The classic British Columbia landscape is towering, glacier capped mountains and endless forests. But a small part of the province making up only one per cent of its landscape is composed of open grasslands. I explored part of this landscape a few years ago on a tour along the Fraser River. Another portion of grasslands stretch south from Kamloops, in a dry landscape home to rolling ranchland and endless views. This was my target for a trip in May, just as the province was opening up a bit following the COVID lockdown.
This route started as a way to visit the Douglas Lake Cattle Company – the largest ranch in Canada – but eventually I pieced together a 200-kilometre loop that connected dirt roads between Kamloops and Douglas Lake. I was completely unfamiliar with this area, but most of the roads were on Google Street View, so I had a good hunch it would work.
I drove to the Monte Lake Store one Saturday morning, where the owners let me park my car for the weekend. It’s always to know someone will have half an eye on your vehicle while you’re gone.
The first segment of my route was from Monte Lake to Barnhartvale. After a short stretch of highway, I turned off onto the Robbins Range Road and climbed steadily until the forests opened up into rolling pastures. This was a very pleasant road that passed through numerous farms. Cows, sheep, and horses grazed peacefully–at least until I passed and scared them away. I’ve noticed cows and sheep tend to run from cyclists, or maybe it’s just me.
At Barnhartvale, a rural community outside Kamloops, I turned onto the Campbell Creek Road, another pleasant country road along a babbling creek and many small hobby farms. This took me to Highway 5A, where a tough climb connected me to another stretch of dirt – the scenic Jackson Road. This dirt track passed through a private ranch and provided me my first real view of the southern B.C. grasslands. The road created a ribbon of dirt that waved it’s way through open fields. It had been a fairly rainy spring, so fields of green stretched to the horizon. These open landscapes are something I’m deprived of living in the steep Revelstoke valley, and it was a delight to be able to ride along and appreciate these views.
Eventually I climbed out of the grasslands and into the forest. A sign told me I was entering onto an unmaintained road. There was a few creeks running across it that were easily crossed but otherwise it wasn’t too bad. After a short stretch of forest I began the descent back to Highaway 5A. It was a show stopper for sure. Endless verdant grasslands, sparkling blue lakes, countless birds, horses, cattle, old farm buildings… it seemed like I was stopping to take a picture around every corner.
When I finally decided to get moving, I hit some showstopping mud – the kind that sticks to your tires and eventually gums up every part of your bike. I pulled over to the side and spent a few minutes scraping off as much mud as I could. Then I carried my bike for a few hundred metres, the mud sticking to my shoes instead. Fortunately, it was over pretty quickly and the mud flew off as I finished the descent. I used my water bottle to wash the rest off while camping.
The day finished with a pleasant ride along Stump Lake, first on a paved road past several large lakeside homes, and then down a rough and tumble dirt track through the Stump Lake ranch to my lakeside campsite for the night. I was slightly surprised to find other people camping there, especially a group from Vancouver, but I probably shouldn’t have. They were quiet and gave me a beer, so no complaints there.
Day two dawned early, with 115 kilometres ahead of me, including one monster climb to start. Whenever I looked at the elevation profile, I seriously thought about taking the easy way out and bypassing it via the highway. But, as I’ve written before, I’m a bit of a masochist, so off I went, back into the Stump Lake Ranch and up Peter Hope Road. I was surprised to find it was paved for the first few kilometres, but it was also just as steep as expected. I huffed and puffed and pushed until I reached Peter Hope Lake, where I took a break at the campground and gathered my energy for the second phase of the climb.
Getting to Glimpse Lake was just as hard, and wasn’t helped by two detours, one voluntary and one involuntary. First, I descended a short ways down an ATV trail under some power lines until it stopped at a locked gate. Then I missed the turn to Glimpse Lake and went about five kilometes the wrong way before realizing my mistake. Eventually persistence paid off and I found myself circling the cottages of Glimpse Lake. I rounded the other side and the forest gave way to sprawling views of the Douglas Lake Ranch. A thrilling gravel descent brought me down to the Douglas Lake Road and part two of the day.
At this point, I felt like I was behind schedule and still had a long way to go, so I picked up the pace, zipping by gorgeous blue lakes filled with water fowl. I stopped at the Douglas Lake General Store, hoping to find water, but it was closed on this pandemic Sunday. I took a break against an abandoned farm house and finally found water at the Salmon Lake RV Resort. I left the private lands of the resort onto the public lands they lease from the government, where cows munched away at the grass and wandered down the road freely.
Eventually, I left the Douglas Lake Ranch and turned onto the Monte Lake Forest Service Road to take a short cut back to my car. It was a quiet road, typical of B.C., with various ages of views provided by clear cuts, and various ages of forests along the road. It was mostly downhill and at 6 p.m., after nearly 11 hours on the bike, I was back at the Monte Lake Store. The neighbouring food truck was open so I chowed down on a veggie wrap before hitting the road home.
This was another spectacular tour in B.C., one I recommend to anyone as a two or three day loop. There’s a lot of climbing, but the roads are mostly good and the views are amazing. Mostly, it’s a unique landscape in this province and the sprawling vistas and abundant bird life make it worthwhile.
Here’s a link to the loop: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/32684038
A slightly longer version starting and ending in Kamloops should be published on Bikepacking.com soon.