Camping can be a crapshoot. Our ideal experience involves shady treed sites, quiet neighbours, a campfire and perhaps a babbling brook. Our less-than-ideal involves all-night parties, little or no privacy, and a cast of characters that we would never otherwise meet (and that’s good thing.)
We’re happy to say that 90% of our camping experiences meet the former description – the latter is a reminder than camping is just another version of real life.
In the past seven days, we have travelled from Fernie to Manning Park, with Christina Lake as our first stop.
We’ve wanted to check out this lake for a long time – friends have raved about the great swimming and mountain-wrapped views.
There was a hint of smoke in the air from the many forest fires that have burned all summer in the U.S. and Canada. This was the clearest day we had and the water was cool and refreshing.
We booked into a private campground on the south end of the lake, just a block from a small beach and right around the corner from a burger/hot dog/soft-serve ice-cream stand that looks as though it’s been in business for decades.
Christina Lake has that kind of atmosphere – a summer favourite that hasn’t been gussied up yet – the tiniest bit tacky and filled with people who have been coming here for years. It’s homey and family-oriented. The kids get to play without too much adult supervision.
The very next day, the smoke was back:
Our campsite was fine, but for two days we were entertained by the shenanigans of the campers two sites over. The owner had already warned us about them – they had been turfed out of another campground and were “on notice.”
The main perpetrator (she of the tight clothing and bleached hair) swanned about in a shirt that boasted, “KINKY AS F–K” (we tended to believe her). Her hapless male partner did little but smoke and sulk and at one point walked right through our campsite with a pillow and blanket, enroute to a vacant site, saying “She’s making too much noise.” They had two young girls (quiet) and three small dogs (yappy) who barked and barked until the woman yelled out “SHUT-UP”, which would quieten them for exactly 30 seconds until the next go-round. On Day 3, they abruptly left and the rest of our stay was perfectly peaceful.
Christina Lake is not far from Grand Forks – a town that suffered terrible damage this spring from flooding. We drove in one day for something to do and discovered a surprisingly pretty town; parts of which are still recovering and likely will for years. These posters were on many storefronts that are closed and under renovation.
We had an excellent lunch at a place called The Board Room; packed with customers since so many restaurants have yet to open. Fantastic sandwiches, great coffee, watermelon-scented ice water – a welcome change from camp food. The mood among the locals seemed to be quite upbeat – Grand Forks is a small community where everyone rallies to help out.
We also went to the Saturday market, but since it was threatening thunderstorms, there were not many people there. We did stop to talk to a couple who transplanted from Vancouver last year, bought a farm in Grand Forks and are valiantly making a go of it. It’s been a good move for them – they love the area and are obviously doing something right.
On the way back to our campground, we saw a bunch of cars lined up on the highway, which usually means one thing: wildlife viewing. Lucky us – a small herd of big-horned sheep.
As we got closer, we realized there was a territorial spat going on – two males facing off, presumably for the rights to the females, who kept their backs turned to the posturing.
We watched for a long while but aside from a couple of fake charges, nothing much was happening.
Leaving Christina Lake, we had another weird experience. Stephen was driving and out of nowhere, a car zoomed up behind him and aggressively tailgated. At the first opportunity, the driver sped past us, honked his horn, and flipped us the bird; his face ugly and contorted. We were gobsmacked by this unprovoked display of road rage and hugely gratified to see him pulled over a few kilometres down the road.
We drove on for four hours through tremendously smoky conditions, but by the time we arrived in Manning Park, the air quality was much better.
I’ve given you the bad and the ugly sides of camping – Manning Park was nothing but good. This was our campsite:
We walked about 10 yards from our site to the creek. We fell asleep at night to the sounds of rushing water and rustling trees and woke up to really cool temps – about nine degrees. This is mountain camping – even in August.
We met an interesting couple from Moncton in the site next to us – they were on their honeymoon, riding across Canada on His and Hers Kawasakis. We wondered if they kept in formation as they rode.
She is a PhD student who had been in Bali to study the phenomenon of the high rate of deafness in the small community of Bengkala. Due to a geographically-centric recessive gene, 40-50 people in a population of 3,000 have been deaf since birth. The amazing thing about it is that rather than treat these folks as “other”, everyone in the village learns to sign so that everyone can communicate. This is a story for our troubled times.
Manning Park is huge – over 83,000 hectares and the main attraction is the vast number of hiking trails that range from a half-hour stroll to a six-day backcountry hike. The wildlife is another big deal – during our three and a half days here, we saw a number of animals up close.
Mum was very watchful as we approached and as we continued to slowly walk toward them, they made their elegant way into the forest. Just like that…they were gone.
We came across a couple of bucks, who seemed far less worried about us and bounded up the slope in their own good time.
In many areas of the park, especially around Lightning Lake, we saw an impressive system of tunnels, and every once in a while, up would pop a Columbian ground squirrel. They have no fear of people at all – as soon as this little guy saw me taking his photo, he started scampering toward me. I’m not proud to admit it, but I screamed and ran. I had an unpleasant image of those sharp little nails climbing up my leg.
Hiking in Manning Park this time of year is glorious – no bugs, comfortable temperatures and over 20 trails to choose from. Since neither of us were inclined to choose from trails that were 16 km. (one way), we chose a couple of 9 km. hikes – just enough grade and distance to give us a bit of a workout.
On our first hike out, the park ranger alerted us to a mother bear and cubs that had been sighted the day before – alas, no such luck for us. Still, the scenery more than made up for it.
We thought we might see bears on this open area – maybe Stephen’s “Hey bear” calls and my shrill whistling scared them off.
This hike promised three waterfalls, but we saw just two. After months of hot, dry weather, neither of them were terribly exciting. It’s funny how people will walk miles if they think they might see a waterfall, and almost invariably they are a trickle, not a roar.
Another hike we took was a 9-km. loop around Lightning Lake – the central lake in Manning Park that is a magnet for canoes, kayaks and swimmers.
We followed this path to the end of the lake and onto the other side, to pick up the trail.
The water was like a millpond that day; we almost had the trail to ourselves.
A bridge at the halfway point.
Another small bridge in the woods.
We loved Manning Park – there is so much to do there and the campgrounds (there are four) feel like the wilderness. It was the perfect way to end our camping adventures for now. We would highly recommend this park to anyone, but be sure to camp. Manning Park Lodge (the only accommodation in the park) has seen better days.
We stopped in Hope on our way to Vancouver and I would like to leave you with this photo. I don’t know why, but the sight of dogs sitting in the driver’s seat always makes me laugh.
We will be out of cell service and wifi range for a bit – see you again in about a week.
16 thoughts on “Camping: the good, the bad and the ugly”
Wonderful pictures and tales, Gin. Love the photo of the dog…in this priceless position. 😉
Thanks Gin! Doesn’t that dog look like he’s just sitting there patiently, waiting for his girlfriend to finish shopping? (I know we’re not supposed to anthropomorphize animals, but I do.)
We camped in Manning Park on our Cylce Canada adventure. I remember the lovely treed campsites (and the cold beer offered by a neighbouring camper!). Love your Canadian snapshots…both photo & literary 👍👍
Kris, we still tell new acquaintances about our long-distance cycling friends, and they are always suitable impressed! I just met someone who was aware of the Cuba initiative you and Gord were on – although he hadn’t done it himself.
I think the great thing about camping is it can make everyone more open – we find out such interesting things about people that ordinary encounters don’t encourage as quickly.
loved your photos and your good writing, thanks for sharing your adventures. Where are you off to next? I am just back from an international conference of my spiritual practice held in Freiburg Germany. I enjoyed two one day tours of nearby Switzerland and France, to small villages, and a canyon in the Swiss mountains, very welcome in the heat wave! Today I am home in Chemainus but on my way to the theatre festival on Gabriola, Maybe see you there!
Hi Rohanna – I’m so glad you’re following our blog. Your conference sounded wonderful (saw a bit on FB). I hope you’re settling in well in Chemainus.
We won’t be back in time for the theatre festival unfortunately – we’ll be in the area housesitting for the last three weeks of September.
Our next big trip is the end of October when we pick up our new trailer and begin a months-long travels through the U.S. and Baja.
Loved to hear about your camping…I am not a fan! I think I had more of the 10% experiences and wondered why I was not sleeping in my comfortable bed. The smell of smoke on wet clothing still lingers in my mind! Hugs Sheila
I think the prospect of getting a trailer in the next few months has kept us going! Also, off-season camping, and boon docking – we will avoid RV parks whenever possible.
I think you’re in or you’re out when it comes to camping though – it’s a tough sell if you’re not a fan of being a bit damp and cold at times. 😀
Although we travel often to faraway places, your pictures and descriptions remind us of why we should spend more time in our own beautiful province, BC. Thank you.
We do have such a beautiful province. But if you live on Gabriola in the summer time, why would you leave?
Gorgeous pictures. Would love to visit.
You guys will have to come out and we can do the Miller/Burr/Katz road trip.
I’m fairly certain that anyone who has ever been camping for a bit can identify with the “good, the bad and the ugly”! Having said that, Manning Park looks beautiful and worth a visit!
Heather, I’m guessing that we have more on the “nay” side than the “yay” side when it comes to camping!
Another evocative piece, thanks for sharing, Ginny. We have a very similar buck who frequents our backyard quite regularly, no camping required. 🙂 I’m so glad you’ve mostly had good experiences, it only takes one bad apple to ruin a trip!
Thanks Garry! We thought of Donna when we met the PhD student who has spent time in Bali – that was such an eye-opener to me.
As for the campground characters – we’ve been lucky – just two bad experiences, and one of them was more comical than anything.