Canoeing & Kayaking in the Fraser Valley
North Fraser Valley
If you’re planning a visit to modest-sized Rolley Lake Provincial Park, you can launch a small boat or inflatable raft from the beach. Powerboats are not allowed on Rolley Lake and tranquillity prevails here. Bring binoculars for wildlife viewing, and perhaps a fishing rod. A companion site to the BC Hydro recreation site at Buntzen Lake is located at the dam that separates Stave Lake and Hayward Lake near Mission. As at Buntzen Lake, only hand-powered boats or boats with electric motors are permitted on Hayward Lake. Larger, more powerful boats should launch on Stave Lake at a site 0.6 mile (1 km) north of the North Beach turnoff. The boat launch for Hayward Lake is just beside the North Beach parking lot and has its own driveway down to the lake. Although a paddle on the lake can be enjoyable, there are almost no places along the shoreline to find shelter should you encounter strong winds.
East of Mission’s Hatzic Lake, where you can launch a car-top boat at Neilson Regional Park, the Lougheed Hwy runs through the small town of Dewdney and then crosses a bridge onto Nicomen Island. Just before the bridge, River Road leads off to the right and follows the shoreline of Nicomen Slough past a pub and a number of wharves to Dewdney Nature Park, where there’s a vehicle boat launch. The Fraser River flows past just beyond sight, a short distance south of the boat launch. This is a languid section of the river where a series of sloughs forms backwaters away from the river’s main course. Strawberry Island lies at the east end of Nicomen Slough. (In the 1930s, strawberries were a major cash crop in the Hatzic area.) This is one of the quietest backwaters between here and the eastern end of the Fraser Valley.
Kilby Provincial Park is located east of Mission, a short distance off Hwy 7 on wide-mouthed Harrison Bay. There is a paved boat launch here, particularly popular with water-skiers.
Weaver Creek and nearby Morris Creek are excellent locations to explore when paddling the Harrison River as it flows from Harrison Hot Springs to Harrison Bay, about 12 miles (18 km) in total. You can do it point-to-point if you have two vehicles. Leave one at the boat launch at Kilby Provincial Park on Harrison Bay and another beside the public boat launch at the west end of the municipal beach in Harrison Hot Springs. Paddling is one of the best ways to see the languid side of the Harrison system. Wildlife lingers here – why shouldn’t you?
Chehalis Lake, the source of the rugged Chehalis River, is cupped in the round folds of the mountains west of Harrison Lake. Although not nearly as large as Harrison, it is surrounded by many smaller lakes beside which you’ll often find a modest Forest Service recreation site with a picnic table or two. The Forest Service sites on Chehalis Lake, complete with their own vehicle boat launches, are far grander than most others in the Fraser Valley. Unfortunately, the steepness of the hillside surrounding the lake makes reaching these sites a challenge. Chehalis Lake is typical of the long, narrow trenches scoured out by glaciers, work that these icy tongues still carry on nearby at higher elevations. Hemmed in by mountains on both sides, the scenery here is not as dramatic as elsewhere in the Coast Mountains. Only snowcapped Mount Fletcher really impresses. Its peak is best viewed from the middle of the lake, one good reason for paddling here. Another is the clear, deep, pale-green colour of the water. The southern half of the lake is prettiest as it has not been as affected by logging. Chehalis is perfectly suited to canoeing because it is not as prone to strong winds as other North Fraser Valley lakes such as Alouette or nearby Harrison. A dozen small creeks flow or fall into the lake and chill its waters.
Boat-launch ramps are located at the Chehalis Lake South and Skwellepil Creek Forest Service campsites. To reach these sites, watch for the Sasquatch Inn on Hwy 7, just north of the Harrison River Bridge. This is where you begin the 20-mile (32-km) journey to Chehalis Lake via paved and gravel roads. Two roads branch north here, one on each side of the inn. They both link up at an intersection behind the inn and continue as the Morris Valley Road. A short distance farther, the Chehalis Valley Forest Road branches north and leads to Chehalis Lake. A second approach to the lake is via the Fleetwood Forest Road that begins on the east side of the Chehalis River Bridge. A medium-sized Forest Service recreation site is located on the east side of the bridge. (If you follow paved Morris Valley Road farther east it divides: one branch leads east to Weaver Creek and the other north to Hemlock Valley. Both Chehalis Valley and Fleetwood Forest Roads are gravelled roads that serve as active logging routes. Watch for information signs posted regarding their use. Drive with your headlights on and exercise extreme caution, especially on weekdays. The two roads merge near marker 13. There is a Forest Service site with vehicle boat launch at the south end of the lake. The approach to both this site and the one at Skwellepil Creek is rough and steep. It’s often best if someone gets out to check road conditions before attempting a descent. The first views of the lake occur at marker 15.
In spring and early summer, when water levels are at their annual high, there’s challenging river kayaking and rafting on both the Chehalis River and Chilliwack River. The Chilliwack and the Chehalis are both geologically young rivers, prone to changing their course from one spring runoff to the next. Be as mindful of sweepers as of boulder gardens.
The Chehalis River flows south from Chehalis Lake into the Harrison River. Whitewater adventurers seek out the Chehalis in May and June when water levels are high. Experienced paddlers put their canoes and kayaks in at an obscure point just above the river’s confluence with Statlu Creek near marker 14. The presence of vehicles beside the road is a tip-off. Unfortunately, the Chehalis’s red-rock canyon, waterfalls, and caves are hidden from sight by dense stands of scrub forest. You must run the river to view them. For information on guided rafting and kayak trips on the Chehalis, contact the Mission Visitor Centre.
Sasquatch Provincial Park near Harrison Hot Springs touches on four lakes, two of which – Deer and Hicks – are well suited to exploring in small boats. (Electric motors only on Deer Lake’s diminutive surface, and 10hp is the maximum permitted on Hicks.) There are boat launches at both Deer and Hicks. Paddle to isolated Sandy Beach at Hick’s south end, well worth the journey. It’s always less crowded than the beach beside the campground. Two small islands also lie offshore in Hicks Lake and make for easygoing exploring.
South Fraser Valley
The Chilliwack River is better known than the Chehalis, which lies almost due north on the opposite side of the valley. A challenging section of the Chilliwack is used as a race course and training site for Canada’s national kayak team. Watch for the metal flags strung above the river east of the Vedder Crossing Bridge that outline the kayak slalom course. In total, there are almost 22 miles (33 km) of the Chilliwack to run. Conditions on the river are more demanding in some sections than others. Only advanced kayakers should attempt to paddle the entire length when the river is at full flow. For paddlers in search of an intermediate-level outing, try the section between the Chilliwack River salmon and steelhead fish hatchery and the Vedder Bridge, a distance of about 12 miles (20 km).
To reach the Chilliwack River, take exit 104 from Hwy 1 in Chilliwack towards the Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park at Cultus Lake Provincial Park. Once you’ve made the exit you are on No. 3 Road. South of Yarrow is the small river settlement of Vedder Crossing. Turn east here on the Chilliwack Lake Road. Numerous Forest Service recreation sites are sprinkled beside the Chilliwack River and afford launch and rest areas.
Cultus Lake is a popular location for waterskiing and jet-boating, but one of the most enjoyable ways to visit here is in the tranquillity provided by a canoe or kayak. You don’t have to paddle far out from the undulating shoreline to get a good look at International Ridge, which rises above the east side of the lake. In fall, the ridge blazes with colour. Both Jade Bay and Maple Bay in nearby Cultus Lake Provincial Park have a boat launch.