Since my camping experiences amount to just a handful of drizzly weekends, I've tapped four tent-hugging experts.
First up: Jayne Seagrave, Vancouver-based author of Camping British Columbia and Yukon. "My favourite local campground is Alice Lake, north of Squamish. There's a beach, wonderful swimming, great hikes, large sites, showers. It's great if you're new to camping and want to see if you like it."
She adds the similarly accessible, well-equipped and bucolic Okanagan Lake and Vancouver Island's Rathtrevor Beach. But since these provincial parks are often crowd magnets, she suggests some tranquil alternatives.
"My favourite area is the Kootenays for its cooler temperatures, quieter roads and campgrounds including Syringa, Champion Lakes and Kokanee Creek," she says, adding the Alaska Highway's Laird River Hot Springs. "It's not easily accessible but it has amazing natural hot springs in an area of rich vegetation. It should be on every camper's bucket list."
Reserving is vital – discovercamping.ca covers many B.C. sites – but Seagrave also suggests first-timers rent gear from Mountain Equipment Co-op rather than buying everything up front.
I'll add that MEC and Parks Canada also operate Learn to Camp programs for nervous newbies plus some fully equipped campsites at several parks – pc.gc.ca has details.
Over in Alberta, Canadian Rockies Access Guide co-author John Dodd has his own recommendations.
"Mount Kidd Campground in Kananaskis Country provides a gentle introduction to car camping with nicely spaced sites, first-rate facilities and an outstanding location under the impressive bulk of Mount Kidd."
Dodd's additional easy-access hot spots include iconic Lake Louise plus Crandell Mountain and the Townsite Campground in Waterton Lakes National Park. But his personal favourite is further afield.
"When I want to get away from it all, I head for Lake O'Hara in Yoho National Park. Well-engineered trails lead to waterfalls, deep lakes, glacier views and meadows dotted with delicate larches. You usually need to reserve three months ahead for campsites and a place on the bus that takes you in." Reservations are by phone only at 250-343-6433.
In the Maritimes, Lonely Planet Nova Scotia, New Brunswick & Prince Edward Island author Celeste Brash's recommendations start with PEI.
"The most popular sites are on the beach but the easier-to-book New Glasgow Highlands Campground is in a beautiful wooded area central to the sights – and with amazingly few insects. It's homey and friendly with great facilities."
At Nova Scotia's Murphy's Camping on the Ocean, kayaking, guided mussel-collecting and shared seafood feasts add to the appeal, while New Brunswick's Anchorage Provincial Park on Grand Manan Island is a recommended base where comforts include a playground and communal kitchen.
But to escape the crowds, Brash suggests an off-the-beaten-path gem. "Meat Cove, Nova Scotia, can be very windy, the facilities aren't great and you are completely exposed to the elements – but you feel like you're on the edge of the world and the views are spectacular."
Outdoor activity blogger Evan Holt (trailswag.ca) has some inviting recommendations in his region. "Ontario's Bon Echo Provincial Park and Kawartha Highlands Signature Site are both great," he says, noting that the latter's canoe-in sites aren't too difficult but give "the feel of something more remote."
Over in Quebec, he's also a fan of the activity-packed campgrounds in Forillon National Park and Pointe-Taillon National Park.
But his personal favourite? "I'm biased but I grew up near Algonquin Park [in Ontario]. There are campsites off the highway here, just a stone's throw from scenic hikes. Or you can step up and try the backpacking trails, followed by true back-country camping."
For Holt – who suggests newbies ask experienced friends to take them to their favourite sites – safety first is vital wherever you plant your poles. "Let family know where you're going and take a map. The idea is to look back on your past camping experiences fondly – and look forward to the next one!"
OUR READERS WRITE
- Many National Parks in Canada now offer the oTENTik option – a cross between a cabin and a tent. Bring great food and a regular-sized pillow for comfort. @hikebiketravel
- Split Rock Rapids – backcountry Algonquin [in Ontario] – is my favourite site on a three-day trip. It has a sweet waterfall that can be used as a water slide @margbryant
- Hole in the Wall campground in Grand Manan, N.B. Cliff-edge camping while watching whales, seals and porpoises. @gillaard
- Kathleen Lake, a Parks Canada campground 24km south of Haines Junction off the Haines Highway in Yukon. Stare at peaks/glaciers. @ryanvb
- We started – about 25 years ago – going to Camp Nominingue [in Quebec’s Northern Laurentians] to their family camp. It’s a lovely introduction to camping, where parents can focus fully on their kids – meals are prepared and activities are offered. Susan Lightstone
- My faves are: no electricity, no drunk rednecks, no screaming kids. Like the one at Adams Lake, B.C. @djordan89
- Numero uno is Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park in Parksville, B.C. Gorgeous nature, huge sandy beach, well-appointed sites. It’s idyllic. @travelling_mom
- Several, but I’m not going to tell the media about them ;-) @BarbAdamski
- Algonquin Park of course, being from Ontario. Lots of options for campgrounds, backcountry hiking and canoeing sites. Also, wildlife and trails of varying difficulty. Just a few hours’ drive from Toronto @NomadicBruce
- Two Jack Lakeside in Banff is special enough that many locals even camp there. Private treed sites, lakeside, close enough but far enough away from downtown Banff. Plus Liard Hot Springs – or anything with hot springs. Also, Ellison Provincial Park near Vernon [B.C.] is pet friendly with its own dog beach. Now I want to go camping! @gypsyguides
- Rathtrevor Park in Parksville on Vancouver Island. And Presqu’ile Park in Brighton, Ontario – camping along the beach, with forest, bluffs, a lighthouse, birds galore, boardwalk marsh and family programs. @devourNconquer
- There are so many: Jasper and Banff are stunning. I love being able to hike along the glacier @themguy
- I’ve been told that Rushing River Provincial Park in Kenora, Ontario is outstanding. Also Clear Lake/Wasagaming in Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba. And finally, on Vancouver Isle, Long Beach, Rathtrevor, French Beach and Englishman River Falls among others. @Nat_Carnegie
- Cedar Dunes Provincial Park, PEI has an amazing beach. There’s a wharf within walking distance to buy PEI lobster fresh off the boat or dig Bar Clams for a cook out, @northcapedrive
- Backcountry at Cheakamus Lake in Garibaldi Park, B.C. Easy, hour-long walk in (can do with kids). Beautiful, serene mountain lake and we were the only ones there overnight @Tours_By_Locals
- We love all our New Brunswick campgrounds. For complete first timers, try the equipped campsites at Kouchibouguac National Park. @SeeNewBrunswick
- Waterton Lakes central campground. Many great nights. But bring things to combat the wind – lots of metal tent stakes? Vodka? @HolidayBakerMan
- Easy: Green Point Campground in Pacific Rim National Park. Hearing the waves crash while you sleep, being a few minutes’ walk from the beach and the interpretive program. @WanderlustMegan
- If you’re looking for lakefront views, Haynes Point Provincial Park in Osoyoos [B.C.] is the perfect spot. But there are few spots. @jungangela
- Herald Provincial Park on Shuswap Lake near Salmon Arm, B.C. is a beauty! Great beach and walking trails. @serena4pr
- Ruckle Park on Salt Spring Island [B.C.]. Beachfront sites. Island pace. @risingaction
- My top three: Killarney, Grundy and Algonquin provincial parks [all Ontario]. I have to say the best campgrounds are provincial or national parks. It’s the only way to camp. Private campgrounds fail to impress me or entice me to return. @Feeleygirl
- Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park in B.C. is awesome. Fantastic hikes nearby and the surrounding mountains are beautiful. You feel like you’re in the wild. Fun lake for boating. Another great area is just outside Banff townsite. Two Jacks Lakeside. @travelcanucks
- Montague Harbour Provincial Marine Park on Galiano Island [B.C.]. It’s a gorgeous park, just one hour by BC Ferries from Vancouver or Victoria. Camping at Dionisio Park (water access only) is also magical. @GalianoInnSpa
- Prior Park on Pender Island, Ruckle Park on Salt Spring Island and Montague Marine Park on Galiano Island – beautiful Gulf Island camping. @Gulfislandsapp
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