Tag Archives: backcountry

10 Tips for an Algonquin Canoe Trip

Algonquin Canoe Trip
Here is some helpful advice I wish I had when we were planning our Algonquin canoe trip.

  1. Pack like you would for a multi-day, backcountry hiking trip. Keep it light. Lots of small drybags are convenient for loading into a boat, but they’re a pain to carry. We spent almost as much time portaging as paddling. You’ll want most of your gear in as few backpacks as possible. (Christina says: “bring proper shoes for the portages”)
    Portage Fail
  2. The portages and campsites are all well marked with signs visible from a long distance away, but you’ll still need a map. We printed multiple copies of Jeff’s Algonquin Map (cropped to the area we were going) and put them in ziplock bags.
    Smoke Lake to Kootchie Lake
  3. Think about how far you want to travel each day. We were able to cover 10-12 km at a leisurely pace in 4-5 hours, but we never encountered a strong head wind. I know some groups like to cover more ground and will do 20 km in 8 hour days. The shorter days gave us lots of time to relax at the campsites (bring a deck of cards and a book). I found that my exhaustion level at the end of the day was more dependent on the portages than the paddling. Portages under 500 meters were easy and anything over 1 km was tiring. Having lots of little portages was never a bad thing (you get really good and getting gear in and out of the canoes quickly), but the bugs were often worst along the portage trails.
    Beaver Damned
  4. In addition to the usual backcountry camping gear (tent, water filter, etc), I recommend packing a tarp, carabiners, ziplock bags, and lots of rope. A handy way to setup the tarp to prevent water pooling is to tie it low to the ground (waist height) and then use a paddle to prop up the middle.
  5. Learn how to setup a bear bag to keep your food safe overnight. What not to do:
    • Don’t throw all of your rope into the tree. Hang on to one end.
    • Don’t put lots of knots and your carabiner on the rope before throwing it over a branch. It will only get snagged. (There’s a reward for the rope and carabiner I left stuck in the tree on Big Porcupine.)
    • Don’t pull your food bag too close to branches. You want it high enough to be out of the reach of bears but not too easily accessible to chipmunks. We had chipmunks chew holes in 3 dry bags.

    Rope Stuck Bear Cache Rope Retrieval

  6. Campfires are allowed, assuming the forest fire risk isn’t high. Every campsite has a nice fire pit and you can scavenge deadwood. I’d recommend bringing extra paper to help get it lit. We only had a fire on two nights, but it was handy for drying clothing.
    Michael's Pants are on Fire!
  7. Pack lots of toilet paper and keep it dry. No one likes to use leaves. There are box toilets at every campsite and outhouses along some of the portages. They’re rudimentary but better than digging a hole.
    Treasure Chest
  8. For food, I like to eat fresh fruit and vegetables in the first few days, and rely on dehydrated meals at the end of the trip. Cans and bottles are prohibited in the backcountry, even if you plan on packing it out. This is in response to litter problems (likely beer bottles and beer cans). Most of our food was in ziplock bags and plastic containers, but our group did have a few contraband cans of beans. The wardens never checked when they visited our site. I’m guessing the rule is only enforced with troublemakers.
    Camping Dinner
  9. You have to get away from the highway where the lakes have motorized boats before you have a chance of seeing wildlife. We saw two moose on our 3rd day, the midpoint of our trip, on Kirkwood Lake.
  10. Prepare for all kinds of weather. I was amazed by how quickly the weather changed from sunny and warm to a down-pouring thunderstorm. Bathing suits and a rain jacket are a must. A hat helps to keep the sun and rain out of your eyes. I also found biking gloves handy for paddling.
    Algonquin Canoe Trip

Enjoy your trip!

Backcountry Parking at Mount Seymour

End of the Snowshoe
For those heading up to Mount Seymour to snowshoe the Dog Mountain or First Pump trails, it’s valuable to know about new parking rules. It’s still free to park, but backcountry users have been restricted from using the main parking lots.

Winter visitors (Nov to Apr) who are not using the CRA but wish to enjoy the backcountry have access to Dog Mountain, First Lake Trail and the Mt. Seymour Main Trail and are required to park in parking lots 1 and 5. Overnight parking is permitted in parking lot 1 and in the designated area of parking lot 2.

Mount Seymour Winter ParkingLot 1 is at the group camp site, a 1.5 km hike from the start of snowshoeing trails with a 500 meter elevation gain. Lot 5 is along the side of the road. On nice weekends, both lots fill up quickly. Check the Mt_Seymour Twitter feed for updates about road conditions and full parking lots.

On Saturday morning at 10:45 AM they tweeted about the parking lots being full, and suggested using shuttle from the base of the mountain. The shuttle is $6/person each way, so it’s not worth it for large groups. Luckily, when we showed up at 1:00 PM, enough people had left that we had no problems finding a spot.

The hike up from parking Lot 1 adds another 20 minutes to your hike, so plan ahead.
Parking Lot 1 Hiking up from the parking lot

Greater Vancouver Snowshoe – Red Heather and Elfin Lakes

Mountains in the Clouds
Date: March 15-16 2008, January 30 2010, and March 10 2012

Location: Garibaldi Provincial Park, near Squamish (map)

SquamishDescription: For winter fun, the trail up to Red Heather and Elfin Lakes has something for everyone. It’s close to Vancouver but removed from the crowded North Shore trails; it is perfect for snowshoeing and ski touring; the Red Heather hut makes for a great day hike destination; and Elfin Lakes cabin is an excellent overnight shelter for those looking to spend a few days in the backcountry.

Beams AwayThe highlight of all of our trips to Red Heather has been sledding through knee-deep snow. I highly recommend packing crazy carpets. The trail from the parking lot to the Red Heather is wide and gently sloped, which makes for good sliding on the way down. In addition, the Red Heather hut is in a meadow surrounded with sloping hills that are perfect for tobogganing, if you don’t mind creating your own bobsled runs. It’s tiring work, but rewarding. After playing in the snow, you can warm up and dry off in the hut, which has a wood stove.

Gear Parking LotIf you’re feeling adventurous and want to spend the night, you can continue past Red Heather to Elfin Lakes where there is a cabin that sleeps 30. It costs $15/person/night and there are no reservations, so head up early if you’re going on a popular weekend. When we went up in March, we arrived at the cabin around 2 PM and were one of the first groups. By the evening, every bunk was taken. The hut is heated and has a cooking area on the bottom floor and wooden bunk beds on the top floor. You only need to bring a thermarest and sleeping bag, but if you want a real winter camping experience you can pitch a tent outdoors or build a snow cave. More info and trail reports on the BC Parks website.

Snow TrailsThe hike up to Red Heather is in the trees and doesn’t have many viewpoints, but it is relatively safe when the avalanche conditions are high. If you continue on to Elfin Lakes, you’ll end up walking above the treeline along Paul Ridge, which has spectacular views of the surrounding mountains but has a higher risk of avalanches. Make sure you check the Sea-to-Sky avalanche conditions before heading up.

More trail descriptions at Trail Peak, Vancouver Trails, and Snowshoe Magazine.
Trekking Out

Day Trip to Red Heather: 4+ hours
Parking Lot to Red Heather: 1.5 hours
Lunch: 1 hour
Sledding Time: 30 minutes +
Descent down: 1 hour

Snowshoe to Elfin Lakes with a Large Backpack: 5 hours up, 5 hours down
Parking Lot to Red Heather: 2 hours
Lunch Break: 1 hour
Red Heather to Elfin Lakes: 2 hours

Transportation: The trail starts in Squamish, about 90 minutes from Vancouver. You drive past Quest University along Garibaldi Park Road to the Diamond Head Trail parking lot. The road is routinely plowed, but can be hard to drive after a snowfall. Four-wheel drive is recommended. Directions from Google Maps.

Pictures: Elfin Lakes Snowshoeing 2006
Base Camp Gearing Up Practising Group Shot - Front Hiking Up Rhea Hiking Up Red Heather Park Rangers Elfin Lakes Trail Cloudy Mountains Hike or Freeze Snow Cave Inside Snow Cave Outside Elfin Lakes Hut Kitchen Area Monopoly Bunk Beds Elfin Lakes Shelter Dawn Getting Snow Snow Trails Frosted Skis Gear Parking Lot Sunday Morning Crew

Red Heather Snowshoeing 2010
Hiking Up to Elfin Lakes Snowball Attack Ready to Hit the Slopes Crazy Carpets and Snowshoes Crazy Crapeteers Powder Puff Carpeting Airborne Capturing Big Air Poor Form Perfect Form Beams Away All Downhill From Here Superman Style Helmet Cam Captures the Action

Red Heather Snowshoe Bachelor Party 2012
Bachelor Snowshoe Party Snowshoeing Whiskey Jack and the Neon Man Whiskey Jack Whiskey Jack Daniel Red Heather Hut Drying Out the Chest Hair Snowy Outhouse Breaking Trail Deep Snow Free-for-all First Sled Run Deep Snow Sledding Crazy Carpet Dan Head First Crazy Carpet Snowy Fun Penguin Style Shovel Jousting Snowy Sled Run Crazy Carpet Mountain Heading Downhill Drying Out Human Avalanche Snowshoe Descent Heavy Snowfall in Garibaldi

Greater Vancouver Hike – Cathedral Lakes

Ladyslipper Lake
Date: August 3-6, 2012

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.

Riding the UnimogLast 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.

Alpine Photography Ladyslipper Trail Scree-ming
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.

Rocky Peak
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.

King of the World

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.
Lake of the Woods Campsite

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.


  • Bug ProtectionBring 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.

Hiking Time: There’s a wide variety of trails that range in difficulty, length, and elevation gain. Check out the trail map (PDF) and trail report (PDF).

Day 1 Hike: Lakeview Mountain (13 km): 6 ½ hours roundtrip
Hiking in Cathedral Provincial ParkTo the Peak: 3 ½ hours
Lunch Break: 30 minutes
Back to camp: 2 ½ hours

Day 2 Hike : Ladyslipper – Cathedral Rim – Glacier Lake (14 km): 7 ½ hours roundtrip
Ascent to the RimLake 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
Smokey the Bear KissesStone 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
Continue reading Greater Vancouver Hike – Cathedral Lakes