Living in the Okanagan so far as been awesome. Seriously. One thing we’ve noticed though is that the lakes here are either pretty small or very very big. The best example of the latter would be Okanagan Lake, found just a few hundred metres from our front door. It’s 135km long. Stretching as far as the eye can see, it’s feels more like an ocean inlet.
Living on Vancouver Island for two and a half years, we were used to lakes of every size here, there and everywhere. With recreational and wilderness campsites all over the place, it was easy to find some great canoe or car camping every weekend.
IN SEARCH FOR SOMEWHERE NEW
This area of BC is a little different. While checking out our Kootenay Rockies Mapbook I spotted a lake around 2.5 hours drive east of us with Gladstone Provincial Park encompassing the top half. Marked on the shore were a handful of Marine campsites. A quick Google taught me that Christina Lake is the warmest tree-lined lake in Canada. Perfect. Or so I thought….
Staying overnight at a recreation site near Mt Baldy, we arrived at the Christina Lake boat launch on early Saturday morning to find a quiet, albeit fairly populated lake. There were houses along the lake as far as the eye could see. It was also pretty smokey, with the tail end of the fires in Washington and in the southern Okanagan still burning. Oh well, we said, maybe it will clear up. Maybe all the houses have been vacated for the summer already.
An extended summer season
Well, we were partly right! After a leisurely paddle across the deserted lake (exchanging a wave with any house owners we spotted) we arrived at our destination – Axel Johnson Marine Campsite. Every other campsite before this one was surrounded by houses. While these houses may be accessible by boat only, it was still a different setting than we had imagined.
Regardless, we cried land ahoy and set up camp. The first of the day was spent sunbathing, fishing and swimming in the lake that was indeed pretty warm. By lunchtime though, we had realised that we were definitely not alone.
The first boat that landed on the beach was a surprise. By the time the sixth one landed, we realised we had made a bit of a mistake. Christina Lake isn’t really the place you go to for a wilderness experience (for one thing, we’ve never camped with jet-skis crossing in front of us). Most of the boats didn’t stay too long, but two actually ended up staying overnight with us.
Wilderness or not, we still had fun. JR caught a bunch of fish and we were able to have our first fire of the summer! The long dry summer had caused a very early fire ban so we hadn’t had a chance since early May. Almost nothing makes a camping trip better than a campfire, especially with a view this sweet!
Up the lake without a paddle
It was just before we lit the fire that I noticed my canoe paddle was missing. We had originally landed around 150 metres away from our eventual camping site. In my excitement of landing at the beach, I had jumped out of the canoe and left my paddle on the sand. When JR later moved the canoe, he, unfortunately, didn’t spot my paddle.
We assume that one of the boating groups must have picked it up and taken it home with them. This is understandable but it feels a little sad that they didn’t double check with the only people on the beach with a canoe. Lesson learned! Keep your stuff close.
On every other canoe camping trip and most day trips, we bring along a spare paddle, just in case. Of course, this time we forgot! Strong winds were forecast for Sunday afternoon so we decided to cut our losses and leave early. We made do with a tree branch found on the beach, which actually worked pretty well! In the end, a kind boating couple gave us their spare paddle to use with instructions to drop it at a friend’s house on the way back.
return to desert
Driving home a shorter, but slower way (via Mt Baldy ski resort), we approached the town of Oliver from a new direction and discovered the most desert-looking area we have seen in the Okanagan. With such low vegetation and being so dry, it really did look like somewhere located much further south. In the distance, the wildfires could be seen still burning in Oliver.
While it was still a fun weekend, it wasn’t quite what we expected! Looking closer at the map on our return, it is possible to see a very thin strip of ‘private land’ marked along the shore of most of Christina Lake. Gladstone Park doesn’t actually protect much of the lake’s shore. I would like to return to the park’s northern section, as the mountains and views in that direction really did look spectacular.