5 Overnight Hikes for Beginners

Backpacking can be very intimidating when you first get started. Hiking with an overnight pack is a lot different than day hiking, so you don’t want to start with too challenging of a hike. Figuring out what gear and food to bring is enough work without also having to stress about a difficult trail or having access to facilities at the campsite. So keeping in mind that you want to focus on shorter distance, less elevation, and easy access to facilities, here are some of my hiking recommendations for beginners.

Cheakamus Lake

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In my opinion, this is the ultimate trail for beginners! It’s located in Garibaldi Park and is a short distance hike with very minimal elevation gain. It has outhouses and bear cache facilities, and you can book your site online in advance so that you don’t have to worry about fighting other hikers for a camping spot.

There are two campsites to choose from – the first one (Cheakamus Lake) is located right at the head of the lake and requires the least amount of hiking, approximately 4km. The campsites are located next to the water and have a decent amount of privacy. The second site (Singing Creek) is another 3.5km and is located at the midpoint of the lake. This site lends itself better to group camping as it’s a series of campsites right next to each other in the woods. That said, there is a really nice beach to hang out and cook from. If you’d like to visit both, you could always camp at the first campsite and then do a day hike out to visit the second! Both sites have an outhouse and bear cache. Reserve here for $10 per person, per night (listed under Garibaldi Park).

Buckhorn Campsite on the Heather Trail

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The Heather Trail is a 21km one-way trail in Manning Park. While I definitely don’t recommend doing the whole trail for beginners, the first campsite (Buckhorn) is only 4km in, which makes it the perfect spot for beginners! The Heather Trail is most popular in late July/early August for the colourful wildflowers that pop up all along the trail. What makes it so great for beginners is that you do most of the elevation gain on the drive up. You park at the top of Blackwall Road and from there is a steady incline down to Buckhorn Campsite. The views are beautiful right from the start of the trail.

Buckhorn has an outhouse, bear cache, tent pads, and even picnic tables! You do need a backcountry permit to stay overnight, but sites are first come, first serve, so you don’t need to pre-reserve. You can purchase here for a Manning Park backcountry permit for $5 per person, per night (you will need to create an account to see the system – entry and exit points are Blackwall Peak) . If you have the time, stay for two nights and make a day trip out to 3 Brothers Mountain for unreal views of the alpine meadows and surrounding mountains. Even if you can’t make it all the way to 3 Brothers, explore a little further beyond buckhorn to experience the alpine meadows. Be aware, in the early season this hike will still have snow until end of June.

Viewpoint Beach

Viewpoint Beach is very similar in difficulty to Cheakamus Lake. It’s a 4.5km hike in Golden Ears Park with minimal elevation gain. Similar to Buckhorn, the campsites are first come, first serve, and you can get a permit online for Golden Ears before you go for $5 per person, per night (entry and exit points are West Canyon). There aren’t any really obvious places to camp, but most people pitch their tents along the tree line on either side of the river since the beach itself is pretty rocky. Plan in advance which side you want to camp on – if you want to camp on the far side, make sure to cross the river at the bridge before you reach the campsite. Both are nice but there tend to be less people on the far side of the trail.

There is an outhouse at this site, but when I visited last year, there wasn’t a bear cache, so we did have to make our own, which you may prefer not to do as a beginner. BC Parks has been spending a lot of time re-vitalizing this trail, so I suspect they will probably install a bear cache soon, but either way, check before you go. If you’re not comfortable hanging your food, you can purchase a bear proof container at most outdoor stores. These don’t need to be hung, but can be a little pricey.

Lindeman Lake

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Lindeman Lake is located in Chilliwack Provincial Park. At 3.5km round trip, it’s the shortest hike on the list, but it has 300m in elevation gain in under 200m, so be prepared for a climb. If it’s your very first time carrying a pack, I’d recommend a flatter trail, but if you’re trying to increase your stamina, this is a great practice trail for beginners because it’s steep but short. Same as the previous sites, there’s no reservations for this campsite, but purchase a Chilliwack Lake permit online before you visit for $5 per person, per night.

There are a limited number of tent pads, but there’s lot of ground space to set up your tent. There’s a bear cache right next to the water and a pit toilet up in the woods. As a heads up, the toilet doesn’t have walls, but the trees provide natural privacy and it’s personally never been a problem for me. After setting up camp, I recommend hiking the 1km to the back of the lake for even more amazing views, or if you have time to stay 2 nights, make a day trip up to Greendrop Lake on the second day.

Elfin Lakes

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Elfin Lakes is a popular campsite located in Garibaldi Provincial Park. It is the longest trail on the list and definitely the most strenuous. However, I include it because even though it’s a bit longer, 11km one way to the campsite, it is a very forgiving trail and has lots of facilities along the way. The most challenging part of the trail is the first 5km, which is a steady incline up an old forestry road. The road ends at Red Heather hut, which is only meant for emergency overnight use, but has an outhouse and is a great place to stop for lunch.

From there, the trail meanders up and down through some truly beautiful scenery as you wind your way along the ridge to the Elfin Lakes hut. There are two options for camping – both require reservations – but you can either camp on the tent pads, or sleep on one of the bunks in the hut. The hut is the main reason I include it as a beginner trail because if you’re just starting out and want to try with a bit of a lighter pack, you can leave your tent at home and sleep in the hut instead. But if you’re willing to carry your tent up, the panoramic views from the tent pads are truly unreal! Elfin has a big outhouse facility with 3-4 toilets and there is a ranger living in the ranger’s hut. Campsites sell out fast, so book early. Purchase here for Garibaldi Park for $10 per person, per night. Don’t even think about coming up without a permit because the ranger will send you packing. Be aware, this trail usually has snow on it until end of June or even early July.

Lindeman Lake Backpacking Trip II

I love that the weather is starting to change again, but since it’ll still be a little while before the mountains are free of snow, I decided to re-visit some of my past adventures. I first backpacked up to Lindeman Lake for the May Long weekend in 2017 and it ended up becoming a tradition that my friends and I would do an easy start-of-season camping trip over the long weekend.

We decided to return to Lindeman Lake again in 2018, this time with a larger group. Lindeman Lake is located at the end of Chilliwack Lake Road in Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park. It’s a great early season hike because it’s short and not too high in elevation, so the snow melts quicker.

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We met at the trailhead on Saturday morning and hiked in to the lake as a group of 7. It’s a short hike, just 3.5km round trip, but it’s a steep one. The hike up takes ~1 hour with a day pack and ~1.5 hours with a backpack. It does get busy at the lake, even in May, and the tent pads disappear pretty quickly, but it’s not too difficult to find somewhere to pitch your tent and we ended up setting up in the exact same location as the previous year.

Our Lindeman Lake trip is all about taking it easy. Because it’s such a short hike we lugged up all kinds of leisure gear, including my hammock and Tiiu’s inflatable couch! It was Tiiu’s first time backpacking and somehow she still managed to have the smallest pack, even though it contained both the couch and a full bottle of wine! It was also Steve’s first time backpacking – his pack was about twice the size of Tiiu’s, but we were all jealous because he’d pretty much brought an entire pantry with him! He’s since become known as our trip bartender thanks to the assortment of drink mixes he always brings.

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On the first day, we hiked up to the end of the lake, which in my opinion has the best view, and then spent the rest of the afternoon playing frisbee and lounging around. I love hanging out at Lindeman and I always have a great time swinging in my hammock, watching the stars, and swapping stories with my friends. But one of the things that drives me crazy is how many people opt to have campfires at the lake despite the blatant ‘no fire’ signs. Fire restrictions aren’t always about fire bans or the risk of forest fires. Lindeman Lake receives a lot of traffic and so many people scouring the woods for debris is very destructive to the natural habitat. So please respect the fire restrictions and find some other way to enjoy your evening!

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Our plan for Sunday was to hike up towards Flora Peak. We’d done Greendrop Lake the year before and we wanted to try something new. We knew there’d be snow up there, but just wanted to see how far we could get. Before we left, I had a good laugh at Steve who had hiked in an actual can of frozen orange juice concentrate so that he could have juice for breakfast.

Lindeman Lake is the first stop on a 20km loop around the park that continues on to Greendrop Lake, Flora Lake, Flora Peak, and then back down again. We didn’t want to do the whole circuit, so we hiked back down the way we’d come until we reached the branch for Flora Peak. It’s an even steeper trail up to Flora, but it was snow free for the first couple of hours. We made a slow pace up to a wooded viewpoint where we stopped for some snacks. Steve and Meg decided to turn back from there, but the rest of us continued on.

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Eventually we hit snow and Tiiu decided to head back as well. Only myself, Brandon, and Carolyn continued on because we had all brought microspikes with us. It’s too bad we didn’t take Tiiu across the first snow crossing though because after that we popped out on the ridgeline and found the most amazing view looking down to Chilliwack Lake! We continued on along the ridge and eventually stopped for lunch on a rock overlooking the valley just before the trail branched off again for the peak.

The snow up to the peak was looking sketchy, so we decided not to continue beyond the ridge. Spring can be one of the most dangerous times for hiking because the snow is melting and it’s easy to fall through snow bridges or down into snow wells. We put our safety first and I definitely think it was the right choice. Plus, unspoken between me and Carolyn was the understanding that we both wanted to get back to campsite with enough daylight to go for a swim. We’d gone swimming the previous year and though it was no where near as warm this year, it felt like a milestone we just had to do.

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We hiked back down to the bottom of the trail and then, for probably the first and only time ever, left Brandon in the dust as we hiked back up to the campsite. Since it was so chilly, we wanted to work up a good sweat so that the lake would be more appealing. We blew through the campsite to the astonished faces of our friends when we told them we were continuing up to the end of the lake to go for a swim. They’d been hanging out in the shade for several hours already and were all freezing. So when we asked them if they wanted to join us, they all looked at us in disbelief, wrapped up in their puffy jackets and toques.

“So no swim then?” Carolyn confirmed while I grabbed my swimsuit. Then we took off again towards the end of the lake, leaving Steve with his mouth hanging open and Brandon somewhere back on the trail (he was fine!) We could have swam at the campsite, which is located at the head of the lake, but it’s only about 20 minutes to the back and in my opinion, the boulder field is the best place to go because it gets the most sunlight and it’s easier to fully submerge yourself by jumping off the rocks. We all but ran there to stay warm, stripped on the rocks, and then leaped in the lake for all of 5 seconds, before scrambling back to the shore to pull ourselves out. There was no one to take pictures of us this year, but the memory will always be etched into mind!

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We were joined by some rowdier neighbours on the second night and despite how annoying they were, we had a good laugh eavesdropping on them. They’d brought an inordinate amount of gear with them and seemed to be having a competition for who had brought the heaviest pack. One guy claimed his pack weighed 80 pounds, but I’m not sure how you could accomplish such a feat without putting actual rocks in your pack. They had a lot of booze though, so I could be mistaken…

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After Carolyn and I got back to the campsite we enjoyed another leisurely night. Brandon spotted an otter swimming around in the lake near the log debris that we had a fun time watching while Carolyn, Steve, and Meg played a very serious game of crib. Steve and I were spared a wet end to the night when my hammock collapsed with both of us in it. I’d set it up over the water, but fortunately, the hammock gave us about a split second warning before it collapsed and we were able to tumble forward out of it onto the shore rather than back into the lake.

It was an uneventful hike out and we spent it mostly brainstorming where we should go for the next May Long weekend. Lindeman was good to us, but we’d now done all the trails and decided it was time to move on. We had to skip our 2020 trip last year, but stay tuned to hear about our trip to Cheakamus Lake in 2019! But I’ll end this post with a few more photos of our Lindeman Lake shenanigans!

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Let’s Talk: Personal Safety

Real talk – you can die in the wilderness.

There are so many things that can happen to you when you go on an adventure outdoors. Everything from becoming injured to becoming lost. If this happens, you want to make sure you give yourself the best chance at being found and at surviving an extended period of time in the outdoors. That’s why it’s so essential to be prepared every time you go outside. Even routine day hikes can go awry and you don’t want to find yourself in a tight spot. I’d argue that day hikes have the potential to be the most dangerous as you’re more likely to have less gear with you.

So when are you most vulnerable? When you’re a beginner and when you become complacent. I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few years educating myself on being prepared, but I feel lucky nothing bad ever happened to me when I first started hiking because I just naturally knew less and didn’t understand how to really be prepared. It’s hard to be prepared when you don’t understand the risks. Search and Rescue tasks have been way up because with the pandemic, more people are looking to enjoy nature than ever before. While it’s great that more people are getting outside, it’s also super important to get educated.

But it’s not just beginners who are at risk. Those who are experienced, but become complacent in their safety, are just as much at risk. It’s still easy to take a wrong turn on the trail or find yourself hiking in the dark as you get more confident in your abilities. I’ve noticed with some of my friends, there’s a tendency to bring less stuff on hikes in an effort to lighten packs and move faster. That’s great when everything goes as planned, but you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you left something at home that you shouldn’t have.

So whether you’re a beginner or experienced, what should you do to be prepared for a trip into the backcountry?

Create a Trip Plan

In my opinion, creating a trip plan is one of the most important things you must do. Make sure you research where you are going and outline what you expect the trip to look like. In your research of the trail or camp, you should take into consideration:

  • Seasonal conditions (will all the snow be melted? is there avalanche risk?)
  • Weather conditions (is there rain in the forecast? will it be cold?)
  • Daylight hours (how long will it take? will I be hiking in the dark?)
  • Ability (how long is the hike? how much elevation gain?)
  • Special equipment (will I need microspikes? beacon, probe, or shovel?)
  • Emergency contact (does someone know where I’m going and when I’ll return?)

Having an emergency contact who knows your trip plan is so important. If you become lost, this individual will be able to alert search and rescue quickly and advise them on where to look for you. There’s a lot of other information that can be helpful in assisting search and rescue. Leave a trip plan at BC Adventure Smart, or leave the following information with your contact:

  • Where you’ll be hiking, the route you’ll be taking, and when you’ll check in
  • What equipment you have with you
  • Identifying features of your equipment, such as jacket colour, tent brand, and hiking boots
  • Any other important medical information

10 Essentials

When I first started learning about the essentials, I thought it sounded like a lot of stuff and that it was impossible to bring everything with me on every hike. I’ve since learned that a lot of the essentials don’t actually take up that much space and many are things you would intuitively bring with you anyways.

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For example, even as a beginner I knew it was important to bring extra food and water (#1) in case the hike took longer than expected or was super challenging, and extra clothes (#2) in case it was cold at the top. What I’ve learned over the years is to always bring more water than I think I’ll need and I always bring a pack of water tabs with me as a back up (though these won’t help you on a dry hike). I also learned that your warm clothes should be more than just an extra sweater. Bring a hat and gloves, socks, a rain jacket, and warm layers made of wicking fabrics such as wool, fleece, or poly.

Other essentials that are pretty intuitive and don’t take up much space include a pocketknife or multi-tool (#3), a signaling device (#4) such as a whistle, mirror, or flare, and a headlamp or flashlight (#5). Even though it’s small, a headlamp seems to be something a lot of people leave at home. I think people just plan to use their phone flashlight if they need a light, but remember, you’ll likely be taking pictures on your phone or using it for navigation, which can run out the battery, and it may become a lifeline for you if you get lost. A head lamp enables you to be hands-free, making a dark descent safer. I recommend throwing in an extra set of batteries with your headlamp as well, just in case.

A first aid kit (#6) is also intuitive for most people, yet many hike without it. I have a pretty sizable first aid kit that I carry with me whenever I go out, but there are lots of pocket sized kits available at MEC, canadian tire, walmart, etc. Ideally everyone should have their own small kit in case they get separated and at least one person should have a more substantial kit. Some important things to carry in your kit include band-aids, blister care, dressings, gloves, medical tape, scissors, sam splint, and gauze or tensile bandage. I also like to bring polysporin, wet wipes, tweezers, electrolyte powder, and some medications (peptobismal, advil).

Essentials that can be less intuitive to bring on every day hikes include a firestarter (#7) – I bring a ziploc with waterproof matches and 2 small firestarters – and shelter (#8). I think shelter is one people could get hung up on because it sounds like you should bring a tent, but it’s really as simple as bringing an emergency blanket with you. North Shore Search and Rescue recommend pairing a bivvy sack with your thermal blanket. I keep both in my first aid kit so that I never forget them.

I want to spend a bit of time talking about the last two essentials; navigation (#9) and communication (#10), because it’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to over the past year. Also, please note, depending on the activity, your essentials list may need to expand to include other specialized gear such as PFD and spare paddle if you’re boating; transceiver, probe, and shovel if you’re in avalanche terrain; or ropes and harness if you’re climbing (as examples).

Navigation

Most people use a cell phone for navigation and communication, myself included until the past year. Options for navigation range from a map and compass, to your phone, to a GPS. Having a map is important because it will set you up for success from the beginning. It’s good to check the map in advance to identify any areas where the trail branches so you can be sure to take the right fork. Maps can become less useful if you become lost and don’t know where you are on the map (unless you’re good at identifying topography, which I still think is an important skill), which is where a GPS can become more useful.

With a GPS, you can track your steps from the very beginning, leaving a digital trail for yourself to follow back if you become lost. The good news is, you don’t really need a dedicated GPS for this and there are lots of great apps you can use directly on your phone. I don’t personally have a GPS and always use my phone, there’s just a few things you need to do in advance to make sure it will work for you in the field.

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If you’re relying on a GPS app, make sure to download the map offline before your adventure and to turn on location services. A lot of maps load from the network and you don’t want to find yourself without navigation because you forgot to pre-load the map. You also want to make sure your battery is going to last if you’re using your phone (especially if you’re also relying on your phone for communication). Make sure you have full battery before you leave and bring a power bank with you. There’s lots of trail apps out there, I personally like the GaiaGPS app. Just be aware that the trails on many apps are based on user data – just because you see a trail on the map doesn’t mean it’s safe; some trails may pass through climbing routes or only be used for winter travel, so you still need to do your research.

Communication

Communication is probably one of the hardest parts of emergency preparedness. It’s expensive to purchase satellite devices, so understandably a lot of people rely on their phones or the fact that they’re hiking in a group and have left a trip plan. The obvious problem with relying on a cell phone is that you may not always have service. If you only hike near cities with good cell service, then it’s probably fine – just make sure you know how to get your GPS coordinates off of your phone in the event you need to be rescued.

If a cell phone is your only communication device and you’re not sure if you’ll have service, then hiking in a group and leaving a trip plan with someone you trust can reduce your risk. By hiking in a group, it’s easier to manage injuries on the trail because it’s usually possible for one of your hiking mates to provide first aid or to turn back for help. It won’t be great if you have an emergency that requires a quick extraction, but at least one of your fellow hikers should be able to go for help faster than having to wait for your emergency contact to raise the alarm when you don’t check in. And in a scenario where your whole group gets lost, you still have the safeguard of your emergency contact to send Search and Rescue to look for you.

However, if you’re going to be spending any extended time in the wilderness – where help or your check in time with your emergency contact are more than a day away – then you should really either buy or rent a reliable satellite communication device for the trip. They are expensive, but it could literally save your life.

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I’m not an expert on satellite devices, so you’ll definitely want to do your own research. Options range from the SPOT, to the InReach, to a personal locator beacon. I recently purchased an InReach Mini from Garmin that I’ve been very happy with. The InReach is more expensive to buy upfront, and costs ~$15-25 a month for a basic subscription. If you won’t actually be using the device that much, you can suspend your subscription for months at a time, which is a nice feature. SPOT has a cheaper upfront cost, but I understand the annual subscription can get pricey and I haven’t heard very good things about their customer service.

The main difference between the two is that SPOT is a one way communication device, so most likely you’ll only be using it to notify your emergency contact to how the trip is going, or to activate the SOS function for emergency rescue. The InReach is a two-way communication device that works like SMS. It has the SOS function as well, but you can also send and receive texts to anyone with a cell phone or email address. Both are great if you find yourself running a day behind schedule or you have a non life-threatening injury, because you can notify your emergency contact. However, my InReach saved us a lot of grief this summer when Brandon’s car broke down on the forestry road to Cape Scott, because after hitching a ride back into town, I was still able to communicate with the group stuck on the forestry road. Plus in an emergency, it’s reassuring to get an immediate response back when you activate SOS, being able to communicate with you enables rescuers to be more prepared for your situation.

Grow Your Knowledge

That pretty much concludes this blog post – I just wanted to note that while the internet is a great resource, there are lots of hands-on ways to grow your skills as well. There are lots of organizations that offer group hikes focused on skill development and I’ve seen a lot of webinars popping up with safety and skills based workshops. Red Cross offers several first aid courses – I don’t recommend their emergency first aid course as it’s too basic, but I’ve done both their standard and wilderness first aid courses, which are excellent. If you spend a lot of time skiing or snowshoeing, I’d also recommend taking Avalanche Safety Training, or if you canoe or kayak, to take the respective training course from Paddle Canada.

Finally, check out the new docu-series on North Shore Search and Rescue, which you can stream for free on Knowledge Network. North Shore is the busiest S&R in Canada and the documentary does an excellent job showcasing the work that they do and the importance of being prepared in the backcountry. Happy adventures everyone!