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37+ BC Backpacking Trips Without Reservations

January arrives and with it, the frenzy for summer backpacking reservations. It’s easy to feel FOMO (fear of missing out) at this time of year.

The good news is that it is still possible to go backpacking in BC without a reservation. The list of places where a reservation is required is smaller than you may expect.

This post will share more than 37+ BC backpacking trails that do not require a reservation, based on our personal experience exploring our home province.

Please note that an easily obtained permit is still often needed (more details later).

Back view of Gemma hiking along dirt trail through subalpine meadows, towards mountain peaks (Gwillim Lakes Trail)
Backpacking in the Kootenays (Gwillim Lakes Trail)

Before planning a backpacking trip, be prepared to act responsibly and Leave No Trace. If not, we may lose the right to enjoy these beautiful spaces without reservations.

Looking for places to go front country camping without a reservation? We have a post about vehicle-accessible campsites too.

Published January 2024. There are affiliate links in this post. If you make a purchase via one of these links, we may receive a percentage of the sale.

Subalpine landscape with clear pond and waterfall flowing into it, with tree studded rocky slope in background
Exploring the subalpine of Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park

31+ BC backpacking trips that do not require reservations

Let’s get started with our list of BC backpacking trips without reservation systems.

We have personally hiked all of the featured routes in the first section, with the exception of one that is on our 2024 ‘to-do’ list (North Coast Trail).

The majority of these reservation-free BC backpacking trails are situated in provincial parks or national parks (not ‘secret places’). They are well-established routes that have been developed for recreation.

Please note that this is not a definitive list of places to go backpacking in BC without a reservation.

There are plenty more places with less development and protection (especially in the Interior and North regions). I have purposely chosen to include locations with facilities only.

Backpacking for the first time? Get started with our Backpacking 101 guide and this backpacking gear list

Back view of backpacker on pebble beach with ocean on right hand side
Hiking the Nootka Trail

Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, Port Renfrew

The Juan de Fuca Marine Trail offers the chance to fully experience the power and beauty of Vancouver Island’s magnificent Pacific coastline…without a reservation!

Hear the roaring surf, camp on the beach examine intricate rockpools, admire old-growth trees, take in the spectacular ocean views, watch for whales and more.

Location: Southwestern Vancouver Island
Length: 47km thru-hike (shorter options possible, four trailheads)
Average trip: 3 to 5 days
Fees: $10 per person, per night – BC Parks backcountry permit
When to go: May to September
More info: Juan de Fuca Trail guide

Side profile of backpacker on trail inbetween two huge tree trunks, with forest in background
Backpacking the Juan de Fuca Trail

Cape Scott Trail, Port Hardy

Hike to the tip of Vancouver Island on the usually muddy yet rewarding Cape Scott Trail. As well as being endlessly scenic, this reservation-free BC backpacking trip has an interesting historical background.

Alongside the sweeping sandy beaches and old-growth forest you’d hope to see on a coastal trail, there are signs of human civilisation being surrendered to nature – moss-covered military road planks, a farm-turned meadow and rusting pots and pans nestling in the ferns.

Looking for a shorter coastal backpacking trip in this area? Head to San Josef Bay. It’s only 45 minutes from the parking lot.

Location: Northwestern Vancouver Island
Length: 47km out-and-back
Average trip: 3 to 4 days
Fees: $10 per person, per night – BC Parks backcountry permit
When to go: May to September
More info: Cape Scott Trail guide

Boardwalk path leading down to sandy beach in Cape Scott Provincial Park, photo taken at sunset

North Coast Trail, Port Hardy

The North Coast Trail traverses some of the wettest and most rugged terrain in British Columbia. This difficult backpacking trip is for physically fit, experienced hikers only.

Those who do venture on the North Coast Trail will be rewarded with unbeatable solitude, a high chance of wildlife encounters (whales in particular), impressive old-growth forest and several spectacular stretches of sandy beach.

Location: Northwestern Vancouver Island
Length: 59.5km thru-hike + optional extension to Cape Scott Lighthouse
Average trip: 6 to 7 days
Fees: $10 per person, per night – BC Parks backcountry permit
When to go: May to September (but open all year round)
More info: Guide coming soon – this backpacking trip is on my list for 2024

Huge tree is acting as a bridge across a stream, with hiker standing in the middle. Forest surrounds the bridge
The North Coast Trail exits onto the Cape Scott Trail

Nootka Trail, Nootka Island

Though a relatively short backpacking route, the Nootka Trail packs a lot of variety into those kilometres.

The untamed path winds its way through beautiful old-growth forest, up and over rocky headlands and along stunning stretches of sand and pebbles.

Just over 80% of the trail is directly on the beach. The most challenging sections are found in the short forest sections, with huge fallen trees to climb over and plenty of mud. Accessing the trailheads is another challenge (float plane or boat only).

Location: Just off the northwestern coast of Vancouver Island
Length: 35km thru-hike
Average trip: 4 to 6 days
Fee: $50 per person user fee charged by Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nations
When to go: May to September
More info: Nootka Trail guide

Sunset view from rocky headland on First Beach, with sun lighting up ocean waves on left
The first camping spot on the Nootka Trail is First Beach

Della Falls Trail, Strathcona Provincial Park

Hidden in the deep green valleys of Vancouver Island is one of Canada’s highest waterfalls. With a vertical drop of 444m, Della Falls is an unforgettable sight.

The Della Falls Trail travels from the western side of Great Central Lake to the base of the magnificent waterfall. The trailhead is only accessible by water. Book a water taxi to reach it or make the trip into a paddle/hike adventure (as we did!)

Location: Central Vancouver Island
Length: 32km out-and-back
Average trip: 2 to 3 days
Fees: None
When to go: Mid-May to mid-September
More info: Della Falls Guide

Bridge over impossibly blue Drinkwater Creek, Strathcona Park
The Della Falls Trail crosses the impossibly blue Drinkwater Creek several times

Lake Helen Mackenzie, Strathcona Provincial Park

Lake Helen Mackenzie is just one of many potential reservation-free backpacking routes in Strathcona Provincial Park. I’ve chosen this lake to feature as it provides an excellent option for beginners.

The well-developed trail traverses pretty sub-alpine meadows, gaining very little elevation as it heads to picture-perfect Lake Helen Mackenzie.

Lake Helen Mackenzie can be also used as a jumping-off point for backpacking trips to Circlet Lake, Mount Albert Edward, Kwai Lakes and more.

Location: Central Vancouver Island
Length: 8km loop
Average trip: 2 days
Fees: $10 per person, per night – BC Parks backcountry permit
When to go: July to mid-September
More info: BC Parks website

Side profile of hiker standing on rock next to calm lake in Strathcona Provincial Park, with forested hills in the background
Lake Helen MacKenzie

Bedwell Lakes Trail, Strathcona Provincial Park

Two scenic backcountry campgrounds await in Vancouver Island’s subalpine, accessed via the Bedwell Lakes Trail.

The varied route will keep you on your toes, with ladders, switchbacks, steps, huge tree roots, boardwalk, bridges and rocky sections.

Consider a longer trip and take the chance to day hike to nearby Cream Lake, a beautiful blue-green lake sitting below Mount Septimus (10km return).

Location: Central Vancouver Island
Length: 26km out-and-back
Average trip: 2 to 3 days
Fees: $10 per person, per night – BC Parks backcountry permit
When to go: July to mid-September
More info: BC Parks website

Set up white and red tent on wooden tent pad next to calm Baby Bedwell Lake, with forested/rocky cliffs rising above lake. There is a large snow capped mountain in background
Baby Bedwell Campground, the first on the Bedwell Lakes Trail

Sunshine Coast Trail, Powell River

The Sunshine Trail (SCT) is one of BC’s best long-distance backpacking routes. With multiple trailheads and relatively easy road access, hiking shorter sections of the 180km distance is very possible as well.

With a mix of old/new growth forest, coastal and lake sections, the Sunshine Coast Trail is quite varied. There are more than a dozen free-to-use huts located along the route, all built by an amazing team of volunteers.

Location: Northern Sunshine Coast
Length: 180km thru-hike (shorter routes possible)
Average trip: 10 to 12 days or 3 to 4 day sections
Fees: None
When to go: Varies according to section
More info: Sunshine Coast Trail guide

Back view of hiker standing on top of rocky mountain summit in front of endless mountain ranges, with clouds below
Tin Hat Mountain summit at dawn, Sunshine Coast Trail

HBC Heritage Trail, Hope to Tulameen

The HBC Heritage Trail (1849) crosses the Cascade Mountains from Hope to Tulameen, traversing old-growth forests, mountain slopes, subalpine meadows and more.

This relatively new and challenging backpacking trip follows the path of a First Nations hunting and trading route that later became crucial to British Columbia’s fur trade.

Please check the Hope Mountain Centre Facebook page for updates regarding trail conditions and access. The HBC Trail was significantly impacted by floods and slides in November 2021.

Location: Cascade Mountains
Length: 75km
Average trip: 5 to 8 days
Fees: None
When to go: Late July to mid-September
More info: HBC Heritage Trail guide

Side view of blue-turquoise Palmer's Pond, surrounded by wildflowers and meadows and backed by trees and mountain views
Palmers Pond on the HBC Heritage Trail

Divide Lake, Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park

Featuring rugged and untamed terrain, Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park stands out as a prominent feature within the Okanagan Valley.

The hike to Divide Lake offers an opportunity to explore this less frequented park and encounter some beautiful scenery (and wildflowers) along the way.

There are two trailheads – one near Naramata (shorter but more challenging) and one near Kelowna (longer but easier elevation profile).

Once at Divide Lake, you can fish, swim or hike further to the top of Okanagan Mountain, a 1576m high peak.

Location: Okanagan Valley
Length: 10km out-and-back from Naramata-side trailhead
Average trip: 2 days
Fees: None
When to go: May, June, September (it is very hot in summer)
More info: Okanagan Mountain Park guide

Front view of Gemma hiking with hiking pole in front of view looking down on Okanagan Lake
Hiking to Divide Lake with Okanagan Lake in the background

Quiniscoe Lake and Lake of the Woods, Cathedral Provincial Park

This list entry may be considered a bit of a cheat as it’s not a backpacking trip per se, but a base camping one. Regardless, Cathedral Provincial Park is a spectacular (and lesser-known) backcountry area near the Okanagan Valley.

There are two backcountry campgrounds – Quiniscoe and Lake of the Woods. Camping here provides the chance to explore a multitude of 2000m+ alpine hikes, including the fantastic Rim Trail.

Please check the BC Parks website for updates regarding trail conditions and access. Cathedral Provincial Park was impacted by wildfires in the summer of 2023.

Location: Near Keremeos, Similkameen Valley
Length: Minimal
Average trip: 2 to 4 days
Fees: $10 per person, per night – BC Parks backcountry permit
When to go: Mid-July to late September
More info: Rim Trail guide

Looking across rocky/forest area down to azure coloured Ladyslipper Lake, which sits below mountainous terrain
Ladyslipper Lake, Cathedral Provincial Park

Spectrum Lake and beyond, Monashee Provincial Park

Monashee Provincial Park is an underrated protected area east of Vernon.

Pretty Spectrum Lake is a favourite backpacking destination of families and first-time backpackers. The relatively short trail is forested and mostly flat.

A large subalpine area awaits beyond Spectrum Lake, with a choice of campgrounds and mountain summits. The access route is, however, pretty challenging with plenty of elevation gain.

Location: Near Cherryville, Monashee Mountains
Length: 12km out-and-back (Spectrum Lake only)
Average trip: 2 to 3 days
Fees: $5 per person, per night – BC Parks backcountry permit
When to go: Early June to early October (Spectrum Lake only)
More info: Spectrum Lake Trail guide

Spectrum Lake reflections, as seen through the trees. There is a mountain peak on the left, reflected onto the mirror like surface of the lake
Reflections on Spectrum Lake

Trophy Meadows Trail, Wells Gray Provincial Park

The Trophy Meadows Trail is another reservation-less BC backpacking trip that provides a big reward for a low amount of effort.

The trailhead is located at 1700m, which means only a short ascent is required to reach sub-alpine meadows and the stunning Sheila Lake backcountry campground. There are day hike opportunities from the campground as well.

Combine a Trophy Meadows backpacking trip with some day hiking in the Wells Gray Corridor area – there are more than a dozen easily accessible waterfalls.

Location: North Thompson Valley
Length: 10km out-and-back
Average trip: 2 to 3 days
Fee: None
When to go: July to September
More info: Trophy Meadows Trail guide

Yellow and purple wildflowers with rock piles on left and right, with rounded mountains in background

Gwillim Lakes, Valhalla Provincial Park

Gwillim Lakes features an impossibly pretty landscape of sub-alpine meadows and ponds. Grandiose mountain peaks provide a formidable backdrop.

The hiking trail leading to it is gorgeous as well. The drive to the trailhead, however, is pretty bumpy (but well worth the effort).

Another great option for a backpacking trip in Valhalla Provincial Park is Gimli Peak. The main attraction is a dramatic 2803m high ‘horn’ of rock rising from a ridge.

Location: West Kootenays
Length: 12km out-and-back
Average trip: 2 to 3 days
Fees: None
When to go: Late July to Mid September
More info: Valhalla Provincial Park guide

Back view of Gemma sat on rocky wearing orange jacket looking down to lake below, which is surrounded by mountains
Looking down to Gwillim Lakes, Valhalla Provincial Park

Kaslo Lake, Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park

With a great network of trails and summit opportunities, Kokanee Glacier is an alpine paradise for hikers.

The Kokanee Lake Trail travels into the core area of the park and is a popular day hike in its own right. Staying a few nights offers the opportunity to base camp and explore beyond the beaten path.

Pretty Kaslo Lake is host to one of BC’s best backcountry campgrounds (with a fabulous cooking shelter for mosquito protection!)

Location: West Kootenays
Length: 15km return (+ day hikes)
Average trip: 2 to 3 days
Fees: $10 per person, per night – BC Parks backcountry permit
When to go: Late July to late September
More info: Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park guide

View of set up tent on wooden tent pad in front of subalpine scenery, with lake in background
Camping at Kaslo Lake, Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park

Other reservation-free BC backpacking trips

Still looking for planning inspiration? Consider the following BC backpacking trails that do not require a reservation.

The difficulty of these trails ranges from easy to challenging so be sure to research carefully before planning a trip.

Vancouver Island and Lower Mainland

  • Elk River Trail to Landslide Lake, Strathcona Provincial Park (2-3 days)*
  • Circlet Lake with Mount Albert Edward summit (2-3 days)*
  • Kwai Lake Loop, Strathcona Provincial Park (2-3 days)*
  • Carmanah Valley, Carmanah-Walbran Provincial Park (2-3 days)*
  • Wildside Trail near Tofino (2-3 days)*
  • Raft Cove near Port Hardy (2 days)*
  • Viewpoint Beach, Golden Ears Provincial Park (2 days)*
  • Panorama Ridge, Golden Ears Provincial Park (2 days)*
  • Lindeman/Greendrop/Flora Lakes, Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park (2-days)*

Interior BC and Rockies

  • Strike Lake, E.C. Manning Provincial Park (2 days)*
  • Nicomen Lake, E.C. Manning Provincial Park (2-3 days)*
  • Skyline Trail, E.C. Manning Provincial Park (2-3 days)*
  • Poland Lake, E.C. Manning Provincial Park (2 days)*
  • Skagit River Trail, E.C. Manning Provincial Park (2 days)*
  • Lower Stein Valley, Stein Valley N’lakapamux Heritage Provincial Park (2-4 days)
  • Falls Lake, Coquihalla Summit Recreation Area (2 days)
  • High Rim Trail, from Vernon to Kelowna (2-4 days)
  • Tamar Lake, Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park (2-3 days)*
  • Emerald and Cahill Lakes, Valhalla Provincial Park (2 days)
  • Monica Meadows, Purcell Mountains (2 days)
  • Boulder Camp, Bugaboo Provincial Park (2 days)*
  • Fish Lake, Top of the World Provincial Park (2-4 days)*
  • Beatty Lake, Height of the Rockies Provincial Park (2-3 days, via the Kananaskis Valley)
  • Monkman Lake Trail, Monkman Provincial Park (3-4 days)
  • Hunlen Falls Trail/Turner Lake, South Tweedsmuir Provincial Park (3-5 days)*

Please note that reservation-free backpacking trips marked with a * require a permit.

Provincial park permit registration is available online for 29 different parks on the BC Parks website (up to two weeks before arrival). Otherwise, obtain and pay for the backcountry permit at the trailhead.

Please note that obtaining a provincial park backcountry permit for the above trails does not guarantee a camping spot – it is not a reservation.

There is an unlimited number of provincial park backcountry permits issued for these parks.

Back view of Gemma sat on rock looking ahead to spectacular mountain views in Manning Park. There is some smoke
Skyline Trail, E.C. Manning Provincial Park

BC backpacking trips that require reservations

Curious about which BC backpacking trips require reservations? Here’s a quick overview.

To learn more, head to our detailed backpacking reservation guide.

Vancouver Island, Lower Mainland and Sea-to-Sky Corridor

  • West Coast Trail, Pacific Rim National Park
  • Watersprite Lake near Squamish*
  • Cheakamus Lake, Garibaldi Provincial Park
  • Garibaldi Lake, Garibaldi Provincial Park
  • Elfin Lakes, Garibaldi Provincial Park
  • Singing Creek, Garibaldi Provincial Park
  • Helm Creek, Garibaldi Provincial Park
  • Taylor Meadows, Garibaldi Provincial Park
  • Rampart Ponds, Garibaldi Provincial Park
  • Russet Lake, Garibaldi Provincial Park
  • Wedgemount Lake, Garibaldi Provincial Park
  • Joffre Lakes, Joffre Lakes Provincial Park
  • Tenquille Lake near Pemberton*

Interior BC and Rockies

  • Buckhorn Campground, E.C. Manning Provincial Park
  • Kicking Horse Campground, E.C. Manning Provincial Park
  • Frosty Creek Campground, E.C. Manning Provincial Park
  • Hermit Meadows, Glacier National Park
  • Eva Lake, Mount Revelstoke National Park
  • Jade Lakes, Mount Revelstoke National Park
  • Laughing Falls, Yoho National Park
  • Twin Falls, Yoho National Park (Iceline Trail)
  • Yoho Lake, Yoho National Park
  • Little Yoho Campground, Yoho National Park (Iceline Trail)
  • Lake O’Hara, Yoho National Park
  • Porcupine, Magog Lake and Og Lake, Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park
  • The Rockwall Trail, Kootenay National Park (Helmet Falls,
  • Berg Lake Trail, Mount Robson Provincial Park (partially closed until 2025)

BC provincial park reservations operate on a four-month rolling window. So if you’d like to arrive at a campsite on 11th July, it will become available to book on 11th March (unless reserved as a multi-day booking).

National Park reservations open in January, with availability opening for the entire backpacking season on the launch date.

Did you miss out on the dates you were hoping for? Keep checking for cancellations or let CampNab do the hard work for you. They’ll send you a notification when there is a cancellation.

Backpacking trips with * are located in recreation areas administered by non-provincial/national park groups.

Interested in paddling trips? Bowron Lake Provincial Park and the Broken Islands are reservation only but there are plenty of other great BC paddle trips for which no reservation is needed!

Driftwood on wet sandy beach, with scattered rocks and backdrop of forest
Raft Cove, Vancouver Island

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