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How to Reserve Backcountry Camping in BC: Essential Details and Dates

Backcountry camping is one of the most affordable and satisfying ways to explore the wilderness of British Columbia. It can, however, be difficult to know where to start, especially if you’re new to BC.

This post will take you through how park-based backcountry camping works in British Columbia, breaking down the details, differences and reservation systems of both provincial and national parks.

It also includes all the important info (and dates!) you need to book British Columbia’s ‘reservation only’ backcountry adventures, from epic paddling trips like the Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit and Broken Group Islands to world famous hikes like the West Coast Trail and the Berg Lake Trail.

Looking to go frontcountry (vehicle accessible) camping in BC? Head to this dedicated post here

View of backcountry camping site with picnic table on right with set up tent on left, in front of calm lake with mountains bordering other side
Backcountry camping site in Valhalla Provincial Park

Important to know

Originally published late January 2021. Please note that there is no guarantee that the following campgrounds and multi-day backcountry experiences will open in 2021. Some were closed in 2020. This post will be regularly updated to reflect changes as they happen.

Backcountry campgrounds are accessed by hiking, cycling, paddling or horse riding. Campers must bring all supplies with them to be self sufficient.

There are other ways to go backcountry camping in British Columbia, but this post concentrates on organised campgrounds within provincial parks and national parks only.

If you’re planning a backcountry trip, be sure to:

Going backpacking for the first time? Read my Backpacking 101 guide!

Backcountry camping in BC’s Provincial Parks

British Columbia has the third largest park system in North America, with over 600 provincial parks. Around a third of provincial parks have established visitor facilities, with 2000+ backcountry campsites across these.

The provincial park system is administrated by BC Parks. In many areas, operation of the actual parks is contracted out to third parties. Workers for those third parties are called Park Facility Operators (PFOs). Due to this contract system, the quality and maintenance of backcountry campgrounds can vary between parks.

Size and facilities of backcountry campsites are always different, so it’s best to consult each park’s website page. Click the ‘Facilities Available’ tab and then read the ‘Walk-In/Backcountry/Wilderness Camping’ section.

BC’s Provincial Parks are completely free to visit, with no parking or admission fees.

Looking towards a wooden cooking area (four benches and table) in Og Lake campground with trails leading off into the distance. There are snow capped mountains in the distance, including the pyramidal shaped Mount Assiniboine
The cooking area at Og Lake campground in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park

Backcountry permit system

Most provincial park backcountry campgrounds have a nightly fee in the form of a backcountry permit. This is charged at a per person, per night rate (typically $5-10).

There will usually be a fee vault at the trailhead or in the campground. It works on an honesty system most of the time, but remember that the funds help maintain the parks we use.

If you don’t want to carry cash, there is the option to pay camping fees in advance using BC Parks’ backcountry registration system. This online service is currently available for 32 different parks.

Please note that a backcountry permit is not a reservation and therefore does not guarantee a campsite.

First come, first serve backcountry campgrounds

The vast majority of BC Parks’ huge network of backcountry campgrounds operate on a first come, first serve basis.

First come, first serve backcountry campgrounds operate exactly how they sound. Securing a spot at a campground is as simple as arriving and claiming a tent pad or space.

As mentioned above, some parks charge overnight fees for camping in the form of a backcountry permit. These can be paid online in advance or with cash on the day of your trip.

Looking beyond snow patch to forested plateau area, with small lakes and rocky areas, backdropped by dramatic, snow capped mountains
Opabin Plateau, Lake O’Hara – one of BC’s reservation-only backcountry camping areas

Wilderness/random camping

Backcountry camping is usually only allowed in designated backcountry campgrounds. In some parks, however, it is possible to camp randomly in specific areas with no overnight fee.

There are no facilities and campers are expected to follow Leave No Trace principles at all times. Advanced skills in wilderness travel and camping are also required.

BC Parks backcountry camping reservations

The most popular provincial backcountry campgrounds and multi-day experiences must be reserved via BC Parks’ Discover Camping system. There are five provincial parks with ‘reservation required’ trips:

For the backcountry areas listed above, having a reservation is mandatory. There are no standby spots available for campers who arrive without a reservation.

Some of the campgrounds have on-site PFOs who will check the reservations of campers. The remaining campgrounds are regularly visited by PFOs.

Having a reservation guarantees a spot in the selected campground, but does not a specific tent pad. These are allocated on a first come, first serve system.

Reservation tips

  • Although it is possible to use the Discover Camping call centre to make a booking, I would recommend using the online service if you can. There’s a price surcharge and getting through can be very difficult
  • If you don’t already have an online Discover Camping account, be sure to sign up prior to reservation launch day to save time (and stress!)
  • Take some time to play around with the Discover Camping reservation system to ensure you know what to do on the day
  • July and August the most popular months, with weekends always being busier (especially holiday weekends)
  • Be flexible with your dates (prepare to compromise) and have multiple options and itineraries ready. Prepare to compromise if needed but remember that cancellations are possible too

Cancellations

Reservations get cancelled all the time. It’s worth regularly checking the BC’s Parks Discover Camping reservation system for cancellations.

For the Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit and Berg Lake Trail, it is also possible to check for cancellations in-person. Availability isn’t likely during peak camping season (July/August) so you may need to wait a long time for a cancellation to come up.

Reservation-only BC Provincial Park backcountry trips

Here are the most in demand backcountry trips in BC’s Provincial Parks, with all the important details you need to know to reserve.

PLEASE NOTE:

  • The regular reservation launch dates were adjusted in 2020 and then again in 2021
  • For the 2021 season, BC residents have priority access to camping reservations in BC Parks. Out of province visitors can reserve from 8th July onwards

Thundering Emperor Falls on left, with peaked mountain behind. Photo credit Destination BC Brayden Hall
Spectacular Emperor Falls on the Berg Lake Trail

Berg Lake Trail

The Berg Lake Trail is a 23km hiking trail (with 800m elevation gain) showcasing thundering waterfalls, magnificent old growth trees and a number of soaring mountain peaks. The latter includes Mount Robson, the highest in the Canadian Rockies.

And, of course, the finale is Berg Lake itself. Named after the pieces of ice that calve off the glacier above and float on the surface of the water, Berg Lake sparkles brilliant blue in the sun.

There are seven backcountry campgrounds located along the Berg Lake Trail, with the Berg Lake Campground being the biggest (26 tent pads) and most sought after to reserve. Most hikers spend 3-5 days on the trail.

Due to its moderate difficulty, approachable length (46km return) and proximity to Jasper National Park, the Berg Lake Trail is exceptionally popular and reservations go very quickly every year.

Essential details

When to go: Operating season is 15th May to Thanksgiving (mid October), reservable dates are 15th June to 30th September

When to reserve: For the entire 2021 operating season, the launch date is 1st March 2021 from 7am PT. *In years prior, reservations opened in October for reservable dates during following season

How to reserve: Online or by phone 1-800-689-9025

Reservation fees: $6 per tent pad, per night, up to $18 per stay $5 sucharge for phone reservations

Camping fees: $10 per person, per night

Good to know: Be sure to have your preferred itinerary and dates ready on reservation launch day, although you should be ready to make adaptations as availability disappears

Read Next: HappiestOutdoors’ Guide to the Berg Lake Trail


JR standing on rock looking at view of pyramidal shaped Mount Assiniboine, partially obscured by cloud, with lakes below
Beautiful Mount Assiniboine

Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park

Located between Banff and Kootenay National Parks, Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is host to some of the most glorious alpine scenery in the Canadian Rockies.

Often called the ‘Matterhorn of the Canadian Rockies,’ the pyramidal shaped peak of Mount Assiniboine is as striking as it is beautiful. But reaching Mount Assiniboine (and the subalpine paradise around it) is an adventure in itself.

Most visitors spend two days hiking one of three routes across the border from Alberta. Strong hikers can complete the trek in a day. Alternatively, you can also fly in on a helicopter.

The most popular campground is at Magog Lake, located just below Mount Assiniboine. Since 2018, reservations have been required to stay here (and also at Og Lake, 5km away) from 26th June to 30th September.

Essential details

When to go: Open year round, but mid July to late September is peak season

When to reserve: 2 months in advance of your arrival date. *In regular years, it was 4 months ahead

How to reserve: Online or by phone 1-800-689-9025

Reservation fees: $6 per tent pad, per night to a maximum of $18 per stay plus $5 surcharge for phone reservations

Camping fees: $10 per person, per night (Magog and Og Lake only)

Good to know: Magog Lake has a lodge and huts as accommodation options, as well as the campground

Read More: The Complete Guide to Hiking to Mount Assiniboine


Elevated view on side of mountain, looking down on people hiking just below, in front of views of large lake surrounded by high snow capped peaks. Photo credit Destination BC/Andrew Strain
Looking down on Cheakamus Lake, Garibaldi Provincial Park. Photo credit Destination BC/Andrew Strain

Garibaldi Provincial Park

Garibaldi Provincial Park is a vast expanse of wilderness bordering the Sea to Sky Highway from Squamish to Whistler and beyond. There are over 90km of hiking trails taking in towering mountain peaks, turquoise glacial lakes and more.

With many of the hike trailheads being within two hours drive of Vancouver, Garibaldi is a very popular year round alpine destination. Consequently, reservations are required to camp in any of Garibaldi’s designated backcountry campgrounds.

There are nine year round backcountry campgrounds in Garibaldi Provincial Park:

In addition to these, there is the winter-only Red Heather campground (15 campsites) as well as the Elfin Lakes Shelter (33 people, currently closed).

Essential details

When to go: Operating season is year round, but expect winter conditions from October to June. The warmer months are most popular (June to September)

When to reserve: 2 months before arrival*

How to reserve: Online or by phone 1-800-689-9025 plus $5 surcharge for phone reservations

Reservation fees: $6 per night to a maximum of $18 per stay

Camping fees: $10 per person, per night

Good to know: *Until the pandemic, it was possible to reserve 4 months before your arrival date. Hopefully, it will return to this at some point


Shore view of turquoise coloured lake surrounded by dense forest and snowy mountain in background
Beautiful Joffre Lakes

Joffre Lakes Provincial Park

Joffre Lakes Provincial Park is best known for a chain of three strikingly beautiful, turquoise lakes backdropped by glaciers. Located just an hour north of Whistler, Joffre Lakes is one of BC’s most popular provincial parks.

Since 2019, advance reservations have been required for the 26 site designated campground situated at the south end of Upper Joffre Lake. It is a 5.5km one-way hike (with 400m elevation gain) from the parking lot.

While it is possible to hike to all three lakes year round (conditions permitting), the campground is not open in winter due to avalanche risk. The best time for camping at Joffre Lake is during the warmer months, from June to September.

While Joffre Lakes is always busy, weekends are still the busiest period. Saturday is the most in demand night to camp.

Essential details

When to go: Operating season is 15th April to 1st November

When to reserve: 2 months before your arrival date

How to reserve: Online or by phone 1-800-689-9025

Reservation fees: $6 per tent pad, per night to a maximum of $18 per stay plus $5 surcharge for phone reservations

Camping fees: $5 per person, per night

Good to know: A reservation does not guarantee a space in the parking lot. Joffre Lakes is always busy so be sure to arrive early

Please note that Joffre Lakes is currently closed at the time of writing, and has been since March 2020, as part of BC Parks’ pandemic response. Updates will be made on this BC Parks page


Mountains surrounding Lanezi lake on the Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit, one of the most extraordinary canoe trips in Canada
Lanezi Lake on the Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit

Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit

The Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit is a geographical wonder – a perfect parallelogram of lakes, rivers and portages surrounded by temperate rainforest and imposing mountains, forming a 116km paddling route.

Along the way are 54 designated campsites around the circuit, each offering a unique perspective of this beautiful wilderness area in BC’s Cariboo region.

Open to both canoeists and kayakers, the Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit is the most popular paddling destination in BC. For this reason, only a limited number of vessels can launch on the circuit each day. Reservations are essential during the busiest months of July and August.

Even with such popularity, the Bowron Lakes Circuit still presents ample challenge. Carrying a heavy canoe and gear along the eight portages can be notably tricky, especially when muddy. Isaac Lake is the longest on the Circuit (almost 40km) and typically takes two days of steady paddling to finish.

Most paddlers complete the circuit in six to eight days. There is an option to just paddle the ‘West Side’ of the Circuit, which features shorter portages and smaller lakes.

Essential details

When to go: Operating season is 15th May to 30th September

When to reserve: : For the entire 2021 operating season, the launch date is 1st March 2021 from 7am PT. *In years prior, reservations opened in October for reservable dates during following season

How to reserve: Online or by phone 1-800-689-9025 plus $5 surcharge for phone reservations

Reservation fees: $18.00 per vessel (canoe/kayak)

Camping fees: $60 per person for the full circuit, $30 for the west side only

Good to know: Parties exceeding 6 people in size must book as a group and are required to camp at designated ‘Group Campsites.’

Read More: Complete Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit Guide


Brown campsite sign on post

National Park backcountry camping

British Columbia hosts five National Parks:

  • Pacific Rim National Park located on the West Coast of Vancouver Island
  • Mount Revelstoke National Park located adjacent to Revelstoke
  • Glacier National Park located between Revelstoke and Golden
  • Yoho National Park located between Golden and the Alberta border
  • Kootenay National Park located between Radium and the Alberta border

There are a number of backcountry campgrounds in each park, all requiring campers to have a valid Wilderness Pass. In addition, some of the campgrounds require advance reservations to secure a spot.

National Parks are administered by Parks Canada. Each park charges a daily admission fee.

View from top of summit looking towards figure in red standing inbetween line of trees, with layers of mountains in the distance beyond

Wilderness Passes

A Wilderness Pass is required for overnight trips in the backcountry of National Parks.

There are a limited number of Wilderness Passes for each backcountry campground, so once you secure one, you are guaranteed a campsite in a specific campground.

In addition to the Wilderness Permit fees for overnight camping, there are daily National Park admission fees as mentioned above.

First come, first serve backcountry campgrounds

Campgrounds not on Parks Canada’s reservation system are allocated ‘first come first serve,’ but you still need to acquire a Wilderness Pass on the day of departure (or the day before) from a Parks Canada location.

This is the system in place at the following backcountry campground:

  • Sir Donald (Glacier NP)
Distant view looking towards a tall waterfall cascading down into forest
Yoho National Park

National Park backcountry camping reservation system

Most designated National Park backcountry campgrounds in BC use a reservation system, typically opening in January of each year. In 2021, the reservation launch will be in April instead.

Popular backcountry campgrounds are usually reserved for the entire summer hiking season as soon as the reservation system opens. This is true for these four backcountry areas and trails:

  • Lake O’Hara in Yoho NP
  • The Rockwall Trail in Kootenay NP
  • The West Coast Trail in Pacific Rim NP
  • Broken Island Group in Pacific Rim NP

These backcountry areas are therefore ‘reservation-only.’ If you don’t manage to secure a reservation, you’ll have to try for a cancellation.

The following backcountry campgrounds are on Parks Canada’s reservation system but do not immediately sell out:

  • Yoho Lake in Yoho NP
  • Laughing Falls in Yoho NP
  • Twin Falls in Yoho NP
  • Little Yoho in Yoho NP
  • McArthur Creek in Yoho NP
  • Verdant Creek in Kootenay NP
  • Eva Lake in Mount Revelstoke NP)
  • Jade Lake in Mount Revelstoke NP

If you don’t have a reservation for these campgrounds, you can visit the local Parks Canada Visitor Centre in person and check for availability on the day of your intended departure.

Reservation tips

  • Although it is possible to call to make a booking, I’d recommend using the online service instead. It’s notoriously difficult to get through to the call centre
  • If you don’t already have an online Parks Canada account, be sure to sign up prior to reservation launch day to save time (and stress!)
  • Take some time to play around with the Parks Canada reservation system to ensure you know what to do on the day
  • Weekends are always busier (especially holiday weekends), and July and August the most popular months
  • Be flexible with your dates and have multiple options/itineraries ready. Prepare to compromise if needed but remember that cancellations are possible too
  • On launch day, log in to the reservation system prior to the opening time. Users are held in an online waiting room to prevent server overload. At launch time, users are then randomly assigned a place in line to access the website
Gemma stands wearing pink backpack with back to camera, standing on rocky surface looking at water rushing through rocky canyon
Hiking in Yoho National Park

Cancellations

Reservations get cancelled all the time. It’s worth regularly checking the Parks Canada reservation system for cancellations.

As a last resort, you can also travel to the relevant park and check in person at the Visitor Centre. This is, however, pretty unlikely so it’s important to be prepared to be disappointed. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst!

Reservation-only National Park backcountry trips

Here are the most in demand backcountry trips in BC’s National Parks, with all the important details you need to know to reserve.

A dirt path winds through dense temperate rainforest, part of the West Coast Trail
The start of the West Coast Trail, from the northern trailhead near Bamfield

The West Coast Trail

The West Coast Trail (WCT) is British Columbia’s most famous multi-day adventure. Located on Vancouver Island in Pacific Rim National Park, this 75km long coastal hike follows ancient First Nation paths along the remote and rugged Pacific coastline. Beautiful sandy beaches, pristine waterfalls, old growth forests and epic sunsets await!

There are two main trailheads – Pachena Bay (near Bamfield) and Gordon Bay (near Port Renfrew). There is also a mid point entrance at Nitinaht Narrows. Only a limited number of hikers can start the West Coast Trail each day from these trailheads.

Despite its popularity, the West Coast Trail is still a serious undertaking. Most hikers take 6-8 days to complete the route, which also includes intensely muddy forest sections, slippery boardwalks, steep climbs and over 100 ladders!

Essential details

When to go: Operating season is 1st May to 30th September

Reservation required? Yes. The WCT has operated on a reservation-only system since 2018 (no standby availability)

When to reserve: Reservations open 8:00 am (PDT) on April 30, 2021 for the entire season

How to reserve: Online or by phone 1-877-737-3783

Reservation fees: $24.50 per person

Other fees: $130.31 trail fee, $40 ferry fees

Good to know: The southern end of the WCT is harder. Some like to hike this section first to get it over with, while others prefer to wait until their pack is a bit lighter at the end of their trip!

Read More: Complete West Coast Trail Guide (by Happiest Outdoors)


Top down view of kayaks on shore, landing on one of the islands in the Broken Group. Light coloured rock beach with clear ocean water, overhanging trees
Exploring the Broken Group Islands. Photo credit Tourism Vancouver Island/Ben Giesbrecht

The Broken Group Islands

A marine archipelago of more than 100 small uninhabited islands with an incredibly rich inter tidal zone, the Broken Group Islands are a paddler’s paradise. Think spectacular coastal views, fascinating tidal pools, beautiful sandy beaches, serene sunsets and abundant wildlife.

The Broken Group Islands are located in Barkley Sound in Pacific Rim National Park, south of Ucluelet.

Like the West Coast Trail, access to the Broken Islands is strictly controlled to protect the natural and cultural heritage of the area. The islands contain many sites of spiritual and cultural significance for local First Nations.

Designated camping areas are situated on seven different islands, with limited tent spots available. Maximum stay at each camping area is 4 nights.

Please noteThe Broken Group Islands were closed to visitors in 2020

Essential details

When to go: Operating season is 1st May to 30th September

Reservation required. Yes. The Broken Group Islands have operated on a reservation-only system since 2018 (no standby availability)

When to reserve: Reservations open 8:00 am (PDT) on April 7, 2021

How to reserve: Online or by phone 1-877-737-3783

Reservation fees: $11.50 online, $13.50 by phone (per stay)

Camping fees: $10.02 per person, per night

Good to know: There are kayak tour operators offering trips to the Broken Group for visitors without kayaking experience and/or required equipment. 

Read More: Sea kayaking experience in the Broken Group Islands (by HikeBikeTravel)


Gemma standing on rock in front of stunning view of blue Lake O'Hara below, surrounded by soaring mountains and dense forest
Lake O’Hara seen from the Opabin Prospect lookout

Lake O’Hara

With pristine turquoise lakes, cascading waterfalls, soaring mountain peaks, giant glaciers, hanging valleys and more (!), Lake O’Hara is one of the most beautiful places in the Canadian Rockies. An impressive network of hiking trails crisscross this spectacular landscape.

Lake O’Hara is part of Yoho National Park and is protected by strict daily visitor allowances. The cheapest way to stay overnight is to book a spot at the 30 site backcountry campground, just a short walk from Lake O’Hara itself.

Being so popular, it’s only possible to reserve a maximum of three nights camping here. Even if you manage to secure just one night though, it’s absolutely worth the effort!

During regular seasons (i.e. not 2020), a bus transports day visitors and campers from the parking lot up the 11km access road, so you can just day hike in this impressive area.

If you’d like to know more about visiting Lake O’Hara overnight or on a day trip, please see the link below for a guide with all of the details.

Essential details

When to go: Operating season (2021) is 18th June to 3rd October, my recommendation is late July to early September

Reservation required? Yes. There is no standby availability

When to reserve: Reservations open 8:00 am (MDT)* on April 16, 2021 for the entire season

How to reserve: Online or by phone 1-877-737-3783

Reservation fees: $11.50 online, $13.50 by phone (per stay)

Camping fees: $10.02 per person, per night plus $14.70 return bus trip per person

Good to know: Reservations open on Mountain Time, NOT Pacific Time. Be sure to have your selected campsite number ready on reservation launch day.

Read More: Complete Lake O’Hara Camping and Hiking Guide


The dramatic 'Rockwall' formation with snow patches rises above a flat grassy plateau, with two hikes in foreground. Photo credit Destination BC Kari Medig
The dramatic Rockwall formation. Photo credit Destination BC Kari Medig

The Rockwall Trail

The Rockwall Trail is a 55km long multi-day hike in Kootenay National Park. A combination of individual hiking trails creates a horseshoe shaped route, most of which is backdropped by a massive limestone cliff (the eponymous ‘Rockwall.’)

Besides the impressive Rockwall itself, other highlights include meadows filled with wildflowers, waterfalls, three mountain passes, hanging glaciers and more. The Rockwall Trail is often cited as one of the premier hiking experiences in the Canadian Rockies.

Most hikers take around 4-5 days to traverse the entire Rockwall Trail. It is possible to hike in either direction, but south to north seems the most popular.

The trailheads of the Rockwall Trail are 13km apart so it is necessary to organise transportation between them (bike, two vehicle shuttle system, hitchhike etc.)

Essential details

When to go: Mid July to October

Reservations required? Yes. There is no standby availability

When to reserve: Reservations open April 16, 2021 at 8 am MDT

How to reserve: Online or by phone 1-877-737-3783

Reservation fees: $11.50 online, $13.50 by phone (per stay)

Camping fees: $10.02 per person, per night

Good to know: Reservations open on Mountain Time, NOT Pacific Time. Be sure to have your preferred itinerary and dates ready on the day

Read More: HikeBikeTravel’s experience on the Rockwall Trail


Looking for some more backcountry trip inspiration?

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

6 Coastal BC Backpacking Trips: Alternatives to the West Coast Trail

17 of the Best Canoe Trips in British Columbia

There’s a small backcountry campground on the shores of Eva Lake in Mount Revelstoke National Park

Backpacking trail guides

Sunshine Coast Trail

Cape Scott Trail, Cape Scott Provincial Park

Valhalla Provincial Park

Eva Lake Trail, Mount Revelstoke National Park

Monica Meadows, Purcell Mountains

Pinnacle Lake Trail, Monashee Mountains

Della Falls Trail, Strathcona Provincial Park

Heather Trail, Manning Provincial Park

Backcountry camping is one of the most affordable and satisfying ways to explore the wilderness of British Columbia. It can, however, be difficult to know where to start, especially if you're new to BC. Click here to discover how park-based backcountry camping works in British Columbia plus all the important info you need to book BC's most popular multi-day adventures like the Berg Lake Trail, West Coast Trail and more!

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