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Backcountry Visitor Guide
British Columbia’s wilderness areas are a popular destination for both BC residents and visitors. This guide is intended to help park visitors make the best of their backcountry experiences while staying safe, respecting other users and protecting the environment. We all agree that British Columbia is beautiful so let’s help keep it that way!
Smoking Restrictions in BC Parks’ Backcountry:
Smoking is not permitted anywhere in the backcountry or where you access it, e.g. on park roads, in parking lots, at trailheads. This restriction applies to the smoking and / or vaping of tobacco, cannabis, or other substances.
The purpose of this policy is to increase safety and enjoyment of the visiting public by minimizing their exposure to second-hand smoke, reducing the risk of wildfires, and protecting wildlife and the environment from the hazardous effects of discarded cigarette butts and other litter associated with smoking.
For more information on cannabis legalization and public consumption, Get Cannabis Clarity at cannabis.gov.bc.ca.
Plan Ahead and Prepare
Stay Safe: Before heading into the backcountry, check out this self-guided online course. It takes less than 15 minutes and will give you more confidence to enjoy the outdoors safely and responsibly.
Trip Plan: Anyone contemplating an extended or overnight hike should inform a friend or family of their intended route and anticipated return time. AdventureSmart has some good resources on leaving a trip plan. While backpacking is not limited to superheroes, it does require physical stamina. Plan your trip to match your expectations and outdoor skill level.
Conditions: Be prepared for extreme and adverse weather conditions all year long, take extra caution if visiting mountainous and alpine areas. Snow, rain and stormy conditions can occur at any time, even during the summer season. Don’t travel when visibility is poor; wait until you can see well enough to travel safely. Before you depart check the conditions, know the risks, and check the BC Parks website for the most up-to-date trail conditions at each the park.
Communication: Many backcountry locations do not have cell service. Be prepared to be self-sufficient in case of an emergency and consider bringing a satellite communication device such as a personal locator beacon or satellite phone.
Personal Equipment: Select your route, clothing, food, fuel, and equipment based on your pre-trip planning and the skill and fitness level of your group members. Set realistic and achievable goals.
Camp Safe, Not Sorry
Backcountry Campsites: Most backcountry campsites are offered on a first-come, first-served basis and we encourage you to pay your backcountry registration fee online. It’s a convenient way to avoid carrying cash but remember it’s not a reservation system and is not a guarantee that a campsite will be available. Check park webpages for the number and type of campsites available in each park.
Some of the busier backcountry campsites must be booked on the BC Parks reservations system, such as Berg Lake Trail (Mount Robson Park), Bowron Lake Park Canoe Circuit, Garibaldi, Joffre Lakes and Mount Assiniboine parks. In theses situations, the reservation does guarantee you a site as the number of reservations is limited by the number of sites available.
In most parks, backcountry camping is only permitted in designated backcountry camping areas although in some parks, wilderness camping is permitted. Check the BC Parks website if wilderness camping is permitted in each park.
Camping Fees: Backcountry fees are applied on a per person basis, are payable upon registration and are non-transferable. Children under six years of age are free. See the Backcountry Permit Registration System and Park User Fees [PDF] for more information. Always remember to camp with a permit and where permitted.
Campfires: Campfires are prohibited in many backcountry areas, particularly those containing alpine and sub-alpine areas, or other sensitive environments. Pack a portable stove for cooking. Do not use natural resources from the park to make a fire even if a fire ring is present. Check the BC Parks website before you go into your favourite location and be prepared for campfire bans.
In some backcountry parks, campfires are permitted, but only in the fire rings provided.
In other locations, where campfires are permitted and fire rings are not available, please ensure you follow these guidelines:
- Prepare your campfire by removing all leaves, twigs and other flammable material from an area extending at least 30 centimetres around the fire
- Scrape or dig down to mineral soil
- Build your campfires at least three metres from any log, stump, snag, standing tree or wooden structure
All campfires - where permitted in the backcountry - require your careful attention and you must ensure:
- They are not larger than 0.5 metres in height and 0.5 metres in diameter, or roughly a foot-and-a-half by a foot-and-a-half;
- You have a shovel or eight litres of water nearby;
- You attend your campfire at all times; and
- It is extinguished before leaving it. Sift the cooled ashes with your fingers to be sure.
It is a serious offense to leave your campfire unattended.
If you see a wildfire, report it as soon as possible. Call 1-800-663-5555, or *5555 on a cell.
Length of Stay: To create more opportunities for a greater number of park visitors, each person may only camp up to a maximum of 14 nights in each park/calendar year.
Equipment: Permanent and semi-permanent structures are not allowed in the backcountry.
Nice People Make Nature Nicer
Motor Vehicles: Unless otherwise permitted by sign, the use of motorized vehicles including snowmobiles, motorcycles, ATVs, trail bikes, Class 2 and 3 e-bikes and similar conveyances are restricted to park roads and parking lots. Check the park webpages for more information on the opportunities and restrictions in each park.
Parking: Permitted only in designated areas, e.g. trailhead parking lots. Parking is not permitted on roadsides or in areas where they may impede proper use of the road, or damage vegetation. Parking may vary seasonally and during peak times. Please note that thieves have been known to operate at some trailheads. Be sure you remove all valuables from your vehicle prior to leaving it unattended and leave unnecessary belongings at home.
Noise: Help yourself and other campers to enjoy the peace and tranquility of the backcountry by avoiding excessive noise.
Hiking: Be courteous to others on the trail, yield to those going uphill, and a friendly "hello" goes a long way.
Domestic Pets: Taking pets into the backcountry, especially dogs, is not recommended, and in some parks is not permitted. Although some people feel that their pet is a part of the family, they can disturb other campers, foul trails, and create potential for problems for you and others by attracting bears.
Dogs and other domestic animals are not permitted in:
- Bowron Lake Park
- Cathedral Park
- Joffre Lakes Park
- Garibaldi Park
- Kokanee Glacier Park
- Monashee Park
- Bugaboo Park
Refer to the park's webpage to determine whether pets are permitted where you intend to visit.
Alcohol: Consumption of alcohol is restricted to registered campsites only and responsible use is expected. It is prohibited in all other public areas of the backcountry. Public intoxication or threats to public safety, park resources or park operators will not be tolerated.
Firearms: For your safety, firearms are prohibited unless you are engaged in lawful hunting in parks where hunting is permitted.
Criminal Activities: All criminal activities, such as assault, illegal drug use, theft and vandalism, will be reported to the local enforcement authorities.
Keep Nature Serene
Trails: Trails are planned to take you safely through the most interesting and beautiful parts of our parks without damaging sensitive and unique plant and wildlife habitats. Please stay on the trails and remember you are treading on someone’s home.
Tent Pads: Use provided tent pads. Good campsites are found, not made.
Wildlife: For your safety and to protect wildlife, do not approach, feed or harass wild animals. No matter how big or small, wild animals are wild and should be left so. Harassing and feeding wildlife can cause them to feel threatened and change their behaviour - which poses a risk to you, other visitors and the animal. If you pack it in - pack it out; litter left in parks attracts wildlife and can result in these animals having to be destroyed.
Bear Safety: When in known bear country, be alert and take precautions, consider travelling in a group. Watch for signs that bears are in the area (i.e., tracks, scat, overturned logs and torn apart stumps) and make noise whenever possible. Park visitors can do their part to avoid human-bear conflict by carrying bear spray and knowing how to use it.
Natural Resources: Visitors can help protect and maintain the backcountry by treading lightly. Do not remove or damage cultural and natural resources like flowers, rocks/shells, antlers, or fossils. Living or dead, big or small, these all play a role in our parks and must be left undisturbed. It’s an offence to remove, damage or destroy park resources. Consider bringing “camp shoes” with softer soles to minimize disturbance around your campsite.
Outhouses: Pit toilets are generally located at all designated camping areas, day-use sites and trailheads. Supply your own toilet paper. In no instance should garbage ever be placed in the toilet facilities! If you wouldn’t flush it down your toilet at home, it doesn’t belong in an outhouse. Garbage in outhouses can attract wildlife and damage the facilities.
Human Waste: Every effort has been made to ensure that backcountry campsites have outhouses. Avoid depositing waste and urinating outside of the outhouses because it can attract wildlife. If you can’t hold it, dig a ‘cathole’ 15 to 20 cm deep on bare ground at least 70 m from water, campsites, and trails. To promote decomposition, choose a site in organic soil. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished. Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products, do not leave them in the cathole. Due to wildfire risk, please do not burn toilet paper when using catholes.
Food: Treat your campsite and backcountry kitchen like your home: if you aren’t around, your food shouldn’t be either. Litter and food attract wildlife, so ensure you store food and organic waste, pots, fuel, and toiletry items in a bear cache or bear hang, where available. If your campsite does not have a food cache, remember to bring rope to hang your food and bear attractants from a tree or bring a bear resistant canister. Choose a cooking site away from your shelter, ideally on a durable ground surface. Keep your food and scented toiletries in a cache away from your overnight shelter. Never store food or scented products in your tent.
Garbage: Parks are not self cleaning. If you pack it in, pack it out. This includes organic waste like banana peels and apple cores. Bear caches and bear hangs are for the temporary storage of food for backcountry visitors. Leaving garbage in these facilities can prevent others from using them, cause damage and put others at risk by attracting wildlife. Plan ahead by repackaging food to minimize waste and pick up after less thoughtful people who have gone before you.
Grey Water: The parks' lakes and streams are sources of drinking water. Help protect the delicate balance of the water system by washing yourself, your clothes and dishes at least 70 m from lakes or streams. This means carrying water from its source, to the location where washing will occur. Strain out any food particles and pack them out with your garbage, use hot water and elbow grease, not soap or if you must, only a small amount of biodegradable soap, and scatter strained dishwater or dispose of strained waste water in pit toilets. Consider using nylon pantyhose for easy grey water filtration and to easily pack-out food debris.
Drinking Water: Water in the backcountry is typically only available from lakes and streams. All drinking water must be filtered, boiled and/or otherwise treated for your own safety before consumption.
Wilderness or random camping takes place outside of established backcountry campgrounds where no established campsites exist and facilities like bear caches or outhouses are not provided. Parties that are random camping must be self-sufficient and must adhere to the highest standards of Leave No Trace ethics.
Wilderness or random camping may be permitted in some parks, so check the park webpage for more information on what’s available/permitted in the park. In certain backcountry locations, wilderness camping may be permitted only outside of core areas. Random and wilderness camping is not permitted within 1 km of main roads
Park rangers and park operators are responsible for ensuring visitors comply with the various Park Act regulations and BC Parks policies. Failure to comply with these regulations may result in enforcement actions, such as eviction from the park and/or a violation ticket being issued.
By observing and following the regulations, park rangers can direct their effort and attention to other valuable work such as facility maintenance or conservation projects so please do your part.