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The Underwater ‘Treasures’ of Pavilion Lake in British Columbia’s Cariboo

Located halfway between Cache Creek and Lillooet, Pavilion Lake is a brilliantly hued body of water with plenty to explore both above and below the water.

We love to use Pavilion Lake as a paddle destination when camping at nearby Marble Canyon Provincial Park (read our blog) . On our most recent trip, we paddled approximately half the distance along the highway side of the lake, and clocked a trip of around seven kilometres. The highway side of the lake is a mix of waterfront cabins and steep banks going up to the highway. On my next trip, I hope to explore the other side of the lake where there are a couple of boat-access-only properties but mostly it is untouched forest.

Rare Microbialites Attract Scuba Divers a Pavilion Lake | Kim Walker

Pavilion Lake is a popular summertime destination and the limited areas of waterfront that are accessible from the highway (and not private property) can get busy. Kayaking offers visitors the opportunity to get away from the crowds and find a little solitude on the water.

While the steep limestone cliffs and colourful water provide a beautiful destination above the water, Pavilion Lake is internationally known for what lays below the surface.

Diving at Pavilion Lake | Kim Walker

In the mid 1990s, strange structures below the surface of the water were scientifically identified as microbialites – rare calcareous structures likely produced by microbial communities, which are estimated to have started forming 11,000 years ago. Researchers believe the microbialites are similar to some of the earliest life forms on Earth, dating back 500 million years. Pavilion Lake has been studied extensively via the Pavilion Lake Research Project (PLRP), a joint effort between the University of British Columbia and NASA.

Microbialites are Rare Structures Found Under the Waters of Pavilion Lake | Kim Walker

Recreational scuba divers can visit Pavilion Lake and explore three areas with microbialite structures. The North and South dive sites are accessible along the side of the highway down to a depth of 40 metres. The most popular diving location, called Island to Sky Blue, is where we have done the bulk of our diving. This site covers all the areas around the island and the former Sky Blue Water Resort. Divers can explore down to a depth of 40 metres. The remainder of Pavilion Lake is designated a Special Features Zone and no diving is permitted in order to further protect the fragile microbialite structures.

Underwater at Pavilion Lake | Kim Walker

With proper training and equipment, diving at Pavilion Lake is a truly unique experience. The microbialites are reminiscent of coral and the water, particularly in the shallows, can look quite tropical. That is more or less where the comparison ends, though, as the water temperature at Pavilion Lake can be very cold!

Diving at Pavilion Lake | Kim Walker

For those who are not certified or prepared to dive in the cold water, Pavilion Lake remains an excellent destination for kayaking, canoeing, or paddle boarding. While gliding across the surface of the water and enjoying the spectacular mountain views, keep the treasures that lay below in mind and make sure to do your part to protect this fragile ecosystem.

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For camping opportunities in this area and throughout BC go to the Camping Map

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Kootenay National Park, British Columbia Offers Great Vistas, Hiking & History

Continental Divide, Kootenay National Park

Continental Divide, Kootenay National Park

Kootenay National Park, an often-overlooked neighbour to Alberta’s more popular Rocky Mountain Parks of Banff and Jasper, makes the perfect daytrip when exploring the region. It also offers enough to keep you busy for a weekend all on its own if you like stunning vistas, great hiking, and interesting history.

An added bonus to Kootenay National Park is that, unlike it’s BC neighbour, Glacier National Park, it offers things to see and do year-round.  We visited Kootenay National Park at Easter during a particularly snowy year and still found ample things to do and see – just make sure you pack appropriately for the weather and check in at the Parks Canada visitor centre in Radium Hot Springs to make sure you don’t accidentally tread into avalanche territory if you are planning a winter visit.

What to Do

Kootenay National Park is a relatively narrow corridor stretching from Radium Hot Springs in BC to near Banff in Alberta. Established in 1920, the park provides road access to the Rocky Mountains from the Kootenays and protects a wide variety of environments including steep canyons, grassy meadows, steamy hot springs, roaring rivers, and fascinating ochre beds.

Viewpoint, Kootenay National Park

Viewpoint, Kootenay National Park

One of the best ways to explore Kootenay National Park is to use the Parks Canada Explora Kootenay App to take a GPS-guided driving tour of the 94-kilometre Banff-Windermere highway. Simply download the app, select if your travels are starting at the Radium Hot Springs end or the Banff end, and use Bluetooth to connect the app to your car stereo system. As you drive, the app will detect your location and provide you with suggestions for stopping points, interesting interviews with Parks staff about flora, fauna, and history, and the perfect amount of silence to help you simply enjoy the views.

Paint Pots Trail, Kootenay National Park

Paint Pots Trail, Kootenay National Park

When we visited, we actually did the driving tour twice – once listening to the app’s stories, history, and information while making only short stops, and once to visit the locations that required more time. At the Radium Hot Springs end of the road, there are a lot of stops close together and I found it a bit overwhelming at first, so doing it twice really helped to cut down on the feeling of having to do everything in a rush.

Here are a few highlights of what you can see and do in Kootenay National Park:

  • Sinclair Canyon: As you enter Kootenay Park from the Radium end you will be immediately impressed as you drive through Sinclair Canyon. Park just past the canyon and walk back through it – you will feel tiny as the walls tower above you.

    Marble Canyon, Kootenay National Park

    Marble Canyon, Kootenay National Park

  • Radium Hot Springs Pools: Bring your bathing suit and soak your cares away in the hot pool or get your exercise swimming laps in the cool pool.
  • Kootenay Valley Viewpoint: Make sure you stop for a photo at this stunning location overlooking the Kootenay River.
  • Dog Lake Trail: A less busy but completely worthwhile walk crossing the Kootenay River via suspension bridge and carrying on to Dog Lake. If you are short on time, turn around at the second bridge.
  • Paint Pots: Take a walk back in history to orange ochre beds used by local First Nations and later European miners. Keep your eyes out for the mining equipment left behind.

    Dog Lake Trail, Kootenay National Park

    Dog Lake Trail, Kootenay National Park

  • Marble Canyon: One of the most popular sites in Kootenay Park is this deep and narrow gorge where you can cross and re-cross the canyon on walking bridges.
  • Lightning Alley: As you drive through the park, you will notice the landscape of wildfire over and over again. Use the Explora App to hear an interview with firefighters and Parks staff about this unique corridor.
  • Continental Divide: Stand with one foot in BC and one in Alberta – and perhaps more interestingly, stand with one foot where all water runs to the Pacific Ocean and one foot where all water runs to the Atlantic Ocean.

    Sinclair Canyon, Kootenay National Park

    Sinclair Canyon, Kootenay National Park

In the Area

One of the benefits of visiting Kootenay National Park is the close proximity to so many other things to see and do. In the area, plan a visit to Invermere for the perfect afternoon treat at Gerry’s Gelato followed up by sampling a flight at the very funky Arrowhead Brewing.

Continue south and take a hike in the Hoodoos Trail near Fairmont Hot Springs for spectacular views – just stay away from the edge! If you still have time, carry on to visit Fort Steele Heritage Town near Cranbrook. On your way back, stop by Lussiar Hot Springs – a natural spring that bubbles out near the edge of the Lussiar River in Whiteswan Lake Provincial Park.

Where to Stay

Kootenay National Park offers a number of frontcountry and backcountry camping options. The Redstreak Campground near Radium is the largest and accepts reservations, but first-come first-served camping is also available at Marble Canyon and McLead Meadows during the summer months. For backcountry excursions, plan a multi-day hike along the 55-kilometre Rockwall Trail – just make sure to make your reservations in advance for this classic Rocky Mountain trek.

Kootenay National Park provides an excellent reprieve from the hustle and bustle common in Banff and Jasper without losing anything in terms of scenery or things to do. It is definitely one of my favourite parks to visit in the Canadian Rockies.

For more campgrounds in and around British Columbia check out the Camping Map at Camping & RVing BC.

Check out more blogs in the National Parks & Historic Sites series:

A Primer to Canada’s National Parks in BC.

Explore Fort Langley & Gulf of Georgia Cannery Historic Sites and Check Out Some of BC’s Fascinating History

BC’s Gulf Islands National Park Reserve Offers Rich Opportunities for Exploring

BC’s National Historic Sites Offer a Glimpse into the Past – Here are 3 to Explore

Kootenay National Park, BC Offers Great Vistas, Hiking & History

Visit Mount Revelstoke National Park in August for its Stunning Vistas & Wildflowers

Yoho National Park, BC – A Jewel in the Canadian Rockies

Glacier National Park: A Special BC Destination

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve – A Great Place to Visit in the Off Season

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Treasure Hunting in British Columbia’s Gold Country

Gold Country GeoTourism Field Guides
Gold Country GeoTourism Field Guides

The thrill of a modern treasure hunt comes alive with Geocaching in Gold Country – an area of BC’s interior rich in cultural and geographic diversity. Geocaching combines outdoor recreation, technology, and a good old-fashioned treasure hunt. Location coordinates can be entered into a GPS, or a smartphone app can set you on your way, or you can explore with a lower-tech version of Geocaching called Letterboxing. Your purpose? To visit places of historical, cultural, and geographic significance and bring BC’s past to life.

Marble Canyon, Gold Country, BC
Marble Canyon, Gold Country, BC

Gold Country started a Geo-Tourism initiative in 2008, and in 2010 launched a more ambitious project with the publication of their first book, Gold Country GeoTourism Adventures: Field Guide Volume 1. This book details 72 caches – hidden containers containing a log book, some trade items, and collectable stickers unique to each cache – hidden throughout Gold Country. In 2012, a second book, Gold Country GeoTourism Adventures: Field Guide Volume 2 was published, providing another 72 opportunities for exploration.

Gold Country provides a wide variety of terrain to explore and Geocaching helps provide inspiration – whether it is a day trip, a weekend away, or a more extended visit. Each Geocache listed in the Field Guides (or on the Geocaching website is given a score between one and five for both overall difficulty (how challenging it is to find the cache) and terrain difficulty (how challenging it is to access the cache site – think length of hike, steepness, exposure, etc.). Each geocache is also given a unique code, making it easy to search and plan your route.

Logan Lake Shovel, Gold Country, BC
Logan Lake Shovel, Gold Country, BC

Gold Country Geocaches range in difficulty from what are referred to as simple “park and grab” style caches to ones that require significant off-road driving and extended uphill hikes. One of the benefits of geocaching in Gold Country is that each cache is located at a point of significance to the area. In fact, in Volume 1, each geocache is sorted into one of five categories: Pioneers & Early Settlers, Geological Wonders, Views & Vistas, Gravesites & Mystical Places, and Historic Churches. In Volume 2, the caches are categorized as Settlers & Pioneers, Geological & Views, Rails & Trails, Feature Film, or Agriculture.

Cornwall Hills Park Lookout, Gold Country, BC
Cornwall Hills Park Lookout, Gold Country, BC

As you travel from cache to cache in Gold Country you can consult your Field Guide, which provides information about the nearest community, parking, and any access information and restrictions. The Field Guides also provide an excellent background description of the cache’s significance. I have learned some truly fascinating history and geology through Gold Country’s caches.

I have had many excellent experiences in Gold Country, but a few of my favourite geocache discoveries are:

  • The Cache Creek Mélange: A site of geological wonder that I first visited as part of a university Geology trip. The Cache Creek Mélange exposes the movement of tectonic plates in a way not often visible, accessible, or understood by the average person.
  • Lytton Reaction Ferry: This Pioneers & Early Settlers site is fascinating as it provides a great view and history of the Lytton Reaction Ferry. This free ferry (yes, you should definitely take it across the river!) has no motor and instead uses a rudder, a fixed cable, and the current of the river to cross the mighty Fraser with up to two cars and twelve passengers per trip.
  • Marble Canyon:  Marble Canyon, on Highway 99 between Cache Creek and Lillooet, is a spectacular destination. A provincial park campsite offers a great place to spend the night, the towering limestone and dolomite cliffs are uncommon in BC and offer excellent rock climbing, and the hunt for this geocache takes you on a short hike to the base of an impressive waterfall.
  • Logan Lake Shovel:  This one is not hard to find, as the Logan Lake Shovel is also the home of the Logan Lake Visitor Centre! The impressive thing about hunting for this cache; however, is the sheer size of the 235-ton ore hauling truck and the enormous bucket on the mining shovel, from which the cache takes its name. Make sure you climb the steps and sit in the shovel’s cab!
  • Cornwall Hills Park & Lookout:  This is one of my absolute favourite Gold Country geocaches! The Cornwall Hills Park & Lookout requires a 4×4 to get to it, but it is so worth it to make the trek up the gravel road to the 2036 metre summit where an old fire tower provides 360-degree views stretching as far as Mount Baker in Washington state.

Geocaching in Gold Country offers something for everyone, from history buffs to adventure seekers. The Gold Country GeoTourism website offers detailed information for each cache, helping you to plan your journey before setting foot out the door. Just keep in mind that once you are there, a whole new world of possibilities will be opened to you, and you will likely find yourself wishing you had planned to spend more time in Gold Country.

TIP: If you find this blog interesting why not subscribe to the enewsletter and never miss another story!

If this blog was of interest to you, check out our suggested drive:
Following the BC Gold Rush Trail through the Cariboo & Beyond

For campgrounds in this area and elsewhere in British Columbia go to the Camping Map.

Share your BC travel and camping photos using hashtag #campinbc, #explorebc

Published: March 16th, 2017

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