I thought I found heaven.
That’s the trouble with first impressions. They’re not always as trustworthy as colloquial wisdom would have us believe. A pity, then, that they remain so hard to shake. Even now, months since our visit, I’m having trouble not remembering Tyhee Lake Provincial Park as a sanctuary of recreational perfection nestled in the north timber country of British Columbia. And it was, but it also wasn’t.
Every province of Canada has its own renowned vacation spots. They are known nationally, sometimes even internationally, like Ontario’s Muskoka cottage country and BC’s Okanagan Valley. Or they are treasured secrets that only the provincial diaspora seemingly know about, like Saskatchewan’s Waskesiu Lake. All are unique and a joy to experience for those of us who’ve had the privilege to do so. They are also typically crowded, expensive, and potentially more stressful than relaxing.
Your mileage may vary on that last point, but there’s no doubting their popularity. It therefore behooves campers looking for a quieter retreat, to venture away from the well-travelled destinations and explore lesser known locales. This past summer, thanks to an uncle who put down roots in the out of the way reaches of northern BC, we did just that.
Smithers, British Columbia doesn’t top many people’s lists of must-see places. Actually it’s not on many lists at all. And that, my friends, is part of what makes the place so damned special. Located roughly halfway between Prince George and Prince Rupert, Smithers is closer (by car) to Edmonton, Alberta than it is Vancouver, BC and we’re still talking a fourteen hour drive. If your yearning for big city amenities is more modest, the lures of Prince George remain a four and half hour drive away. There are certainly mining boomtowns more isolated that Smithers, but as far as established, functioning urban centers go, this is pretty sequestered.
For someone like me, who laments the dreary congestion of suburbanite living, Smithers is damn near Xanadu. Oh that remoteness may wear on you after a few years. There are advantages to living in a big city, or close to one, but as you take in the beautiful scenery surrounding Smithers, knowing you are hundreds of kilometers from the epicenters of our obnoxious modern lifestyle, it’s hard not to want to stay. Forever.
We, unfortunately, had five days. The first few were spent in town at Riverside RV Park which I wrote about here. For the remainder of our stay, we ventured a few miles south of town to enjoy a highly regarded provincial park in the neighbouring hamlet of Telkwa. If Smithers itself was but a taste of heaven, the first few hours at Tyhee Lake Provincial Park was an all you can eat buffet. Sadly, as is the danger with such buffets, my satisfaction didn’t last.
While bloating, indigestion, and constipation (or diarrhea) can quickly ruin the afterglow of a gratifying, glutinous buffet, their camping counterparts, trains, motorboats, and generators, are equally adept at shattering the peaceful splendor of the outdoors. All three blights were eventually on display at Tyhee Lake. But for a brief, wonderful afternoon we had a near paradise almost to ourselves. It proved the perfect culmination to our northern BC adventure as we readied ourselves for the drive back home.
Tyhee Lake Provincial Park is a delightfully tiny campground and day use area on the shores of the delightfully tiny Tyhee Lake found over a hill from the delightfully tiny hamlet of Telkwa in British Columbia. It’s quite possible we are the only Calgarians who’ve ever been to this park. It’s not prominent on any maps and it’s not a renowned destination outside the local area. Were it not for my uncle’s choice of residence, I’m confident I’d have lived a long life never hearing of the place. That would have been a shame.
As I’ve mentioned already, this is a beautiful, less traveled part of BC and the campground at Tyhee Lake is a pretty homage to its surroundings. The campsites are spacious and private in amongst the aspen forest with large, level gravel pads, firepits, and robust wooden picnic tables. This is the common setup you’ll find at most (all?) British Columbia provincial parks and it’s a testament to the quality of the BC parks system. There were even staff going around raking the gravel pads as we were setting up our trailer.
Also to true to most (all?) provincial campgrounds in BC, there are no services at any of the sites at Tyhee Lake Provincial Park. I’ve always found this peculiar considering how much hydro-electric power is generated in the province. They’ve dammed damn near every major river many times over but can’t bother installing electricity in campsites. Maybe that’s just the pampered Albertan in me, but it would be nice to have at least power for longer stays at these wonderful parks.
Potable water can be found at various faucet locations around the campground as well as at the dump station. That dump station a single outlet and is decent enough, located on the main park entry road, but it is coin operated and costs $5 to use.
Not all sites are reservable here. This is an ideal location for overnighters on trips to or from Prince Rupert, so the first come, first serve spots fill up quickly in the summer. We witnessed a sustained turnover in campers during the weekdays. There is no discernable difference in the quality of the reservable versus non-reservable sites. A small walk-in tenters only area with a half dozen grassy sites is present at the entrance to the campground.
Toilets at Tyhee are an interest mix of pit and modern. In the core area of the campground, near our site, is a shower house with five separate, gender-neutral stalls, each accessible from the outside. Next to this shower house are what appear to be two pit toilets but upon further investigation, either due to curiosity or necessity, you will discover that they each contain an actual modern, flushing toilet. This was certainly something we’d never encountered before and it was a nice find, I must admit. Regular pit toilets can be found elsewhere in the campground.
The aforementioned showers at this central spot are okay. They are free but use those cursed push buttons and here the duration of those push buttons is very short. You will need to push the button constantly while showering. The water was also a bit cold. Each stall is private but not wholly contained units and each drains toward a central trough that collects from the entire complex. Neighbours will hear your warbling if like to take the stage while cleansing. The floors are concrete and no mats were present which wasn’t the most comfortable or convenient.
An additional, newer bathroom building is located at the day use area near the water and beach. Though we didn’t use it personally, a quick look around confirms it to be a far superior facility than the one closer to our site. If you can get one of the few sites in the vicinity of the day use area, this would be the one to use for sure. An outdoor shower unit for cleaning up after a swim or playing at the beach is located outside this building.
The day use area is fantastic. Large, open, grassy spaces stretch along the lakeside with picnic tables and fire pits. These amenities are situated in several groupings throughout the area giving visitors ample choice for proximity to water, facilities, or other people. Wild berry bushes grow here and there and all around providing separation and some privacy for a select few accumulations of tables.
A large, log picnic shelter exists here as well, a few steps away from the modern bathroom facility I spoke of earlier. It has open walls but a fully covered roof providing respite from inclement weather. The large woodstove also helps with cooler weather and surely makes for a cozy focal point as the sun goes down. It also has electricity which is a wonderful perk. Affixed to one of the robust support posts are a couple of electrical receptacles. These are a great for enabling groups using the shelter to plug in crockpots and other appliances for big picnics. Just such an event was being prepared on our second night at the park. A local business was having a staff party here and some women were setting up the meal. This struck me as a fantastic idea and I’m sure this great shelter is used regularly for family, friends, and coworkers.
I, of course, was using the electrical service to charge up my phone and laptop. On busy weekends, that’s probably impossible to do, but on a quiet weekday afternoon it was a welcome fix for my device addiction.
This wonderful, expansive day use area would be moot were it not for the lake itself and the beach along with it. The lake is remarkably beautiful, or at least it is when no boats are on the water. We first arrived on a lazy Tuesday afternoon. The weather was cool and threatening to rain so there was nobody in or on the water whatsoever. The resulting scene was so peaceful and calming we just spent a couple hours walking along the shoreline watching a pair of loons diving for food and calling to each other. On the far side of the lake, spectacular homes dotted the rolling farmland, hills, and small, domed mountains. It was incredible looking at the gorgeous homes on the other shore dotting the farmland swept hills and domed mountains. Then a motorboat launched and rudely snapped us back to reality.
A large roped off swimming area separates swimmers by the beach from the rest of the lake. We didn’t actually swim because we are wimps but the water did feel surprisingly warm to the touch. Hey, the weather was crappy despite it being the middle of August when, presumably, the lake water is as warm as it gets.
The beach is the only disappointment and that’s being picky considering we are in the mountains. It is only about six feet wide and is best described as muddy gravel. You can play in this, I suppose, but it isn’t a true sandy beach. The lake bottom is sandier in spots but still many pebbles and rocks are present so you’ll want to be careful where you tread if you venture out into the water. My son and I enjoyed hunting for colourful rocks along the beach and shallow water. That’s the positive side to beaches along mountain lakes, particularly in the coastal ranges where igneous and metamorphic rocks predominate.
Beyond the beach the shoreline turns wild as lily pads and reeds come to dominate providing shelter and sustenance for birds and fish. We saw many minnows and some fish at the beach and around the dock at the boat launch. While watching the loons on the still water we could see many bugs and flies flitting around and every so often a fish would break the surface to eat one. Tyhee Lake may be small but it is full of life and if you can get there when the human crowds are absent it’s quite breathtaking to see nature at play.
The boat launch and dock are adequate for your typical fishing and recreational motorboats. A few were racing around the water during our stay making all kinds of noise but providing fun for their owners. A family was fishing off the dock itself and though we could see the odd fish in the water below us we never saw anyone actually catch anything. Located down a curving road towards the water, the launch has a large parking lot for boat trailers and tow vehicles. Again, I’m going to assume this place gets pretty busy on hot, sunny, summer weekends.
For those not interested in, or wanting a break from, water activities, there is a lovely trail system that circumnavigates the entire park. Now, Tyhee Lake is quite small so don’t come expecting day long hikes, but for a lovely stroll in the woods or for shortcuts through the campground, the trails system is perfect. The park trails do link up with a broader community trail system outside the park, so if you are looking for a longer trek, an option to do so is available.
Another unique feature of the campground at Tyhee Lake Provincial Park is the off-road bike tracks. There are two of them, each unique, and both something we’ve never seen at another campground anywhere. The first is a circular track located beside the showers house in the core of the campground. Our kids loved driving their bikes around the undulating course and spent much time racing each other and their new friends. The second is a long, dirt road or trail with some obstacles implanted along its course. The kids tried this one out as well but found it less stimulating than the circular track. I think this one might be more interesting to older kids looking to do tricks. I would love to see more of these installed at parks in Alberta. As we witnessed at Aspen Beach Provincial Park, the kids will make their own anyway so why not accommodate their stunting desires.
There is a group site here near the day use area. This is a little different than the group areas we are used to. There doesn’t appear to be much space for trailers. A small parking lot exists and there is a break in the barriers that would allow trailers through to the grassy area but that space is only large enough for 3 or 4 trailers at most and definitely not the big rigs. Maybe it’s only for tenters?
A second, large, log cook shelter very much like the day use area shelter is located in the group site. It also comes with a wood stove and several solid picnic tables but it does not have any electricity which is unfortunate. On the other hand, it does have a sink for cleaning dishes which the day use area did not have.
In between dips in the lake, the kids will enjoy the small but interesting playground that is also located in the day use area. This is the only playground and it would have been nice for a second one to be located in the campground itself. Instead they had those great bike tracks so I won’t complain vociferously. The kids liked the playground and made some new friends here too. It could be bigger and is likely overrun with children on weekends.
There is no store or office in the park. Staff come around to your site to clean and collect fees in golf carts. They also sell bags of firewood for $7 but with the province literally burning down when we visited, a fire ban was strictly enforced. The park is located right beside the small village of Telkwa but there didn’t appear to be much to offer in terms of retail. If you need food or other supplies you’ll need to make the ten kilometre trip into Smithers which has all the services of a modern town.
Okay, so now for the annoyances. Yes this is a great place to camp. That being said, the train line runs very close by and though there aren’t regular, hourly freight trains passing by all day and night, they do exist. The first morning one woke me at 6:00 am. The next day one came at 11:30 pm and then again at 6:30 and 7:30. So they are irregular. And granted those times aren’t the worst, but it’s still a nuisance for someone like me whose mind starts racing the minute it is awoken.
The lack of power at the campsites also leads to generator usage, another source of noise pollution that I loathe when camping. There are posted and (presumably) enforced times of day for these to be used which is some solace. I’d still prefer to never hear one. EVER!
But, hey, it’s got a pay phone!
When all was said and done, we left Tyhee Lake Provincial Park very pleased with our stay. It is truly a lovely little spot. Ultimately, it didn’t live up to the Nirvana it presented during our first few hours there, but it remained a great spot for family camping. I may never get back there but I’d certainly recommend it to anyone looking to camp in the Smithers, British Columbia area. I confidently award Tyhee Lake Provincial Park 4 Baby Dill Pickles out of 5. It’s not perfect. The beach is rough. The noise and congestion on weekends will bother some. And there are no services at the sites. But otherwise, it is everything you could need or wish for in a campground.