22 of the Best Overnight Backpacking Trips in British Columbia, Canada

If you want to truly experience the raw beauty of British Columbia, multi-day hiking is one of the best ways to do it. Combining camping and hiking, backpacking offers a chance for full immersion into the wild and the ability to reach pristine places inaccessible by vehicle.

It’s not necessary to go far either, with some spectacular places accessible within a relatively short hike. To prove that, this post features 20+ short BC backpacking trips of 15km or less, perfect for an overnight adventure!

Back view of Gemma with large hiking backpack in alpine landscape in Valhalla Provincial Park

Short Backpacking Trips in British Columbia

There are so many reasons why you may want to go on a short or overnight backpacking trip in BC. Maybe you are:

  • Trying out backpacking for the first time
  • Looking for a quick escape
  • Backpacking with young children
  • Testing out new gear
  • Limited on vacation time
  • Hiking with people who have low fitness or mobility

Whatever the reason, I hope this post will give you some inspiration to plan your next short BC backpacking trip!

JR hiking through forest on the Sunshine Coast Trail, a 180km long backpacking route in BC
Backpacking the Sunshine Coast Trail

Keep in mind that although I have mentioned ‘overnight’ backpacking trips, you can, of course, stay for two night or more in any of these locations. All have day hiking opportunities for further exploration with a lighter backpack.

The following overnight hiking trips have been tried and tested by my partner and I. As we hike more awesome short backpacking trips in BC, I will update this post. If you have any suggestions to add (particularly in the Cariboo region and northern BC!), do let me know.

Written and published in June 2020. This post includes affiliate links. If you make a purchase via one of these links, I may receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you.

Short but Sweet Overnight Adventures

To create the following list, I have considered backpacking trips with a hiking distance of 7.5km or less from the trailhead to the campground.

Most of these backpacking trails feature:

  • Average hiking time of 3 hours or less
  • Low elevation gain, up to 500m
  • Established camping areas with outhouses, often with tent pads and food caches too
  • First come, first serve allocation systems (no reservations required!)
  • Low fees – $10/night or less per person

While I suggest these destinations as great first time backpacking trips, keep in mind that all are located in wilderness areas with limited visitor facilities and phone service. You must be self sufficient and prepared for variable weather conditions. Stay alert for wildlife, carry bear spray and always Leave No Trace.

Screenshot of Google map with hiking trailheads marked
Click above to view interactive Google map of these overnight backpacking trip trailheads

San Josef Bay, Cape Scott Provincial Park – 5km return

$10/per person/per night camping fees, first come first serve

Sitting at the very northwestern corner of Vancouver Island, Cape Scott Provincial Park has that real ‘end of the world’ feel. Old growth forest and rugged coastal scenery abounds, along with plenty of rain and mud.

Get a taste of this wild and remote park on a short backpacking trip to San Josef Bay, a wonderfully golden stretch of sand. A headland divides the beach into two, providing even more to explore at low tide.

The trail through the forest to San Josef Bay is wide, mostly flat and easy to traverse. Getting to the parking lot itself can be considered the more challenging part, with two hours of driving on gravel industrial roads required.

If endurance and time is on your side, consider a longer backpacking trip to Nels Bight beach on the Cape Scott Trail. The 16.8km route takes in forest, marsh and meadows and passes fascinating historical artifacts before reaching the pristine golden sands of Nels Bight.

Read next: Ultimate Hiking Guide to the Cape Scott Trail, Vancouver Island

Gemma standing on sandy beach next to Pacific Ocean in Cape Scott Provincial Park
This is Nels Bight beach in Cape Scott Provincial Park, a longer but still doable overnight backpacking hike in BC

Lake Helen Mackenzie, Strathcona Provincial Park – 8km loo

$10/per person/per night camping fees, first come first serve

Strathcona Provincial Park occupies the very center of Vancouver Island, protecting mountain ranges, a huge swathe of temperate rainforest, long alpine lakes and more. There are many access points, with the Forbidden Plateau area being one of the most accessible.

Forbidden Plateau as quite a few hiking options, but beautiful Lake Helen Mackenzie provides a near perfect overnight BC backpacking trip for beginners.

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

If 8km seems too short, consider continuing to Kwai Lake from Lake Helen Mackenzie. The circular route (an additional 6km round trip) features a little more elevation gain but is still perfectly approachable for first time or family backpackers.

Looking for a longer backpacking experience in Strathcona? Consider hiking the epic Della Falls Trail to Canada’s highest waterfall (32km return)

JR standing by Lake Helen Mackenzie in Strathcona Provincial Park
Lake Helen Mackenzie, Strathcona Provincial Park

Juan de Fuca Provincial Park – Variable

$10/per person/per night camping fees, first come first serve

Juan de Fuca Provincial Park offers the chance to fully experience the power and beauty of Vancouver Island’s magnificent Pacific coastline. Hear the roaring surf, examine exquisite rockpools, take in the spectacular ocean views, watch for whales and more.

The 47km Juan de Fuca Marine Trail stretches along the shore, providing a strenuous multi-day backpack adventure. Four trailheads allow access to different sections of the route for shorter hiking trips.

Mystic Beach makes for a wonderful overnight destination, with a waterfall and caves to explore as well as the rocky shores. The return hike through the forest is only 4km and also features a suspension bridge.

Sombrio Beach is another option, with one camping area very close to the parking lot and another less than 1km away. There’s another waterfall to find here too, hidden in a canyon just behind the beach.

Discover more about the Juan de Fuca Trail and the coastal campsites on HikeBikeTravel

Gemma standing in orange jacket next to rocky beach on the Juan de Fuca coast
Looking back at Sombrio Beach on the Juan de Fuca coast

Sunshine Coast Trail – Variable

No camping fees, first come first serve

The Sunshine Coast Trail is an spectacular 180km hut-to-hut hiking route in south-west British Columbia, Canada.

Intersected by paved roads as well as gravel logging roads, the Sunshine Coast Trail can be accessed at numerous points along the route. This makes it an ideal destination for short backpacking trips as well as the eponymous thru-hike.

Tin Hat Mountain is an amazing (but challenging) destination for an overnight backpacking trip. This 1150m high peak offers incredible 360 degree views of the surrounding lakes and mountains.

For an adventure with less elevation gain, consider Elk Lake or Rainy Day Lake. Both have tranquil forested settings and swimming opportunities.

*Please note that the Sunshine Coast Trail huts are currently closed – more info here. Camping is possible at the hut locations and additional on-trail sites.

Read more: A Complete Guide to the Sunshine Coast Trail

Gemma standing on mountain summit at sunrise with partial cloud over on mountains below
Sunrise on Tin Hat Mountain on the Sunshine Coast Trail was amazing!

Strike Lake, E.C. Manning Park – 10km return

$5/per person/per night camping fees, first come first serve

Located in a grove of tall spruce trees next to a creek, Strike Lake is an ideal overnight backpacking trip destination for first timers or families.

Part of the Lightning Lakes Chain Trail, this campground is an easy 1-1.5 hour (mostly flat) walk from the parking area. The trail continues another 3km to Thunder Lake, the last lake on the chain.

This short BC backpacking trip is particularly ideal for the shoulder seasons (May, June, September, October), since the trail and campsite are snow-free for longer than most others in the area.

An alternative destination for an overnight backpacking trip would be Buckhorn Wilderness Campsite on the Heather Trail. Only 5km from the parking lot, Buckhorn provides easy hiking access to Manning Park’s spectacular alpine. Wildflowers abound in July and August.

*The parking area at Lightning Lakes campground is currently closed. For parking, use side of road or hike from main day use parking area (additional 5km)

Read more: Hiking the Heather Trail in E.C. Manning Provincial Park

Back view of Gemma standing on rock looking out to mountain views in E.C. Manning Park
Backpacking on the Heather Trail (another excellent overnight BC backpacking trip) in autumn

Lake of the Woods, Cathedral Provincial Park – 2km return

$10/per person/per night camping fees, first come first serve

This one is a little bit of a cheat as it’s not so much a backpacking experience but a base camping trip. Regardless, I wanted to include it as I think it offers a great taste of the backcountry for beginners.

Cathedral Provincial Park is a lesser known wilderness area located just over half way between E.C. Manning Park and Penticton. The core area of the park is found in the high alpine (2000m+) accessible via a full day uphill hike or a 60 minute 4X4 bus ride.

There are two backcountry campgrounds – Quiniscoe and Lake of the Woods. The latter is an easy 1km walk from the bus drop off and is smaller and usually quieter.

Hiking opportunities abound from either campsite with the highlight being the Rim Trail, a spectacular 13km circular route taking in panoramic views, rock formations and gorgeous lakes.

Discover more about the fabulous Rim Trail day hike or the base camping experience in Cathedral Provincial Park

JR standing on a rock looking out from Cathedral Provincial Park in British COlumbia
Some of the amazing views you can see on the Rim Trail when base camping in Cathedral Provincial Park

Divide Lake, Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park – 10km return

No camping fees, first come first serve

Rugged and wild, Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park is one of the Okanagan Valley’s most prominent features. The short but challenging 5km hike to Divide Lake provides a chance to journey into this uncrowded park and discover stunning views and beautiful wildflowers.

Once at Divide Lake, you can fish, swim or hike further to the top of Okanagan Mountain, a 1576m high peak. Even accompanied by a number of the communication towers, the summit has some lovely 360 degree panoramas.

There are two hiking routes to Divide Lake. We hiked from the southern trailhead near Naramata. The Mountain Goat Trail is 10km return with around 500m elevation. Please note that the last 2km to the parking lot is narrow and rough. High clearance is recommended.

The second hiking route to Divide Lake leaves from the northern trailhead near Kelowna. Following a service road for the entirety, the hike is longer (20km) but undemanding and less interesting.

Gemma hiking on Divide Lake trail with panoramic views of Okanagan Lake and surrounding mountains behind
It’s possible to see all the way to Skaha Lake and Okanagan Falls from the Divide Lake trail

Gwillim Lakes, Valhalla Provincial Park – Up to 12km return

No camping fees, first come first serve

The reward to effort ratio is high while hiking the trails of Valhalla Provincial Park, near Nelson. This is especially true in the Gwillim Lakes area, where the path leads to a gorgeously intricate landscape of alpine meadows and lakes, surrounded by grandiose mountain peaks. 

There are three choices for camping along the trail – Drinnon Lake (4km return), Drinnon Pass (7.2km) and Gwillim Lakes (12km return). The latter is the most popular and is one of the prettiest places I have camped in British Columbia so far.

This short backpacking trip is accessed via gravel industrial roads. The last 2.4km is very rough; so much so that we parked our vehicle and hiked up the remaining amount. The trailhead will apparently be moved forward sometime in the future.

Another option for an overnight backpacking trip in Valhalla Provincial Park is Gimli Peak. The main attraction here is a dramatic 2803m high ‘horn’ of rock rising from a ridge. Trail info can be found in the post linked below.

Read more: A Complete Guide to Valhalla Provincial Park, British Columbia

Intricate alpine landscape of lake and small trees, backdropped by mountains in Valhalla Provincial Park
Gwillim Lakes is definitely one of the prettiest places I have camped anywhere in BC

More overnight backpacking trips in BC

As hard as I try to hike as much as possible, my backpacking trip ‘to do’ list is still pretty long! So although I haven’t personally tried the following 14 overnight BC backpacking trips yet, all are highly rated.

Some of the below backpacking trips suggestions will move to the top section with more first hand details as and when I personally hike them. We are heading to Glacier National Park, Yoho National Park, Kokanee Glacier and Monashee Provincial Park this summer.

Mirror lake views in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park with snow capped mountain behind lake
Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park, courtesy of HikeBikeTravel – read Leigh’s Kaslo Lake trail guide

Here are some additional first time backpacking trip ideas in British Columbia:

Viewpoint Beach, Golden Ears Provincial Park (9km return)

Cheakamus Lake, Garibaldi Provincial Park (6km return, reservations required)

Upper Joffre Lake, Joffre Lakes Provincial Park (11km return, reservations required*)

Lindemann Lake, Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park (3.4km return)

Greendrop Lake, Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park (11km return)

Falls Lake, Coquihalla Summit Recreation Area (2km return)

Spectrum Lake, Monashee Provincial Park (12km return)

Sheila Lake (Trophy Mountain), Wells Gray Provincial Park (6km return)

Eva Lake, Mount Revelstoke National Park (14.2km return)

Kaslo Lake, Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park (15km return)

Laughing Falls, Yoho National Park (8.8km return, reservations required)

Yoho Lake, Yoho National Park (8.6km return, reservations required)

*This campgrounds is currently closed. I have still included it in this list for overnight BC backpacking trip planning in the meantime!

Some other short but more challenging backpacking routes include:

Hermit Meadows, Glacier National Park (6.4km return)

Boulder Camp, Bugaboo Provincial Park (10km return)

Blue and grey tent on wooden tent pad in alpine area with meadows and mountain backdrop in Glacier National Park, Canada
Hermit Meadows camping area in Glacier National Park, courtesy of HikeBikeTravel – read Leigh’s Hermit trail guide

What to bring on a short backpacking trip in BC

Whether I’m backpacking for one night or four, my packing list looks very similar with the exception of the amount food!

Hiking essentials

In addition to our sleeping equipment and tent, we always bring the following essentials on every backpacking trip:

Read more about the 10 essentials and why it is so important to carry them on every hike here

Over shoulder view of Gemma backpacking in British Columbia with mountains in the distance
Backpacking in British Columbia

Clothing

Never assume the weather at your destination will be the same as at the trailhead. This is especially true in alpine regions, when weather conditions can change very quickly.

Even in summer, it is so important to bring clothing suitable for rain, wind, sun and colder temperatures (even snow!)

We swear by merino wool for backpacking (base layers, tshirts, long sleeve tops). Breathable, naturally moisture wicking and warm even when wet, merino wool out performs so many other outdoor clothing materials.

Soft against the skin, merino wool also smells SO much better than polyester blend alternatives, especially after a few days in the backcountry!

The only downside to merino wool is the price but some of my Icebreaker baselayers are 5 years old and counting. The socks are exceptionally comfortable and also have a lifetime warranty.

Gemma standing turning back to camera wearing orange jacket and grey trousers in alpine landscape

Packing list

My clothing list for a short or overnight BC backpacking trip typically looks like this:

I also sometimes bring a pair of light, waterproof trousers.

Check out our shop for more tried and tested outdoor gear recommendations. Sign up to our monthly adventure newsletter to receive a free multi-day hiking trip packing list

Gemma hiking on dirt hiking path in Valhalla Provincial Park on short backpacking trip in BC
Backpacking in Valhalla Provincial Park British Columbia

For more hiking trip inspiration, read these next:

Complete Hiking Guide to Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park

Backpacking Alternatives to the West Coast Trail

Hiking the Grizzly Lake Trail, Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon

How to Find Big Trees on Vancouver Island

11 Fast and Fun Hikes in Penticton, BC

Hiking the Kananaskis Valley from Mount Engadine Lodge, Alberta

If you want to truly experience the raw beauty of British Columbia, multi-day hiking is one of the best ways to do it. This post features 20+ short BC backpacking trips of 15km or less, perfect for an overnight adventure! offtracktravel.ca
Want to truly experience the raw beauty of British Columbia but can't go far? This post features 20+ short BC backpacking trips of 15km or less, perfect for an overnight adventure! offtracktravel.ca
If you want to truly experience the raw beauty of British Columbia, multi-day hiking is one of the best ways to do it. It's not necessary to go far either, with some spectacular places accessible within a relatively short hike. To prove that, this post features 20+ short BC backpacking trips of 15km or less, perfect for an overnight adventure! offtracktravel.ca

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