Exploring the Shuswap – Camping and Beach Time

When I was a kid we headed to BC most summers for a week or so of camping in the Shuswap. This summer I decided to share the Shuswap experience with Jon and some friends (it was our wedding gift to them). We only had a week but I think we packed a lot into it and I’m already looking forward to heading back next summer. Our plan for this trip was to camp, soak up the sunshine on the beaches and do a little exploring.

Our first stop was Shuswap Lake Provincial Park where we spent our first two nights at the provincial campground. The campground is pretty large (274 campsites, all reservable and basically full all summer) but the sites we stayed in felt pretty private and nothing felt too far away. If we came back, bicycles would be a must with all the paved paths around. It look us approximately 7 hours to reach the park from Calgary, including a brief bathroom break and a stop in Salmon Arm for gas and cash. We left on a Friday morning and it was actually a pretty quiet drive. We set camp and enjoyed an easy dinner on our new camping BBQ before heading to bed early.

Unfortunately Saturday was a little cooler than normal. We had to switch campsites so we packed up a few items and walked our tent to our new site before heading to the beach for the day. While it wasn’t super warm it was definitely nice enough to sit on the beach and go for a swim. I even fit in a 3 mile run around the perimeter trail in the campground. We spent the evening relaxing around the campfire and playing a round of Settlers on the travel board.

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Enjoying the beach
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Relaxing by the fire

On Sunday morning we packed up our gear and headed east towards Kamloops to try another provincial park – Paul Lake Provincial Park. Paul Lake Campground has some reservable sites and some first come first serve and we had no problems grabbing a site on Sunday morning (although it did fill up throughout the day). It’s located about an hour from Shuswap Lake via a well maintained gravel road off Hwy 1 at Prichard.

I liked the campground fine but wasn’t as thrilled about the beach location on Paul Lake. The campground is located on the top of the hill, with the beach a fairly long walk down a steep path. There is plenty of parking down at the beach area, but it we missed being able to just walk back to our campsite during the day. If your main goal is family beach time, this might not be the best choice but we used the campground as a base for exploring the area which worked well.

I also wasn’t in love with the beach itself – there is a nice day use area set up with picnic tables and grass and there is a sand beach but the lake is a little scummy and there is goose poop everywhere! Still, it was a nice day on Sunday so we soaked up the sunshine and watched all the paddle-boarders (they have rentals there if you don’t have your own).

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Paul Lake Day Use area
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Campsite #46 – we backed onto the hill leading down to the lake so it was nice and quiet

The next two days (Monday and Tuesday) we set off on adventures each morning from our campsite, returning in the evening so the campground’s distance from the beach wasn’t a factor. On our final evening there Jon and I borrowed our friends’ mountain bikes and did a very short (5 km) bike and hike on the trails near the campground. We made it a loop by riding (and then hiking) to the top of Gibraltar Rock from the campground, then taking the trail down to the beach and finally riding the rode back to the campground.

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Looking into the rest of Paul Lake (it sure doesn’t look this big from the beach)
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Love travelling anywhere with this guy – even if it is just a short trip

On Wednesday we moved to our final campground of the trip – Herald Provincial Park – about 1.5 hours closer to home. I grabbed one of the last available sites for the night using the online registration system a few days before which is a must given that the campground is totally booked up most of the time. Since our site was one of the last available, it wasn’t the nicest site but since we were only spending one day it wasn’t a big deal. We were able to check in early (just after 11 am) and as soon as we’d set up our tent we hit the beach since it was 30+ degrees.

We spent the rest of the day relaxing and swimming. The campground has a huge beach just a few minutes walk from our site and there was plenty of space for everyone. We checked out the fish in the weed bed just offshore, played with the Wabobas and read until dinner time.

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The heat and beaches is definitely one reason to come to the Shuswap

After dinner Jon and I did the short hike to Margaret Falls and an extended loop around the campground to check things out. The hike to the falls is easy and the falls are surprisingly large for the amount of effort required to get there.

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The hike into the falls is through a beautiful old-growth cedar forest
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Margaret Falls – not bad for basically 500 m of walking and zero elevation gain
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Quiet evenings on the lake

Then on Thursday it was time to head back to Alberta. We quickly packed up in the morning and hit the road by 9 am AB time. Our drive was uneventful and only included a quick stop outside of Banff to make some sandwiches. I was sad to leave warm and sunny BC but we’re already planning our return trip for next year. It was nice to explore a new area and spend 6 nights camping (something we haven’t done in a few years).

If you’re planning a trip to the Shuswap there are lots of first come first serve sites, but the best ones seem to require reservations (make them early to get the site you want) and you might have trouble on weekends. We found the Backroads Map Book for the region super helpful in planning our adventures and finding ways to get off the usual paths. Next time we’re bringing the canoe as there were so many lovely little lakes to paddle and the dog as all of the campgrounds we stayed in offered dog friendly areas on the beaches.

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