Why it’s Hard to Find a Campsite

campground full

How often do you have trouble booking a campsite?   Ever wonder why?  Our rough research shows that there are indeed far more campers than there used to be, and the number of camp sites hasn’t grown to meet the demand.

Some interesting numbers

1) There are probably 3 times more campers than when I was a child

To start with, there are twice as many British Columbians now than back then.

RV table

2011 RVDA Study

Further, camping is relatively more popular than it used to be. In 2011 over 18% of British Columbian households owned an RV.  As recently as 2005, the Canadian average was just 12% of vehicle-owning households.Various reports site the reasons for the growth in camping, including:

  • RVs are now easier to drive and more comfortable,
  • camping remains an affordable vacation option, and
  • today’s Mobile communication technology allows people to get away for longer periods of time even in ‘remote’ locations.

2) Thanks to Canada’s cold climate, there are only so many weekends to choose from

We work weekdays and our kids are still in school, so we need to limit many of our camping trips to the 10 weekends around July and August.  Lets conservatively assume half of British Columbia’s 325,000 RVs also want to camp in BC during a summer weekend, meaning we compete for a nice campsite with 160,000 others.  If each wanted even just 1 of our 10 summer weekends, then that is 16,000 campers per weekend.

Based on license plates, I’d guess 20% of BC campers are from Alberta or beyond.   Let’s add another 3,000 campers to total around 19,000 campers seeking a BC site.

3) There appears to be around 23,000 vehicle-accessible camp sites to book in BC

BC Parks reports almost 5,200 ‘front country’ campsites (including their 77 group campsites.)  Hello BC allows bookings at 258 private campgrounds.  Lets guess an average of 70 sites each to sub-total 18,000 private campsites. If true, that totals 23,000 campsites in BC.

But, we don’t want some of those campsites.

  • Some are too far away for a weekend trip: its much easier to book the sites far up north or someplace that requires an expensive ferry trip.
  • Some don’t provide the tranquil camping feel we desire.

I’ll guess that the majority of those 19,000 campers are mostly competing for 75% of BC’s 23,000 campsites …say 17,000 of them.

supply demandI’m not sure just how far off my various assumptions are, but these rough numbers illustrate the strong demand for BC’s accessible campsites.   This is why you need to book a provincial campsite as soon as you can (you’re allowed to book 90 days ahead), and why even then you need luck to be the among the people who succeed.  Popular private campgrounds generally book a year ahead of time to the parties who had the site booked that weekend the previous year.

All you free-enterprisers out there are probably smelling the same opportunity: buy a section in “Beautiful British Columbia” and open a campground.  Presumably you will then have a long line of desperate campers willing to pay to stay at your place.  Hold on a minute though.  Read this interesting Jan 29, 2015 article from the Oliver Chronicle  explaining why converting camping land into housing is a better business opportunity.  Following is an abridged version:

Owners say RV park no longer economically viable

A rezoning application is being proposed for Apple Beach RV Park on Tucelnuit Lake. The owners want to build a 10-lot residential subdivision.

The owners of Apple Beach RV Park in Oliver are seeking to rezone the property because the business has become “economically unviable.”

James and Catherine Hodge approached Town council with a plan to rezone the property for single-family homes (RS1). The property is currently zoned CT1 (tourist commercial).

James cited increased competition and the age of the campground as reasons for it no longer being viable.

Doing nothing and leaving the campground vacant is not the best use of the property, he pointed out.

The Hodges’ application includes 10 large lots for single-family homes, with plenty of parking.

James said he would be happy developing something similar to Gallagher Lake Village Park or Desert Canyon Resort. He consulted with realtors who advised him that there is little appetite for townhouses in a location so far removed from town.

Don’t expect booking a campsite to become easier

The province expects BC’s population to grow by more than 1 million over the next 20 years.bc_population_chart

Apple Beach’s situation is probably indicative of private campgrounds in other communities.  We’ve already blogged about the demise of “Frank’s” popular  private campground at Scotch Creek,  and “Moondance Bay” at Bridge Lake.  If there are only 10 high demand weekends per summer, then how can campgrounds make enough money during the other 3/4rs of the year?

National, provincial and local politicians talk about the economic importance of sustainable industry and eco-tourism.  However, there aren’t any changes coming along that will make any significant improvements to the campground industry .

  • Two recent assessments for new National Parks at Bowen Island and the Similkameen Valley have not gone through.
  • BC Parks added only 52 new campsites in 2013/2014 and I didn’t spot any budget for new sites in 2015.
  • At least in Oliver, campgrounds are already specially zoned  presumably for lower municipal tax rates?

Looking around the globe, you’ll understand why Europeans love to come to BC to camp.  In the century ahead, will British Columbians also need to travel afar for the same types of get-aways?

camp in vancouver

The future of camping in BC?


13 thoughts on “Why it’s Hard to Find a Campsite

  1. Explains why we stuggle finding available camp sites, we are typically looking for them last minute (the same week we want to go). Your estimates are for BC but I assume it would be simular for Alberta.


    • You’re very likely right about Alberta. While doing the research, I was surprised to learn:

      a) Alberta’s population has grown, and will continue to grow, even faster than British Columbia’s; Stats Can projects that by 2040, Alberta will have more people than BC.
      b) an astounding 31% of Alberta households have an RV!

      I didn’t look at how many campgrounds there were/are/will_be in Alberta to accommodate all those campers though. Like you, I suspect demand is outpacing Alberta’s supply, especially for the popular Rockies and Dinosaur area campgrounds.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The only place I ever remember having serious trouble finding a campsite (for tent camping, no less) was in B.C. This explains it (though I won’t underestimate how beautiful the province is as contributing to the busy – it’s wonderful to camp somewhere so pretty!).


  3. We camped before, but not as much as when we got our old Winnie. Now we will be camping pretty darn often, and we have had a hard time finding a site. What we want to do eventually is to make our camper able to work via solar power and to be able to be “off the grid.” Then it won’t be quite as much of an issue. It is pretty pricey to do I think.


      • It have a 1974 Minnie Winnie, so it wouldn’t take many panels on there, but it is still pricey and tricky. My husband will be the one doing the work, and we will get there eventually. Right now we are still working on restoration. 🙂


  4. Pingback: U – Camping in the USA | Camp That Site

  5. Pingback: May Long Weekend – The kick off to camping season! | Camp That Site

  6. In the last 7 years we have only made ONE campground reservation and that was this year in Utah and the only reason we did that was because we were meeting up with Kevin’s uncle and aunt who were going to be there and there were only 35 sites. We are fully set up with solar and are totally self sufficient so we boondock the majority of the time. We have found some amazing places, where we aren’t cramped into tight quarters and have also had fantastic vistas. We love this type of camping/RVing.


    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: 6 Helpful Changes to Discover Camping You Need to Know! | Camp That Site

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s