Spruce Lake Protected Area
Southern Chilcotin Mountains, B.C.
Mountain scenery is the antithesis not so much of the plains as of the commonplace. Its charm lies in its vigorous originality. – Leslie Stephen
B.C.’s backcountry at the Spruce Lake Protected Area in the Southern Chilcotin Mountains offers memorable trail running over mountainous terrain, through forests, open plains and plateaus, and along rivers, streams and lakes.
A two-hour drive north of Whistler, the South Chilcotins lie within a transition zone between the Coast Mountains and the Chilcotin Plateau. This geography creates a rainshadow, which means sunny days and a dry climate, making the region a paradise for outdoor recreation. A long history of backcountry travel along this range, by wandering animals, as well as First Nations, prospectors, trappers, and more recently, guide-outfitters, ranchers, tourism operators, and local residents, has spurred the development of an extensive network of trails and routes, and access to a spectacular mountain wilderness.
Moving through the region allows you to experience a range of ecosystems, with covered treed areas, grasslands, alpine meadows, rivers, creeks and lakes, as well as rocky mountain passes, all surrounded by snow-capped peaks. With most of the trails above the treeline and many of the routes running along ridges, you get almost nonstop great views. The region also has an incredible diversity of wildlife, with California bighorn sheep, moose, mule deer, mountain goats, grizzlies, black bears and wolves sharing the trails.
There are trail maps to the area, with “trails” indicating paths that have had some degree of development, and “routes” indicating undeveloped designated areas of travel to minimize impact on the region, although the conditions of both vary widely depending on their remoteness.
Despite its accessibility, the area is an alpine environment and requires a solid level of fitness, self-sufficiency and backcountry awareness. With the trails ranging from multi-hour to multi-day trips, you should be comfortable being able to spend several hours a day on your feet, at high elevation, while travelling over mountain terrain.
The temperature is substantially cooler in the early morning and evenings, so bring warm layers for when the sun goes down and it can heat up significantly during the day. In the higher alpine areas, be prepared for snow in the summer. Pack a map, food supplies, a space blanket, emergency kit, a camera and water. The creeks and lakes along the routes provide clean and great tasting drinking water, but you should always have extra water on you in case you don’t come across a source for a while.
Before you head out, always tell someone where you are going, and travel in a group. Despite the stunning scenery and a recent resurgence in popularity with hikers, mountaineers, mountain bikers and horse tours, the area remains relatively low use, so rescue would not come quickly. Finally, tread as lightly as possible over the terrain. Stay on trails and routes, take out what you bring in and enjoy, but don’t harass, the wildlife.
The routes are accessible mid-May to October, with the best months being June to September.
How to get there
South Chilcotins Mountain Park is five hours north of Vancouver, two hours north of Whistler and two hours west of Lillooet. From Pemberton, take Hurley Forest Service Road to Gold Bridge (the road climbs steeply to 1,850 metres and can be very rough), or from Lillooet along Carpenter Lake. Once at Gold Bridge, follow the logging road about 10 kilometres west to the start of the Gun Creek/Spruce Lake Trail at Jewel Creek. You can also access the protected area from the southeast side by taking logging and mining roads, many of which require a four-wheel drive vehicle.
Where to stay
Tyax Lodge: tyax.com
Spruce Lake Park Backpackers Lodge: slpbp.com
Spruce Lake wilderness adventures: sprucelaketours.ca
Adam Campbell is a trail runner based in Victoria, B.C.