By Crai Bower
Most parents today from Toronto to Tacoma face the same challenge, how to unplug themselves (and their kids) to engage more as a family. The solution is easier than they think: adventure travel! That’s right, when you immerse yourself and your kids in active adventures like watching wildlife, horseback riding through the bush or soaring past a glacier field in a flightseeing plane, screen time is replaced with real time. British Columbia’s Cariboo Chilcotin Coast region was off the grid before there even was a grid to leave. Home to gold rushes, wilderness and the spirit bear, off the beaten path doesn’t really apply here because there is no path to begin with. Here are several options to make deep family connections by disconnecting from the familiar world and reconnecting with our shared love of family adventure.
The Cariboo Chilcotin Coast is home to one of Canada’s most diverse geographical regions where mountain peaks soar above inlets and basin lands stretch out beneath the sunrise. Families can explore a ghost town and the Gold Rush Trail, followed by immersion into the Great Bear Rainforest. From casting for trout from a boat on Bowron Lakes to a multi-day horse packing excursion, families can customize their adventures from an array of options.
You don’t have to be Swiss Family Robinson to explore the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast. Several of North America’s finest wilderness lodges await you and your family here. Echo Valley Ranch & Spa presents a sublime fusion of East-meets-West aesthetics; the stunning spa house was designed by the same architect who planned structures for the Thai royal family. Tweedsmuir Park Lodge envelopes guests in a mountain setting where it is not unusual for a brown bear sow and her cubs to scamper across the back lawn. Maple Leaf Adventures embarks with three distinct vessels: a sailboat, catamaran and converted tug, each decked out in total comfort. These are just three of many lodging options that offer fine amenities, locally sourced cuisine and authentic experiences curated from years of calling this region home.
The Great Bear Rainforest
The Great Bear Rainforest contains one-quarter of the world’s coastal temperate rainforest. The size of Ireland, the GBR is home to a great variety of North America’s most spectacular species, including bald eagles, orca whales, grizzly and black bears, sea otters and salmon. This environment is also habitat for the Kermode or “Spirit” bear, the black bear with a recessive gene that causes white fur. The coastal village of Klemtu provides the best access to Princess Royal Island where the largest concentration of Kermode bears live. Spirit Bear Lodge, owned and operated by the Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nation, offers a comprehensive cultural program that one never forgets.
Families can camp at several coastal lodges to take day-boat tours deep into the lush rainforest, watch the grizzlies feast on spawning salmon and disappear for a few days into the simple life set by nature’s clock in the rainforest. Wildlife safaris here capture many memories beyond viewing an orca pod or a grizzly swipe her meal in front of a waterfall. Families are routinely astounded when they pause by boat beneath the towering glacial fjords, take in a soak at natural hot springs and enjoy a salmon bake on the shores of a remote island. In the summer, humpback and gray whales migrate through the inside passage while First Nation elders share their cultural history and speak to what this land means to them, becoming a profound opportunity for every family member to embrace the calm and nourishment inherent in the natural world.
Barkerville Historic Town & Park
Everyone loves walking onto a movie set, but you’ll discover much more than facades in Barkerville, the boomtown named after Billy Barker, the first prospector to discover gold in nearby Williams Creek in 1862. Barkerville’s 135 restored buildings comprise the largest western historic site in North America. Living history, from the 19th-century Chinatown to the character-actors who operate the stores, meander the streets and head through town to work the mine, is on full display. A Canadian National Historic Site, anthropologists continue to study artifacts housed in the Barkerville Museum today. No dragging feet here, kids love being part of the Barkerville action by riding the stagecoach and getting into character while, (though no need to share this part), learning about a critical facet of Canada’s frontier history.
Horse Packing and Dude Ranches
You can saddle up for western adventures throughout the region, especially when you hit the trail on one of several multiday horse pack trips. These trips are chocked full of outdoor adventure in addition to taking your horse into the alpine for several nights. Bracewell’s Alpine Wilderness Adventures literally takes guests to the mountain top, where they bunk in a custom, two-story cabin. Riders spend three days exploring the region by horseback with the alpine cabin as basecamp. Your family descends to the lodge for three more days where everyone can fan out to pan for gold, cast a flyrod, hike through rarely visited meadows bursting with wildflowers, explore 75-million-year-old fossil beds and, naturally, observe numerous wildlife species in their native habitat.
Siwash Lake Wilderness Lodge takes the western equestrian experience to unrivaled heights. Located within the 2017 fire zone, new growth is shooting up all over the forests as well as across the grasslands in the heart of the Cariboo Mountains. Every level of rider is perfectly matched with a corresponding horse as part of the award-winning Equine Experience, a Canadian Signature Experience. Guests care for their personal horse during their stay, from grooming and saddling to western horseperson riding skills instruction. The River Ride is equally immersive, whether the beginner prefers a steady walk or the seasoned rider wishes to gallop and go.
With more than half of B.C.’s guest ranches, the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast offers the spectrum of ranch and rodeo experiences. Several ranches invite greenhorns to learn to rope, ride and develop other horsemanship skills. Join in a round-up moving cattle back and forth to wintering feeding grounds, complete with campfires, oil-black coffee and bedrolls under the stars. Whether you want to saddle up for a once-in-a-lifetime 14-day pack expedition to Itcha Ilgachuz Provincial Park or end each day’s ride with a sauna and Thai spa treatment, there’s a saddle for every member of your family.
The whole family can draw equestrian inspiration from another local tradition: the rodeo. Rodeos spread across the region, including the 93rd Annual Williams Lake Stampede, a Canadian Professional Rodeo event. Beginning the last Thursday in June, the Stampede celebrates the Canada Day Long Weekend with bull riding, calf roping, barrel racing and all the other cowboy classics. You can always catch a smaller rodeo throughout the summer.
The Cariboo Chilcotin Coast region is massive in every direction, from square miles to mountain peaks and river valleys. Not surprisingly, the area is home to some of the finest bush pilots and flightseeing operations in the world. Nobody forgets their first or fifteenth flight to see glacial fields, go hiking or hover above 463-foot Helmcken Falls. Cariboo Air is one of several services that will convey your family to remote wilderness destinations including Helmcken Falls, along the Fraser River Canyon to Quesnel and Horsefly Fjord lakes, high in the Cariboo Mountains and icefields as well as to Barkerville. Every 30-minute to 3-hour tour is customized to entertain every family member.
In the Chilcotin, Tweedsmuir Air offers flightseeing tours of Tweedsmuir Park and its magnificent Hunlen Falls, as well as access to over 25 air only access lakes or custom adventures in the rugged back country for families really looking to get away from it all.
Paddling Bowron Lake
A family trip along the 72-mile Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit represents the ultimate adventure for a family of paddling enthusiasts. Often mentioned among the premier canoe circuits in the world, the 6-10 day excursion has few peers. Families may also choose to camp in Bowron Lake Provincial Park and embark upon smaller day paddles to kayak or canoe beneath the Cariboo Mountains or take the shorter 2-4 day west circuit. Two outfitters, Pathways and Sea to Sky Expeditions, guide individuals, families and groups on the circuit, a great way to explore this pristine aquatic environment with a little extra assistance when necessary.
The family road trip is alive and well in the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast, where families often follow the Gold Rush Trail from the Lower Mainland along the very same route that Governor James Douglas constructed in 1868 during the waning days of the gold rush. In a province rich with epic road trip routes few auto expeditions can rival traveling throughout the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Region with its fantastic mountain passes, dense forest segments and broad grasslands. Driving through the “land without limits” is loaded with infinite opportunities to pause at spectacular vista points, share day hikes and marvel at the ever-changing landscape. When it comes to this region whether by car or RV, the journey forms an integral part of the holiday.