Canoeing Whatshan Lake, BC

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Trip Report: Canoeing Watshan Lake

After a long and dreary winter, Jens needed to get his paddling muscles back into shape and see if he still knew how to set up the tent. After some discussions with local canoe groups, Jens decided on a canoe trip to the interior on Watshan Lake.

Canoe Trip Details


Important Things to Know About Canoeing Watshan Lake:

The Lake: Like so many lakes in British Columbia, Whatshan Lake is a BC Hydro controlled reservoir. What this means is that the water level of Whatshan, like the water levels of all the BC Hydro controlled reservoirs, fluctuates with their needs. When the water is high you can paddle from the Southern most end all the way through to the two Provincial Parks at the northernmost end of the chain.

The Start: I parked at the Whatshan Lake Campground, just turn off the highway and follow the main road, it really is that simple. Nobody was there so I left a note on the car, when I returned I learned the campground manager’s name is Jamie, the dog’s name is Bones, and he was happy to let me park there. Call ahead! You can Google the number. You can also follow the Whatshan River Rd all the way around the East side and drive straight to the campsites. I didn’t visit them, but the Whatshan Lake Retreat sounds like a great place as well.

The Sites: There are only two official campsites on the lake, both at the far North end on the East side. The Richy Rec Site is small, I think maybe a half dozen or so tent sites, all nicely spread out. There are pit toilets, but that’s it. Further North is Stevens Creek Rec Site, which has more tent sites. That said, there were quite a few un-marked campsites on the East side of the lake. There were also many properties, many undeveloped but obviously used for camper trailers at times. I can’t say if you can or can’t camp there, I did spent the night at one such site but really wasn’t comfortable camping on someone’s land. Your mileage will vary. If you’re willing to roll the dice, you’ll probably find a place to spend the night that you’re comfortable with. There are three islands, none of which I was able to scope out. I thought I would have time to check them out on the way back down, but the winds and whitecaps kept me close to shore.

The Water: This is typical BC freshwater, as clean and clear as can be. You still still filter or boil it before drinking it — you never know when you’ll drink a mouthful of invisible things that can ruin your trip, so do something to purify it. There are tons of little streams that fill it up straight from the mountains, mmm delicious mountain streams. Very tasty. I’ll bet the water is very warm in the summer, it was almost warm enough to swim in at the beginning of May! Of course, I’ll swim in anything.

The Fishing: You’ll need a fishing license, like anywhere in BC. Fish were jumping like mad! 

Safety and Isolation: The East side is sparsely developed, and you’re bound to see someone at some point even though the lake is large and there is a lot of shoreline to explore. That said, nobody is employed to patrol the lake so prepare yourself and plan as if you are on a truly remote trip. Don’t count on anyone hearing you call for help. I didn’t see a single person the entire three days I was on the water. I suppose July or August would be a different story, but in early May the lake was completely abandoned.

Wood: Naturally, keep an eye on BC’s Fire Danger Rating. There is plenty of deadfall to use as firewood, and the Stevens Creek Rec Site has wood you can buy.

Whatshan Lake

Whatshan Lake is pretty much halfway between Vancouver and Calgary.

The Trip Report:

This May 1st the water was high enough and I was easily able to paddle straight through. I’m told this isn’t always the case, so I would caution against planning an extended canoe trip here later in the summer without at least first knowing the water levels. If you are limited to paddling on just one of the lakes, there simply isn’t enough to do if you’re like me and need to keep moving. There is a forestry access road on the East side that you can use to get to the two official, maintained rustic campsites. I, however, started from the far South end and left my car at Whatshan Lake Campground.

I hugged the east side close to shore, it’s still early in the season and the water isn’t warm enough to go for an unexpected dunk with zero consequences. Cold water needs to be taken seriously, take no chances. Plus, sticking close to shore let me scope out future campsites and safety pullouts in case of sudden nasty weather changes. There are lots of places on the east side, but almost nothing on the west side. Of course, on the return leg of the trip on the west side is exactly when the wind and whitecaps blew against me and I had nowhere to hide.

Tightly following the shore takes an approximate 30 kms of paddling to reach the Richy Rec site, the first official maintained campsite on the way. I stayed here overnight, completely alone like I had been since starting out that morning at the south end. The sun was blazing and even at 7:30 PM I was avoiding the hot rays by hiding in my hammock with a book.

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First things first, dinner. I arrived too late in the day to head into un-known waters, so I stayed put at the Whatshan Lake Campground and pigged out. Anita prepared some amazing dehydrated meals for me, like usual. This recipe used super thin egg noodles that cooked in no time, saving lots of fuel. Basically I just put the dehydrated meat in a liter of water, turn on the stove and let it come to a boil. Pour a little onto the sauce to rehydrate it, then toss the noodles in the water and shut off the burner. Within a few minutes, dump the excess water and mix it all up. Add shelf-stable Parmesan cheese and salt / pepper for seasoning.


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By 7:30 AM the next morning I had already made my way to the middle lake in the chain. The weather was perfect and there wasn’t a single person to be seen or heard anywhere.


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This looks like someone’s property, probably used only during the summer. I’ll bet the owners wouldn’t have a problem with you staying overnight in a tent if you needed to. Of course, be a kind visitor and pack out what you pack in; clean up after yourself always.


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I didn’t think I had time to explore it, but I was told these little islands (3 in all) can be used to pitch a tent overnight.


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There were quite a few couples and families all over the lake, geese and ducks and loons everywhere.


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Looks appetizing doesn’t it? This is Anita’s dehydrated ground beef, tomato sauce, and regular spaghettini. Heat the pasta and meat until it boils, then set aside in an insulated container. Pour some hot water on the sauce in the meantime and mix, and when the pasta is done mix it all together. Super tasty.


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See what I mean? Ridiculously delicious and adds barely any weight to the pack.


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I take a special sense of pride for my food pack hangings. I’ll have to document this process at some point, it’s really simple, and a great way to keep the food far away from critters (and bears) that want to eat it.


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I have a new tarp, a Hennessy Hammock Hex Rainfly 70D I modified it by adding shock cord ends to the tie down points, and use a smart prusik knot and sliding caribiner system to make it super tight and bombproof.


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On the way back south the winds picked up in the early afternoon and kicked my tired butt hour after hour. My poor little Clipper Freedom wasn’t very happy with the heavy load I had in it, and I was taking on water with every 5th or 6th wave over the bow. It isn’t a great tripping canoe, but was very easy to keep moving forward quickly against the wind and stayed straight without much extra effort. If it had an extra inch of freeboard it would be a perfect tripping canoe.


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Even though the forecast was good, it’s always a good idea to take a few minutes to set up a tarp. This time I had the nose of the tent reaching under it, so if it did rain overnight I could at least crawl out of the tent to a dry place. I napped hard in that Kammock. The mosquitos were out and I wrapped it tight around me, then added to the hum of zzzzzzzzzzz’s within minutes.


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Perfect timing on my last morning. I finished breaking down camp and reloaded the boat exactly when the first drops landed. I took shelter under a tree for the 15 minutes it lasted.


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As you can see, I had plenty of reason to hurry to finish the trip!


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You can’t escape the scars. Forestry is huge in BC, and you’ll see this everywhere you go.


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