Silver and gold. Silver and gold. We were both looking for silver and gold. This is what brought us to Slocan, BC, and why we ended up spending two nights camping at Springer Creek RV Park & Campground. If only we’d had a snowman to guide us to the mother lode.
Gold had proven elusive along our route from Vernon to Slocan. We stopped at two recreational panning reserves along the way and neither coughed up even a flour of gold. Our enthusiasm was waning fast, but as we entered the Slocan Valley our focus shifted to silver and with it, hope.
The north end of the valley, basically the area east of the lake, was home to a massive silver boom starting in the late 1890s. It would falter with time, as all booms do, but mining continued up until the 1980s. Even today, a couple companies are attempting to reignite the fever.
In the hills between New Denver and Slocan lie the remains of myriad abandoned silver mines with a sprinkling of ghost towns for good measure. We came here to find some of those mines and hopefully, in their tailings piles, some overlooked silver.
SPRINGER CREEK RV PARK & CAMPGROUND LOCATION
Slocan is a village at the south terminus of Slocan Lake on the west side of highway 6 in central British Columbia. With that silver boom long in its rearview mirror, the town primarily exists as a minor vacation area and the primary access to Valhalla Provincial Park. The sawmill in town is gone as well.
The entire valley is dominated by tree-covered, rounded mountains once famed for their silver, now almost exclusively used for forestry. Highway 6 winds along the eastern lakeshore between the water and the hills. It’s a scenic drive. Not the most stunning I’ve been on, but certainly not ugly.
We approached from the north passing through other silver boomtowns along the way. I had no idea where Springer Creek RV Park & Campground was actually located, and my copilot wasn’t the greatest navigator. I’d expected roadside signage for the campground, but there was none, so as we entered Slocan, I proclaimed we would stop at the information centre (it had a road sign) and figure out where the campground was from there. Well, it turns out the information centre is in the campground.
SPRINGER CREEK RV PARK & CAMPGROUND SETTING
The campground resides in a predominantly cedar forest on the southeast end of town. The trees are a continuation of the mountain wilderness and end where residential development begins west of the campground.
Much of the campground is thickly covered with trees, though some open areas exist. This type of cedar dominated forest is attractive but can get a bit muggy during the summer. Humidity or not, shelter from the sun is always appreciated.
Springer Creek, from which the campground derives its name, flows along the north boundary. It’s a swift, mountain creek that heads into town and eventually empties into Slocan Lake. A handful of campsites back onto the creek and enjoy the constant noise of rambunctious water.
SPRINGER CREEK RV PARK & CAMPGROUND LAYOUT
Springer Creek RV Park & Campground is divided into two loops. They’ve been named Upper Campground and Lower Campground according to their relative elevations.
The Upper Campground is not a simple loop, though it has a perimeter road that’ll take you from the office, around, and back again. On the main loop road, campsites are on the exterior only. However, within the loop, several crossroads exist with a mishmash of campsites jutting out from them. These are the RV-friendly sites with either full hookups (sites 1 through 5) or power and water (sites 6 through 18).
The Lower Campground is a genuine loop, although three campsites are located along the approach road. These are mostly odd-shaped sites (19 through 35) best suited to tents or small trailers and are all without services.
SPRINGER CREEK RV PARK & CAMPGROUND CAMPSITES
All of the campsites at Springer Creek RV Park & Campground, with the exception of site 18, are back-ins. Site 18 is an arcuate pull-through. There is a broad variation in site layout ranging from a typical long in depth back-in to a more amorphous bulb shape. The Lower Campground has some genuinely funky site configurations.
Campsites try to be level but aren’t always so. Some are purposely tiered while others are just naturally a bit sloped. They are gravel but have not been replenished in a long time, so dirt is reclaiming its territory. This is particularly true around the firepits and picnic tables.
Don’t let the dirt fool you. Beneath it exists lots of rocks and other mountainside rubble that can interfere with tent peg emplacement. This can be such a hassle and hardly unique to Spring Creek. You’ll eventually just give up and pray for no wind.
The Upper Campground had more patrons than the lower and looked to be popular with seniors. I suspect some of them may even be seasonal campers. A handful of these upper sites are also a bit less tree-covered allowing them to grow some grass patches in and around them.
Each site comes with the expected firepit and picnic table. The firepits are large, round, welded rings with a raised, rotating grill on top. The grill doesn’t cover the entire firepit, so you can leave it in place while having a bonfire if you wish.
Picnic tables are built of sturdy wood, but they are dated. The tops are well worn and often etched by lovers and vandals. They’re also placed on concrete pads to which they are chained. Thus, they are just as immovable as the BC Parks behemoths I have such a love/hate relationship with.
OUR CAMPSITE AT SPRINGER CREEK RV PARK & CAMPGROUND
Despite the spaciousness of the RV Park, there are the odd clumps of campsites. In such situations, the sites are practically doubles due to their proximity. Others are better spaced, giving some privacy. And if you’re lucky, like us, you’ll have a campsite with only 1 neighbour.
Our luck wasn’t immediately good, however. The campsite I originally booked (#21) is easily the worst in the entire campground. Located on the road to the Lower Campground, its backend points straight towards town. To make matters worse, the trees between it and the road to town have all been cut, leaving it exposed to both sunlight and traffic noise. Needless to say, privacy at this site is nil.
The campground was far from full, so I asked the office attendant if we could change sites. They had no issue with my request and encouraged us to drive around a find one we liked from a selection that were still available.
We circled the lower loop and settled on site #29. It was beside the creek which concerned me for sleeping, but was otherwise a fantastic, beautiful campsite. And only one neighbouring site that remained empty our entire stay. That’s a win, folks.
WASHROOMS AND SHOWERS
Bathrooms at Springer Creek RV Park & Campground is truly a tale of two, umm, loops. The Upper Campground has a lovely, brick and metal roofed washroom with flush toilets, sinks, and showers. It’s a great facility, relatively new and well kept. It even has a change table in the mens room, which is still a rarity.
Ironically, it does not have a urinal, another something I’ve never seen before. Instead, it has three stalls, one of which is accessible.
Showers stalls are nothing fancy. They have a changing area with a small bench and a square stall with curtain. They cost $2 for 5 minutes (coin-op). The water is warm, but modest in pressure, and you can’t adjust the temperature or shower head.
The Lower Campground is far less luxurious. A single pit toilet can be found in the woods at the south end of the loop. It’s not the most welcoming structure and the single, plastic toilet inside had me walking to the shower house anytime I needed such a facility.
There is a dump station present, but it’s a sneaky thing that I almost missed despite walking past it several times on my way to the washrooms. There’s a triangle of land across from the pull-through campsite at the south end of the Upper Campground where the loop road gets a bit, well, loopy. That’s where the dump station is located.
It appears to be a dual outlet dump station, but I can’t imagine how both could ever be used at the same time since it is only accessible on one side. It also requires payment to use; $5 for registered campers and $8 for others.
The Lower Campground, being completely unserviced, requires a cleaning station for tent campers. It does, indeed, have one, but it’s the most rustic version of one I’ve ever seen in my life.
Entirely homemade, the cleaning station is a single sink and tap on a wide, wooden countertop underneath a wooden roof. It’s pretty much a converted firewood storage shed. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
I made use of it after each meal and while it certainly did its job, it could use some sprucing up. The untreated, sun-aged lumber is really showing its age.
Right beside the cleaning station is a rack of food storage bins, also a must have for tent campers in bear country. I suppose this is a tolerable alternative to not putting individual bins on each site.
SPRINGER CREEK RV PARK & CAMPGROUND OFFICE
The campground office (and information centre) is the first thing you’ll see when you pull into Spring Creek RV Park & Campground. There’s ample parking in the gravel lot out front of the modest, cabin-like building.
There are lovely rock gardens out front full of flowers with steps and a ramp up to the central entrance of the building. Off to the right is a nice little grass picnic area with a couple of tables and some shade trees.
Inside, to your left, is the office. You register here, buy firewood, and get your questions answered. The lady working during our stay was incredibly helpful and friendly. There is no store, however, so you’ll need to go to town for any purchases.
To the right, is the small community museum. It’s got a bunch of old pictures and artifacts (including rock samples!!) from the silver rush days. Interesting stuff, but you won’t need hours to go through it all.
Finally, someone gets it in BC. There is wood literally everywhere! Firewood should be dirt cheap. At Springer Creek RV Park & Campground it is, or as close to it as you’ll get outside of national parks.
You order your load of firewood from the office and the clerk will bring it to your campsite in the trunk of their car. You get 5 pieces for $5 or 10 pieces for $10. Each piece is a big chunk of wood, easily equivalent to 2 or even 3 pieces in those bundles you buy elsewhere.
With no fire ban yet when we visited in July of 2023, we enjoyed an evening campfire overlooking the creek. To quote Borat … very nice.
The Upper Campground sites all have water service. That’s easy.
The Lower Campground sites all share a single water tap at the cleaning station. This proved trickier to find than you might think. I even had to ask the office staff where it was.
The cleaning station obviously has a tap, but that is in a sink which makes it useless for filling large jugs or many water bottles. Hidden on the left side of the cleaning station, towards the rear, is a proper filling faucet for campers. It blends in with the aged wood of the structure so well, I didn’t see it until it was pointed out to me.
This singular tap isn’t the most convenient for some campsites. It’s centrally located on that lower loop, but if you’re in a site on the approach, for example, you’ll have a bit of a walk to it.
While exploring the trails at Springer Creek RV Park & Campground, I found evidence of former plumbing heading towards the Lower Campground. It left me wondering if the lower loop had water service at one time, but it has subsequently been damaged by flooding.
As a community run campground, I’m a bit surprised that Springer Creek RV Park & Campground does not have a playground. With the office doubling as the town’s information centre and museum, a little playground seems like a no-brainer. Alas, there isn’t one.
TRAILS AT SPRINGER CREEK RV PARK & CAMPGROUND
Tucked into a bend in the highway right next to town, you wouldn’t immediately expect there to be much in the way of hiking trails here. That would be a mistake.
Granted, you won’t be going on multi-kilometre hikes into the backcountry, but if you’re wanting an interesting, wilderness stroll during some downtime, you’ll be pleased with what Spring Creek RV Park & Campground has to offer.
Between the two campground loops is an undeveloped space with a couple trails that climb from lower to upper. These dirt trails approach and follow the creek, past the waterfall and then along the north side of the campground.
Near site 15 is a bridge across the creek that then connects to a series of trail loops in the woods beyond the campground. Another loop swings around from sites 10 and 11. A second bridge, this one in the lower loop, also crosses the creek and appears to connect to trails heading into town.
We explored solely within the campground focusing on observing the waterfall. We were already bagged from our failed mine adventures and didn’t need to exert ourselves too much at “home”. Still, we enjoyed the bit of trail exploration we did manage.
SPRINGER CREEK LOWER FALLS
Having a waterfall right in a campground is kind of cool. Definitely something you’d only anticipate finding in a place like BC.
Springer Creek hosts two waterfalls. The lower falls are the ones in the campground, while the upper falls can be accessed via a trail starting from the highway just north of town.
We only investigated the lower falls, which were lovely. While not the largest waterfall you’ll ever encounter, it was great being able to view it from both the base and above.
WI-FI AND CELL SERVICE
The campground boasts free Wi-Fi, but it isn’t great. It doesn’t service the entire campground and there is zero hope of using it from the Lower Campround. My son reported that even with him standing outside the office, with 5 bars, the internet was excruciatingly slow and unreliable.
I did get excellent cell coverage, though, on the Telus network. I’m sure other providers suffice as well. Slocan isn’t Okanagan Valley dense for people, but it’s still within civilization.
Despite our new site being further inland from the road, we could still hear the odd loud vehicle on the highway or heading into town. Even the tumble of the creek and the rumble of the falls couldn’t drown out the noisiest of vehicles.
Aside from that, our stay at Springer Creek RV Park & Campground was delightfully peaceful. The Lower Campground was a great spot for our two nights and the folks in the sites around us were all content to quietly enjoy their evenings. Thank god nobody used a generator. Your mileage may vary on busy weekends.
THE VILLAGE OF SLOCAN
One concern that grew as our attempts to find old silver mines became ever more fruitless was gasoline for our SUV. There aren’t any obvious highway gas stations near Slocan and it was only after inquiring at the office that we learned of Mountain Valley Station.
Found towards the south end of the village, well away from everything else retail or service oriented, this gas station and general store was a relief to learn about. They not only alleviated my gas worries, but they blew our minds with the truly massive ice cream cones they sell.
I’m not kidding when I say these were the best value hard ice cream cones I’ve ever purchased anywhere in all our years of camping. A single scoop is easily the equivalent to two scoops elsewhere. The server even warned us when my son ordered a double. And the price isn’t skewed whatsoever. It was awesome!
While not a summer hot spot like the Shuswap or Okanagan, Slocan still has the needed services to support the eclectic campers and adventure-seekers that spend time at this end of the valley. The grocery store is small and expensive, just like you’d expect (corn on the cob was $2 per cob). There are a couple of quaint cafés and restaurants on the main strip. And a good-sized public beach and park highlight the shoreline at the north end of town.
I only stayed a short while but quickly grew fond of Slocan. I love little towns, especially those not overflowing with money and resort kitsch. I’m sure making a living in Slocan takes plenty of energy and determination, but I can understand wanting to try.
MY RATING OF SPRINGER CREEK RV PARK & CAMPGROUND
Our experience in the Slocan Valley began with optimism but ultimately ended in disappointment. Had we retired to a garbage campground each night, our mood would have quickly deteriorated into misery. Thankfully, our campsite was a lovely refuge for us each night.
I’ll give Springer Creek RV Park & Campground 4.25 Baby Dill Pickles out of 5. I really liked this campground. We had a terrific site by the creek … eventually … and really enjoyed our evenings. The Lower Campground is very rustic, in an enjoyable way, while the Upper Campground will keep the RVers and glampers content.
Despite being right next to town, you still feel you’re in the wilderness a bit. That creek and waterfall with the trails to and from was a joy. And you still have Slocan right there for any modern-day living needs or desires. Like, say, giant freakin’ ice cream cones.
To be honest, there isn’t much choice for campgrounds along highway 6. There are in the provincial parks, but those weren’t convenient for the type of exploring we aimed to do. Valhalla Provincial Park looks like a dream but isn’t geared to vehicle camping. I couldn’t be happier that our limited selection resulted in such an ideal result. Once we moved campsites, that is. I’m forever grateful for the accommodating staff.
If you’re looking for a low-key BC interior summer experience, I recommend checking out the Slocan Valley. If you’re camping, be sure to give Springer Creek RV Park & Campground a try.
ABOUT THAT SILVER …
As for the abandoned silver mines we’d hoped to explore, well, the metal gods were not on our side. These mines are no secret to anyone looking for such things. A self-published book we had purchased as a Christmas gift listed several of them as points of interest for rockhounding and my son (yes, and me) was super excited to get to them.
Sadly, the book proved to be outdated by the time we arrived. Structures have deteriorated, collapsed, and or burned down. Roads have been rerouted. And to make matters worse, the forestry roads used to access the mines have been purposely modified to prevent vehicle traffic from passing easily.
As we climbed higher into the mountains, we inevitably reached a point where every 400 m, or so, a ditch had been dug across the road. At first, we thought these were for drainage, but the fact they occurred in regular intervals for kilometres on end suggests otherwise. I suspect BC Mines is at work doing their best to keep nosey influencers out of admittedly dangerous locations.
I made every effort to get to at least one of the mines, but never did. Even my son was getting worried by the beating our family vehicle was taking as the roads became ever more impassable both beneath our tires and on either side of the cabin. We did see some cool scenery, just no mines and thus no silver.
Finally admitting defeat, we turned our focus to possibilities further north. Although Slocan was very much a silver boom town, the initial strike and mother lode area was further north around New Denver.
In addition to seeing old mines as you drive around, here you can visit ghost towns that remain accessible tourist attractions. To appease our bruised egos, we went for a drive along highway 31A to check out the ghost towns of Sandon and Cody. While we were at it, we took a hike to see the old growth cedars at Retallack a little further down the road.
SANDON GHOST TOWN
Sandon isn’t the sexiest tourist spot you’ll ever visit, but it was funky. It’s a former silver boomtown that has long since declined. Unlike, say, Barkerville near Quesnel, Sandon hasn’t been restored by the government and turned into a tourist destination. Here, a handful of eccentric locals try to keep what is left of the town alive come hell or high water.
The main structure still operating is a large museum. For a small fee you can tour around inside to see the multitude of artifacts and pictures documenting the history of the town and the silver boom. It’s not a finely curated museum but is overwhelmingly cool in its picker-like ambience.
Nearby is a generating station that has been operating since 1897. This remains a legitimate business and you can tour the innards for the cost of a donation to the enterprising young man who will meet you at the door and offer a guided tour.
The remainder of the town is quite run down and littered with vehicles and old mining equipment. A bunch of trolley buses have been stored here with hopes of restoration someday. A steam locomotive has been parked here in retirement since 1997 and you can ring its bell if you’re strong enough.
Sandon is far from glorious, but I had an enjoyable hour or so here exploring the place. You can buy food and souvenirs if you wish.
CODY GHOST TOWN
Cody is a more traditional ghost town in the sense that it has pretty much disappeared. Located further along a very rough forestry road from Sandon, you won’t find much of Cody beyond a dilapidated old ore concentrator.
That concentrator is where we finally found some silver ore. It wasn’t much, but after so much failure, we were delighted to have at least a piece of the stuff.
There are plenty of signs around Cody warning of contaminated ground and water. So, who knows, we may have picked up more than just ore!
RETALLACK OLD GROWTH CEDAR
After Sandon and Cody, we ventured further east along highway 31A hoping to find more mining relics. In doing so we stumbled upon the Retallack Old Growth Cedar Trail.
I’m always keen on seeing big-ass trees, so we stopped in for a short hike. The trail starts right off the highway. There’s a little parking lot and signage to the trail.
The trail is dirt and runs through the forest, next to a creek in parts. It’s a nice trail, well-sheltered, albeit a bit muggy with some rapid elevation changes. There is signage to show you the way and eventually you do arrive at a grove of old growth cedars.
It’s not a very large accumulation of big cedars. I was a bit disappointed, to be honest. I’ve seen greater numbers at other little spots like this and on the coast, well, they’re huge.
No regrets, though. It was a decent hike and we found a legit abandoned mine. Or an attempt at a mine, anyway. Someone, long ago, had carved the beginnings of a shaft into the mountainside, presumably chasing an ore vein. They only made it in maybe 10 feet before giving up.
Good enough for us, though. We had finally found, and entered, an abandoned mine!