In the last instalment we visited some of the provincial parks in the northern part of Golden Country, ending up at Elephant Hill near Ashcroft. Now we head south down Hwy 1, where you can turn west onto Hat Creek Road to explore Cornwall Hills and Oregon Jack Provincial Parks, an area that we’ve already covered. However, on that occasion we followed the road to the top of Cornwall; this time we’re going to take the right fork and pass through Oregon Jack Park to reach Bedard Aspen Provincial Park in Hat Creek Valley. You can glimpse Bedard Lake from the road up Cornwall, but the only way to access it is to enter the park (via logging roads; a good back country map is recommended) and use the one walking trail. Fun fact: the lake is popular with moose, so don’t be surprised to find yourself sharing it with them.
Back on the Trans-Canada we turn onto Venables Valley Road to access Blue Earth Lake Provincial Park. The road to the park is narrow in some places and has several sharp turns, so it’s not suitable for long vehicles, and it’s prone to wash-outs, especially in late spring/early summer. A 4-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended. Like Bedard, the park is accessed by logging roads, which frequently change; consult the detailed directions on the park’s website, or use a good backcountry map. Those who do make it to Blue Earth Lake will be treated to a deep valley filled with lakes and marshes. Although Blue Earth itself is fairly small, it’s popular with canoers and kayakers (a small boat launch is available), and also with trout fishermen. Fun fact: British poet laureate Ted Hughes (1930–98), and avid fisherman, visited Blue Earth Lake with a local resident, and wondered if “this was the place he dreamed about with his brother when they were boys: a land of cowboys and Indians and giant salmon.”
South on Hwy 1 brings us to Epsom Provincial Park, which nestles below the pull-out with the “CN Last Spike” Stop of Interest plaque. The lower third of the road leading down to the park is only suitable for 4-wheel-drive vehicles (two-wheel drive vehicles might get down it, but probably won’t get back up), and visitors should beware of poison ivy: “leaves of three, let it be”. The park is one of the few places in this area giving public access to the Thompson; keep an eye out for river rafters during the summer.
There are Ecological Reserves on either side of Spences Bridge: Skwaha Lake to the west and Soap Lake to the east. Ecological Reserves are not intended for “consumptive” use: no fishing, hunting, or camping are allowed within them, although hiking, photography, and nature observation is allowed. Both Reserves can be approached by forestry road, but there are no roads within them, so be prepared to hike. Fun fact: Ecological Reserves provide the highest level of protection for the maintenance of physical and biological diversity. Skwaha preserves Interior Douglas-fir and Montane spruce ecosystems, along with many diverse meadow communities containing outstanding wildflower displays and rare plants, while Soap Lake protects an alkaline lake, its associated flora and fauna, and representative ecosystems of the Interior Douglas-fir Zone.
Three contiguous parks lie west of Lytton between that town and Boston Bar. The northernmost is Stein Valley Nlaka’pamux Heritage Park, which protects the entire Stein River watershed. The park contains more than 150km of hiking trails and routes, which include four cable crossings and a suspension bridge. While there are some easy hiking routes at the lower end of the park, many of the routes are extremely challenging. The spectacular views and wealth of culturally important sites make it well worth a visit, however. Mehatl Creek Provincial Park is one of the province’s newest protected areas, where hikers can enjoy scenic alpine ridges, sub-alpine meadows, and old-growth forest. A trail leads to Mehatl Falls, and hikers can also take the trail alongside the creek, which will take them spectacular views of the Mehatl Cascades. Nahatlatch Provincial Park lies in a transition zone that contains both coastal and interior trees and plants. The Nahatlatch River is popular with kayakers and river rafters, while the three lakes within the park are excellent for canoeing, swimming, and fishing. Fun fact: Stein Valley Nlaka’pamux Park contains many ancient pictograph sites, ranging in size from a single image to one of the largest pictograph sites in Canada.
Last but not least, there’s Tunkwa Lake Provincial Park, accessible from Logan Lake or Savona. The park features two large man-made lakes, Tunkwa and Leighton, and numerous watercourses provide views of the trout spawning in May. Unlike many provincial parks, which close during the winter, Tunkwa is a year-round park that’s popular with cross country skiers and snowmobilers in winter. Fun fact: Tunkwa Lake is one of the top 10 trout fishing lakes in the province.
Finally, a note about a park we’ve visited before, Skihist just north of Lytton. Anyone knowledgeable about plant and bird species in the area can go to the Skihist website and print off lists of the plants and birds one can find in the park, then take them with you as you enjoy the 8km of hiking trails and see how many you can identify. If you know your Meadow Death Camus from your Shaggy Fleabane, or can spot a Pine Siskin at 100 feet, go to www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/skihist/ for the lists; and good luck!