Vancouver Island is a beautiful island with splendid nature, lovely cities such as Victoria and Nanaimo, cute villages like Tofino and Coombs, and lots of outdoor activities such as hiking and camping.
There is no shortage of campgrounds on Vancouver Island, there are full-service RV campgrounds, backcountry campsites only accessible on foot, and even several glamping options for those looking for a bit more luxury.
No matter if you are looking to go camping near Victoria or searching for Tofino campgrounds, this post got you covered.
In this guide to camping on Vancouver Island, you can find 10 great camping spots and 3 glamping options, plus practical tips when going on a Vancouver Island camping trip.
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Everything you need to know about camping on Vancouver Island
Planning a camping trip on Vancouver Island: important things to know
What is the best time for a camping trip to Vancouver Island?
When planning your camping trip on Vancouver Island, please note that while camping is possible year-round, the most popular (and therefore busiest) months are July and August. If you plan to go camping in summer, it’s best to book well in advance!
Spring and autumn are excellent for Vancouver Island camping, the weather is generally quite nice and campgrounds aren’t that busy.
Keep in mind that while winter camping on Vancouver Island is possible, most campgrounds are seasonal and only open from April/May until September/October.
How to get to Vancouver Island?
The only way to get to Vancouver Island with your car is by ferry. You can find the schedule and information about prices here. Alternatively, you can bring your camping gear and rent a car in Victoria (unfortunately, campervans can only be rented in Vancouver).
In any case, we took the boat from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay (near Victoria) and returned from Duke Point (near Nanaimo) to Tsawwassen.
Another good option if you plan to drive the Sea to Sky highway to Whistler after visiting Vancouver Island is taking the ferry from Departure Bay (Nanaimo) to Horseshoe Bay.
Horseshoe Bay is located north of Vancouver, so you’ll avoid driving through the busy city center. Or, if you have lots of time, you could take a ferry from Comox to Powell River and explore the quiet but breathtaking Sunshine Coast.
How to find (free) places to camp on Vancouver Island?
We bought a red GMC Safari van, built a bed in it, bought some kitchen stuff and other camp gear and our little home on wheels was ready.
We slept in our car most of the time and as we were traveling Canada on a budget, we tried to find free camp spots for most nights.
In general, it’s not difficult to find a free place to park for the night in Canada. However, sometimes you’ll see a sign saying ‘No overnight parking or camping’, obviously you shouldn’t stay there.
It also goes without saying that you should be quiet and respectful when stealth camping and leave your camp spot spotlessly clean when you depart.
We found most free camping spots with the iOverlander app. In this excellent free app, you can find both free as well as paid campsites, information about the facilities, accessibility, and comments of people who have (recently) visited a particular camping spot.
While it’s great to find a free spot to spend the night, there are many good reasons to stay at an official campground. Besides access to all sorts of facilities, such as running water, showers, coin laundry, and potentially WiFi, campgrounds are a great place to meet other travelers and exchange stories.
Where to buy groceries on Vancouver Island?
Eating out is great, but costs add up quickly! A much more economical way to travel around Vancouver Island (and Canada as a whole) is by cooking your own breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
There are Walmarts in the bigger cities (Victoria, Nanaimo, and Port Alberni) and smaller (slightly more expensive) local supermarkets in the villages (Ucluelet, Tofino, and Qualicum Beach).
Here you can buy all the necessary ingredients to cook a delicious meal to enjoy at one of the beautiful Vancouver Island camping sites.
10 Vancouver Island campsites and 3 glamping spots: map
Official campsites on Vancouver Island
Goldstream Campground (near Victoria)
Dean & Laynni from Routinely Nomadic: Goldstream Campground is one of the largest and best campgrounds in British Columbia. It’s located within Goldstream Provincial Park and only a 15-minute drive west of Victoria.
This tranquil wilderness haven is conveniently close to the amenities and attractions of the city, making it a perfect stop on any Pacific Northwest road trip.
Encompassing 1,200 acres of prime old-growth forest and offering 175 campsites, Goldstream is filled with terrific hiking trails and engaging sights.
The 47-meter high Niagara Falls (no, not THAT one) is almost as impressive as their namesake, and there are several other smaller falls and a fascinating old trestle bridge.
Thick forests of 600-year-old Douglas fir and red cedar trees combined with dozens of other species to create a dense, atmospheric setting. Other outstanding activities are hiking to the top of Mount Finlayson and visiting in late fall to witness the spectacular salmon spawn (when you might see bald eagles doing a little fishing of their own).
Goldstream is open to RVs, camping, and day-use (including a children’s playground). It has full washrooms with running water and hot showers but no electrified sites.
Goldstream Campground is open year-round with limited facilities in winter. Fees are $35/night plus a $6 booking fee if you reserve online.
Check the BC Parks website for more information.
Sombrio Beach backcountry campsite
Campbell and Alya from Stingy Nomads: Sombrio Beach is the best beach camping on Vancouver Island! It’s located on the south coast of Vancouver Island and part of the spectacular Juan de Fuca Marine Trail.
The beach, mostly covered in big round stones, is one of the most popular surf spots close to Victoria, and surfers often camp here for the weekend. Campsites are on the beach and are suitable for tents only.
Sombrio Beach is also a popular stop for hikers. The Juan de Fuca trail is a wilderness backpacking trail stretching for 47 km along the coast, from China Beach to Botanical Beach (near Port Renfrew).
The campsite at Sombrio beach is about a 1.5 km walk from the car parking area next to the road. The fauna and flora on the coastal trail are amazing with black bears, deer, and marine mammals like whales, dolphins, and orcas.
There is a waterfall in a slot canyon, hidden in the forest next to Sombrio Beach, great for a refreshing shower. The campsite has well kept basic facilities, a bear canister to protect food from bears, running water and a pit toilet. Water is not potable and small fires are allowed on the beach.
Self-registration envelopes and safes are located at the trailhead for depositing a $10 camping fee, you can also pay online. Campsites can not be booked ahead, so on weekends try to get there early to find a nice spot.
Pacheedaht Campground (near Port Renfrew)
Taryn from Happiest Outdoors: the Pacheedaht Campground in Port Renfrew is one of the few campgrounds on Vancouver Island where you can camp right on the beach. It’s located on Pacheedaht First Nation land just outside of Port Renfrew and about a two-hour drive from Victoria.
The campground is on a beautiful stretch of sand where the Gordon River meets the ocean. You can surf right from your campsite, go hiking, or explore nearby Avatar Grove, home to Canada’s gnarliest tree.
An overnight (or two) in Port Renfrew is a great way to experience the Pacific Marine Circle Route, a loop road trip from Victoria via Sooke, Port Renfrew, and Lake Cowichan.
There are about 40 sites in the campground, with about half on the beach and the other half in the rainforest. Many of the spots have water and electrical hookups for RVs. There’s a newer indoor bathroom building with showers and laundry, plus outhouses and taps throughout the campground.
To book a site, call the Pacheedaht Nation campground managers at 250-647-0090 (country code +1). They get booked up on long weekends, but first-come, first-served spots are usually available at other times. Prices vary depending on the type of site and time of year but are generally between $15 and $50.
The Living Forest Oceanside Campsite & RV Park (near Nanaimo)
One of the best campgrounds on Vancouver Island is the Living Forest Oceanside Campsite & RV Park. This is a great campground located only 5 kilometers from Nanaimo city center.
Our nice shady forest camp spot had a fire pit and picnic table. The toilet facilities were clean and the hot showers cost $1 for 5 minutes. There is a coin laundry which costs $2,50 for the washing machine and $1 for the dryer.
In the common room, there is free WiFi and sockets to charge your electronics which is very convenient if you are camping with a tent or in a self converted van without any power outlets.
Full-service sites, as well as basic spots (no water and no electricity), are available. Prices range between $31 and $61, depending on the facilities at your campsite.
Check the Living Forest Oceanside Campsite & RV Park website for more information.
Ucluelet Campground (in Ucluelet)
I’ll start by saying this was one of the most expensive campgrounds we stayed at in Canada. As Ucluelet is a very popular place to visit on Vancouver Island, this was to be expected.
Nevertheless, the campsite is nice enough and there are good facilities (clean toilets, hot showers) though the sites aren’t that big.
You can choose between a waterfront site, a forest site, or a full-service RV site, prices vary accordingly ($30 and $65). The location is excellent, right at the edge of Ucluelet and withing walking distance of several cafes and restaurants as well as two supermarkets.
Check the Ucluelet Campground website for more information.
Green Point Campground (near Tofino)
Green Point Campground is located in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and close to Long Beach. This site is run by Parks Canada, reservations can be made online.
There are powered sites ($33 a night) as well as unpowered sites ($28 a night), flush toilets, hot showers, fire-pits, and picnic tables and it’s only a short stroll to beautiful Long Beach (sites 67-94 are closest to the beach).
Unofficial campsites on Vancouver Island
The Clipper Ferry parking lot, Victoria
It can be challenging to find overnight parking in Victoria as there are lots of no camping/overnight parking signs. However, the Clipper Ferry parking lot in downtown Victoria (254 Belleville Street) didn’t have any of those so we decided to give it a try.
We paid $18 for 24-hour parking, which enabled us to explore Victoria on foot, park our car in a safe place, and sleep in the city center!
Since it’s not an official place to stay, I strongly recommend keeping a low profile (no cooking or relaxing outside, just use it as a place to sleep). It was very quiet during the night and as long as it’s allowed, I definitely recommend this place!
Jakes at the Lake parking lot, Lake Cowichan
We had dinner at Jakes at the Lake and after paying for our meal we asked the staff if we could park there for the night. They didn’t mind at all and we could roll straight from the patio into our bed. The next morning we woke up to the view pictured above, not bad at all!
French Creek Marine Pub parking lot, Parksville
We spent a very rainy afternoon at the French Creek Marine Pub in Parksville and asked the pub staff if we could park for the night. The manager said that was fine and directed us to a good spot.
We paid $5 for a night (and we had a couple of drinks at the pub). During opening hours, you can use the washroom in the pub.
Note: I think an important reason why the pubs we stayed at didn’t mind us parking overnight is that we spend money on food and/or drinks first, before asking if we could overnight there in our van.
Also, our small incognito van didn’t take up much space or draw any attention. I’m not sure how they would feel about big RVs parking there for the night.
Public Library parking lot, Port Alberni
We found this place on the iOverlander app and stayed here twice (both on our way down to Ucluelet and Tofino and on our way back up). Nobody bothered us and we bothered nobody.
It’s a very quiet spot and you can even take a shower ($4 if I remember correctly) at the Recreation Center next to the library.
If at any time in the future overnight parking is no longer allowed at this spot, there is also a Walmart in Port Alberni where you can stay.
Glamping on Vancouver Island
If you are visiting Vancouver Island but don’t want to go camping in a tent, car, van, or RV, there is an excellent alternative: glamping. Instead of setting up your own tent, you can stay at a comfortable yurt, a luxurious white canvas tent, or even a spherical treehouse!
Wya Point, Ucluelet
This property is run by the Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ First Nation, their mission is to let people experience the traditional territory, hospitality, and values of their people.
There are several yurts offering all the comforts you need, such as a french press coffee maker, comfortable beds, lounge chairs, and more.
The yurts were built to have a minimal impact on the land and with environmental sustainability in mind. On the Wya Point website, you can read more about this beautiful place on Vancouver Island.
Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, Quait Bay
This luxurious property requires a 40-minute boat ride from Tofino and is located in a beautiful secluded bay. There are 25 lavishly decorated canvas tents with antique furnishings and plush beds with high-quality linens.
While spending a night here costs a small fortune, it will surely be one of the most unique accommodations you’ll ever stay at and a once in a lifetime experience. More information can be found on the Clayoquot Wilderness Resort website.
Free Spirit Spheres, Qualicum Beach
Another Vancouver Island glamping option are the Free Spirit Spheres. These amazing treehouses are made from fiberglass exterior and shaped like a nut. But the coolest thing is they are suspended several meters above the forest floor!
With a double bed, small kitchen area, and comfortable seating you’ll have everything you need, but what truly makes the spheres special is their integration with the surrounding forest.
You’ll be up in the trees and get to experience life in the forest, with birds chirping around you and the leaves whistling in the wind. I personally can’t imagine a more soothing sound to fall asleep to…
Best campgrounds on Vancouver Island: in conclusion
I hope you have enjoyed this post about Vancouver Island campgrounds and camping tips. Feel free to ask any questions you may have, you can leave a comment below or send me a message.
If you are looking for more Canada travel inspiration, also read these posts:
- Vancouver itinerary
- Vancouver day trips
- Things to do in Nelson BC
- 25 charming Canadian towns
- 25 beautiful Canadian lakes
This post was updated in June 2021.