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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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.

Viewpoint Beach Backpacking Trip

I feel like it’s a bit misleading to refer to this trip as a ‘backpacking trip’ – it was only a 30 minute drive from my house and 4km to get to the campsite – but I still lugged a backpack and all my gear out there with me, so it counts!

Like many other locals, I was thrilled to hear that the government would be relaxing some of their coronavirus measures and that BC Parks would be re-opening for camping. I was one of the many hopefuls trying to get campsites when they released on May 25, but alas, I had absolutely no luck, so I was left to research where I could go on a last minute permit.

I went to Viewpoint Beach, which is located in Golden Ears park, that first weekend in June after the campsites opened back up again. I had 2 goals. The first was just to get outside and go camping; I wasn’t too fussy on where as long as I had enough space to set up my tent. The second goal required a bit more thought – I wanted to take my puppy on her first ever camping trip. That’s right, I got a puppy!

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Seth and I have wanted a dog for a long time – like pretty much since we moved to BC – but of course a dog is a lot of work and we didn’t really have the space for one at our old apartment, nor were we ready to commit to the time constraints of a dog. But we recently bought our first home and getting a dog was pretty much our first priority when we got back from New Zealand. I know a lot of people have taken on pet ownership in the recent pandemic. We never intended to get a pandemic puppy, but I can’t deny that the timing worked out perfectly.

We’ve done a lot of dog sitting over the past few years, mostly for Jordie the Australian Shepherd and Alfie the Black Retriever. I love them both and was initially leaning towards getting a golden retriever, but after some research, we decided that a high strung Australian Shepherd was the perfect dog for us. Aussies have a bit of a reputation for being high energy and not great for beginners, but they’re also great hikers, so I was sold. We found a breeder in Keremeos and we were set. We picked out a little red merle puppy, named her Sadie, and brought her home at 8 weeks.

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This was right around the time Coronavirus started to blow up (mid-march). The week before we picked her up we went pandemic shopping at the grocery store and I was so anxious to go get her because I could tell the climate was changing fast and I just wanted her home with us. We drove out to Keremeos on Friday night, picked her up Saturday morning, and then drove straight back home. She was so soft and precious. With the exception of vomiting a WHOPPING 4 TIMES, she slept in our arms almost the whole drive home. I took Monday off to stay home with her and by Tuesday, my work had announced we were going to a “work from home” protocol, so it was about 6 weeks later before we left her home alone for the first time. She’s a lucky pup – it was so much easier to be able to properly care for her as a puppy being home all the time, but it has resulted in a bit of separation anxiety (we think). Me and Seth are very much “her people”, but that’s a story for another time.

Anyways, back to the hike, what I’d intended to write about before going off on this life update. I really want for Sadie to be a hiking dog, but as a puppy, obviously she still has her limits, so I wanted something easy and close to home. We decided to try out Viewpoint Beach in Golden Ears.

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I did this hike once before about 5 years ago, so I kind of knew what to expect, but it seems BC Parks has put a lot of work into the trail since then, so it was a lot different than I remembered. They’ve updated a lot of the signage, upgraded the path to the lower falls, and the bridge that crosses over to Alder Flats (was there even a bridge here before? I always thought there was, but I’d hiked to both Viewpoint Beach and Alder Flats in the past and never saw one before). They’ve also added an outhouse at Viewpoint Beach, so it was more popular than I was anticipating for a rainy forecast, but there were still only 6 groups on the beach in total. Not bad for the first camping weekend after a 3 month quarantine.

Seth had to work on Saturday, so it was me and Emily that went on the hike. Emily lives on her own in North Van, so we kept her in our bubble throughout the pandemic. We picked up a Modo right after work on Friday and went straight to Golden Ears. We had sandwiches in the parking lot and then set off at around 6pm. Sadie’s been hiking around the tri-cities with us and has hiked up to about 8km to date, so I wasn’t too worried about the flat 4km hike to Viewpoint Beach. It’s always interesting to watch her though – this was our first time with backpacks and I think she could tell it was a slightly different experience than previous hikes.

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She’s a pretty high energy dog. She loves to be outside and if you don’t take her for a walk every day she’ll drive you crazy. It’s funny but even at 4.5 months old, she already has trail preferences. She doesn’t like wide gravel paths, I think she finds them a bit boring, and she seems to enjoy going up or down more than just going along a flat path. The more variety the better, so to date her favourite trails are actually mountain bike trails. We did a lot of exploring in the mountains up behind Port Moody during the pandemic, most of which are mountain bike paths, and she loves nothing more than running up and down those steep, technical trails. So I think I’ll have a pretty rugged hiking companion when she gets older.

It was a pretty easy hike to the beach, we knocked out almost 4.5km in just over an hour, which is actually pretty fast for us. Sadie did well on the hike, but the camping was definitely not without its challenges. Because everything was new, everything was very exciting and it was hard for her to settle down. At home when she gets hyper we just put her in her kennel for a little while and she calms down, but in the wilderness there’s no where to put her and she gets a bit anxious being on the line away from you.

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But we were able to get camp set up without too much difficulty. The forecast was calling for rain all weekend, starting around 9pm that night, so we wanted to get everything set up before that happened. There was no sign of rain when we arrived at the beach though. There was blue sky and we had a lovely view looking up at Golden Ears and the surrounding mountains. We set up a tarp for the next morning and a bear cache before settling down on the beach for some tea. Sadie went back and forth between trying to settle next to us and running around the beach chewing as many sticks as she could find.

I was really curious what she’d think about sleeping outside. Having down time was a challenge, but she ended up doing really well in the tent. I bought her a little backcountry dog bed from Ruffwear and she seemed to like it. She settled down there pretty easy and spent the night alternating between her bed and snuggling up between mine and Emily’s heads. I don’t know how much sleep she actually got, but she was quiet until 6am, which is when she normally gets up.

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The rain held off for most of the night, but then it really started to pour around 3am. It wasn’t calling for that much rain, but it was coming down pretty heavy, so I wasn’t really looking forward to the next day. It still sounded like it was raining when I got out of the tent at 6:30am with Sadie, but I quickly discovered it was only the rain from the trees dripping on us and that the rain had actually stopped. So we didn’t end up needing the tarp, but rule number 1 of camping, if you prepare for the rain, it will pass you by, so always prepare!

We had a chill breakfast on the beach and the weather continued to improve, not enough for us to dry the tent or tarp out, but we were able to pack down in dry weather, so no complaints. Had we known the weather would improve, we would have stayed for the day, but since the forecast had been all rain, we hadn’t brought a lunch, so we packed up and hit the trail again by 9am. So we didn’t spend that long in the wilderness, but it was great to finally get out camping and I actually really liked the campsite.

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We had a lovely walk back to the car and decided to try the new (old, but better signed) trail to the lower falls. The first 20 metres of the trail is much improved, but after that it’s a pretty steep, technical hike down to the falls. Nothing we couldn’t handle and it ended up being Sadie’s favourite part of the trail of course.

It’s definitely going to be a very different summer with all the travel restrictions and extra precautions, but I’m so glad the parks have opened back up again because I think so many of us really rely on them to maintain our mental health. Can’t wait to get back on the trail again soon!