Nairn Falls is a cozy campground located in a bend of the river just north of Whistler, BC. We spent a weekend here last June and thoroughly enjoyed exploring the campground, as well as day-tripping into Whistler and Pemberton. If you’ve started considering which campgrounds to book for your summer holidays this year, here’s more about what you can expect to find at Nairn Falls Campground.
Nairn Falls Provincial Park covers 170 hectares and protects some special natural and cultural history. Nairn Falls is a spiritual site for Lil’wat Nation. It’s also a beautiful, awe-inspiring example of the power of water. The campground has 94 camping spots and is open from May 10th to September 30th, 2019.
Getting to Nairn Falls Campground
On the Friday we were going to drive up to Nairn Falls Campgrounds, it was pouring rain in Vancouver. The forecast predicted more rain all weekend. I debated not going, but it was too late to cancel our reservation so I decided we’d just go for it. I packed the kids’ rain gear, loaded up the van, and hit the highway.
Nairn Falls Campground is about three hours from Vancouver. We made a stop in Squamish for supper and a bathroom break, and to clean up a sick kid. With some hot food in their tummies, and a chance to stretch their legs, the girls piled happily back into the van for the rest of the drive.
We arrived at the campground around bedtime. There was no ranger on duty because it’s a small campground, so I looked up our name on the list and then checked the map to find our campsite. Because of the rain, the campground—which had been completely booked when we reserved our site—was more than half empty.
Our site was private and snug, completely surrounded by trees and bushes. We were close to the outhouses (handy with kids!) but couldn’t see or hear any of our neighbours. As the rain tapered to a sprinkle, I quickly set up the tent with the girls’ help. Even 6-month-old Joey tried to assist with blowing up the air mattresses! I tied a few of our tent lines to nearby trees and hauled a log up to use as an anchor.
With the tent ready for the night, we decided to explore Nairn Falls Campground. The rain had slacked off and it was still light out, so a walk seemed like a great way to help the girls burn off some energy from the drive. We wandered back to the entrance to pick up a campground map. Then we did the Coudre Point Hike, which meanders from Site 17 to Site 47 along the Green River.
The Green River tumbles over Nairn Falls, follows the highway for just over a kilometer, then makes a 90 degree turn to the right and another turn back to the left, hugging the campground on two sides. After it leaves the campground, it flows past Mount Currie to join the Lillooet River rushing into Lillooet Lake. The BC Parks website listed “swimming” as one of the activities for Nairn Falls Campground, but I wouldn’t have ventured into the river. It looked fast and cold, and in most places, the access to the river from the campground was down a fairly steep bank.
As it began to get dark, we headed back to the tent. The girls were soon all snuggled into their sleeping bags. I turned on the white noise app and nursed Joey to sleep. The older girls used headlights to read for a bit, as I find it helps them settle down in the tent.
All night, I listened to the rain pattering off and on. Growing up backpacking in the Rocky Mountains, rain pattering on a tent is a familiar sound to me. When I heard it, I thought about what we’d do in the morning if it was still raining. When I didn’t hear the rain, I hoped that it was clearing off and we’d have a nice day.
Hiking to Nairn Falls
Saturday morning dawned clear and sunny. There is no feeling quite as good as stepping out of your tent after a rainy night to see blue sky above! I was so happy we’d risked the weather to go camping for the weekend. As the girls slept, I started boiling water for coffee and instant oatmeal.
With breakfast out of the way, we set out to see Nairn Falls. It was a short hike, but I still packed a few snacks and water bottles in Pearl’s little monkey backpack. The girls took turns carrying it as we hiked. Joey rode in my baby carrier, tucked in with his flannel quilt. Rested, fed and excited, the girls trotted down the trail chattering eagerly together.
The trail was a couple feet wide and well packed. It sloped steeply down to the river, so I told the girls to be careful as they hiked and watch their footing. I tried to stay close to the younger two. It was also a popular trail. We met quite a few other people hiking it, and many seemed to be locals who’d just dropped by for the walk. There was a day-use parking lot at Nairn Falls Campground for dayhikers.
Joey soon fell asleep, snug against my chest in the Ergo. It was a glorious morning in a beautiful location. The girls were so busy telling stories that they were yards ahead of me as we hiked. This, I thought, this is summer vacation. Just being together and enjoying the beauty that surrounds us here in BC. These are the moments I want to remember, the little moments when everything is perfect.
We stopped along the trail to check out the flora and fauna, such as this giant banana slug on the cedar. Nairn Falls Provincial Park shelters a mixed forest of western hemlock, western red cedar, coastal Douglas fir and western flowering pacific dogwood. It’s also home to the rubber boa, one of the most cold-tolerant snake species, but we didn’t see any.
The trail followed the river, so I kept watching for signs that we were getting close to the falls. They were easy to hear as we approached. A set of rock stairs led us up out of the trees onto a huge, flat rocky area. Through this rock, the river had carved its own spectacular channel.
The girls loved this flat, rocky area. I thought they’d be tired after our 1.5-km hike from Nairn Falls Campground. I thought we’d sit quietly by the falls, munching our granola bars, sipping our water, and watching the water eddying endlessly over the grey rocks. (That’s what my mom and I would have done when we were hiking!)
Instead, we spent about half an hour (or more there) going up and down and back and forth over the rocks. I was glad for the fence that protected the waterfall (I mean, the kids). While I would have stared, mesmerized, at the waterfall, they drew in the dirt, clambered over rocks, and examined leaves they found. Their curiosity and energy made me smile. Again, this is why we camp—this is what we can’t do in the city.
Waterfalls, like mountains, don’t fit neatly into pictures. There’s no way to catch the roar of the water, the wet spray against your face, the twists and turns that the river takes. I took multiple pictures, from various angles, but none could capture the wonder of standing there, trying to trace the water’s route with my eyes. I love to imagine myself a water droplet, jostling and spinning between the rocky edges.
Because of the chain link fence, I let the girls explore where they wanted to go. Quite a few other hikers came and went while we wandered around. The river really changed as it poured over the falls, tumbling down the rocks, twisting sharply and foaming up into the air, then flowing out to the broad, smooth river that ran past Nairn Falls Campground.
We did find a nice mossy place to sit and enjoy our snacks and water. As soon as they were done eating, the girls were on the go again. We switched who was carrying the backpack again and they put their coats around their waists. Then they were off down the trail, with just as much energy as we’d started with. (In the meantime, I had a sore back from carrying Joey, but who was I to complain!)
Overall, the Nairn Falls Trail was a fairly easy 3-km round-trip hike. Even two-year-old Pearl hiked most of it by herself, although I carried her (and Joey) for some short periods on the way back again. The trail was flat and clearly marked, with a beautiful destination to look forward to, and plenty of interesting scenery along the way. Even if you’re just driving past Nairn Falls Campground, I’d recommend stopping to do the hike!
An Afternoon in Whistler, BC
Back at our campsite, I cooked lunch. The girls explored the bushes near the tent and found the water tap to refill our water bottles. As we ate, I noticed that the clouds were beginning to move in overhead. I started to clean up the table and the campsite. By the time the girls finished eating, I had the table clean and the first raindrops were falling. We piled into the van and headed for Whistler.
In Whistler, we spent a couple hours hanging out at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre. We’d visited here before, with my uncle and his girlfriend, so the girls were excited to have a chance to explore again. I mostly followed their interests, as I had at the waterfall. We all watched the informational video, then the older girls listened to the talk while the younger girls played at the other end of the hall.
We had a snack in the cafe downstairs, then headed over to the library. Whistler has a beautiful library with tons of books. They also happened to be having a craft day there, so the girls were able to get creative. Meanwhile, Joey discovered some blocks and toys to play with (and was happy to be free of either the car seat or Ergo!).
From the library, we swung past the bus stop to pick up my husband. He’d found out about a Saturday morning commitment in Vancouver after we booked the campground, so he caught the bus up to join us for the second night. The rain cleared again that evening, so we were able to make a fire and have s’mores for dessert—our family camping tradition!
Goodbye, Nairn Falls
On Sunday morning, we drove to Mount Currie for Mass. The church there was very small, so it wasn’t hard for Father to figure out that we were camping somewhere nearby. After Mass, we stopped at a picnic shelter in Pemberton to have lunch. I’d hoped to hike around the lake near Nairn Falls Campground, but the weather was once again threatening rain. So, a bit tired and cold, we decided just to run back down the highway for Vancouver.
If you’re looking for a great place to camp while you explore Whistler and Pemberton, I recommend stopping by Nairn Falls Campground. While it’s a small campground, the scenic hikes are definitely worth the trip. And when the weather forecast calls for rain, it’s worth taking a chance on the campground. You never know when the weathermen will be wrong!
For more information about Nairn Falls Campground, or to book it for your next trip, visit the BC Parks website.
Looking for more things to do on the drive from Vancouver to Whistler? Check out:
- Shannon Falls (very short hike and a lovely picnic area)
- Britannia Mine Museum (discover the history of the area)
- Sea to Sky Gondola (easy ride to the top of the mountain for a fun hike)
If your family enjoys hiking, see my list of 12+ family-friendly hikes around greater Vancouver for other ideas.
Have you camped at Nairn Falls Campground or around Whistler, BC? What activities in the area would you recommend?