Cactus, Cattle and Cold Winds: Mountain Biking Dog Creek, BC

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. 

Mountain Biking North Nechako-Miworth

 

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.

Willow River Bikepack

The Willow River Canyon area, just east of Prince George, is a fantastic bikepacking destination, perfect for a weekend adventure. Join us as we ride the Tabor Mt. trails east to the canyon and then down into the Willow River.

The Tabor Mt. Recreation Area is 25 km’s east of Prince George and is bounded by Hwy. 16 to the north, Buckhorn Rd. to the south and the Willow River, to the east. You can access this well maintained trail network at Tabor Mt. Ski Hill. Kyrke and I began our trip at the ski hill access, where we geared up and road up onto the West Touring trail. This trail runs along the toe-slope of Tabor Mt. to the X-Country ski area parking lot. This ATV width trail is characterized by rolling terrain with short uphill sections: perfect for a fatbike with 40 lbs of gear.

Kyrke getting his gear organized.

A typical section of trail.

This area receives lots of  rainwater  runoff and seepage from numerous upslope springs, therefore, it is lush and jungle like. Cow parsnip, black twinberry, raspberry, Goat’s beard and some Devil’s club (watch out) crowd the trail–making the ride an intense visual and olfactory experience. These sections are my favorite.

A meadow with Cow parsnip and Ox-eyed daisy’s.

The West Touring trail runs for 2 km until the x-country ski area parking lot. We continued east along the Hickory Wing Trail then followed the East Touring Trail, over Bowes Creek, then upslope along the Martin Trail.

 Bowes Creek bridge.

The Martin Trail and Willow River Canyon Trail junction.

At this point we had to backtrack because the Willow River Canyon Trail was covered with blown-down timber. We took a side access trail (Martin Trail connector) that ran north to Hwy. 16. We then followed Hwy. 16 east until England Creek Forest Service Road. A couple hundred meters down this road is the England Creek bridge. A single-track trail on the north side of the bridge runs east to the Willow River. At the junction of England Creek and the Willow is a great campsite that gives you access to the shore.

 Looking south down the Willow River Canyon from the England Creek campsite.

A small waterfall on the England.

From here simply rode back to the Hwy. and then east for a few km’s until the Willow North Forest Service road. This road will take you to several access points along the Willow.

This large camping area provides hundred of meters of riverfront access and is suitable for tents and hammocks. There is plenty of dead fall, so firewood is available. One way to reduce weight while bikepacking is to not carry a stove. I cook all my meals over a fire.

Collecting firewood by bike.

There is nothing better than chiliin out with a cold beer in BC’s wilderness!

 

Sunset over the Willow.

 We rode the full 48 km’s back to Prince George. This is a relatively easy ride and the westbound shoulder is wide enough that one feels safe. One interesting stop along the way is the Tabor Mt. Wildlife Viewing platform. This area is on the north side of the road, adjacent the Martin Trail connector. Accessed by a 200 meter single-track trail that runs through a young stand of aspen, spruce and fir, this viewing platform provides some nice visual corridors of Tabor Mt.

 

Looking southwest towards Tabor Mt.

Tabor Mt. and the Willow River Canyon are a great accessible adventure biking area, that are close to town. They are ideal if you just getting into bikepacking or want a  a relatively easy weekend trip. Please note that there are grizzly and black bears in this area as well as cougar and wolves. My best advice would be to make lots of noise and carry bear spray. Also, let people know where you will be going and carry a SPOT GPS device. For more info on this area check out:

Tabor Mt. Recreation Society

Check out some of the other fantastic rivers in this area at my FlightNetwork blog post The 3 Best Rivers in Northern BC to See

Big Wheels-Big Sky: Cariboo-Chilcotin by Fat Bike

Northern BC has great riding, but sometimes you have to head south to ride  dry, dusty trails and experience the wide-open “big sky country” vistas. Last weekend I spent three days exploring the Cariboo-Chilcotin’s trails and back country and I wasn’t disappointed. My riding began in 108 Mile House and ended near Junction Sheep Provincial Park on the Chilcotin Plateau. Check out my ride!

108 Mile House Trail Network

This ominous looking tunnel is the entrance way to  a huge network of single/double track, ATV and road-width trails at the 108 Mile House historic site, on the east side of  Hwy. 97. The trail heads east towards Sucker Lake through rolling grassy meadows, with patches of aspen and Douglas fir. There are some short uphill sections on the east side of the lake and plenty of grassy range land to explore.

Typical single-track and x-country ski trails.

You can spend hours riding and exploring the small ridges that run north-south throughout the range land. I did a 20 km loop around Sucker Lake.

Sucker Lake.

Chasm Provincial Park

If you had shown me this picture two weeks ago, I wouldn’t have believed that it was in BC! Chasm Provincial Park, south of 100 Mile House, is  a 3000  hectare valley and plateau that was carved out of a massive lava flow, by water,10 million years ago. Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir cover the rocky crags that are home to big horn sheep and mule deer.

An ATV width-trail runs along the south rim of the park then loops around through grassy Douglas fir and ponderosa pine stands. You get a great view of the canyon for almost 5 kms of trail. If you are brave enough to walk to the edge you can see where the sheep walked up the cliff onto the rim. The sheep come to feed on the pinegrass that grows beneath the trees.

 

A partial skull and vertebrae of a Bighorn sheep.

Lots of interesting old buildings and equipment litter the Cariboo landscape.

Bonaparte River Area

The Bonaparte River lies to the north of Chasm and has a fantastic rec site where I spent the night. The beer and spicy-peanut sauce on rice noodles was fantastic.

Junction Sheep Range Provincial Park Area

This park overlooks the junction of the Fraser and Chilcotin river and is only a 35 minute drive from Williams Lake. Bordered by a working cattle ranch, this plateau gently slopes to the south and is covered by lush grasslands and stands of Douglas fir and aspen.

In the background is the road to Bella Coola and in the foreground is a kick ass ridge top single track that runs for kilometers to the valley bottom.

The viewscapes are stunning and non-stop. Looking east.

Looking South.

Looking towards the park. Prickly pear cactus grows along the edge of the trail on south facing slopes–so watch your tires and shoes.

Heart-leaved arnica grows in grassy meadows underneath the fir trees.

If your lucky you may see a mountain bluebird on a high perch!

Allow yourself a full day to ride this area. Also note that the land adjacent to the access road is private and no-go. Riders are not the only users: there was a group pf backcountry horse packers there as well. Interesting comparison between hoof impacts and fat tires….

The scenery, riding, and ecosystems of BC’s Cariboo-Chilcotin area are second to none. At the end of a hard hot day of riding you can also enjoy the sunsets.

Tabor Mountain Recreation Area: Prince George’s Best Kept Mountain Biking Secret

If you like a little more adventure, and are willing to ride trails wider than a breadbox, you will love the Tabor Mt. Recreation area, just 20 minutes East of Prince George. Last week Dean and I planned an epic 30 km ride that began with a 7 km climb to the  old fire lookout. You can see our proposed route below.

Tabor Mt. was the scene of a massive wildfire in 1961 that burned thousands of acres of timber. Subsequent salvage logging and reforestation efforts left a patch work of roads all over the mountain. At one of the mill sites you can still see a massive sawdust pile.

In 1973, this area was designated as a multi-use recreation area. Since then, several user groups have maintained and expanded the trails. These trails are typically one-vehicle or ATV width, with no crowns or side ditching. While there are several culverts on some trails, there is plenty of surface water in the spring. The 5 km uphill to the Beaver Pond Shelter was gut-wrenching, too say the least, however, this scenic shelter and pond made the ride worthwhile. This is an awesome camping spot.

 

 

The mountain had other plans for us:  the next two km’s was a treacherous trail that had turned into a stream covered with 3 feet of snow!

 

It was tough  pushing  fat bikes up snow covered streams/trails. However, the large wheel diameter and width made it much easier than a conventional mountain bike.

When we reached the ridge top, just below the summit, we were greeted by a large beaver pond that cut our trail in two. I was soaked by this point. We carefully crossed the pond along the narrow dam and bushwhacked through the the timber on the other side. Needles to say we did not ride the trail running south around the mountain, but headed down the nearest  trail.

Tabor Mt. has numerous species of wildlife including black and grizzly bears, wolf, and cougar as well as moose. In the past, have found bear, wolf and cougar tracks on the same trail. The black bears were already out of hibernation walking the same trail we were riding (or attempting to ride).

Tabor Mt. and the Buckhorn area to the south has 100s of km’s of ATV tracks and old roads that can be explored for a day or several if you like sleeping in the bush.I think that this trail network is the best multi-use “front-country” recreation area in the region.

For more information check out…

Tabor Mt. Recreation Society

For those of you who work or play in the bush, UNBC Continuing Studies provides a wide range of field based courses from 1 day workshops to three week certificates. To find out more go to….

UNBC Continuing Studies