Camping in the Vancouver Island Region
If you love camping, Vancouver Island is ideal in every way. And if you don’t love it, if you’re skeptical about extending outdoor experiences into overnight adventures—big or small—the Island offers everything possible to change your mind.
Quiet campsites next to sun-kissed lakeshores? We have those.
Tent platforms beneath spice-scented old-growth trees? Those, too.
Walk-in campsites by sandy dunes on wilderness beaches? Yep.
Full-service campgrounds with hot showers, playgrounds for the kids, ranger programs and a half-mile-wide beach in the Island’s “banana belt”? All that. In fact, we have lodging operators who offer ultra-deluxe cabin tents so glamorous that a new word, “glamping,” was coined to describe the experience they offer.
Of course, if it’s the good old-fashioned pitch a tent experience you want, there are innumerable spots for that. Camping is so popular on Vancouver Island that some of our provincial parks draw guests each summer from across the continent—reservations are not only suggested but required at Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, which hugs a famous stretch of sand on a southeast-facing peninsula in Parksville. Here you can set tents beneath lovely old-growth Douglas firs, and safely send the kids off to play in the warm sand while you relax on chaise longues in the sun. Hot showers, playgrounds and park programs make it an ideal spot for a full-scale summer camping vacation.
By contrast, adventurers willing to carry their camping supplies on their backs can hike 45 minutes down a level trail to the beach at San Josef Bay in Cape Scott Provincial Park. Here, along a gorgeous ¾-mile stretch of sand clasped between two ocean-facing headlands, you can camp at the edge of a broad beach, with old-growth Sitka spruces at your back and the sound of Pacific swells rolling up the sand to lull you to sleep.
Strathcona Provincial Park, BC’s oldest and still one of its biggest, straddles a huge swath of the island between Campbell River and the West Coast; its centrepiece is Buttle Lake, a freshwater fjord with two campgrounds along its shores and miles of beach to stroll and lake to paddle. High above the roaded section of the park, in the subalpine vastness of the Forbidden Plateau (which is actually easy to traverse) lie walk-in campgrounds beside sparkling small lakes. Both locales are excellent places to listen for the call of loons in the morning mist, to watch eagles and osprey prowl the skies, and to enjoy the early fall colours of dogwood and vine maple starting in late August.
Some of our other favourite camping spots:
- At Ruckle Provincial Park on Salt Spring Island, walk-in sites just a few yards from the parking lot hug the grassy bluffs above the blue waters of the Salish Sea where BC Ferries pass by. Nearby, flowers and homemade foods are for sale at the stand operated by the family that homesteaded this serene spot in the late 19th century.
- At Juan de Fuca Provincial Park’s Sombrio Beach unit, a short walk through old-growth spruce forest brings you to a breeze-washed shore whose campsites shelter along the beach, backed by the ancient trees. Though the wilderness aesthetic is strong here, it’s just a two-hour drive from Victoria. The China Beach campground provides a similar experience for car campers.
- Parksville, spacious campsites lie beneath the green shade of a mature conifer forest. From the campground it’s just a short walk to one of the Island’s most popular swimming holes, a pool of clear water below the falls that’s a delight on hot days in July and August.
- At Schoen Lake Provincial Park, on the north end of the Island, just nine campsites hug a crystal clear mountain lake beneath towering, snow-capped peaks. You can launch a canoe directly from your campsite, and watch the morning sun light the mountains above.
- In Pacific Rim National Park, on the West Coast near Tofino, the Green Point Campground lies just above Long Beach, a 16-kilometer (10-mile) crescent of sand fronting the open ocean. Among other things, this is the most popular surfing beach in Canada—there’s always a swell running, and almost always surfers to watch. The lengthy, wide beach, of course, is perfect for morning and evening strolls, and the sound of the waves is a splendid night-time lullaby.
We’ve also got plenty of RV-oriented commercial campgrounds, particularly in the Parksville-Qualicum Beach corridor north of Nanaimo. Some of these offer pretty deluxe facilities such as heated swimming pools, laundry, games rooms and on-site grocery stores.
And let’s not forget “glamping”—at the fly-in remote Bedwell River Outpost operated by Clayoquot Wilderness Resort northeast of Tofino, deluxe safari-style tent cabins perch on platforms alongside the Bedwell River. King-size beds, luxury linens, gourmet chef-made meals and hot baths make this a far cry from spreading a bedroll beneath the stars--in fact, you can get turn-down service--but it still means spending the night in a tent.
You’ll pay anywhere from $10-$30 a night at the provincial and national park campgrounds, depending on the park, the campsite and other features. Commercial campgrounds run up to $50 a night. And Clayoquot Resort’s Bedwell Outpost, well… it’s more than that.
But however you camp on our Island, the fundamental virtues remain the same—fresh air, the breeze in the trees, birds singing in the dawn, dinner cooked over a fire, the stars wheeling in the night sky above, and, yes, marshmallows cooked over glowing coals. Much has changed since the first campers arrived at Strathcona Park in 1911; but more remains the same. Camping is one of the greatest of all summer family pastimes, and we have all the best places right here on our Island.
Discovering Alert Bay, Vancouver Island
|World's Tallest Totem and the Big House - Alert Bay
Alert Bay, a small harbour town on a lovely, remote island a few kilometers off the north end of Vancouver Island—reached only by a 45-minute ferry ride—is not the first place you’d think of to find a world-class art collection. Yet here it is, and that makes this quiet village one of our most impressive cultural destinations.
Here, housed in a splendid re-creation of a traditional First Nations longhouse at the U’mista Cultural Centre, is a stunning collection of ceremonial masks and other artifacts once used during potlatches. Vividly colourful, aesthetically impressive and quite distinctive, they are well worth seeing for their own artistic worth. In effect, they are 19th century Impressionist masterpieces of First Nations artisanry. But they are much more than great pieces of art.
These masks represent a heartfelt story of loss and recovery. They were seized from their Kwakwaka’wakw owners early in the 20th century and distributed around the world—sent to museums in Europe and the Americas or sold to private collectors—following raids on potlatches. The Canadian government, spurred by missionary zeal, had banned these ceremonial gatherings in 1885; the Kwakwaka’wakw bands faced a harsh choice: surrender the masks and other artifacts, or see their leaders spend years in prison.
Their descendants began working to bring their treasures back to Alert Bay once the ban was overturned in 1951, and U’mista represents the success of that generations-long effort. Here are masks and other objects—semi-sacred to their owners—repatriated from around the world. The adjacent museum holds other Kwakwaka’wakw treasures and describes the story of these people who have lived here for thousands of years. Outside is a 43-meter (173 foot) two-piece totem, tallest in the world.
The village of Alert Bay enjoys a wonderful setting on Cormorant Island. Facing south and west towards the central Island range, the vista of sparkling waters and snowy peaks is memorable; so is the First Nations cemetery just above Front Street (please look but don’t enter). Friendly cafes and B&Bs dot the town, and an atmosphere of peace prevails.
Alert Bay is one of those rare destinations that combines both natural wonder and cultural treasure. It’s not easy to reach, but that’s part of its great appeal. There aren’t many places you can experience world-class art in such quiet, uncrowded circumstances. For more information on reaching Alert Bay from its Island gateway, Port McNeill, visit www.bcferries.com.
Check out the video below for a little taste of First Nations Culture in Alert Bay!
Salt Water Fishing in the Vancouver Island Region
|Fishing off the West Coast of Vancouver Island|
It’s a big ocean out there, and among the many gifts the Pacific brings our shores are fish—trillions of fish, actually, ranging from tiny sculpins to oil-rich eulachons to king salmon and halibut as big as couches. Vancouver Island residents and visitors have been angling for saltwater fish for thousands of years, and this age-old tradition remains one of our most popular activities.
Luckily, though the Pacific is thousands of miles wide, up here virtually all saltwater fishing is done within sight of shore; no deep-sea expeditions such as are needed at other famous ocean fishing locales. Salmon, halibut, rockfish, lingcod and more can all be found in nearshore waters, or better still in quiet bays and inlets far from the big swells that often roll in from the west. Even on the West Coast, in the Tofino and Ucluelet areas, fishing expeditions for salmon and bottomfish can head into the many back bays and coves of Barkley Sound and Clayoquot Sound.
Salmon is the best-known and most-sought of the prizes. The North Pacific is the home of four different kinds of anadromous (ocean-running) salmon, and all of them ply our waters—king (chinook), silver (coho), pink (humpy), and chum (dog). Fish connoisseurs, whether culinary or recreational, fiercely debate the virtues of these four; but all are beautiful, wild, healthy native fish that are fun to catch and delightful to eat.
Two of our communities, Port Alberni on the West Coast, and Campbell River on the inland side, claim title as salmon fishing capitals, and we certainly don’t care to dispute either claim. The Alberni Inlet is famed as the home of a late summer silver (coho) salmon run that brings hundreds of thousands of fish into the area’s rivers and streams; pink salmon and sockeye are objects of pursuit, too. In the interior waters of the Discovery Islands near Campbell River, all four types of salmon are eagerly sought, but for serious sport fishermen, especially “tyees,” a term referring to chinook or coho bigger than 30 pounds.
Halibut, perhaps the second-most sought of our ocean fish, are deep-water members of the flounder family that can achieve enormous size. Specimens above 500 pounds are known, and anglers occasionally reel in fish past 100 pounds in Vancouver Island waters. Seafood fanciers often feel halibut is as fine a table delicacy as salmon, with firm flesh that holds very well on the grill.
Deeper waters just offshore hold lingcod, sometimes even tuna. Nearshore anglers often set up in bays and inlets to fish the bottom for rockfish (Pacific snapper), another popular table delicacy often compared to cod. Many other types of fish offer angling fun, such as the so-called “black bass” that lurk in kelp beds and strike almost maniacally at jigs bobbed up and down just above the kelp. Caught on an ultra-lightweight fly rod, these can be as much fun as famous freshwater panfish such as bluegills and perch.
Commercial charter operators in every Island harbour town offer day-trips for those who’d like to sample saltwater fishing; they supply all the needed equipment and of course will clean and package your catch for you. A day without any catch is rare indeed, and should you wish to taste your catch fresh (when it’s best) chefs at Island hotels and resorts are happy to cook your fish for you.
Is there anything better than a fresh-caught sockeye, grilled over Island alder wood? We know those who’d fervently argue for king salmon, or halibut, so it’s best that you try to find out for yourself.
- Farmer's Markets
- Winery Tours
- Whale Watching
- Tubing down a river
|Kayaking the Broken Group Islands, Vancouver Island|
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