BC Grasslands Circuit
155 Mi.(249 KM)
% Rideable (time)
Alex Cooper got his bikepacking baptism by fire with a six-month dirt road journey from Colombia to Peru. Since returning home, he’s been dedicated to exploring routes in his home province of B.C. He calls Revelstoke home and spends his winters backcountry skiing. You can follow him on Intstagram @alexcooperexplores, or visit his website, alexcooperexplores.com.
When most people think of British Columbia, they picture towering, glacier-capped mountains and vast conifer forests. In the south-central part of the province, however, lies a unique and environmentally significant grassland landscape. B.C.’s grasslands make up just one percent of its land base but provide habitat for almost a third of the province’s threatened and endangered species, according to the Grasslands Conservation Council of British Columbia.
This route is designed to explore part of this environmentally important landscape. It begins in Kamloops and will inspire with its great beauty. You’ll marvel at endless views over sprawling ranches, the azure lakes teeming with waterfowl, and the thousands of birds flying through the air as you tackle the route’s many climbs and descents.
Today, the region is dominated by large, historic ranches, including the Douglas Lake Cattle Company. Established in 1872, it is now the largest in Canada, with grazing rights that stretch over 1.2 million acres. The Grasslands Conservation Council works with ranchers to help sustain this important natural area. The route passes through the Douglas Lake Plateau, which is classified as an Important Birding Area. Tens of thousands of birds representing hundreds of species, including some that are endangered, live here or pass through the area on their annual migrations. They liven the landscape with their flights and entertain you with their songs as you pedal through.
It mostly follows well-graded gravel and dirt roads, with occasional spurts of pavement. A gravel bike with 40mm tires is fine for this route, only a few short sections warrant beefier tires. It can be ridden in either direction, though I rode it counter-clockwise and the route is described based on riding it in that direction. Your choice might depend on when you want to start or finish, as the location of camping opportunities dictates how far you go in a day. You can choose whether to start or finish with a shorter day.
This land is part of the traditional territory of the Syilx (Okanagan) First Nations. The village of Spaxomin, one of the main communities of the Upper Nicola Band, lies along the route at the west end of Douglas Lake.
This route is rated 6 out of 10 in terms of difficulty. While it is entirely on good dirt, gravel, and paved roads, there are some steep and sustained climbs that up the difficulty level. The toughest climbs are the Rose Hill Road out of Kamloops and the Peter Hope Road from Stump Lake to Glimpse Lake. Resupply is possible but minimal, so you’ll want to pack most of your food for the weekend. Finding water is an issue on this route, so you’ll have to be prepared to carry what you need, especially between Kamloops and the Douglas Lake Ranch.
Route Development:I created this route as a way to explore a different type of landscape in British Columbia than the forests and mountains I normally enjoy. It started as a way to travel through the massive Douglas Lake Ranch, and I slowly pieced together a loop before going out to ride it solo one weekend. The result was better than I imagined.
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- Leaving Kamloops via Rose Hill Road and quickly ascending to the grasslands above the city.
- The endless views as you descend from the forested Nicola Plateau to the lake-filled grasslands below.
- Camping and swimming at picturesque Stump Lake.
- Flying down the Glimpse Lake Road to the Douglas Lake Ranch.
- Visiting the quaint red and white townsite at the historic Douglas Lake Ranch.
- Bird watching along the way. Bring binoculars if birding is your thing.
- Lunch at The Local food truck in Monte Lake.
- Pedaling past the small farms along the hilly Robbins Range Road and Campbell Creek Road.
- When to ride: This route is best ridden in the spring, when the landscape is still green and before it gets too hot. It can get very hot and dry here in July and August. Fall can also be a pleasant time to ride this route.
- Ideal Bike: The ideal bike for this route would be a gravel bike with 40-50mm tires. There are only a few short sections that warrant anything burlier; my Salsa Fargo with 2.25” tires was overkill for the most part.
- Getting Here: Kamloops is a major centre for the southern interior of B.C. It’s about a three-hour drive from Vancouver and also has an airport with regular flights to Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton.
- There are several hotels, restaurants, stores, a bike shop, and lots of parking near the start at Rose Hill Road in Kamloops. If you want an easier start, you can start near the junction Highway 1 and Highway 5A. This means less climbing but more highway riding and traffic.
- This route is all on public roads, however, most of them (save the Monte Lake FSR) are surrounded by private land, so be respectful and leave no trace.
- There’s open rangeland and cattle on the road at several points, so be careful. The road along Stump Lake passes through several gates. Make sure to leave them closed!
- This is British Columbia, and bears are always a concern, so bring a rope and hang your food well away from your campsite.
- While it’s a pretty dry landscape, be careful after heavy rain. I encountered a short section of wheel-stopping mud on the descent down the Long Lake Road to Highway 5A. It gummed up everything and I had to carry my bike for a few hundred metres to get by.
- Land Acknowledgment: The BC Grasslands Circuit travels on the unceded traditional territory of the Secwepemcúl’ecw Nation, Nlaka’pamux Nation, and Syilx Nation. Take some time to learn about and respect their people. Head over to the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations website to learn more.
- There are a few forestry campsites along this route, but they’re all within 20 kilometres of each other. The best is at Stump Lake, but there are also sites at Peter Hope Lake and Glimpse Lake.
- There’s a private campground owned by the Douglas Lake Ranch at Salmon Lake. Tent sites are available, or you can splurge on a cabin.
- Most of the route is through private land, so the only wild camping is along Monte Lake Road, which goes through public land.
- Basic re-supply is available at the Douglas Lake General Store, Salmon Lake RV Resort, and Monte Lake Store.
- There’s little in the way of good water sources between Kamloops and the Douglas Lake General Store, especially in summer when creeks dry up. Most of this route goes through farming and ranching country, so you have to be wary of the water. I recommend carrying as much as you can for the first 1.5 days, after which you can fill up at the locations in the previous bullet point.
- The Local food truck in Monte Lake makes delicious sandwiches and is definitely worth a stop.
This describes the route based on riding it in a counter-clockwise direction:
Day one starts with a steep climb out of Kamloops on Rose Hill Road, quickly climbing into a sparsely treed grassland landscape. Crossing Highway 5A, the route takes you onto the Nicola Plateau, climbing through open ranches and into gentle forests. The breathtaking beauty of this landscape reveals itself when you leave the forest and descend back down to Highway 5A. Camp at the Stump Lake Recreation Site and enjoy the golden hour as the sun casts its final light on the surrounding hills.
Day two begins with a pleasant few kilometres through the Stump Lake Ranch before a pair of punishing climbs bring you to Peter Hope Lake and Glimpse Lake. Note that you can stay on Highway 5A to Douglas Lake Road to skip this climb. From here, it’s all downhill to the Nicola River valley, where you’ll ride through the sprawling Douglas Lake Ranch. The Douglas Lake Road passes by a string of sparkling blue lakes before turning to gravel. As you leave the ranchlands, the route turns onto Monte Lake Forest Service Road, where there are numerous wild camping options.
Day three starts with a dirt cruise to the community of Monte Lake. There’s a small store here and a great food truck where you can pick up something for lunch. After a short highway stint, turn onto the Robbins Range Road, which climbs gently through hilly pasturelands before descending to the community of Barnhartvale. From here, the pleasant Campbell Creek Road takes you back to Highway 5A, where you return to Kamloops the way you started.
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