In the lush Pemberton Valley north of Vancouver is the old First Nations community of Mount Currie, the busy heart of the Mount Currie Reserve of the Lil’wat group of the Stl’atl’lmx Nation.
Salish First Nations people were the first to call this area their home when they settled at the foot of majestic Mount Currie and the head of Lillooet Lake. This is the traditional territory of the Lil’wat Nation, who today are headquartered in Mount Currie and D’Arcy, with smaller communities sprinkled along Lillooet Lake. The Coast Salish First Nations people inhabited the land around Whistler for many thousands of years, hunting and gathering and living a nomadic lifestyle on the land.
The Whistler Valley was an isolated wilderness frequented only by the Lil’wat Nation from the Mount Currie area and the Squamish Nation who lived in an area stretching from present day North Vancouver to the Squamish River watershed and the northern area of Howe Sound (Gibson’s Landing).
On some of the mountains that rise sharply from the valley bottom, there are pictographs – drawings on rocks – that carbon dating indicates were put there about 2,500 years ago by the ancestors of the Lil’wat people. During roadwork by the BC Highways Ministry in 2001, a 7,400-year-old tool was discovered.
Although Whistler is located within the boundaries of the Lil’wat Nation’s traditional territory, Mount Currie is a world away from the multi-million-dollar homes, exclusive restaurants and the star appeal of the renowned ski resort. While that is not likely to change any time soon, what did change was the role the Lil’wat Nation, and other First Nations in the region, played in the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games hosted by Vancouver and Whistler. They were involved from the early days of the bid process in recognition of hosting the games in their traditional territory.
The Mount Currie settlement and mountain were named after Scottish settler John Currie, who located to Quebec in 1851. After failure as a gold seeker in California and the Cariboo, Currie turned to ranching and finally settled near Pemberton with his Lillooet Indian wife in 1885.
From the time of their first contact with Europeans, the Lil’wat have always been characterized by their friendliness towards visitors.
A few of the homes on Main Street were built around 1817 of dovetailed logs with the cracks between sealed with wattle. So solid is the construction that they’ve outlasted many of the modern homes in the community.
Birkenhead Lake Provincial Park is an hour’s drive north of Mount Currie near D’Arcy. The park has mountain-biking trails and paddling and fishing opportunities on the lake. The park has a wilderness camping area situated 1.2 miles (2 km) from the vehicle/tent sites at the northwest corner of the lake. You can either walk to it along a pleasant trail, or paddle in from the boat launch. This is a delightful, arm’s-length approach to camping at Birkenhead.
Due to the extremely rocky terrain, wilderness campsites at Joffre Lakes Provincial Park are difficult to find. For those who plan to overnight in this park, follow the hiking trail on the southwest side of Upper Joffre Lake to where the alpine forest provides some slight shelter. This is perhaps the toughest but most rewarding hike in the region. There are no facilities here other than an outhouse and a few rough camping spots that have been cleared over the years. The three lakes in this subalpine chain are strung like a turquoise necklace on the mountainside below the massive Joffre Glacier Group.
Duffey Lake Provincial Park is centered around the picturesque Duffey Lake, with stunning views of the glacier-covered peak of Mt. Rohr. The park has no developed hiking trails, but wilderness, backcountry or walk-in camping is allowed.
Nairn Falls Provincial Park: Nairn Falls has long been a spiritual site for the Lil’wat Nation, who once used the trail to reach the falls and Mount Currie. Today the route offers a dramatic example of the erosive power of water. The Green River flows through the park, carving its way through a mass of granite at the foot of Mount Currie. Emerging from a fracture in the granite, its thundering whitewaters drop 196 feet (60 metres) at Nairn Falls. A viewing platform reached by a short hike from the parking lot provides stunning vistas.
The Pemberton Wetlands Wildlife Management Area (753 hectares) encompasses a number of freshwater wetlands in the vicinity of the Upper Lillooet River and Green River in Pemberton. The wetlands provide habitat for salmon and other fish species, waterfowl, songbirds, moose, beaver, otter, and black bear.
Golf: Nearby Pemberton is a golfer’s dream town, home to two challenging world-class golf courses snuggled up against the base of majestic Mount Currie; Big Sky Golf & Country Club is a classic links design built on gentle rolling terrain that integrates seven lakes connected by a serpentine creek. Big Sky is the longest of four championship courses that comprise the Whistler Village golf community, with four sets of tees ranging from 7,001 to 5,208 yards (18 holes, Par 72). Pemberton Valley Golf & Country Club is friendly to casual golfers yet challenging to more serious golfers. The 18-hole championship course (par 72, 6,407 yards) is nestled under majestic Mt. Currie, offering a spectacular setting for golf. Whistler Golf Vacations.
Camping: There’s camping at a variety of Forest Service recreation sites sprinkled throughout Pemberton Valley and along Lillooet Lake. The Owl Creek sites are located 4 miles (7 km) north of Mount Currie on the D’Arcy-Anderson Lake Road. There are two separate sites on opposite sides of Owl Creek, where it meets the Birkenhead River. Farther north towards D’Arcy you’ll find four campsites beside noisy Spetch Creek in a pleasantly forested location off the D’Arcy-Anderson Lake Road. Recreation sites on Lillooet Lake are located along gravel-surfaced Lillooet Lake Road at Strawberry Point, Twin Creeks, Lizzie Bay, Driftwood Bay, and at Lizzie Lake on a logging road 7.5 miles (12 km) east of Lizzie Bay. Residents of the Pemberton Valley have been camping at Tenquille Lake since the 1920s. An old cabin that was constructed there in 1940 is now best left to the pack rats, but it still provides shelter if needed.
Mountain Biking: North of Pemberton the Sea to Sky Trail has received some of the most concentrated attention, as trail builders fine-tune the route between Mount Currie and D’Arcy. At present, a 31-mile (50-km) loop runs between D’Arcy (the trail’s northern terminus) and the whistle stop of Gramsons on the BC Rail line south of Birkenhead Lake. Quite a variety of mountain biking terrain is up for grabs along the way. Decide which section best suits your skill level. A challenging section lies between Birkenhead Lake and D’Arcy, particularly the steep descent on Smell the Fear, a short but technically demanding piece of singletrack. For those who wish a gentler approach, a power-line road is an alternative. Aside from the Sea to Sky Trail, the heart of mountain biking in the Pemberton region is centred around Mosquito Lake and Ivey Lake. The two lakes are tucked in behind a knoll on the north side of the valley between Pemberton and Mount Currie.
Cycling: When you cycle the D’Arcy-Anderson Lake Road to Mount Currie (50 miles/80 km return) you are also covering the same ground as that of the Gold Rush Heritage Trail (see Hiking). The road runs through a narrow valley and follows the course of the Birkenhead River for much of the way. It a tight squeeze to fit hydro towers, the BC Rail line, and the two-lane paved road side by side. Fortunately for cyclists, the road is not heavily trafficked. The scenery makes this cycle trip special: high peaks straddle the valley, while the river, aided by various creeks, bubbles along the forested floor. Unless you’re really hard-core, you’ll want to do this ride from north to south. The elevation gain between Mount Currie and D’Arcy is 924 feet (280 m), as the road climbs to the Pemberton Pass; most of that gain is between Mount Currie and the pass. The road is fairly level between the Pemberton Pass and D’Arcy. You may wish to ride the morning passenger train to D’Arcy with your bike, (bikes travel on a space-available basis, and there is a charge) and then cycle back as far as you wish.
Salmon Spawn: Beginning in late August and early September, spawning salmon, which have made their way up the Fraser, Harrison, and Lillooet Rivers, begin the last part of their journey in the Birkenhead River. The sockeye run is particularly spectacular: the river turns red with them. The sight is so remarkable that at first you can hardly believe your eyes. Salmon also run in Gates Creek, which flows into the south end of Anderson Lake in D’Arcy.
The Birkenhead River is easily spotted from either Hwy 99 as it passes through rural Mount Currie or numerous places along the D’Arcy-Anderson Lake Road, including the Owl Creek Forest Service site.
Skookumchuck Hot Springs , also known as St. Agnes Well Hot Springs, are set in beautiful natural surroundings next to the Harrison River, southeast of Mount Currie and Lillooet Lake. There is a private campground, shelters, and soaking tubs available to the public.
Annual events include the Lillooet Lake Rodeo, held on the long weekend in May in Mount Currie, and the Salmon Festival in neighbouring D’Arcy in August.
Scenic Drive: If you’re looking for a scenic drive, Portage Road leads from Pemberton through Mount Currie all the way to D’Arcy, on the shores of the beautiful Anderson Lake, with some breathtaking scenery along the way.
A short distance west of Mount Currie is the rustic village of Pemberton, a fast-growing community with significant agricultural and recreational opportunities.
Circle Tours: See the best of the area on a driving Circle Tour. Head north out of Vancouver for the scenic Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island Circle Tour, or stay on the intensely scenic Sea to Sky Highway, passing through the magical winter resort town of Whistler and Coast Mountains Circle Tour. To explore the rural farmlands and forests of the fertile Fraser Valley, take the Fraser Valley Circle Tour, travelling outbound on the scenic route north of the historic Fraser River, returning westwards along the Trans Canada Highway 1 to Vancouver. Circle Tours in British Columbia.