Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Getting out: rec sites offer a great alternative to B.C.'s provincial parks

So summer is here, and the first of three long weekends in Canada (not counting the Victoria Day weekend in May) has come and gone. That leaves two long weekends - the August long weekend and the Labor Day weekend - plus many other two-day weekends for those of us who love the outdoors and like to use the weekends to get and enjoy some time "roughing it." 

That term has many different meanings, depending on who you talk with. For some folks, even glamping is considered "roughing it," while for others, kayaking down a river in the Amazon can be considered "soft adventure" as long as you have a guide, and you don't have to cook or set up your own tent.

Then of course, there is car camping.

Again, that ranges the gamut from big honking RV's that are larger than some people's houses to drive-in tent sites where you pitch a pup tent to sleep in.

While I prefer to be some place really wild, a place where you can only get there by paddling, I do enjoy car camping on those weekends when I don't have the time (or inclination) to plan and carry out an overnight canoe or kayak trip. I don't like RV's, but I prefer something bigger than a pup tent, something like the SE Woods dome tent that you put up just by pulling on a knob. Now that's convenience!

Be it ever so humble, there's no place like "dome" ...
 Of course on long weekends - or even some two-day weekends - finding an empty campsites in B.C.'s provincial parks can be problematic, especially if they're close to Vancouver.

I found that out the hard way, last year. Planned a camping trip to Golden Ears Provincial Park. About an hour from Vancouver, you cannot make reservations there on Friday or Saturday nights. We got there about 5 p.m., but there were no sites left. We ended up staying in Harrison for a few nights, but our last night, we spent camping.

But not at Golden Ears. Or any provincial park for that matter.

The Chehalis River - 20 yards from our tent.

We stayed at a B.C. Recreation Site.

What's the difference, you ask?

Mainly price. And a few amenities. Oh, there were fire rings, firewood provided, picnic tables ... everything you need for a fun and successful camping trip at the Chehalis River Recreation Site.
 No flush toilets, though. No on-site stores, boat launch ramps or lodges, as there are in many provincial parks. They don't have canoe or kayak rental facilities, either; we had planned on taking advantage of that in Golden Ears. However, during our stay in Harrison, we did rent kayaks and spent an afternoon paddling a short distance up the Harrison River and back again.

As for all the other facilities...

Did we miss them?


Would we go back there again?

Where are the smores?


So the next time you're planning a camping trip in B.C., don't limit yourself to provincial parks. There are plenty of recreation sites where you can camp that are just as nice as their larger and more developed cousins.

If you are planning a trip, the recreation site link above will help. Still set on going to a provincial park? Check out the B.C. Parks website. Another good resource is Camping British Columbia by Jane Seagrave. The book features all the provincial and national parks found in B.C. (but not the recreation sites.) Another helpful website is HelloBC.

But whatever choice you make remember one thing:

A poor day camping beats a good day doing almost anything else.

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