Mid-April seemed a bit early to start the 2021 camping season, but after a year of going nowhere due to the pandemic, I was eager to go somewhere. Even if it was just an hour away, to Golden Ears Provincial Park, and even if it was a little bit cold. The week before our planned camping trip, I was delighted to see that the weather forecast was for sun, sun, and more sun! I still made sure all the kids had their hoodies and packed an extra sleeping bag, but we couldn’t wait to set up our tent.
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Golden Ears Provincial Park
Although Golden Ears Provincial Park is located just past Maple Ride (less than two hours from Vancouver), I’ve only been there once before. Two years ago, I did an overnight backpacking trip there with a friend of mine. I knew the area was beautiful and popular. On Saturday afternoon, we arrived to a fairly full campground and set up our tent. Once the campsite had become “home sweet home,” we were ready to explore.
Golden Ears Provincial Park has three campgrounds, all located on the north-west side of Alouette Lake. We were in the central Gold Creek Campground, the largest of the three campgrounds. It sits fairly high on the bank above the lake. Our campsite faced the lake, so we had a view of sparkling waters through the tall, straight evergreens. That also meant other campers marched past our campsite on a regular basis, bound for the lake, which was a steep climb down the hill.
We packed a beach bag and ventured down to the lake. My one complaint about the Gold Creek Campground is that the lake access isn’t the greatest. Anywhere you go down to the lake, it’s a steep climb. We tried following the trail and ended up in an even worse scramble on loose rocks and gravel, and didn’t go back that way. Some stairs towards the bottom of that trail would be a great investment to help not only with camper access but also with the erosion of the hillside.
Swimming in Alouette Lake
Last year when we went camping at Herald Park in September, I assumed that the lake would be too cold for swimming and didn’t take our swim bag. I was wrong. We ended up swimming in our clothes because the weather and the water were so nice. This time, I packed the swim bag. After nearly a year of not swimming because of the pandemic, the kids couldn’t wait to get into their swim gear and hit the water.
And it was cold water. I waded. Joey waded and declared it too cold. The girls were in out and regularly. A fallen stump just off shore gave them an excuse to wade out through the cold water to climb up the stump. Even Pearl ventured out up to her armpits to get onto the stump with her sisters.
Later, I laughed as I watched her wading in and out of the water, up to her belly button and sometimes deeper at times. I told her Grandma would be proud, while I stayed in the sun with my book (and one eye on her in case I had to jump in and rescue her).
In the evening, I reheated canned chili on my camp stove while we waited for the ranger to come around with firewood. (Note to self: bring wood next time so we aren’t waiting on the ranger to start our fire.) We roasted s’mores for dessert once we had wood. When dusk settled, I gave the younger three kids glow sticks again so I could keep track of them until we crawled into the tent. I’d brought along J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Return of the King, but we only got halfway into the first chapter before the younger two were snoring softly.
Hiking the Viewpoint Trail
My plan for Sunday was to hike in the morning and swim in the afternoon. We drove around to check out the day use areas in Golden Ears Provincial Park and decide where to play later, and then ended up at the West Canyon Parking Lot (as other parking areas were full even at mid-morning). I distributed day packs between the girls, buckled my Ergo around my waist, and we headed up the Alouette Lake Viewpoint Trail (roughly 2 km one way).
The Viewpoint Trail veers off the West Canyon Trail and zigzags up through the trees. It was well-marked and well-hiked all the way. There were a few bridges in places, but the largest stream crossing had no bridge. It required a scramble down the bank to the stream, and then the hiker’s choice of stepping stones to cross. That was the kids’ favourite part of the entire hike.
The viewpoint did provide us with a view of Alouette Lake below us, through the trees. We pulled out the snacks and water I’d packed, but some of my girls didn’t like the drop-off below the viewpoint. There were no benches or railings, just a sort of “end” of the trail with enough space for the six of us to sit. So after eating quickly, we repacked our bags and headed back down the trail.
The kids got chasing each other and we ended up back at the river crossing quite quickly. Here, they wanted to wade and play in the water (like several other hikers). There was a waterfall upstream from the crossing, but a group of Instagrammers were up there posing for the best shot, so we gave them their space. We watched a few other groups come and go, and then finally started off up the trail ourselves.
Alouette Lake Day Use Area
We made a quick stop at the campground to let the girls change in the tent and to swap our hiking stuff for beach stuff. Then we headed to the Alouette Lake Day Use Area. I was worried about finding parking here, but the parking lots there are quite large. The day use area was crowded, but most people were spread out among the picnic areas on the grass and in the shade. We headed right to the water’s edge, although the “beach” was rocky rather than sandy.
I spread out our beach mats and the kids had their late lunch. Then they went to explore the water. Once again, a fallen log and some rocks provided a place for them to play and climb. Joey went to work with his diggers in the rocks. The other girls played in and out of the water, which was still cold. I finished one book and started another. Finally, after a couple hours in the sun and wind, I said we should head back to the campground.
Just Chillin’ at the Campsite
One thing I like about camping is watching the kids find ways to entertain themselves. I’d brought their bikes along, so the older girls regularly made laps around the campground. Gold Creek Campground had one main road which made a big loop, and was bisected by other one-way roads. They (and many other kids) rode the main loop or zig-zagged up and down the other roads. They made garbage and bathroom runs on their bikes.
Around the campsite, they explored the trees and played little imaginary games together. I enjoyed listening to their stories as they ran between fallen logs and stumps. The older girls frequently sat in the lawn chairs with me reading. We had fun building and maintaining the fire together. For our second supper, we roasted hot dogs and then s’mores over the fire. In the evening, we crawled into the tent earlier due to our busy day.
There was no playground in the Gold Creek Campground, to the girls’ disappointment. Apparently there is a playground at the Alouette Lake Campground, but it is currently closed due to storm damage. There were outhouses throughout the campground, as well as a larger washroom with flush toilets and showers at one end. We used the outhouse for quick trips, and went to the larger washrooms for bedtime routines.
North Beach Day Use Area
On Monday morning, we packed up our camping gear. Joey was disappointed to leave, as he said, “This is nice.” I agreed with him, and so before returning to regular life, we went to check out the North Beach Day Use Area. This tiny parking lot is located over a one-way bridge, and so many people park along the road and then hiked into the beach. On Monday morning, we were able to find parking in the parking lot and then made the 1-km hike to the fairly quiet beach.
It was once again a rocky beach, but the girls found a few sandier areas where they could wade or Joey could dig. They explored a peninsula out into the lake, and a small backwash or bay formed by the peninsula. I sat behind a large boulder, out of the cold wind, and read my book with one eye on the kids. The older girls wished they’d put on their swim suits, saying they would have gone swimming despite the chillier temperatures.
At noon, we packed up and hiked out and headed home. Our weekend at Golden Ears Provincial Park was a great start to our 2021 camping season, and we are looking forward to more adventures this summer.
For more about hiking and camping here, drop by the BC Parks website.
Have you hiked or camped in Golden Ears Provincial Park? What are your favourite places there?