RV’ers and Campers Strike Gold in BC’s “Land Without Limits”
by Steven Threndyle
Vast beauty. Colourful history. Ecological diversity. And the chance to strike gold! Come see why the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast is a Land Without Limits. No limits on the views. No limits to adventure. No limits on the life-changing experiences.
From pitching a tent in an alpine meadow to brewing camp coffee at a lakeshore RV site, BC’s Cariboo Chilcotin Coast is a throwback to a simpler, less complicated time; when road-weary travellers could pull into a campground at pretty much anytime and find a primo site. You don’t need to book and pay for a site six months in advance—though feel free to do so, for added peace of mind.
Three distinct regions offer an outstanding variety of open-air adventure under endless skies.
Cariboo (with two o’s):
For thousands of years prior to European colonization, aboriginal First Nations tribes dwelled in small settlements near the shores of Canim Lake, where herds of wild caribou roamed freely. Identical in genetic makeup to the reindeer of Scandinavia and northern Canada, both male and female caribou grow impressive antlers throughout their lifespan. Early visitors to the region were struck by the majesty and size of these magnificent ungulates, and so they named this part of the territory “the Cariboo.”
The Cariboo Gold Rush of the 1860s drew fortune-seekers from all over the world, as thousands of settlers navigated the treacherous currents of the Fraser River to pan for gold near Barkerville and Williams Lake. Now, it’s campers and RV enthusiasts who are the lucky ones.
While early settlers endured no end of hardship, today’s visitors can relax and camp on the shores of dozens of lakes that dot these rolling hills west of the Cariboo Mountains. This is a gold mine of unhurried, spontaneous camping, with over sixty commercial and provincial park campgrounds and resorts ready for your dome tent or RV.
Even luxurious, high-end guest ranches—the kind with beautifully peeled log cabins and gorgeous quarter-horses tied to the hitching post—cater to RV campers and tenters; though the latter might pay a premium for plugins. Pet owners will be happy to find out that these campgrounds are generally pet-friendly.
If there’s a soundtrack for summer camping, it’s the ghostly call of a loon echoing across a still mountain lake while tiny waves lap on a pebbled shoreline. Could there possibly be a better place to hear this call of the wild than at Loon Lake? (And loons aren’t the only birdlife; bald eagles, hawks, swans, woodpeckers and even herons are regular visitors). Campgrounds and cabins abound on this clear, deep lake. Lots of boats, canoes and kayaks to rent, with even paddle boats for the kids.
Recent archeological digs reveal that aboriginal First Nations lived by the shores of Canim Lake over 4,000 years ago. Nowadays, you’re just as likely to encounter European tourists in a convoy of recreational vehicles on a journey of discovery in this land without limits. 35 kilometres northeast of 100 Mile House (or “Hundred Mile” as the locals call it), Canim means “canoe” in the parlance of the local First Nations, who still live close by. This pristine body of water is 35 kilometres long and is suitable for both motorized craft and, of course, canoes. Camping options range from primitive to deluxe; guest lodges such as Kayanara Guest Ranch, Canim Lake Resort, South Point Resort, Rainbow Resort and Reynolds Resort welcome RVers and tenters, too. Campers can take advantage of a wide range of facilities including boat rentals, guided fishing and on-site dining. There are dozens of delightful hikes in trails close to the lake as well, including Canim Falls at the eastern end of the Lake in Wells Gray Provincial Park.
Quesnel Lake is like having a fjord similar to Bentick Arm, where Bella Coola is situated) moved hundreds of kilometres inland from the ocean. Carved by glaciers that ground their way out of the Cariboo Mountains eons ago, “Y-shaped” Quesnel Lake splits into a north and south arm. Camping options range from plush RV resorts to hidden forest service road sites, with tons of secret beaches and coves to boat or kayak to. What really draws in the visitors is the chance to haul in record rainbow and lake trout.
One of the region’s many undiscovered secrets lies along Highway 24 connecting the Cariboo to the North Thompson River Valley. Settlements are few and far between, but fishing lakes and campgrounds are easy to find on “The Fishing Highway.” Find the perfect place to pound in your tent pegs (or block your wheels) at Loon Bay Resort, Hathaway Lake Resort, Eagle Island Resort, Moosehaven Resort, Cariboo Bonanza Resort and Fawn Lake Resort.
Chilcotin: From Cattle to Canyon
West of Williams Lake, Highway 20 steadily descends into Farwell Canyon, a spectacular gorge carved by the mighty Fraser River. Smack in the middle of the province is BC’s prime rangeland, the Chilcotin Plateau is a huge expanse of grasslands, forest, rivers, lakes and wildlife. Anahim and Nimpo Lake are both remote way-points on the road west into the Coast Range. Yet Anahim Lake is surprisingly accessible, with daily air service direct from the south terminal at Vancouver International Airport (YVR). At Nimpo Lake, resident beavers compete for space in the water with DeHavilland Beavers, the single-prop bush plane that has carried countless geologists, hunters, fishermen, surveyors and even doctors to remote work camps and wilderness lodges. Combine your love of camping and fishing—or just relaxing—at any of these fine resorts; Moosehorn Lodge (Uncha Lake), Chilcotin’s Waterfront Resort, (Nimpo Lake) and Escott Bay Resort (Anahim Lake). Kokanee Bay Fishing Resort, Woodlands Fishin Resort and Barney’s Lakeside Resort all share the sizeable bounty to be found in Puntzi Lake).
Coast: The Great Bear Rainforest
The Chilcotin plateau ends where the Coast Range mountains form an impenetrable barrier of rock and ice. Highway 20 traverses Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, jumping off spot for limitless backcountry adventures. Here, grizzly bears, bearded mountain goats and massively-antlered moose outnumber humans by a thousand to one—maybe more. Camping in and around Bella Coola differs greatly from the high rolling hills of the Chilcotin, as sheer granite walls, tumbling glaciers and dense forest hems in one of BC’s most enchanting valleys and the Great Bear Rainforest. The forest air smells fresh and fragrant, and you recall time spent as a child when you had nothing better to do than sit down by the river banks and whittle on a dry piece of wood.
The camping options are eclectic and wonderful in this rugged region of the province. Located east of Bella Coola near Hagensborg, the Bailey Bridge Campsite and Cabins and the Rip Rap Campgrounds and Cabins offer secluded camping or cabin accommodation spots right on the Bella Coola River, with views of the Coast Range mountains. As with every destination in the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast, there are plenty of fishing and hiking options nearby, too.
From Winnebagos to Westphalias, the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast welcomes campers in all sizes and shapes!