Are you heading to British Columbia for the Canada camping road trip of your lifetime? Or are you contemplating if this natural and adventurous country could be your cup of tea? Then check out how we’ve experienced Canada and read along for some very useful tips we scribbled down for you. Don’t forget to also read our items about why you should choose Canada for an unforgettable experience and when we suggest visiting which part of Canada. Especially when you’re not really convinced yet! Meanwhile, we’ve sold our hearts to this beautiful rough piece of Mother Nature ourselves…
This is the real outdoor deal (and a digital detox)
We’ve experienced Canada as a truly outdoor minded country. Everywhere you drive, you see signs of hiking trails, day recreation areas and next to each Canadian home, there’s a trailer, motorhome or whatever vehicle ready to go for the occasional getaways. I got the feeling that Canadian people really love their natural habitat. In no other country we’ve visited before, we’ve seen and felt so much respect for nature amongst its friendly and nature loving inhabitants. Lovely to see that Canadians all try to keep nature as they’ve found it whilst respectfully making use of what Mother Nature has to offer. (Read our article about Leave no Trace camping to prepare on the Canadian camping ethics.) This also means that you’ll disconnect from the www in many areas of this enormous country. Prepare for a digital detox indeed! Needless to say, this only adds to experiencing Canada to its fullest.
How to prepare your trip to Canada (British Columbia)
With lots of research done before we headed to Canada, we had our thoughts made up about our route before we arrived. In reality, we ended up with a fresh paper map of BC on our dashboard and following the tips from local Canadians to decide upon our actual route ad hoc. Holding this flexible travel mindset and choosing off season for a stay in Canada, was the perfect combination for us. But, when you’re travelling in high season or during Canadian holidays, things get a bit crazier on the roads and campsites (so we’ve been told.)
While we didn’t have to reserve online for almost any campground, you should definitely set out your route and make reservations when you’re heading there in holiday and/or summer season. Read about when and where to camp in Canada in our previous article; also touching topics such as wild camping, boondocking and some useful websites. If you ask us, May definitely is a perfect month to visit British Columbia. The weather was already awesome, the campgrounds weren’t crowded at all, at some of them we could even spend the night for free (because it was still off season) and this altogether gave us the freedom to choose our next destination last-minute.
Pro tip: Canadians seem to looooooooove long weekends. Consequently, campgrounds are packed around public holidays from the end of May until September. So, besides peak Summer holiday season, you might also want to avoid the Canadian public holidays. When you pick low season for your Canadian adventure, you might still want to check if there’s a holiday weekend coming up like Victoria Day.
How to find the best campgrounds in Canada
Are you a frontcountry camper (camping on an established campground) or a backcountry camper (more solitude, off-the-beaten-path camping)? This determines if you’ll easily find the awesome spots you expect to see in Canada. Also, the type of vehicle you drive determines
where you can and can’t go. Travelling with a RV (motorhome) will force you to pick the more arranged campgrounds, of which you’ll find plenty along the main roads. Those campgrounds are prepared for (huge) RV’s, camper vans, trailers and what Canadians refer to as the unreal sized ‘5th wheelers’. You’ll recognize the ‘BC parks’ signs soon enough! Road tripping with a 4×4 equipped with a rooftop tent definitely opens doors to more remotely located campgrounds, so you might want to consider renting a Jeep or other off-road vehicle when you’re in for some serious backcountry camping.
Whatever way of camping you prefer, asking locals for a great camping spot always is the best way to find those gems you’re searching for. Another way to find great natural campgrounds upfront, is to check the website of BC Parks. Each and every campground of BC Parks is beautifully arranged and kept peaceful, clean and natural in a way we could learn a lot from in Europe. They hold a high Leave no Trace standard and above all they strive for nature conservation.
Insider tip: Keep an eye on our overview of campgrounds we’ve visited and liked a lot. We found some wonderful spots which we share here. These are true gems and make you feel super close to Canadian nature. We’ll add more in the upcoming weeks!
Build your own campfire!
One of the beautiful things of camping in British Columbia is that you’re allowed to build your own campfire! Most parks and campgrounds facilitate this with fire rings on each campsite and by selling firewood. Besides wood and something to light your campfire, the most important item to build a fire is your common sense.
There are signs to warn you about the risk of bush fires everywhere, but always use your own brains and responsibility too. Yes, wood burns, yes it burns even quicker when it’s hot and sunny, you can cause a catastrophe by not following rules and warnings, and yes, you’ll literally ‘sit on the blisters’ (like we say in Dutch) when a campfire gets out of control. So, do not build fires when you’re not allowed. Do not leave your campfire unwatched. Do keep a bucket of water or sand close in case of emergency and always make sure to put out your campfire entirely before leaving it. Oh, and don’t take wood out of the National Park to build a fire. Like the Leave no Trace outdoor ethics state: leave nature as you found it. Also, seemingly dead wood is part of nature’s eco-system. A great fire log could house tons of insects (also known as a ‘nurse log’) and you don’t want to kill them or move them out of their natural habitat…
Ok, now you’re safely warned with the DON’TS, we’ll proceed to the DO’s. DO build a campfire whenever and where you can. It gives you the real outdoor feel. We’ve built a campfire almost every camp night!
What to bring on your Canada camping road trip
This slightly depends on the activities you like, the type of camping you’re aiming to do and the vehicle you want to rent for your trip through Canada. Almost every rental RV and campervan comes with the essential camping gear like cooking stuff and an ax. Of course, you can bring your own favourite tiny light weight camping stuff. The only problem is… lots of favourite tiny light weight camping stuff also makes a heavy pile of outdoor stuff.
All we did in Canada was enjoying nature. From out of our van, by hiking some of the countless trails and by canoeing on some of those wonderful blue Canadian lakes. Besides arranging the basic necessities for a camping trip, we recommend you to certainly bring good hiking shoes when you hope to hit some of those gorgeous trails, to bring a comfortable daypack and carry bear spray when hiking or biking in bear country (which can be bought in almost every outdoor store in Canada). Most of your camping stuff like a tent, reasonable sized tarp (to stretch above your tent and picnic table) and inflatable mat can be easily rented with your vehicle or online at places like Rent Outdoors and Jens Outfitters. But personally, we would also suggest you to bring the following:
- Quick dry towel
- Inflatable pillow
- Re-usable water bottle
- Re-usable coffee cup
- Bees wax food wraps (to keep your food fresh)
- Dry bag (to bring on your canoe/kayak trips)
- Small amounts of your own favourite cooking herbs (so you don’t need to buy way too much over there)
- Natural fire starters
- Bear safe food container
- Binoculars (for bear, bird and whale watching)
Pro tip when tent camping: the soil of Canadian campsites can be super stony, so get yourself some sturdy tent pegs to be prepared for rocky ground. (You don’t want to end up like us, driving up and down 10 km at 10 pm to search for a gas station that sells tent pegs.)
Pro tip when you have space in your vehicle:get yourself an inflatable canoe. Really. You’ll love to be able to get on the water whenever you’ve found a perfect lake and that you won’t be charged a trillion Dollars for renting a canoe in Jasper National Park. (Tourism needs to be milked, you know…) We actually found an inflatable canoe at Walmart for around $100 including paddles and pump.
How about those bears in bear country?
Yes, those Black Bears and Grizzlies totally freaked me out! On the first days of our journey through Canada, I didn’t even dare to walk 10 ft without my bear spray ready to go and holding a bear bell in my other hand. When you’re not born and raised in a bear country, it’s useful to read into this topic before heading to Canada. Of course, it was totally unnecessary to freak out as much as I did, but you definitely need to be prepared for a bear encounter indeed. Check out the information on this web page of BC Parks to learn how to respond to bears. And get yourself some bear spray. We dove into the ‘bear subject’ more in our article: Camping with bears in Canada.
How we personally would do this trip over again
To be honest, we totally underestimated the distances we drove each day from campground to campground. This might have been caused by our ambition to travel from Vancouver to the top of Jasper National Park and head back to Vancouver again via Banff in only 10 days. (A more detailed overview of our route will be posted in a few weeks too. We easily drove 300 km per day. Honestly this didn’t bother us, but you might want to take things a bit slower than we did. These 300 km are real. Driving the scenic roads of Canada is positively addictive, and you probably don’t want to spend too much time in one place. We would do the math a bit better the next time. We could do the entire trip exactly all over again to visit some places we couldn’t stop because of the time pressure.
The other thing we didn’t count on, was that many of the campgrounds suggested by locals were still closed by the time we arrived. A lot of campgrounds are opened from Victoria Day on (end of May). This resulted in one overnight stay in a parking lot (which I do NOT recommend if you’re in for some good rest) and some very late-night drives. This I would also discourage you to do. Why? Because there is lots of wildlife crossing the roads at night. They’re not expecting you to drive there. For your own and the wildlife’s safety, please hit the road by daylight.
All in all, we tell everyone we speak to just GO and visit Canada. You will never ever regret this journey. Save some money to spend on time and a good comfy, sturdy rental vehicle and make sure you have enough time to really enjoy Canada to the fullest. And then maybe do this again another time, and another time, and another time… There’s SO much to see and do!