Two moms. Two days backpacking in Golden Ears Provincial Park. No kids.
That was my weekend away with a friend of mine. It was my first backpacking trip in over a decade, my first time away overnight without kids in about five years. And it was an amazing weekend!
I spent the week before our overnight backpacking trip preparing—looking up trails, finding and buying gear, making meals. My friend and I sent text messages back and forth. Finally, on Saturday morning, we were in my Jeep with our fully loaded packs in the back seat, heading for Golden Ears Provincial Park.
Golden Ears is located about an hour east of Vancouver, near Maple Ridge. It’s a popular summer destination for Vancouverites, who enjoy hiking, camping, swimming, horse back riding, boating, fishing and more there. The park is one of BC’s largest and is named for twin peaks that look like ears.
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Hiking into Golden Ears Provincial Park
We parked at the West Canyon parking lot, shouldered our packs, and set out on the West Canyon Trail. The entire parking lot was full, and cars were parked along the road, indicating that dayhiking or backpacking in Golden Ears is a popular pastime. I’d recommend getting there earlier in the day than we did, especially if you are staying longer than one night.
A light rain fell on us, but it wasn’t heavy enough that we needed our rain gear. We talked non-stop as we hiked, walking side-by-side when the trail was wide enough and single file when the trail narrowed or other hikers approached. If you’re looking to catch up with a friend, having several hours together while hiking into your campground is a great way to do so!
The trail was clearly marked and fairly easy, sloping upwards at times and a bit rocky or rooty in places, but not difficult. There were quite a few day hikers coming back down or going faster than we were. Most of the trail was within the trees, but we crossed the river via a bridge and then had a brief lookout at Gold Creek.
At one river crossing, a large sign proclaimed that this was the last place to get drinking water. We took off our packs, found my water filter, and hung it up to filter some water. Another couple backpacking in Golden Ears came along the trail and saw my 10-litre bag of water hanging from a tree. “You’re not going to carry that, are you?” she asked, aghast.
I laughed and said no. I know how heavy water is. We filled our water bottles and then I dumped the rest of the water back into the stream. We crossed a few more smaller streams (perhaps they don’t flow year-round?) that would have been easier to access for filling water bottles.
Alder Flats Campground
We knew we’d reached Alder Flats Campground (at 6 km) when we saw a couple tents nestled in the trees. Further down the trail, at a Y, there was a sign for Alder Flats. Straight ahead was the campground, spread alongside a dry river bed. To the right, the trail continued past the outhouse and up toward Panorama Ridge.
We wandered through the campground and found a secluded little flat spot to pitch my tent. It’s been a few years since I’ve set up my two-man backpacking tent, so at first I put the doors on the wrong side. We had to unstake the tent and turn it around so we could get into it without climbing through the bushes. Even so, it was a bit tight, with logs framing us on two sides and a bush on the third side.
We stashed our sleeping bags, Thermarests, and clothes in the tent. With “home” set up, we went looking for a bear pole. There was none, so we searched for a suitable tree. I hadn’t packed a rope for the bear pole, as I’d thought there would be one at the campground. We ended up using some fly lines from my tent, tied together.
Across the river, we found a tree with a suitable Y in it about thirty feet up. We tied a rock to the end of our rope and took turns pitching it toward the tree until we got it through the Y. We stashed our food and any other bear attractants in my tent bag, tied it to the rope, and attempted to pull it up.
My rope was too thin, and the knots caught on the tree, so we weren’t able to get the food bag very high—just above my head. Assuming the bear was my height and couldn’t climb trees, the food would be safe while we were backpacking in Golden Ears.
Then we were ready to explore further down the West Canyon Trail. We took our rain gear, bear spray, a water bottle and a few granola bars, and set out again. (A light day-pack was the other thing I’d forgotten to pack.) The trail progressed more steadily upward after Alder Flats Campground, heading toward Panorama Ridge. For a while, we followed a dry stream bed, picking our way over the rocks.
At one point, the trail veered out of the trees so that we had a beautiful view of the entire valley. Two glaciers rested on the mountains across from us. Looking around at the green forests carpeting the steep mountain slopes, it was hard to believe that just a few hours earlier, we’d been driving out of a big huge city.
Further down the trail, we came across a weathered grey tree. Someone had carved “GO ON AN ADVENTURE” into it. I’m not usually a fan of any sort of graffiti, but that little saying seemed to perfectly describe backpacking in Golden Ears. It has been too many years since I’d been on an adventure.
Our next viewpoint was at a huge stump, just before the trail veered up a steep staircase. We stopped here to sit our water and debate how much further to continue up the trail. It was 4:30 in the afternoon and we still had to cook supper (which we didn’t want to be doing after dark). We weren’t sure how far we’d hiked, or if there was another viewpoint down the trail.
As we waited, three kids came clambering down the staircase. I watched them, wondering if they were older than they looked or if they’d just gotten ahead of their adult. They dropped their packs near us and pulled out snacks. A few minutes later, an older gentleman came down the stairs with a walking stick. He joined his grandkids and I asked about backpacking in Golden Ears.
When I’d been researching hiking in Golden Ears, I’d considered going to the Panorama Ridge Campground (12 km in). However, one website said that the trail required avalanche awareness and route-finding skills after the Alder Flats Campground. Since I don’t have topographical maps and a compass, I wasn’t sure about doing that. The grandpa assured use that the trail was well-marked all the way to the Ridge, albeit muddy at the moment.
Then I asked the kids how old they were. Two were siblings, eleven and thirteen, and the other was their cousin, also eleven. I told them that my oldest daughter was eleven and I’ve been thinking about taking her for a backpacking trip. They enthusiastically told me about their favourite trails. I mentioned I was training for the West Coast Trail and the grandpa told me he’d hiked that several times, as well as the North Coast Trail. It was fun to hear them reminisce about trails they’d hiked, as it reminded me of my own childhood.
A Restful Evening
We decided to head back to Alder Flats. The weather was cloudy (although it hadn’t rained again), so we weren’t sure we’d get a nice view if we did go on.
Going down was, of course, quicker than going up, and we were back at camp soon after 5 pm. Two rangers were putting up a “no campfires sign” just below the Alder Flats Campground sign. We asked them if there was a bear pole here, and one said, “No, that would a good idea.”
Later, as we were getting our kitchen set up for supper, the ranger came wandering through looking for permits. You can’t reserve specific campsires while backpacking in Golden Ears, but you do need to purchase an overnight permit. I’d done that online just before we left, and had our permit in a Ziploc bag with our map.
We retrieved our food from the bear tree and cooked supper. The Moroccan Chicken Couscous recipe I’d found was scrumptious, as well as quick and easy to make (perfect for hungry hikers!).
Then we made ourselves comfy on my poncho on the ground and enjoyed a can of rose cider with crunchy brownies. I’ve never carried alcohol on a backpacking trip before, as it usually makes the list of “too heavy” items that get left behind. This was a special one-night trip in which we had some room for extra weight, and the cider was a lovely way to end the evening.
While we sat enjoying our dessert, a chipmunk came scampering up to inspect our campground. We watched him nosing about the stump where we’d cooked, but he found nothing to interest him and soon scampered off to another campsite. Leave-no-trace camping for the win! (Feeding the wildlife is a pet peeve of mine, as my parents were very stern about not doing it, even by accident.)
After our cider, I boiled water for a cup of tea and to wash the dishes. We repacked all our food into the tent bag and pulled it back up into our “bear pole.” We made one last trip to the outhouse and then crawled into our tent shortly after 8 pm.
I warned my friend that I sleep through anything except my kids, and I did. It’s been a long time since I slept as well as I have that night. I remember rolling over once or twice, but otherwise I didn’t wake up until 8 am. My friend said she thought I was dead. She listened to the birds singing, and wondered if the hikers across the stream from us were having an illegal campfire, and rolled over frequently. According to her, I didn’t move all night. It was bliss.
She crawled out of the tent just after 8 am and started setting up the kitchen. I could have slept longer, but it was light out and she was up, so I reluctantly got dressed and joined her. We boiled water to make instant oatmeal and instant coffee for breakfast. After washing dishes, we packed up our little camp.
We were on the trail just after 10 am. We’d finished the last of our water with breakfast, so we stopped at the stream again to filter more water. This was my first trip using a drip water filter, and I was very impressed at how fast we filled all our water bottles.
It also started raining right then, so we pulled out our rain gear to put on. Ten minutes later, the rain stopped, and soon after, we peeled off our rain gear because it was too hot. In another hour, the weather repeated itself.
We decided to take the “scenic route” out, instead of retracing our steps from the day before. At the Y in the trail, we turned left and found Hikers Beach. There was a ford over the river there, but we didn’t feel like wading across freezing, knee-deep water just for fun. (That was part of why I carried sandals, as they help with stream crossings, but why ford a river if it’s not necessary.)
We hiked to the next Y in the trail and took the bridge over the river, then followed the trail upstream again to Viewpoint Beach. This was a beautiful, rocky beach at a horseshoe bend in the river. It rained as we got there, so we didn’t get much of a view of the mountains above us. Another hiker was camped there.
As we walked back along the trail, I saw a narrow rope sitting on the trail. I picked it up and began wrapping it around my hand as I continued walking, and then got jerked backward. A fist-shaped rock was tied at one end of the rope, causing me to burst out laughing. Someone else had done the same thing we had to make a bear pole.
The East Canyon Trail is a wide, gravel trail that’s also used by horse back riders. We passed two groups of two horses, and other groups of hikers. Here, it was easy to walk side-by-side as we continued talking non-stop.
At the Gold Creek Parking lot, we consulted our map and attempted to follow the trail around the parking lot to where we’d parked. When we saw red caution tape marking a landslide at the edge of the trail, we realized we’d gotten turned around and were heading back up the West Canyon Trail. We turned back, followed the trail right to the road, and then followed the road to the Menzies Trail and back to the West Canyon Parking Lot.
We deposited our packs in the back of the Jeep, stretched, and then pulled out snacks for the drive back to Vancouver.
It had been a lovely weekend away, a nice test to all my gear before I head out on the West Coast Trail. It has also reawakened my love for backcountry hiking, and I hope to be doing more of it in the coming year, especially now that the girls are getting old enough to join me. Stay tuned!
Have you done any dayhiking or backpacking in Golden Ears Provincial Park?