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?
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/.
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.
The iconic “cut banks” at the end of North Nechako road is your gateway to outdoor adventure. With miles of roads and trails, wildlife, scenic springs and ranches, and a fascinating history, the North Nechako-Miworth area is an ideal Ride the Wild location!
You can start your adventure at two places; the end of North Nechako road or from the McPhee/Chief Lake road junction. Once you pass the cut banks, North Nechako becomes the Takla Forest Service Road, which heads north west, upslope, to McPhee then north to Chief Lake road. A spur road runs south of Takla, just above the river, providing several access point to the Nechako river for the more adventurous (or those who like bush wacking).
Looking west down the cut banks
There is some great winter riding in this area. Takla road is plowed up to the junction of the second access road on the left. Some members of the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation live on-site at Clesbaoneecheck or Fort George Indian Reserve # 3. The Nechako river valley, as well as all of Prince George, lies within the traditional area of this First Nation. Please respect the land and those that live on it.
Some swans on Duck LAke
Local First Nations hunted for caribou, ducks and geese, as well as trapped and fished in this area. Indeed, as late as the 1900s there was a camp at Duck Lake where Lheidli T’enneh hunters lived. During the summer, Chief Louis also kept his horses here, so that they could graze on the grasses that covered the floodplain alongside of the river.
In the early 20th century, settlers built a reaction ferry that could transport people across the river. People could take the train from Prince George to Miworth (on the east side of the river) and for a few cents take the ferry across. A reaction ferry consisted of two large connected pontoons that were attached to a cable system running from one side of the river to the other. The remains of this ferry can still be seen on the west shore of the big bend of the Nechako, opposite Wilkins Park.
Looking down McPhee Road
One of the ranches on McPhee Road
Looking east towards the bench land above the Nechako river valley
Some fallow pasture
McPhee creek is a small fish-bearing stream that descends to the Nechako river. Just upstream of the second bridge are a series of springs. The warmer spring water prevents the river from freezing over during the winter.
Winter on the McPhee
McPhee creek crossing # 2
This area is rich in diversity. Eagles, kingfishers, ducks, swans, herons, moose, deer, bear (grizzly and black) and wolves all inhabit the river valley and rich riparian areas. There is some great eagle viewing in the cottonwood trees just before and after the cut banks.
A winter wolf kill
This campsite provides great access to the Nechako river. First Nations and other locals often fish the Stuart River sockeye run at this spot. You can get to this camp by taking the spur road that runs south of Takla road, across the creek, then down the second trail on your left. This steep, short trail ends right at the river. Use flies or lures, casting from shore into the deep pools: you may catch a resident rainbow trout.
Are you interested in kicking your outdoor adventure up, a few notches? Then check out the University of Northern British Columbia’s Northern BC Adventures. From ghost towns to grizzly bears, these educational adventures get you into some of the most inaccessible places in northwest BC.
Trees and forests are iconic. From the Haida First Nations “Golden Spruce,” to the Druid’s “Sacred Oak” to 19th century Vancouver’s “Carey Fir,” trees have played a significant role in the material and cultural lives of people for millennia. As a former forestry consultant and all-around forest dweller, trees have played a significant role in my life standing as witness’s to my past, present and future. Think of a what a 300 year Douglas fir has seen, let alone a 1000 year old western red cedar? Enjoy some of my favorite trees. Perhaps you know where they are? These awesome organisms need no explanation.
If you would like to know how you can experience these trees yourself, send me an email.
When I explore BC’s backcountry, backroads and trails I typically encounter stunning forest-clad mountains, rivers, lakes and wildlife. Every now and then, however, I encounter the bizarre, unexplained, odd and even creepy. Check out these nine images and let me know what you think?
I found this demented frog doll on the Greenway trail one Spring. Can you imagine giving this to a child?
These guys thought driving to Goat Island on the Fraser river was a good idea.
I’m not sure what this is about, but apparently there are no moose down this road, west of Vivian Lake.
How did this abandoned van near McPhee road get flipped?
This roofless and doorless cabin is near UNBC.
This strange pipe is 20 km down the Bowron Forest Service Road. I wonder if there is a bunker down there?
An even bigger pipe near McPhee creek. This would make a great shelter!
What’s for dinner?
Smokey keeping the temperature low near Tatlayoko Lake, BC.
Well known for its Grizzly bears and caribou, Grizzly Bear or Red Mnt. towers over the historic community of Penny, a couple hours east of Prince George. To the west, of this peak is a fully stocked public cabin primarily used by backcountry skiers. The 12 km ride into this cabin is ideal for the self-sufficient adventure mountain biker who is willing to gravel grind up some tough trails. This cabin provides great access into the McGregor Mnts. alpine tundra and views of extensive subalpine parkland.
First opened in 1916, the Penny post office serviced the community that developed alongside the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. Today, mail is delivered to the 10 or so people that live in this community via the CN Railway Company. The route (ignore my detour to the west of the main trail).
This ATV width trail begins just few hundred meters north of the post office and winds through a rolling bench for several kms then descends into Red Mnt. Creek. This area is the northern tip of BC’s Temperate Inland Rainforest and is dominated by large, old western red cedars. Riding through these towering cedars is like riding through the columns in a medieval cathedral.
This cabin was closed for the season.
Time to load up on the carbs.
Like the trail itself, the railing of the Red Mnt. Creek bridge appears to go on forever.
Eventually the trail leaves the rolling toe slope and switchbacks steeply upslope for several kms. There are some good viewpoints of the Fraser River and the McGregor Mnts. to the south.Where’s the trail?
Be prepared to push your bike uphill from the 10.5 km marker to the cabin at 12 km. This section is the steepest part of the ride and my legs simply couldn’t do it, but maybe yours could. At 3200 feet elevation, you get great views of the subalpine parkland to the north. At 5000 feet you begin to descend into a depression where the cabin is located.
After 6 hours and 19 minutes I finally arrived at the cabin!
So why did I haul my camp stove and pot uphill for 6 hours? This cabin is fully stocked with everything you need to spend the night (except your food and clothes).
A killer view from the dillapitated outhouse. Please note that there was no toilet paper!
The trail through towering cedars, views, access to subalpine parkland and the “all inclusive” cabin makes this grueling 12 km ride worthwhile. While I didn’t see any grizzly bear, I did see a white wolf on the ride down: perhaps a good sign for my next adventure? For more information about this trail and the public cabin check out: