For the past three years, my mom and I have taken my kids on a summer camping trip. This year, due to the pandemic affecting travel and my mom’s work schedule, we thought we’d have to cancel our annual tradition. Then at the last minute, my mom realized she had some holidays and I realized the start of school was postponed, so we booked a week at Herald Provincial Park.
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Picking a Campground
For the first two years, we spent our annual camping trip at Clearwater Campground in Wells Gray Provincial Park. This beautiful park is about halfway between my mom and I and offered tons of places to explore by foot and canoe. Last year, we went to Jasper for a week after I finished hiking the West Coast Trail. This year, my mom was joining us after canoeing the Kootenai River with her canoe club. Since she was coming from southern BC like I was, we decided to find a campground a bit further south than Wells Gray.
I browsed campgrounds on the Discover Camping website. Shuswap Lake Provincial Park was available, but it seemed like a huge campground with very little hiking nearby. A few other campgrounds were fully booked, even in September. (Other families also took advantage of school’s late start and September’s great weather to go camping!) Then I saw the description for Herald Provincial Park and sent my mom a quick email. She agreed with me that it looked great and booked a double site for us.
Arriving at Herald Provincial Park
I refreshed my camping menu plan, did the grocery shopping for the trip, ordered waterproofing products for my tent, and packed our camping gear. On Tuesday, we packed the truck and were on the road by 9:30 in the morning. After a couple quick stops for things I’d forgotten to get earlier in the week, we headed down the highway. We stopped in Merritt for a lunch break and Kamloops to visit a childhood friend of mine, and made it to the campground just before supper. Mom pulled up just after we did.
The girls kept an eye on Joey for me and explored the stream that gurgled beside our campsite. They also helped find rocks to hold down our tent, as the ground around the site was too hard for tent pegs. Our campsite was directly across from the showers and washrooms (with flush toilets, to Jade’s relief) and slightly apart from any other sites.
Once the tents were up, I quickly reheated the taco meat and spread out taco fixings. We had a hearty supper with minimal prep and cleanup. After I cleaned up our picnic area, I got out a glow stick for each of the kids and we headed for a walk around the campground. As dusk fell, and then dark, it was handy to have something bright attached to each kid! They loved the glow sticks and the fun of going for a walk in the dark.
Back at our campsite, I sent the girls into the tent to put on their pajamas and crawl into their sleeping bags. They kept their glow sticks for night lights and I turned on my white noise app for them. I got Joey into his pajamas, but took him to sit with my mom in our lawn chairs by the empty firepit. Wrapped up my Mozy, I stayed warm as darkness feel and the stars came out while we caught up with each other. As we chatted, Joey nursed and then slowly fell asleep. By the time I crawled into the tent with him, the girls were also asleep.
Hiking Margaret Falls and the Upper Canyon Loop
After breakfast the next morning, we set off through the campground to find Margaret Falls. A lovely gravel trail runs the length of the campground, from the beach at one end along Reinecker Creek to the start of the Margaret Falls Trail.
The trail has an interpretive guide in the park brochure, with more information about the flora and fauna and history of the area.
In the late 1800’s, Dr. Herald, a young Vancouver physician, realized his health was suffering from the wet coastal weather and decided to settle in the Shuswap area. In the fall of 1905, he bought this farm from the Reinecker family. The Herald family grew tomatoes, potatoes, onions, raspberries and apples. They also grew grains to feed 10 Jersey cows. One year spoiled milk was dumped on the vegetable garden, and the result was a 360 pound pumpkin! The Heralds sold any surplus produce in the town of Canoe, a short trip across the lake (a good road did not reach the farm until 1954). They shipped some produce, like raspberries, by rail to Calgary.
Margaret Falls is located only about ten minutes from the campground, in a canyon formed by the falls and stream. We followed the trail into the canyon, zigzagging over the creek via a series of bridges.
The trail ends at the end of the canyon, where water tumbles down the canyon wall, down into Reinecker Creek. In the canyon, we were in deep shade, but at the top of the waterfall, we could see the sun shining through the trees and sparkling on the water.
The hike to Margaret Falls was easy and short—almost too short! I felt a bit disappointed that we’d reached it so quickly. Mom and I quickly consulted the map on the brochure and in my phone, and decided to try another hike: the Upper Canyon Loop. This trail looked like it went up and around the waterfall, and we hoped for a glimpse of the waterfall from the top. However, while we crossed Reinecker Stream further upstream, we didn’t see the waterfall from there.
From Margaret Falls, we hiked up the road a short distance to reach the Upper Canyon trailhead. The trail followed a narrow service road steadily uphill. Then the trail narrowed to a single-file hiking path, which followed the curve of the hill. Far below us, we could catch glimpses of Shuswap Lake sparkling in the sunlight. Then, coming around a corner, we reached a viewpoint of the lake and campground. There, we got out the snacks for the kids—long-promised dried apricots, peanuts, and chocolate covered almonds.
After the viewpoint, we met many other hikers coming from the Herald Provincial Park Day Use Area up to the viewpoint and back down again. The trail ended at the playground, so we let the kids play there for a bit. When they tired of the playground, they suggested the beach. We returned to our campsite to put away the hiking gear and get out beach wear, and headed down to the water.
Playing at the Beach
For a while, Mom and I basked in the sun and chatted and watched the kids play. Then I went to get our lunch and brought it down to a picnic table near the beach. The kids wandered up to eat as they got hungry. When we thought everyone had had enough food, Mom portaged one of her canoes from our campsite down to the beach. Then she had the kids take turns going paddling with her.
In the last two years, Joey hasn’t liked wearing his PFD or riding in a canoe. He bored easily of sitting still in the bottom of the boat, or wanted to nurse, or wanted me to hold him—which was rather difficult while I was trying to paddle. This year, he took one look at the canoe and paddle and decided they were his new favourite things. He went for a ride with Grandma and Sunshine, then with Grandma and Lily, then with Grandma and Jade.
When Grandma decided she’d show the older girls how to tip a canoe, I had to drag Joey out of it. Sunshine went first and was quite excited about getting wet. She and Grandma paddled a short distance away from shore (but still within the swimming buoys). Grandma gave a signal and they both leaned to the right and over the canoe went! When they came up, Grandma tried to get Sunshine to help her flip the canoe over again so they could climb inside. However, too much water got into the canoe, so they swam it back to shore so I could help her empty and flip it.
Tipping the canoe has been Lily’s biggest fear on the water. She stares into the depths of the lake, asking if there are fish down there and what would happen if she fell out of the boat or what we should do if the boat tips over. Waves, little brothers dogs rocking the boat, and changes in position make her nervous. As she paddled away from the beach, Lily peppered Grandma with question after question. She practically leapt out of her seat when Grandma said “Tip!” After swimming the canoe back to shore, however, Lily wanted to do it again.
We spent the afternoon “playing” with the canoe. Grandma took the kids for more rides up and down the lake. Jade and Pearl tried paddling a log while they waited for their turn to canoe. Finally, we put away the canoe and headed back to our campsite to start supper.
We had to wait for the rangers to start bringing wood around, as we wanted to make a fire and roast hot dogs and s’mores. I’d brought Joey’s trucks and diggers with us, but after the first night, he barely paid them any attention. There were too many other things around the campground for him to explore—with a big sister following close behind.
As we started roasting s’mores, Joey started getting fussy. He ate his marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers separately, and untoasted, but nothing seemed to make him happy. Finally, I put him my baby carrier and went for a walk. He talked to me about the stream and the beach as we walked. We looped back through the campground, and he got quiet. By the time I returned to our campsite, he was sound asleep, and I laid him in the tent. The rest of us sat around the fire for a bit longer, but we were all in the tent pretty early that night.
A Mini Canoe Trip
Usually when we’re camping, Mom and I spent the morning hiking with the kids and the afternoon canoeing. The only hiking trails close to Herald Provincial Park were Margaret Falls and the Upper Canyon Loop, which we’d already done. I tried to research other trails or options while we were waiting for the firewood, but I didn’t find anything that seemed worth the drive. We woke up on Thursday morning without much of a plan for the day.
Over breakfast, I suggested to Mom that we pack a picnic lunch and canoe down Shuswap Lake. Since Dennis seemed happy in the canoe, maybe we could do a longer outing than we’d done the day before. First, we took the kids to the playground. When they tired there, we headed to the beach. While they played at the beach, Mom and I worked at hauling all the canoe gear down—life jackets, both canoes, picnic lunch, bailing bucket, etc.
Mom took Jade and Pearl in her solo canoe. One sat behind her and one in front, and they switched on the way back again. I took the larger double canoe with Sunshine and Lily in the front (with kid-sized paddles) and Joey in the middle (just in front of me). We stayed close to the shore of Shuswap Lake and headed south, towards the houses Pearl and Jade had wanted to paddle to the day before. Soon, they realized just how deceptive distances are on water! It took us nearly half an hour to paddle to those houses, and then we paddled past them and all the “Private Property! No Houseboats!” signs.
Mom had shown me how to do a couple strokes before we headed out. The lake was calm, with the sun shining on us, and I had plenty of time to practice keeping the canoe heading straight while paddling mostly by myself. I reminded the older girls to “help” and kept an eye on Joey, who liked leaning over the edge to trail his fingers in the water. We let him have the paddle for a bit, but after he dropped it a couple times (and I grabbed it before it floated away), I gave it back to Sunshine.
Just as Joey was getting bored and cranky, we found a stretch of beach that didn’t have a big sign on it. We pulled the canoes onto the beach and I used Google Maps in my phone to check our location. Paradise Point, another provincial park with water access only, provided us with a private beach for our picnic lunch. I spread out my picnic blanket and set out the snacks for the kids. They ate and explored the beach, finding shiny rocks and chasing minnows in the shallows.
As we’d packed for our trip, I’d glanced briefly at the swim bag. Then I thought, “Nah, it’s September and it’s usually too cool for swimming.” Shuswap Lake proved me wrong. It was sunny and warm for our entire week at Herald Park; Sunshine and I came home sunburned and we all ended up swimming in our clothes because the water was so inviting. Note to self: always pack the swim bag and the sunscreen when camping.
I was in no hurry to leave Paradise Point. After a August, with back-to-school preparations and renovations, it was glorious to sit on that beach in the sun with nothing to do other than play with my kids, talk to my mom, and paddle back to our campground sometime. We waded, we swam, we sat, we waded again.
Finally, we piled back into the canoes and paddle back to Herald Provincial Park—at a leisurely pace. I’d given Joey a stick to drag in the water, and he was happy hanging over the edge of the boat, watching the ripples made by his stick. Sunshine tied knots in the rope of the bailing bucket and worried he’d fall out of the canoe, but he never did. Back at the beach, we portaged our canoes and gear back to the campsite and let the kids play on the beach for a while. Mom took them all swimming again, and then we dripped our way to the tent to find dry clothes.
Supper was packaged pasta with canned chicken, a staple that the kids love when we’re camping. Then Mom let Lily build the fire, as she’d spent the night before begging for chances to poke the fire. She managed to produce an excellent s’more fire that toasted marshmallows in twenty seconds flat, and we finished off the last of the s’mores. Then I once again sent the girls to bed in the tent while sitting up to chat with Mom and holding Joey. I wanted to hold onto that moment of hanging out with her, but eventually we had to crawl into our tents.
Goodbye, Herald Park
On Friday morning, we woke up for breakfast and then broke camp. Mom and I both have a pretty good routine about that, so it didn’t take us long to have our trucks loaded up and ready to hit the road. We hugged and waved and headed our opposite directions. The fourth annual Grandma Camping Trip was a huge success, and the kids keep saying they want to go back to Herald Provincial Park next year. We’ll see where 2021 takes us!
Have you stayed at Herald Provincial Park or another campground near Shuswap Lake? What is your favourite thing to do in that area?