Winter camping on Vancouver Island offers a different sort of adventure than the summer months. Plus, a perk of the off-season is quieter campgrounds, trails to yourself, and a reason to gather around the campfire each night. It’s not too cold, but you have to keep warm!
Different spots on the island are known for different activities. Here’s a few that we like.
Tofino is the first spot on our list’and for good reason. If you’re looking to camp beachside this winter, Tofino is the place to be. Surfing and hiking are still options even as the mercury drops if visitors can catch a break in the rain. North and South Chesterman beaches in Tofino are world renowned surf spots. While you will need a wet suit, the temperature rarely stays below 10 degrees Celsius.
Hiking through Pacific Rim National Park in winter brings bigger challenges than summertime strolls. The sense of adventure visitors report feeling while in Tofino adds to the West Coast experience in wintertime.
The thrill seekers looking to gain a new perspective on the world, quite literally can! See the coastline from above on a float plane tour. Tours leave from the Tofino airport: one company to look for is Atleo Air. Visitors choose from longer day trips or quick sprints into the sky.
Storm watching is a popular pastime in this Pacific Coastal town. Winter brings rain rather than snow; each storm is entirely different than the last. November through February are the best storm watching seasons here.
Crystal Cove Beach Resort offers fully-serviced RV sites, hot showers, and WiFi year-round on Mackenzie Beach. They also have parked RVs available for rent for those who don’t own a big rig. Winter might be the rainy season for Tofino, but the break from reality (and lack of cell service) is worth the possibility of getting a little wet.
On the inland facing side of Vancouver Island, Nanaimo is a popular winter camping destination. It’s still warm enough to hike around the area’especially in the Living Forest. When you aren’t hiking, enjoy the chance to relax away from the hustle and bustle, but still close enough that you will have regular cell phone service to keep in touch with friends and family at home.
On the extra rainy days, take cover inside at the Nanaimo Museum. The Nanaimo Museum walks visitors through the city’s history, including both First Nations and Nanaimo bars. Yes, the Canadian favourite originated here!
The museum is conveniently located on the main street of the city, so a trip into town means a whole day of exploring. There’s a historical district called Old City Quarter, and plenty of local dining to choose from. A little known fact about Nanaimo is that there are plenty of opportunities to shop in town. That means you can satisfy both the wild explorer and city dwellers in your group.
Living Forest Oceanside Campground & RV Park is open year-round just ten minutes from Nanaimo’s downtown. Sites range from unserviced to 50 amps. Many sites feature ocean views.
The city hub of Victoria on Vancouver Island is a must-visit any time of year. Local boutiques and seaside views coexist within the downtown. An annual must-see is the holiday lights on the Parliament buildings, and the horse-drawn carriages in the streets.
One of the great features about Vancouver Island is how city life thrives so close to nature. Winter campers can spend their days and nights exploring the forests and beaches, but can also take refuge in the city. Fan Tan Alley is a fan-favourite. It’s located in Victoria’s Chinatown core. Dallas Road and Ogden Point is a scenic walk close to the city centre.
Whale and sea lion watching are popular activities. These marine mammals can be seen from the city’s shoreline. Race Rocks Ecological Reserve is a home to a huge colony of sea lions, and is a regular stop for most wildlife viewing trips into the Pacific.
Feeling extra brave’ Victoria’s mild winter makes paddling a year-round activity. Kayaks and stand-up paddleboards can be rented from the Inner Harbour. Marine life is often spotted while paddling along the coast. Don’t forget to don a few extra layers, of course!
Fort Victoria campground is just a quick drive from Victoria’s downtown, and open year-round so you can enjoy the best of both worlds: wildhood and city life. For those who like to park the car while camping, a bus transports people to and from downtown.
The North end of the island promises quiet, beachside escapes any time of the year. The sunsets, especially, are a sight to be seen at this remote escape location. Port McNeill is known as the gateway to the cluster of islands between Vancouver Island and the main land, with plenty of beaches and rivers to explore.
The Port McNeill Heritage Museum is always an option for the historians in your group. Or the historical Alert Bay. Alert Bay is located just a quick trek away on Cormorant Island. Alert Bay is home to the world’s tallest totem pole and the U’mista Cultural Centre. This small historic town offers a blast into the past of the First Nations tribes in the area. Don’t forget your camera to take advantage of the great photo opportunities.
From December through April, this part of the Island sees more snow than its southern neighbours. Port McNeill is where winter visitors will find Mount Cain Alpine Park, and plenty good days of fresh powder. After a long day of skiing, campers can relax around the fire back at the RV park.
Alder Bay Resort is located at Port McNeill. They offer both campsites and RV Rentals year-round. Ferries to the mainland from Port McNeill are scheduled regularly.
Somewhere north of Nanaimo, but south of Port McNeill, campers find a place to rest in Black Creek, British Columbia. The eastern shore of the island offers beautiful views of the mainland. So close, yet oh-so-far! Saratoga Beach is a popular destination for campers coming to the area. Even though swimming in the winter isn’t advised, a walk along the beach in the afternoon sun should still be up for discussion.
The best part about the off-season in Black Creek is the huge amount of wildlife that comes out to play in the snow. The winter wonderland is a photographer’s paradise. Eagles, deer, and coyotes are indigenous to the area, and relatively easy to spot. Winter campers should walk the length of the beaches, soaking in the quiet escape that the off season can provide.
If you’re looking for a more winter-exclusive activity, check out the nearby Mount Washington for skiing. It’s only about 40 minutes driving inland from the coast.
Winter campers heading to Black Creek can stay at Pacific Playgrounds International. This large campground has 200 fully serviced sites, as well as cottage and
RV rentals for all of your friends.
What excursions do you have planned for this winter’ Let us know where you go when the temperature drops!
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