The last few weeks have flown by and so much has happened. School finished for the kids. I finished work (like for the next 14 months finished) and Rob wrapped up his major project at work. Woo Hoo! Bring on the family adventure. To say we all needed a vacation would be an understatement. So we packed up the van and hit the road for our shakedown run.
“Operation Shakedown” was our practice trip before the big one. Everything (almost) that is coming with us on our big adventure was coming on this trip too. We needed to make sure that we didn’t forget things and that everything we did bring had a place to live in the van. It was also our practice for #vanlife living. Yes we all live together, but we have an abundance of space in our home in Calgary. Moving from a 2200 sq. ft. house into a 160 sq. ft. van requires a bit of adjustment and learning. We packed only the clothes we think we’re bringing with us, the gear, the electronics, towels and pillows, etc. The only thing that didn’t get packed up was Rob’s climbing gear. Storage and space is a valuable commodity in our new rolling home, so packing light (much lighter than we did with our trailer) is a necessity. Surprisingly, it was not all that hard. I’m looking forward to re-packing and being a little bit smarter with what and how I’ll pack for myself and the kids in September.
But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about all the amazing places we visited in Western Canada on our Summer Road Trip Adventure. Yes of course it was learning and packing (and repacking) and fixing things, but was also a super awesome family vacation in which we did some super awesome things together as a family. So where did the road take us?
Operation: Shakedown – The Route
Rob spent a couple weeks planning our route and searching for Provincial and National Parks to camp in. Throw in a few nights on a houseboat in the Shuswap and you have the makings of a fantastic road trip. In two weeks we drove El Cóndor almost 1700 km through the interior of British Columbia and southern Alberta. Not hugely epic, but not a small feat either. The van performed beautifully and we got to share more of our country with the kids. It reinforced my love for B.C. and I’m convinced that at some point in my life I will live in that province.
Stop 1: Golden, British Columbia
Our first stop was to visit friends in Golden. We arrived late afternoon on Canada Day, July 1, and enjoyed the hot sun, homemade craft beer and a tasty BBQ. Sadly we forgot to watch the fireworks. But they’re said to be amazing.
Hanging out in Golden was a great way to start our trip. Not to far to drive, hang out with great people and tons of fun things to do. We ended up driving the van up to Mount 7, where all the paraglider go to launch themselves over the townsite. It was an amazing view of the town below and the mountains that surround it.
Stop 2: Houseboating in the Shuswap, British Columbia
Back in February our very good friends invited us to join them and two other families on a houseboating trip at the beginning of July. Um, hell to the ya. Who wouldn’t want to join? Houseboating rules. Even with four families on the boat (seventeen people in all) you’d think that it might get cramped, however this 75 foot behemoth was very roomy.
We spent our mornings doing yoga, swimming, paddle boarding or just eating and drinking boozy coffees. The rest of the day was spent cruising the lake looking the perfect spot for slide rides, jumping off all three levels, and jet ski action. In the evening we’d beach the boat, grill some delicious eats, soak in the hot tub, and sing songs on the beach by the fire. The Shuswap never disappoints and these four days were no exception. Super fun awesome times were had by all.
Stop 3: Vernon, British Columbia
After houseboating we headed to Vernon to see some of my family and celebrate my birthday. My Gram, Mom and Aunt all live in or near Vernon and drove to the campground for dinner. We also had to do laundry at probably the best laundromat I’ve been to yet, Aloha Laundry Cafe. Both kids were entertained by the classic Lethal Weapon pin-ball machine and I was entertained by the best impromptu Whitney Houston sing along I’ve ever heard.
We settled into our lake-view campsite at Kekuli Bay Provincial Park, tried to find shelter under our awning from the blazing sun, and visited with family. Who could ask for more on their birthday?
Stop 4: Macdonald Creek Provincial Park, British Columbia
BC provincial parks rule and Macdonald Creek is the perfect example. Gorgeous campsites surrounded by towering trees on a beautiful mountain lake. We arrived in the early afternoon which meant a generous amount of time to spend at the beach. We splashed, we played, we made friends. Unfortunately (fortunately?) we were in the midst of a heat wave and there was a fire ban, so we could not enjoy a campfire with a smore or a beer. Also unfortunately, we had to move on the next morning. But we have definitely saved this Provincial Park in the memory bank for a return visit.
Stop 5: Nelson, British Columbia
We had three nights in Nelson and we’re so glad we did. It allowed us to explore a little more. Now, of course I would’ve loved to stay a week, however I have a feeling that on the Pan Am (with a time limit) it’ll mean more driving days than we’d ideally prefer. So, with the two full days in Nelson we explored a little of the nearby backcountry and hit the town.
Day one we rolled up the Kokanee Glacier Road to get some more “off-road” experience and find a nice hike at Gibson Lake. Even though Kokanee Glacier Road has a few gnarly spots, and we were happy we had lifted and modified the van, we still saw a few brave two-wheel drive vehicles making their way up to Gibson Lake.
Day two was spent enjoying the beautiful historic town, shopping, eating, and playing at the park. The kids really enjoyed the ride on restored electric street car.
We camped at the Kokanee Creek Provincial Park and it was so nice. Beach. Cedar Forest. It really felt a lot like the West Coast and that some how we had magically transported ourselves to Vancouver Island. Both Rob and I, several times, looked at each other and nodded in agreement that we could definitely live in Nelson BC. Unfortunately, still a fire ban, so still no smores or camp-fire beers on this trip.
Stop 6: Fernie, British Columbia
In between Nelson and Waterton we had a night with no plans. No campsites prearranged and the only thing we needed to do was get a little closer to Waterton. We decided to visit some good friends in the awesome mountain town of Fernie. It was only for a night, but not only did we get to hang out with our peeps and camp on their driveway, Rob got a mountain bike ride in, I went to a yoga class, and the kids got to play with other kids and their toys. It was wins all around. Love a spontaneous visit with good friends.
Stop 7: Waterton National Park, Alberta
Oh Waterton. You are so beautiful. Upon arriving in the National Park, which is currently free because all national parks are this year due to our country’s 150th birthday, we were greeted by two brown bears wandering in the meadows on each side of the road. It just kept getting better from there.
We camped at the Townsite Campground, which has also been updated and has great bathrooms and showers. There’s really close access to a number of hiking trails right from the campground. On our second day we took the kids up to Bertha Falls. They did awesome and logged their first 6 km hike. It was a gradual gain in elevation and not too long, perfect for little legs. Hiking with the kids gets better every time we do it. We just make sure we have the following to keep them going: motivation bears (gummy bears), shady breaks and a game of hiking bingo. Staying in town also meant we could walk everywhere and thus didn’t have to pack up to go do something, which was kinda’ nice. The kids were stoked to find a spray and play park right outside the campground.
Our evenings were spent playing with our new slack line, skipping rocks on the beach and attempting to fly an extremely finicky kite in extremely gusty wind.
Stop 8: Livingstone Falls, Alberta
The end of our trip was also somewhat unplanned. We had thoughts of reserving another provincial park camping site for our last night or two on the way back home. However, in the end we decided it would be more fun to “wing it”. Besides, this would be much more similar to the style of travel we would soon be experiencing on the Pan Am. No reservations, no itineraries. Just a forestry road, a GPS map, and a full tank of gas.
To be completely honest, we knew there were some Provincial Park campgrounds along the road we were planning to take, so we could find a safe/comfortable place to stay no matter what. With that in mind, we turned off the highway with confidence and charged into the gravel Forestry Trunk Road to explore more backcountry.
Rob had spent a fair amount of time in this area years ago when he was more interested in fly fishing, so it was not a completely unknown area. He knew there were nearly unlimited amazing camping opportunities along the Livingston River. Because this is a Forestry Reserve (not a park) random camping is allowed. We were excited to find a prime spot and experience our first night camping in the wild, not in a campground. Sure enough, we scouted out a great site (one that Rob thinks he may have possibly used a decade ago) and set up camp. Our last two cold beers were enjoyed sitting by the river as the kids tossed rocks into the water and we reminisced about our last two weeks of fun. Unfortunately, as the evening came so did the biting flies, forcing us to eat dinner inside the van. Thankfully the kids actually really enjoy pretending the van is a restaurant and taking our orders. We braved the flies for one final popsicle dessert by the river and then settled in for a cozy movie night inside the van. It actually felt really nice to just veg-out on the bed with all our pillows and watch a goofy movie. We decided that’s a treat we should give ourselves every week or so on our coming adventure. Sometimes its comforting to just cuddle up and turn off your brain for a few hours. It does not have to be all camping and all adventure all the time!
The next morning we packed up and headed for home. We were looking forward to our beds and having a little more space to spread out. We slowly unpacked the van and the kids got reacquainted with their toys. Within an hour Liam and I had our first conversation about how much we already missed being in the van. We talk about how it’s not that far away until we will all be back in the van together. Travelling and exploring new places. And we can hardly wait.