Just a scenic flight from Vancouver, in a vast expanse of the snow-packed Coast Mountain Range, lies the untamed Chilcotin Plateau in British Columbia. This is moose country and home to black bears, bighorn sheep, mule deer and a few intrepid humans.
The Chilcotin Plateau is one of the last great wilderness areas in North America that is relatively untouched by mankind. For decades, large cattle empires dominated the Chilcotin realm, establishing the horse as the best means of transport on countless miles of back-country trails.
Tsylos Park Lodge
The McLean family have been taking adventurous guests on mountain horse pack trips in this land of extreme beauty for more than 60 years. Their welcoming Tyslos (pronounced sigh-loss) Park Lodge and a bevy of cozy cabins are perched above the dazzling, 52-mile Chilko Lake, the centerpiece of the region.
I was excited to go off the grid for a week. Pine-scented air floating on a cooling breeze, the chatter of birds and an ever-changing panorama were all I wanted to think about.
Horse Pack Trip in British Columbia
The first morning at our base camp on the shore of a tranquil lagoon, I awoke to the haunting song of a loon. After a camp breakfast of flapjacks and bacon, seven riders, four pack horses, and two guides headed out for Goat Camp. This is not just a ride, it is a journey back into a time when you could ride for days and see no one.
Like Indians on horseback, we rode in silence through a grove of quaking aspens to the rocky shore of Chilko Lake to water the horses. The trail to Goat Camp is infrequently used each season and feels a bit like bush-whacking. It snakes through alder thickets and then begins to climb. Our sturdy, sure-footed mounts took on the steep ascent with aplomb. Josh, our accomplished guide, encouraged us.
“Stand up. Get out of the saddle,” he said. “Grab mane if you have to! You don’t want to sore up your horses on the climbs.”
He was gentle with the animals and displayed a kind spirit and a helping hand to guests. With our safety in mind, he checked cinches and made sure all was secure before leading us along narrow tracks overlooking a charging river, splashing through creeks, and clamoring up and down steep ravines.
After stopping for lunch in a lush meadow peppered with purple lupine, we continued to Goat Camp at 6,800 feet elevation. We had climbed 3,000 feet and now the air was crisp with temps hovering around 70 degrees.
This magical setting framed in granite spires was to be our home for the next three nights. I awoke here to the energetic voice of Pink Creek (so named due to the minerals from the glacier feeding the stream that turn it a salmon color).
A favorite day ride was up the emerald green valley and across Pink Creek to its headwaters. Chartreuse alpine sedges and mosses lined the shore where it merged with a translucent glacier flow.
The day ride to the top of the world is nothing short of spectacular. We plunged through boughs of Jack Pine, keeping a sharp eye out for trees that can catch and bruise a knee. The forest floor was a carpet of salmon berry, devil’s club, huckleberry, cinquefoil, paintbrush, columbine, rock rose and lavender asters, along with many varieties of ferns and mosses.
We hopped a sparkling rill stealing through an alpine meadow and began the switch-backing trail through loose scree. Once aloft at about 8,000 feet, the air became rarified. The head-spinning 360-degree view of snow-frosted peaks and the azure Chilko Lake stretched as far as the eye can see.
Our tiny band of riders soon became friends. Five of the riders were from Germany and spoke mostly their native tongue, yet the love for horses and the great outdoors was a language common to all.
Everyone pitched in with camp chores and tacking up the horses. Ages spanned from 13-70, with women outnumbering the men. It was touching to see a businessman with little riding experience spend quality time with his horse-crazy teenage daughter. They worked together to protect one another on the trail.
“Dad, just trust your hoss and he will take care of you,” quipped the young equestrienne.
I wasn’t the only solo traveler; a 25-year-old woman, a data analyst by trade, was also relishing in the freedom of being unplugged. At the end of the day’s ride, all were accepted into the tribe over a glass of wine and delicious dinner by the campfire.
Pack trips call for a modicum of fitness, the ability to tack your horse, and a desire to see gorgeous country up close and personal. The undulating 25-mile ride without the pack horses back to the lodge through old-growth forest and sun-drenched wildflower meadows is a brisk ride not soon forgotten.
If you prefer shorter, faster rides with lodge comforts that include gourmet meals and a spa on the deck overlooking a pastoral valley and Chilko Lake, “lodge riding” might be a perfect fit for you. Riders from around the world seeking the most authentic riding experience gather here, forming a stimulating international crowd.
Non-riders also come to Tyslos, famous for its fly-fishing. A 21-mile float down the Chilko River garners rainbow trout, bull trout and salmon in the fall.
You can canoe the placid waters of Chilko Lake, or hike the many trails fanning out from the lodge. Photographers from around the globe gather here to capture images of the over 100 grizzly bears that call the Chilko Valley home during the fall Sockeye Salmon run. Autumn is a lovely time of year to be here when the aspens are spinning gold.
If You Go
Tsylos Park Lodge
Pacific Gateway Hotel
I suggest the Pacific Gateway Hotel, located near the International Airport in Vancouver. They have a free shuttle to South Terminal where you catch the charter flight to Tyslos Lodge, as well as to the International Airport.
Author Bio: Linda Ballou is the author of The Cowgirl Jumped Over the Moon. You will find numerous travel articles on her site www.LindaBallouAuthor.com