Paddling Chilliwack Lake
Story and Photos by Sue Madsen
October 2006 – raindrops dot the water’s still surface and small waves lap the rocky shoreline. We’re a silent group in the morning mist as we work our way along the mossy bedrock cliffs in canoes, reveling in the tang of woodsmoke from a distant campfire and the ratcheting call of a kingfisher heading towards a branch with a wriggling silver fish. My first foray to Chilliwack Lake was with a parks and recreation group on a rainy fall day when we caught only glimpses of the surrounding peaks through the constant downpour.
I was intrigued by this lake and its stories – the lime and scarlet sockeye that boldly make their way south across the U.S. border as they swim upstream to spawn in the wilderness east of Hannegan Pass; the harrowing tales from climber friends about the arduous trek to Mt. Redoubt up waterfalls and over glaciers; and the legend of the lost Trans Canada Flight 810 which, in 1958, crashed into nearby Slesse Peak. All 62 people on board were killed, including five members of two Canadian Football League teams on their way home from the annual all-star game. Chilliwack Lake and its environs are wild country, despite the pastoral surroundings in the valley below. I vowed to return someday.
Flash forward seven years to high summer and a completely different scene. I’d left home early with an intrepid pal and a couple of kayaks. The campers were still abed in their tents when we arrived, and the lake’s surface was glassy. We set off south, towards the upstream end of the lake. The water was crystal clear, and we could see logs and rocks on the bottom nearly 20 feet down. Again I marveled at the steep mossy cliffs along the west side of the lake, their granite polished by glaciers 10,000 years ago. Mt. Redoubt shimmered in the morning sun.
We paddled six miles south to the end of the lake in time for lunch, and sat down on a smooth sandy beach. However, by noon fierce up-valley winds had kicked in, so we abandoned our plans to explore the old-growth forest in the ecological reserve south of the lake, and headed back out.
The trip back was a battle, with two- to three-foot waves and blowing whitecaps. We rested briefly in a calm cove by a summer camp, and then headed back into the fray. Exhausted but satisfied, we approached the north shore. In the lee of the forest at the downstream end it seemed a completely different place. There was hot sun and dozens of swimmers frolicking in the clear water or lolling on the beach. We felt satisfied as we loaded up the boat and headed for home. While most day-trippers stop at the serene and civilized north end of the lake, we’d travelled farther to quench our thirst for adventure and seen multiple facets of this emerald jewel. X
Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park is located approximately 90 miles (150 km) east of Vancouver.
Take the Chilliwack Lake exit #104 south from Hwy 1, then go 14 km south on No 3 Road to Chilliwack River Road, and finally 42 km to the lake. The route is well-signed. The park has a drive-in campground that is open from May to October.
There are also four other lakes that may be reached on foot for backcountry camping: Greendrop (5.5 km), Lindeman (1.5 km), Flora (7 km), and Radium Lakes (6.5 km).
If you go:
• Be aware of strong currents at the northern end of the lake where it flows into the Chilliwack River; boaters have been known to be pulled over the small dam here.
• Strong winds can occur at any time, but like many mountain lakes in our area winds typically pick up in the afternoon as air in the lower valley warms and blows up the river/lake.
• Secure food and cooking equipment in a vehicle or bear-proof canister. Never feed bears or other animals.
• The water in Chilliwack Lake is cold; always wear a life jacket, and dress for immersion if venturing to the south end of the lake.
• The campground is popular during the summer, and typically fills on weekends Reservations can be made up to three month in advance at discovercamping.ca or by calling 800/689-9025.