Location: Cathedral Provincial Park, south of Keremeos (map)
Description: I love backcountry camping – mostly because I can visit remote parts of British Columbia and camp without needing to book a reservation months in advance. The only downside is having to carry a heavy pack full of gear on your back, often for hours uphill.
Last weekend I discovered one spot in BC where you can go “backcountry car camping”. Cathedral Lakes Lodge offers a unimog shuttle service from their base camp to the heart of Cathedral Provincial Park. The shuttle is for guests of the lodge, but campers can book a spot for $100.
The hour-long unimog ride isn’t cheap, but it eliminates an 8 hour hike up the mountain, covering 16 km and 1300 meters of elevation. Because we didn’t have to worry about a gruelling hike to the campsite, we loaded our packs with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. We also had more time and energy to explore the trails throughout the park.
There are some great hiking trails in Cathedral Provincial Park. On Saturday we did a 13 km hike to the peak of Lakeview Mountain. On Sunday, we hiked up Ladyslipper to the Rim Trail and checked out Stone City and Smokey the Bear before looping back down the Glacier Lake Trail – another long 14 km hike.
The hiking trails go through lush forests that are home to deer and mountain goats, past crystal clear lakes stocked with jumping rainbow trout, into alpine meadows (in full bloom in August), and up rugged slopes to the peaks of mountains (over 2600 meters). I had one momentary freak-out when we were ascending up a narrow path to the Rim Trail, but otherwise my fear of heights didn’t stop me from exploring the area.
There are 3 campsites in the park – Quiniscoe Lake (next to the lodge where the unimog drops you off), Lake of The Woods (a 1 km / 15-minute hike from the lodge), and Pyramid Lakes (currently closed due to pine beetle damage to trees). All of the campsites are nice, but Quiniscoe Lake fills up first because it is close to the lodge and allows campfires. We camped at Lake of the Woods, a gorgeous campground along the lake that had a herd of mountain goats wandering through when we arrived.
The campground was full of families with kids taking advantage of the unimog shuttle service. Most of them had car camping equipment – large tents, big coolers, and Coleman cook stoves. It’s great that Cathedral offers a backcountry experience to people who would normally be car camping. The only downside is they were unaware of backcountry etiquette – notably putting biodegradable soap into the lake. While we were filtering drinking water from the lake, a young family decided to lather up and bathe next to us.
- Bring mosquito repellent – the bugs were bad at the top of Lakeview Mountain and in the campsite at dusk.
- Bring sunscreen – A lot of the hiking (especially the Rim Trail) is above the treeline without any shade.
- Pack warm clothing – Because of the elevation, the temperature will be about 10 degrees colder than you expect. We had perfect hiking weather – daytime highs of 25 C, while nearby Keremeos hit 36 C. And as soon as the soon goes down, it gets cold fast.
- Save room for fruit – On the way back to Vancouver we stopped at the fruit stands in Keremeos and loaded up on Okanagan peaches, apricots, and cherries – delicious and cheap.
Day 2 Hike : Ladyslipper – Cathedral Rim – Glacier Lake (14 km): 7 ½ hours roundtrip
Lake of the Woods to Ladyslipper Lake: 1 hour
Snack Break: 30 minutes
Ladyslipper to Stone City (top of the Rim Trail): 2 hours
Lunch Break: 30 minutes
Stone City picture detour to Smokey the Bear: 1 hour
Stone City to Glacier Lake: 2 hours
Glacier Lake to Lake of the Woods: 30 minutes
Another trail description can be found on Trailpeak.
Transportation: It took us 5 hours to drive from Vancouver to Cathedral Provincial Park. There are two car campgrounds at the base of the mountain (Lakeview Trailhead and Buckhorn) where you can spend the night before taking an early shuttle to the top. Driving Directions.
Cost: Transportation is the most expensive part of this trip. The unimog currently costs $100 per person during peak season (full rates here). Plus the cost of driving to Keremeos (we paid $260 to rent a vehicle plus $68 for gas). Camping is cheap – only $10 per person per night for backcountry camping in Cathedral Provincial Park.
Pictures: Cathedral Provincial Park 2012