Wake up among giants: go wild camping in British Columbia’s mountains

If you really want to unplug, off-grid camping in British Columbia’s wildest mountain landscapes offers the chance to be at one with nature and enjoy magical encounters with Canada’s most iconic wildlife.

Published 7 Sept 2021, 16:12 BST, Updated 14 Sept 2021, 17:30 BST
Muskwa-Kechika is one of the largest wilderness areas in North America, with forests, mountains, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, hot ...

Muskwa-Kechika is one of the largest wilderness areas in North America, with forests, mountains, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, hot springs and wetlands.

Photograph by Destination BC/Taylor Burk

This is a place on a truly epic scale. Camp or glamp in these remote wilds on Canada's west coast and you’ll find space to breathe, think and press the reset button. In the wake of the pandemic, British Columbia feels like freedom itself: whether you’re paddling into a pink dawn, watching a bear pouncing on a sockeye salmon or clambering up to a ridgetop log hut as the dying sun sets the sky ablaze. And what better way to complete the experience than through wild camping? The night sky and all that lives beneath it will reveal itself, stirring the senses with the sounds of wildlife, the rain falling through the tree canopy and a gentle breeze rustling through giant cedar trees. It’s time to tune into the present and embrace the healing powers of British Columbia's great outdoors.

The creation of the Sunshine Coast Trail began in 1992 and today the hut-to-hut route is Canada's longest.

Photograph by Destination BC/Andrew Strain

WAKE UP IN THE WILDERNESS

1. Hike hut-to-hut on the Sunshine Coast Trail
As the golden morning light trickles through the old-growth fir and cedar canopy, sling on your backpack and embrace the new day on the trail. Rambling from sea level to summit, rainforest to river, along creek and fjord, this challenging 112-mile hike from Sarah Point in Desolation Sound to Saltery Bay is the backcountry dream. You can camp at designated spots (and be sure to hang your food in a bag) or stay in a shelter on Canada’s longest hut-to-hut hiking trail. Wildlife? You bet. Bears, wolves, coyotes, elk, racoons, eagles, otters, seals and whales are regularly sighted.

2. Camping at Tatlayoko Lake, Chilcotin Country
A raw wilderness of rock and ice unfolds above wind-whipped Tatlayoko Lake in Chilcotin Country, where your gaze will be drawn magnetically to 10,443ft Razorback Mountain, the highest peak of the Niut Range. Climbing it is for experts only, but at lake level, you can back-to-nature camp on the lake's northern shores and canoe, kayak, fish, windsurf, hike or bike in view of those exquisite blue waters. Bring binoculars for sightings of the deer, moose, bighorn sheep and grizzlies that thrive in the lake’s remote surrounds.

Chilko River is a prime spot for grizzly bear sightings, particularly in late summer and early autumn when millions of salmon return to spawn at the river’s mouth.

Photograph by Destination BC/Yuri Choufour

3. Grizzly-spotting along the Chilko River
Few experiences thrill like watching a grizzly bear swipe the water with claws outstretched, then feast on salmon. Chilko Lake in Ts'ilʔos Provincial Park is a place that provides just that — on a nature walk, river excursion or sunset boat trip. A stay in a riverside safari tent brings you right in the heart of this incredible wildlife-rich environment, with black bears and grizzlies, moose, cougar, wolverine and bald eagles to spot safely with a guide. And the backdrop is just as riveting, with dark, glaciated 9,000ft peaks rising above a fjord-like expanse of startlingly turquoise water.

4. Go remote in Muskwa-Kechika
Hear that? Total silence. If you want to give everyday life the slip, there’s no place like the wild, wild Muskwa-Kechika in the Northern Rockies. A floatplane over the Alaska Highway and Toad River drops you amid the peaks at remote, rugged Mayfield Lake, where handcrafted tipis are the base for treks on foot and horseback with conservationist, author and photographer Wayne Sawchuk. You can go for weeks and barely see a soul, bar the odd bear, moose or caribou. Back at camp, yoga, meditation, canoeing and campfires help you click into nature’s mellow groove.

Bowron Lake is a wonderland for keen kayakers and wild camping enthusiasts alike. This is wild, untamed backcountry, where you'll likely encounter more wildlife than people. 

 

Photograph by Destination BC/Adam Wells

5. Canoeing the Bowron Lake Circuit
Spring in Bowron Lake Provincial Park is special: the waters gently start to warm as the forests wake up from hibernation, and the mountains' snowy peaks slowly start to melt away. As you paddle across the glassy water in quiet exhilaration, something moves on the shore. A black bear? A moose? A caribou? Anything is possible. You’ll see more wildlife than people on the 72-mile Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit, which takes you off the beaten track, even by Canada’s backcountry standards. Experiencing the full circuit can take some six to 10 days to hike, meanwhile the shorter half-circuit, the West Side Trip, takes between two and four. This is a self-sufficient adventure, with days spent at water level and starry nights at wild camps or by cooking shelters, but can be completed as part of a guided tour, too.

6. Hut-to-hut hiking in the Valkyrs
The rarely-explored Valkyr Range in the Columbia Mountains is a nature-gone-wild alpine spectacle. The terrain is vast, and the backcountry trails and summit-bagging opportunities are boundless. With lodges perched high in the mountains, family-run Valkyr Adventures takes wilderness hiking to a new level, with a seven-day hut-to-hut traverse. How remote? Well, the only way to get there is by helicopter. Wildflower meadows, lakes, rivers and old-growth giant cedar forests are all part and parcel of this hike. While there is a self-guided option, a guided and catered hut-to-hut package gives you the option to have freshly prepared meals at the lodges, before soothing muscles in a sauna or hot shower and cosying under a down duvet in a double bed.

The historic hot springs at Radium Retreat include minerals in the water that help the body and mind relax.

Photograph by Radius Retreat

WILDERNESS GLAMPING IN BRITISH COLUMBIA
 

If you’re craving the wilderness but still like to have a few home comforts, British Columbia hits the nature-loving sweet spot with these top glamping picks.

1. Radius Retreat and Radium Hot Springs
Bighorn sheep often block the roads through the springs to this nature-loving, eco-aware retreat, perched high on forested slopes. The Rocky Mountains hog the horizon and wilderness trails weave discreetly between custom-built yurts, which are named after the wildlife on view (osprey and elk, fox and raven). Yoga and forest-bathing or high alpine hikes in Kootenay National Park: you choose the level of action. Or, bathe in thermal waters at the historic Radium Hot Springs, with minerals in the water helping you to relax and rejuvenate. The comforting warmth of the firepit and wood-burning stove will be waiting for you on your return.

2. Boulder Mountain Resort near Revelstoke
Though nature works on a colossal scale here, with bald eagles soaring high above, across a panorama of Glacier National Park's perennially snow-capped peaks, you might find yourself just as pleasantly moved by the smallest of nature's creatures. Walk among the towering hemlocks, giant cedars and spruces in the world's only inland temperate rainforest, watch for the electric-blue flash of the lazuli bunting songbird or the soothing trill of a chickadee. Boulder Mountain Resort's glamping tents deliver deep wilderness with a pinch of comfort; a hot tub and firepit await after a long day taking in the oxygen of the surrounding Columbia River basin.

3. Camp Moose Trail, near Golden
There might be grizzlies, caribou and wolverine in these woods, but you’ll sleep safe and sound in your rustic-chic tent, complete with a queen-sized, log-built bed. At the foot of the granite spires of the Purcell Mountains, hiking trails sit pretty between the snow-encrusted peaks and ice-blue lakes of Glacier, Yoho and Banff national parks. Days spent hiking, trail-running, biking or paddleboarding ease into star-filled nights relaxing in the hot tub or by a crackling campfire.

According to the latest estimates, British Columbia has a population of around 170,000 moose, most of which can be found in the central and northern Interior and BC's boreal forests.

Photograph by Getty Images

Essentials
 

Getting there & around
Vancouver International Airport is the obvious arrival point from the UK, and Air Canada and British Airways fly direct to Vancouver from Heathrow. Prices start from around £467 return. Since British Columbia was made for road trips, it's best to reserve car hires and any required BC Ferries sailings ahead of time, especially in summer.

How to do it
Check whether excursions require day-use and/or overnight permits from Parks Canada or BC Parks, depending on the location you are planning to visit (when booking guided hikes, these are usually booked for the group in advance). When visiting any of the parks, take rubbish with you and leave no trace.

When to go
British Columbia is beautiful year-round. While it rains a lot in the valleys in winter, if you head up into the mountains, this means there will be snow on the peaks. To really make the most of the province's incredible natural bounty however, come in the late spring (sub-alpine) and summer (alpine) when the temperatures rise and more of BC's wilderness is accessible to visitors.

Nature has a lasting effect on us and experts say that the bigger the nature, the better. Take a moment and connect with British Columbia's great wilderness, even before you travel. Call the Wild at HelloBC.com

Call the wild

Discover British Columbia

PAID CONTENT

In conversation with James Cowpar, a member of the Eagle Clan from Haida Gwaii, British Columbia

Giving insight into the rhythms and call of nature, James Cowpar shares his tales about the transformative powers of his home of Haida Gwaii, known to some travellers today as the Galapagos of the North.

Walk into the wild with British Columbia’s first certified forest therapy guide

Whether exploring forests, mountains, lakes or beaches, spending time in the wilds of Canada’s westernmost province has the power to transform both mind and body, says local guide Haida Bolton.
PAID CONTENT

Into the blue: six ways to enjoy British Columbia’s healing waters

Backed by the lake-studded Rocky Mountains and pounded by the Pacific Ocean, Canada’s most ecologically diverse province is home to almost infinite watery wonders, from beachside strolls to kayaking. Here are six to get you started.
Read More

Explore Nat Geo

  • Animals
  • Environment
  • History & Culture
  • Science
  • Travel
  • Photography
  • Space
  • Adventure
  • Video

About us

Subscribe

  • Magazines
  • Newsletter
  • Disney+

Follow us

Copyright © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society. Copyright © 2015-2016 National Geographic Partners, LLC. All rights reserved