Posts tagged crowsnest highway

Get us to the Coast!

Just kidding, Interior BC is ridiculously nice. We took our time getting across the province and found some really incredible camping spots in Jaffray, Salmo, Keremeos and Chilliwack, British Columbia.

In the interest of engine stress on Clemie, we decided to take the Crowsnest Highway again to get from Alberta to BC. Highway 1 through Golden and Kamloops is crazy beautiful but has more tricky mountain passes and we got word that the Coquihalla between Merrit and Hope had recently had a snowstorm so bad that it had to be closed – yikes. We took it as an opportunity to find new spots along the way that we didn’t check out last time. We passed through Fernie to get to a wicked spot near Jaffray called Suzanne Lake. It’s a secluded recreation area with plenty of trees and a lake with a mountain view. Being November, it was a bit chilly but this would probably be a super cool place to swim and boat in the summertime.

Generic Van Life - Chilliwack Suzanne Lake
Suzanne Lake was an amazing find! Can’t beat lakeside mountain views

BC is absolutely killin’ it with the free recreation areas. It’s so refreshing to be in a province that actually wants you to get outside and enjoy your public land. They’ve established many of these free user-maintained recreation areas that make for perfect dry camping spots and even spoil you with an outhouse. It’s wonderful how easy you are to impress when you live in an 80 sq ft van with no running water.

Generic Van Life - Chilliwack Outhouse
Admit it, this outhouse is probably in a nicer location than your house

After squeezing in a workday in Cranbrook, we geared up for the mountain pass we had been dreading: The Salmo Pass (Kootenay Pass) between Creston and Salmo. Our engine was in much healthier shape this time around but it’s still a bit nerve wrecking when you’re going up a steep uphill for what seems like an eternity. Signs at the bottom warned of slush and snow which seemed far off in the midst of mild temperatures and a misty rain. You can feel the air temperature drop as you ascend and suddenly everything – including the road – was covered in snow. Reaching the summit was nothing short of beautiful but turned the stress onto the brakes for the way down. We always just put it into low gear and tag along with the transport trucks to play it safe and thankfully it paid off. If you’ve done this drive and can’t understand our sentiments, it’s probably because you weren’t driving a vehicle that weighs over 10 000 lbs and pulls to the right.

Generic Van Life - Chilliwack Kootenay Summit
The Kootenay Summit in early November was definitely snowy

We made our way north of Salmo to another recreation area called Erie Creek where we came face to face with a logging truck on a narrow dirt road. We had to reverse all the way until we were in a spot with enough room for the truck to pass – as always, I was very happy Justin was driving and not me. Once we got to the spot, we had a beautiful rainforest-looking campground all to ourselves with a neighbouring creek rushing by. It then began to rain consistently until morning but hey, you can’t win ‘em all.

Generic Van Life - Chilliwack Erie Creek Salmo
Woods life rules

We kept on cookin’ through Castlegar and Osoyoos before heading to another great BC recreation area near the Similkameen River in Keremeos. The drive the next day through the Hedley-Princeton area all felt very familiar but the mountain passes that followed seemed to take us by surprise. We took the Crowsnest Highway in the summer heading east and must have blocked out of our memories how steep and winding the road is around Copper Mountain and Manning Park. Anyway, it wasn’t anything too crazy and was beautiful everywhere you looked although our poor ears didn’t know what to think with all the elevation changes.

Generic Van Life - Chilliwack Tunnel Keremeos
Pretty cool spot to camp in Keremeos amongst the mountains and Ashnola Creek

When we reached Hope we were disappointed to hear that forest fires and rockslides had closed off access to the Skagit River area. With some hesitation after reading several cautionary tales, we headed toward Chilliwack to make our way up a mountain to a BC Hydro recreation area called Jones Lake. We heard the road was rough and required 4×4 but after doing a bit of research, it seemed like our only challenge would be the steepness. And steep it was. To access the recreation area, you have to drive 9 km (5.6 mi) up a mountain where the first 3 km is all super steep switchbacks. A little intense but all in all, not too bad on the way up. By the time we reached the lake itself (actually called Wahleach Lake), we had forgotten about the drive altogether and had to pick our jaws up off the floor from how beautiful it was. A large lake surrounded by trees and mountains would be our backyard for the night.

Generic Van Life - Chilliwack Jones Lake Beach
Just try and tell me this isn’t beautiful

We spent the night on the west tract of the recreation area and saw no one but a couple of Hydro workers leaving the site in the evening. In the morning, we explored the other side of the lake and parked on a beach to have our coffee. It seems there are a handful of interesting A-frame cabins on the east side of the lake where other people put up with the steep drive to spend their summers. Having no one around made the whole place feel very surreal and made us super stoked to get to experience it. Vanlife has brought us to so many amazing places off the beaten track that we probably wouldn’t have otherwise been to.

Generic Van Life - Chilliwack Jones Lake Coffee
A pretty glorious spot to have our morning coffee

After a magical morning of sunshine and mountains, we got ready for the somewhat dreaded drive out. Remembering how steep the way up was, we knew the downhill was going to be pretty intense. The smell of burning rubber wasn’t so distant so we tried to give the brakes a break (ha) on a couple of the plateaus within the last few km’s of the mountain. Despite being in low gear and doing all the things we were supposed to, when we got to the bottom, the brakes were straight smokin’. Yup, our brakes had caught fire while struggling to hold back a very heavy van from dive-bombing straight into the surrounding forest. We were more so laughing than stressing and gave the van a chance to cool down before going any further. Somewhat luckily, there were huge puddles everywhere so driving through them a few times helped to sizzle down the steam.

Generic Van Life - Chilliwack Jones Lake Mountains
We had Jones Lake all to ourselves

That’s probably not how most people in the area started their day but it was just another day in the life for us and didn’t stop us from thinking that Jones Lake was totally worth it. Moving right along, we made a stop in Abbotsford to gym and shower before making our way into Vancouver and officially reaching the west coast yet again. With double digit temperatures and not a flake of snow on the road, we undeniably felt relieved to have made it back across the country in one piece. The plan now is to spend a couple weeks in the Vancouver area before making the last leg of our journey for the year onto Vancouver Island. We started 2018 off in Mexico and are so lucky to have gone to all of the places that we have and not completely lost our minds (maybe just a little).

 

Coming Full Circle in Alberta

Returning to where we started our van journey in and around Calgary, Alberta.

Alberta is where the van magic started; our van is from here, we renovated it here (in the dead of winter I might add) and we started our 6-month long drive (and counting) from here. As cool as it was coming back into Canada through BC, entering Alberta was a pretty big milestone for us. We’ve done and seen A LOT of stuff since we’ve been away and it’s pretty great to know that we, and Clementine, have made it successfully without being dead broke or, just dead.

Generic Van Life - Alberta Crowsnest Pass
The Rockies never seem to get old. Even though they’re like really, really old.

You’d be hard pressed to find a boring or dull route into Alberta from BC since you’ve got some pretty special mountains to pass through. As mentioned in our last post, we took the Crowsnest Highway the whole way through BC until we reached the crazy gorgeous Crowsnest Pass in Alberta. Crystal clear lakes and snow capped mountains surround you as you drive and try to feverishly take it all in since in a matter of minutes, the landscape changes to the good ol’ prairies – yawn. Anyway, not far from the border is the town of Frank, which is a pretty interesting place to stop. Basically, hundreds of years ago, a crazy rockslide completely buried this little town and it was left as a field of rubble. They say there’s gold and all kinds of things under those rocks since the slide destroyed banks and other important buildings but I think the no-digging policy is pretty firm. Bummer.

Generic Van Life - Alberta Frank's Slide
Turtle Mountain: the culprit of the rockslide that buried a town in 1903

After catching up with some friends and family, we made the voyage to middle-of-nowhere-ville, Alberta for a music and van festival. Yes, I said van festival. It’s called Vantopia and is where people from Western Canada and elsewhere bring their crazy souped up vintage vans to hangout and party. I think we could easily say we were some of the only ones that actually live in our van because most of these other ones definitely stay in the garage for most of the year and only come out to be shown off. We’re talking full white polar bear interiors, custom wooden rims and even fully operational bars, all in 70s and 80s vans in the most pristine condition. It was a farmer’s field full of vanners and it was wicked. We set up our matching awnings with our friends’ van and made a giant van complex but were too busy getting wasted to take a photo of it – oops!

Generic Van Life - Alberta Vantopia
One of the only surviving photos (…and it sucks. Sorry.) of when we just arrived and barely anyone was there

We spent the next couple weeks hanging out with family, eating good food and catching up on some repairs and maintenance. We were so stoked to borrow a timing gun from a friend and fix our ongoing engine issue in minutes. We can now go up hills without having to go logging truck pace and all just in time for us to embark on the flattest part of our journey through the prairies– perfect timing! Ha. As great of a time as we had with the humans we hadn’t seen in months, the highlight of our time in Calgary was definitely meeting Justin’s brother’s new puppy, Banjo. This is totally unrelated to anything travel or van related but he’s just too damn cute not to acknowledge. He’s a little border collie and is an absolute wildman. But you can’t stay mad at him because he’s just SO CUTE!! (Photo evidence below)

Generic Van Life - Alberta Banjo
GAHH!!! Don’t you just want to squeeze him?!

Just as we were getting ready to leave Calgary, we noticed that our fridge had decided to stop cooling. We had propane, it was getting a steady flow of power and we always make sure to keep it level so this became a real headache. Long story short, we ended up being able to replace what was causing the problem with a $7 part from an electronics store and were back in business. This was really frustrating and stressful and delayed our departure by a few aggravating days but all in all, we got it sorted and were finally able to buy groceries again, yay! RV fridges are really expensive and finicky so I wrote a very detailed post about what happened to our fridge and how to troubleshoot if you’re experiencing issues with yours. All that and more here.

Generic Van Life-RV Fridge Troubleshooting-Upside Down Fridge
Repeatedly turning the fridge upside down was one of the many methods we messed with

With a cold fridge full of overpriced Canadian beer, we were ready to hit the road again and keep truckin’ east. We made a stop not far from the Saskatchewan border in Sunnynook, Alberta at a lovely free campground on a dam reservoir. It was all fine and dandy with the exception of the playground that’s so rusty that it makes horror movie-level sounds as children play on it. Swings that sound like creaky shrieks and children’s laughter just don’t go all that well together when you don’t want to have nightmares. Aside from that, we enjoyed our last peaceful night in Alberta before exploring some new ground (for me) in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Our next commitment is to be in Northern Ontario for the beginning of July so we have about two weeks to drive 19 hours, which is more than manageable and will give us plenty of time to get lost in all those canola fields. Oh yeah, we borrowed a camera from Justin’s mom so we’ll be stepping up our photo game on our blogs and camping directory. Be sure to follow along as we uncover new spots all the time!

Generic-Van-Life-Camping-Spot-Carolside-Campground-Alberta-van
Peaceful prairie camping in Sunnynook, Alberta

Following the Crowsnest through Interior BC

Snaking around hairpin turns in Osoyoos before venturing into the mountains on the Crowsnest Highway through Castlegar, Creston and Fernie, British Columbia. 

The time had come for us to veer away from the gorgeous Pacific coast that we had spent the last two months conquering and head into the interior, bidding farewell to the ocean for a while until we reach the Atlantic. From Princeton, we started on the Crowsnest Highway, which we’d be taking the whole way through to Alberta. Most people opt for the other route through Golden, BC to Banff, AB but that’s precisely why we didn’t – it gets crazy packed with tourists all summer and luckily, we’ve both done it before. The Crowsnest Highway is also incredibly beautiful and far less busy, which is great for us since Clemmie doesn’t exactly love going up hills. Anyway, we settled into another camping spot along the Similkameen River not far from Hedley and took cover as massive swarms of baby mosquitoes tried to gobble us up. I didn’t mind having to stay inside because after spending a week in the city, I got sick. Interestingly enough, neither of us have been sick at all since we’ve hit the road (even in the winter) and have been spending so much time outside but after a week of close quarters with lots of humans, it got me good.     

Generic Van Life - Crowsnest Highway Similkameen River
It’s hard to find bad views in the mountains. This was our spot on the Similkameen River, between Hedley and Keremeos.

We carried on into picturesque wine country where it was 30°C/86°F and everything was in full bloom. If you’ve never been to Osoyoos before, do yourself a favour and go. It’s a magical valley within the Okanagan area that seems like it could be the setting of a Disney movie with lush greenery amongst a background of snow-capped mountains. There’s a killer lookout point as you leave town that gives a view of the whole valley and the switchbacks you just drove up to get there. This led us toward Anarchist Mountain (great name), where we camped a night at yet another one of BC’s awesome recreation areas called Jolly Creek. We had our share of struggles in the winter when it was so cold that we’d wake up with frost on our phone screens and our dish soap would be frozen but now that summer was coming into full swing, a whole new set of challenges were arising. We’ve got a small fan but with no airflow, it kinda just pushes the warm air around. The only cure for that is to sit outside in the heat and remember the times we nearly froze when running out of propane in the middle of the night in -30° and stop complaining.

Generic Van Life - Crowsnest Highway Osoyoos
Could Osoyoos get any prettier?

The van didn’t want to start up the next morning which further solidified our inkling that the ignition timing was out of sync and the drive through the mountains would be a slow crawl until we could fix it in Calgary. With most of our day spent fiddling with spark plugs, we made a brief stop in Grand Forks before hunkering down for the night at a spot called Mud Lake. Because of the elevation, there was still snow on the ground even though it was over 30°C/86°F and sunny; for the first time ever, we had a snowball fight in shorts and sandals and it was something out of every Canadian child’s dreams.

Generic Van Life - Crowsnest Highway Mud Lake
Sunshine and snow at Mud Lake

The next morning had me waking up dead sick but luckily we were on our way to Creston where we’d be visiting some family for some much-needed TLC and home cookin’. We stopped in Castlegar to trade in my oregano oil for extra strength Buckley’s before making the trek through the Kootenays via Salmo Pass. This was really hard on Clementine because it was the longest and probably the tallest mountain we’d climbed so far. Alongside the logging trucks, we slowly creeped up to the snowy summit where we had to stop for roadwork. Turns out there was a massive mud slide just a week prior where a couple from Saskatchewan got pushed off the cliff and had to find their way out of the mud and get airlifted out…YIKES. Anyway, we eventually made it to Creston (mud-free) where we spent a few days relaxing and chowing down on lots of fresh, local asparagus (asparagus tourism, anyone?).

Generic Van Life - Crowsnest Highway Salmo Pass
No shortage of bad views on the Kootenay Pass from Salmo to Creston

With some rest and lots of cold medicine, I was feeling alive again and ready to keep truckin’. We made a stop in Cranbrook to get some groceries and got caught in a vicious mountain thunderstorm that actually made the power go out at Walmart. You know it’s intense when even Walmart is down. Once it passed and order was restored in the universe, we made our way toward Fernie for our last couple nights in British Columbia. By this time, we’d been on the road for six months and had barely seen any wildlife aside from the usual suspects of deer and possums. Not far out of Cranbrook near Joffre, we had our first bear sighting. Unfortunately, it was dead on the side of the road with its tongue hanging out and was not at all pleasant to look at…neither was the smashed up car that hit it. We passed the scene of the crime and spent the night at Wapiti Lake where we camped lakeside to the soundtrack of elk mating calls. When we were exploring the forest a bit, we found a bag of deer legs dumped on the ground. This was pretty weird and creepy so we retreated back to the van and tried not to let our minds wander.

Generic Van Life - Crowsnest Highway Wapiti Lake
When a lovely lakeside camping spot turns into…
Generic Van Life - Crowsnest Highway Wapiti Lake Deer Legs
A creepy deer massacre!!

Fernie is a wicked little mountain town not far from the Alberta border. It’s a hotspot in the winter for skiing and snowboarding but is equally beautiful in the summer where sidewalk patios give way to a view of the snowy Lizard Range Mountains. The Three Sisters are a heavily photographed mountain chain that you can see clearly, right from downtown. After putting in some work hours at a café, we grabbed some Fernie brews and headed up Mount Hosmer where we’d spend our last night in BC. Hartley Lake is a small emerald green lake nestled among the mountain tops that made for an awesome camping spot. You really can’t beat mountain-fed lakes and the peacefulness that surrounds them. We spotted two beavers swimming around but when we walked around to get a closer look, the one we gathered was the male protecting the pregnant female started jumping out of the water to make some major splashes to scare us off. Ok beaver, it worked. We’ll keep to our side and you can keep to yours.

Generic Van Life - Crowsnest Highway Hartley Lake
Beautiful Hartley Lake on Mt. Hosmer, about 20 minutes away from Fernie

After a quiet night’s rest, we gathered our things to make our way toward Calgary, where we started our journey six months ago. Of course, Clementine didn’t want to go home and decided yet again, she didn’t want to start. She eventually got going after the usual fiddling so we were anxious to get to Calgary to catch up on the overdue repairs and tuning. Returning to Alberta was coming full circle from where we bought and renovated the van and it felt great to know we’ve made it such a long way. We’re stoked to keep heading east through Canada and check out tons of cool spots along the way. Keep checking our camping directory as we add new spots all the time!

Generic Van Life - Crowsnest Highway Sparwood Truck
Bonus! Check out “The World’s Largest Truck” in Sparwood on your way out of BC. It’s definitely not small…