Plan Your Trip to Thompson Country

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Sprawled across the Thompson Okanagan region’s northern reach, Thompson Country tempts with ancient volcanic landmasses, glacier-carved valleys, and jagged peaks. Wildlife wander the forested lowlands, while freshwater fish dart across merging rivers and more than 200 lakes.

Stock up or stay in one of the many communities here—either way, you’re set for adventure and discovery in one of BC’s most biodiverse areas.

What to do in Thompson Country

Thanks to Mother Nature’s generous geographical gifts, Thompson Country teems with backcountry pursuits. Good thing there’s a thriving local outfitter scene too, complete with guided tours and equipment rentals. Prefer to stay in town? There’s plenty to explore in the way of events and activities as well.

Hiking near Kamloops | Andrew Strain

The second largest city in the BC Interior, Kamloops (pop. 90,000) sits at the confluence of the North and South Thompson rivers. Which means you’re just a paddle’s throw away from canoeing and kayaking, not to mention boating, waterskiing, and wakeboarding on nearby Kamloops Lake. (Packing light? Get geared up at Bruker Marina.) There’s also hiking and mountain biking for all abilities on trails past sandstone hoodoos, sagebrush-scented hills, and rolling grasslands.

Start with the Peterson Creek Nature Park, and its ample city views, or the Kamloops Bike Ranch—Canada’s largest municipal bike park at 26 hectares (64 acres). Then put your swing to the test on Tobiano Golf Course’s seventh hole, a tee shot across a canyon. (Did you know that Kamloops has the most golf courses per capita in the country?)

Kamloops | Tanya Goehring

Witness Indigenous culture at the annual Kamloopa Powwow, where dancers, drummers, and storytellers celebrate the local Secwepemc people’s heritage. Then delve deeper at the Secwepemc Museum and Heritage Park, which houses the remains of a 2,000-year-old winter village.

Ride a 1912 steam locomotive at the Kamloops Heritage Railway or get to know (from a distance) Arctic wolves, a Kermode bear, and Western rattlesnakes at the B.C. Wildlife Park. Lastly, wind down over a glass of Gold Medal Pinot Noir or Riesling on the Kamloops Wine Trail.

Sun Peaks | Reuben Krabbe

Just 50 kilometres (31 miles) northeast of Kamloops, family-friendly Sun Peaks bustles with skiers and boarders in winter, and hikers and bikers in summer. New for the 2018/19 season, the $4-million Orient Chairlift whisks champagne-powder hounds up to two added runs—pushing the total alpine trail count to 137. Snowshoeing, dogsled tours, and horse-drawn sleigh rides also amp up when the snow flies.

Catch the July-August alpine blossom season by hoofing it along 18 lift-accessed trails, or make fat-tire tracks down 609 metres (2,000 feet) of lift-accessed vertical in the Sun Peaks Bike Park—don’t miss the recently added cross-country trail to Tod Mountain Lake off the Sunburst Chair.

Nestled at the base of the three-mountain resort, the Golf Course at Sun Peaks Resort is BC’s highest greens at 1,200 metres (3,937 feet) above sea level. (Bonus: your ball flies longer and you stay cooler at the higher elevation.) At nearby McGillivray Lake, take in tales of Canada’s early explorers on a Northwest Voyageur Company canoe tour. Spot eagles, beavers, and bears from your seat in a 30-foot replica voyageur vessel.

Some 66 kilometres (41 miles) up the highway from Kamloops, the hamlet of Barriere—a.k.a. Gateway to the North Thompson Valley—is steeped in cowboy culture and outdoor adventure. Time your trip with the annual North Thompson Fall Fair and Rodeo. Drawing up to 10,000 visitors over the Labour Day long weekend, it celebrates 70 years of bull riding, steer wrestling, and chuck wagon racing in 2019.

Nearby, hike or mountain bike past grassy meadows, lakes, and old-growth forest. Glimpse the remains of a 10-kilometre-long 1918 log chute on the Johnson Lake Flume Trail, or gape at gradually greening wildfire-charred mountain faces on the Seven Sisters Trail. Come winter, glide along six kilometres (four miles) of moderate cross-country track on the Barriere Lake Ski Trails—complete with warming hut. Anytime of year, drop by the Gift ’N Gab Trading Post for Canadian and Indigenous art and wares, from fur-lined moccasins to etched wine glasses.

Dawson Falls, Wells Gray Provincial Park | Andrew Strain

On the doorstep of Wells Gray Provincial Park, the town of Clearwater makes for the perfect jumping-off point. Raft or kayak down the gentle North Thompson River or white-rapid-riddled Clearwater River. Along the way spot bears, wolves, and moose, as well as 219 species of birds. Catch some of the park’s 39 named waterfalls spilling into lava rock canyons and cauldrons.

Marvel at 141-metre (463-foot) Helmcken Falls, almost 2.5 times as tall as Niagara Falls, from the viewing platform just off the road or on the one-hour South Rim Trail hike. Explore glacier-fed, rainbow-trout-rich Clearwater and Azure lakes on a guided boat tour with local operators like Clearwater Lake Tours. Back in town, replenish supplies with fresh produce, preserves, and baked goods—plus pick up artisan souvenirs for home—at the Clearwater Farmers’ Market (Saturdays, May to October).

 

Surrounded by the Cariboo and Monashee mountains in the upper North Thompson Valley, tiny Blue River (pop. 280) is big on outdoor options. Pick your perfect mountain bike trail off hundreds of nearby Forest Service roads, or hike through cedar and spruce stands opening up to alpine meadows. Listen to loons on paddle-only Murtle Lake, reached via a 2.5-kilometre (two-mile) portage. (Let Murtle Lake Canoe Rentals haul your ride in for you.) When it snows, schuss down powder-cloaked bowls and peaks with Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing or cross-country ski on set tracks around Eleanor Lake.

More adventure awaits in the village of Valemount. Neighbouring Mount Robson Provincial Park beckons with waterfalls, glaciers and its namesake peak—the tallest in the Canadian Rockies. Hike (44 kilometres/27 miles return) or helicopter into postcard-pretty Berg Lake —look for mountain goats on cliffs and moose in the marshlands. Feel BC’s longest river, the Fraser, pick up speed on a Mount Robson Whitewater raft trip. And just two kilometres (1.2 miles) south of town, spot swans, raptors, and other birdlife from the Cranberry Marsh trail and viewing towers. Winter sees snowmobile newbies head to the Westridge Family Loop while experts tackle the steeps at Allen Creek. Switch to canine power with Cold Fire Creek Dogsledding, offering the 60-Minute Musher and four-hour Ghost of Cold Fire Creek tours.

Where to Stay in Thompson Country

From wilderness campsites to posh mountain getaways, Thompson Country accommodations cater to travellers of all budgets and bents.

Load up your gear for a water taxi ride to a remote lakeside campsite, or backpack into an overnight spot on the Berg Lake Trail. Car campers and RVers can park it at one of many provincial and private parks, while a mix of motels and hotels just off the highway shelters everyone else. Prefer one-of-a-kind places to stay?

Enjoy golf course views at Kamloops’ Overlander B&B, cozy cabins at the Willow Ranch Valemount, and adventure just around the corner at the Clearwater Lodge and Resort. Step it up by checking into the newly updated Sun Peaks Grand—with copper accents and twilight-inspired colour palette—or Blue River Resort and its handcrafted log chalets.

How to Get to Thompson Country

The Kamloops Airport is your perfect landing spot for a Thompson Country visit. That said, Kamloops is only a two-hour drive from the Kelowna International Airport and four-hour drive from the Vancouver International Airport (depending on road conditions and traffic, of course).

Driving from Vancouver, follow Hwys. 1 and 5 to Kamloops (355 kilometres /221 miles). Keep north on Hwy. 5 (a.k.a. the Southern Yellowhead Hwy.) to experience the rest of Thompson Country’s communities.

Travelling from Alberta? Head west from Edmonton on Hwy. 16 (Yellowhead Hwy.), then south on Hwy. 5 (490 kilometres /304 miles to Valemount). And head west from Calgary on Hwy. 1 (620 kilometres/385 miles to Kamloops).

Feature image: Nicola Valley | Andrew Strain

POSTED BY: Sheila Hansen

From: Vancouver
A Vancouver-based editor and writer with many years' experience in travel and lifestyle publications, Sheila Hansen is passionate about exploring the nooks and crannies of her home province. A BC girl through and through, she was born and raised in small towns and has since been living in the big city—she likes to think she's experienced the best of both worlds!

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