Following on the success of our 50 Free Campsites in British Columbia article – which is inching towards 300,000 views – we thought we’d start focusing on thrifty campsites at the regional level. As it turns out, cost-free campgrounds are trending toward unicorn status. (We mean to say they’re increasingly elusive.) One place rife with free camping is northern Vancouver Island. They tend to be concentrated around the area north of Campbell River, and located on or near rec-friendly lakes. We’ve listed a handful of such sites, plus a few further north, and one honorable mention that we couldn’t resist including. Happy camping!
1. Apple Point
Site overview: There are five sites available at this location, and there’s no fee.
Amenities: Apple Point offers a boat launch, tables and toilets.
Site address: From Campbell River, you’ll want to head north on Highway 19 and then take a left on Menzies Mainline – a gravel road about 14.5 kilometres out of town. Drive this gravel road for about 16.8 kilometres to the first entrance into the campsite. Be aware of logging traffic on this road.
Additional information: This campsite is open, grassy and overlooks Brewster Lake. This is located along the Sayward Forest Canoe Route.
2. Beaver Lake Trails
Site overview: There are six campsites at this location, with road access, and there’s no fee.
Amenities: You’ll find tables and toilets here.
Site address: Head north on highway 19, past the Port McNeill junction, and make a left onto the highway that leads to Port Alice. A short distance down this road, look for signs on the left into the Beaver Lake Trail head parking lot.
Additional information: Beaver Lakes Trails is a great location for boating, fishing, hiking and swimming. The campsite is accessible by vehicle.
3. Brewster Camp
Site overview: There are four campsites available, and no fees.
Amenities: You’ll find toilets and tables here.
Site address: From Campbell River, you’ll drive north on Highway 19 for about 14.5 kilometres, and then turn left on Menzies Mainline. Follow this for about 17 kilometres to the Gray Lake Forestry Service Road junction. Take the FSR for about 200 metres and the site will be on the right.
Additional information: This location offers an open, grassy area that overlooks the channel between Brewster and Gray Lakes.
4. Camp 5
Site overview: There are five campsites here, and no fees for campers.
Amenities: This campsite has a boat launch, tables and toilets. You can access the site with your vehicle and fishing is an option.
Site address: Starting in Campbell River, drive north along Highway 19 and turn left onto Menzies Mainline. Take that road for about 16.8 kileomtres, veer right at the Apple Point site, head across the bridge and turn right into the Camp 5 site.
Additional information: You’ll find this to be a shady spot amongst the alder trees, along the Sayward Forest Canoe Route.
5. Little Bear Bay
Site overview: There are 10 campsites available here, and no fees.
Amenities: This campsite has a boat launch, tables and toilets.
Site address: Go north on Highway 19 from Campbell River. You’ll travel about 41 kilometres before you have to make a right-hand turn onto Rock Bay Road. Not far along this road, you’ll come to a split and you’ll want to veer left towards Little Bear Bay. The site will be less than a kilometre down this way.
Additional information: This site is open and adjacent to the Johnstone Strait, with a view of the ocean, Thurlow Islands and so much more. Bring your binoculars to watch for whales. This is vehicle-accessible camping with an opportunity to fish.
6. Loon Bay
Site overview: There are eight campsites available at this location, and no fee to use.
Amenities: This area includes a boat launch, tables and toilets.
Site address: The original directions to this site include crossing John Hart Dam, outside Campbell River. Unfortunately, this access will be closed until 2018. Use the alternate route via Gordon Road, off Highway 19, north of Campbell River. You’ll then want to turn left onto Brewster Lake Road and follow it about 10.8 kilometres to a four-way junction. Take the Campbell Lake Forest Service Road for about 10.5 kilometres and you’ll see the turnoff for Loon Bay. This campsite is about 40 minutes from Campbell River.
Additional information: This is a small campsite, but the sunny, sandy beach makes it a great place to stay. Fry Lake is nearby.
7. Marble River
Site overview: There are 32 campsites at this location, and no fee to use.
Amenities: The Marble River campsite offers a boat launch, tables and toilets.
Site address: Take Highway 19 north from Port McNeill and take the Port Alice turnoff, Highway 30. Cross the Marble River bridge and make a right into the campsite.
Additional information: This campsite is situated just off the highway and is well maintained. Some sites are located along the river, while others are set back in the trees.
8. Stella Beach
Site overview: There are 12 campsites at this location, and no fees to use.
Amenities: Stella Beach comes equipped with a boat launch, tables and toilets.
Site address: Drive north on Highway 19 from Campbell River. About 33 kilometres from town, just after Roberts Lake, make a right onto the Elk Bay Road. You’ll drive for about 11.3 kilometres and come to a junction – take the Stella Lake Road, to the left. Follow this road for another 3.2 kilometres and you’ll come to the Stella Beach Recreation Site.
Additional information: This area has a wonderful, sandy beach, perfect for swimming and beach activities. This is also a popular fishing location, with the best results in the spring and fall.
9. Cape Scott Provincial Park
Cape Scott Trail
Site overview: There are 11 camping pads at Eric Lake, and wilderness camping is permitted. Backcountry camping is $10 per adult, per night, and $5 per child, per night.
Amenities: There is a boat launch for canoes, kayaks and small car-topppers. There are also 10 pit toilets available in the park.
Site address: Cape Scott is a hike-in park on the northwestern tip of the island. The parking lot is located about 64 kilometres west of Port Hardy.
Additional information: There are no dogs allowed in Cape Scott Provincial Park, due to the increase in wolf activity. This park offers excellent fishing, hiking, swimming and wildlife viewing opportunities and you are encouraged to camp right on the beach wherever possible.
Site overview: Walk-in/wilderness camping is available all year, but there are no facilities available. Camping fees are $5 per person, per night.
Amenities: There are only two pit toilets at the main beach.
Site address: Raft Cove Provincial Park is located on the northwest coast of the island, 65 kilometres southwest of Port Hardy. Access to the park is by a gravel logging road out of Holberg. Follow the signs for Cape Scott Provincial Park and turn left on Ronning Main. Continue along Ronning Main to the parking area, at approximately kilometre 25. The access trail is located on the far west corner of the parking area.
Additional information: Hiking, scuba diving, swimming, wildlife viewing and surfing are just some of the amazing opportunities at this park. The park is isolated and out-of-the-way, making it a great place for an adventure.
At 250,000 hectares, Strathcona Provincial Park isn’t just remarkable for its size; it’s also British Columbia’s oldest provincial park. Technically it falls too central on Vancouver Island to be considered ‘north island’, but it’s a wilderness camping mecca.
Site overview: There are backcountry camping sites available at Bedwell Lake Trail, Elk River Trail, Della Falls Trail and the Forbidden Plateau core area. Fees are $10 per adult, per night, and $5 per child, per night.
Amenities: There is a boat launch in the park, drinking water, picnic areas, pit toilets and a playground at Butte Lake campground.
Site address: The main access route to Forbidden Plateau from Courtenay and Campbell River is via the Paradise Meadows Trailhead at Mount Washington. From Highway 19, follow signs to Mount Washington Ski Resort via exit 130 (the Strathcona Parkway) for 20 kilometres. Turn left onto the Nordic Lodge road for 1.5 kilometres to the Paradise Meadows parking lot.
Additional information: Strathcona Provincial Park is the oldest provincial park in BC. The rugged, mountain wilderness draws campers, climbers, hikers, cyclists and canoe/kayakers. Butte Lake is also well known for its great fishing.