Easy Offroad Driving in BC

Easy Offroad Driving in BC
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Embarking on any road trip down the Forest Service Roads (FSR) of British Columbia can seem like a daunting prospect. And with good reason. These roads are unforgiving, will undoubtedly put you out of phone signal, and leave you to fend for yourself if anything goes wrong. So why go? Well, the moment you leave the highway, you enter a world where the vast majority just won't bother going. In this world, you'll discover the most incredible views, campsites and hikes, often not too far from the highway. This two day weekend itinerary is a great way to plan your first FSR trip from Vancouver, in a safe location not far from Squamish.

Itinerary

From Vancouver, drive an hour north to Squamish along the Sea to Sky highway. The Sea to Sky is your added bonus on most North bound adventures from Vancouver, often ranked as one of the best drives in the world. There’s a great coffee shop along the way, a necessary early morning pit-stop, as well as some great views.

Squamish will be your last opportunity to stop for supplies and fuel. Your best option is Save On Foods, located about a kilometer from the main highway in Squamish, and near many other outdoor supplies shops. Once you’re all stocked up you’ll be heading up the Squamish FSR to the North West of the town. You’ll very quickly be met with jaw dropping views of the Squamish river valley, as the road climbs and descends the meandering river banks.

The road will change between gravel and tarmac initially before changing permanently to gravel, though is incredibly well maintained for a dirt/gravel road. After only a few kilometers on the gravel, you’ll lose phone signal, though there are plenty of other cars around which you can flag down should you need help. Kilometer counters are marked at the side of the road as well as the direction (up or down) that you’re travelling (down means towards civilisation; Squamish).

Squamish High Falls Creek Campsite

The campsite is less than two kilometers from the High Falls Creek trailhead. The location of this post is the campsite itself. It is clearly marked with the usual “recreation site” sign. The campsite is free and usually pretty quiet. There are zero facilities here, just a lovely picturesque camping area with no designated spots. You can make fires if there’s no fire ban in place. Set up camp here and then make your way to the trail head about 1 - 2 km before the campsite.

High Falls Creek Trail
(6 hours – easy / moderate, light scrambling, some avoidable exposure to heights)

The High Falls Creek trailhead is at kilometer 36, just after a wooden bridge and is marked by the brightly coloured trail marker tape in the trees. Park up on the left hand side before or after the bridge.You’ll need to use the following trail map for the hike. The hike involves some light scrambling with moderate exposure, though it’s easy to stay away from the edges if you want to. As the name suggests you’ll be following a steep creek and eventually reach an impressive waterfall. Beyond that you’ll be walking through dense forest along a mostly well marked path.

The top section is a little less clearly marked, though whichever route you take just remember your exit road is to the north. The walk down is entirely along a more rugged FSR, and will pass by this amazing viewpoint looking over the Squamish Valley. The viewpoint isn’t far from the bottom so if you happen to be driving near here and not doing the hike, is still reachable with a roundtrip 40 min walk from the bottom, or a 10 min drive (in a 4x4 only).

Below: Squamish Valley Viewpoint

 
Head back to the campsite for a well deserved beer...
 

Day 2

 
After waking up and realising what an awesome decision you made to camp down an FSR, you’ve got a two options for your second day (or both), depending on how tired you are from the previous day’s hike, or perhaps how many beers you drank the evening before.
  • It has to be said that the drive along the Squamish FSR is spectacular, and if you fancy driving a little further simply to enjoy the views, I would highly recommend the following: Note that the road does become quieter the further UP you go:
    • Kilometer 35: Check out this awesome roadside waterfall alongside the wooden bridge.
    • Kilometer 33: One of the best viewpoints along the Squamish FSR.
    • Kilometer 30: This campsite is even better than the one described above, though is a fair amount further to drive.
  • Crooked Falls Trail -  Just across the river from High Falls Creek, you can reach this hike in under an hour from the campsite.

To get back to Vancouver you’ll drive the same route in reverse, back along the Sea to Sky highway. The Sea to Sky highway can be a day trip in itself, with many little places to stop along the way. Be sure to check out the Sea To Sky Highway blog and make the most of your journey home.

It’s worth knowing that Sunday evening traffic back into Vancouver from the North is particularly bad. You can often be queued up for a couple of hours as the traffic squeezes across the less than adequate two bridges to the lower mainland. I’ve learnt my lesson too many times so tend to stop for dinner or a beer in Squamish at one of the following:

  • The Watershed Grill - Tasty food and great views over the Squamish River
  • Shady Tree - Great food and atmosphere, with a large decking area not much of a detour from your route home.

Essential Information

Driving Tips for the Squamish FSR to High Falls Creek

The FSR described below is easily manageable in a normal two-wheel drive car. The campsite is passable also (more than half the cars there were 2wd), though be ready for a few scrapes if you’ve got low clearance. Worst case you can leave your car on the stopping point for the High Falls Creek trail and walk about a kilometre to the campsite.

Look out for occasional pot holes and remember that driving on gravel provides far less grip than tarmac. Many of BC’s FSRs are still in use for logging during weekdays, so be aware of the large and fast moving logging trucks who have a reputation for not slowing down.

Keep your distance from the car infront to let the dirt settle a little and give you better visibility, and equally slow down (a lot) when passing parked cars or pedestrians so that you don’t completely obliterate them with dust. Drive with your lights on and make sure your tail lights are working so that they can be seen through the dust (it’s like driving in fog).

Driving down FSRs is likely to mean no phone signal, so a little planning and preparation is invaluable in the event something unexpected happens.

For more general tips of driving in BC, click here.

Food & Water

Water & Food – Keep a 20L (or more) container in your car. As well as a box of dried or packaged food that will last. Take a box of basic foods that require no preparation or other utensils that you may not have. Don’t be tempted to use these supplies for convenience in a non-emergency, you may just forget to top them up.

Satellite Phone / Communications

This one really depends on how far from civilisation you intend to venture, and with who else. By yourself 200km from the nearest house probably necessitates a satellite phone, but 20km with a convoy of 2 cars maybe doesn’t.

Warmth / Shelter

If you’re on a camping expedition then you’re likely to have your sleeping gear with you, though if you’ve gone for a hiking day trip it’s a less obvious, but nonetheless essential item. If you breakdown, there’s a reasonable chance you’ll end up sleeping in your car, so make sure you have at the very least enough warm clothing, or sleeping bags for everyone in your party.

Camping Equipment

Just your usual camping gear.

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