Half Moon Beach Backpacking Trip

Is anyone else getting Deju Vu this year? I got my first dose of Pfizer in mid-May, so the year is definitely going better than last year, but in a lot of ways I feel like I am just living the same year over again. In May and June of 2020 I was waiting anxiously to see if the province was going to open up and whether I’d be able to go on the backpacking trip I’d planned to Assiniboine in early July. In 2020, my trip got cancelled and I ended up doing the North Coast Trail instead. This year I planned the same trip for the same time and fortunately it’s looking like my plans will pan out this time, so stayed tuned to hear about Assiniboine soon! In the meantime, please enjoy post that I wrote about my 1 night backpacking trip in Golden Ears Park back in early June.

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Last year me and Emily did a 1-night backpacking trip to Viewpoint Beach during the first weekend in June. Since I’m basically living the same year over, I returned to Viewpoint Beach again this year during the exact same weekend, only this time I took more people with me! It was an easy sell for Carolyn and Brandon, but we also convinced Seth to come with us and our friends Karen and Grant! Karen and Grant aren’t big backpackers, but they did once accompany me to Elfin Lakes and are looking to get more into backpacking, so I was thrilled to have them join us for a weekend in Golden Ears.

We were all stoked for the trip, the only problem was the weather was looking really dicey. I was convinced someone was going to cancel, but I think it’s a testament to how fed up we all were about being stuck at home all the time that we decided to go anyways. It wasn’t calling for rain until overnight on Friday, so we figured as long as we got set up before the rain hit, we would be okay.

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We took off early from work on Friday to try and beat the traffic, we failed, but still managed to get to the trailhead for 5pm. Carolyn was ahead of the rest of us, so she decided to hike in on her own to secure a campsite. Me, Seth, Karen, and Grant followed about an hour behind her. The official trail name is East Canyon Trail and you can hike out to Viewpoint Beach either along the Gold Creek trail or the East Canyon trail. We opted for East Canyon because it is faster. It’s only about 4km to Viewpoint Beach and it’s a forgiving trail. It’s wide and a gradual uphill for the first 3km, then it switches to downhill for the remaining 1km.

You can camp on either side of Gold Creek, just cross the bridge in advance of arriving at Viewpoint Beach if you want to camp on the far side, which is known as Hiker’s Beach. I was keen to check out Hiker’s Beach because I’d camped at Viewpoint last year, but we opted for Viewpoint again since there’s both an outhouse and bear cache on that side. The water level was also very high when we visited and it did look like Hiker’s Beach may have been a bit flooded.

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Despite the poor forecast, there were still quite a few other campers at the beach. Carolyn had set up under the trees and the rest of us set up our tents on the beach. We did our best to get a tarp up so that we could have a dry breakfast the next day, but it was somewhat challenging with the limited number of trees, so we managed mostly with hiking poles.

There was a very short spurt of rain while we were getting set up, but it only lasted a few minutes, so it wasn’t a big deal. Brandon was pretty far behind us, but he rolled into the campsite a few hours later to set up his tent as well. Because of COVID we were playing it safe, so we all had our own tent, which ended up being quite luxurious. Carolyn and Brandon were both in 2p tents, and the rest of us were in 3p tents, so we had lots of room to spare. I think me and Seth had it the worst though because we had to share our space with a neurotic, wet dog.

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We heated up some water for boozy hot drinks and Brandon debuted his newest fad, the hand sanitizer stove. I’ve done this one with girl guides in the past, but basically he had a little pop-can stove that he filled with liquid hand sanitizer as fuel. He had a small bottle that burned for about 20 minutes. Not the most inspiring campfire, but there are no fires allowed in the Golden Ears backcountry, so it was a nice little alterative and we all got a kick out of it! Our neighbours were all having real campfires though, so a reminder to please respect the rules and the environment when you camp. Fire bans in parks exist for a reason, usually because people pillage the area for firewood and it’s not good for the ecosystem.

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After that it did start to rain in earnest, so we dropped off our smellies in the bear cache and called it a night! When I wrote about Viewpoint Beach last year I said there was no bear cache, but I think I just never discovered it. Carolyn found it right at the back of the beach. There’s no sign, but if you follow the trail into the woods, you will find a bear cache hidden back there. Easy to find in the day, but I do wish they would add some signs because it’s definitely not easy to find in the dark.

It’s always a handful to take Sadie camping, but she did reasonably well on Friday. Carolyn is the dog whisperer and there were no other dogs camping on the beach, so she handled herself well. She gets really excited when you first get in the tent, which makes it challenging to get into pyjamas, but once you turn off your headlamp she settles down pretty fast. It rained on and off through the night, but she slept well until 7am. Usually she lets us sleep later than that, but she wanted out, so I got up at 7am with her and let Seth sleep a bit longer.

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Fortunately the rain had cleared off in the morning and we were able to enjoy our breakfast in the dry! Pretty much everyone was up by 8am and we had a nice lazy morning. Our goal for the day was to hike 6km further along the trail to Half Moon Beach. One day I’d like to camp there, but our plan was just to check it out as a day hike and have lunch. There was a quick downpour just before we left at 10am, so we huddled under the tarp before setting out for the day.

It stayed dry for most of the hike out to Half Moon. The trail starts super easy, but it deteriorates the farther you go. I’ve heard the trail to Hector Fergusson Lake (which is past Half Moon Beach) is notoriously bad, but this section of the trail is pretty reasonable. There’s definitely some obstacles, but overall, not too bad. There’s just one confusing spot about 2.5km in where the trail markers seemingly go in multiple directions. Most of us followed the route on my GPS, which I think is the official route, but it was very muddy and wet, so I suspect the other routes exist as a bypass when the river is high. Carolyn and Brandon took that route and we were all reminded how easy it is to get separated when you split up, even if only for a short time.

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Eventually we met up again on the trail, but for a short period of time we did lose voice contact with each other because the trails diverged. We were all on marked trails, so everyone was reluctant to leave the trail they were on and eventually they did catch up. In our case, both me and Carolyn had inreach and GPS, so I wasn’t overly concerned, but I did mark the location where our paths diverged just in case.

Even in the drizzle, it’s a lovely trail! Golden Ears is so green and though you’re in the canopy for most of the trail, it follows Gold Creek and has some gorgeous views looking up the valley. Eventually we arrived at Half Moon Beach and happily set up by the river to enjoy our lunch. But we had about 3 minutes to enjoy it before the clouds finally opened rain on us. It poured and we hastily ran back to the cover of the trees. We hadn’t brought the tarp, so we huddled until the canopy while we ate our lunch.

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The tree cover didn’t really help us and we still got pretty wet. We hung around for a little bit in case it did clear up, but it didn’t really seem like it was going to stop, so we decided to head back. It did rain for the remainder of the hike and it took us about 2 hours each way. The trail accumulates water fast, so it was generally a lot wetter on the way back and by the time we finally strolled into camp, my pants were soaked through and my feet we were wet.

We’d anticipated this, so we decided to just pack up and abandon our plans to stay a second night (we’d been hopeful, but kind of knew from the start we would likely only stay 1 night). Honestly, if it wasn’t for Sadie, I might have been willing to stay, but camping with a wet dog isn’t really the most appealing. Once we stopped hiking she got really cold from the rain; plus our new neighbours both had dogs and Sadie is not friendly to stranger dogs.

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Unfortunately, it rained the entire time we took down camp, but we all changed into dry clothes first anyways. We took the tent down in the pouring rain, but left the tarp up until the last minute to provide some shelter. Once all our bags were packed, we hastily pulled the tarp down. But of course, the second we took the tarp down the rain slowed and I kid you not, the sun came out just as we were hiking out from the beach. It was still raining, but the sun brightened up the whole scene and all our neighbours emerged jubilantly from their tents. We snapped a few photos, but knew the rain would be back and continued on.

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It did thunder on the trek back to the car, but the rain slowed considerably to the point where my second set of clothing fortunately didn’t get wet. With the 12km day hike and the return trip, it ended up being 16km of hiking, which was a considerable day for all of us and Sadie. We arrived at the parking lot around 5pm, ending exactly 24 hours in the park. Somehow it felt like so much longer!

The weather continued to improve as we approached the city and I wondered if maybe we could have stayed, but then in poured all day Sunday, so in the end I didn’t regret it when I woke up in my cozy bed after having slept for 11 hours! Despite the rain, we all agreed that we still had a great time! I wouldn’t go back in the rain, but I am still keen to return again one day in the sun and this time camp at Half Moon Beach!

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Okanagan Lake Provincial Park

Now that I’ve finally finished my 6-part mini-series about the North Coast Trail, I’m thrilled to write about something else! I feel like it was a bit of a slow start to summer this year. I didn’t get to go on my annual May Long weekend camping trip as BC Parks didn’t open until June, and it took forever for the weather to finally get nice, but I ended up having a pretty epic July and August. Despite all the restrictions from Covid, I was still able to get out hiking several times and did something I’ve been meaning to do since I moved to BC 6 years ago.

I finally went to the Rockies! It’s not my first time in the Rockies, but Seth and I have been intending to make a road trip to the Rockies for years. Since we had to cancel our plans to go home to Newfoundland, we decided it was the perfect time to finally do our own little BC road trip. We took a week off work, spending 3 nights in the Okanagan and 4 nights in Banff. Emily joined us and of course we took Sadie, so it made for an interesting packing experience. We’d been planning to get roof rails and a rack for the car, but of course, they were all sold out at our local store because everyone is road tripping this year, so we just had to get creative with the packing. We managed to fit all our camping gear for 3 people and a dog for a week in the car, though there was limited space in the backseat, so Emily and Sadie had to get pretty cozy.

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We took off right after work on Friday evening and drove straight to Okanagan Lake Provincial Park, where we’d be camping for 3 nights. We powered through the drive, stopping only once for gas and dinner, arriving with enough daylight to set up the tents. However, we couldn’t believe how hot it was when we stepped out of the car. We knew it was going to be hot – the temperatures in Penticton over the weekend were in the high 30’s! But we weren’t prepared for just how hot it would be overnight as well. We had a short campfire, but even that was too hot and we were all tired from the journey, so we decided to make it an early night.

The first night of the trip was by far the worst. Sadie had been camping with me twice before and both times had gone well, but the first night in the Okanagan was rough on everyone. We decided to sleep with the fly off because it’s like a sauna in the tent with it on, but that proved to be too challenging for Sadie. She’s a bit of a high strung dog most of the time, but usually settles down in the tent, but being able to see out of the tent was just too much stimulation and she barked at anything that passed our campsite throughout the night.

The campsites at Okanagan Lake North Campground are absolutely gorgeous. They’re massive sites with large green spaces between each site. It makes for a spacious and pretty site, but doesn’t provide much privacy, so Sadie was able to see into all our neighbouring campsites. She drove us nuts with the barking, and I’m sure the neighbours didn’t love it either. It probably didn’t help that she’d spent the last 4 hours in a car without a proper walk and she did a lot better on subsequent nights because she was tired from the day. I’m sure the heat didn’t help either. I slept the entire night in shorts and t-shirt ON TOP of my sleeping bag. I seriously didn’t put a blanket over me the entire night, which is something I’ve never experienced sleeping in a tent.

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The trip improved from there though. The main plan for the okanagan was to relax. We hadn’t planned any hikes (it was too hot) and the main goal was to just take it easy by the lake. On Saturday we drove into Penticton to hang out at the beach for the day. I was a little disappointed because it is a huge lake and beachfront, but the dog beach is really tiny. We hung around there for a few hours and Sadie finally went swimming for the first time. I think she liked it and it was a good way to cool down, but she won’t usually go swimming unless you are swimming too. I was surprised by how warm the water was though. Me and Seth visited Okanagan Lake once before during labour day weekend and I remembered the water being really cold, but it was heavenly on the super hot days we visited.

Eventually we moved on from the dog beach and decided to go for a little walk through the town. We got ice cream and iced tea, checking out one of the local bookstores. Then we found a patio at Slackwater Brewing and decided to hang out for a bit with some beers. It was nice, but the heat eventually drove us onwards and we returned to the campsite to go swimming in the lake again. We found a little beach near our campsite and went for another soak in the water before supper. It was a chill evening – we had a BBQ and relaxed by the campfire. We left the fly on this time, which was hot, but a lot better for Sadie and we all got a better night’s sleep.

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The next morning Emily made pancakes for breakfast and we decided to stay around the campground for the morning. We discovered a dog beach further up on the lake which was a lot nicer and decided to hang out there for a few hours. That was probably my favourite part of our stay in the Okanagan. We lounged around on the beach and had a great time chilling in our floaties in the water.

The afternoon was devoted to wineries. Of course, the Okanagan is famous for its wineries and you can’t go there without stopping by a few. Covid did make this a little more challenging. Normally you can just stop in where ever you want and sample some wines, but most of the wineries now have a reservation system even for tastings. I’d made reservations at 3 vineyards that were dog friendly and Emily agreed to be our DD since she doesn’t really like wine. Our first stop was Tightrope Winery, which had beautiful views of the lake and even let Sadie into the tasting room. Our second stop was Lakebreeze, which ended up being my favourite. They have an outdoor patio restaurant and I had pre-ordered meals for us. The venue was gorgeous, the food was delicious, and in my opinion they had the best wine as well. I regret not buying any wine from there. I’d already spent a lot on lunch, so we only sampled the wines, but they ended up being my favourite of the day. The last stop was Bench 1775. I think Bench had the best view of all three, a 180 degree view down to the lake, but it wasn’t my favourite atmosphere. I think they had overbooked themselves and there was a lot of waiting.

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The best part of the day was the evening. Emily had sent a snapchat to our cousin, Olivia, who lives in Edmonton earlier in the day. Liv’s fiance’s family lives in Kelowna and we couldn’t believe it when she responded to say she was also in the Okanagan! It’s been a year since we last saw her and didn’t expect to see her for a while, so we were thrilled that she was able to drive over to our campsite in the evening with her dog Avery. Sadie’s not great with other dogs because we weren’t able to socialize her properly in the pandemic, but after the initial shock she got on pretty well with Avery. We took them for a swim in the lake and then settled in for another campfire. It was only for a few hours, but it was so nice to see family.

Monday was our final day in the Okanagan and time to pack up the campsite. The showerhouse was open so we were all able to shower before leaving (foreshadowing) and took off around 10am to head towards Banff. It was a long drive and Sadie would definitely be needing breaks, so we knew it would take most of the day. It felt like it took forever to get out of Kelowna though. Traffic was really busy and we pushed through heading North. Because of Covid, we were cooking most of our meals, aside from the one at the winery. We had falafel in the cooler for lunch and decided to stop at a rest stop whenever we got hungry. We ended up stopping at this nice provincial park on Mara Lake. I’d never heard of it before, but it had picnic tables and lake views, so it made for a nice break.

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After that we drove through Revelstoke National Park and Glacier National Park. Those were both firsts for me. We didn’t stop in Revelstoke, but we did make a stop in Glacier to take Sadie on a short walk. Glacier seems like a really cool park and I would definitely love to explore more. We only did a short 1km walk in the park, but the scenery was so quintessentially Canadian. I don’t know what it is about National Parks, but they just have this really wholesome feel to them. I love how the signage is the same in all parks and something about the rangers and the park programs just triggers memories of family camping in Terra Nova and Gros Morne National Parks growing up. We hiked along through the trees along this raging river with the glacier capped mountains towering around us. I just felt like I was in the middle of a tourism ad.

The drive continued through Roger Pass and the rest of the park, which had jaw dropping views, before finally heading into the Rocky Mountains. We drove through Field, passing Lake Louise before finally arriving in Banff. It was around 7pm when we arrived and we were dismayed to see a long line of cars waiting to get into the park. We were also dismayed to remembered that we were now in Alberta and had lost an hour, meaning it was actually 8pm. It’s definitely lighter later in Banff, but it was a bit of a rush to set the tents up and get dinner on the go that evening. The campsite was also a bit of a disappointment after the gorgeous sites in the Okanagan. It was a tiny site and there was so much garbage and litter around, we had to clean before we could really settle in.

But we ended up having an AWESOME time in Banff, so more about that in my next post! I’m optimistic this series will be limited to just two posts, but I guess we’ll see!

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