2015: Rocky Mountain Riding – Waterton Lakes National Park – June 22-25

So I have these rules. I have them because I can out-scatterbrain the most formidable contender when it comes to forgetting where I put something down. If I don’t put the dog’s leash in exactly the door pocket it belongs, or if I don’t put the camera back in its backpack, or if I don’t put the trailer keys in the centre drink holder… Disaster. Despair and furious anger combined. (If that combo were a mutt designer dog “breed”, it would be a Furious Despanger).

Right. So I have these rules, and one of them is that my wallet goes back in my backpack/purse thingy when I’m done with it.

A crackerjack way to raise your blood pressure is to pull in to a Parks Canada gate with a horse and trailer, late in the day, expected at the stables within the park, reaching in to your backpack/purse thingy and finding… no wallet. No way to pay a park entry fee, no way to pay your camping fee, no way to pay the horse’s boarding fee. The last time I’d pulled out my wallet was to pay for gas in Fernie, two hours back down the highway.

I know I came across like a total flake (“I have my wallet, it’s in my truck somewhere, but look, LOOK at this truck – you can see why I can’t find it, right? Oh my gawd. It’s a disaster. I’m SURE I didn’t leave my wallet in Fernie. It’s got to be in there somewhere.”), and also, like a heroin addict in search of a hit (“Will you take a VISA number if I call my husband and he gives it to you over the phone? Please? Please? PLEASE??” I really need this. You really have to give me this.).

Once it became apparent that they would let me in to the Park with the credit card number that my infinitely reliable husband instantly texted me, my anxiety was only partly assuaged: OMG, but I’m also out of beer. How am I going to buy beer?? Will they take the phone CC number for beer? (Turns out, actually, yes – most businesses will take a texted CC number on your phone, no problem).

The errant wallet eventually did turn up in the nether regions of the semi-organized chaos that is my truck.

But then I lost my car keys. Up an effing mountain.

In Waterton Park, dogs must, for their own safety, remain on leash at all times (Waterton has, among other things, Killer Attack Deer that will beat up dogs. And I also saw three bears while I was there, close up and personal).

DSC_2732Spy, who has been used to four-hour rides and tussling with other dogs all day, turned into a maniac when he was deprived of his extended off-leash exercise. To try to take a bit of the edge off, I took him on an evening hour-long hike… at the end of which, I discovered my truck keys were no longer in my backpack.

They did turn up, spotted by another hiker on the trail, but not before we were up the hill again at the crack of dawn. We were up that hill, and down again, and then, at the end of the day, up the Bear’s Hump, to take a little more of that edge off.

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Waterton Lakes is full of Very Serious Hikers. Soon after the crack of dawn, as I was slopping around my campsite in my PJ bottoms and Blundstones and hoodie, clutching my coffee, about to pop out and feed the steed who was staying up the road at the Park’s trail riding stables, the chirpy-looking hikers would emerge, wearing their athletic sandals or Serious Boots, sporting their technical clothing, and their hats and caps, and their little backpacks, toting binoculars and cameras with Very Big Lenses, waving walking sticks and walking poles. There was a lot of serious hiker business going on.

Pai was settled in a sweet little shady paddock at Alpine Stables, which is a laid-back trail riding operation that offers day rides and overnight packing trips to dudes and experienced riders alike, and which kindly opens their facility to overnight boarders like me. The place is run by Deb, and her dad Dee, who built the stables decades ago. Dee is pretty much exactly how you picture an old cowboy would be – curved and bent, with the crystal clear blue eyes, and a slow and thoughtful way of speaking.

Deb gave me awesome information about the local trails, and Pai and I had some fantastic riding over the three days we were there. Our first route was the Crandell Lake loop, which was winding single-track over varied terrain, with fantastic mountain views.

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The next day, we did and out-and-back to Twin Lakes. It’s possible to do a loop on that route, but there was too much snow at the top for us to risk trying it. Our lunch stop was yet another eyesore.

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And on our last day, we went to Upper Rowe Lake.

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Yup, that’s the trail.

IMG_4259And then we were off again, to visit Vanessa and her family in Taber, Alberta.

Trail and camp notes for horsey folk:

There is no equestrian camp at Waterton. Pai stayed at Alpine Stables, which is within the park; the cost of stabling is $15 per night, $20 if you need them to provide hay. Pai had a very roomy, shady paddock there.

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I stayed at the main Town Site campground, which was a 4-5 minute drive away. A non-powered site there costs $27. The daily park user fee is $7.50/day. The campground is a cheek-by-jowl sort of place. I can recommend site E-5, which had 3 trees and nice mountain views. A lot of the sites are basically parking-lot style.

The trails I rode at Waterton – the Crandell Lake loop, the Twin Lakes trail, and the Upper Rowe Lake trail – generally have good footing, with a few tricky spots over smooth rock. Some of the trails are that ubiquitous single track that clings to the side of a hill, with a wall on one side and a drop-off on the other. Don’t look down.

Almost all the trails at Waterton allow horses. One of the hikers I was talking to mentioned that the trail he was on, from Cameron Lake back to Waterton, would be a little challenging, footing-wise, for a horse (but he’s not a horseman, so he may not be correct on that).

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2015: The Mountains Shall Bring Peace to the People – Nipika Mountain Resort – June 19-22

There’s a sign you see as you drive through Radium Hot Springs, that says, “The Mountains Shall Bring Peace to the People.”

The last time I was in Radium, I was 13 years old. Our family drove out from Ontario in our Dodge Dart to meet my brother at Cub Scout Jamboree 1981 in Kananaskis, and then we all carried on west, into BC. As I drove past the outdoor hotspring-fed pool at Radium on my way in to Nipika Mountain Resort, I had a déjà-vu feeling of what it was like to be that kid in that pool, on that earlier road trip almost 35 years ago.

The stay at Nipika was my one planned indulgence for this trip. The resort is a further 34 km beyond Radium – 20 km up 93 into Kootenay Pass and the National Park, and then another 14 km along a logging road.

The property is an entirely off-grid eco-resort in the middle of freaking nowhere. Oh, and also, it’s a little piece of heaven. This was the view from my cabin:

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Over three decades ago, Lyle – a former cross-country ski coach – and his wife Dianne bought what was then the Richter homestead, a unique property bordering what eventually became the National Park. The trail system they have established over the years features over 100 km of trails, catering to cross-country skiers and snowshoers in the winter, and in the summer, to hikers, mountain bikers, trail runners, and the occasional equestrian. Their philosophy of marrying recreation with forest preservation and restoration on the 1500 acre woodlot they manage makes them remarkable stewards of the land.

After arriving early in the evening on Friday, I spent the sweetest part of the day sipping beer on the porch while admiring the view, and then relaxing by the woodstove after dinner.

The next day, I saddled up and headed out with Spy for a leisurely late-morning ride with Lyle and Dianne and their two dogs Titan and Morley on the South Trails. Lyle’s gelding Corky was very displeased at having the grey mare join his entourage, and he was spectacularly acrobatic with the kicks he let fly towards Pai’s head, even when she was well over a horse-length away. (Too close! Too close! I said TOO CLOSE. Look, you: still too close!”) I heard wind whistling off his hind hoof more than once. I’m sure Spy was having PTSD flashbacks.

The trails we rode were exactly the sort of trails I love to ride – winding single-track with minor ups and downs and lots of changes of terrain.

You couldn’t look in any direction without having another fantastic view in front of you. It was dreadful.

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(SEE how far back we are??)

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Lyle on Corky, Dianne on Eva, with big man Titan.

As we rode along, Lyle filled in the massive gaps in my knowledge about the Mountain Pine Beetle and what it does to trees, and the things that have led to this natural member of the forest becoming an issue for forestry. Compared to reading about bugs and trees, listening to Lyle talk, with his knowledge of and interest in forest ecosystems, was about five hundred times more interesting. Actually, possibly a thousand times.

We had a lunch stop at the junction of Cochrane Creek and the Kootenay River, high up on a clay/sand bank cliff.

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Spy and the Kootenay River

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Cochrane Creek

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Oh, and by the way, the single track mountain bike trails we rode cling to the top edge of those clay banks. The trails are a rather good test of your horse’s ability to stay focused, mind her feet, and not rush. One wee step to the side, and… eek.

To say that Nipika is pet-friendly would be a massive understatement. This is a dog playground, with resort dogs and guest dogs romping together in the meadow all day. After we got back from our ride, Spy proceeded to decimate every frisbee and Bocci ball game he encountered. His passion for stealing frisbees escalated to the point that by the end of the day, if I let him out on the porch, he would prick up his ears for the sound of people playing a game, and then charge off in that direction to steal their things. (“I need dis!”) He works his cuteness like a weapon, though, and he has made himself universally popular. There have been threats uttered by the cabin full of college boys of stealing him and taking him home to Calgary.

At the end of the day, he was very tired.

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Oh, and did I mention there’s a wood-fired hot tub alongside an icy-cold pond, for post-ride relaxation?

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On Sunday, I headed out on my own (with Spyderman, of course) on the North Trails. We cruised along the high banks that border the Cross River Canyon, and found another pretty lunch stop.

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After the ride, I sat on my steps while Pai grazed, and had various visitors stop by for chats. Dianne came by and we talked dogs and horses. Wendy, who owns and runs Black Feather, the wilderness adventure company – and who just recently got back from guiding a hardcore trip to Baffin Island – is shareholder in the resort who was out visiting from her home base in Ontario, and she, who lost her own Blue Heeler a while back, came by to visit with Spy. And Thor, another shareholder who splits his time between BC and Mexico, came over to shoot the breeze and to invite me to dinner with his crew – a group of folks from Banff who have been friends for forty years. It was an absolute delight to spend the solstice on the porch of the resort’s big cabin, and to share a meal with these lovely, lovely people – I will forget all their names. but there was Wendy and Lyle and Thor, and Thor’s partner Nancy, and then the M’s: Mona, Marsha, and Maya, and there was Anne, and Danaze, and Mike… There were toasts and good food and much wine.

Nipika was a hard place to leave!

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Camp and trail notes for horsey folk:

The nine extremely charming, comfy, and well-appointed cabins at Nipika start at about $175 to $200 per night, plus $25 for horse accommodation (includes hay), plus $15 for a dog.

DSC_2643 DSC_2650Pai had a very roomy dry paddock by the X-country ski day lodge, where Lloyd and Dianne keep their own horses.

The trails are wide, well-graded X-country ski trails through mixed evergreen forest, and single-track mountain bike trails that mainly cling high on the banks that edge the Kootenay river and a couple of its tributaries. I rode nothing overly steep, although Dianne tells me there’s a trail I didn’t catch that offers a fairly challenging climb to an excellent viewpoint. The single-track trails can give you a bit of an adrenalin kick – you need a sure-footed horse to feel comfortable on them.

2015: Camping Perfection: Timber Ridge Trails – Lumby – June 16-19

Craig is the man. Craig at Gilmay RV in Vernon fixed all my trailer ills yesterday. The errant Hi Tie got shipped by Mr Wayde Andrews to Vernon, and Craig installed it, as well as repairing the snapped hinge, solving the bad design problem that has resulted in two broken hinges over the years, souping up my battery, replacing my sticky door lock, and making me a new tube thingy for setting my equalizer bars. I heart Craig.

It was a day off for Pai, who isn’t really at her fittest at the moment and who had worked harder than usual over the past week. We’ve spent three nights at Timber Ridge Trails just out of Lumby, in the north Okanagan near Vernon.

When I pulled in to the camp at Timber Ridge, I threw Pai into a corral so I could immediately start texting photos to Wayde. “OMG. Look at this place!!”

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The campsite at Timber Ridge is, in a word, perfect. You could not possibly imagine a more charming, tidy, organized, well-equipped, welcoming, beautiful spot to camp with your horse. There are pull-in sites, a little bunkie, a shepherd’s hut, and a central area with a cook house and a pavilion with tables, and a big fire pit made out of a crusher cone from the neighbouring gravel pit. I asked the host, Darlene, if she vacuumed her corrals after people left – that’s how clean they were.

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After an hour or so of settling in and hoping the afternoon would cool down a little (it was 30 degrees in the shade), I headed out on Pai for what I intended to be a relaxed, “stretch your legs” ride. Yeah. Not so much. Turns out, for a horse used to only moderately hilly rides, the Timber Ridge trails are somewhat more taxing – they involve loooooong uphills, and looooooong downhills, with a little bit of flat at the top. Pai questioned my judgment. Several times.

Nevertheless, after the workout on the ridge, she got in a few hours of grazing in the gorgeous big field adjacent to the camp, while I spent the evening with Darlene, cooking dinner and jawing around the campfire.

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Darlene suggested a route for me for the next day, which was just exactly perfect – a 3 1/2-4 hour ride, with spectacular views along the way. We started out in the cool of the day and finished in the early afternoon, and Pai was no longer vexed. Our lunch stop was at a lookout over Camel’s Hump Mountain and the snow-capped Monashees in the distance.

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When I got back from my day of trailer-fixing and shopping in town yesterday, the camp I’d had entirely to myself for two nights had morphed into a party. A group of gals from the Sunshine Coast, Langley, and Clearwater had converged a coupla days early for an AQHA Poker Ride happening on the weekend. Bevvies were flowing and the conversation was exactly as snappy as you would imagine it would be when a bunch of smart, passionate, funny ladies talk politics, social justice, horses, farts, and vibrator batteries.

One of the best parts of traveling around, talking to and camping with other horse people, is socializing and hearing stories, be they Michele’s recounting of how, before there were riders with scent bags, the Fraser Valley Hunt used to have a boy runner laying scent for the hounds; or Darlene’s stories of how, from England, she was traveling through Vernon, fell in love, and stayed and stayed; or her stories of how her boys would come home from school on Friday, before she was even home from work, and head off with their fishing rods and tents on their ATVs, and not be seen until Sunday night, in time to get to bed for school the next day; or the gal at the tack shop’s tale of her friend who rode the Pacific Crest Trail, alone, unassisted – twice.

Camp and trail notes for horsey folk:

The camp is, in a word, perfect. I think I counted 14 corrals, and there are maybe 10 pull-in sites. There’s a central group of pavilions, with skookum picnic tables and a cooking area. Darlene has all her bases covered – if you forgot something, she’s got it. There are camp chairs, birch log side tables/footrests around the crusher cone fire pit, LED lanterns everywhere… There are fresh herbs growing by the cookhouse. There’s an outdoor shower with on-demand propane hot water. The place is eat-off-the-floor pristine – I was paranoid that my camp housekeeping skills would not measure up (through no fault of Darlene’s – she is utterly laid-back. I’ve got insecurity issues.)

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There’s a big rolling field adjacent to the camp that the horses can graze in. If your horse disappears, as mine did, Darlene will cruise you around in her little mini truck thingy to find your beast.

Oh, and did I mention she’s got a shooter bar in the woods?

The trails are on a mountain (hill/mountain – it’s all relative). So they go up, and up, and up, and endlessly up, and then they come down, and down, and down, and down. There are fantastic views all along the way. The footing is 99% good, and where it’s not, the trail maps note alternative routes. Trails are really, really well-makred – you’d have to really try if you wanted to get lost.

Go there.

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2015: Riding in the Cariboo – 108 Mile – June 14-16

There’s this skit by the Frantics, Ti Kwan Leep, that features the catch phrase “Boot to the head”. That’s the phrase that came to mind this morning as Spy was divested of one of his front teeth.

Paikea: “Spyder, you fail to grasp proper dog manners regarding horses. Approach me so that you may see.”

Spy: “Alright, finally some action!”

Pai: “Observe closely…Boot to the Head.” (Boom)

Spy: “Ow, you booted me in the head!”

We have sometimes wondered whether the true reason Spy’s former owner wanted to be quit of him was that he has no interest in herding anything. He’s been around the horses since day one, and the only interest they hold for him is that (1) horses have feeders on the ground and (2) sometimes those feeders contain stuff that is yummy for dogs. That’s it. He’s had zero interest otherwise, and has had a keen respect for their personal space when it comes to their limbs.

This morning, Pai showed a lack of enthusiasm for loading on the trailer (maybe the descent into Ashcroft had something to do with that – see below), and so stopped. Out of nowhere came Spy, barked at her, and chomped her on the hind leg. And… Boom. Boot to the head.

She was very conservative with her disciplining, because that steel-shod hoof didn’t cave in his maxilla or dislocate his jaw or smash up his orbit or kill him. It did, however, result in him backing off (silently) and spitting out a tooth. He is a very lucky dog. A lucky dog who now has some dental work in his future, when I get back home.

Right. Back to horseback riding:

We left Lundbom Lake in the early afternoon, after a short final morning ride. The GPS took me to 108 Mile via Ashcroft, which, when you compare to the alternate route through Kamloops, IS marginally faster, but really, just marginally. Sweet mother of god. The descent from the mountains down to the Thompson River at Ashcroft is effing insane. The worst of it is a grade of 11%, for 6 km. Before that, it’s a mere 10% grade. And after that, just 8%. Oh, and PS – the road is entirely winding. The signs tell trucks to take the descent at 20 km/hr. I suspect that the view I had of the valley below as I crawled down that hellish road was not unlike the view from a nose-diving plane. I wish I had pictures.

Anyway, it was all worthwhile to end up at The Hills Guest Ranch at 108 Mile Ranch, which has over 30 horse corrals on their property built and maintained by Backcountry Horsemen of BC. We had the entire equestrian campground to ourselves, and after some reconnaissance on foot, I picked a site that someone had pimped out with a log bench and a handy plywood table between a couple of trees. (Site 21: that’s your Huckleberry.)

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We hit the trail the next day for a ride through the X-country ski trails that double as equestrian trails in summer. The trails meander through forest that smells of wild roses, strawberries, and warm pine needles. There’s an area of trail called Express Meadows that goes on and on and on over grass – you can let your horse canter on for miles if you so desire.

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At one stretch of trail, there were clouds of orange butterflies so dense that they looked like falling leaves.

We stopped for lunch by Succour Lake, and then headed home.

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I’d had some pretty good meals thus far (salmon fillet with panfried asparagus and potatoes/sweet potatoes; pasta with lemon sage cream sauce and pecorino, with a tomato basil salad; nachos with homemade chili, sour cream, and avocado), but the idea of having someone else cook for me was too tempting to resist, so after a shower and swim and soak in the whirlpool at the lodge, I had dinner at the resort restaurant (where they pour GIGANTIC glasses of wine. Every single patron at dinner did a double-take when their glass was plonked down in front of them.)

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A tour bus of French-from-France people (a friend once asked me, “Where else would French people be from? And I was like, “Quebec. New Brunswick. We call them French.”) were staying at the resort, so I got to use my now-sketchy language skills to chat with the folks next to me and with the fellow from Ottawa kitty-corner to me.

Camp and trail notes for horsey folk:

The horse corrals and campsites at the Hills Ranch are rustic (binder twine is the new duct tape) but safe.

There’s a very clean outhouse, a garbage depot, and water for horses.

For your $20 (if you’re a Back Country Horsemen member – I think $25 if you’re not), you have your site, access to the trails, and use of the resort facilities – pool, showers, whirlpool, gym. There’s a restaurant on site, and a spa.

The trails are reasonably well-marked and the maps are reasonably accurate. I only sampled 3 – 3 ½ hours worth of trails; the trails I rode – ski trails – were basically roads/lanes, with good footing. The meadows are lovely to ride through.

2015: Lundbom Lake – June 12-14

My rig was meant to be better, stronger, faster than it was in 2012. OK, so maybe not faster. And stronger, not so much. But definitely better. So how is it that I am cruising down the highway with a door that pretty much wants to fall right off its hinges? (Me, Saturday night: “WHY. WON’T. THIS. STUPID. DOOR. CLOSE?!??” Me, Sunday morning: “Oooooooh…”)

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It’s tacked together now with some spare screws, but if anyone were to look at my rig closely, they’d see I am just as ghetto as I was back in 2012 when I had my fender bungy-tied together after a tire blow-out destroyed it. La plus ça change…

It’s still better, though. Seriously better. Mister Wayde Andrews fashioned me a new fold-down table that rests over the fender of my horse trailer. And, ta-da, over the door to my “living quarters” (when I say “living quarters” in reference to where I live in my trailer, it’s like someone having a tent and an outhouse within walking distance saying “my master bedroom suite”), and also over the new fold-down table, there is a new Shady Boy awning, which, when the weather turns sour, should render me marginally less suicidal than camping in the rain generally does.

I pulled into my first camp site at the equestrian camp at Lundbom Lake, just out of Merritt, on Friday, and had barely parked at the equestrian campground when I was scooped up by Dale, who rides these trails just about every weekend. So I parked, unloaded Pai, tacked her up, and set off with him and his friends Trace and Carl, for a little 3-hr ride. (I say “little”, because the next day, the three of them went out on a nine hour ride. Nine. Nine hours. With a 20-minute break for lunch.)

The terrain around Lundbom Lake is rolling grasslands – cattle range – and pine trees and aspen. The Chutter Ranch leases most of the pasture in the Lundbom Commonage, and Douglas Lake Ranch surrounds the area.

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On that first day, we rode through pastures rife with wildflowers – lupins, yarrow, vetch, wild roses, sedum, geranium, columbine, yellow lilies, and dozens and dozens more I can’t name but will have to look up sometime. The rocky crag of Sugarloaf Mountain looms over the landscape to the north. We rode around the back side of Sugarloaf, we had a panoramic view over the Nicola Valley.

- Trace and Carl

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The horse world is a small place, and around the campfire that night I met Michele, a farrier from the Lower Mainland who knows people I know and rides places I ride. Mountain bikers/dirt bikers Elo and Jeff were there as well, and Spy got nicely worn out by tripod Oscar, his old friend Lewis, Elo and Jeff’s guy Porthos, and their fat little bread loaf of a Pom whose name I can’t recall.

Pai and Spy near Sugarloaf

Camp and trail notes for horsey folk:

The Lundbom campsite is a nice, tidy BC Rec Site, well-used by fishermen and horsemen alike, with about 30 well-maintained corrals (thank you, Back Country Horsemen of BC) and many level camp sites with hefty picnic tables and good fire rings. It’s a dry camp, but you can haul up water from the lake. It costs a mere $12 per night for you, your horse, and access to virtually limitless trails (nine hours. NINE HOURS). The turn-off is about 8 km past the Tourist Info building on Hwy 97C heading towards Kelowna, signed, and on the left. Camp is another 5-ish km in, past two other small lakes.DSC_2574

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Trails are not really marked at all. I mean sure, you may see a random sign pop up miles and miles from camp that tells you what trail you’re on (I saw two signs in three days), but basically, you’re on your own. Have a good sense of direction/good GPS or ride with someone who knows the lay of the land.