How best to celebrate the 30th birthday of your mountain biking obsessed partner? Book him a Chilcotins mountain biking trip of course! While hiking is more my sport, Thom loves mountain biking and so I booked him a trip to the Chilcotins to explore some of the single-track trails they have out there.
It was a great trip on which we hardly saw anyone!
Before going I was nervous about my mountain biking ability since the Chilcotins is known for its steep and fast black diamond single track trails. However, I managed to plan a route that allowed us to enjoy some of the beauty of the Chilcotins without fearing for my life too much.
If you’re a beginner/intermediate mountain biker (able to ride dark blues) then take a look at this Chilcotin mountain biking guide to planning a trip that you’ll be talking about for months to come! And, if you’re a more advanced rider much of this guide should still be useful, you’ll just be riding harder trails.
About South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park
The South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park is a stunningly beautiful area of grasslands, sub-alpine and alpine meadows, alpine lakes, and mountain peaks. There are wide valleys, plenty of empty single-track trails, and wildlife (including grizzlies!).
One of the best things about the area is how relatively quiet it is, especially when compared to other provincial parks.
It’s a great place to explore on foot, by bike, or even on horseback and you’ll truly feel like you’re in the Canadian wilderness. In part because of how long it can take to get there!
How to get to South Chilcotins Provincial Park
The two most popular routes for getting to the Chilcotins are to drive there or to fly.
South Chilcotins from Vancouver by car
There are a couple of roads to the South Chilcotin Mountains if you’re coming from Vancouver. You can either drive the infamous Hurley FSR or take the slightly longer but (mostly) paved route via Lillooet to Gold Bridge.
The Hurley FSR is notorious for giving people flat tyres and is sometimes not driveable. You can check the road conditions of the Hurley here. It’s worth noting you should have a good 4×4 for this road and at least 1 spare tire along with the tools to change it.
Since we don’t have a 4×4 and have a rather rickety van, we chose to take the longer route to the South Chilcotins. This means driving up past Pemberton to Lillooet and then alongside Carpenter Lake on Carpenter Lake Road. If you don’t have a 4×4 or aren’t experienced on bumpy forest roads, take this route.
The views the entire way are stunning as you wind through canyons and alongside lakes.
Carpenter Lake Road is mostly paved but we still managed to get a flat that we were able to fix. Fortunately, you can get a tire repair in Gold Bridge – just look for the building with a bunch of tire stacked outside it! You need to pay in cash which we were able to get from the hotel across the road but it might be worth taking some with you (around $60).
Vancouver to Gold Bridge via Lillooet took us around 8 hours (not including tire change), but could be done in 6 hours depending on traffic and your vehicle. The Hurley FSR is usually a bit quicker.
Float Plane to South Chilcotin
Alternatively, you can book a seaplane to the South Chilcotin. This is easily organized through Tyax Adventures and you pay for the plane so if you’re travelling with friends you split the price rather than paying per passenger. You can carry bikes on the planes too.
Most people taking the seaplane will still drive to near Gold Bridge and then fly in from Tyax Lodge to one of the lakes in the park such as Spruce Lake or Lorna Lake before hiking or biking out.
South Chilcotins Biking
The best place to see information about mountain biking trails in the South Chilcotins is on trailforks. Users typically give up-to-date trip reports and you can get an idea of difficulty. Obviously, take the difficulty ratings with a pinch of salt since you don’t know that user’s ability.
As a beginner/intermediate biker, we stuck to the blue trails, we also put in some hefty days with 30km+ uphill riding.
One thing we were told by the staff at the Spruce Lake camp we stayed at was that people also come to the Chilcotins with grand ideas of biking up and down the hills. However, they quickly find that most of that will be pushing your bike up and over steep sections.
We certainly did our fair share of this!
Mountain Biking Chilcotins: Gun Creek Campground to Spruce Lake
Since we already had one flat tyre and we weren’t sure what condition the Gun Creek Road to Jewel Creek Bridge Trailhead was like, we biked from Gun Creek Campground having spent the night there before setting off.
This meant a big day of climbing up on some very sandy and dusty trails before entering Chilcotin Mountain Provincial Park itself. A lot of these trails were dirt bike trails and not the easiest to ride.
We simply followed the Gun Creek trail (a blue on trail forks) up to the Jewel Creek trailhead. There were a couple of sections where the trail was very narrow and rocky and some others where it got super steep meaning we pushed our bike up and over the rubble.
You stay on the same trail until the turn-off for Gun Creek Meadows. I wouldn’t recommend taking the meadows! The trail was almost impossible to see with the overgrowth and it was a steep hike up with our bags and bikes after an already long day.
If you continue on the Gun Creek trail you can take the second junction off to the right and still get to Spruce Lake.
Once you top out at the top of the meadows, it’s around 2.5 kilometers alongside the lake with some small ups and downs but nothing too steep!
Hiking the Open Heart Trail, Spruce Lake
We’d set off from Gun Creek Campground early, and so we arrived at Spruce Lake camp around 2 pm. After some snacks from our Tyax host (nachos!) and some relaxing, we headed up the Open Heart Trail after dinner (burgers!).
The Open Heart Trail is a 3.5km round trip from Tyax’s Spruce Lake camp and took around an hour to do. The views from the top were absolutely beautiful!
The uphill starts almost straight from the get-go with some switchbacks taking you above the treeline. It’s not long until you get some amazing views of Spruce Lake. Continue to the summit though as those views just get even better!
Hiking Windy Pass from Spruce Lake
After a comfortable night’s sleep and tasty breakfast, we decided to hike up to Windy Pass rather than bike. This is a popular biking route out from Spruce Lake and we planned to suss it out to see whether my biking ability would be able to take it on.
From the Spruce Lake Tyax camp, walk back along the lake for 2.5km then take a left uphill into the forest. The trail gets steep straight away and around 5.5km in you’ll emerge from the treeline to the beautiful subalpine.
Follow this narrow path up until you come out to a pass from where you can decide whether you want to walk along the ridgeline a bit or head back down to camp.
After that, we spent the afternoon napping and reading on the Spruce Lake dock which was perfect!
In terms of biking Windy Pass, you’re going to be pushing your bike for the majority of the uphill – it’s steep and rocky and rooty!
However, the downhill that we could see didn’t look too difficult and we’d have tackled it if the smoke hadn’t rolled in the following day on our departure.
Spruce Lake to Jewel Creek Bridge
For the return trip, we followed our previous route to Jewel Creek and then decided to bike the forest road back out. This was a much easier option with less hike a bike than the other route!
What to know about the South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park
- There is a lot of wildlife here. While we didn’t see any, grizzly bears live here. People have been attacked by them while biking so it’s vital you take bear spray and bike in groups, remembering to make noise as you travel so as not to spook them.
- You’re in the wilderness – no phone signal here! Don’t rely on your phone for GPS or maps, take a paper Chilcotin trail map.
- Weather conditions change rapidly and can be extreme. We biked in a heatwave, friends went a few weeks later and the trails were covered in snow.
- The trails here are multi-use. Cyclists yield to all other trail users and hikers yield to horses.
- Dogs should not be taken into the park but are not forbidden.
- Off-road vehicles are not allowed within the park boundaries, though there are some trails on the outskirts of the park.
- There’s no readily available drinking water, you should treat water from lakes and streams. We use a sawyer squeeze to do this.
- Ride within your ability, if you need help it’s going to take a long time to get some. I highly recommend taking a Garmin Inreach or similar device with you to call for help if you need it. I use an inreach mini.
Where to stay on a South Chilcotins Mountain Biking Trip
Since this was a 30th birthday trip, I treated us to some more luxury bikepacking accommodation at Spruce Lake campground run by Tyax Adventures. This meant we didn’t have to carry a sleeping bag or tent or food with us, thus making. our bags more comfortable and the ride more enjoyable!
Alternatively, if you’re hiking in the Chilcotins, or want to do a ‘real’ bikepacking Chilcotins trip then you can camp at the numerous campgrounds within the South Chilcotin Provincial Park.
South Chilcotin Campgrounds
Each of the lakes has designated BC Parks campgrounds most of which have facilities such as beer caches, pit toilets and/or picnic tables.
These camps can be found at:
- North end of Spruce Lake
- South end of Spruce Lake
- Gun Creek Grassland (Cowboy Camp)
- Hummingbird Lake
- Trigger Lake
- Jewel Bridge
- Tyaughton Creek Trail @ WD Crossing
Wilderness or backcountry camping in the South Chilcotins are also allowed. Make sure you practice leave no trace principles wherever you are in the park.
We stayed two nights at the Tyax Spruce Lake camp which was great! The camp is a little way back from the lake (you can’t see it from the camp) and has several big tents set up with camp beds, blankets, and fleeces to keep you cozy. You just need to bring your clothes and a sleeping bag liner!
At the Tyax camp, you get fed three meals plus an afternoon snack every day, you can warm up in the cabin with the log fire and there’s even a warm shower and toilet!
The food was even better than I’d been hoping for. We ate nachos, burgers, eggs and bacon, pasta, salmon, and more. For lunches, we had sandwiches, homemade jerky, fruit, snack bars, and cookies. Definitely kept us well-fuelled for biking and hiking.
Tyax also have a lodge you could stay in before and after your Chilcotin adventure, and a few other camps within the park which would be great if you were planning a longer trip to see more of. the area.
Where ever you decide to go within the park, mountain biking the South Chilcotins will be an awesome adventure!