User-maintained campsites: Pros and cons of camping at free sites
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User-maintained campsites: Pros and cons of camping at free sites

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Sometimes you want to grab your things last minute and head out of the city for a night or two of camping to reconnect with nature and unwind. Unfortunately, many campsites (at least here in BC) are booked up months in advance, so it’s impossible to get a site last minute. You’re stuck trying to plan your camping trips so far in advance that you may be stuck with bad weather or other plans. 

Is there another option? If you know where to find them, there are free, user-maintained campsites that can be great for a last-minute trip, but are they worth it? 

Here are some of the pros and cons of user-maintained campsites


  • Free campsites you don’t have to book in advance
  • Fire rings and picnic tables 
  • Pit toilets 
  • No additional fees for additional vehicles 


  • No hookups for RVs
  • No running water or flush toilets
  • No paved road access, so more challenging to get to
  • First come, first served could result in the site being full when you arrive

Some aspects of user-maintained campsites aren’t a clear pro or a con. Some people could love that it’s further from the city, which makes it quieter and possibly out of cell range, while others may find this stressful. There is also a higher risk of animal sightings, so campers need to be prepared for bears. 

Some may love that there aren’t rangers to worry about when it comes to consuming alcohol or quiet times. However, some people may be less considerate of their neighbours, resulting in sleepless nights. 

The Verdict: Should you seek out user-maintained campsites?

There is no simple answer as to whether or not you will enjoy camping at a user-maintained site; it partially depends on what you’re looking for from a camping experience and your experience as a camper. Also, user-maintained sites may be more challenging to find and get to, especially if you’re worried about driving your car on gravel roads. 

While the first come, first served nature of these sites makes them great for last-minute trips, it also means you could arrive, and all of the designated sites could be full. 

Etiquette at User-Maintained Campsites

If you do decide to take advantage of these user-maintained campsites, there is some site etiquette you should be aware of. 

In BC, you can stay at these campsites for 14 consecutive days unless otherwise posted. 

Make sure you camp using the principle of ‘take only pictures, leave only footprints.’ Make sure to take away everything you brought in, including garbage and leave the site in the same or better condition than when you arrived. 

Since there are no park rangers to monitor your behaviour, remember to be respectful of your neighbours. Be aware of noise, including the amount of time you run generators, don’t block roadways with your vehicle and keep control of your pets. 

Minimize Your Impact

It’s also important to do what we can to minimize our impact on the environment. Here are some ways you can reduce your impact:

  • Stay on trails and do not bushwhack. Protect the surrounding ecosystem.
  • Buy local firewood to prevent the spread of foreign bugs and diseases.
  • Do not collect wood from the forest floor or surrounding trees. Especially do not cut down trees.
  • Use designated campsites; camp on a durable surface.
  • Use provided fire rings and respect any fire bans.
  • Park in designated areas.
  • Remember only to burn garbage when you’re confident it won’t leave a trace.

Prepare for Wildlife

When you’re further from the city, you’re at higher risk for running into wildlife - so, in BC, you need to be prepared for bears. 

To help keep bears out of the campsite, obey this camping etiquette:

  • Keep food, cooking equipment, and toiletries in a bear cache or inside your vehicle.
  • Clean your cooking area thoroughly. 
  • Never bring anything that smells inside your tent.  
  • Don’t leave personal property unattended.

Learn more about Bear Safety from this guide.

Have you been to a user-maintained campsite? What did you think? Would you go back? Let me know in the comments.  

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