Northern British Columbia is strung with pocket parks and tiny campgrounds, many of which are only partially developed. Besides the region’s provincial parks and Forest Service recreation sites, many towns maintain one or two civic campgrounds or parks, and new parks and campgrounds are opening all the time. Most campsites spring up at the confluence of roads and water – common in the river-laced and lake-bejewelled north. The easiest order to describe them is the same one in which they are discovered: just follow Hwy 97 north from Prince George.
The Summit Lake Forest Service Recreation Site lies about 1 mile (2 km) west of Hwy 97 on Caine Creek Rd. The turnoff is about 19 miles (30 km) north of Prince George. It is a popular campground with locals, and has space for vehicles. This is a good launching point for canoeists heading down Crooked River.
There is a rash of additional Forest Service recreation sites around Crooked River near Davis Lake, including Crystal Lake, Emerald Lake, 100 Road Bridge, Domino Lake, Caines Bridge, Merton Lake, and Davie Lake.
Crooked River Provincial Park is the biggest and most popular provincial park in the region. It is located 43 miles (70 km) north of Prince George along Hwy 97, and encompasses a number of lakes with sand beaches, including Bear, Skeleton, Hart, and Squaw Lakes. It has vehicle/tent sites, more than all the Forest Service recreation sites listed above combined. Then again, the Forest Service recreation sites are free for the taking.
The area around the Tacheeda Lakes is a popular getaway spot for locals, especially anglers. A circuit of lakes in a 5-mile (8-km) radius, including the Tacheeda Lakes, Goose Lake, Cat Lake, Hambone Lake, and Fishhook Lake, all sport their own Forest Service campgrounds. An eighth campground, the Anzac Forest Service Recreation Site, on the Parsnip River, insures that you’ll probably find a place to pitch a tent somewhere in this area. The turnoff to the lakes is about 56 miles (90 km) north of Prince George.
Whiskers Point Provincial Park, about 85 miles (138 km) north of Prince George, sits on the shores of McLeod Lake, a pleasant spot to pitch a tent or to park a trailer.
A third pocket of campsites springs up near Carp Lake Provincial Park . If there is one place that sums up the camping experience along the Hwy 97 corridor from Prince George to Mackenzie, this is it. There are vehicle/tent sites, split between two campgrounds: one at Kettle Bay on Carp Lake itself and one on the smaller War Lake. If you’ve come prepared with watercraft, there are wilderness campsites on three of the islands that dot Carp Lake. Fishing, boating, canoeing, and swimming are the prime activities here. Even the attractions tend to involve water, whether it be a visit to War Falls (just north of War Lake), scouting the marshes for moose, or just watching the sun set across the lake. Warhorse Lake, Sekani Lake, Munlo Lake, Turner Lake, Oldman Lake, Clarkston Lake, and Gates Lake are all within 15 minutes’ drive of the park, and all sport Forest Service recreation sites, but if you can find space, spend a day or two at Carp Lake. The park is 20 miles (32 km) southwest of the town of McLeod Lake.
Tudyah Lake Provincial Park lies on the western perimeter of the Rocky Mountain Trench, between the Nechako Plateau on the west and the Hart Ranges of the Rockies to the east. Tudyah Lake is 97 miles (157 km) north of Prince George, near the junction of Hwys 97 and 39, and is the last stop Crooked River makes before becoming one with giant Williston Lake. It has vehicle/tent sites to its credit. A smaller, Forest Service campground lies farther north along the lake, accessible from the Finlay Forest Service Rd. The road continues beyond Tudyah Lake, and is the main access road for areas on the western side of Williston Lake, where hundreds of miles of arterial gravel roads, most of which eventually end in either bush or clear-cut, lead to nearly two dozen small Forest Service campgrounds scattered across the landscape, including a trio of sites around the popular Germansen Lake. If you’re interested in visiting this area, perhaps to see if you can find the oddly named Where Are We Lake and Here We Are Lake, you can get a detailed Forest Service map from the Mackenzie Forest District office, located in Mackenzie.
There are no provincial parks along Hwy 39, but there are a number of small Forest Service recreation sites for campers to choose from. The exception to the small rule is the Finlay Bay Forest Service Recreation Site, about 58 miles (95 km) north of Mackenzie off Hwy 39, which boasts 20 sites and is located in one of the most scenic areas on Williston Lake, the largest man-made lake in North America. The lake stretches north and south from here, while to the east, the Peace Reach Arm leads nearly 60 miles (100 km) to the W. A. C. Bennett Dam off of Hwy 29, approximately 43 miles (70 km) north of Mackenzie. If you’re planning on taking a boat out onto the water at Finlay Bay, be warned that the boat launch is steep. In bad weather, you will probably need a four-wheel-drive vehicle to retrieve a powerboat. To reach the campground at Finlay Bay, follow the unpaved Parsnip Forest Service Road for about 46.5 miles (75 km) from the north end of Hwy 37 near Mackenzie.
On the way to Finlay Bay are two Forest Service recreation sites near Dina Lakes, a popular four-hour canoe route. The first has 5 vehicle/tent sites, suitable for motorhomes, located at Dina Lake itself. The second is at nearby Heather Lake. Heather Lake is 11 miles (18 km) north of Mackenzie on Hwy 39, while Dina Lake lies about 2 miles (3 km) beyond.
There is a dearth of campgrounds along Hwy 97 between the Mackenzie turnoff and Chetwynd. The exception is Heart Lake Forest Service Recreation Site, on the shores of small Heart Lake, about 2 miles (3 km) east of Hwy 97, about 22 miles (35 km) north of Pine Pass Summit. Watch for the West Pine Rest Area; the turnoff to Heart Lake is on the opposite side of the highway. Campsites are located next to Heart Lake’s small beach and along the service road that leads around the perimeter of the lake.
The Chetwynd Municipal Campground, at the junction of Hwys 97 and 29 on the eastern edge of town, has vehicle/tent sites at no charge to the camper. From here you can go south to Tumbler Ridge, east to Dawson Creek and Mile 0 on the Alaska Hwy, or north to Hudsons Hope and, ultimately, to Fort St. John.
North of Chetwynd along Hwy 29, there are only a few campgrounds, the largest of which is Moberly Lake Provincial Park, on the south shore of Moberly Lake. The park hosts the usual variety of water-related activities – swimming, fishing, canoeing, boating, sailing – as well as boasting vehicle/tent sites for overnighting. Moberly Lake is a popular getaway for residents and nonresidents alike, but there are usually a few spaces open for latecomers on all but the busiest of weekends. The park is located about 15 miles (25 km) north of Chetwynd on Hwy 29.
The halfway point between Chetwynd and Tumbler Ridge, 65 miles (105 km) south on Hwy 29, is marked by Gwillim Lake Provincial Park. Gwillim Lake is deep, blue, and cold. People with high metabolisms will find a dip in the lake refreshing; others will find it bone-chilling. More adventurous types can follow the unmaintained hiking trails that lead around the lake and deeper into the park, either as a day hike or as a short backpacking trek. The majority of people who come to Gwillim, though, come to kick back, relax, and get out on the water, in a canoe, kayak, or boat, where tremendous views open up west towards the Rocky Mountains.
Flatbed Falls Campsite, located 3 miles (5 km) outside of Tumbler Ridge, is surprisingly large and is a good place to stay if you’re visiting people in town. However, if you’re looking for a scenic place to camp, follow the Forest Service roads to Monkman Provincial Park. Up until a few years ago, just getting to Monkman was as big an adventure as exploring the park itself. Washed out Forest Service roads with nearly a dozen creek crossings kept access limited to four-wheel-drive vehicles, and only at certain times of the year. Though still fairly rough, the gravel road has been upgraded and bridges have been built, opening up the park to almost all vehicles. Follow the signs from Hwy 29 to Monkman’s campground past the colourful Quintette Coal Mine, which employs nearly half the Tumbler Ridge work force. Watch out for logging trucks and wildlife on the roads.
One of the most outstanding features in Monkman Provincial Park is Kinuseo Falls. At 197 feet (60 m), Kinuseo Falls is slightly taller than Niagara Falls. Though it doesn’t move the same volume of water as Niagara, it also lacks the tacky tourist get-up of the latter. The falls are located a short, but challenging, stroll from any of the vehicle/tent sites in the wild Rocky Mountain foothills. The campground is also a departure point for people making further explorations into the park. To reach Monkman Provincial Park, travel 35 miles (60 km) south of Tumbler Ridge on Hwy 29.
From Tumbler Ridge, you can take the back way – Hwys 52 and 2 – directly to Dawson Creek. The middle section of this road is still unpaved. South of Dawson Creek are a handful of regional and provincial parks, the largest being Swan Lake Provincial Park, about 18 miles (30 km) south of the city along Hwy 2 in the high, flat prairies of northeastern British Columbia.
The Alaska Highway 97 officially begins in Dawson Creek, and is one of the longest, loneliest stretches of road you’ll ever have the pleasure of driving. Until you get to Fort St. John, about 50 miles (80 km) north of Dawson Creek, there is still a pretence of civilization. Kiskatinaw Provincial Park, about 22 miles (34 km) north of Dawson Creek, is not quite at the halfway point between the two. It lies 2.5 miles (4 km) off Hwy 97 on Rd 64. Peace Island Regional Park is about 12 miles (20 km) beyond.
Beatton Provincial Park is located in the rolling eastern foothills of the Rockies on the east side of Charlie Lake. The signed turnoff to Beatton is about 4 miles (6 km) north of Fort St. John and on the east side of Hwy 97. The park lies 6 miles (10 km) beyond, along a paved road. Charlie Lake Provincial Park is a few miles farther north along Hwy 97, at its junction with Hwy 29 on the west side of Charlie Lake. Note: In summer, Charlie Lake has a high algae content. Swimming can be a less-than-pleasurable experience at certain times of the year.
North of Charlie Lake, the Alaska Hwy of song and story begins in earnest. From here to Watson Lake just north of the British Columbia-Yukon border, there are only two directions: forward or backward. Forward leads to some truly amazing places. In the low foothills of the Rocky Mountains, the hundreds upon hundreds of miles of unbroken black pine and bog can get monotonous. That’s why there are places to pull off and rest, such as Buckinghorse River Wayside Provincial Park, at Mile 173 (Km 281), and Prophet River Provincial Recreation Area , at Mile 217 (Km 350). The latter sports a lovely freshwater spring to revive your spirits. The spring spouts from the hillside where a trail leads down to the river.
Andy Bailey Regional Park lies 17 miles (28 km) south of Fort Nelson. A gravel access road runs 7 miles (12 km) east of Hwy 97 to the park. In the summer, take a dip in the lake; in winter, break out the cross-country skis or toboggan. This is a popular playground for locals all year round, so join in the fun.
You’ll find that Tetsa River Regional Park, 60 miles (100 km) north of Fort Nelson on Hwy 97, enjoys one of the prettiest locations this side of the Yukon border. Campsites here are spread out along the grassy shores of the Tetsa River. Easy walking through the poplar forest leads to river viewpoints and fishing holes.
Summit Lake Provincial Campground is located on the Alaska Hwy inside Stone Mountain Provincial Park. This is one of the most exposed campgrounds in the province and also one of the most beautifully situated. All sites sit within open view of each other, the highway, and the surrounding smooth summits of the Stone Mountain Range. The campground is located just north of the highest point of elevation on the Alaska Hwy (4,249 feet/1295 m), and also just north of one of the last remaining sections of unpaved highway. If you’ve been travelling north, this is a good place to pull off and relax. If you’re here around sunset, the sight of the Stone Mountains reflected on the lake’s surface is mesmerizing. (Note: There are three Summit Lakes in northeastern British Columbia: one near Prince George, another near Pine Pass between Prince George and Dawson Creek, and this one. Don’t confuse the three; they are separated by many miles of highway.)
One-Fifteen Creek Provincial Park lies a short distance north of Summit Lake Provincial Campground, on Hwy 97 beside MacDonald Creek. The vehicle/tent sites here are occasionally closed when theres a rogue bear in the area.
Muncho Lake Provincial Park has two separate campgrounds situated on the shores of one of the loveliest big lakes anywhere. Muncho Lake displays a perpetually blue hue, the result of copper oxides leached from the bedrock. Strawberry Flats Campground is located at the south end of the lake, while MacDonald Campground sits roughly at the midpoint of the 7.5-mile-long (12-km) lake. There are small beaches at each location. Car-top boats can be launched at Strawberry; MacDonald has its own boat launch. The Terminal Range is on the west side of the lake, while the Sentinel Ranges, rising sharply above the campgrounds to the east, are near the northern limit of the Rockies.
One of the best ways to appreciate them is to either get out on the lake in a boat or hike up into them from nearby trails. Beware the winds that rise on Muncho Lake and quickly whip up whitecaps. These same breezes will ensure that you wear a sweater on most days while camping here, even in the middle of summer. Wilderness campsites are located along the west shore of Muncho Lake for those willing to make the crossing by boat. Hwy 97 follows the east side of Muncho Lake and passes beside both campgrounds.
Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park, located about 12 miles (20 km) north of Muncho Lake on Hwy 97, is one of the few provincial campgrounds that remain open year-round along the Alaska Highway 97, and with good reason. Even in the depths of winter (which lasts eight months here) the springs are hot enough to provide relief to weary adventurers, whether they’ve been hiking on foot or on skis. These springs are very popular with residents of the nearest town, Fort Nelson, 155 miles (250 km) south of the park, so be sure to reserve a space if you wish to overnight here. All sites are located in a heavily forested area of pine, trembling aspen, and cottonwood, a delightful environment at any time of year. Caution: Beware bears, even in areas where groups of campers are bathing.
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