Best Frontcountry Campgrounds near Vancouver for Paddlers

Camping and paddling are two of our family’s main warm-weather hobbies. Some of the best paddling in our region can be had early in the morning before the crowds and winds pick up. The easiest way to get onto the water at daybreak is to sleep right next to it the night before, so here are some of the best campgrounds for paddlers.

My inclusion criteria:

  1. Frontcountry campsites accessible by regular cars
  2. Walking distance to paddling launch points from campsite
  3. Within 3 hours of driving from Vancouver
  4. Enjoyable paddling for a beginner or intermediate paddler

Of course, for the intrepid backcountry paddle campers, any water-access campsite would be very close to water by design. I will leave those out for this post though, since they cater to a different audience.

Sasquatch Provincial Park – Hicks Lake Campground

Campground: 6/10, rustic amenities
Paddle rating: 7/10 on Hicks Lake
Location: near Harrison Hot Springs, 2 hour drive from Vancouver

Given how close we were to the launch point, I had a fantastic time paddling on the lake 3 times in one day when we camped here. The lake is not large, but it provides enough intrigue with its islets and coves to keep you exploring for an hour or so.

Chilliwack Provincial Park – Paleface or Lindeman Loop

Campground: 7/10, rustic amenities
Paddle rating: 8/10 on Chilliwack Lake
Location: 40km east of Chilliwack, 2 hour drive from Vancouver

A paddler would want to book a site in the Preface or Lindeman Loop to be as close to the boat launch as possible. The views are stunning, but the cold lake can be challenging in the afternoon when winds pick up.

Manning Provincial Park – Lightning Lake Campground

Campground: 9/10, deluxe amenities
Paddle rating: 9/10 on Lightning Lake
Location: 70km east of Hope, 2.5 hour drive from Vancouver

Camping in the coveted larger loop would provide a much easier access to the lake, but it’s not too onerous of a walk from the small loop either. Both the camping and the paddling here were top notch, but mosquitoes can be a nuisance in the summer.

Alice Lake Provincial Park

Campground: 9/10, deluxe amenities
Paddle rating: 4/10 on Alice Lake
Location: 10km north of Squamish, 1 hour drive from Vancouver

It’s a short, several hundred meter walk down from the campsite to the lake. The paddle is nothing to be excited about, but the small warm lake does make it a prime destination for beginners.

Porteau Cove Provincial Park

Campground: 9/10, deluxe amenities
Paddle rating: 9/10 on Howe Sound, rapidly changing ocean paddling conditions may not be suitable for beginners
Location: 25km north of Horseshoe Bay, 40min drive from Vancouver

There’s a reason why this campground is one of the most sought-after in all of BC. It’s a dream spot for paddlers. Your tent will be a stone-throw away from the water, and the ocean views are incredible especially at dusk and dawn, when you can enjoy the calmest paddling here too. However, Howe Sound can be grueling to paddle during mid day due to strong southerly thermal winds. But the biggest challenge? Getting a camping reservation.

Cultus Lake Provincial Park – Delta Grove Campground and Maple Bay Cabins

Campground: 8/10, deluxe amenities
Paddle rating: 7/10 on Cultus Lake
Location: 40km east of Abbostford, 1.5 hour drive from Vancouver

Some of the campsites in Cultus Lake Provincial Park is very far from the water eg. far reaches of Maple Bay tent sites, Clear Creek, and Entrance Bay, but every cabin in Maple Bay and every site in Delta Grove are so close that you could be paddling before breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Porpoise Bay Provincial Park

Campground: 9/10, deluxe amenities
Paddle rating: 9/10 on Sechelt Inlet
Location: 26km west of Gibsons, 2 hours drive including ferry ride from Vancouver

The Sunshine Coast is a pretty magical place to begin with, and camping at Porpoise Bay Provincial Park is an amazing way to explore Sechelt Inlet. The campsites are large and well maintained, and the 200-300m walk to the beach is easy enough for multiple visits to the ocean during your stay.

Golden Ears Provincial Park – Alouette and Gold Creek Campgrounds

Camper’s Beach on Alouette Lake

Campground: 8/10, deluxe amenities
Paddle rating: 7/10 on Alouette Lake at Camper’s Beach
Location: 10km north of Maple Ridge, 1 hour drive from Vancouver

I debated about leaving this one off the list because it’s borderline too inconvenient to walk from 95% of the campsites. It’s a small hike down a winding Campers Beach Trail with gentle slope, about 300m from the closest campsite in Alouette Campground and 500m from the closest campsite in Gold Creek Campground. From the far end of either campsite, it would be more than 1km and most likely you would want to drive to the South Beach day use area instead.

Rolley Lake Provincial Park

Campground: 7/10, deluxe amenities
Paddle: 7/10. Rolley lake is a calm, small lake stocked with trout. Good for beginners. Would be boring for intermediate paddlers.
Location: 20km east of Maple Ridge, 1.2h drive from Vancouver

There are two rocky, mildly steep but short trails from the campground to the lake that can be walkable with an inflated paddleboard. An easier alternative may be to drive to the day use area instead and launch from the wide sandy beach.

Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park

Campground: 9/10, deluxe amenities
Paddle: 7/10, fairly exposed ocean paddling with open ocean views.

If you are able to snag one of the campsites closest to the north of the campground, the walk to the northern shoreline is short enough. If you weren’t so lucky, water access is still walkable from the sites, but it may be up to 300m away. Factor in the big sand banks at low tide, you may have to add another 250m on the north beach, or 1km on the east beach before you reach salt water.

Birch Bay State Park

Campground: 7/10, deluxe amenities.
Paddle rating: 8/10 in Birch Bay.
Location: 7 miles south of Blaine, 1hr drive + border wait from Vancouver

It’s an easy 200m trail to walk from the north campground, and 300m from the south campground. I wish to come back and paddle around Birch Bay, and I shall update our blog then.

Honorable mentions.

These campsites don’t meet all the criteria I’ve listed above. Some are technically within walking distance for someone with a deflated board who doesn’t mind manually pumping it up at the water, but it’s a bit too far to walk for anyone with an inflated board or a hard board. The distance likely creates enough of a barrier that most people wouldn’t want to make more than one trip from camp. Some are just over 3 hour drive from Vancouver.

Nairn Falls Provincial Park

Campground: 6/10, rustic amenities
Paddle: 5/10. One Mile Lake is very small. Good for beginners. Would be boring for intermediate paddlers.
Location: 30km north of Whistler, 2h drive from Vancouver

It’s a very short, 2.5km drive from camp to reach One Mile Lake, but too long to walk with an inflated board. One mile Lake is a great little lake for beginners.

Ruckle Provincial Park

Campground: 10/10, rustic amenities
Paddle: (unrated since I haven’t tried it) somewhat protected ocean paddling along rocky shore line, few resting/pull out options. The launch spot is located in the day use area, which is a fair walk from the campsites.
Location: on Salt Spring Island, approximately 2.5 to 3 hours from Vancouver depending on ferry schedule

For an ocean front camping experience, Ruckle is hard to beat. Many of the campsites offer unobstructed views of the ocean and gulf islands. The richness of sea life in the tidal pools made quite the impression on our kids, who now regularly ask us to see where they can see more anemones when we are at a beach. The only downside from a paddler’s perspective is that although the ocean is a mere few meters away, there isn’t a good launching spot close to camp, as the entire camping area is situated on a rocky outcrop. Launching from the day use area is recommended, and paddlers should be prepared for ocean paddling conditions.

Descanso Bay Regional Park on Gabriola Island

Camping: 8/10
Paddle: 8/10
Location: getting to Gabriola Island from Vancouver requires two ferries, putting it just over 3 hours of total travel time. But it’s such a great destination so we had to include it here.

The campground enjoys easy access to the protected bays. The ease of launch is tide dependent. Gabriola Island is a gem of a place to visit, with many beautiful and unique public beaches to explore.

To-Do List

Baker Lake, Washington State

Silver Lake, Washington State

Harrison River

Galiano Island

Lillooet Lake

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