Sometimes it’s hard not feeling like I’d have no luck at all if it weren’t for bad luck.
It was the only hiccup in planning our nine-day rockhounding adventure through BC. I had hoped to spend one night at Gold Panner Campground near Cherryville. On the way to our next destination after a day of opal hunting, Gold Panner also allows gold panning on site. It was a perfect fit for our trip.
Unfortunately, the entire campground was booked for a private event the night I needed to stay. This left me scrambling for a backup campground and there were none that suited our travel plans as perfectly as Gold Panner.
I eventually capitulated and chose Cedar Falls Campground near Vernon. It meant a longer drive the next day, but of all the options available, it was the least likely to be disrupted by noise and such. Or so I thought.
We arrived mid-afternoon to discover that the road to the campground was being repaved. Like right at that very moment. We had to wait to pass the workers and equipment to even make our way to the campground entrance. By the time we were all set up on our site, they were laying asphalt right beside us. I can assure you that all the trees in the world will not block the noise, nor the smell, of a paving crew.
Thankfully, we were only booked for one night. And the crew were done by supper time, allowing the odour to dissipate some by the time we were heading to bed.
It begs the question, though, was the campground ever notified of this paving event? If so, would you not announce that to prospective campers prior to them booking a campsite? I realize it is hardly their fault the authorities chose this specific day to pave that very road, but had I known it was happening I’d have surely chosen another campground to stay at.
At least this proved to be the last of our bad luck for the trip. And despite the paving, Cedar Falls Campground ended up being an alright spot. But for a short while, there, I was cursing at the clouds, man.
LOCATION AND SETTING OF CEDAR FALLS CAMPGROUND
Cedar Falls Campground is located halfway up the southwest slope of Silver Star Mountain approximately 10 km from downtown Vernon. The road from the lake up to the campground is a bit tortuous. There are never straight lines up mountains. Winding through residential areas and orchards, the road eventually hits the treeline and soon after, the campground.
Much of Cedar Falls Campground resides in a forest setting of … you got it … cedar trees. The campground slopes upward from west to east and only at the top have trees been removed leaving an open camping experience. The remainder of the campground is well-sheltered by dense, young cedar trees. Me likey.
Some housing still exists around the campground, though no subdivisions. It isn’t entirely in the wilderness yet (Silver Star Mountain is home to a ski hill). But it is immediately across from a park and trail which does limit urbanization.
CEDAR FALLS CAMPGROUND LAYOUT
Cedar Falls Campground is a mess of a place. A beautiful, organic mess. There are innumerable advantages to well-designed, pre-designed campgrounds but those with a purely haphazard layout bring me joy.
This one is a roughly triangular plot of land stretching west to east on a hillside. It could be described as a big loop with a few interior crossroads, but that’s oversimplifying it. Another description would be a single loop with one crossroad plus three bulbs stuck on its north side. It’s a bit funky whichever way you cut it.
CAMPSITES AT CEDAR FALLS CAMPGROUND
True to form, campsites at Cedar Falls Campground fill an eclectic range of types and dimensions. There are unserviced sites, tent only sites, sites with just power, sites with power and water (with two different amperages) and fully serviced sites. And they have shapes as variable as human body types.
It’s not even clear just how many campsites there are at this campground. The website map numbering suggests 55 campsites plus 9 tent sites in the Oasis (more on that in a bit). The booking website is less clear with several campsites falling into multiple categories. Toss in a selection of seasonal sites, and your guess is as good as mine. Let’s just say it’s somewhere between 55 and 65.
Most of the sites are back-ins; some straight, others angled. There are about five pull-through sites all in the bulb closest to the entrance. A couple of sites only suitable for tents are more or less single walk-in tent sites with vehicle parking immediately next to the site.
This is the kind of site we had. It was on the north side of the campground, right beside the main road being paved. It has an angled parking spot with a small campsite down the hill from there. It’s both cool and awkward.
The site included a small living quarters big enough for a picnic table and a firepit. Next to that was a tent space bound by makeshift fencing. A cedar tree is growing smack tab in the middle of it. A small privacy fence separates this site from the next.
It was cozy. Perhaps a bit too small. You won’t fit a large, family-sized tent in there. It was fine for one night, but I’d have preferred somewhere else had I been staying any length of time. Then again, if I was camping there for longer, I’d likely have brought our trailer.
Looking around I found some sites that I felt were exceptional. Bigger than most with incredible privacy thanks to the thick cedar trees surrounding them. Other sites were almost double sites considering how close to each other they were.
Some sites could accommodate large motorhomes and RVs. Others will struggle to even hold our Geo Pro. It sounds cliché, but there really is something here for everyone.
Most of the sites I believe are seasonal can be found at the east end of the campground at the top of the hill. These angled, back-in sites are more in the open and didn’t appeal to me as much as those in the cedars. They’re longer, though, so the typical big seasonal trailers will most likely only fit here.
The pullthrough campsites are just gravel pads cut through the forest. Plenty of room for RVs, but the living space is tight on either side. There’s also some confusion as to where one site ends and another begins. This is just an observation of mine from walking back and forth to the bathroom.
Privacy is a bit of an issue at Cedar Falls Campground. If you desire it, site choice will be paramount. And it’s obvious I’m not the only one thinking about this.
Several of the sites employ 8’ fence sections as a means to create privacy between neighbouring campsites. It’s an interesting idea, but execution is mixed. As was the case on our site, these standard 8’ sections are not long enough to fully block the view from next door. Our neighbour could easily see me sitting at our picnic table eating.
FIREPITS AND PICNIC TABLES
All sites, no matter the kind, come with a picnic table and firepit. The tables are either traditional, solid wood or metal frame with wood tops. All appear to be quite new and in excellent shape.
Firepits are truck rims with a rotating grill on top and a flat iron for pots. Great firepits if you wish to use them for cooking. For simple bonfires, I always find these full, rotating grills annoying for lawn chair placement.
The Oasis at Cedar Falls Campground is a nifty walk-in tent area near the east end of the campground. It hosts 9 tent spots in a cedar covered hill.
Here it gets even harder to quickly differentiate individual sites but, in this case, it’s a feature, not a bug. In amongst the trees are picnic tables, firepits, and wooden platforms on which to pitch your tent. These groupings are found all over and on top of the small hill known as The Oasis.
If you’re into social camping, this is a terrific idea as you will have zero privacy from your neighbours. I contemplated reserving an Oasis site long and hard, but eventually chose privacy knowing we’d be dead tired after a potentially long day of opal hunting.
Turns out I overthought this again, as there was nobody in The Oasis when we got there. It also would have been a little further away from the paving.
All Oasis sites are walk-ins and there is parking around its perimeter, or nearby.
In the centre of the campground, also towards the east end, is a cabin available for rent. It’s a newer construction from the looks of it and lacks vintage charm but looks sturdy.
The cabin is built on what is presumably a former campsite. The area is partially shaded by trees and surrounded by regular campsites. Beside it is a trail leading up the hill to the washrooms.
A deck with patio furniture and a picnic table surrounds a cedar tree outside the cabin’s entrance. Next to that is a gravel space with a firepit and room for parking.
I was unable to enter the cabin as it had a tenant the night we spent at Cedar Falls Campground. Their website informs me that the cabin has power, but no plumbing. It has a queen-sized murphy bed and two singles up in the loft. A fridge, microwave, toaster oven, coffee maker, kettle, and toaster are provided for food storage and meal prep.
In a sea of pea gravel, on an elevated mound of dirt at the far southeast end of Cedar Falls Campground, you’ll find a playground. It’s a collection of wooden and plastic play structures much like you would find in a young family’s backyard.
The equipment is not commercial grade and is geared towards younger children. Tweens and young teens won’t get much fun out of it, but the little ones surely will.
A selection of picnic tables and Adirondack chairs encircle the playground allowing parents to sit while supervising the kids.
CEDAR FALLS CAMPGROUND OFFICE
The first structure you’ll encounter upon arrival at Cedar Falls Campground is the office. I’m not entirely sure, but I think this might be a residence as well. There is an owner’s RV out back and a sea can cottage across the street from it.
The office is nice, with flowerbeds in front of a patinaed deck with seating for visitors. An accessible ramp takes you to the entrance, past signage that will inform you of any fire bans or other noteworthy items.
Upon entering the building, directly in front of you, is the service desk. That’s where you check-in and get the scoop on your campsite and all the campground rules.
To your left is a small, but jam-packed store. There is an ice-cream treat cooler, an ice cooler, chocolate bars and candies, basic essentials, and emergency trailer parts. This is all very convenient compared to driving back to town, and they know it. Ice cost $6 a bag which is, shall we say, rich.
On the right is a cozy little den with couches and a big-screen television. A shelving unit of books accompanies it and I’d imagine there are movies you can watch as well. This would be a nice spot to chill on a rainy day. Trying to watch an entire movie, however, with office and store traffic coming and going would get old fast.
FIREWOOD AT CEDAR FALLS CAMPGROUND
Firewood is purchased at the store. It costs $12 for a milk crate sized accumulation. That too struck me as pricey. It’s BC, for heaven sakes. Wood is literally everywhere.
Up by the bathrooms, there was a pile of rough-cut logs so I’m assuming they cut and split their own firewood for sales. A fire ban was declared the day of our arrival, so we never had a fire to comment on its quality. They appear to age it next to that sea can cottage I mentioned.
WASHROOM AT CEDAR FALLS CAMPGROUND
At the southwest end of the campground, you’ll find the full-service washroom and it’s a lovely building. I don’t rave about bathroom architecture often, but this rectangular, log and tin roof structure is the perfect look for the locale.
Found at the top of a cedar-covered hill with a stone and gravel stairway up to the entrances, the bathroom has separate men and women sides each accessible using a code. Everything is kept very clean.
The log cabin look carries over to the interior where you’ll find a sink and mirror, urinal, two toilets (1 of which is accessible) and a shower. All of this has a rustic, DIY look to it which works far better than an exquisite, professional finish would.
The showers are coin-operated and cost $1 for 4 minutes, again a bit more than we’d encountered anywhere else on the trip. You can control the temperature, which is nice. And the corrugated metal walls gave me fuzzy flashbacks to my first full-time job back in Saskatoon.
For those too lazy (or too desperate) to make the trek from the eastern parts of the campground, a set of port-a-potties is positioned between sites 29 and 33. The campsite map shows additional locations for these, but I don’t recall seeing any others.
Not that I was looking that hard. I can’t imagine ever using a port-a-potty with a lovely, proper bathroom on premises, but emergencies do happen, I suppose.
At the south end of the washroom building is a coin-op laundromat. It consists of three front load washers and at least two dryers. A stainless steel sink and counter allow for soaking of garments or, based on the presence of a drying rack, cleaning of dishes and pots.
Much like everything else at Cedar Falls Campground, the laundry fees felt a bit high to me. They were certainly the costliest we encountered on our nine-day excursion. There is a price for the convenience of proximity, but I do wonder if something cheaper could be found in Vernon.
Cedar Falls Campground is not huge in site numbers, and with 18 having full services, the dump station is accordingly quaint. In fact, the single outlet is located beneath a cheap dining canopy next to the washrooms.
The concrete looks new, so perhaps this is a recent addition or an upgrade. I’m sure it suffices for those requiring it. It’s a bit of an odd location, but there’s extra space at the bend of the road next to it, so hopefully traffic jams are rare.
For those in unserviced or power-only campsites, several water taps are located around the campground. They’re simple taps attached to a red post often at the edges of other campsites. They can be a bit tricky to find on first glance, despite the bright colouring.
The location of water taps (and power, for that matter) on serviced sites can also be a bit tricky. It is present, but it looked to me like some folks were confused as to which tap served which site.
WI-FI AND CELL SERVICE
Mountains make everything a little bit different. Despite being located immediately northeast of the city of Vernon, cell service at Cedar Falls Campground was a bit suspect (Telus Network). I had trouble connecting to the network from our campsite, depending on where I was sitting or standing at a given time.
Conversely, the campground offers free Wi-Fi and it worked splendidly from our site. This is entirely backwards from the typical experience with near-urban campgrounds.
BX FALLS PARK
Across the newly paved road and downhill a short stretch is BX Falls Park. This is the northeast trailhead of the BX Trail which runs southwest from this point through a forest of cedar, fir, birch, and cottonwoods. A gravel parking lot with pit toilets denotes the park’s location.
The trail is dirt but there are portions of boardwalk and wooden bridges where needed. At the site of the waterfalls, a grand wooden staircase winds down the mountainside to the base of the falls. Here you can play around in pools at the base and get great pics of the small but attractive waterfalls.
This is exactly what we did. The trip to the falls is fairly short, maybe a quarter of a kilometer. We didn’t bother with the remainder of the nearly 3 km long trail that continues to the southwest. I’m sure it’s every bit as enjoyable as the bit we did, but our time was limited and our energy waning.
This is where the “falls” part of the campground name derives from. If your site borders the road like ours did, you will be able to hear these waterfalls in the distance. It’s nice background noise, I suppose, and does well to further disguise the campground’s near-urban location.
We spent a Friday night in July at Cedar Falls Campground, and it was quite quiet the entire time. I think the owners run a tight ship and don’t allow for shenanigans. They advertise themselves as a family friendly camping experience for all ages, and that rings true based on our brief stay.
The main road to the campground also borders most of the north side of the campground. I wouldn’t say the road is terribly busy, but neither is it dead quiet. This isn’t out in the boonies, despite the forested setting. But it is hardly highway busy with an endless stream of cars and logging trucks zipping past. Still, with our tent site right next to the road, we were readily aware of any passing vehicles.
One gripe I do have regarding noise, is with the exit gate. The campground has large metal bars that swing shut to block the entrance and exit overnight. The exit gate is in desperate need of greasing. Good lord is that sucker squeaky.
And activity gets going early on with the gates being opened at 6:00 am the morning we were there. We planned an early exit but didn’t expect the unwanted alarm at that hour.
MY RATING OF CEDAR FALLS CAMPGROUND
As a fallback, Cedar Falls Campground served us well. The paving was unwelcome, but that’s just terrible luck on our part. The campground couldn’t control it and look at it on the bright side … they won’t be paving again for many years to come, so you won’t be dealing with it on your visit.
I’ll give Cedar Falls Campground 4.1 Baby Dill Pickles out of 5. It’s a lovely location that feels more wildernessy than it is. It has a great bathroom and shower house with laundry. Campsites are quirky, perhaps too much so in a couple places, but I still prefer this to cookie-cutter alternatives. The tent oasis is also a nifty idea, though we didn’t use it.
My biggest critique is the cost of everything. I feel like they milk their customers just a bit on things like firewood and ice. The uniqueness of being on a mountainside makes travel to and from Vernon a hassle. Were this flat country, it’d be a five-minute drive to a convenience store, easy, and they wouldn’t have the luxury of premium pricing in my humble opinion.
I’ll always wonder what a night at Gold Panner Campground would have been like. In a perfect world, we’d have camped there and been further along our route after our opal dig adventure. That didn’t work out, though, and Cedar Falls Campground ended up being a delightful second pick. I wouldn’t think twice about returning here and exploring the local area more.