Planning a spur-of-the-moment family stay at a B.C. Parks campground on Vancouver Island has become increasingly difficult thanks to a record-breaking number of reservations.

Planning a spur-of-the-moment family stay at a B.C. Parks campground on Vancouver Island has become increasingly difficult thanks to a record-breaking number of reservations.

Record demand makes it hard to find a provincial campsite on Vancouver Island

Long weekend reservations sold out, stays in most popular B.C. Parks campgrounds not easy to book until mid-August

Looking for camping getaway in one Vancouver Island’s plethora of B.C. parks this Canada Day?

You’d have better luck scoring four tickets to the Tragically Hip farewell tour at face value.

Not only is every reservable provincial campsite on the entire Island booked for the July 1 weekend, by the time you read this that will likely be the case for the August B.C. Day long weekend as well.

In fact, if you want to reserve a site at any of the Island’s four most popular provincial campgrounds any time between now and mid-August, you are going to have to aim for mid-week and cross your fingers.

“Yes, it appears to be another record year for Discover Camping reservations,” B.C. Parks spokesperson David Karn said in an email.

Rathtrevor Beach in Parksville — the Island’s most popular campground — is at 98 per cent capacity for the entire summer, while Gordon Bay on Cowichan Lake features only scattered availability until late August.

Your chances are probably a little better at Langford’s Goldstream or Miracle Beach in Black Creek, as long as you are OK with a mid-week booking.

The demand has created a phenomenon usually reserved for hockey teams and rock stars: ticket scalpers.

Karn says the practice is rare — a Black Press online search found no current evidence of it — and contrary to a provincial policy prohibiting reservation transfers.

“In the last five years, less than a dozen incidents of people trying to resell their reservations via social media has come to B.C. Parks’ attention,” he said. “We have not received any verified reports to date that people are trying to resell their reservations at the side of the road.”

More common is the beat-the-pack practice of reservation overbooking, which has left many campers stunned to discover a campground already full on the first morning reservations become available.

It works like this: reservations can be made up to 90 days in advance of the arrival date. In order to get a jump on Canada Day, 90 days before June 24 queue-jumpers make a two-week reservation starting June 24. They then cancel the first week, which they never intended to use in the first place and are left with the coveted long weekend dates.

Karn said a recent analysis showed less than one per cent of reservations had been reduced by seven days. Determining why people cancel is difficult and there are no easy answers.

“The solutions we’ve heard to stop this practice (e.g. increasing the cancellation fees and shortening the allowable length of stay) unfortunately cause other issues in the system and are very restrictive for other customers,” he said. “The challenge B.C. Parks faces is to address the people who might be taking advantage of these policies without over-penalizing the people who legitimately wish to manage their reservations in case their plans change.”

The high local numbers mirror a trend that has seen 115,000 reservations made so far this year across the province, a 10 per cent increase over last year. The majority — 73 per cent — come from  B.C. residents, while 6.6 per cent are from overseas and 3.6 per cent from the U.S.

The Island’s busiest campgrounds consist of almost exclusively reservable sites, but if you are willing to take your chances on a first-come-first-serve site, be aware that even those parks with a significant number of non-reservable campsites — Strathcona, Elk Falls and Englishman River — have issued warnings that your chances of getting one on either the Canada Day and B.C. Day long weekends are very low.

Reservations remain your best option. Karn suggested making plans well in advance, while targeting more remote campsites during low-demand windows.

“Planning to arrive on a Sunday evening is much less in demand than a Friday night arrival,” he said. “Or if you are willing to drive just a bit further up north and away from large urban environments, there are other opportunities.”

B.C. Parks maintains 19 developed, vehicle-accessible campgrounds on Vancouver Island with about 1,600 campsites, approximately 300 of them first-come, first-serve.

To the north, Strathcona Park offers two campgrounds: Buttle Lake and at Ralph River, while the Miracle Beach, Loveland Bay, Morton Lake, Schoen Lake and Elk Falls parks each have one.

Meanwhile, in the south Island, campsites include Goldstream, French Beach, Juan De Fuca and Bamberton, while central Island options are Cowichan River, Gordon Bay, Englishman River, Little Qualicum, Sproat Lake, Newcastle Island, Stamp River and Rathtrevor.

According to Karn, there are no immediate plans to create new campgrounds, improve amenities at less-developed campgrounds, or expand the number of sites.

“Even if B.C. Parks is able to identify and develop new camping opportunities, it is very likely that long-weekends at premium campsites will still have more demand for camping opportunities than B.C. Parks can supply,” he said.

Karn does not expect the demand to drop any time soon.

“B.C. Parks’ recreational opportunities offer excellent value, safety, privacy, facilities and experiences: from old growth forests, to oceans, fresh water lakes and viewscapes of snow-capped peaks. It’s difficult to find similar experiences anywhere else in the world.”

Follow me on Twitter @JohnMcKinleyBP

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A second-floor balcony continues to smoulder after a fire extinguisher was used to get a small balcony fire under control at the Washington Inn Apartments. Brian Hayward, who lives on the third floor, was alerted to the fire by the smell of smoke wafting into his apartment. Photo by Brian Hayward.
Courtenay firefighters respond to balcony fire at Washington Inn Apartments

Firefighters were called out to the Washington Inn Apartments Sunday, April 17,… Continue reading

RCMP forensics investigators scour the site north of Highland School in Comox, where multiple people were stabbed during a party Saturday night, April 16. Photo by Terry Farrell
UPDATED: Multiple stabbings at Comox bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault near Highland Secondary

Cumberland is surrounded by trees — and logging. Its council is supporting a call to stop old-growth logging in vulnerable areas of the province such as Fairy Creek. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Cumberland backs request to save B.C.’s old-growth forests

The Comox Youth Climate Council is asking local governments to take stand

Danita Bilozaze and her daughter Dani in Comox. Photo by Karen McKinnon
Valley woman makes historic name change for truth and reconciliation

First in Canada to be issued new passport under the TRC Calls to Action

For Leela Harrop, the recent death of her brother Raju Tiwari pushed her to sign up for the vaccine. Photo supplied
Comox woman on fence books vaccine due to brother’s death

Leela Harrop says she did have issues with signing up online this past week

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The following is a list of restaurants offering take-out and patio dining. ADOBE STOCK IMAGE
List of Comox Valley restaurants offering take-out, patio dining options

Restaurants in the Comox Valley continue to adapt to government-imposed restrictions in… Continue reading

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to open up COVID vaccine registration to all B.C. residents 18+ in April

Registration does not equate to being able to book an appointment

Pat Kauwell, a semi-retired construction manager, lives in his fifth-wheel trailer on Maxey Road because that’s what he can afford on his pension, but a Regional District of Nanaimo bylaw prohibits using RVs as permanent dwellings, leaving Kauwell and others like him with few affordable housing options. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Rules against RV living hard on Island residents caught in housing crunch

Regional District of Nanaimo bylaw forcing pensioner to move RV he calls home off private farm land

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. finance minister to table historic pandemic-challenged deficit budget

Budget aims to take care of people during pandemic while preparing for post-COVID-19 recovery, Robinson said

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

Most Read