Hudson’s Hope, British Columbia is well-known for its massive hydroelectric dam and Williston lake, however, this area also has some fantastic geographic features such as the Portage Mountain Steam Vents. These naturally occurring vents are just outside of town and are accessible by mountain bike, foot or ATV. They also provide great views of the WAC Bennett dam and Williston and Dinosaur lakes. Add this adventure to your summer or winter bucket list: you won’t regret it!
Park at the trapper’s shack on Canyon drive, just west of Hudson’s Hope. Ride to the junction of the power lines and Canyon drive, then follow the lines until they head north. This upslope section is heavily eroded, so you make have to hike-a-bike for 500 meters or more. You will eventually emerge on the bottom slope of a small ski hill. Ride upslope to the lodge, then head east down the road.
Two hundred meters past the ski lodge is a junction, take the narrow road heading east and follow it downslope to the power lines right-of-way. Head north, until the trail switchbacks around and over a small creek, then upslope to a level area. The trail head to the steam vents is just on the east side of the road.
This ATV width trail winds its way downslope along a pine and spruce covered ridge and emerges on the rim of the Dinosaur lake canyon. A short trail runs downslope through an aspen stand then emerges on a grassy slope.
Interestingly, these vents don’t smell like rotten eggs (sulphur) and my guess is that they are more prominent in winter when there is a major temperature differential. There is room for a small camp on the south side of the vents, but you are fully exposed to the elements and there is no water in the area.
These steam vents are the only terrestrial geothermal feature–that I am aware of–in northeastern British Columbia. They are well worth a visit. Furthermore, there are some interesting sand dunes on the northwest side of Portage Mountain. Check out my post about the dunes and the massive earth work Art Project that is located there: Hidden in the Sands.
“8 trout-good fishing, also replaced stove pipe with larger ones 5”. No more smoke in cabin,” wrote Willie Kwiatkowski on December 28, 1977 in a tattered spiral-ring journal.”
This 39 year old journal can be found in the cobweb covered rafters of an old backcountry cabin south of the Tabor Mountain fire tower, near the headwaters of Bowes creek. Called the “Old Trapper’s Shack,” this cabin is just one of the fantastic cultural features found in the Tabor Mountain Recreation Area , just fifteen minutes east of Prince George. If your’e looking for some summer or winter adventure then this area is a must see!
You can access this historic cabin by mountain bike, walking, skis or ATV. Park at the junction of Giscome and Groveburn road, heading south to the junction of the Tower and VOR Forest Service Road. Its all uphill from here. Follow the VOR road east, until you reach the first switchback, where you can see the fire tower to the north. Take the narrow Frost Lake Multiuse Trail for about 1.8 kms, then head south down a narrow trail. This descent is heavily rutted and brushy. The trail eventually flattens out in treed wetland. The narrow trapper’s trail is covered with knee high grass, horsetail, balsam fir and spruce. Follow this trail, north along the edge of the wetland until you see the cabin.
You will have to cross a makeshift bridge over the creek that feeds the wetland. Proceed with caution.
This cabin is dry and drafty with a functioning wood stove. However, there is a a lot of mouse and squirrel waste, so I would not recommend sleeping in the cabin unless it is thoroughly swept out.
While trapping may seem distasteful to some, it was a source of revenue for First Nations and immigrants during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Indeed, there is a small handful of people that still trap this region today.
Cultural features such as this trapper’s cabin are an important source of data on Tabor Mountain’s environmental history. I find it interesting that there were trout–or perhaps there still are–in this wetland, begging the question: how did they get there?
Scenic single-track, stunning views, wildlife and epic cross-country rides are just minutes away from downtown Jasper, Alberta. Even better: these trails are virtually empty in the late fall! Three of my favorite trails include Pyramid to Katrine Lake, the Athabasca River trail (west and east) and the Valley of the Five Lakes network. Check them out this fall or winter–you won’t be disappointed.
For more info about front-country mountain biking in Jasper National Park go to Jasper Travel. You will definitely want a map when exploring this huge network of trails. Download this map produced by Parks Canada. Remember: tell someone where your going, dress for the weather and always bring survival gear.
Northern British Columbia is well known for its accessible mountains, rivers, lakes and unlimited opportunities for adventure: It’s an outdoors person’s paradise! But did you know that the north also has some of the best free five-star accommodations anywhere? Next time you’re planning a backcountry adventure include a stay in one of these luxury cabins.
1. Morfee Mountain
This brand new backcountry cabin is located approximately 15 kilometers up the Morfee Mountain Forest Service Road, just outside Mackenzie, BC. Check out The Morfee Mountain Hop for more info.
2. The “Old Trappers Cabin”
It’s a tough ride into this almost all-inclusive cabin on Tabor Mountain. However, its well worth the effort. Its dry, has a cool wood stove and you get to spend some quality time with a family of mice and some squirrels. Apparently there are rainbow trout in the adjacent wetland. No outhouse included. Check out the Tabor Mountain Recreation Society for access and trail info.
3. The Troll Lake Cabin
This fantastic Tabor Mountain cabin has a great view of Troll Lake and is only a two kilometer ride or hike from Tower Road. While there is no outhouse or functioning wood stove, there is definitely a roof over your head and a door that closes. For access info download the Tabor Mt. Recreation Society access map.
4. McBride Mountain Shelter
Windows and doors are not included in this mid-mountain shelter. However, the 180 degree view of Robson Valley view is second to none. Also included is an outhouse, 50 meters down the road! With a only a 7 kilometer ride, hike or drive up the unmaintained forest service road, you will want to add this chalet to your bucket list. For more info about McBride mountain click on McBride Mountain Madness.
5. McBride Mountain Fire Lookout
If the mid-mountain cabin is booked, then simply ride or hike another 8 kilometers to this alpine retreat. With windows, a door and a roof, what’s not to like about this retreat center?
6. Livingstone Springs Trapper’s Cabin
This heritage cabin is only a seven kilometer ride or hike from Crooked River Provincial Park. With plenty of fresh water, squirrels and mice, you will want to book this accomadation asap.
7. Red (Grizzly Bear) Mountain Backcountry Cabin
All kidding aside, this is an all-inclusive subalpine cabin. Just bring your own food, clothes, and sleeping bag and you’re good-to-go. The cabin includes everything you need for a comfort-filled holiday; from a bbq to cookware, to plush foam mattresses. Grizzly bear, mule deer and caribou frequent the area so you will have lots of company. The outhouse has a stellar view and there is fresh mountain spring water nearby. For more info or to book this cabin go to the Prince George Backcountry Recreation Society.
8. Portage Mountain Trapper’s Cabin
Located approximately 20 kms west of Hudson’s Hope–near Portage Mountain–this streamlined cabin is apparently not open to the public. It’s nice to look at nonetheless.
9. Great West Life Mobility Park Cabin
This dilapidated yet rustic cabin is adjacent to the Prince George Snow Machine Club at the end of Scott Road. Watch out for the collapsing metal sheeting on the veranda and the broken glass inside. It will keep you dry in a pinch. Click here for more info about the Great West Life Mobility Park.
10. The Partially Completed Cranbrook Hill Cabin
This windowless, doorless and roofless cabin is only a short ride from UNBC. You will need a ladder and tarp if you’re spending the night in this unit.
Looking for some alpine adventure with killer views and mountaintop accommodations? Then check out Morfee Mountain. Only two hours north of Prince George, this 5800 foot peak is easily accessed by mountain bike, off-road vehicle or snow machine. With great views of the Rocky Mountains, Williston Lake and Mackenzie, British Columbia, you will definitely want to add this mountain to your bucket list.
Access to this area is via Morfee Mt. Forest Service Road, only a few kms north of the community of Mackenzie off of Highway 39. There is a large gravel lot just off the road near the old blue cabin. You can park and ride from here or drive 15 kms to the subalpine cabin, and start from there. You can also drive all the way to the summit, park and explore the ridge lines.
Adventure mountain bikers and bikepackers will love the 17 km ascent that gains 3400 feet in elevation. This sandy, maintained road winds gradually upslope and has both flat and steep sections, especially in the alpine.
There are ample places to set up camp in the subalpine (approx. 4000 ft.) However, there is a brand new public cabin nearby that may be a better choice on a cold/wet day. This cabin also has a descent pit toilet and fantastic views of the rocky ridges and pristine forests to the east. If your’e lucky you might see some Southern Mountain Woodland Caribou.
Once on top, you can ride or hike the shale ridges running north and southwest. The wind blows hard at the top so remember to pack some warm clothing. For more info about Morfee Mountain check out Dougz’s ClubTread Post.
The hot summer sun was relentless. Portage Mountain’s bold ridge-line loomed in the distance. My anticipation built as I pushed up the gravel access road into one of British Columbia’s unique geographic features: the Portage Mt. Sand Dunes, near Hudson’s Hope. As I crested the hill and emerged on an open bench the wind blew hard off of Williston Lake bending the cottonwood saplings into submission.
Riding towards the eastern rim, I found a large 4×8 ft. sign lying on the ground. Its white background and multi-colored letters seemed incongruous to this desolate dune. It was made of thin aluminum sheeting on plywood. Lifting the sign and gingerly balancing it against a couple of sticks I snapped some pictures. Suddenly, a burst of wind snatched it from my grasp.
What was this? Why was it here? I was curious and slightly unnerved. Someone put serious effort into this sign. I looked around the dunes, but I was alone. The printing was clear in some places and fuzzy in others. A dark black tire mark crossed the center of the sign like a redactor’s slash. Quickly reading the text, ““Peace Sanctuary” by Canadian artist Deryk Houston.” I also noticed Iraq, children and rock. As I rode around the dunes I saw nothing but sand, an infinite number of tracks and a few rock piles.
Unbeknownst to me, beneath the sand in a depression to the north, lay a massive landscape art project consisting of rings with paleolithic-like faces and symbols within the center. Called the “Peace Sanctuary,” this was the first major project of the artist Deryk Houston. While presently only visible from Google Earth, this massive design connects two different countries and cultures, raising awareness about the devastating effects of war in the hopes of creating lasting peace.
Portage Mountain Sand Dunes
Located 23 kilometers west of Hudson’s Hope and adjacent to the W.A.C. Bennett Dam, the Portage Mt. dunes are actually a massive Glacial Moraine. This geologic feature is a result of advancing ice sheets picking up and grinding rocks which are then exposed–on the edges, and at the end–as the ice retreats. Moraines are characterized by unsorted sands, gravels and stones. While this area is well-known to local ATV and dirt bike enthusiasts, I was hard pressed to find any who had actually been there. Fortunately, the local ATV club had posted a .gpx file of the trail network, on the internet, which I downloaded into Avenza Maps on my iPhone 6.
The gravel access road gradually ascends to to a bench which provides a great view of both the mountain and dunes. While easy climbing, the road can be tricky to negotiate due to the loose gravels and stones that cover the surface. It was perfect for a fatbike with four inch tires.
Deryk Houston is a Victoria based Canadian-Scottish artist who has exhibited his work internationally. His farming background, love of working with his hands and a fascination with ancient art forms such as earthworks, spirals and labyrinths has influenced his large public pieces. Houston also paints. His works are characterized by a vibrant mixture of orange, red, blue and black lines, stars, waves, clouds, text, animals and primitive stick figures. He also has created some interesting 2-D paintings. Perhaps more importantly, he is a dogged advocate for peace and those impacted by war, especially Iraqis affected by the first Gulf War, subsequent conflicts and international sanctions.
In 2000 he visited Iraq and installed his “Sanctions Painting” at the Baghdad Arts Center and the following year a “Bomb Shelter” piece in a bombed out building that is now a memorial to those who died in a US attack. In 2002, he exhibited at the “Art for Mankind” show in Baghdad and supervised the construction of a 24 foot bronze sculpture in Iraq’s Peace Sanctuary. The same year he constructed the massive “Peace Sanctuary” stating that his “intention was to help the Iraqi people and try to get the world to understand that bombing only causes other problems…At the same time, it helped to heal my own heart after witnessing some terrible things in Iraq.” The “Peace Sanctuary” garnered national attention: so much so that the National Film Board of Canada commissioned a film—“From Baghdad to Peace Country”—which premiered internationally in 2003. Houston feels that his work has made an impact on Canada’s geopolitical position towards Iraq and the Gulf War.
The Peace Sanctuary
Deryk’s trips to Iraq marked his soul. The crumbling buildings, open sewers, poverty and hospitals overflowing with the sick and dying were impossible for him to forget. Thus, he decided to create a landscape art project to raise awareness of the plight in Iraq. Wanting a remote location–so that people who have to put in effort and commitment to find it–he began researching a suitable location. He even called the famous Canadian author, Farley Mowat. Surprisingly, the provincial government was the most helpful suggesting the dunes near Hudson’s Hope. With support from the provincial and local government he began building in earnest.
With his nine year old son Samuel, a ball of twine, wooden stakes, a dirt bike and a D9 Cat operated by Phil Kirtzinger they laid out a design that was approximately 1000 feet across, containing 4 concentric rings with a mother (holding) child and dove motif at the center. While Deryk oversaw the operation from a high point, Phil roughed out the design by pushing and piling the sand–basically a massive sand sculpture. Deryk explained it to me this way:
“I love the ancient Nazca lines and their simplicity. I also love the mother and child image that we see so often throughout time. The central image is a simple circle of the mother’s head and the child’s head. The hand of the mother cradles the child’s head. There is also the shape of a dove. The outer circles are ripples. How we hope to effect change in our world.”
This costly project was funded out of Deryk’s pocket and took a few days to complete. Much later, he visited the site, but sadly ATV’s, dirt bikes and wind had pounded the earthwork into obscurity. However, like peace itself, this monument to the people of Iraq is not hidden: it can still be seen in Google Earth today!
Post Script: The “Peace Garden,” Woodwynn Farms
Houston continues to create thought-provoking and interactive landscape art. His latest piece is the “Woodwynn Farm Peace Garden,” near Victoria, BC. This stunning labyrinth is a collaborative effort of Houston, Elizabeth Wellburn (his wife) and Richard Leblanc, the farm director. Woodwynn Farm is a therapeutic community for the homeless and those struggling with mental health and addictions.
Personal correspondence and telephone conversation with Deryk Houston, July-August 2017.
“From Baghdad to Peace Country,” directed by Sherry LePage. http://www.nfb.ca/film/from_baghdad_to_peace_country/.
Deryk Houston’s Art Gallery website: http://www.derykhouston.com/.
Nestled between the Rocky and Monashee Mountains, Valemount, British Columbia, has great outdoor adventure opportunities minus the crowds. You can camp, ride and paddle the endless shoreline of Kinbasket Lake, relax in a rustic cabin with great mountain views or fatbike and hike the Canoe River sand roads. If you want to get away from the National and Provincial Park crowds, then grab your gear and head to Valemount this summer!
Kinbasket Lake is a massive reservoir on the Columbia river system that extends hundreds of kms south to Golden and Revelstoke.The northern tip is only 25 kms east of Valemount and can be accessed via Highway 5 South, Cedarside rd., and the Canoe River Forest Service rd. This latter road runs along the east side of the lake, providing access to numerous Forest Service Rec Sites such as Yellowjacket, Horse Creek and Canoe Reach Marina. The lake is flanked by the Monahee Mts. to the west and the Rockies to the east: needless to say the views are stunning. You can explore kms of shoreline on foot (where sturdy foot wear) or by mountain bike (fatbikes work best on the large gravels and stones that line the shore).
2. Rustic Cabins
Valemount is small community with numerous hotels and rental cabins. We stayed at Twin Peaks Twin Peaks Resort, which arguably has the best view of the mountains. With super comfortable cabins, great “chill-out” decks and low rates, Twin Peaks Resort is a must visit locale.
3. Sand and Sun
If you love sand and sun then you will love Valemount. This area lies within the rain shadow of the Monashee Mts. and is hot and dry. More than that, the community sits on sand that washed out of a massive lake during the post-glacial melt. Explore the unique sand dune ecosystem at Jackman Flat Provincial Park or if you have a Fatbike you can ride numerous pure sand forest service roads that criss-cross the valley. Park at the end of Cranberry Lake rd., riding south to the Upper Canoe Forest Service rd. Outside of Maui, this is the finest sand that I have ever seen.
Valemount’s endless shorelines, sandy roads and trails, rustic rental cabins and serious lack of crowds is a must-visit spot for those who like to explore off the beaten track. This community also has its own Three Ranges Brewing where you can get a pint or fill your growler for only $11 including tax. Wow! Downhill mountain bikers will love the up and coming Valemount Mountain Bike Park with its convenient shuttle service. Enjoy Valemount this summer.
Just an hour west of Prince George is a fantastic ridgetop roller coaster ride through gnarly Douglas fir overlooking scenic lakes and wetlands called the Telegraph Trail. Built in 1865 by the Western Union Telegraph Company, this trail was supposed to connect North America to Russia via thousands of kms of poles, copper wire and ceramic insulators. Abandoned in 1936, this route is now an ideal multi-use outdoor adventure trail.
In 1865, the Western Union Telegraph Company began building a telegraph line that would connect North America to Russia. Called the Collin’s Overland Telegraph, this primitive electrical communication system would run from the United States, through British Columbia and Alaska, across the Behring Strait, terminating at the mouth of the Amoor River, in Eastern Russia where it would connect to St. Petersburg via 7000 miles of existing line.
Sadly, this ambitious project was abandoned not long after it started because in September 1866, WUTC’s competitor completed a Transatlantic Telegraph. North America could now speed dial Europe, but not on Collin’s line. Thousands of kilometers of poles, copper wire and insulators lay dormant until 1902 when the Yukon Telegraph Company took over the line. Radio communication ended the use of telegraphs in 1936.
This trail can be accessed at the Hogsback Lake Forest Service Recreation Site, 20 km south of Vanderhoof. From Prince George follow HWY 16 West, turning west on Mapes rd., then southeast on the Blackwater rd. and lastly south on Hogsback Lake rd. Follow the gravel road east until the last campsite (with outhouse). The trailhead is just to the east of the picnic table.
This trail runs along a steep sided ridge on the north and east side of Hogsback and McKay lakes. It is characterized by steep, short gravelly/sandy climbs and descents and flowy flat sections. There are great viewpoints looking south across the Nechako plateau towards the Telegraph Mt. range. Old Douglas fir, dead lodgepole pine and trembling aspen line the trail, clinging precariously to the steep slopes. Red stem feather moss, Kinickinic, juniper and birch leaved spirea cover the sandy forest floor.
McKay lake has a great campsite that could easily fit several tents.
The Telegraph Route
Construction of the British Columbia section of the telegraph, from New Westminster to Quesnel, began in 1863. Two years later, a thirty-man survey team lead by Major Frank L. Pope began surveying the Quesnel to Tatla Lake section travelling by foot, mule and canoe. The construction team, lead by Edward Conway, followed Pope’s crew brushing out the trail, selecting suitable trees for poles and hanging insulators and wire. Telegraph stations were constructed along the 365 mile line including one at Bobtail Lake, Blackwater Crossing and Bulkley House (Tatla Lake).
Pope estimated distances, measured elevations and angles along the entire route, producing elaborate reports and maps that were sent to Colonel Charles P. Bulkley, the Chief Engineer. He also recorded details about First Nations, animals and plants as well as geographic features. Pope recommended that the line be built alongside lakeshores when possible. He reasoned that these areas were more accessible, the trees more windfirm and the line easier to construct.
While many of the telegraph poles have fallen over and rotted, you can still find some artifacts such as this white ceramic insulator. Keep your eyes up, you may see a veteran Douglas fir with some copper wire still clinging to it.
If you looking for some two-wheeled or legged adventure then check out the Telegraph Trail at Hogsback Lake. Pack a lunch, plenty of water and be prepared for some short, tough climbs: the ridge top views are worth the effort!
If your a beginner mountain biker then check out these must-know tips from one of Canada’s top outdoor adventure bloggers, Leigh McAdam Mountain Bike Tips for Beginners.
British Columbia is well-known for its forests, mountains and coastline, however, it also has extensive grasslands and sage brush country that provides some fantastic mountain biking and bike packing. With plenty of cacti, cattle and creek beds, these grasslands are your home for adventure by bike.
Dog Creek lies within the Fraser River Valley, approximately one hour south of William’s Lake. This area is characterized by rolling grass covered plateaus dotted with stunted, gnarly Douglas fir, juniper, sage brush and prickly pear cactus. The landscape is criss-crossed with steep walled gullies and dry creek beds. While portions of this area are owned by the Douglas Lake Cattle Ranch Company (owned by a US billionaire), it lies within the traditional territory of the Dog Creek/Canoe First Nation (Stswecem’c Xsat’tem ‘tn). Please respect their land by closing gates and heeding “no trespassing signs.”
Looking south towards the Fraser River Valley.
Some of the larger gullies have ATV tracks along the edges. This sage brush lined gully heads downslope to the Fraser River.
The larger gullies have small clearings that provide shelter from the wind and kindling for an evening fire. For an aromatic experience add a little fresh sage to your fire.
Looking west across the plateau.
The relentless wind, exposure to the cold and poor soils stunt the fir trees that dot the landscape.
Two firs fighting for survival. Even when half-dead, the one on the right provides perfect perches for raptors hunting field mice.
This young deer did not survive the winter or predators. The gullies are full of bone piles. A local rancher told me that many of these bones are from cattle that died years ago before they were routinely brought in for the winter. They used horses in those days, but now they use ATVs.
Prickly pear cacti cover the grasslands. I quickly learned that you should stick to the old roads and game/cattle trails. Once you go off trail you get into the cactus. I had to stop every one hundred meters or so to knock these sticky suckers off my tires. For longer trips, stick to well worn trails otherwise you will spend all your time fixing flats.
This spring has been cold, windy and wet. Every hour or so a cold wind would pick up, blowing a storm east across the plateau, then lightly rain on the upslope areas. The temperature dropped below zero at night: my winter sleeping bag was worth its weight!
Sunset over stormy mountains.
A lone horse greeted me on my return trip. These are not “petting farm” horses. They are wild and wary of dudes on bikes. Keep your distance.
For more information about mountain biking in the Cariboo-Chilcotin region of British Columbia go to the Williams Lake Discovery Center Website. Next time you visit this community stop in at this unique visitor center and grab one of the many maps of the region. Also check out the fantastic all inclusive mountain bike tour of the south Chilcotin offered by the Mountain Equipment CoOp.