British Columbia·Photos

B.C.'s most popular parks might surprise you

With school out, it's officially the start of the summer outdoors season. If you want to avoid the crowds while hiking and camping, this story is for you.

Guessing it's Joffre Lakes? Guess again!

The provincial government is rolling out a new public safety plan at Joffre Lakes, where the number of visitors has surged almost 200 per cent since 2015. (Leon Wang/Shutterstock)

The most popular park in B.C. is not Joffre Lakes. 

Yep, that's right — despite everything you've heard about overflowing parking lots, bumper-to-bumper traffic and the near impossibility of getting a photo for The Gram (Instagram) without others in the shot. 

Don't believe it? We'll explain.

Top 10 popular parks 

More than 20 million day users made use of B.C. Parks in 2017/18 and another 2.9 million camped during the same period, according to data released by B.C. Parks earlier this week. 

The top 10 most used parks for day usage are all in the southern half of the province, many of them on the Lower Mainland and easily accessible by public transit or a car share.

E.C. Manning Park is the most popular park in the province, attracting almost a million day visitors.

When it comes to camping, the data shows that people are willing to drive farther, to the Interior and Vancouver Island. 

Cypress Provincial Park would ordinarily make the list for the most popular parks on the South Coast, but it experienced a substantial drop in park visitors in '17-18. 

The view from Bowen Lookout near the Cypress Mountain ski area. (Steve Hong)

B.C. Parks wouldn't comment, but said in an email that day-use totals are often estimated based on vehicle counts, and fluctuations in visitor numbers can be due to from park closures during natural disasters such as floods and forest fires.

But wait, what about Joffre Lakes?

Chloe Ernst, a travel writer and outdoor enthusiast, says she remembers hiking in Joffre a decade ago.

"I think I saw maybe a dozen people on the trail."

Now it's next to impossible to have Joffre all to yourself even on a weekday. Hikers along the trail often have to squeak past returnees, as there is a single one-way trail and patience is required in strong doses for those waiting to take their photo with the iconic views.

The rocks at the upper lake at the end of the Joffre Lakes hike are often packed with people. A round trip to this point and back down again is about four hours. (Shutterstock/LeonWang)

While Joffre Lakes doesn't get as many people as E.C. Manning in absolute numbers, the park has seen a 200 per cent increase in day usage since 2015. That translates into roughly 500 visitors per day. Since B.C. Parks does not have seasonal data, Ernst says an educated guess is that more than 500 people go there per day in the summer and fewer than that in the winter.

Ernst said the issue is park capacity. 

"As soon as you have a space that's not built to accommodate large numbers and large numbers are arriving, any area is going to feel that crunch," she said.

"Parks such as Cypress, Seymour and Golden Ears don't feel that crunch of people because they're built to accommodate larger numbers. But it seems like Joffre hasn't been built to accommodate those large numbers and that's why it's such a pain point for a number of users."

The B.C. government has announced a new plan for crowd control at Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, including 200 more parking spots and a shuttle service ferrying people back and forth from Duffey Lake Provincial Park. 

What's popular outside the South Coast

Foot traffic and camp usage in B.C. Parks drops rapidly outside the South Coast. 

The mayor of Clearwater has a message for all those tired of crowds: come to Wells Gray Provincial Park. 

"Absolutely, skip Joffre Lakes and the hordes of people and come here. It's equally spectacular and it's a must-do on the Rockies RV circuit," Merlin Blackwell said. "It has everything — waterfalls that you can access, so many hiking trails, you can be up in alpine meadows from a 45-minute hike from your car, and most of it is pristine, unspoiled wilderness."

The most popular parks outside of the South Coast are:

  • Kootenay Okanagan: E.C. Manning, which averaged 2,724 daily visitors.
E.C. Manning Park was B.C.'s most popular park in 2017/2018 with almost a million day visitors. (Vania Pacheco/Twitter)
  • West Coast: Rathtrevor Beach Park, which averaged 1,826 day visitors.
Rathtrevor Beach Park, Parksville, B.C. (Gerald Graham)
  • Northern region: Mount Robson, which averaged 563 visitors daily.
Mount Robson. (@KimLambchop6/Twitter)
  • Thompson Cariboo: Wells Gray, which averaged 545 day visitors.
Wells Gray Provincial Park. (@JTnazzy/Twitter)

Going to a B.C. park this summer? Check out how busy it can get.

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