The province of British Columbia is blessed with spectacular scenery, twisty roads, and campsites that cater exclusively to riders. Does it get any better? This summer we sent Bill Gedye to scout the best motorcycle campgrounds in BC. Now he reports back.
Why would someone leave a perfectly comfortable residence to head into the wasteland and set up a flimsy tent, which looks particularly delicious to various forms of wildlife? Perhaps to get some perspective on the comforts of life—memory foam is replaced by a leaking air mattress and that pillow still stinks from last year’s stale sweat, but it’s all part of the adventure.
The province of British Columbia is blessed with many campsites, but there are those among us who can vividly recall being denied a campsite due to the way we arrived—on bikes. In one instance, it didn’t matter that the members of my group were all engaged in the emergency services, we were asked to leave. Not a happy memory.
Still, there are now many that do welcome motorcyclists, and even a few that cater to us exclusively. The motorcycle campgrounds are:
Buck Mountain Motorcycle Campground, near Edgewood
Rider’s Retreat, Nakusp
Toad Rock, Nelson
Rider’s Ranch, Creston
Early this June, I was assigned the task of sourcing out these specialty venues, spending time there, and reporting my experience. To that end I loaded my typically pristine 2006 Royal Star Venture—which would soon look like a mud bogger—and hit the road. Along on the mission was my friend Marshall Hunt riding his 2008 Honda VTX. Both of us towed cargo trailers loaded with camping gear and all the essentials such as Jack Daniels and a week’s worth of good cigars. Before I retired, Marshall had been my colleague at BC Ambulance so we felt well prepared for coming across the inevitable medical emergency, which happens on almost every bike trip.
THE RIDE TO BUCK MOUNTAIN took us through Kamloops via Highway 99, the legendary Duffey Lake road, then to Vernon via Highway 97 and east over the Monashee Mountains on Highway Six to Edgewood. “The Duffey” was in great shape after another tough winter and was rough only in a couple of spots, but the switchbacks and high ground just east of the Mount Currie Reserve were in marvelous condition, free of the frost heaves and rough spots I had encountered earlier.
If you’ve never been over the Monashees, be prepared for a pleasant ride east from Vernon on Highway Six through the old logging town of Lumby, and beyond over the winding country road through lush farmland and up into the mountains. The road rises the further east you ride and gets twistier and rougher toward the top… but a stop at the Gold Panner restaurant for homemade pie and ice cream is a welcome break from the heat and constant watch for wildlife.
Just past the Edgewood turnoff on Highway Six, we arrived at Buck Mountain Motorcycle Campground and wound our way through the narrow entrance to a magnificent view over the valley we had just traversed. We set up our tents in an open plateau area, facing west into the setting sun, and were met by the owners Clancy and MJ Amell, who took us on a tour of the property and spoke expansively about the planned development of the site. Presently the place boasts eight small cabins which means you won’t need a tent here—just a sleeping bag or your own blankets. I wouldn’t dare take the steep approach road to the cabins on my big bagger but they would be perfect for anyone with a V-Strom, BMW, KTM or similar ADV bike. The bush roads threading the property could be a total blast on the right bike. Firepits come pre-stacked with free firewood, there is one flush toilet, a camp kitchen with free propane barbecue and utensils, but no showers. (Hey, we can go for one day without a shower, can’t we?)
The next morning, Clancy and MJ often meet their guests with coffee, as they did for us before we packed up and headed back east downhill along Highway Six to the Needles cable ferry across Arrow Lake. One thing you have to remember about the inland ferries, they are not run by the crown corp. BC Ferries and have different loading rules. Bikes do not get preferential loading and have to line up with the other vehicles. The advantage is, they are free.
After the short ferry ride, we headed north toward Nakusp and Rider’s Retreat. We rode with the mountains east of us, and North Arrow Lake to the west. That meant three things: the road was straighter with gentle curves, the morning air didn’t warm up quickly, and the vistas were spectacular.
Rider’s Retreat in Nakusp has a unique approach to motorcycle campgrounds. You don’t need a tent or sleeping bag—just show up on your bike, and they supply the rest, including plush towels for the pay shower. This is a magnificent alternative to a motel stay, with spacious tents containing a total of 22 killer comfortable, queen-sized, inflatable beds. I have to admit, I was wondering just how comfortable this would be, but after the fireside chats with the vivacious Rebecca and her family, hitting the sack was like falling backward into a cloud. I don’t think I even moved before morning, which arrived with great coffee already brewing in the well-appointed cook shack. If you didn’t bring provisions, the town of Nakusp and its varied array of bistros, restaurants and pubs is only five minutes away.
After morning coffee and goodbyes, we headed south toward New Denver along Highway Six with its smooth pavement and gentle curves, a rock bluff on one side and grand vistas over Arrow Lake on the other side. It gets interestingly twisty as you near New Denver and passing Summit Lake is like riding through a 30-foot tall shag rug of conifers.
For us, it was a quick coffee in New Denver (the great little museum in the old bank was closed) and on through more challenging twisty roads to Kaslo where the sole remaining paddlewheel boat from the fleet that used to chug up and down the Arrow Lakes and Kootenay Lake is docked. It’s well worth a stop to explore the old boat and examine the model T on the cargo deck as well as the passenger deck, which was luxurious back in the day.
It’s a short, gloriously winding ride south from Kaslo on Highway 31, past the Ainsworth Hot Springs to Toad Rock Motorcycle Campground. The first time I saw this place and its “social pavilion,” I thought I’d died and gone to biker heaven.
A smiling Mary Laird met us at the check-in building/wash house/shower facility with her dogs Buckwheat, Norma Jean and Little Dick in tow, all wagging and panting. This is a huge property and Mary uses about half of the 34 acres she owns for the campground. She hasn’t been too fussy about numbering each site since the emphasis here is more on folks finding what makes it comfortable for them and their friends.
“We live by the honour system,” says Mary. “Which works very well for honourable people. There is no exclusivity: kids, dogs, bikes, everyone is welcome at Toad Rock. There are guidelines rather than rules and you will get as much respect as you give.”
I have found this to be a refreshing approach to running a truly unique and welcoming place.
In terms of facilities, there are four free showers supplied by geo-thermal water. The Ainsworth Hot Springs are just up the road so the geology of the area ensures an unending supply of hot water just below the surface in this part of the Kootenays. There are also four flush toilets and a well-equipped wash-up area.
You’ll need full camping gear here, but all that was stuffed in our trailers, while the cookshack barbecues and onsite fridges take the edge off totally roughing it.
After you’ve had dinner and the light is starting to fade, you can follow strings of LED lights to the pavilion and meet the other campers as they start to filter in. The pavilion is the crown jewel of the site. The roof is supported by four live trees—the whole place is open to the outdoors and features a [coffee] bar, an old restaurant corner booth, pool table, and bandstand, while the rafters hold enough weird stuff to qualify for Ripley’s Believe It or Not. The rotating group of travellers and satellite blues radio ensure that every night is a party here.
The next morning after coffee in the pavilion, we headed down to the Balfour Ferry to Crawford Bay, another free inland ferry to the other side of Kootenay Lake and one of the best riding roads in BC—some rate it tops in the province. From Crawford Bay to Creston, Highway 3A is all smooth pavement, lots of 40k posted curves, elevation changes, not much traffic.
Nearing Creston on 3A we stopped at the Sirdar General Store. You must stop and check this place out. Just open the door and take a deep breath—it even smells like a museum (which it is) while functioning as a retail establishment. Built in 1913 or thereabouts, it was recently taken over and the ancient dry goods were all transferred to the upper shelves, while newer goods occupy the lower shelves. Need a refill for your Polaroid camera? We saw one on the front counter. No fluorescent lights here, you need a flashlight to peer into the nooks and crannies. Some pickers dropped by recently and the proprietress told them to take a hike, none of the really old stuff is for sale.
On through Creston to Highway Three again, we headed east to the little town of Kitchener where we found Rider’s Ranch on the south side of the highway. The welcoming committee consisted of four large dogs that looked like the Hounds of the Baskervilles. They could have eaten me right then but their owner Kirk Berdahl came out and they bounded back to his side. There is one rule that is paramount here: no outside dogs allowed, for obvious reasons.
Kirk and his wife Cindi have run this place since 2004. They have 11 treed acres with about 25 grassy sites (no sleeping on the dirt here). This is one of the adult motorcycle campgrounds so no pets, toddlers or RVs. But there’s plenty of water for free showers while flush toilets add another touch of civility for those who love their amenities. Free firewood was available for community firepits during our visit, but there were no individual campsite firepits allowed because of current fire regulations.
Reservations are only required for large groups or weddings, and the US border is just 15 minutes away—handy should you decide to go looking for that deer siren at a US Walmart.
On site is the Saggy Sack Saloon and Old Farts Watering Hole, an old stable converted quite nicely into a gathering place where you can mingle with other riders and swap war stories. We sat outside with Kirk until near midnight and got to know him quite well while solving the problems of the world.
The following morning we began our return to Victoria via the Crowsnest-Highway Three route that traipses over the towering Salmo-Creston and Blueberry-Paulson passes. It had been an outstanding ride, highlighted by great people, incredible scenery, and jewel-like motorcycle campgrounds where hosting motorcycles and their riders is Job One.
By Bill Gedye