Route Report: 10 Lakes Overnighter, British Columbia
Following his recent weekend ride of our 10 Lakes Overnighter route in Powell River, British Columbia, Tom Powell put together this report that pairs practical tips for folks planning to take on the route with a spectacular gallery of images. See it all here…
Words and photos by Tom Powell (@tacos_and_tailwinds)
After a recent move from the Southern Hemisphere to Canada, I was keen to get out on my first bikepacking trip to familiarise myself with what riding in this vast landscape would be like. I’ve spent most of my bikepacking life rolling around the relatively small country of New Zealand, where the largest wildlife you’re likely to encounter is deer or wild pigs, neither of which require a huge amount of preparation or protection.
The 10 Lakes Overnighter in Powell River is home to both brown and grizzly bears, which feels very much like swimming in shark-infested waters to me. I thought it’d be a good idea to get right out there amongst it and hopefully deal with my fears before they get out of hand. Getting to know any landscape takes time, and this seemed like a perfect overnighter that would give access to a self-sufficient travel experience while only being a day away from civilization.
My main criteria for the trip would be that I had to be able to get from Vancouver and back again in a long weekend and that the ride was somewhere convenient to reach for my friend Fiona, who was in the north of Vancouver Island. And because it was during a heat wave, some swimming options would be a bonus. We didn’t want to be riding paved roads or sharing campgrounds, which would both be under heavy use due to the long weekend and exceptionally hot weather.
The distance isn’t by any means huge when stretched over two days, but we decided to roll at a party pace with luxury items, beers, and fresh taco ingredients. This was no expedition; it was our long lake weekend on the Sunshine Coast—only on bikes instead of speed boats and inflatable donuts.
There are two options for getting to Powell River from Vancouver that I know of, and both involve two ferry rides. You can either head east up the Sunshine Coast from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale and then from Earl’s Cove to Saltery Bay, or catch the ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo as I did, to meet Fiona at her place in Cumberland before catching the ferry from Courtenay to Powell River. Fiona picked me up in Nanaimo, so we had time to spend finalising plans and catching up at hers, which meant I didn’t have to spend a day riding the highway to the north of the Island.
We met another friend in Courtenay in the morning, parked our vehicles in a nearby lay-by (paid public is another option worth considering), and easily rolled onto the ferry 20 minutes before leaving and with no booking. Once in Powell River, the trail starts just outside of town, and there is an outdoor store, supermarket, cafe, pubs, and liquor store to stock up before leaving.
The surface is nearly 95% hard gravel, with some potholes and very little corrugation, which allows a fairly comfortable ride. There is rarely anything steep and only some singletrack at the entry to some lakes that can be pushed but is very fun to ride. This could be ridden on a touring bike with gravel tires, although we were all running 2.2 and above.
While not very technically difficult, the route is long enough to feel like a good day’s ride has been done when fully loaded, especially in the sun. There are multiple options for stops by lakes for swims, camping, and water that are each as beautiful as the next. It’s sometimes easy to forget to stop, but this ride is all about it. The lakes are incredible for swimming and relaxing, and they really help recharge the legs. If ridden counterclockwise, the second half of the ride has the vast majority of the climbing.
LOGISTICS AND RE-SUPPLY
The town of Powell River has pretty much everything you need in terms of consumables, so you might as well support local and get your stuff there. We got bear spray, food, beer, and managed to eat out for both breakfast and dinner before and after the ride. There is a really good cafe called Base Camp and multiple places to eat and drink. Most places close at 9 p.m.
The ride is out of cell phone service, so you need GPX files or offline maps. There are several unmarked forks, so make sure your navigation device is working, and pay close attention. There are no shops or people once you’re out there, so don’t rely on help. Most of the campgrounds we visited were empty, and we only saw the occasional vehicle. There are many options for water resupply, but the lakes have lots of critters, so water need filtering to drink. The campgrounds have picnic benches and long drop toilets.
BIKES AND GEAR
Between us, we had a fully rigid steel 29er, a steel 650b touring bike, and a full-suspension mountain bike, all with tires over 2.2” wide. Although I love my 29er, I’d say the route is probably best suited to a touring bike with big tires. No one had any complaints, but then again, Fiona never complains, and she had taken to wearing a backpack like a trooper, with the lack of space from being on a full-squish bike.
Essential items of note are bear spray, navigation, and a water filter. This is a new addition to a trip for me, so we ended up taking a bear horn, bell, and spray. Fiona carried the spray in her fuel tank bag so it was close to hand (and no one else was brave enough to fight a bear), and I carried the horn and bell. The bell didn’t seem to do much, but I would still recommend taking one for peace of mind. We also had a speaker that we played while riding to create some extra noise to hopefully warn our animal friends of our presence. You’ll also need to bring a rope to hang your food bag to keep it out of reach of bears.
There were surprisingly few bugs for an area with so many lakes. I’m not sure if this is usual, but we slept without our tents both nights and only came away from the ride with leech bites during a lake swim. On that note, you’ll probably want to swim, so whether you’re happy in the nude or prefer a wearing a swimsuit, make sure you factor that into your pack list.
In terms of camping, there is plenty of room for tents or hammocks and some campgrounds that feel semi-serviced and as though you’re not on your own if wildlife is a worry to you (I clearly think about this a lot).
I think we’d all agree that swimming in the warm lakes was the intention of this trip. Each swim is a real payoff, and you have plenty of opportunities to do so. There are also many beautiful spots to camp, and you don’t need to be that picky. We also loved the number of smaller critters we came across on the trip, including giant tadpoles, water stick insects, herons, and we even saw a snake eat a frog.
As a summertime weekend getaway from Vancouver, I don’t think you can do better than the 10 Lakes Overnighter. Whether you’re new to bikepacking or just want some wilderness for the weekend, this route absolutely delivers. The water feels untouched, so if you love getting below the surface, then this is the ride for you. And there’s no worry about water resupply, you can easily make space for luxury items. Take your time, stop often, and enjoy the water. We rode slowly, laughed a lot, ate well, messed around with cameras, and still had hours for swimming.
Just to reinforce the point, there’s an incredible diversity of small wildlife to enjoy: squirrels, frogs, snakes, and we saw a sea otter too. There were about seven or eight signs of bears on the trail—in the form of purple berry-stained droppings—and a couple looked fresh. It’s probably not a big deal but I still can’t get them out of my mind. We heard an unidentified noise at a Goat Lake that had me running for my tiny air horn, but whatever it was never made a showing. Hopefully, the longer I spend out here, the more comfortable I’ll become with sharing this space.
We ended up camping in Powell River, but all agreed it would have been nice to stretch it out if we’d taken more supplies and camped at a second lake before getting the ferry back in the morning. The lakes and camp spots are so nice that if you have the time and good weather, it’s a nearly impossible place to leave.
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