This past month, we eschewed a destination vacation and decided to set out on a huge circle trek of BC with our tent trailer. We planned for primitive camping at provincial sites, fancy full hookup RV park camping, and hike-in tenting, along with staying with my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew.
This is definitely a long post. I’ve broken it up into the places we stayed at. The TL;DR version? Go camping with your family in BC.
Setting Out and The Route
We left Friday August 9 first thing in the morning, and hilariously, had to turn around and go back home because Ross forgot to set up his vacation responder for his work email, so all that “get up at 6am stuff the breakfast in your mouth let’s go let’s go!” stuff was kind of undone by the time we got on the road at 9am. Our destination for the day was Barkerville, BC. We pointed the Jeep north and off we went.
BC is beautiful. Have you driven through the Fraser Canyon lately? This is part of the province they sweep over in aerial film and photography, and send to people in other countries as teasers of what BC is like. This is not the urban, dirty, and dusty Lower Mainland where most of our population lives, rather, this is where you can see the river calls the shots, not the urban planners. It was wild and beautiful, even in the relative peacefulness of August. We passed through desert and forest, and really enjoyed the scenery.
The drive to Barkerville is long, but is easily doable in one day. It took us about 8 hours going about 100 km/hour – we can’t go faster than that with the trailer. We stopped for a roadside lunch only, and supplied up quickly in Quesnel, preferring to try and get there faster and relax. Kale was a pretty great traveller. He had the iPad and some books and a big window to look out of and the “when will be theres?” only laster an hour or two.
We stayed at the Forest Rose campsite, in what is obviously a provincial-turned-private campsite, with all of the recognizable brown signs and site number markers. It was serviceable, and fine, and my brother and his family joined us later that night. I’d recommend the site, but take bug spray. Holy cow, take bug spray. Take bug spray for anything in this area.
We spent a day puttering around the site, and then the next day at Barkerville. The folks at the entry said the number one thing they hear is that people wish they planned for two days, and I’d say that was accurate. There is a huge list of daily activities going on – most free, some are an additional fee – and they do offer a discount for the second day’s entry. You can buy your passes for about $10 for adults for one day, and then the second day is about $3, and if you stop in at the Wells Tourism Office to buy them, you do get a small discount.
Barkerville was pretty amazing. Both Ross and I have been there before, but had forgotten a lot. Kale enjoyed the working shops (especially the candy store!) and we ate as a large group in the Chinese restaurant (pricy, but excellent) while a giant thunderstorm passed. I definitely recommend the waterwheel demonstration, and of course, gold panning, but plan to take your time and spread it out over a day and a half at the very least.
After another relaxing day in Barkerville, we headed to my brother’s home just outside of Smithers. This was a significantly shorter drive – only about 5.5 hours – and we didn’t leave until the midday so ended up driving in a night storm. Kale was introduced to the Muppets on our portable DVD player, and we didn’t her a peep out of him for hours aside from hilarious and infectious laughter. (He was also quite convinced that Kermit’s name was Sherman, a fact I still giggle about.) We spent four wonderful and relaxing days with my family, making a few excursions into town and doing work on their new property – barb wire fencing – and spent a day at Tyhee Lake. The whole area is a really gorgeous part of British Columbia, and its far off location makes it desirable and hard to get to all at the same time.
We left Smithers on Friday August 16, supplied up and stayed at a great friend’s house in Prince George, and then set out to Mt Robson Provincial Park early Saturday.
Mt. Robson Provincial Park
2013 was/is the 100 Year Anniversary of Mt. Robson Provincial Park, and neither Ross or I have ever been there so it was a great choice for us to check out. We figured there wasn’t a high chance of us being in that corner of BC for a number of years, and so when we started our planning for this epic trip, it was a chance we couldn’t pass up. We also decided to make this the first time Kale hiked in, with a pack, and stayed in a tent, and then hiked out. The weather was looking pretty grim. We set up camp in the tent trailer at the Robson Meadows campground, a strange circular campground that was very nice. It was busy the day we arrived, being a Saturday, and they had a great interpretive program about the History of Climbing at the amphitheatre that night. I remember interpretive programs in provincial parks as a kid, and I remember when they were mostly cut from the provincial Parks budget, and I hope to see a resurgence of camping as a popular family activity, forcing a re-evaluation of how important these programs are. We saw our first and only bear during the show, a chilled out black bear who meandered through the campsite behind the Parks Ranger. (BC Parks Info on Mt Robson)
Berg Lake Trail
The next morning we were up fairly early and had our packs on and set out from the Berg Lake Trailhead early in the day. The guide had said the first leg (7km) up to Kinney Lake, was largely flat and smooth with a relatively slow incline, and was suitable for a family hike. A lot of people use this as a day hike, it is about 2.5 hours round trip to the southern tip of Kinney Lake, where there is a picnicking spot. The weather was threatening to rain all day, and it did spit here and there. The hike was pretty tiring for Kale and I but we all managed to walk into the northern end of Kinney Lake, where the campground is, and take shelter in the group picnic shelter as the rain hit.
After lunch, we headed off to our destination for the night another 4 kilometres away – Whitehorn. It was at this point things went a bit sour for us. Kale was tired. I was losing my steam from carrying such a heavy pack (Ross and I had split all of the tenting and cooking gear among us, and given Kale only a few items for his pack) and having not gone on a hike expedition for a long time. We were slow and complain-y but more or less okay until we hit the incredible steep sections and subsequent switchbacks in the last 1.5 kilometres where I knew that in order to safely arrive at camp, I needed to carry less weight. I suggested to Ross that he, the fitter and more experienced hiker, go on ahead and drop his pack and come back and meet us. Kale and I just kept going, plodding along, but having to take lots of breaks. When Ross arrived back, we were more or less done but soldiered on and arrived at camp feeling pretty accomplished. We got our tent set up and the rain came. So again, we hid under the group picnic shelter, fuelled up on a pasta dinner, and then retired to our tent for the night. That was hard for Kale – from 5:30pm on, we sat in the tent. Eventually he fell asleep and then, so did we, as the rain beat away all night long.
When we awoke, we had the choice to do the morning day hike we had planned 3 more kilometres (one way) further up the trail to the Valley of a Thousand Waterfalls, but I knew that was playing with fire with my physical abilities, so I declined and suggested Ross go himself. But he decided to just eat and head back with us. We got underway fairly early after breakfast, and although the rain had lessened and eventually tapered off, it was grey and definitely threatening to pick up again. We redistributed the packs, and this time, I had a spring in my step as we set off down the path. Poor Ross ended up having to carry an extra 10 pounds or so, but we had eaten through a lot of the weight we carried, and only had some light snacks in the food bag to have to haul, and it made a difference.
We got nothing but verbal high fives from those we met on the trail. People were stunned that Kale, at 5, had done an 11km hike up the day before and was headed back down and this buoyed him. His complaints were pretty minimal – he said his feet were starting to hurt, but we chatted about what video game he would play when we got back and it kept him focused and excited. I promised he could burn through the entire iPad battery, watch any Muppets he wanted on the portable DVD player until the battery died and choose any candy he wanted from the little gift shop at the Park Information Centre. These were great motivators and we three blew down the trail, barely stopping for lunch or water breaks. It was the hiking I had hoped we would have experienced the day before, and the lighter weight and downhill really made a huge difference. The rain came at the very bottom, but not the torrential kind we experienced the night before.
We arrived back at the “fancy” camp where our tent trailer beckoned, and the weather turned sunny. It was lovely to have a hot shower (yes, they have them, and they are free for campers!), sip a glass of wine, poke the fire with a stick, and fall asleep knowing that we had done it.
The next morning we were off again, this time for the last stop on our circle trek through BC – Christina Lake. Yikes. This was an ambitious day of driving – over 10 hours. We had a lot of route options and we chose the option that looked the fastest on the map, going though Kamloops, Kelowna, the Kettle Valley, and through Grand Forks to Christina Lake. We had made reservations at a private place (the provincial campsite no longer does overnight camping) called Christina Pines and had arranged for a full hookup including power and water. This was nice for connectivity – we could charge our devices, communicate with home, and play games. We wanted this for our last stop, to “acclimatize” back into the hustle bustle of our lives. I was satisfied with the campground and would recommend them or stay there again. It featured wifi (it didn’t work all over the whole site but was strong where it did work), a laundromat (about $4.50 a load, but they were big loads – BYO laundry soap, though or buy a teeny box), a pool (supposedly heated but I don’t think they had it on which was okay for the hot weather we had), a little mini golf course, games you could borrow from the nice people in the office, a communal fire pit (most of the campsites didn’t have fire pits), and a little shop where you could buy a few snacks or pop.
We spent most of our time at the provincial park at the beach both full days we were there, but did enjoy the campground at night. We had wonderful bats flying around each night at dusk. Christina Lake was definitely the most “vacation-y” of our trip, and when the weather started turning a bit grey Thursday night, we decided to head home Friday rather than spend another day in the tent trailer keeping ourselves occupied while it rained.
August 23 we pointed the Jeep west and after a quick stop at the Grand Forks Farmers Market, we were homeward bound. we came home through Osoyoos (and the steep crazy Highway 3 that really wasn’t doing me any favours with my ever increasing heights paranoia – ai-yi-yi!) and were home by dinner. Home feels so amazing when we have been away.
What really worked for us was relaxing a lot of rules, specifically about food, device time, and TV watching. While in the car we let him have unlimited time so long as the batteries held out but we shut down device time and TV watching for Kale while we were in place. This didn’t really have any repercussions when we arrived home: Kale does seem to understand the difference between normal rules at home and rules for “on the road”. We also kept our days fairly open and planned things as they came along.
We overestimated my skills as a hiker which truthfully could have had some fairly disastrous consequences. While we used to do a lot of hiking and pack-in camping, we haven’t in a long time. The first 7km was totally do-able, but that last steep 4 kilometres nearly broke me, and Kale didn’t enjoy it. We all pulled though okay and feel good about it now, but we should have tried something a bit smaller for the first time. We have done long hikes with Kale, but never with Ross and I carrying big packs and in our planning we focused completely on how well Kale would do – we didn’t think about the whole family.
I think we spent too much money on food – even though we were eating at camp most nights, we stopped in small places and picked up our supplies. I wish I had planned to bring some of the non perishable staples – like chick peas – with us from savvier purchases closer to home.
And man, we live in an incredible province. You really forget what this province offers when we are spending your time in the same general 200 kilometers, always following the same routines with your nose to the grindstone. What an incredible place. Get out there.