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Guide to Provincial Park Booking in BC
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Guide to Provincial Park Booking in BC
Nestled in the majestic mountains, lush forests, and pristine coastlines, British Columbia is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts seeking a connection with nature. For those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of urban life and immerse themselves in nature, camping in BC is an unparalleled adventure.
If you’ve camped in BC before, you know that getting the most popular sites on almost any weekend in the summer is challenging. In 2022, BC Parks updated its online booking system to make the booking process smoother for BC campers. So, here I will explain how the camping reservation system works and provide additional tips to make the process as smooth as possible.
Table of Contents
- Researching and choosing the right campsite
- Why is booking ahead of time essential for BC Provincial Parks?
- Helpful terms to know
- BC Parks front country camping reservations - How to Book
- What to do if you don't get the spot
- Frequently asked questions
Researching and Choosing the Right Campsite
Campsites listed in the coastal mainland area of BC
Before I get into the nitty-gritty of booking provincial campsites, here are a few tips on choosing the right camping site for your trip:
Identify Preferred Locations:
- Research specific parks that align with your preferences and desired activities.
- Consider the geographical features and landscapes you prefer, such as mountains, forests, lakes, or coastal areas.
- You may also want to consider driving distance from where you live.
Park Amenities and Facilities:
- Look into the amenities offered in each provincial park, including restroom facilities, water sources, picnic areas, and other services.
- Check if the park has features like hiking trails, fishing spots, or wildlife viewing areas.
Camping Regulations and Restrictions:
- Familiarize yourself with the camping regulations and restrictions of the chosen park. This includes rules about campfires, wildlife interactions, and any specific park guidelines. Ensure that the campsite you choose aligns with your intended camping experience.
- Note: campfire restrictions change throughout the season and can vary in different parts of the province based on weather conditions. If a campfire is a priority for you, consider camping before June or in September. Read more about why I love camping off-season (including tips on how to make the most of camping without a campfire).
Campsite Suitability for Activities:
- Consider the activities you plan to engage in during your camping trip, such as hiking, fishing, or bird watching. Choose a campsite that is convenient for these activities.
- If you have specific accessibility requirements, check if the chosen campsite provides facilities for individuals with disabilities.
- Ensure that the campsite's terrain is suitable for your camping equipment and any mobility aids you may be using.
Proximity to Services:
- Evaluate the distance to the nearest town or services. Some campers prefer more secluded sites, while others may appreciate easy access to supplies or medical assistance.
Here are some of the best tent camping locations in BC.
Why is Booking Ahead of Time Essential for BC Provincial Parks?
Many BC Provincial Parks are renowned for their breathtaking scenery, outdoor activities, and unique ecosystems, making them popular tourist destinations. Popular parks attract many visitors, increasing the competition for available campsites, especially during peak season.
Limited availability means that desirable campsites can get booked quickly (within minutes), and securing a spot ahead of time is crucial to guarantee your preferred location.
If you only take one thing away from this guide, let it be the essential time you need to log in to the online booking system to reserve a spot for your trip.
Booking Process for Provincial Campsites
Booking a campsite in a BC Provincial Park can feel like entering the lottery, so before I outline the steps of the reservation process, here are some helpful tips that may help you secure a campsite.
What to Know Before You Book
Know the busiest times so you won’t be disappointed if you don’t secure a spot, or you can plan a trip outside these times.
- The busiest months in BC are July and August, with weekends, especially long weekends, being the first to be reserved
- Weekday reservations (Sunday to Thursday) are slightly less popular
The reservation system requires you to choose a specific campsite, so if you have particular requirements, such as an RV spot, I’d recommend researching the sites to see which you can reserve before booking.
You must be prepared to book as soon as the reservation system launches the date (more on determining this launch date below). So, start planning early. However, note that the online system holds sites for 15 minutes. So, if the reservations go live at 7:00 am and it looks like all the sites are gone at 7:01 am, wait 15-20 minutes, and you may see some spots come available (some people have multiple group members logging in to try to book the same site).
Helpful Terms to Know
If you’re new to camping or have never used the BC Provincial Park reservation system, there are a few helpful terms that may make the booking process easier for you.
- Frontcountry camping: This is car camping, where campers can drive their vehicle right into the site.
- Walk-in camping: Frontcountry camping that is accessible by foot only for those who are tenting only.
- Backcountry camping: Campgrounds are not accessible by vehicle and can only be accessed by foot or boat, for example. These sites are generally more rustic and have fewer amenities like bathrooms.
- Double campsite: When two individual campsites are located close together, two camping groups can camp together. They must be reserved together.
- Serviced campsite: Sites designed for RVs and trailers and have amenities, such as electrical, water, or sewer hookups
- Pull-through campsite: A campsite where a larger RV or trailer can pull through to minimize maneuvering and make it easier to park
BC Parks Frontcountry Camping Reservations: Step-by-Step Guide
The first piece of information you need to know is when to reserve, as previously mentioned, you want to log in to the reservation time as soon as the campsites become available.
When to book
Since early 2023, BC Parks has used a rolling window for reservations. Reservations can be made up to four months before the arrival date. This means there is a gradual release of the sites, so if you’re hoping to secure the August long weekend, for example, which is incredibly popular, you will have to wait until April to try to reserve (August 4th will become available on April 4th).
How to book
As of 2022, BC Parks has a new camping reservation system. Create an account and get familiar with the system before the booking time for the site you want to reserve.
So, how does the rolling reservation window work? The system is refreshed with new dates at 7 am each day.
What information do you need to book?
- Arrival and departure dates
- Preferred park and campground
- Equipment details (number of tents, van/camper, approximate RV size)
Note: Reservations for frontcountry camping (vehicle accessible) are made on the 'campsite' tab, the automatically selected tab, when you navigate the site.
Can you log in to the system early? Yes! There is a waiting room system.
All users are directed to the waiting room when the waiting system is active. There will be a countdown to the 7 am reservation time in the waiting room. At 7 am, all users will randomly be placed in line, which can take up to 60 seconds.
Your page will automatically refresh, and your place in line will appear at the bottom of the screen with an estimated wait time. Do not refresh; you will be placed at the back of the line.
When you reach the front of the line, you will automatically be taken to the main landing page, where you can begin to make your reservation.
What about multi-day reservations?
Most BC Parks allow bookings for up to 14 days. So, when a campsite becomes available, it is possible to book additional nights immediately. The date you can book your trip is based on your arrival date.
There is a colour-coded system to show campsite availability, and understanding this system can help you make a successful reservation.
- Green - site is available for chosen dates
- Red - site is unavailable for chosen dates
- Purple - partial availability (i.e. the site is only available for some of the selected dates)
- Black - the site is closed
These are pretty easy to understand; where it becomes a bit more tricky is when a campsite is highlighted orange, as this can mean several different things:
- The site is first come, first serve; therefore, no reservations are available
- The equipment you selected may not fit on that site (such as an RV)
- You selected preferences that may not match the chosen site (ex, electricity, walk-in, double site)
When you click on the specific site, look at the details on the right-hand side of the screen; the allowed equipment and type of campsite are listed there.
- Even with this guide, navigating the reservation website can be complicated. Practice making a reservation ahead of time so you know exactly what to do to secure your preferred site and dates
- Plan to be ready to make your reservation before 7 am
- Use a laptop or desktop over a mobile phone if you can, as the site is easier to navigate
What to Do if You Don’t Get the Spot
It is always disappointing when you don't get the campsite or dates you hoped for. I suggest having a backup plan for dates and locations if you're able to be flexible. But reservations do get canceled.
You can check the site for reservations. But, in June 2023, BC Parks created a new Notify Me feature as a pilot program that, if you sign up, will notify you when a campsite becomes available at a specific campground. Learn more here.
Check double sites. Double sites must be reserved together and are often sold last. However, if not reserved, each half of the double site typically becomes available to book a week before the arrival date.
Alternatively, you can make use of a campground that is first come, first serve OR consider backcountry camping.
Approximately 45% of campsites are available on a first come, first serve system.
How to navigate first come, first serve:
- Locate which campgrounds have available first come, first service sites (some don't take reservations at all)
- Determine what time the waitlist starts for these sites at the campground you're interested in camping at
- Arrive early
- Have a backup plan in case you still don't get a spot
BC Parks Backcountry Camping Reservations
More interested in backcountry camping? Many of the backcountry campgrounds in BC are first come, first serve; however, there are a few exceptions:
- Mount Robson Provincial Park (Berg Lake Trail)
- Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park (Magog and Og Lake)
- Garibaldi Provincial Park (ten campgrounds)
- Joffre Lakes Provincial Park (Upper Joffre Lake campground)
- Bowron Lake Provincial Park (Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit)
- E.C. Manning Provincial Park (Buckhorn campground only, 30th June to 3rd Sept)
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the no-show policy for camping in BC?
You will be marked as a 'no-show' if you do not arrive by 11 am the day after your stated arrival date. If you are marked as a 'no-show,' your reservation will be canceled, and the site will be given to another camper. You will not receive a refund.
Can I camp anywhere in BC?
No. You are not allowed to pull over and camp anywhere in BC.
Can you camp in BC without a reservation?
Yes. There are several campgrounds where you can camp without a reservation, including first come, first serve campgrounds/campsites and many backcountry campgrounds.
How much does it cost to camp in BC Parks?
There is a campsite fee for provincial parks and additional fees for reservations and amenities. Check out the fees on the Parks BC website.
What is the maximum stay at BC Parks?
When can you book BC camping?
You can book a campsite 4 months before your arrival at BC Provincial Parks.
Can you camp in BC in the winter?
Yes, you can camp in BC during winter; however, not all campsites are open. Before planning a winter camping trip, check to find open campgrounds (and a day or two before leaving, check weather conditions). Here are some of my favourite winter camping destinations and the tips you need to know about camping during the colder months.
Can you stay overnight in BC rest areas?
No. Overnight camping is not permitted in BC rest areas.
I hope this guide will help you book your camping trips this camping season, but remember you may need to be flexible when booking as it can be pretty competitive.
If you're new to camping in BC, enjoy everything that BC has to offer, but please be a responsible camper. If you must cancel your reservation, ensure that you do so online (or by phone) so another group can enjoy the spot. And when you're camping, always respect the site and the environment – always live by the leave no trace principle.
If anything is missing in this guide, or you have any questions, please leave them in the comments, and I will do my best to answer them or update this guide as necessary.