Camping – Pemberton and Lillooet

There are two provincial parks in the Pemberton region with well-organized campgrounds. Nairn Falls Provincial Park (88 vehicle/tent sites) is located just south of Pemberton beside Hwy 99, and features captivating views and day-use areas. As it flows through the park, the Green River carves its way through a mass of granite at the foot of Mount Currie. Having picked up volume from the Soo River and Rutherford Creek on its way from Green Lake in the Whistler area, it swirls and crashes its way along until it reaches a fracture in the granite. Suddenly, its broad shape is transformed into a thundering column of whitewater as it drops 197 feet (60 m) at Nairn Falls.

As abruptly as the theatrics begin, the river reverts to its former character and hurries on towards Lillooet Lake. Unlike Shannon Falls or Brandywine Falls, Nairn Falls does not drop down a sheer pathway but instead boils through several frothy cauldrons. Over the centuries, silt carried in the water has scoured out bowls in which the whitewater churns momentarily before surging to the rocks below. Clouds of spray are jettisoned above the maelstrom in random patterns that are pleasant and hypnotic to watch. This is one of the most (hydro) dynamic sites in the Whistler region.

If you're just visiting for the day, park at the picnic area just inside the park gates beside Hwy 99. The 1.1-mile (1.8-km) trail to the falls is smooth and only moderately difficult to walk. Fine views of Mount Currie present themselves along the way. Once at the falls, a wire-mesh fence keeps visitors back from the edge while still permitting a good view of the river's violent action.

Birkenhead Lake Provincial Park (103 vehicle/tent sites, including 9 double sites) is somewhat more remote, an hour's drive north of Mount Currie near D'Arcy. It also has mountain-biking trails and paddling and fishing options on the lake. The gravelled Blackwater Forest Service Road leads 10.5 miles (17 km) west from the D'Arcy-Anderson Lake Road to Birkenhead Lake. The park has a wilderness camping area situated 1.2 miles (2 km) from the vehicle/tent sites at the northwest corner of the lake. You can either walk to it along a pleasant trail, or paddle in from the boat launch. (Watch for a large red marker affixed to one of the sturdy trees that surround the wilderness site, indicating where to land.) This is a delightful, arm's-length approach to camping at Birkenhead. Both Birkenhead Lake and Nairn Falls Provincial Parks fill up quickly on summer weekends. Signs on the D'Arcy-Anderson Lake Road inform visitors when the Birkenhead campsite is full so that travellers don't make the 21-mile (34-km) round trip in vain.

There's camping at a variety of Forest Service recreation sites sprinkled throughout the valley and along Lillooet Lake. The Owl Creek sites are located 4 miles (7 km) north of Mount Currie on the D'Arcy-Anderson Lake Road. There are two separate sites on opposite sides of Owl Creek, where it meets the Birkenhead River. Farther north towards D'Arcy you'll find four campsites beside noisy Spetch Creek in a pleasantly forested location off the D'Arcy-Anderson Lake Road.

Recreation sites on Lillooet Lake are located along gravel-surfaced Lillooet Lake Road at Strawberry Point (road marker 6 Km), Twin Creeks (marker 10 Km), Lizzie Bay (marker 15 Km), Driftwood Bay (marker 16 Km), and at Lizzie Lake on a logging road 7.5 miles (12 km) east of Lizzie Bay. Lillooet Lake Road begins 9 miles (15 km) east of Mount Currie and runs south off Hwy 99.

Residents of the Pemberton Valley have been camping at Tenquille Lake since the 1920s. An old cabin that was constructed there in 1940 is now best left to the pack rats, but it still provides shelter if needed. Access to the lake, the starting point for exploring the surrounding peaks, is from either a trailhead beside the Lillooet River Bridge at the north end of Pemberton Valley, or from a trailhead that begins about 10.5 miles (17 km) north on the Hurley River Road, followed by another 1.2 miles (2 km) on the Tenquille Lake Logging Road. Either way, count on a demanding 7.5-mile (12-km) hike to reach the lake.

Due to the extremely rocky terrain, wilderness campsites at Joffre Lakes Provincial Recreation Area are difficult to find. For those who plan to overnight in this park, follow the hiking trail on the southwest side of Upper Joffre Lake to where the alpine forest provides some slight shelter. There are no facilities here other than an outhouse and a few rough camping spots that have been cleared over the years. Campers are expected to remove all traces of their visit. Joffre Lakes Provincial Recreation Area is located on the Duffey Lake Road section of Hwy 99, about 14 miles (22 km) northeast of Mount Currie.

There is less likelihood of being rained out when camping in the Lillooet region than there is farther west in the Coast Mountains. As Hwy 99 leads from Duffey Lake to Lillooet, a provincial park campground and several small Forest Service recreation sites suitable for camping appear beside the lake and along Cayoosh Creek. At the forested east end of Duffey Lake, a provincial campground with 6 rough vehicle/tent sites is the best-organized site and also one of the most scenic, with views across the dark lake to Mount Chief Pascall and the Joffre Glacier Group. The biting insects here are bothersome during much of the summer and are so aggressive that even a steady breeze doesn't deter them. Several smaller sites are located along Hwy 99 at Roger, Cottonwood, and Cinnamon Creeks beside Cayoosh Creek as it flows towards Lillooet.

One of the most extensive campsites in the region is BC Hydro's Seton Lake Reservoir recreation area, 3 miles (5 km) west of Lillooet on Hwy 99. Located on the south side of the road, 47 vehicle/tent sites are spread out in a forested location beside Cayoosh Creek and are open between May and September. One of the campsite's more unusual features is an old Chinese stone oven, a remnant of the gold-rush days in the 1800s. A marker points to its location near the east end of the campsite.

Attractively situated Marble Canyon Provincial Park lies 22 miles (35 km) northeast of Lillooet on Hwy 99. Limestone cliffs tower above the campground's 34 vehicle/tent sites, while the placid waters of Turquoise Lake reflect the sky. A waterfall on the opposite side of the lake pours forth a steady stream; the sound helps mute all else. There is a charge of per site from May to September.

As you travel west to east through the Sea to Sky corridor between Pemberton and Lillooet, you enter a transition zone. Coastal terrain gives way to that of the interior, and in the process the alpine tundra biogeoclimatic zone becomes more accessible. Around Pemberton, you may have to hike to an elevation as much as 2,000 feet (630 m) higher to reach the alpine than you would an hour's drive farther east. A good example of this is at Blowdown Lake, where you'll find wilderness camping on the alpine perimeter at the 6,700-foot (2044-m) elevation, well below the benchmark of 7,382 feet (2250 m) in Pemberton and Whistler. Gott Peak rises above the lake to the north, while several equally rugged companions flank the lake to the south. Although much of the perimeter of the lake is marshy or touched by snow even in July, there are campsites on higher ground at the south end of the lake. One of the advantages of camping here is that the nearby alpine zone is easily reached for exploring with a lightweight pack.

The approach to Blowdown Lake begins from Hwy 99, 2.2 miles (3.5 km) east of the Duffey Lake Provincial Campground (see above). A logging and mining road climbs more than 10 miles (16 km) from Hwy 99 to Blowdown Pass. Most vehicles can make it as far as 6 miles (10 km) up the road before parking at a level area next to an abandoned metal-and-wood structure. If you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle, it's possible to go farther, but deep ditches and was
houts will eventually halt all but the most hard-core drivers. On foot, it's a 3.5-mile (6-km) hike to the lake from the metal-and-wood structure, and another 1.2 miles (2 km) to the pass. The lake and camping area lie a short distance from the road.