Are you planning on touring along the Trans Canada Trail and want to camp? Here are some important tips to keep in mind about where to camp - and where NOT to camp!
Question: Can one camp at the side of the trail?
Answer: It depends who owns the land beside the trail. In the Province of British Columbia, generally land that is not privately owned is owned by the province - besides federal lands (such as military land or national parks) and municipal/city land (located near towns and cities). We refer to such as "crown land" (a nod to the Queen being our head of state). Yes, you can technically camp on crown land, free of charge, but only if that crown land isn't already licensed to someone else. Licensed uses include logging companies (aka tree farms), mining interests, a rancher leasing it for cattle grazing, etc... there countless types of licensed users. Even if it's provincially owned land, camping will likely be restricted if the land is part of a nature reserve, provincial park or being used for some other type of use. Basically that doesn't leave much, and there won't be signs identifying it! The government will respond to inquiries about specific locations, but that certainly isn't helpful when you're actually on the trail and want to find a place to rest for the night. To reiterate, camping is permitted if the land is provincially owned, it's not part of a park or reserve, and it's not licensed to someone else.
If you do choose to "wild camp" (camp in an unofficial site), obviously your first priority should be to avoid private property as there could be consequences of doing so. When wild camping, one should never light fires, leave garbage or make noise. If you must deficate, dig a cat hole and pack out your TP. If done respectfully, wild camping can be a very satisfying experience.
Question: What campsites can I encounter while travelling along the trail?
Answer: There are 4 basic types of legitimate campsites along the trail:
Privately owned campground
Provincial Park campgrounds
Ministry of Forests "Recreation Sites"
Private Campgrounds are exactly what you imagine; a campground operating on privately owned land. These are more popular for the RV crowd, but certainly will usually have room for a cyclist or hiker with a tent. There is always a fee, but often provide facilities such as laundry, showers, water, electricity and WIFI. Any trail traveller should probably stay in a private campground at least once a week in order to charge batteries, get cleaned up, and run errands. A quick Google Search can locate private campgrounds in the area you are visiting.
Municipal Campgrounds are located in city parks and operated by the munipality, often via the local Chamber of Commerce or tourism office. They are usually conveniently located near downtown and make running errands very easy. Washrooms are usually located in a nearby rec centre or tourism office. They are usually quite inexpensive and not run for profit - but more to encourage tourists to stay a while. They are often quiet and well patrolled. Google Searches will locate municipal campgrounds, but also inquire with a tourism office (Tourism BC: www.hellobc.com) or call the local Chamber of Commerce.
Provincial Park Campgrounds are always located within provincial parks, and are often booked up in the summer. Quite often though camping is available with no charge in the Spring, up until the official start date of June 1. You may want to check with BC Parks about this.
are something of a secret that even most British Columbians seem to be aware of; and even if they are, most people are unsure of how they are different from provincial parks. First off, Recreation Sites are not located in provincial parks. They are located on crown land! The government ministry that oversees crown land (Ministry of Forest, Lands and Resource Operations) have set aside various special sites for recreational users, often adjacent or surrounded by licensed tree farms, usually for free use or a modest fee charged by a local operator. Recreation Sites don't always allow camping, but in most cases they do, and the Ministry of Forests has gone the extra mile to create room for parking, thrown in a few picnic tables and usually an outhouse. Recreation Sites are generally very low key, underused and perfect for folks who don't need flush toilets or wifi. Rates are often free (also known as "user maintained") or a modest fee charged by a local operator. Visit Recreation Sites and Trails BC
Question: Does Trails BC have these campsites already mapped out?
Answer: Why yes we do! Trails BC has maps on our site (and GPS data) that shows all the campsites that we are aware of - that are of use to Trans Canada Trail users (in other words, only the ones close to the trail). We've even thrown in a few unofficial campsites too (usually on crown land) that are pretty reliable - but please use some discretion. Our maps will typically provide some basic info about each.
When looking at our maps, and click on the button on the top-left corner of the map (looks like a square box with an arrow pointing right:
). The map options will offer to display details such as toilets, campsites etc. if you select campsites, it will display them on the map. Or GPS downloads will also have them.
Question: Is camping in British Columbia the greatest experience in the world?
Answer: Only on weekdays! If you want peace and quiet, avoid campgrounds on Fridays, Saturdays and Holidays but especially the privately operated or minimally supervised ones. Bring earplugs just in case. It is certainly preferable to set up your tent in an "unofficial" campground on weekends, preferably at least 1 km from the nearest roadway. Do not light campfires if you are camped in an "unofficial" site.
If traveling in early summer, try to pitch your tent on a southern facing slope to maximize sunlight in the evening, and especially in the morning. A warm sun in the morning will dry your gear and allow you to pack up earlier. Avoid any place that shows signs of past mudslides or landslides. If heavy rain is forecasted, avoid camping near steep slopes or rivers that could swell.
Question: I'm starting my trip from Victoria, heading west through Vancouver and onward to the Alberta border. Will I be able to camp near Victoria and Vancouver?
Answer: Yes, there are some campsites, but very few near the cities. A whole day of cycling from Victoria will get you into the Cowichan Valley, where you can find some camping - but certainly no crown land or legitimate free camping. Vancouver is the same; there are very few opportunities to camp on crown land until you reach the Chilliwack area - which from Horseshoe Bay could take up to 2-3 days. In other words, the first 5 nights can be a little stressful, but after this, finding a place to pitch your tent is a breeze all the way to Alberta. Perhaps ask to camp on people's lawns, pay for a commercial, municipal or provincial park campsite, hostel or even a motel.