O Canada! Part II: B.C.
efore we throw more Canada stoke and photos your way, feel free to check out Part I. As mentioned in that post, we left off having stayed several unplanned days in the Waterton Lakes National Park area. On a sad note (sorry!) we learned just weeks after visiting, a massive wildfire spread throughout the park. Firefighters were able to preserve some but the landscape has dramatically changed. A necessary process for forests and land, but hard to swallow the change given we were just there. Back to it...We were just as excited to continue on our Canadian road trip along Highway 3 and into British Columbia. Read on, though, because Canada wasn't all sunshine and unicorns...
We took the advice from someone online who suggested we camp just outside Fernie, B.C. on Coal Creek Road. I'll admit, at times we are a little apprehensive about dispersed (free) camping since we want to make sure it's a) safe, b) allowed (you know us rule followers...eh um, Chip), and c) easy(ish) to find (ain't nobody got time to search for hours). So we drove up this road like we do every other gravel road to find camping...a little anxious yet excited. After about five miles of driving (and nothing really promising) we stumbled upon a family whose van was nestled in the trees near the creek. "Is it cool to camp around here?" Chip asked what we assumed to be local Canadians. "Yep," they replied, "And you should take this spot. We're heading out but it's one of the best we've found here." We did exactly that and enjoyed the town of Fernie the following day.
Island Lake Lodge, Fernie B.C.
Going into this particular day, I definitely would have put my money on the Waterton Lakes/Belly River area as being the highlight of our Canada trip. But after spending our first several minutes at Island Lake we pretty much knew this would rank as one of the best experiences yet. I'm not kidding you. I know what you're thinking: You've got some 'splainin to do! Okay, hear me out.
After filling our bellies with bagel sandwiches in town (PS: Fernie is cool!) we were ready to seek out a new camping spot, again. We checked our watch which we normally didn't do but today was different. It was THE ECLIPSE! Out of nowhere we saw signs for a campground and road to Island Lake. "Isn't that the place the guy at the visitor's center mentioned?" I questioned. "Let's go check it out. We have time." We scoped out the campground (not bad) and almost turned around when we saw the sign posted for Island Lake. 17 km up. Sometimes you just don't feel like cruising up a gravel road for mediocre views but something felt different so we followed our intuition and went for it.
At the top we were greeted with several friendly chalet-inspired lodges situated on a well-manicured lawn. As if watching over the lodges, the dramatic mountain range encircled us in 360 degree views. We got the vibe that summer was their slow season when we noticed the catskiing equipment. Now on foot (and already impressed), we decided to follow one of the many trails that branched off from the lodge. And below, my friends, is what we laid eyes on...
Hold on, there's more. We walked along the path which hugged the lake tight, our eyes greedy for more beauty. It was then that we noticed something different about the shadows cast from the trees. Crap, we lost track of time. The eclipse, we remembered! We ran around the lake checking out the tiny moon slivers the sun was casting through the trees all while the light was fading (in complete day time!). It was really an odd but exhilarating feeling to experience there.
As we were ascending back up to the lodge Chip half-joking/half-serious said that he was going to check with the front desk to see if they had any rooms available. "Yeah right," I scoffed "for like $500 a night!", but if you were inside my brain at that moment I literally would have paid my left leg to stay (and maybe one of my children's as well). Minutes later he skipped down the stairs with a smirk on his face and told me there is ONE room left. With shoulder season rates at $160 Canadian with free fancy breakfast for four we thought we'd never have the opportunity to stay at a place like this again. So we booked it!
We felt like we were being treated as royalty and the rest of our stay included more hiking, more mountain views, outdoor hot tubbing, the most delicious gourmet pizza we have ever devoured, friendly staff that let me do a free load of laundry, a solid night's sleep in a king bed, and free breakfast. The breakfast alone would have cost $50 and again, was to die for. We also learned the wintertime (which is already booked for years to come) is a much different experience. If you can imagine the only way to get up the road are the snowcats themselves, people are treated to an intimate skiing/dining experience for a week at a time. WOW! Ok, Ok, I'll try to move on but first, more pics...
We diverted from highway 3 heading north to check out the small community of Kaslo. We went 'cause another dude in a Westy said "That's where the draft dodgers went, then decided to say. You should go." Ok, why not. Getting there was a treat! We skirted Kootenay Lake for a few days (it's massive and we took our time) before we finally made it to the Kootenay Ferry. This was on our "must do" list because it was scenic, carries vehicles, and is free! After our comfortable ferry ride (Spud told us so), we exited and made the windy but quick drive to Kaslo, population 1,000. We really had no expectations as to what this place was going to be like. We parked Spud and before we knew it we were chatting it up with a local who gave us several pieces of helpful information: where to eat, where to camp, and where to chill (the beach!). We checked all three off the list in a matter of hours.
Our Canadian luck and patience began to fade somewhere between our drive from Kaslo to Castlegar. We arrived in Nelson, which everyone and their mother told us we must visit. Having that in our brains we figured we'd stay a night or two so we hightailed it up the San Fran-like roads to check out the town campground. The amount of time it took you to read that last sentence is about how long it took us to drive through the campground. It was also already packed with short-term campers and ones that appeared to be living there. We tried one more spot on the outskirts of town, but no luck either. Damn. Our stomachs were telling us it was time for lunch so we retreated to the town beach/park. We regrouped with some quesadillas, internet, and beach time then decided to meander on from Nelson. We could see the appeal but it was just a hair too busy for us. Guess we were craving more solitude.
Our luck dissolved a hair more as we rolled into Castlegar. Remaining positive, we reassured the boys "Yep, we will be finding a spot to camp anytime now. Just you wait, it's going to be awesome. Wait, A campground!" I shouted and pointed to the right. Chip veered Spud off the highway and we made our way down a narrow curvy road to check it out. "Too many RVs," we both agreed in unison as we peered out our windows, Spud in a stand still on the shoulder. Chip put Spud in reverse. Just then we felt a jolt from Spud's behind. "What the **** was that?!" What we thought must've been a boulder ended up being another vehicle. The dude looked at us for a moment and then sped away. Who does that? Fortunately no human was hurt, but Spud now sported a big dent in his bumper (which if you know Chip, he wasn't happy about).
Still a little confused, my eyes fixated on one thing as we entered town: The Super 8. "Oh, pleeeease can we stay there" I pleaded with Chip. I was exhausted from keeping everyone happy on this particular day. I just wanted a comfy hotel room. Plus, it had a waterslide. The young man at the front desk didn't feel my pain, and Chip denied my request to drop $180 on the last room available. "That's ten plus camping nights, babe....no way". Ugh. So we ate dinner at Safeway and tried to regroup again. We found a campground listed online. Off we went with our fingers, toes, and eyes crossed. Oy.
Long story short, we found the campground. It had a playground, a campsite, the friendliest of campground hosts (Debbie!), free hot showers, free internet, dense blackberry bushes ready to be picked, and so we stayed. We stayed for two days and didn't move. We probably would have stayed another day but were invited to a local Canadian's home. Read on...
We ended Canada on an extremely high note when we were invited to driveway camp at Keith and Roxanne's place just outside of Castlegar. We have learned that the VW community is a warm and friendly one. So friendly that they've developed a "driveway camping group" filled with thousands of people on facebook which invites Westfalia owners to contact other Westfalia owners to camp in their yard if they're passing through or need a place to stay. Sweet, right? So we connected with Keith back in June and were looking forward to meeting them.
Keith and Roxanne were so hospitable from the moment we rolled up. Their property, which you can tell they've poured their hearts and souls in to, was filled with an overflowing garden, sculptures (by none other than Keith himself), antique pieces, and an outdoor shower surrounded by creeping vines. We became more acquainted over dark beers and cheese as we sat in lawn chairs under the setting sun. We promptly put the boys to bed in Spud around 7 pm and by 7:30 pm Chip and I were seated at their dinner table enjoying a home cooked meal by Roxanne. Again, we are reminded of the warm and friendly people that are out in the world ready to brighten your day. We are so grateful for Keith and Roxanne for taking us in and treating us like family. The next day, Roxanne wouldn't let us leave without a heaping basket of scones, garden veggies, and homemade jams (And Keith wouldn't let us leave without testing out the secluded outdoor shower). Both made our week. Thank you again from the bottom of our hearts!
We ended up spending just shy of two weeks in Canada and it was one of our best adventures thus far. A true adventure in my opinion is one that includes a few bumps in the road partnered with moments that make you wonder if it can possibly get any better than the moment you're in. It was the first time we were really on our own to seek out our own experience and I think we did just that. I look back at some of the bumpy moments of trying to find campsites (or the minor fender bender) and it's all overshadowed by the massive amounts of fun, laughter, beautiful scenery we saw, and friendly people we met. I'm certainly not getting paid to say this but if you need a place to visit next summer, grab your passport and get your arse to the Canadian border. It will wow you, in many ways, I'm sure of it.
Total number of miles driven since start: 5,396 miles
Days spent in Canada: 12
Percentage of eclipse we witnessed: 93%
Number of days it rained in Canada: 0
Favorite drink of choice in Canada: Umm, none. The booze was too expensive!
Average time the boys went to bed: 7:30 pm (thank you timezone change!)
Our route below...