campgrounds on Central Vancouver Island (Nanaimo, Parksville, Qualicum, Courtenay, Comox)
- Camping in Tofino, Ucluelet, & Pacific Rim National Park
- Campbell River, Strathcona & Gold River Camping
- Campgrounds on North Vancouver Island
- A Final Note About Campgrounds on Vancouver Island
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There’s no shortage of amazing campgrounds on Vancouver Island.
You’ll find secluded spots by the lake, windswept spaces overlooking wild seas, and peaceful retreats deep in the forest. Whether you want to camp near a city or as far from other people as you can, you can do it on Vancouver Island.
We call Vancouver Island home (we’re nomadic, but this is where we always return) and we’ve spent plenty of weeks exploring the highways, byways, and backroads, looking for our favourite camping spots.
Camping is the best way to appreciate the unparalleled nature that The Island (as we locals call it) provides. It really is the most beautiful place we’ve ever been!
Before you go, you should be aware that Vancouver Island is big. Like, really big! The island is a little bigger than Belgium and much bigger than Israel. It’s also larger than Vermont. On such a huge island, you could spend weeks here, exploring new and exciting places. So before you plan your Vancouver Island trip, you’ll want to select which region or regions you’re going to visit.
In this guide, we help you pick a location for your camping adventures and recommend our favourite campgrounds for lots of different camping styles and experiences.
If you’re new to camping in BC, you should also read our complete guide to camping on Vancouver Island — we explain the different types of campgrounds, share some BC-specific camping tips, explain what to pack, and tell you how to camp for free without breaking any laws!
Read on for our guide to the best campgrounds on Vancouver Island.
You’ll also want to read our complete travel guide to BC’s West Coast, our picks of the best things to do on Vancouver Island, and our guide to BC’s Sunshine Coast.
Camping near Victoria on South Vancouver Island
The south island, around Victoria, is by far the busiest area on Vancouver Island.
There are plenty of campgrounds dotted around the Saanich Inlet (just north of Victoria) where you can sleep in nature and still have quick and easy access to all the amenities of British Columbia’s capital city. If you come in summer, expect all the attractions and campgrounds to be busy and bustling with both foreign and Canadian visitors.
To avoid the crowds, plan your trip for spring or fall — Victoria has a relatively warm and dry climate, so the rain that plagues other parts of the province is usually avoidable, even during winter.
If you’re looking for slightly wilder campgrounds, head west from Victoria towards Point No Point, where you’ll experience some of the most striking ocean views in the world.
Getting to Victoria
Victoria is easily accessed by BC Ferries from Vancouver (Tswassen Ferry Terminal) or on the Coho Ferry from Port Angeles, Washington.
Our picks for the best campgrounds near Victoria
Goldstream Provincial Park Campground. Fairly close to Victoria, this family-friendly campground is your chance to set up under the awe-inspiring canopy of old-growth trees. Goldstream is extremely popular, so you’ll need to book ahead.
China Beach Campground. If you want to get away from the city and have a view that reaches all the way to actual China (or perhaps just to Washington State, depending on what direction you look), go west to Juan de Fuca – China Beach Campground.
Bring your night-time photography gear because you will want to capture the blanket of stars!
Gulf Islands Camping
While not strictly on Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands are a popular getaway spot both for people from the island and the mainland. On the Gulf Islands, you’ll find an even slower pace of life than on Vancouver Island.
Many artists, artisans, and small farmers make their homes on these islands, so you’ll have plenty of opportunity for gift shopping, wine tasting, and foodie adventures. You’ll also find spectacular locations on the Gulf Islands for water sports, biking, and hiking.
Most of the Gulf Islands are very popular in the summer months, so it’s a good idea to book ahead if you plan to camp there.
Getting to the Gulf Islands
You can get to the Southern Gulf Islands via BC Ferries from Vancouver, Victoria, or Crofton (on Vancouver Island). The Northern Gulf Islands are served by BC Ferries from various points along the Vancouver Island coast.
Our picks for the best camping on the Gulf Islands
Ruckle Point Provincial Park on Salt Spring Island. This might be our favourite campground in the entire world! It has dozens of walk-in campsites stretched along the rocky shore, where you can sit all day watching for whales or watching boats go back and forth.
There are also plenty for RV sites. This campground is popular in summer and on long weekends, so make a reservation.
Filongley Provincial Park on Denman Island. This tiny campground has 10 spots that look out over the channel between Denman and Hornby Island. The sunsets paint the sky a pale pink and blue, while the sounds of seals slapping their tails on the water as you fall asleep is a thrill.
This campground is tiny, so you’ll have to go in off-season or reserve a space early.
Campgrounds on Central Vancouver Island (Nanaimo, Parksville, Qualicum, Courtenay, Comox)
Central Vancouver Island is becoming busier each year but, for now, it offers a slightly slower pace of life than the south island, with lots of great services, shops, and restaurants.
Campgrounds in Nanaimo are all privately owned and most offer a combination of RV and tent sites. Nanaimo has exceptional hiking and mountain biking trails, plus, it’s a great place to go whale watching, kayaking, or sailing.
While in Nanaimo, don’t miss your chance to do a whale watching trip. Here’s what you can expect on this once-in-a-lifetime trip!
Campgrounds in Parksville and Qualicum are popular with retirees and families who want to escape from busy lives in Victoria for a few days. RVers will find private campgrounds near the beaches and coast, while tent campers usually head to the inland provincial parks, near waterfalls and lakes.
Courtenay is the jumping off point to head over to the sunshine coast or up the island to the north. There’s not as much camping here as in Parksville, but much of what there is has incredible views over the Salish Sea.
Our picks for the best campgrounds on central Vancouver Island
Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park. Campsites here are a stone’s throw from one of Vancouver Island’s most beautiful and expansive sandy beaches, Rathtrevor Beach. It’s a big campground, but it does get full in summer, so book ahead for July, August and holiday weekends.
Parksville Private Campgrounds. There are a huge number of private campgrounds along the shore in Parksville, especially good for RVers who want all the amenities. Just search for Parksville Camping to find out more about each one.
Little Qualicum Falls Campground. About 20 kilometres from Parksville, this provincial park campground is nestled in the woods along a country road. The big attraction here is the amazing set of waterfalls from which the park gets its name. It’s also the perfect spot from which to visit the charming collection of restaurants and businesses in Coombs.
Kitty Coleman Campground. If you want to just sit and stare out at the sea for hours on end, this park stretched along the beach is ideal. Though it’s a provincial park, it’s not run by the province and has a wilder, less manicured appearance. There is a well for fresh water and pit toilets, but not much else! Kitty Coleman fills up a lot during the summer, so arrive early or make a reservation.
Camping in Tofino, Ucluelet, & Pacific Rim National Park
Aside from the Victoria area, Tofino is the busiest and most popular spot on Vancouver Island. On the wild west coast, this area is the place to go for big waves, breathtaking beaches, and winter storm watching.
It’s also where you’ll find the world famous West Coast Trail, a challenging multi-day hiking experience that attracts experienced hikers from around the world.
Because of the area’s popularity, everything is a little more expensive, including camping, which can cost twice as much as it does on the island’s east coast.
Our picks for the best camping in Tofino
I confess, I haven’t camped near Tofino since I was a little kid, and our family arrived early in the morning to wait in line to get a spot at the famous Long Beach Campground.
Decades later, Tofino is still as busy as ever but there are many more campgrounds to choose from, all with ridiculously eye-popping beaches and views. Here’s a post to help you choose, on the most popular campgrounds in Tofino.
Broken Islands Campgrounds. For a real adventure, arrange a kayaking trip to the Broken Group Islands, a spectacular set of islands accessible only by boat.
We did an extended family kayaking trip through the Broken Group Islands a few years ago. If you can, do it! Camping is in small beach-front campgrounds and will make you feel like you’re the only people on the planet.
Campbell River, Strathcona & Gold River Camping
If you want nothing more than to wake up in the morning and slip into a glassy lake, then camping near Campbell River is ideal.
About 15 km northwest of the city, we found some of our favourite campgrounds on Vancouver Island — and they were all free.
The area around Lower Campbell Lake is all leased by forestry companies, who provide recreation sites for tent campers or people with small truck or car camping set-ups (the area is not RV-friendly). Each recreation site offers 1–10 camping sites with a pit toilet, a picnic table, and not much else — little plots of paradise.
Beyond the lakes, you get to Strathcona Provincial Park. Here, mountain peaks rise higher than 2000 metres and lakes stretch on for miles. For mountain-lovers, this is definitely the ultimate Vancouver Island destination.
Past Strathcona, keep heading west to experience true small-town life in Gold River. This community is past it economic prime but the people who live here are the friendliest on the island (perhaps because they get very few tourists). Plus, our favourite lakeside campground, Muchalat Lake, awaits you in Gold River.
Our picks for the best camping near Campbell River
Elk Falls Provincial Park. This park is pretty typical for a BC provincial campground — the only thing remarkable about it is that it’s only 2km from the city, making it convenient if you want to spend time in Campbell River.
Elk Falls gets very crowded in the summer and you should definitely make reservations. Don’t miss a visit to the Elk Falls themselves, which must be the most spectacular waterfalls on Vancouver Island.
Fir Grove on Campbell Lake. This little rec site has only 2 spaces and each is completely private but the road is only accessible with a 4×4 or on bicycle! We stayed in the lower site, which was right on the beach, with terrific views, a tree swing, and lots of space to tan and swim (clothing optional). Please don’t tell anyone about it because we don’t want it getting too popular!
Ralph River Campground. Buttle Lake campground is just off the highway and a very popular stop – it is generally full all summer. We suggest you drive south along the lake until you get to Ralph River Campground. It’s a little off the beaten track, so you’ll have a better chance of getting a sight and a smaller chance of feeling like you’re camping with a hundred other families!
Muchalat Lake Campground. This forestry rec site just outside Gold River definitely makes our top 5 campgrounds list. Spend all day on the dock, admiring the view of the lake melting into the distant mountains, or jump in for a refreshing swim.
Campgrounds on North Vancouver Island
If you want to go really remote, head north of Campbell River. Until we cycled it, we didn’t realize how empty most of northern Vancouver Island really is. There isn’t much in the way of roadside attractions (or even supplies) up north and the big attraction is nature itself.
In Port Hardy and Port McNeill, the two major towns in the north, you can go whale watching, kayaking, and boating, as well as seeing fascinating oddities like the world’s largest burl.
The great news about the north island is that there are dozens of forestry recreation sites which means free, picturesque camping almost everywhere!
That said, the two most spectacular campgrounds on Northern Vancouver Island are paid.
Our picks for the best camping on North Vancouver Island
Bere Point Park on Malcolm Island / Sointula. If you get all the way to Port McNeill, make time to visit Bere Point Park on Sointula Island, just a short ferry ride from the town centre.
This remote campground feels like it’s at the edge of the world — looking northeast from here, it seems as though you could see all the way to Alaska! The extraordinary beach is packed with driftwood and ocean-smoothed stones, while the hiking trail out of the park leads you through a silent forest to Orca-spotting places.
Cape Scott Provincial Park. If you really want to go all the way to the end of the world, or at least go as far west as you can on Vancouver Island, then Cape Scott should be your ultimate destination. The beaches are San Josef bay are THE MOST extraordinary I have seen anywhere in the world (yes, better than Thailand, better than Croatia, better than anywhere!).
It’s not an easy trek to get there. You’ll have to spend several hours on washboard-y, pot holey dirt and gravel logging roads. The Provincial Park camping is all walk-in / hike-in and you’ll need to bring your own water or equipment for filtering and purifying. But if you can hack the prep, it’s one of the best campsites on Vancouver Island.
A Final Note About Campgrounds on Vancouver Island
We hope you have a great time exploring nature in BC’s little slice of heaven — Vancouver Island. But we also hope you follow the written and unwritten rules of camping in BC.
Campgrounds on Vancouver Island are created for people who appreciate nature and want to preserve the environment for generations to come. They are not great places to go and get drunk and party with your buddies – that’s what cities are for. Check out our tips for camping etiquette in our complete guide to camping on Vancouver Island.
We created this post to help you find the best campgrounds on Vancouver Island. If you still can’t pick a place or have questions about camping here after reading this, feel free to email us and we’ll help you out!
♥ Happy transformational travels, Jane & Stephen
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