Want to have your cake and eat it too? Off-grid RV camping, or dry camping, is perfect for adventurers who love getting away from it all and exploring the pristine beauty of nature – without wrecking your back sleeping on the ground!
In this article, we list some helpful tips and must-brings for your off-grid adventure, followed by a list of five of Vancouver Island’s best rustic camping experiences. All campgrounds on this list are accessible by paved roads, so they will be safe for your vehicle. We have tried to highlight camping locations in diverse parts of the Island.
For the purposes of this article, we’re defining an “off-grid” campground as one of Vancouver Island’s more rustic and possibly less-travelled campgrounds, which don’t have RV hookups and may not have sani-stations. They will generally provide more basic facilities such as pit toilets and communal water taps rather than flush toilets and showers.
If you prefer a campground with RV hookups and more creature comforts, be sure to check out our Big List of RV Campsites (With Full Hookups) on Vancouver Island – here’s Part I, and here’s Part II. But if you love to explore the road less travelled, read on!
Dry Camping Tips
From years of experience, here are 6 tips for dry camping successfully without hookups.
Conserve fresh water
This is one of the most important considerations for dry camping. Without immediate access to fresh water to refill, you’ll need to self-manage your tanks to make sure you don’t run out of water. Start by determining your tank capacity, which can be found in your RV user manual. Once you know your capacity, you’ll have a better idea of how much water you have to work with.
Keep showers short and turn off the water in between steps to save water. Wash and rinse dishes with a small amount of water in the sink, and don’t leave the water running while brushing your teeth. Making these small changes will help you stretch your water supply further. Keep an eye on your tank meters, and adjust your water usage to account for your remaining supply and how much longer you plan to camp before refilling your water.
Be sure to arrive at your dry camping destination with a full tank of fresh water. Plan ahead and never assume that your camping location has somewhere for you to fill your water tank. We have arrived at a campsite only to discover the fresh water is not potable (not safe to drink) so we had to turn around and fill the water tank elsewhere. Don’t make this mistake!
Conserve grey tank capacity
Grey water is the waste water from your sinks and shower. The more water you use for showers, brushing teeth, hand washing, and dishes, the faster your gray water tank will fill. Conserving your gray tank capacity is just as important as fresh water conservation. You can find your grey tank capacity information in your RV user manual. Keep in mind that your grey water tank is typically smaller than your fresh water tank.
It is never okay to dump grey water, so be sure not to overfill your tanks while dry camping. If the tanks are filling quicker than you expected, cut back on water usage to make sure you have plenty of tank capacity left for the rest of your stay. Again, keep an eye on your tank meters to monitor your grey tank fill levels.
Be sure to arrive at a dry camping destination with your grey tank empty. You can empty it at many gas stations and travel centers, provincial parks, national parks, or private campgrounds (most are for a small fee). Likewise, you’ll have to find somewhere to dump your tanks before returning home or to your next destination.
Manage black tank capacity
Managing your black tank is similar to managing your grey tank. This tank is filled solely from toilet usage and is typically the smallest of the RV tanks. Use as little water when flushing as possible – this will also help you conserve your fresh water levels. Check your tank meters regularly to monitor your black tank fill levels.
Be sure to arrive at a dry camping destination with an empty black tank. You can use the same dump stations for both black and grey tanks. Don’t forget to dump your tanks before returning home or storing your RV!
Power can be tricky to manage while dry camping. Conserve your power by turning off lights, stereo, and other equipment that draws battery power when you don’t absolutely need them or when you’re away from your RV.
Your house batteries (which store power for your RV) can be charged by plugging into shore power, driving or running a generator. If you are only planning to dry camp for one night, you should have enough power stored to last until you move on to your next destination.
If you need to recharge your batteries while dry camping, there are a variety of options. Many motorhomes (including Pacific RV’s motorhomes) come equipped with an onboard gasoline, diesel or propane-powered generator. If your RV doesn’t come with a generator, you can purchase one and hook it up to your batteries. Remember to be considerate with generator use since they are typically quite loud while running. Most camping areas have designated generator operation hours – or if not, only run your generator during reasonable daytime hours to avoid disturbing your neighbours.
If you plan to do lots of dry camping, it may be wise to invest in a solar power kit. These should be installed by professionals. There is typically a large up-front investment for these systems, but you will save money over time if you dry camp often. If you are interested in renting from Pacific RV, we do have a unit with solar power available.
Manage trash disposal
Since you will often not have access to a campground dumpster while dry camping, you will have to take your garbage out with you when you leave. Many gas stations allow customers to throw away their garbage if you are filling up your fuel tanks with them. Likewise, some grocery stores don’t mind if you throw away a bag of trash when you are buying groceries. Provincial Parks with sani-dumps will often also have a garbage disposal area available nearby. Be sure to practice consideration and ask permission when disposing of your trash.
Manage your supplies
Make sure you have all the food, drinks, snacks, ice etc. that you’ll need for your entire stay. If you don’t have it with you, then you’ll have to do without unless you are willing to pack up and drive to where you can buy more.
Make sure you pack clothes that are suitable for the terrain and types of weather you’re likely to encounter at your destination. On our wet coast, waterproof items are essential – and if you’re camping in winter you’ll want to have plenty of warm layers. And unless you want to be covered in bites, be sure to pack long sleeve clothes and pants to protect yourself from bugs.
China Beach Campground, Juan de Fuca Provincial Park
This hidden gem is one of a number of campsites located along the popular Juan de Fuca Trail with its 47km of spectacular (if challenging) oceanside hiking, located between Jordan River and Port Renfrew on the Island’s rugged West Coast. There are 85 private drive-in sites surrounded by trees, each with its own firepit. The sites and facilities are well-maintained by the park hosts.
From the campground, you can hike down some slightly challenging but short (about 1km) trails down to either China Beach or Second Beach. Wear good shoes and watch for tree roots. The beaches themselves offer stunning views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. If you’re lucky you may catch glimpses of local marine wildlife including orcas and seals.
In the forest, expect to see a variety of creatures such as squirrels, woodpeckers and jays. Campers share this wilderness area with bears and cougars, so be sure to keep your food safely stored. Bear-proof food storage boxes are provided for this purpose. It may be safer to leave your pets at home.
Pit toilets and water taps are located throughout the campground, and there are some wheelchair-accessible facilities. When you need to empty your waste tanks, you can do so at the sani-station at French Beach Provincial Park, about a 30-minute drive away.
In 2022, the campground is open from May 13 to October 1. You may be able to get a site on a first-come, first-served basis, but if you can it’s wise to reserve one in advance. The cost is $20 per party/night.
Campground Map: https://wwwd.bcparks.ca/explore/parkpgs/juan_de_fuca/chinabeachcampground.pdf
Google Map: https://goo.gl/maps/9ANg7S576GzYGqiYA
Ralph River Campground, Strathcona Provincial Park
Stunning Strathcona is Vancouver Island’s largest park, and the oldest provincial park in British Columbia. Comprising over 250,000 hectares of mountainous wilderness, this peerless beauty is a must-visit for lovers of outdoor recreation of all kinds. As there is no logging or hunting in the park, this is the perfect quiet place to enjoy the best of Vancouver island’s undisturbed backcountry.
Set amidst towering Douglas Firs, the campsite is located close to the mouth of Ralph River where it flows into Buttle Lake. From Ralph River Campsite, you’re in an ideal location to head out on the lake for a day of swimming, boating and fishing, or explore the park’s 52 kilometres of hiking trails.
Amenities at Ralph River include 75 vehicle-accessible campsites (most with fire rings) with communal washrooms and water pumps available. Some lakeside and riverside sites are available, and a few sites have spectacular views out over the valley. This site tends to be quieter than Strathcona’s other, larger front-country campground – Buttle Lake Campground – located 30 minutes north.
This is rustic camping at its finest, so note that you are unlikely to find cell service in the park. There is also no sani-dump in Strathcona or even within an hour’s drive, so plan accordingly! There are sani-stations available in Campbell River and a free one at the Gold River Visitor Centre.
You may be able to get a site on a first-come-first-served basis, but if you can it’s wise to reserve one in advance. The campground is open year round. The cost to camp at Ralph River is $20 per party/night in the on-season, $11 per party/night for winter camping.
Campground Map: https://bcparks.ca/explore/parkpgs/strath/strath_buttle_campground.pdf
Google Map: https://goo.gl/maps/5CYrRRqA8tBt97K3A
Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park
Located near the charming seaside town of Parksville, Little Qualicum Falls Park is undeniably one of the most magical locations on Vancouver Island. Majestic mountain peaks border fragrant old-growth forests. The falls themselves are awe-inspiring as they cascade down to the gorge below. 6 km of shaded walking trails follow the river through the forest and offer gorgeous views of the upper and lower falls.
The park is home to two campgrounds, an upper and a lower, with 83 vehicle-accessible campsites between them. The upper campground has flush toilets while the lower campground has pit toilets only, and there is a playground next to the upper campground. Drinking water is available and the campsites do have firepits. Following the trails from the campgrounds will take you up the river to view the falls.
In 2022, The Upper Campground opens on April 14th, and the Lower Campground opens on May 13th, with both campgrounds closing for the winter on October 15th. Campsite reservations are accepted (and recommended) but if you’re lucky you may also snag a first-come, first-served site. The fee to camp here is $23 per party/night, with a senior rate of $11.50 per senior party/night available between Labour Day and June 14th.
Campground Map: https://bcparks.ca/explore/parkpgs/little_qualicum_falls/lit_qualicum.pdf?v=1648230010552
Google Map: https://goo.gl/maps/TvvQGDErQ6SRsAme7
Spring Salmon Place Campground, Sooke Potholes Regional Park
Sooke Potholes Regional Park has been a favourite swimming hole for kids in Sooke and the Capital Regional District for generations, even before the area officially became a CRD municipal park in 2005. It’s wonderful that the District chose to protect this beautiful spot on the Sooke River with its forested hills and unique geological formations of polished rock pools (the “Potholes”), deep gorges and waterfalls.
The campground itself consists of 67 RV and tent sites located at the north end of the park. Some of the sites furthest north have gorgeous riverfront views. The park provides public garbage bins, toilets, a drinking water station and picnic areas. Each campsite has its own firepit and there is firewood available for sale. The facilities are managed by an on-site caretaker. Cellphone reception is unreliable.
Campsites in Spring Salmon place are on the smaller side so may not be appropriate for a large RV. There is no sani-dump onsite – the nearest one is at Sooke River Campground which charges a $10 fee.
The 2022 opening and closing dates have not yet been posted, but the dates are generally mid-May to mid-September. Call the T’Sou-ke Nation (park operators) at 250.642.3957 to confirm. The Spring Salmon Place Campground operates on a first-come, first-served basis only. Cost is $25 per party/night.
Campground Map: http://www.tsoukenation.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/sooke-potholes-brochure-web-2016.pdf
Google Map: https://goo.gl/maps/pxWbkBjLJKdR77YE8
Stotz Pool Campground, Cowichan River Provincial Park
If you love outdoor recreation like swimming, kayaking, tubing, or hiking, in a beautiful & peaceful environment, Stotz Pool Campground has what you’re looking for. The Cowichan River is a designated and protected BC Heritage River renowned for its excellent salmon and steelhead fishing. Tubing down the Cowichan River is also a popular pastime on a hot day (if you have no tube and need some guidance you can get both at The Tube Shack in Lake Cowichan). If you love to hike, you’ll enjoy exploring the park’s network of trails including an abandoned rail line and a 20km long riverside footpath.
The campground offers 39 vehicle-accessible sites, 27 of which are reservable with the rest first-come, first-served. Campground amenities include garbage bins, water pumps and pit toilets. Campfire rings are provided for each site with firewood available for purchase from the park operator. The park is currently under a boil water advisory so make sure your fresh water tank is topped up before you arrive.
There is little to no cellphone coverage at the campground. The nearest available sani-dump is the Lake Cowichan Municipal Sani Dump Station, available by donation.
Stolz Pool Campground is open year-round for camping, with reservations accepted between May 14th & September 4th. The fee to camp here is $20 per party/night, with a senior rate of $10.00 per senior party/night available between Labour Day and June 14th.
Campground Map: https://bcparks.ca/explore/parkpgs/cowichan_rv/cowichan-river.pdf
Google Map: https://goo.gl/maps/RE1CS9HeNyaMkZFL7