My family is a bit of an adventurous bunch. In the last two years, we have covered a lot of ground; from the Island to the East Kootenays and many stops in between. There is one road trip, however, that never fails to impress even our most adventurous friends, and the memories will last us a lifetime (or at least until our next visit). No ordinary Sunday drive, the Douglas Road traces the Lillooet river from Pemberton/Mount Currie all the way to Port Douglas, at the north end of Harrison Lake.
The route is accessible by any vehicle in the summer as far south as the hot springs. Beyond that, and certainly in other seasons, a 4WD with sufficient ground clearance is required. Always check road conditions, be prepared with food and warm clothes in case of an unplanned delay, and let people know where you are traveling and when you intend to return. The road is gravel most of the way, and susceptible to pot holes, etc. The west side of Harrison Lake is a notoriously rough road.
My partner, a BC history buff, as long been eager to see this historic wagon road. In the 1850s, it served as an early gold rush trail for a handful of years only, until the new route through the Fraser Canyon was completed. By the late 1850s, the Douglas Road was largely abandoned, and the town of Yale grew instead of Port Douglas.
Now called the In-SHUCK-Ch Trail, this route passes a number of fascinating and beautiful spots ripe for exploration, if you have the right vehicle for the conditions. The easiest access is from the north end, especially the dusty hour or so south from Pemberton / Mt Currie to the Tsek Hot Springs (alternately known as the Skookumchuk Hot Springs and St. Agnes Well – see photo). These hot springs offer a number of hot pools for weary travelers, and scenic camping spots right on the river front. If you come on a weekend, be prepared for crowded conditions, and the camaraderie of friendly hot-springs visitors.
South of the hot springs, the road brings you to the Church of the Holy Cross, completed in 1905, in the village of Skatin. The gothic architecture and hand-carved wooden features of the church are especially striking in this quiet reserve village and its wild and beautiful surrounding landscape. Beyond Skatin, there are a few tiny, haunting roadside graveyards, sections of the road that are all but washed out, and finally the historic town of Port Douglas.
Port Douglas itself is almost completely devoid of evidence of the bustle of the early gold rush years. Nonetheless it’s a fascinating and mysterious place for an adventurous traveler; The barracks of an abandoned mining operation take you within yards of Judge Begbie’s famous “hanging tree”. This is sure to please any BC history buff.
Make sure to check conditions on the road before you try this trip, especially south of Port Douglas where the road follows the west side of Harrison Lake. There are no services on this road, and it is impassable for most vehicles in winter weather.
Have you visited Port Douglas or another off-the-beaten-track destination recently? Tell us about it in the comments!