Vancouver Island Camping – Why You Will Love It

Vancouver Island Camping – Why You Will Love It

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Long Beach Tofino
Two young women head out for a surf session on the sweeping expanse of Long Beach. Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.Photo: Parks Canada / Scott Munn

Vancouver Island camping is an experience nature lovers should put on the bucket list. Picture an island with forests and meadows, lakes and snow-capped mountains, with rivers full of salmon and trout. Large swathes of the island are protected parkland covered in forests of fir, cedar and rare groves of Garry oak. Cougars, black bears and wolves roam in the wilderness along with rare species like the Roosevelt Elk, Great Blue Heron and Northern Pygmy Owl. Indeed, camping Vancouver Island is the best way to get close to nature.

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This is an island with lovely beaches surrounded by an aquatic haven, where whales, dolphins and other marine life frolic in the ocean. With so many nature-based things to do in Vancouver Island, this is a nature and wildlife haven like nowhere else on earth.

rv campgrounds vancouver island
Relaxing outside the RV surrounded by the lush forest on a Vancouver Island camping trip at Prior Centennial campground on Pender Island in Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. Photo: Parks Canada/Fritz Mueller.

Camping Vancouver Island

Camping or hitting the RV Parks is a great way to explore Vancouver Island independently while keeping costs in check. Of course, if you’re willing to splurge check out these amazing Vancouver Island resorts.

Vancouver Island is about half the size of Tasmania and is the largest Pacific Ocean island in North America. So there’s plenty to see and many corners to explore.

Here are three regions to get you planning your Vancouver Island camping or RV trip.

Vancouver Island Camping – West Coast

Tofino to Ucluelet – Pacific Rim National Park

Nature reveals hidden secrets on Vancouver Island’s west coast around Tofino and Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. The rugged and dramatic windswept landscapes are a magnet for surfers and hikers.

Pacific Rim National Park has three areas – Long Beach (for comfortable camping), Broken Group Islands (for backcountry adventures) and the West Coast Trail (looking for a challenge?).

The West Coast Trail is a world-renowned 77km stretch in the Pacific Rim National Park.

Tofino and Ucluelet are the main centres for tours. Bear watching tours by sea kayak, zodiac or cruiser are available and there are several marine tours to spot sea lions, seals, bald eagles and orcas too.

camping vancouver island
Cox Bay is a top Vancouver Island camping destination. Photo: Brian Caissie/Destination Canada.
tofino campgrounds
Camping Vancouver Island offers plenty of opportunities to see marine life. Jamie’s Whaling Station tours operate out of Tofino and Ucluelet. Photo: Matthew Maran

Grey and humpback whales lurk in the waters most of the year. For a memorable whale-watching experience, plan your trip in March or April to coincide with the grey whale migration when 17,000 grey whales migrate from the Baja Peninsula in Mexico on a 22,530km journey to the Arctic Ocean and the Bering Sea. It’s an awe-inspiring sight.

Ucluelet is the base for the Wild Pacific Trail, which has two loops that hug the coastline with storm watching decks along the way.

The 2.5km lighthouse loop to Cape Beale Headlands is the most spectacular while the 10km Big Beach to Rocky bluffs trail meanders through forests of western hemlock, Sitka spruce, and giant red cedar.

Other attractions are the Ucluelet Aquarium, which has hands-on activities and educational programmes about the region’s marine biodiversity and ocean environment, and Hot Spring Cove.

Here, a dip in Mother Nature’s spa in the seven natural geothermal rock pools at the Tofino hot springs is a natural spot to relax and rejuvenate.

Other things to do in Tofino, Ucluelet and Long Beach include surfing, hiking, kayaking, fishing and beachcombing.

There’s a pick of excellent campgrounds, RV parks, cabins and cottages that cater for a range of budgets while on a Tofino or Ucluelet camping holiday, with the island’s famous Long Beach in between the two. Here are some spots to check out:

Tofino camping

Crystal Cove Beach Resort has 69 RV sites among the trees and rainforest cabins or beachfront cabins with spa baths. If you prefer simpler digs, Crystal Cove also offers RV glamping, where you rent a trailer with cabin comforts.

MacKenzie Beach Resort and Bella Pacifica Campground on beautiful MacKenzie Beach are two other Tofino campgrounds where happy campers can hook up RV vehicles onto waterfront sites with breathtaking views.

Long Beach camping

Parks Canada runs green Point Campground. It offers beachfront camping with Wi-Fi and other urban comforts like Cable TV, a kitchen and laundry facilities.

Camping Vancouver Island
Camping at Green Point Campground in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, Kayakers explore the rocky shoreline of one of the Broken Group Islands., Running on the beach in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Photos: Parks Canada / Scott Munn

Choose from walk-in campsites or drive-in types but pick them early because the best sites seem to book the fastest. Or try Parks Canada’s oTENTiks, which are a cross between a tent and a cabin and is the way to go for hassle-free Long Beach camping.

Ucluelet camping

Ucluelet or “Ukee” has several resorts, cabins and campgrounds in scenic locations.

The RV gang will love hooking up at Ucluelet Campground, which is a waterfront site in a sheltered harbour protected from the wind.

Cool Vancouver Island camping spots along the West Coast Trail (a permit is required to be on the trail so book well in advance) include Pachena Bay Campground, which is part of the Huu-ay-aht First Nations land.

Camping Tofino
Is this your seat? The Red Chairs in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, Munn, Tsusiat Falls is just one of many spectacular Vancouver Island camp locations for hikers on the West Coast Trail. Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, It doesn’t get much more epic than this – a waterfront Vancouver Island campsite to yourselves on the West Coast Trail. Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Photos: Parks Canada / Scott.

There’s comfortable camping at Tsuquanah Reserve, where tents have wood-burning stoves, timber flooring, comfy beds and outdoor decks with views of the Pacific Ocean. The reserve is part of the Ditidaht First Nation’s traditional lands.

RV campsites are available at Secret Beach Campground in Barkley Sound, which is part of the traditional territory of the Toquaht Nation.

Vancouver Island East Coast

Port Hardy to Victoria – Salmon Capital of the World

For a relaxing road trip, there’s comfortable camping on Vancouver Island between Victoria and Port Hardy, where some sites are a short drive from the ferry terminal.

Known for both saltwater and freshwater fishing, you’ll find a decent spot to throw a line just about anywhere on Vancouver Island. But keen anglers will want to explore the stretch between Victoria to Campbell River.

Why? The route will take you through two of Vancouver Island’s top fishing regions, Campbell River and Cowichan River and plenty of other places to fish in between.

Nanaimo campgrounds

Staying at a camping spot around Nanaimo (British Columbia’s sixth largest city) offers easy access to fishing in fresh or saltwater locations.

Drop a line at Green Lake, Millstone River, Swy-a-Lana Lagoon and Departure Bay at the beginning or the end of the day.

Campers who want that campfire fix with snap, crackle, pop sounds and seagull calls, may want to roll out the sleeping bags nearby at Living Forest Oceanside Campground & RV Park.

For family-friendly fishing off the dock, try Brannen Lake RV Park and Campsite. The well-stocked lake has rainbow and cutthroat trout and the campground’s free Wi-fi means Facebookers and Instagrammers can upload their photos easily too.

Campbell River camping

The locals call Campbell River the “Salmon Capital of the World” for a good reason. Chinook can be caught all year round and there’s reliable fishing for coho, pink, chum and sockeye from May to November. Or perhaps you’d rather snorkel with salmon?

There are lots of campgrounds, cabins and RV parks in the Campbell River area catering for a range of budgets, from cute cottages like Driftwood by the Sea RV Park & Cottages to Salmon Point Resort RV Park & Marina. See this list for more.

Two kilometres from Campbell River, Elk Falls Provincial Park is the place for riverside camping. You don’t have to travel far to fish either. Between November to March, the steelhead runs right by the campsites on the Quinsam River.

Telegraph Cove camping

camping telegraph cove
Head north towards Port Hardy for some cool Vancouver Island camping. Telegraph Cove has a campground as well as cottages and cabins. Photos: Christina Pfeiffer.

What used to be a telegraph station in 1912 is now a charming historic holiday village that comes alive in summer. Telegraph Cove is a picturesque spot that attracts a summer crowd of whale watchers, fishing, boating, camping and kayaking enthusiasts.

The Whale Interpretive Centre is a small museum that focuses on the threats faced by whales. From Telegraph Cove, you can also book a grizzly bear tour to Knight Inlet on the BC mainland.

Hook up an RV or camp at the Telegraph Cove RV Park or the Forest Campground or book one of the cosy cabins by the marina.

Cowichan River Provincial Park

Between Nanaimo and Campbell River, reserve a campsite at Cowichan River Provincial Park for more fly fishing action in Canada’s fly fishing capital.

The river is populated with insects and crustaceans that form the food base for the river’s two species of native trout – rainbow and cutthroat – along with brown trout (introduced in the 1930’s), steelhead and salmon.

While in the area, visit the Cowichan Estuary Nature Centre to learn about the estuary and the wildlife that live there.

Vancouver Islands Gulf Islands

Gulf Island National Park

Vancouver Island is a sailing haven with open-sea, inshore waters and inland lake sailing. Hire a bareboat or a skippered yacht and discover hidden coves, secluded beaches and views of snow-capped mountains.

The in-shore waters offer the most picturesque experiences, with scenic bays, cute towns and hundreds of intriguingly named islands like Galiano Island, Saturna Island, Salt Spring Island, Cabbage Island and Tumbo Island.

The Gulf Islands National Park Reserve is spread out across 15 islands scattered across the Salish Sea.

Gulf Islands National Park
Under the summer sunshine, a visitor prepares food at a picnic table on the water’s edge at Roesland, on Pender Island in Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. Photo: Parks Canada / Fritz Mueller.

It’s a haven of sheltered anchorages and sailing around these calm waters also reveals the fascinating culture of the Coast Salish First Nations people and other unique cultural attractions, such as the Hawaiian settlement on Russell Island.

Gulf Island camping

Best camping Vancouver Island
Camping Vancouver Island: Clockwise from top: 1- A couple relaxes outside their RV, surrounded by the lush forest at Prior Centennial campground on Pender Island. 2-Hikers enjoy the panoramic ocean view overlooking at Princess Bay on Princess Margaret (Portland Island). 3- A couple carries their inflatable kayak back to their tent on D’Arcy Island in Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. Photos: Parks Canada/ Fritz Mueller.
Campgrounds Vancouver Island
Fun times camping Vancouver Island. Top left: 1- A couple admires the views from their backcountry campsite on Princess Margaret (Portland Island) in Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. Photo: Parks Canada / Fritz Mueller, 2- Two hikers marvel at the spectacular views afforded after walking the trail up to the viewing platform on Mount Norman, on Pender Island, 3-McDonald Campground, near Sidney, is a short bike ride from the ferry terminal at Swartz Bay, offering a convenient access point to visit the Gulf Islands. Photo: Parks Canada / Scott Munn, 4- Two Stand-Up Paddleboarders enjoy a sunny summer day near Arbutus Point, on Princess Margaret (Portland Island). 5- Campers set-up their tent under the evening sun at Shingle Bay campground on Pender Island. Photo: Parks Canada / Fritz Mueller.

Easy to access Parks Canada campgrounds are McDonald Campground on Vancouver Island, at the edge of Sidney near the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal, or Prior Centennial Campground on North Pender Island.

For a more rugged back-to-nature experience, head to the Southern Gulf Islands (North Pender Island, South Pender Island and Saturna Island) for back-to-nature adventures.

Discover Vancouver Island

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Vancouver Island is easy to drive around and travelling by car or RV is a leisurely way to explore this beautiful part of British Columbia. There are several types of rental RVs to suit a range of budgets, from van conversions, truck campers, fifth wheels, travel trailers and folding camping trailers to motorhomes and campervans.

How long does it take to get from Vancouver to Vancouver Island?

Victoria, the main city on Vancouver Island, is 107km from Vancouver. BC Ferries provides both vehicle and passenger services between Vancouver and Vancouver Island as well as Mayne, Saturna and the Pender Islands.

Vancouver Island Driving

A driving trip is the best way to discover hidden hiking trails and other exciting Vancouver Island attractions. Car hire and RV rentals are available on Vancouver Island and Australian driver’s licenses are valid in Canada. Most RVs do not require a special license.

Vancouver Island Resorts

If glamping or staying in a luxury resort is more your style – or perhaps experience a blend of both – there are several luxury options right around the island. Take a look at these fabulous resorts on Vancouver Island.

Vancouver Island Beaches

There are many beautiful beaches, such as Saratoga Beach in the north, Rathtrevor Beach in the centre and Mystic Beach in the west. Long Beach, between Tofino and Ucluelet, was listed by Canadian Geographic as one of the top 25 beaches in Canada.

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Vancouver Island Camping

Vancouver Island Camping

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