Our chosen destination was Spruce Lake, located in South Chilcotin Mountain Provincial Park, an hour’s drive north of Pemberton, British Columbia.
The Spruce Lake trails tout some of the province’s best singletrack. They meander through broad valleys and along ridgelines, covering numerous ecosystems: alpine, sub-alpine, meadow, grassland, and forest. We chose this destination because of its remoteness, spectacular views and, yes, access via float plane.
There are three entrance points to the Spruce Lake trails. Those off Gun Creek Road and Slim Creek Forest Road can be accessed by car and the entrance at Spruce Lake Main, the top of the trailhead, which can be reached by float plane. In opting to start at Spruce Lake, we skipped a 25-kilometre climb with our young children, the aim being to avoid tempter-tantrums and bike throwing.
Our take-off time was 8:30 a.m., and my family’s excitement was high as the plane taxied towards us on Tyaughton Lake. I’m pretty sure taking the plane was a highlight for both kids. My older son loved using the headset – pressing a button and talking in code via the microphone. Luckily for us the pilot had a good sense of humour. Roger that! My little man, too small for the headset, occupied himself with a topo map he found in the back seat. He couldn’t care less about the views and was clearly more interested in contour lines.
Now, this trip might not be a good idea for all young kids. But my boys frequently ride the Sea to Sky Corridor trails (known for their technical rocky and rooty terrain) and the Whistler Bike Park, so my husband and I were confident that they’d be okay. Still, we did book a guide, just in case, and we brought our handy In-Reach phone for the backcountry.
From Spruce Lake Main, the trail smoothly and gently snakes its way down into open meadowlands and then forest eventually branching off into the Gun Creek Trail. The last 10 kilometres of this trail is through rolling terrain that features six short, steep, punchy up-hills. Our children found these to be no problem: They eagerly handed us their bikes to haul up at the base of each sandy climb. This tactic notwithstanding, the trails overall are very rideable, with the exception of the occasional rocky hike-a-bike section.
The Gun Creek Trail includes several steep scree pitches and some sandy off-camber slopes that parallel a fast-moving river, and strong bike-handling skills are a necessity. I do admit that here I felt a bit uneasy with the kids. We managed by having my husband and the guide take the bikes, so that the children were able to concentrate on their footing while they walked single-file.
Because of the distance covered and technical areas, I really would not recommend these trails for most children or inexperienced riders. Any rider attempting them should have, at minimum, intermediate biking skills and a decent level of fitness. If you are uncertain whether or not this trail is appropriate for you, try a shorter guided tour. Guides can assess if you have the required skill level for this trail.
Over the course of the day, we took numerous stops with ample time to rest, eat, snack, check out the views, snack, visit the bathroom (second tree to the left for the boys), and snack again. Gummy bears, dried fruit, homemade sandwiches, and cookies prepared by Tyax Adventures fuelled our trek. Part way through, we came across a mountain-fed stream, and the children excitedly filled their water bladders and took off their helmets to dip their heads into the ice-cold water.
By the end of the day, at about the 23-kilometre mark, our younger son was starting to falter, weaving from side to side on the trail. The older one, on the other hand, was fine and could have gone a bit longer, but probably not to the next drop-off point (which would have made for a 40-kilometretrek). While an experienced rider could finish these trails top-down with no stops in 2 to 2.5 hours, most people will want to count on 4 hours or more, giving lots time for photos and snacks. We took close to 6 hours.
The scenery along this route is nothing short of spectacular, with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains. Check on trail status and conditions with the Trailforks app or local guides, especially during the spring melt. We used Tyax Adventures (located inside Tyax Lodge) to book our flight and guide. Although the trails are easy to navigate, there are lots of junctions, and a good map is recommended.
Take note: This trail is in a very remote section of the park. You are in bear country and wildlife is plentiful. Cell phones do not work. Bring a satellite phone or GPS personal locator, first-aid kit, bear-spray, extra food and water, bike tools, spare parts, map and extra clothing.
My whole family loved this trip, and we are already planning for next year’s adventure back to the same area. We’re thinking of an itinerary like this: fly in, ride the alpine, fly-fish, camp overnight, eat dinner (hopefully fish we catch) and finally head down the following day.
For more information on the area, including accommodations and directions, please visit Mountain Biking BC (www.mountainbikingbc.ca) and search “Spruce Lake.”
NEED TO KNOW
The Spruce Lake trails are in a remote part of the park:
Creeks are high in the early season
Wildflowers typically bloom late June to early July
This is bear country (black bears and grizzlies) – bring bear spray
Download map from Trailforks or buy one from Trail Ventures BC
Leave no trace – pack in, pack out
Closest Town: Gold Bridge, BC
GPS for Spruce Lake Trail: 51.010811, -122.978296
GPS for Gun Creek Road: 50.913434, -122.822708
Closest Hospitals: Whistler and Lillooet
Spruce Lake Main – Gun Meadows – Gun Creek Trail
Trail Length: 25 km (16 mi)
Trail Level: Intermediate-Advanced
Trail Type: Single-track
Bike Choice: XC or AM
Trail Usage: Multi-use (bikes, horses, hikers)
Trail Maps: http://www.trailforks.com/trails/spruce-lake-main/ and http://trailventuresbc.com/
Starting Elevation: 820 m (2690 ft)
Ending Elevation: 1561 m (5121 ft)
Open: Early June to October
Cécile is a freelance action and portrait photographer living in North Vancouver, BC. Honing her skills from riding all sorts of bikes, her photographs are a fusion of Fine Art and Action to create vivid, exciting and engaging images. Her work has been featured in exhibitions, and has been published in national magazines. For more of Cécile’s work please visit www.cecilegambin.com