Finding Free Campsites, Swimming, Boating, Cabins and other outdoor activities in BC

British Columbia has dozens of provincial parks, but many of them are turning into rather expensive places to recreate. 20$ for a night of camping far exceeds what I spend in rent per day, and here I have internet and a dishwasher. To me, the only acceptable price for a night of camping is 0$.

I’ve found a great rule of thumb for finding places where freedom is still intact.

The root of the “camping price inflation” problem can be seen on many of the BC parks listings on the BC provincial parks website.

Here I’ve included a random BC park’s page. Can you spot what’s jacking up the entry prices?


Who the hell is Kaloya Contracting Ltd.? Sounds suspiciously like a private, for-profit corporation charging for access to public land.


The fact is, Kaloya Contracting is not the only company taking over management of public lands, there are at least a dozen I’ve seen so far.

Management means Money

Almost without exception, when you see “This park proudly operated by,” you will be paying cash out the nose for most available amenities. This particular park is one of the “light offenders” charging an exorbitant 18$/night for camping but at least they don’t seem to charge for entry if you just want to paddle or hike on the lake.

Now fortunately for canadians who love a bit more freedom from being nickle and dimed into greater and greater debt, there are still several parks without the scourge of one of the private/public “partnerships.”

I discover these free options by looking at a map for provincial parks, then cross referencing with the BC parks listing.

Exploring for Free Provincial Parks

Here’s a section of the Comox Valley I pulled up in google maps, with 2 provincial parks on the beach.


This is my favorite example to use, because you’ve got 2 provincial parks practically next door to each other, but one is “managed” by a private company and one is not.


First look at Kitty Coleman, you will find there is no mention of fees whatsoever for camping, or anything else for that matter. That even includes group camping, which is usually charged for even at “province run” provincial parks.

Kitty Coleman Beach Park Listing (no fees at all as of May 2015)

Then there’s the exorbitant fees for absolutely everything next door, even a 50$ charge for group picnicking.

Miracle Beach Provincial Park Listing (group camping, 100$+ per night, group picknicking 50$, camping 33$/night.)

And this is why, at least for me, the hunt for a good park to visit begins with making sure the park is not managed by some for-profit entity. I don’t know about you, but when I leave the city, it’s to get away from the commercialization of absolutely everything, rather than exchange one collector of rent for another.

The Downside of Free?

This post wouldn’t be complete without a fair assessment of what you don’t get at a a free park.

First of all, the most popular parks are the ones that get “managed” because the managing company thinks they will attract enough “customers” so they can operate them profitably. So it’s the lesser-known, further out, or small parks that don’t get swallowed by business interests and remain gratis.

Secondly, these managing companies want to tailor to a middle-class crowd with expensive middle-class tastes. Those tastes include flush toilets, shower facilities, electricity, RV hookups, maybe even on-duty lifeguards. All those services cost money so don’t be surprised when they siphon that money from you.

2 thoughts on “Finding Free Campsites, Swimming, Boating, Cabins and other outdoor activities in BC

  1. Fact is BC Parks have been sub contracted out since the 1990s , nothing new here. BC Parks went to this model as they found it less expensive to subcontract rather than pay government employees high salaries year round, fair seasonal wages to students, and semi retired folks saves the tax payer money… the number of paid employees operating these parks has been reduced substantially since they were first opened, while the services provided have increased. Facts are facts, not assumptions as you have written.

    • Huh – I find that quite interesting. I’m sure it’s less expensive for them and saves the taxpayers money. You’re right on all counts.

      But! Allow me to strip out my own crappy politics and naive assumptions out of my post for a second. I’ve been using this method and it actually works for finding free campsites! Most recently we went to Main Lake on Quadra Island (check the sidebar – no private management company) I think this only works because highlights provincial parks that are so remote and underused that they don’t need employees at all, private or public.

      Thanks for your comment!


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