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/.
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.
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.
The Tsus Lakes are a tiny lake chain in the heart of the northern Caribou mountains. Nestled between Spring mountain’s three peaks and an unnamed pyramid-shaped mountain to the south, this valley has some fantastic views and is an easy 25 km ride from the parking area. The Tsus Lakes are perfect for the adventure mountain biker or bikepacker.
The Tsus Lakes valley is west of the Bowron river and only 62 km east of Prince George. Turn on the Cutoff Road Forest Service Road on the south side of the highway just before the Bowron River bridge. You can either park by the highway pullout or a few kilometers down the road at the CoalmineForest Service Road junction.
Matt and I picked a cool and sunny fall day to explore this area. The Coalmine FSR runs east towards the Bowron river, then south. The first dozen kilometers are characterized by a rolling plateau through stands of young lodgepole pine, aspen and some spruce. We found some cool sand dunes on the east side of the road, not far from where we parked. Matt was thrilled to ride his brand new fatbike on these dunes. A lone wolf liked the dunes as well!
An interesting mountain peak in the Bowron river valley.
Looking west towards Spring mountain. There is a great campsite at this un-named lake.Some snow-capped mountains off in the distance. The access road to the Tsus Lakes valley is a deactivated road that branches off of the Coalmine FSR. This is a rarely used road that narrows to ATV width. All the culverts and bridges have been removed which makes for some fun stream crossings.
A narrow track winds through the trees down to the campsite on northern most lake. There are some great views of the tree clad mountains to the west. It is unusual to see un-logged terrain anywhere in the Prince George region. There is a great campsite beside the lake as well.
As you ride west along the lake chain, you begin to gain elevation. The toe slope on the east side has transitional welt-belt ecosystems with mature western red cedar, hemlock and a thick moss-covered forest floor.
As you approach the last lake, the trail becomes crowded with alder saplings. Be sure to wear eye and hand protection.
The sun was behind us on the ride home. I’m always smiling when riding.
With picturesque lakes, forest-clad slopes and snow-covered mountain peaks, the Tsus Lakes area is fantastic for day-tripping or overnight bike camping. Be sure to use Google Earth for route planning and carry a SPOT GPS Device when riding.
You can learn about blogging or publishing your adventures, at UNBC’s upcoming Outdoor Adventure Writing and Blogging Workshop at our Prince George campus. Taught by veteran adventurer Vivien Lougheed, this class and field-based workshop will help you take transform your outdoor experiences and photos into a compelling written narrative.
McBride Mnt., located approximately 2.5 hrs east of Prince George, is a tough climb but has some interesting alpine areas to explore as well as fantastic views of the Rocky Mnts. and Robson Valley. On the drive we decided to drop in at the Goat River historic trail for a bit of a warm up.
Dave and I geared up on a cool and cloudy Saturday afternoon
The Goat River Trail was first used by First Nations as a route between the Upper Fraser River and the Bowron Lakes area. CPR surveyors and miners kept this trail open during the mid to late-1800s. We accessed the trail at the parking lot adjacent to the outlet of the Milk River. However, it became clear that this trail was not MTB friendly.
The junction of the Milk and Goat River
Quartz CreekDave crushin it through dense thimbleberry, alder and cow parsnip
The trail was characterized by muddy, brush-covered single-track with large smooth slippery boulders and skinny’s over marshy, mucky sections. Dave bailed and later told me that he had bruised ribs from a soccer game:/ We pushed our bikes most of the time. After a couple of kms we decided to take a quick picture at the Goat River and head back. Note to self: this is a hiking trail only! Off to McBride Mnt.
While one could ride the full 12 km road to the start of the alpine, we decided to park at the 6 km cabin where we would spend the night.
The road up McBride Mnt. is hard packed sand and gravel, with many sections of loose gravels and stones with exposed angular bed rock. It is also steep, running minimum 7% and some times up to 15% slope.
Typical steep switch back
The views improve as you ascend the mountain
It was raining in the Robson Valley as we road out of the subalpine
At 12 km, we began a tough 2 km push into the alpine. The summit of McBride Mnt. was in the clouds.
Looking west at an alpine ridge
Made it to the rebuilt fire lookout
The weather began to turn as we reached the fire lookout. The temperature dropped to about 5 degrees C and the wind picked up. We decided to head back to the cabin. It snowed in the alpine later that weekend. Needless to say the 8 km downhill ride was fast and bumpy-my hands were aching by the time we reached the cabin.
This is one of the best, easily accessed campsites that I have every been to. Check out the views…
Looking south into the Rockies
Sweet and spicy peanut sauce on rice noodles with pepperoni. A bikepacking standard for me.
Getting out of the rain
While Dave and I were setting up camp, two guys rolled in on road bikes. Meet John and Brad: two Californians who came to BC to ride all of its toughest mountain peaks (25 I think). They are part of a cycling community called Pjammcycling. They had no idea that the road up McBride Mnt. was unpaved-but they road it anyways. We had a chat, shared some dinner and wished them well. These guys are hard core!
McBride Mnt. is a tough ride, but provides awesome access to the alpine and great camping. For more info check out:
On the long weekend, I spent a couple of days exploring the back roads and trails in the Opatcho Lake area, just south of Prince George. In the early 1960s, a massive fire called the Tsus or Groveburn fire burned thousands of hectares in this area and Northeast to Tabor Mnt. Firefighting, salvage logging and reforestation efforts resulted in a patchwork of openings and roads. In recent years, local hiking, ATV and snowmobile clubs have maintained a network of awesome doubletrack trails and access roads.
While there was little snow on the main access road, Francis Lake was still frozen.
My plan was to ride the Francis Lake Trail for 8 km, then find a camp spot along the river, however, the snow was too deep and soft. In this case, I backtracked and rode Buckhorn road to Opatcho road, then up to the lake.
St. Marys Lake.
I had the campsite at Opatcho Lake all to myself. However, because of a cold wind coming off of the lake, I built my camp a 100 meters away in the timber.
After cutting a good supply of firewood, I had a late lunch. There is no shortage of firewood in this area and a camp stove is not necessary–this is a great way to save weight when bike packing. A good handsaw is critical however.
If you ride south along Apatcho road, you can get some great views looking east towards the Caribou Mnt. range.
That evening I watched the sunset.The temperature dropped rapidly and the overnight lows were around -4 c. The atmosphere was crystal clear and the stars, stunning! Sometime after midnight I was woken by coyote howls, followed by wolves. Great Horned and Screech owls also added to the night time symphony.
Given my research interests in Forest History I had to check out this old mill site were they processed much of the salvaged timber. Given that this site is covered with bits of metal and broken glass, my spidey senses warned me not to ride into into it: I should have listened, by the next morning I had a flat:(
Other than two trucks and an ATV that drove into the campsite, I did not see anyone else in the bush. This is typical of Northern BC. If you would like an opportunity to explore this part of the world check out UNBC’s Educational Adventure programs running this spring and summer: Educational Adventures
Interested in some northern BC adventure? Then book your flights, hotel and rental cars from FlighNetwork.com.