The Ultimate BC Staycation Guide: Turner Lake, The Greatest Canoe Trip You’ve Never Heard Of

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Image via: Andrew Findlay

The engine crackles and I put on the helmet to muffle the telltale roar of the de Havilland Beaver’s radial piston engine. Soon we are driving along the undulating surface of Lake Nimpo. The pilot accelerates. At first, the seaplane appears to be slowly plowing through the water, then it quickly picks up speed. The pontoons skip, suggesting flight, and soon we are in the air, temporarily leaving behind our wives and children who greet us on the quay. The vast Chilcotin Plateau unfolds beneath us, a tapestry of lakes, marshy swamps and dense young pine forests in a constant cycle of recovery and renewal after forest fires and beetle attacks. To the southeast, the crown of Monarch Mountain is isolated in the clouds. Whenever I get attached to a beaver, it usually means good times are ahead of me.

We’re heading for a six-day, two-family paddling adventure on the remote Turner Chain of Lakes, a chain of seven lakes located in southern Tweedsmuir Provincial Park. It’s our back-to-school gift for kids: the gift of being immersed in the wilderness of British Columbia’s largest provincial park. Covering 9,800 square kilometers, it is an area almost as large as the Big Island of Hawaii.

For canoe hire, flights and camping and cabin bookings, contact Tweedsmuir Air Services. tweedsmuirair.com

It takes two flights from Nimpo Lake to ferry eight people and a week’s worth of gear to Turner Lake, the largest of the seven. If the sound of a beaver evokes the enchantment of the British Columbia frontier, the silence that follows after the plane leaves you is equally evocative. A trio of gray jays circle curiously as we begin to carry our packs and dry bags towards the three rustic cabins that make up Tweedsmuir Wild Camp. The camp is almost 1,100 meters above sea level. It’s single digit temperatures that night, so we enjoy the luxury of wood-burning stoves and cabins.

The next day we are on our way, skirting the shore towards a lush estuary at the south end of Turner Lake. After 20 minutes of easy paddling, we stop to talk with a couple from Montana enjoying their morning coffee next to a crackling fire.

“We are leaving today. We didn’t see anyone else here,” the man told us.

They are the last humans we will see for six days. Someone told me that Turner Lakes is one of BC’s best kept canoeing secrets. Now I understand. In the late afternoon, after our third mini-portage of the day, we paddle on Junker Lake, propelled by an exciting tailwind. Little white caps splash the prow of the canoe. The pungent smell of a distant forest fire dye the air. A haze of smoke forms on the northern horizon.

South Tweedsmuir Provincial ParkWhat it’s like to canoe on Turner Lake in South Tweedsmuir Provincial Park: stunning views, no people.

An hour of paddling brings us to a sheltered bay at the western end of the lake, where we find the starting point for the last portage of the day. The children search the lily pads for frogs as the adults begin the tedious task of unloading the canoes for the fourth time today. The kids moan as we load up their bags, but it’s a short walk on a flat trail to our campsite on Lake Widgeon. If it weren’t for the views of glaciers and evergreen forests, the white-sand beach might make us think we’ve stumbled upon a slice of the Caribbean inside British Columbia. Give a child a lake and a beach, then let them let go. They drop their life jackets and paddles and rush off to throw rocks, wade through water and walk on logs. The adults set up camp and prepare dinner.

The next morning the weather is blue and clear. The winds shifted and blew the smoke haze elsewhere. We linger over several cafes while the kids play on the beach and practice casting with a fly rod. A breeze ripples across Widgeon Lake, so we load the canoes with supplies for the day and start paddling in the stiffening wind. An hour of intense paddling brings us to a half-sunken jetty at the end of the lake. Soon we are on a rugged trail between Widgeon and Kidney lakes. Bushes of blueberries and blueberries at head height, plump with fruit and damp with dew, overrun the path. Landmines of fresh bear droppings, purple from this abundance of berries, dot the trail, a sharp reminder that we are in grizzly bear country with four small children in tow. We stay close together and I breathe in silent relief as we reach the shore of Kidney Lake.

That evening, back at our perfect campsite on Widgeon Lake, the adults sit on the beach with glasses of wine and watch a magenta sunset. The kids are playing some sort of imaginary ninja game that has been going on for a few days, using rocks and logs as obstacle courses. It’s the last days of summer vacation, and the kids are at home in this giant outdoor classroom under the big sky of Tweedsmuir Provincial Park. For a moment I am melancholy thinking of September and the four walls of the inner classroom that awaits them.

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